Join Tessa Gratton and me as we read the Shahnameh by Abolqasem Ferdowsi. We’re using the Dick Davis translation (Penguin Classics).
Sorry I missed last week! I was so busy finishing up a revision for Court of Fives 3 that I completely blanked out even though I had read the portion and Tessa had emailed me her comments. Onward!
By the way here is an AMAZING post by Rachel W in which she works out the complicated genealogy of our main and secondary characters.
This week’s portion: Forud, the Son of Seyavash
Synopsis: Forud, Seyavash’s son and Persian king Khosrow’s brother, encounters a Persian army led by Tus, defends his kingdom with poor advice, and dies.
TG: I kind of wanted to describe this one as “more terribleness in the wake of Seyavash’s death” because that’s how I feel: a bit worn down from the repetitive tragedies. There was no hope in this one, and I plodded through the plot, unable to be very excited. Part of this is I’m still mourning Seyavash myself so every time his name came up I was sad all over again. But part of it is I’m really beginning to learn the patterns of these stories and it was pretty clear Forud was doomed.
That said, the most impressive moment was all about the ladies. While I’ve come across the idea/image of the women of a conquered castle throwing themselves off the ramparts so as not to be taken as slaves, it was especially poignant and terrible here because 1) it DID actually manage to make Forud’s death worse than Seyavash’s by thoroughly destroying everything he had and was and loved, and more importantly 2) Jarireh’s DREAM.
That dream was a great narrative trick! She has her dream of the castle burning and all her ladies dying in the fire, offering some foreshadowing, prophetic magic, and extra tension, in addition to letting us know (if we didn’t already guess) that Jarireh is awesome because she was given a prophetic dream!
THEN it turns out that Jarireh herself sets the castle on fire! And the ladies all die, but not because of the fire, because they listen to Forud’s final wish and die instead of living under the Persian occupation.
It was also interesting to note that Jarireh is called a lion, like Seyavash himself, and many other noble warriors.
OH, and I greatly enjoyed the description of all the Persian war banners and which warrior they went with.
SO GLAD we get a demon chapter next because surely it’s not going to make me wretched with tragedy. SURELY.
KE: Like you I found this episode very hard to read because from the beginning it was clear it was going to end badly, and because I will never get over Seyavash’s death. I just didn’t realize HOW badly it was going to end, with the destruction of Forud’s entire household.
I note there is little mention of men in his household and indeed his story is of particular interest because he apparently has no wife. The woman he interacts with, gets advice from, and relies on for emotional support is his mother. Usually, as in Seyavash’s story and many others, a man turns to his wife, or it is his wife (that is, his primary or chief wife) who warns and mourns.
Again I’m struck by how much space exists within these stories for women’s stories that aren’t told. Jarirah is Piran’s daughter, clearly a valued child because Piran valued his friendship with Seyavash. Additionally, note how Forud has his own household, his own castle, and presumably his own lands, and in that way I perceive that his mother, too, has a degree of independent wealth and possibly land ownership. We’ve seen this pattern repeatedly in the epic, with mentions of women who act using their own funds.
That he has no official wife makes me feel he is very young, not even a mention of siring children yet. Perhaps it is his youth that makes him incapable of listening to good advice and instead plunging headlong into disaster.
Like you I was also horrified that the women would rather kill themselves than be captured by/fall into the hands of the Persians, although under the circumstances I have a fair bit of compassion for that choice as well. Have we seen that behavior (women committing mass suicide) before? It can’t specifically be the Persians, can it? Seyavash himself is the product of a Persian/Turkish liaison, and one that has a slightly unsavory beginning since his unnamed mother was essentially taken captive and likely had no choice about becoming the king’s concubine. So I would guess it is more about the castle being taken by force and what that means for the women inside.
I mentioned this before but of course Seyavash’s mother, besides being unnamed, is never described as the king’s wife. And Jarirah, likewise, is never described as Seyavash’s wife, is she? Only Faragis gets that appellation? So there is a lot of implied information here about words and titles and where women fit in the household.
In Maria Brosius’s book on Persian women (of the Achaemenid era) there is some discussion of both of these aspects: that noblewomen of that time are attested to own estates and control their own finances, and that marriage customs (as far as anyone can tell) do suggest that the kings and royal princes married as “wives” or “queens” only women of equally high royal status but would make other (perfectly respectable and important) alliances with women who were then part of the royal household but not designated as queens or wives. Of course there isn’t a ton of evidence, and what the Greeks wrote about the Persians was fairly inaccurate propaganda, but nevertheless in this context it interests me as possibly a cultural expectation that survived across a long period of centuries. I don’t know. I have ordered Homa Katousian’s THE PERSIANS on Tessa’s recommendation, although I don’t know if he addresses the issues of women. I guess I will find out.
Next week: The Akvan Div. Demon hunting!
Previously: Introduction, The First Kings, The Demon King Zahhak, Feraydun and His Three Sons, The Story of Iraj, The Vengeance of Manuchehr, Sam & The Simorgh, The Tale of Zal and Rudabeh, Rostam, the Son of Zal-Dastan, The Beginning of the War Between Iran and Turan, Rostam and His Horse Rakhsh, Rostam and Kay Qobad, Kay Kavus’s War Against the Demons of Manzanderan, The Seven Trials of Rostam, The King of Hamaveran and His Daughter Sudabeh, The Tale of Sohrab, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 1, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 2, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 3