From the Persian peri, the word fairy came to us through Arabic, in whose alphabet there is no 'p'. In Arabic it, therefore, became feri, which word being introduced by the Crusaders, received the broader English sound, fairy. Other etymologists derive it from the Low Latin verb fato, fatare, from Latin fatum, fate, to enchant. In the French this became faer, and from the verb the French made the noun faerie, an illusion. From this, it is said, the meaning gradually widened to its present signification.
In Persian mythology and literatureEdit
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).
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.
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 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.
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.
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.