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Peri, 1875 Kalighat painting

In Persian mythology and Armenian mythology, the peri (Persian: پریpari, plural پريان pariān) are exquisite, winged fairy-like spirits ranking between angels and evil spirits. They sometimes visit the realm of mortals.

In earlier sources[citation needed], they are described as agents of evil who have been denied paradise until they have done penance; later, they are benevolent.

In Persian mythology and literature[edit]

At the start of Ferdowsi's epic poem Shahnameh, "The Book of Kings", the divinity Sorush appears in the form of a peri to warn Keyumars (the mythological first man and shah of the world) and his son Siamak of the threats posed by the destructive Ahriman. Peris also form part of the mythological army that Kaiumers eventually draws up to defeat Ahriman and his demonic son. In the Rostam and Sohrab section of the poem, Rostam's paramour, the princess Tahmina, is referred to as "peri-faced" (since she is wearing a veil, the term peri may include a secondary meaning of disguise or being hidden.[dubious ])

Peris were the target of a lower level of evil beings called دیوسان divs (دَيۋَ daeva), who persecuted them by locking them in iron cages. This persecution was brought about by, as the divs perceived it, the peris' lack of sufficient self-esteem to join the rebellion against perversion.[citation needed]

In Islam[edit]

With the spread of Islam through Persia, the pari (or peri in Turkish) was integrated into Islamic folklore. They are often regarded as a kind of good jinn, while the evil ones are often identified by Persians with the divs.[1] According to the Persian exegesis of the Qurʼan Tafsir al-Tabari, the peris are beautiful female spirits created by God after the vicious divs. They mostly believe in God and are benevolent to mankind.[2] They are still part of some folklore and accordingly they appear to humans, sometimes punishing hunters in the mountains who are disrespectful or waste resources, or even abducting young humans for their social events. Encounters with peris are held to be physical as well as psychological.[3]

Western representations[edit]

The term peri appears in the early Oriental tale Vathek, by William Thomas Beckford, written in French in 1782.

In Thomas Moore's poem Paradise and the Peri, part of his Lalla-Rookh, a peri gains entrance to heaven after three attempts at giving an angel the gift most dear to God. The first attempt is "The last libation Liberty draws/From the heart that bleeds and breaks in her cause", to wit, a drop of blood from a young soldier killed for an attempt on the life of Mahmud of Ghazni. Next is a "Precious sigh/of pure, self-sacrificing love": a sigh stolen from the dying lips of a maiden who died with her lover of plague in the Mountains of the Moon (Ruwenzori) rather than surviving in exile from the disease and the lover. The third gift, the one that gets the peri into heaven, is a "Tear that, warm and meek/Dew'd that repentant sinner's cheek": the tear of an evil old man who repented upon seeing a child praying in the ruins of the Temple of the Sun at Balbec, Syria. Robert Schumann set Moore's tale to music as a cantata, Paradise and the Peri, using an abridged German translation.

Peri at the Gates of Paradise, by Thomas Crawford (after Moore), Corcoran Gallery of Art

French composer Paul Dukas's last major work was the sumptuous ballet La Péri (1912). Described by the composer as a "poème dansé", it depicts a young Persian prince who travels to the ends of the Earth in a quest to find the lotus flower of immortality, finally encountering its guardian, the Péri.[4]

Gilbert and Sullivan's 1882 operetta Iolanthe is subtitled The Peer and the Peri. However the "peris" in this work are also referred to as "fairies" and have little in common with peris in the Persian sense.

A peri, whose power is in her hair, appears in Elizabeth Ann Scarborough's 1984 novel The Harem of Aman Akbar.

In the novel Zariel's Doom (2014) by Joseph Robert Lewis, "peris" appear as small fairy-like creatures with leaf-like wings, insect-like eyes, and four arms (but no legs). They are impish pests that can speak, but can only be understood by angels, and can only repeat words and phrases that have been spoken to them previously.

In terms of popular culture, the line from Moore's 'Paradise and the Peri, 'one morn, a Peri, at the Gate of Eden stood, disconsolate' is quoted in the Doctor Who adventure The Twin Dilemma, when the lead character of the series, the Doctor, having seemingly gone mad after a violent regeneration into a new persona, compares his travelling companion Peri Brown to a Peri. The Doctor goes on to explain that "a Peri is a good and beautiful fairy in Persian mythology. The interesting thing is, before it became good, it was evil...", and incorrectly concludes that she is a malevolent alien spy.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Cosimo, Inc Arabian Nights, in 16 volumes: Volume XIII, Band 13 2008 ISBN 978-1-605-20603-5 page 256
  3. ^ Peter J. Claus, Sarah Diamond, Margaret Ann Mills South Asian Folklore: An Encyclopedia : Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka Taylor & Francis, 2003 ISBN 978-0-415-93919-5 page 463
  4. ^ Blakeman, Edward (1990). Notes to Chandos CD 208852, p. 5

External links[edit]