Gianni Izzo’s engaging and insightful article on Persian jesters of the Safavid (1501-1722) and Zand (1750-79) periods, also highlights some terms relating to jesters. Among these is one which seems to have included ‘jester’ while encompassing a roguish element combined with baldness (a feature which could also be attributed to fools in medieval Europe). Izzo gives us a nuanced summary of this complex and evolving term:
An important, though historically elusive, phenomenon of bald “rogue” (lūṭī) performers emerged shortly after the time of Kal ʿEnāyat (d. 1608), stretching into the subsequent period of the Zand dynasty. “Bald play-acting” (kachalak bāzī), as it became known, involved a variety of bald buffoons specializing in pantomime (taqlīd) and parody …
In this overview, the figure of the lūṭī, from the Safavid to late-Qājār period (1789-1925), evolves from a mischievous figure into an antihero who, despite his faults and eccentricities, does the right thing at the right time. His virtue takes on more subtle complexity and less slapstick comedy in the process. As noted, the term lūṭī would come to mean different things in the Indo-Persian context, dissociated from its original meaning derived from the Arabic lawwāṭ, “of the people of the Prophet Lot”, referring to sexual deviancy. For centuries, it modulated from designating a pederast to a vagabond in the literary works of Muḥammad al-Kisāʾī, Muḥammad b. ʿAlī Sūzanī, and Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī.
In the Qājār period, the term became a catch-all for unsavoury character types, e.g. hooligans and performers alike, including acrobats, buffoons, and artists … The lūṭī has travelled a long way, bringing along abundant semantic complexity. As a phenomenon associated with entertainment and jestering, it appears that much of its defining contours were sculpted during the Safavid epoch.
A deep discussion of this jester-embracing term is Willem Floor’s entry in the Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, which affirms:
Lūṭī also referred to a jester attached to the princely court and to itinerant entertainers (acrobats, dancers, buffoons) who performed improvisatory comedy or who were accompanied by animals, typically monkeys, bears or goats that danced while accompanied by music and lewd songs.
During the Zand period, Muḥammad Karīm Khān (r. 1751-79) had a jester named Lūṭī Ṣāleh. Elsewhere, I’ve seen him referred to as ‘Chief Rogue’. Sir John Malcolm, the British diplomat who travelled in Persia at the turn of the 19th centuries, tells us of one famous story in which the jester mocked the king. He also understands lūṭī to mean jester or buffoon, incidentally giving us a charming list of skills expected of jesters:
The Persians say, that a good Loottee, or “buffoon,” ought to be able to laugh, cry,weep, sit still, and dance, at the same moment. Some of these jesters approach very near this idea of perfection.
The word also has a fortuitous echo of the Latin-rooted ‘ludic’, undoubtedly coincidental.
See also our entry for a key Persian word for jester, dalqak.
Izzo, Gianni, ‘Playing the fool: jesters of the Safavid and Zand courts’, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies (August 2023), pp. 10-11.
Malcolm, Sir John (1769-1833), The History of Persia, from the Most Early Period to the Present Time, vol. 2 (London: J. Murray, 1815), p. 611.
Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, s.v. luti