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The Historic Age

From Ferdowsi's Shahnama 

Cast of Characters: 


  • Dara: Dara or Darb, known to the Greeks as Darius III, came to the throne as the thirteenth emperor of the Achemenid Persian Dynasty in 336 BCE. He was a ruler of the largest and wealthiest empire in the world--but an empire that politically and militarily was much weaker than it had been under Darius the Great (r. 521-486 BCE) or Xerxes I (485-465 BCE). He fled from the invading armies of Alexander the Great for almost a year, until he was murdered by his own men in the summer of 330 BCE. 
  • Sikander: Sikander is the Persian name for Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE), the Macedonian who united the Greeks and led them to a conquest of Asia Minor, Egypt, and the great Persian empire. Over time, the Persians adopted him into their lineage of kings, and Sikander is a major figure in the Shahnama. 
  • Ardshir: Ardshir overthrew the last of the Parthian overlords to establish the Sassanians, the second great Persian dynasty. He reigned from Ctesiphon on the Euphrates as the Sassanian Shah, from 224 to 241 CE. The Sassanians consciously sought to revive the glory of the Achemenids and re-conquered their territories west to Syria and east to the Indus River in modern Pakistan. The traditional enemies of the Sassanians were the Roman and Byzantine Empires, a state of affairs that profoundly shapes the worldview of the Shahnama. 
  • Bahram Gur: "Bahram of the Wild Ass", Bahram V, who ruled as Sassanian Shah from 420 to 428 CE. As a historical personage, he lost a battle with the Byzantines but successfully repelled an invasion of the White Huns--both struggles part of a centuries-long conflict. His lasting legacy is in literature and legend, where he emerges as a fearless hunter (especially of the fur, the wild ass) and an irresistible lover. 


NEED 1963/1.64


Now in a little while, when all the troops
Were satiate of wealth, a sudden impulse
Came on Sikander, and he greatly longed
To journey to the Ka’aba. . . .
Sikander
Departed with his diadem and treasures
To look upon the house of Ibrahim,
Who bare no little toil to build that shrine,
Which God hath named Baitu’l Haram . . .
He visited afoot Baitu’l Haram;
The seed of Isma’il rejoiced in him.
At every step of Caesar’s* pilgrimage
His treasurer showered dinars.
Warner, VI, 119–21


He ordered [them] to bring blacksmiths, copper, brass,
And heavy hammers, mortar, stone, and fire-wood. . . .
The experts mustered, and he built two walls
Across the mountain-pass from base to crest,
One hundred royal cubits broad, one cubit
Of charcoal, one of iron, in between
Strewed copper, and showered sulphur in the midst . . .
And when from top to bottom all was set,
They mixed much ghee and naphtha, poured it over
Those substances, and on the top shot charcoal
In ass-loads. Then the Shah bade fire the whole,
And five score thousand smiths blew up the flames . . .
Thus passed a season with the fire in blast,
And smiths a-toil. They ran the substances
Together, fusing them in that fierce blaze.
Thus was the world delivered from Yajuj
And from Majuj, and earth grew habitable . . .
Warner, VI, 164–65

Now at Baghdad Ardshir assumed his seat
Upon the ivory throne and donned the crown
That maketh glad the heart, with girdle girt,
The scepter of the Shahs in hand. …
When as
He donned the crown of majesty he spake,
Victorious and glad, upon the throne
Thus: “Justice is my treasure in this world,
Which is reviving ‘neath my busy hands,
A treasure this that none can take from me; …
The world is wholly under my protection,
My policy is to approve of justice.”
The whole assembly blessed him and exclaimed:
“Oh! May thy justice make earth prosperous!”
Warner, VI, 258

...The creature scratched
Its ear. Forthwith within his bow of Chach
He set an arrow and pinned head and ear
And foot together; but Azada’s heart
Was vexed about the deer. . .
Bahram stretched out,
Flung her from saddle headlong to the ground,
And made his dromedary trample her,
Besmearing hands and breast and lute with blood.
Warner, VI, 382–84


. . . And thus it chanced:
A lion of the Shah’s had broken loose,
And came along the road. Now at the time
The shoemaker was still in drink—a sea
That made his fingers thumbs. He ran, bestrode
The roaring lion, and then reaching out
He clutched its ears. The lion had been fed;
The youth maintained his seat. Post-haste the keeper
Came running after them, a chain in one hand,
A lasso in the other.
Warner, VII, 24

Hasting to the stream he saw
The dragon mid the gloom, its form, its writhing,
And furiousness, fire flashing from its eyes.
He strung his bow, he chose
Shafts dipped in bane of milk, and ’gan to shower them
Down on the dragon, wheeling all the while,
Like horsemen in the fray, to left and right.
The dragon’s body failed
By reason of those shafts, and all the ground
Ran with its gore and bane.
Warner, VII, 125

The world-lord called and told the dream to him.
He [Buzurjmihr] heard, grew full of matter, and replied:
“There is a youth disguised in women’s garb
Within thy bower. Now put all strangers forth,
That none may know our purpose, and command
Thy ladies all to pass before thy presence
With measured tread . . .”
They came, those Idols of his bower, in all
Their perfumes, tints, and beauty.
They passed the second time and, when all thought
The dream an empty one, a youth appeared
Of cypress-stature and of kingly looks,
But quaking like a willow and despairing
Of his dear life.
Warner, VII, 284–85

. . . Those illustrious kings,
All dudgeon and vindictiveness, then saddled
Two elephants, each at his army’s center
Took up his station, and assumed command.
The earth grew pitch-like, heaven azure-dim
With all the spears and silken bannerets,
While air was ebon with the armies’ dust.
While at the thud of battle-ax, of mace,
And sword, a red reek went up from the deep, . . .
. . . the hosts advanced,
Troop after troop, while all the plain was filled
With livers, brains, and hearts.
Warner, VII, 416

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May 23, 2018 2:38 p.m.

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