Ferdowsi, the Poet-Sage http://english.irib.ir Tue, 12 Dec 2017 13:47:40 +0000 en-gb Ferdowsi, the Poet-Sage (33) http://english.irib.ir/component/k2/item/70877-ferdowsi-the-poet-sage-33 http://english.irib.ir/component/k2/item/70877-ferdowsi-the-poet-sage-33 Ferdowsi, the Poet-Sage (33)

Researchers of comparative literature are of the opinion that there are certain similarities between the accounts of Rostam in the Shahnameh and Ulysses in the Iliad.

Ulysses, the invincible hero of the Odyssey, returns home after several years of wandering and enduring painful hardships. He kills Orsilok the son of Idomene because he wished to deprive Ulysses of the spoils of the Trojan War by placing him under the command of his father. But Ulysses strongly protested. Rostam, the invincible hero of the Shahnameh, also avoids being humiliated by the king's son Esfandiar, who wants to take him hand-cuffed to his father’s court. Rostam prefers to fight him though the astronomers and the soothsayers warn him of the bad omen for the killer of Easfandiar.

Both Rostam and Ulysses resort to tricks to destroy their enemies and opponents; and also to avoid disgrace. Both of them fight with demons and monsters. Rostam fights the demon named Arzhang Div and the White Demon, and kills both of them. Ulysses, too, blinds the one-eyed giant, Cyclopes, with a fiery nail of olive wood.

Rostam also shares similarities with Achilles. Rostam is superior to all other heroes of the Shahnameh. He is able to confront all heroes and their armies single-handedly. Even King Kay Kavoos is awed by his power and abilities. Achilles is the strongest hero of the Iliad. He single-handedly pushes back the Trojan soldiers and brave heroes like Hector are killed by him. Achilles’ mother informs him that if he kills Hector he will live shortly; but Achilles only wishes to kill hector because of the spite he bears against him of the murder of his closest friend by Hector.

Rostam is also informed by the mythical bird, Simorgh, that if he kills Esfandiar he will be doomed. Rostam and Achilles are both guided by mythical beings to kill their enemies and they are victorious.

Shiron, the mythical creature, had given the ash tree stick to Achilles’ father to be used by Achilles in future to kill renowned warriors. Simorgh guides Rostam to shoot the arrow made of lotus tree to the eyes of Esfandiar; and thus Esfandiar is killed.

From the view point of invulnerability there are also similarities in the accounts of the two heroes which were discussed in the previous episode.

It should be mentioned here that the similarities of Rostam and Achilles are confined to these few ones.

Being spiteful of Agamemnon (the commander of the Greek army) Achilles wishes his countrymen were defeated in the war so that his absence is felt in the war; yet Rostam always supports Iran and Iranians.

The Trojan hero, Hector, is also sometimes compared with Rostam. He knows well that the mythical gods have planned the collapse of Troy and have prepared the grounds for his defeat and destruction. But he fights manly and sacrifices his soul for his countrymen.

Rostam also knows that if he gives in to Esfandiar or fight with him he will have a sinister fate. So he decides to stand against the supernatural forces even though he is aware of his defeat. At any rate he prefers to live with honour and to be killed manly rather than to be taken to the court of the tyrant, Goshtasb, hand-cuffed.

Both Rostam and Hector powerfully raise huge boulders and throw them. Rostam deflects by his powerful heel the boulder hurled at him by Esfandiar’s son, Bahman. Hector also lifts a boulder that two strong and robust men could raise with much difficulty and throws it onto the gates of Achai.

The childhood and growing up of Zaal, Rostam’s father and that of the Greek Oedipus bear much resemblance. Zaal is born with white hair which makes him homeless. Zaal’s father, Saam, who considers this a sinister event, orders Zaal to be put on the mountain to be eaten by animals. The bird Simorgh takes the infant to its nest and brings him up together with its chics. Years later Saam dreams that an Indian person gives the tidings of his son's health. Thus Saam goes to the Alborz Mountain with the commanders of the troops. Simorgh brings Zaal to the foothills and gives him back to his father.

From this aspect, the myth of Zaal is like the myth of Oedipus. The Oracle of Delphi inform Luaus, the king of Thebes, of his son's death. Luaus orders the son to be taken to Mount Tsiron to be the prey of the beasts. The person in charge of this mission ties fast the child's feet with a rope and hangs him from a tree. Hence the name Oedipus in Greek means the swollen feet.

He is found and rescued by the young king of Corinth. His queen, who doesn't have any children, adopts Oedipus and in this way he is saved. Oedipus grows up and goes back to his birthplace, Thebes, and kills his father unconsciously.

Ferdowsi, the Poet-Sage Mon, 07 Feb 2011 12:13:47 +0000
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Among similar aspects of the great Iranian epic Shahnameh and the Greek epic of Iliad are the personae, creatures and supernatural behaviours.

The story of Siavash renowned Iranian hero resembles that of Bellerophon the Greek hero. They have similar fates. Both of them are very charming babies at birth and when they attain the age of maturity they are both charged with treason. Therefore they were forced to go through hard tests to prove their purity and innocence.


In the Shahnameh we read that King Kay Kavoos had a wife called ‘Sudabeh’, the daughter of king ‘Hamavaran.’ Siavash was very handsome and brave. Sudabeh was infatuated by her stepson; yet Siavash did not accept her love because he didn’t want to betray his father. Sudabeh used all tricks to attract Siavash but he sought divine help against succumbing to her stratagems. A frustrated Sudabeh then accused him of adultery. Kay Kavoos was forced to test the purity of his son Siavash by subjecting him to a grueling test to walk through the fire to prove their innocence. Siavash walked through the fire without being harmed and Sudabeh was found guilty of lies and deceit. At that time Afrasiab, the king of the Turanians and the enemy of the Iranian nation attacked the country and Siavash rushed to the war front to get rid of Sudabeh’s plots.

In the Iliad of Homer Protheus’s wife, who falls in love with Bellerophon, accuses him of making adulterous overtures to her since she fails to seduce him. King Protheus sends Bellerophon with a message to his father-in-law, the king of Lissi, and the latter in turn sends Bellerophon to fight the fiery dragon in order to be killed. But he kills the dragon with the help of his winged horse Pegasus. He succeeds to come out of all tests and trials and thus proves his innocence. Eventually the king believes in him and gives one of his daughters to him in marriage along with all royal honours.

Although some events of these two heroes of the Shahnameh and the Iliad are alike, their lives end differently. Bellerophon boasts of his status and wants to go to the heavens with his horse to attain the position of Zeus, the mythological deity of the heavens. But Zeus throws him onto the earth and he commits suicide.

Siavash, the Iranian prince, makes peace with Afrasiab and begins a new phase of his life by going to Turan. Siavash marries Farangis, Afrasiab’s daughter, and builds the castle of Gang-Dezh; but the astronomers do not consider it an ominous sign. Due to his purity Siavash is aware of future events and he shares these news with ‘Peeran Viseh’ the wise premier of Afrasiab. Siavash foretells his assassination by Afrasiab and the start of war between Iran and Turan which, in turn, saddens Peeran.

Finally Afrasiab, provoked by his brother, imposes a battle upon Siavash. Before going to the battle, Siavash tells his wife Farangis, “I will be beheaded in this war and you will be taken captive. But you will give birth to Kay Khosrow. Then you will be taken to Iran by an Iranian champion and Kay Khosrow will be the king of Iran and he will wreak vengeance on Afrasiab and the Turanians.”

Ferdwosi relates that when Siavash was decapitated there blew a gloomy wind and at the very spot where the blood of Siavash drops, a tree grew called ‘Khoon-e-Siavashan’.

Achilles is another character of the Iliad of Homer. He has resemblances to Esfandiar of the Shahnameh. Both of them enjoy superhuman powers. Achilles’ mother plunges him in the sacred river to become invulnerable; but since his mother has held him by the heel his heel remains dry and thus vulnerable, which leads to his death by an arrow shot to the same spot.

Esfandiar, the famous Iranian champion, also becomes invulnerable through being submerged inside the mythical river of ‘Dahiti.’ But his eyes are still vulnerable because he has closed them during submerging.

In the Iliad ‘Paris’ shoots an arrow and the arrow is led by ‘Apollo’ the mythical deity of light and soothsaying, till it hits Achilles’ heel and he is killed.

In the Shahnameh Rostam and Esfandiar are engaged in a battle and Rostam’s arrow with the guidance of Simorgh goes towards the eyes of Esfandiar and kills him.

In the Iliad Achilles’ horse predicts its owner’s death. In the Shahnameh, too, the camel of Esfandiar’s army stops at ‘Gonbadan Dezh’ to inform Esfandiar of his death in Zabolestan. But Esfandiar orders the killing of the camel and sets off for his inevitable destiny.

Some of the researchers have compared Esfandiar with Hector, the Trojan prince. Esfandiar knows well that when his father ‘Goshtasb’, the king of Iran, sends him to fight Rostam, indeed he wants him to be killed. Yet, to avoid disgrace and to fulfill his father’s commandment he hastens towards death. His mother ‘Katayoon’ like Hector’s mother tries to prevent him from going to this battle. Hector is not invulnerable but he wears an armour which is not pierced with any weapon. The only spot that was not covered by the armour was the place between his neck and shoulder. Achilles angrily pierces his spear into the place and kills him.

Ferdowsi, the Poet-Sage Mon, 31 Jan 2011 14:45:17 +0000
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The Shahnameh, Ferdowsi’s magnum opus, is the greatest epic work of the Iranians. This literary work consists of three distinct eras; namely the mythical era, the epic-heroic era, and the historical era.

The first era includes the age of Kyumars till the emergence of Fereydoon. Most of the events of this era pertain to the emergence of rulers, the discovery of fire, acquaintance with agriculture and other vocations. The mythical ear of the Shahnameh is the account of the conflict between men and demons and the triumph of human power that led to the emergence of the aspects of civilization such as the art of writing and construction of solid houses for living.

The researchers of the Shahnameh believe that the epic-heroic era of this book is the best part of it. In this era great heroes like Rostam and Esfandiar come to the scene and play significant roles in the events. The kings, the period of their rule, the occurrences and characters of this part are all extraordinary, so much so that the reader feels quite fascinated. In the third and last part of the book, that is, the historical era, there are no mythical personae, no heroes, and no supernatural feats. These are replaced by natural personae and normal actions.

The Iliad of Homer is the greatest Greek epic work. It is the story of a war between the Greek and the Trojans. Paris, the prince of Troy, abducts Helen, the wife of Menelaus of Sparta. This angers the Greek and ignites a war that lasts ten years and ends with the captured and burning of Troy by the Greeks through a ruse, known as the Trojan Horse, which they had made of wood with warriors hidden in its huge belly to stage the surprise attack at night.

Odyssey, Homer’s other work is indeed the continuation of Iliad. It is the account of the return of Ulysses, the hero of the Trojan War which is supposed to have angered the mythical deities the Greeks used to worship. His wife, Penelope, and his son, Telemak, are waiting for him. But some people who think Ulysses is dead urge Penelope to marry again. Penelope resists. Ulysses offers sacrifices to pacify the supposed wrath of the mythical deities that the Greeks worship. He comes back to his birthplace incognito and wreaks vengeance upon those who had proposed marriage to his wife.

In contrast to the weird concepts of the Illiad and the Odyssey, the most important aspect of the Shahnameh is the conflict between good and evil, light and darkness, and justice against oppression. The most obvious one is the conflict between Key Khosrow, the king of good and light with Afrasiab, the king of evil and darkness.

Undoubtedly the conflict of good and evil has always existed in the world and man naturally likes good to triumph over evil. Yet some researchers think there are certain resemblances in the Shahnameh with the Iliad and the Odyssey. Dr. Mehrdad Bahar believes the Iranian myths are somehow inspired by the myths and ritual of West Asia. If Dr. Mohammad Mo’in is to be believed, “the Iranian myths are among the Aryan myths that are a part of the Indo-European culture.”

Some are of the opinion that the certain common aspects between the Shahnameh and the Iliad are the result of the socio-cultural relations of the Iranians and the Greeks, especially after the Macedonian conquest of Persia and the rule of the Seleucids that followed. Although the Iranian people didn’t like the Greek Seleucid rulers of their homeland, cultural and economic ties expanded during this period. For instance, the kings would give the farms to the aristocrats to defend them against the enemies, but these big land owners would never aid them. That’s why the Seleucids always relied on the Greeks and the Greek-populated cities of Asia.

Yet the conditions in the eastern Iranian lands, namely Balkh and Soghdia, in what is now Afghanistan and Central Asia were otherwise. According to Dr. Bahar, “The Iranian aristocrats of the region cooperated with the Greek governors which led to the thriving of social condition in Balkh and Soghdia. The Greek used to call Balkh the ‘the most precious’ or the gem of Persia. This wide scale cooperation of the Iranian land owners with the Greek governors couldn’t be feasible without socio-cultural relations. The most evident cultural impact of the period is the use of the Greek alphabet in Balkh, the remnants of which have been discovered during excavations.

Ferdowsi, the Poet-Sage Mon, 24 Jan 2011 13:31:01 +0000
Ferdowsi, the Poet-Sage (30) http://english.irib.ir/component/k2/item/70088-ferdowsi-the-poet-sage-30 http://english.irib.ir/component/k2/item/70088-ferdowsi-the-poet-sage-30

Literary works are compared on the basis of similarities and differences. Sometimes there are similarities in principles, events and images of the epics of the world nations.

This might be because of the fact that human beings react similarly to an identical happening. Or else familiarity with older works of art and literature leads to the creation of similar works among other nations. For instance, there are similarities between Esfandiar of the Shahnameh and Achilles of the Greek mythology. The three epic works, that is the Epic of Gilgamesh of ancient Sumeria, the Iliad of Greece, and the Shahnameh of Iran, can be compared from the viewpoint of the theme, elements and the trend of events. They are similar because all of them are mythical and heroic. All of them are the embodiment of the imaginations and experiences of ancient men. The reason for their difference is that each of these three works has been created at a different time, place and conditions. In addition, they have been composed out of different motives. Gilgamesh, Iliad and Shahnameh are considered epic works from the viewpoint of literary genre. The personae and heroes of these works confront external forces or adversaries.


In the Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh the hero, who is the champion and king of the land of Arx, is called Gilgamesh. He fights with a monster called Humbaba which rules the lotus forest. In the Iliad of Homer, the fight is against a country whose prince has insulted the national and moral reputation of the hero. In the Shahnameh, too, the heroes fight with the near or far enemies who invade the Iranian land every now and then.

In the epic of Gilgamesh, the main motive of fight and struggle is seeking fame and power by Gilgamesh, who goes to fight Humbaba to show his victory and power to the deities. The main motive of fighting in Iliad is taking revenge and destroying the civilization of the insulting nation or ethnicity. This will result in gaining wealth and reputation for the hero, too.

But the gist of the Shahnameh is to defend and fight against the aggressive forces. It is indeed the war against evil and vice. The most horrendous indication of the devil is the incursion of the enemies to Iran; so the loftiest and the holiest duty is to be steadfast against these onslaughts and to keep the freedom and independence of Iran and its people. The Shahnameh is the story of this steadfastness, the embodiment of the Iranians’ national spirit and the manifestation of the eternal ideals of the Iranians.

The wars of the Iranians in Shahnameh are never for the sake of conquering a country, imposing their creed and customs or obtaining spoils. The Shahnameh is not the rapacious account of such cruel and bloodthirsty conquerors as Alexander, Jenghis Khan or Timur, who had invaded Iran and massacred its people. The Shahnameh is the epic of the Iranian people in defending their national entity and of their perpetual resistance against devils whatsoever. Some of the fights mentioned in the Shahnameh are avenge the oppressed. Altogether it must be said that the Iranians in the Shahnameh fight for the sake of justice.

Time and place are also different in the Gilgamesh, the Iliad and the Shahnameh. Gilgamesh, as the oldest human epic, is related to the Sumerian people who inhabited what is now southern Iraq. Its time and place are almost known. Gilgamesh is the fifth king of the Arx dynasty who had ruled over Mesopotamia. In the Iliad, too, time and place are known. The story of Iliad starts when a long ten-year war nears its end. Thus Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh is different from the Gilgamesh and the Iliad, from the viewpoint of time and place. The first incidents of the Shahnameh begin in a mythical boundless place and at an indefinite time. Gradually there are events and persons added to it so that at the end the Shahnameh becomes thoroughly historical. The first rulers mentioned in the Shahnameh are mythical, while the last of them is the historical figure, Khosrow Parviz, of the Sassanid Dynasty. The dominant themes of the epics of Gilgamesh, Iliad and Shahnameh are different. The theme of Gilgamesh is basically different from the other two epics. It is the quest for eternal life. The Sumerian deities decide to send Enkido, who is a close friend of Gilgamesh, to the netherworld or the world of the dead. They want to do this to punish Gilgamesh. Enkido dreams that he is taken to the world of the dead and there remains only a spirit from him. He relates his dream to Gilgamesh. Upon Enkido's death Gilgamesh is scared. He says to himself, "Will I not have a destiny like Enkido? My heart is overwhelmed by grief. Death frightens me. I'm going to leave for the desert." Gilgamesh knows that his great forefather (Utnapishtim) has achieved eternal life. He goes to find him and asks him about the mystery of death and life. Having taken a long trip and passing through many perils, he finds out that there is no escape from death.

The Iliad of Homer revolves around boastfulness and the showing of one nation's racial superiority over another, which in turn ends in the destruction of a thriving civilization. Paris, a prince of Troy abducts Helen, the queen of Sparta along with the treasuries of King Menelaus. This very unwise act ignites a devastating war between the two civilizations.

In comparison to these two ancient epics, the main theme of the Shahnameh is the battle between good and evil which is demonstrated in the defence of a nation against aggressive invaders. The essence of the Iranian epic is the perpetual battle between good and evil, the battle of light against darkness. Thus the devilish forces of injustice, lies, witchcraft, slaughter, and devastation, are manifested in the form of natural calamities or in the shape of demons and the Turanians. On the other side merits like justice, kindness, magnanimity, felicity and progress are the characteristics of the Iranian heroes.

In the two epics of Gilgamesh and Iliad it is the deities that play the main role and all things depend upon them for occurrence. But in the Shahnameh there is an undeniable emphasis on the power of God. The heroes of the Shahnameh do not go to the battlefield out of personal interest or bias. They don't like war. Indeed they are not bellicose figures. Neither do they like gaining fame or accumulating wealth. The heroes of the Shahnameh are in the service of eternal bliss and betterment of their nation and exert for it.

Ferdowsi, the Poet-Sage Mon, 17 Jan 2011 14:12:32 +0000
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Myths have become a part of human life and sometimes they cloud beliefs. There are aspects in the human mind which can only be encompassed by imagination.

In other words those things that are thought by man but are not achieved take the shape of myths. Myths are often intertwined with history and society, and often lead to a better understanding of the ways of the ancients. One cannot assign a specific beginning for myths. Obviously the geographical, ethnic and cultural conditions have impacted the formation of myths. There are two types of epic poetry among different nations, namely natural or national epics and artificial epics. What are known as national epics are sentiments accumulated over the millenniums to express the supposed grandeur and might of the ancient cultures and civilizations. Such epics are full of wars, heroism, and sacrifices. Of such epics mention can be made of the epic of Gilgamesh of Babel, Iliad, Odyssey and the Shahnameh. As for the artificial epics, the poet does not deal with specific heroic accounts but he rather broaches on innovating accounts. In these accounts poets are free to make the theme of their story with the help of their imagination. Among such works one can name Aeneid by Virgil.

There are common features among the epic works of the world. The primary features in all these works are valour, swordsmanship and heroism. The roles played by the animals in these works are not comparable with ordinary animals. Xanthus, Achilles’ horse has the power to predict and can speak. It predicts Achilles’ death in the Trojan War. Rakhsh, the horse of Rostam, is also an extraordinary animal. It is able to fight with the lion and in some conflicts it makes decisions. The heroes of epical works destroy awesome and monstrous creatures as Rostam and Esfandiar kill the dragon and the white demon in their seven adventures. In the myths the heroes of the epics encounter a protagonist in every stage of their life. Great epics are based on myths and the myths are often a fantasy influenced by historical conditions. Reviewing the Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer gives us an idea of the mindset of the ancient Greeks. In the old Roman and Greece works there were beliefs like duality, metamorphosis and so on. The Greek of the second millennium BC, combining the local civilization with that of the Aryan migrants, created a new civilization.

The Aryan peoples are supposed to have reached India in the second millennium BC. What has remained of this civilization is reflected in the four Vedas. The Indian vernaculars of the Dravidians had attained a grand civilization before the arrival of the migrants and had raised their specific creeds and beliefs. A blending of the two cultures and civilizations, coupled with confrontation is seen in both the mythical Sanskrit works, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.

The Roman Aneid which was indeed the continuation of the Greek Iliad, and was compiled in the Latin language that established itself as the lingua franca of Europe, because of the literary talents its author, Vigil.

The Shahnameh of Ferdowsi was composed at a time when the Turks had entered Iran, become Muslims, mixed with the local population, and created specific political and social conditions in the land. Iranians, after becoming Muslims, did not forget their past history, and prior to the compilation of Ferdowsi's Shahnameh, similar works both in prose and poetry had been composed. Today, the modern historian calls it establishment of Iranian national identity. Mythical and epical stories belong to the oral or folkloric literature of nations and the most important role of epic poets is to keep alive the stories of the ancients in the minds of the people.

Homer lived 1700 years before Ferdowsi and collected the oral stories of the past and wrote them in Greek. His epic is a part of the Greek cultural heritage. The language of Homer and his works have got a specific cultural status among the Greek. Idioms like Achilles’ heel are used as an equivalent of a weak point widely today in most European languages including English. The names that appear in the Iliad and the Odyssey are still common among Greek and other European peoples.

Likewise, the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi is the story of the people of the land of Iran since the dawn of creation till the fall of the Sassanid dynasty. Ancient Iranian stories were common among the people since the time of the Achaemenians and even before. What is important in Ferdwosi’s work is that he had kept alive the stories of the ancients thanks to his mastery over Persian language. There is almost no Iranian or a lover of Persian literature anywhere in the world, who does not know a single line of the Shahnameh.

Ferdowsi, the Poet-Sage Mon, 10 Jan 2011 12:03:43 +0000
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Undoubtedly, there was not much room for women in ancient Iran's ruling system and they could not attain high-ranking posts. This fact has been reflected in the Shahnameh.

The high portfolios in the ruling system of ancient Iran were mainly occupied by men. But this statement does not mean that women are absent in Ferdowsi's poetical masterpiece, the Shahnameh.


In fact, Shahnameh is the scene of presence of prominent women such as Faranak, Roudabeh, Sindokht, Gordafarid, Joreyreh, and Tahmineh, to name a few, each of whom are clear examples of beauty, wisdom, broadmindedness, and chastity. They are supporters of their spouses in all scenes, and have even remarkably entered the scene on their own.

Among the women depicted in the Shahnameh, only two of them have betrayed their husbands. The first is Soudabeh, the wife of King Kaykavoos, and the step-mother of Siavash, who has a crush on her step-son. In this case, the purity and honesty of Siavash prevents her betrayal. The other woman is Gordieh, spouse of Gostahm, the maternal uncle of King Khosrow Pervez. She does not remain faithful to her husband, and poisons and kills Gostahm in order to submit herself to Khosrow Pervez, in order to find a place room in the King's harem.

Numerous women are present in the Shahnameh, who can be classified into two groups of ordinary women, and ladies of the court. The ordinary women are those that at times play roles in the events of the Shahnameh and in fact display the visage of women in ancient Iran. The example of these women can be found in the story of the Iranian champion Zaal and Roudabeh. In this story, we observe a woman that ostensibly sells jewelry and clothes and frequents the Mehrab Palace. But, she mainly intends to act as a matchmaker between Zaal and Roudabeh. Finally, in one of her visits to the palace, others become suspicious about her. At the end, Roudabeh admits to the woman, her love for Zaal and this matchmaker is acquitted of suspicion. Court ladies comprise the other group of women of Shahnameh. They appear as daughters of the house, mothers, or wives, who do not have any other responsibilities other than taking care of their house affairs. At times, these women are queens, commanders of the army, or heroines, playing pivotal and decisive roles in the events. Homa, Pourandokht and Azarmidokht are from the Iranian royal families; Qaydafeh is the queen of Andalusia; and Goo is the queen of a region in India. These are the highest ranking women that have been depicted in the Shahnameh. Although almost seventy Iranian and non-Iranian kings are mentioned in the Shahnameh; only a few queens play roles in the stories and adventures. The most prominent of these female figures is Sindokht, the wife of Mehrab, who is the king of Kabulestan. A blend of wisdom, dignity, and motherly emotions are praiseworthy in this woman's disposition. She is an eloquent and kindhearted woman, who is well-behaved with others.

Soudabeh, the spouse of King Kaykavoos is another Shahnameh figure. Her satanic and callous nature is not depicted in any other female figures of this masterpiece. In fact, the majority of Shahnameh analysts have assessed her character negatively. The overwhelming majority of these analysts believe Soudabeh is a seditious and satanic figure, whose presence in the court stirred numerous woes for Iranians. Despite her mischievous behavior, bright points are also observed in Soudabeh's destiny and fate. It is interpreted from Shahnameh and Soudabeh's seductive motives that she was not seditious in the beginning and possessed positive characteristics. When the King of Hamavaran conspires to capture and arrest Keykavoos, Soudabeh protests to her father's mischief and warns her husband against attending her father's ill-intentioned invitation. But, Kaykavoos pays no attention, and in a self-righteous move continues his misconstrued path. After capturing Kaykavoos, the King of Hamavaran sends a number of messengers to Soudabeh to bring her to the palace. Soudabeh rejects her father's invitation, and says she will stand by her husband until the last breath.

The mother of Siavash is also another well-known epical figure in the Shahnameh. Although Ferdowsi does not refer to her name, he makes us familiar with her character. She has escaped home due to the drunkenness and injustice of her father and is captured by two Iranian warriors. Toos and Geev find her and take her to King Kaykavoos, who marries her. Ferdowsi has chosen the women of the Shahnameh from the different strata of the society. In the view of Shahnameh analysts, a major surprise in this masterpiece is that Siavash's mother has a similar fate to her son. Both of them are fed up with the mischief of their fathers and seek refuge in foreigners. Farangis, the daughter of Afrasiab, is the spouse of Siavash, and the mother of Kaykhosrow. The presence of Farangis is highlighted in the Shahnameh, in the wake of her husband's death. The legendary Iranian champion, Geev, in the aftermath of death of Siavash, finds Kaykhosrow and her mother, Farangis, while they plan their return to Iran. This woman calls for vigilance against the schemes of her father, Afrasiab. She elaborates on her father's character and warns against being indifferent to his plots.

In fact, women have an epical presence in the Shahnameh.

One of the other women in Shahnameh is Katayoun, the daughter of the Caesar of Rome, and the mother of Esfandiar. Based on her dream, she chooses Goshtasb from the suitors that her father has chosen for her. This act enrages Caesar but he is forced into accepting this marriage. Thereafter, Caesar refuses to cooperate with them and forces this couple to leave the court.

Katayoun, in the company of her husband, grapples with hardships and homelessness in Rome until she returns to Iran with Goshtasb. In Iran, their hardships end. Ferdowsi refers to Katayoun as a wise, kindhearted, and happy person.

Manizheh, the daughter of Afrasiab, is another female figure in the Shahnameh, who has a story of her own. She holds a festivity every year on the Iran-Turan border. The two Iranian champions, Bizhan and Gorgin, have come to the border forests to get rid of wild boars that damage farmlands. Meanwhile, these two champions watch the festivity. Manizheh sees Bizhan and falls in love with him. Manizheh is one of the loyal and faithful women of the Shahnameh. When Afrasiab realizes his daughter's love for Bizhan, he cuts her off from the facilities provided by the court. She does not complain and submits to hardship and poverty, while dispensing with courtly habits. Manizheh finds the Iranian legendary champion, Rustam, and plays an effective role in the release of Bizhan from a well, in which he has been imprisoned.

In short, women in the Shahnameh, more than being epical figures, are women who have not lost their emotions and sentiments. Even when they enter epical events, they still act based on their female characteristics.

Ferdowsi, the Poet-Sage Mon, 27 Dec 2010 07:36:49 +0000
Ferdowsi, the Poet-Sage (27) http://english.irib.ir/component/k2/item/69126-ferdowsi-the-poet-sage-27 http://english.irib.ir/component/k2/item/69126-ferdowsi-the-poet-sage-27

In the last episode of this series, we talked about the status of women in Ferdowsi's poetical masterpiece, the Shahnameh, and how people in the ancient times viewed women. We further pointed to some characteristics of women in the Shahnameh.


Ferdowsi does not consider having a son as the only sign of continue of lineal descent. There are instances in the Shahnameh where one has ascended the throne from the mother's side instead of the father’s. Manouchehr is a clear example in this regard. A king like Manouchehr hastens to avenge the murder of his ancestor, Iraj and enters into battle with the Turanians for years. When Iraj was killed by his brothers Salm and Tur, his wife, Mahafarid was pregnant. When Fereydoun, the king of Iran, was informed of the news of Mahafarid's pregnancy, he was so cheerful that he ordered all facilities and welfare equipments to be made accessible to Mahafarid. She bears Iraj a daughter whom Fereydun gives in marriage to Pashang. Manouchehr is the offpsring of this marriage. After Manouchehr grows up and learns the manners of the kings, he ascends to the throne on the will of Fereydoun.

From among other characteristics of women in the Shahnameh, we can refer to the tradition in which women proposed marriage to men while retaining the right to choose their husband.

Rudabeh, the wife of Zaal, Tahmineh, the wife of Rostam, Manizheh, the wife of Bijan and Katayoun, the wife of Gushtasb are all examples in this way.

Women in the Shahnameh are unique in many ways. Rudabeh and her mother Sindokht can be considered among such unique women. Rudabeh is the woman who has been described the most in the Shahnameh. Problems and hindrances thrown in the way of Rudabeh’s marriage to Zaal give the poet the opportunity to describe her with a special manifestation. Rudabeh’s clan goes back to Zahhak. When Salm and Tur conspire and kill Iraj. The revenge for the murder of the innocent king pits the clan of Iraj, supported by King Fereydun, against the clan of Tur.

Rudabeh’s feelings of love and affection towards Zaal prepare the primary grounds for intimacy between the two countries.

Difficulties put in the way of Rudabeh’s marriage to Zaal are not limited to enmity between Iran and Turan. The way these two clans view women and girls also add to the already worsening situation.

Mihrab, the father of Rudabeh and the grandson of Zahhak views the birth of girls as bad omen. When Mihrab understands Rudabeh’s insistence to marry Zaal, he regrets as to why he had not obeyed his ancestors’ tradition and buried his daughter alive at the time of her birth.

We see instances in Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh where men cannot think of any way to overcome problems and women come to play an important role and resolve the challenges. Sindokht who is the mother of Rudabeh and the wife of the king of Kabulistan, comes forward to battle and resolves the problems through negotiations when she sees Mihrab desperate and in need of help. Sindokht is a determined and forceful woman. When Saam, Zaal's father, invades Kabul on the orders of Manouchehr, she is blamed. Sindokht, on her own, prepares gifts and goes to see Saam. She convinces Saam that he should not attack Kabul and should wait for the king's order. Gordafarid is another example of wise women in the Shahnameh. When Gazhdahm is arrested by Sohrab, her daughter, Gordafarid considers herself as being in charge of the Sepid fortress. She is a very bold woman, usually clad in armor like a man. She dresses in a knight’s armor, hides her hair beneath her helmet and faces Sohrab as a young warrior. Gordafarid is the only woman described as a young warrior in the Shahnameh.

Gordafarid and Sohrab enter into a hard-fought combat. In fact, Sohrab is about to kill Gorafarid when he discovers her true identity as a woman and gets surprised.

Valor and bravery are traits which can be seen in women of the Shanameh. The woman that Shahnameh introduces is brave enough to face dangers and overcomes difficulties shoulder to shoulder with men. After Faroud is killed at the hands of the Tous army, his mother Jarireh has no more reason or desire to live. She kills all their horses, sets fire to the fortress, and commits suicide. Gardieh, sister of Bahram Choobin also demands to give her an opportunity so that she can prove her capabilities. Hence, she dresses in a knight’s armor and enters the battlefield. When Lohrasb is killed by the Turanians and Goshtasp is in Sistan, the wife of Goshtasb rides a horse and heads to Sistan to inform her husband of what has happened.

There are women in the Shahnameh who are rulers and ascend the throne. The characteristics of these types of women are very brilliant in the Shahnameh. Homay Chehrzad, daughter of Bahman is the first woman in the Shahnameh to ascend the throne. She ruled for 32 years. Pourandokht is also among women in the Shahnameh who ascended the throne during the Sassanid era. She is a generous and affectionate woman. She cannot tolerate seeing poverty and needy people. Azaramdokht who becomes the ruler after Pourandokht is a wise and intelligent woman. Gardieh, the sister of Bahram Choobin after proving her intelligence and proficiency is chosen as the governor of Rayy, a city near today's Tehran which prior to this had been destroyed by an infamous man. In view of some Shahnameh researchers, Simorgh is a mythical bird in the Shahnameh who has a woman-like appearance.

She helps Zaal when he is abandoned on Mount Alborz as a baby and this shows the maternal and mother-like manner of this mythical bird.

Ferdowsi, the Poet-Sage Tue, 21 Dec 2010 14:44:36 +0000
Ferdowsi, the Poet-Sage (26) http://english.irib.ir/component/k2/item/68589-ferdowsi-the-poet-sage-26 http://english.irib.ir/component/k2/item/68589-ferdowsi-the-poet-sage-26  Ferdowsi, the Poet-Sage (26)

Through the medium of poetry, one becomes familiar with the culture of the people of different eras. Usually, poets are supposed to be highly sensitive people who are affected by the environment including the society.

By composing poems, they tell us about the conditions of their era besides revealing their own desires and wishes. One can get to know the social conditions of different eras by studying poems along with Iranian history. Of course, no one can ignore the role of geography and the natural environment on poems. In fact, the study of the position of women in Abol-Qasem Ferdowsi's Shahnameh, shows to a great extent the way women were deemed by the society in that era. Undoubtedly, there wasn't any room for women in the ancient Iranian governmental system and they couldn’t get any high-ranking position. This fact has been reflected in the Shahnameh as well. Governmental positions were mostly handled by men, but any time there was a chance for women to defend justice, Ferdowsi welcomed it.

There are several women who play outstanding roles in the Shahnameh, and their social and epic interests are different. Men in the Shahnameh are more homogeneous in their attributes. However, women can be well distinguished from each other, each has her own traits. Ferdowsi has repeatedly talked of the bravery and alertness of women, especially Iranian women and has deemed them shoulder to shoulder with men in the society. He has considered a high rank for women and has described this group of people as very competent, wise, and alert. Ferdowsi has praised women with the noblest attributes. In several couplets, he has displayed affection for his patient wife who throughout the 30 years he spent on composing the Shahnameh kept him an inspiring company. Among the main women characters of the Shahnameh, are Faranak, Rudabeh, Sindokht, Gordafarid, Jarireh, Tahmineh, and others. Each one of them is a prominent symbol of beauty, wisdom, bravery, and chastity. They stood valiantly and loyally beside their husbands, and wherever needed, went to the battlefield all alone.

Ferdowsi’s poems show the greatness that he attributes to women. In his opinion, a woman will rise higher and nobler than a wise and commando man if she is chaste, content, and virtuous. Among the interesting points which can be found in the Shahnameh is the loyalty and virtue of Iranian women. Women are depicted as protectors of the society and groomers of children, in addition to inspiration for husbands.

The kind of woman in Ferdowsi’s mind is an inspiration for warrior men. She can be wiser than men, more alert than commanders and more intelligent than them. Men kneel before these women and consider themselves indebted to them. Researchers of the Shahnameh have come to the conclusion that Ferdowsi is not exaggerating in this regard. There are many positive or negative events in history in which one or more women direct the issues in the backstage. One of the attributes emphasized by Ferdowsi is the bashfulness and coyness of Iranian women. Meanwhile, he states that the best women are those who meet the requirements of their husbands. This is another point about the position of woman in Iranian culture.

While Ferdowsi praises the position of women, one can understand from his poems that women cannot be consulted in certain social issues. Ferdowsi is naturally influenced by the prevalent beliefs and opinions of the society of his times. He doesn’t deem women confidant and has reiterated this in the Shahnameh.

So, we realize that literature is what reflects the culture of people of an era and based on the influence of his social culture and personal beliefs, he has reservations whether women can be taken as confidants or not in certain crucial matters. Anyway, as a poet, he has given his viewpoints. These viewpoints are mostly affected by the social conditions and public beliefs of his era. Naturally, his beliefs had proponents and opponents in each era.

However, in general, women are depicted as possessing wisdom and alertness in the Shahnameh. During hardships and times of necessity, she thinks, and then finds a way to bravely resolve the issue. For example, Faranak took the baby Fereydoon under her protection and sought a way to save him after Zahak’s soldiers killed Abtin and all male infants. Faranak entrusted Fereydoon to the care of a highly confidant man to conceal and save him from the soldiers of Zahak.

Contrary to the irrational myths of ancient Greek, Roman, Norse and Indian cultures, where champions are born as a result of marriage if not illicit affairs between humans and the imaginary gods and goddesses, all champions in Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, are the children of virtuous mothers having healthy and legitimate relationship with their husbands.

The great national Iranian champion, Rustam, is the son of the virutou lady called Rudabeh, who nurtures and brings him up as the honour of Iran and all the Iranians. Meanwhile, Rustam's son Sohrab, has the virtuous Tahmineh as his mother, and not some imaginary goddess.

Ferdowsi, the Poet-Sage Tue, 07 Dec 2010 06:45:46 +0000
Ferdowsi, the Poet-Sage (25) http://english.irib.ir/component/k2/item/68353-ferdowsi-the-poet-sage-25 http://english.irib.ir/component/k2/item/68353-ferdowsi-the-poet-sage-25 Ferdowsi, the Poet-Sage (25)

As we said last week, in the story of Rustam and Esfandiar, the reader is faced with three types of human beings representing three schools of thought.

Esfandiar represents the naive group, Goshtasb represents the arrogant and hedonist, and Rustam represents the noble and loyal and at the same time refusing to yield to anyone. We also studied the character of Rustam confronting that of Esfandiar. For Rustam, slavery equals denial of the gem of championship and putting an end to all the things for which his forefathers and he have fought and have devoted their lives. Rustam is second only to the king in the realm. Wherever he is, nobody disapproves of what he says, even the king. He is the real commander in every war that he takes part. Up to the era of Kay-Khosro, there is a borderline between kingdom and championship, but since the time of Lohrasb, Esfandiar’s grandfather, the borderline between kingdom and championship becomes blurred and it is at its climax in the time of Esfandiar.


In the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, Esfandiar is the only character who bears the two traits of a prince and a champion at the same time. He is a prince of good deeds and has not experienced bad deeds. Like all the good characters of the Shahnameh, he has a short life. In Ferdowsi’s idea, every characteristic except one is evident in the personality of Esfandiar, and that is the knowledge of the correct path of life. And at last, it is this very shortcoming that puts an end to his life. He is as handsome as Siavosh, with one major difference. Siavosh sacrificed himself for a more bountiful world, but Esfandiar faced distress and hardship out of negligence.

In the book, “The story of stories”, Dr. Islami Nodoshen has analysed the story of Rustam and Esfandiar in the Shahnameh and believes that Esfandiar is the best sample of those who have the best chances and privileges in their lives, but as they move contrary to human nature, the benefit of their life is gained by people like Goshtasb and he himself becomes the first loser and victim.

There was only one supposedly invulnerable man in Iran and that was Esfandiar. The dream of invulnerability which has its roots in ancient myths, talks about human ambition to become invulnerable. This is because of the ambitious but unachievable quest for eternality and immortality. Ever since the dawn of creation, human beings have always loved to lengthen their life, and if possible, even make it eternal. This is seen in the most ancient epic of the world, that is, the Mesopotamian myth of Gilgamesh. The invulnerable man is superior to others as no weapon can injure him. In the literary folklore of the ancient world, this characteristic is enjoyed by only a few people. The oldest supposedly invulnerable person in the ancient myths was the Achilles the Greek who was dipped by his mother in the sacred river and thus became invulnerable, with the only vulnerable part of his body being his heel since it was in the hand of his mother and was not dipped in the water. The next one was the German Siegfried, the champion of Nibelungen epic. He kills a ferocious dragon and bathes in its blood. His skin gets so impenetrable by the contact with the blood that no weapon can injure it. However, he has a vulnerable part on his body and that is between his two shoulders. Esfandiar is also invulnerable. He was dipped in the holy water. The only vulnerable parts of his body are his eyes which were closed during the dip.

Goshtasb for his part is an example of the arrogant and hedonist persons. He is the most notorious Iranian king of Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh. Although he has a lengthy rule, his era unfolds an atmosphere of hatred in both his court life and that of the people. There are many kings in history who have killed their fathers, sons, or brothers, but none of them is as notorious as Goshtasb. The reason for his notoriety is that he plots to eliminate his son – a son who is innocent and has strived selflessly to safeguard Iran. Goshtasb, who is infatuated with kingship, seized power from his father by forcing him to abdicate. Lohrasb handed the throne to Goshtasb and retired as a hermit to pray for the last thirty years of his life. Besides hedonism and abjuration, other faults such as selfishness, ingratitude, and hard-heartedness have been attributed to Goshtasb. He is an inefficient king. He leaves the country without any control and stays in Zabolestan as a guest to Rustam for two years. It is at this time that Turanians invade Iran, kill Goshtasb’s old father Lohrasb, enslave his daughters and plunder the whole city. Goshtasb is an ungrateful person. Though he was a guest in Rustam’s house for two years, he doesn’t appreciate the hospitality of his host, and sends his son to fight Rustam and bring him handcuffed to the court. Goshtasb is a hedonist. He is always engrossed in enjoying of wealth and pleasures. He is jealous of Rustam's wealth and prestige.

Goshtasb is a hard-hearted person and even the death of his sons and his brother, Zarir, does not have any effect on his hedonism and ambition. He doesn’t have a glorious record as king. In the two invasions of Iran by Arjasb Turani, it was only Esfandiar’s bravery which saved him from absolute defeat. However, Goshtasb regards Esfandiar as a rival rather than a son. The real commander is Esfandiar. The army and the treasury is under his authority, especially after rescuing his sisters from slavery and his victory over the Turanians, a rival Aryan tribe inhabiting ancient Central Asia. What can be understood from Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh and other similar sources is that Goshtasb was not a popular king, but it was Prince Esfandiar who enjoyed much popularity among the people. When Esfandiar’s coffin is brought to the capital, there is such a clamour in the city that it is feared the country will be plunged in riots. The elders accuse Goshtasb. Pashotan, the eldest son of Goshtasb, who has brought the coffin with him, turns his face away when he sees his father and shouts: “You got your son killed to keep your throne.” Goshtasb’s daughter, too, shouts the same words more explicitly and says: “Neither phoenix nor Zaal, nor, Rustam killed him. It is all your fault, to kill your son to keep your throne; something that no king has ever done before you.”

Goshtasb’s sin actually absolves Rustam of being the instrument of the death of Esfandiar. No one begrudges Rustam nor talks of vengeance towards him. They regard Rustam as the victim of Goshtasb’s evil nature that forced the veteran champion to protect his own life by killing Esfandiar.

Ferdowsi, the Poet-Sage Mon, 29 Nov 2010 15:05:16 +0000
Ferdowsi, the Poet-Sage (24) http://english.irib.ir/component/k2/item/68352-ferdowsi-the-poet-sage-24 http://english.irib.ir/component/k2/item/68352-ferdowsi-the-poet-sage-24 Ferdowsi, the Poet-Sage (24)

The story of Rustam and Esfandiar presents the reader with three types of human beings representing three manners of thought. One of them is naive and prejudiced, as is evident by Esfandiar.

The second one is arrogant and hedonist, an example of whom is King Goshtasb, and the third one is noble and loyal to the cause, as represented by Rustam.


The story of Rustam and Esfandiar can be considered one of the most beautiful accounts of two heroes with contrasting attitudes. The theme of the story of Rustam and Esfandiar is freedom and slavery, and broadmindedness and narrow-mindedness – as aspect of mankind that persists till this day. In the triangle of statecraft involving Rustam, Esfandiar, and Goshtasb, first of all, Prince Esfandiar, who is naive and ambitious is victimized by the craftiness of his own father. King Goshtasb gradually succumbs to the hatred of his own people for his sinister deeds. The story of the contest between Rustam and Esfandiar which results in the latter's death, despite the best efforts of the former to avoid such a tragic end, is a saga of ancient Iran that reflects the beliefs, wishes, and dreams of the Iranians of the pre-historic period. In this story, as is special with great tragedies, the human spirit reaches its highest point of struggles and efforts. The two main champions of the story revolve around each other like tornadoes and end up using all their physical and spiritual energies as if they were vying for immortal life.

The battle of Rustsam and Esfandiar, more than any other battle in the Shahnameh, is a moral battle. It is a clash between two natures and two inner worlds. Everything is ironic and symbolic even the neighing of their respective horses. These two champions are representing two clans and groups. Each one is a symbol of one ideology trying to prove its superiority. Rustam represents the common people. He is the embodiment of the ideals and wishes of thousands of people who idolize him as the ultimate hero. To him, acceptance of slavery, even for a moment, is tantamount to slavery forever. If Rustam is to be handcuffed, everything is finished; it would mean his spiritual death, which is worse than physical death. It is like destroying everything for which his forefathers and he have fought and endangered their lives. Rustam's wars and proverbial bravery for defending the honour of Iran and the dignity of the Iranian people had earned him immortal fame. So how he could submit tamely when his heroics were for the purpose of the victory of virtue over vice. Repeatedly, Rustam insists Esfandiar to give up the idea of arresting him, but Esfandiar doesn’t accept it. The only solution is a duel between the two heroes. He must either kill Esfandiar or be killed by him; however, it is not a good solution. The champion does not like to lose or get killed since it would forever mar his reputation. So, he must find a third way that is neither humility nor death. From Rustam’s viewpoint, death would be preferable to humility in case he can’t find another solution. Rustam sees two problems about his death in this battle. One is that, the impact of his death will not be just for him; rather, it will affect all his kith and kin, and will result in the destruction of the country. The second is that his death would lead to the humiliating surrender of all those who consider him their ideal hero.

At the same time Rustam does not want to kill Esfandiar, and so tries in vain to make him give up the rash idea of taking him as a captive to his father's court. On the one hand, it is very difficult to defeat Esfandiar, since he is invulnerable. On the other hand, Esfandiar is the apple of the eye of the royal family which Rustam has served all his life. Rustam reluctantly fights Esfandiar since the idea of confronting those whom he had defended all his life, is mind-boggling in view of his loyal service of the past.. Rustam view Esfandiar with affection. His zeal and bravery in the battlefield reminds Rustam of his own youth. Most of Rustam’s worries about Esfandiar’s death in the battle is from the prophecies he had heard about the person killing Esfandiar. Fortune-tellers had predicted that the person who kills Esfandiar will never become fortunate in his life and the victim's blood will finally triumph in vengeance on him and his family. It is as if the whole world is not spacious enough for the two champions. One of them must be removed and that is Esfandiar. In this story, Rustam’s character is stable, moderate, and magnanimous. As long as he hopes to convince Esfandiar, he is mild and he spares no pain to beseech him to give up his idea. However, when there is no hope, he stands firmly against him and utters words that hurt the prince. Esfandiar is both a prince and a famous champion. In the Shahnameh no other person combines these two hereditary and acquired characteristics. Thus, Esfandiar is unique in his own way but is not content. He is rather rashly ambitious, and throughout this short life, he is always involved in skirmishes. His only wish is to become a king but this doesn’t happen and he dies. He is an experienced young man with a life full of victory and glory. In the two attacks launched by Arjasb Turani, it is Esfandiar who saves Iran from defeat. To protect Iran, he has performed heroic feats that none had ever done except Rustam. His heroic victories seem to have gone to his head and in his rashness he brazenly asks his father to hand him over the kingdom.

According to Dr. Islami Nodushan in the book “The Story of Stories”, Esfandiar’s first reason to ask for kingdom is because of his belief in his pride, prowess and prestige as the invincible prince who is believed to have invulnerability. Bearing these traits, Esfandiar considers himself the most prominent person of his time and assumes that he is superior to all of the past kings. So, he demands the kingdom from his father. The other reason for insisting that his father hand him over the throne is because of Goshtasb's own innovation and breaking of the tradition of the past. Goshtasb asked for kingdom while his father the king was alive and he gained it. Thus Esfandiar sees no reason not to emulate his father. Esfandiar expects to mount the throne for the self-devotions he has made and the dangerous missions he has gone through. However, every time Goshtasb delays it with an excuse and the last of which is to bring the champion Rustam handcuffed. For Esfandiar, this is a very dangerous and risky. According to Dr. Islami Nodoshan, “Although Esfandiar knows that this is an excuse to keep him away from the kingdom, he accepts the challenge with confidence of further increasing his heroic reputation, and leads to his destruction.

Ferdowsi, the Poet-Sage Mon, 29 Nov 2010 15:02:38 +0000