Most people, literate or illiterate, in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, the remnants of the ruined Persian Empire, still, 2013, keep, at least, three books in their homes: Rubaiyat-e Khayyam, Hafiz and Shahnameh.
A well-known Iranian scholar, Mohammad Abdolvahab Qazvini, 1877-1949, after completing his traditional theological schooling, Arabic grammar and Islamic teachings, in 1904, at the age of 33, left Iran for London. He was met by famous orientalists of the time including Edward G. Browne. Other cities he visited were Paris and Berlin. In1939 he returned to Iran. Ten years later he died.
In London, he was impressed by the discipline and punctuality of the British orientalists, and he was deeply embarrassed, before the British scholars, to learn that no two old books of the same Persian poetry exactly matched. Consequently, he openly vented his anger at the 'lizard eating' Arab barbarians who, in comparison with Iranians, had safeguarded their old texts. Nevertheless, he became the first Moslem Persian, after returning to Iran, to introduce the technique of Table of Contents and Indexes to his country men!
However, there is no reference anywhere, by this most learned Iranian scholar, as to the existence of some pre-Islamic inscriptions, carved 90 meters above ground in the rocks, in western part of Iran, called Bisotune, by King Darius, 550-486 B.C.
Incidentally, it was shortly after 18 century when Gerog Grotefend, a German, 1775-1853, began deciphering the structures of the said inscriptions. When the translation was complete, by mid-1800, it became a key to translation of cuneiform writings in the area.
One of the books Qazvini overtook to correct or rather edit, was a book on poetry by Qais Razi, a bible on Persian poetry, who lived around 1300 A. D. This book was not at all tampered by Iranians which made the scholar smiling.
In fact, Qazvini missed an important point by reprimanding his fellow countrymen. First of all, those who did alter a few words did not mean harm and they were not illiterate. Actually, they were talented anonymous poets. Secondly, the handwritten books were not borrowed from a library; these people owned the books, and they were not seeking fame or financial gains. In reality, they had acted exactly like what we do today when we mark our books. It was only after their death and centuries later when those books ended up in the hand of some book collectors of modern days, those who knew the true value of such books. Briefly, the unplanned action now can be looked at as a social behavior in the form of collectively composing public poetry, much stronger that composing singly.
Today, Rubaiyat-e Khayyam and Hafez are banned by the Islamists. Their names and sample poems are removed from school textbooks. However, the presence of these books, at homes, reflect the mind and the soul of a victimized society.
The paradox here is that the embarrassed Qazvini actually joined those whom he had so strongly criticized. His changes to the verses of Hafez, in fact, were limited to a few words. In effect, sometimes the rejected alternatives are as good as the preferred ones.
Collective poetry of Persia has been able to defy the rigid Islamic Commandments that most of the time exact death penalty. However, the anonymous poets have kept the fire alive and burning.