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Secret Societies of the Middle Ages

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Author Topic: Secret Societies of the Middle Ages  (Read 1695 times)
Trena Alloway
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« Reply #45 on: January 04, 2009, 11:26:35 pm »

The history of the Shah-nameh (King-book), in which these legends are contained, is one of the most curious in literature. The fanaticism of the Arabs, who conquered Persia, raged with indiscriminate fury against the literature, as well as the religion, of that country; and when, in the time of Al-Mansoor and

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his successors Haroon-er-Rasheed and Al-Mamoon, the Arabs themselves began to devote their attention to literature and science, it was the science of Greece and the poetry of their native language that they cultivated. The Persian literature meantime languished in obscurity, and the traditional, heroic, and legendary tales of the nation were fading fast from memory, when a governor of a province, zealous, as it would appear, for the honour of the Persian nation, made a collection of them, and formed from them a continuous narrative in prose. The book thus formed was called the Bostan-nameh (Garden-book). It was in great repute in the northern part of Persia, where, at a distance from the court of the khalifs, the Persian manners, language, and nationality were better preserved; and when the Turkish family of the Samenee founded an empire in that part of Persia, sultan Mansoor I., of that race, gave orders to a poet named Dakeekee to turn the Bastan-nameh into Persian verse. The poet undertook the task, but he had not made more than a thousand verses when he perished by assassination. There being no one supposed capable of continuing his work, it was suspended till twenty years afterwards, when the celebrated Mahmood of Ghizni, the conqueror of India, meeting with the Bastan-nameh, gave portions of it to three of the most renowned poets of the time to versify. The palm of excellence was adjudged to Anseri, who versified the tale of Sohrab slain by his own father Roostem, one of the most pathetic and affecting narratives in any language. The sultan made him Prince of the Poets, and directed him to versify the entire work; but, diffident of his powers, Anseri shrank from the task, and having some time afterwards met a poet of Toos in Khorasan, named Isaac, the son of Sheriff-Shah, surnamed Ferdoosee

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[paragraph continues] (Paradisal *), either from his father's employment as a gardener, or from the beauty of his verses, he introduced him to the sultan, who gladly committed the task to him. Ferdoosee laboured with enthusiasm in the celebration of the ancient glories of his country; and in the space of thirty or, as some assert, of only eight years, he brought the poem to within two thousand lines of its termination, which lines were added by another poet after his death.

The Shah-nameh is, beyond comparison, the finest poem of the Mohammedan east. It consists of 60,000 rhymed couplets, and embraces the history of Persia, from the beginning of the world to the period of its conquest by the Arabs. The verses move on with spirit and rapidity, resembling more the flow of our lyrical, than that of our common heroic, lines †.

Ferdoosee wrote his poem in the early part of the eleventh century from a book which had been in existence a long time before, for he always calls it an old book. No proof therefore is needed that he did not invent the tales which compose the Shah-nameh, and they have every appearance of having been the ancient traditionary legends of the Persian nation. But we are able to show that these legends were popular in Persia nearly six centuries before his time; and it was chiefly with a view to establishing this



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curious point that we related the tale of Zohak and Feridoon.

Moses of Choren, the Armenian historian, who wrote about the year 440, thus addresses the person to whom his work is dedicated. "How should the vain and empty fables about Byrasp Astyages gain any portion of thy favour, or why shouldest thou impose on us the fatigue of elucidating the absurd, tasteless, senseless legends of the Persians about him? to wit, of his first injurious benefit of the demoniac powers which were subject to him, and how he could not deceive him who was deception aryl falsehood itself. Then, of the kiss on the shoulders, whence the dragons came, and how thenceforward the growth of vice destroyed mankind by the pampering of the belly, until at last a certain Rhodones bound him with chains of brass, and brought him to the mountain which is called Demavend; how Byraspes then dragged to a hill Rhodones, when he fell asleep on the way, but this last, awaking out of his sleep, brought him to a cavern of the mountain, where he chained him fast, and set an image opposite to him, so that, terrified by it, and held by the chains, he might never more escape to destroy the world."

Here we have evidently the whole story of Zohak and Feridoon current in Persia in the fifth century; and any one who has reflected on the nature of tradition must be well aware that it must have existed there for centuries before. The very names are nearly the same. Taking the first syllable from Feridoon, it becomes nearly Rodon, and Biyraspi Aidahaki (the words of the Armenian text) signify the dragon Byrasp: Zohak is evidently nearly the same with the last word. This fable could hardly have been invented in the time of the Sassanian dynasty, who had not then been more than two centuries on the throne, much less during the period of

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the dominion of the Parthian Arsacides, who were adverse to everything Persian. We are therefore carried back to the times of the Kejanians, the Achæmenides of the Greeks; and it is by no means impossible that the tale of Zohak and Feridoon was known even to the host which Xerxes led to the subjugation of Greece.

It is well known to those versed in oriental history that, when the founder of the house of Sassan mounted the throne of Persia in the year 226, he determined to bring back everything, as far as was possible, to its state in the time of the Kejanians, from whom he affected to be descended, and that his successors trod in his footsteps. But, as Persia had been for five centuries and a half under the dominion of the Greeks and Parthians, there was probably no authentic record of the ancient state of things remaining. Recourse was therefore had to the traditional tales of the country; and, as the legend of Zohak and Feridoon was, as we have seen, one of the most remarkable of these tales, it was at once adopted as a genuine portion of the national history, and a banner formed to represent the Apron of Gavah, which was, as the poet describes it, adorned with additional jewels by each monarch of the house of Sassan at his accession. This hypothesis will very simply explain the circumstance of this banner being unnoticed by the Greek writers, while it is an undoubted fact that it was captured by the Arabs at the battle of Kadiseäh, which broke the power of Persia,--a circumstance which has perplexed Sir John Malcolm.

We will finally observe that the historian just alluded to, as well as some others, thinks that the darkness cast by the magic art of the White Deev over Ky Kaoos and his army in Mazanderan coincides with the eclipse of the sun predicted by Thales,

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