Join Tessa Gratton and me as we read the Shahnameh by Abolqasem Ferdowsi. We’re using the Dick Davis translation (Penguin Classics).
This week: The Reign of Khosrow Parviz
Synopsis: “Bahram Chubineh continue to harry Khosrow, they both ally with outside rulers, until Bahram is killed ignominiously and his sister Gordyeh is amazing.”
TG: Continuing the tradition of the immediately previous sections, every king and warrior in all of this is terrible and difficult to invest in. THAT SAID, I still enjoyed reading this section because of all the scheming and murderousness. My eyes were bugging out of my head when Khorad-Borzin was plotting with the old servant Qalun to murder Bahram… I was sure it wouldn’t work. AND THEN! IT DID.
This really furthers his image as a dark mirror to Rostam–that would never have worked on Rostam, obviously, but there are so many references to the old hero (and his horse) as well as Seyavash (my heart!) that it reads very purposefully like “look how far we’ve fallen since the Good Old Days Of Persian Kings and Heroes.” I feel ya, Shahnameh, I miss those good old days, too.
But one thing the golden age heroes and kings never had: GORDYEH.
I’m thrilled to have been wrong to worry about her. Not only does she not meet some untimely end or be forced into any marriage, she makes her own choices, owns her own cities, riches, servants, and GOES TO WAR LIKE A MAN. Here we do have a hero of old, but of course the men can’t recognize that. She rides to war in armor and uses weapons, she murders her enemies, AND she has girlfriends — that aside about her five loyal companions and how they all work together to kill her husband was my favorite part. Then she becomes the favored queen, and gets everything she wants. *heart-eyes*
There needs to be a novel or movie about her, stat.
KE: There is a weird thing here in which a king like Hormozd is announced as having an evil nature while never seeming to do that many horrible things, but the righteous dudes like Khosrow Parviz and Kesra actually do worse things on the page and are championed for it. It’s related to that “if God loves and approves of me then nothing I do can be wrong” mentality much loved by the self-proclaimed most righteous. For example, his treatment of the city of Rey is awful, and I did like how “even the priests were astonished to hear Khosrow talk in this way” when he concocts his grotesque plan.
Which brings me to Gordyeh. I also loved her, especially because the Sasanian period has been pretty raw for the womenfolk, and she feels like a return to the good old days of heroic, smart, well spoken women who are taken seriously as advisors. The kitten story is a classic example of the advisor who uses an odd spectacle to make their point. But more importantly, I cheered when she got her BFFs to aid her in killing her husband (and so well described) and then parlayed that action into marriage to the king. In all she acted pragmatically throughout, given the political situation and her position as a woman in a patriarchal world. If only her brother had listened to her in the first place.
Having said that I quite like Bahram Chubineh as a character because his faults and reckless reactions feel genuine to me, so in an odd way I felt I was getting more of a “realist” (rather than a mythic) portrait of a man. He definitely is no Rostam, who would have succumbed to none of that and would have fallen for none of it–well, except the ignoble death–but I’m guessing that is the point. Bahram Chubineh is the exemplar of how far mankind has fallen since the days of old (although his sister is allowed to be just as noble, courageous, and wise as the women of ancient times). In fact I might go so far as to say that SHE is the real heir of Rostam’s legacy, not her brother.
I continue to be intrigued by the treatment of envoys from one kingdom to another, even between enemy courts. An entire treatise has likely been written on this subject. Emperors being enchanted by the diplomats and envoys sent to
their court is a common theme. Those guys were just really good at their jobs.
I would probably have more complex things to say but after 39 weeks I find I am finally lagging. It’s been an amazing read, with a mere two sections left, and also a long haul.
Next week: Khosrow GOES BAD (finally) and I guess it is all the fault of a woman. The Story of Khosrow and Shirin
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, Forud the Son of Seyavash, The Akvan Div, Bizhan and Manizheh, The Occultation of Kay Khosrow, Rostam and Esfandyar Pt. 1, Rostam and Esfandyar Pt. 2, The Story of Darab and the Fuller, Sekander’s Conquest of Persia, The Reign of Sekander Pt. 1, The Reign of Sekander Pt. 2, The Death of Rostam, The Ashkanians, The Reign of Ardeshir & Shapur, The Reign of Shapur Zu’l Aktaf, The Reign of Yazdegerd the Unjust, The Reign of Bahram Gur, The Story of Mazdak, The Reign of Kesra Nushin-Ravan, The Reign of Hormozd
I think this is the most fun I’ve had since the demon-worm. What a bloody great amount of intrigue and plotting with everyone in this section. I also didn’t initially realize how interconnected their relations are (why does this keep surprising me? They are royals after all, it’s all in the family! lol) which just made it all that much more intriguing to me.
Gordyeh was obviously The Best and I was tots smitten by her elaborate way of telling her brother “I told you so” at his death scene. I also really enjoyed the acknowledgement of “women’s work” and the hinting of why connections between women are so important. It’s one of those sections where I’d love to read it flipped. Let’s do the whole thing from the female perspective rather than the male and just imagine how awesome that would be.
Initially it really read like Khosrow Parviz didn’t care much what his uncles did to his father but then he goes berserk on Gostahm&Co and I wondered: is this revenge best served cold or was it just one of those puzzling (to me) abrupt alliance reversals?
I forgot to follow-up about Omidsalar’s book. I completely agree that there were some jarring analytical choices but what I really liked about his style was that it wasn’t equivocal. I find I like a scholar willing to take firm stances using clear language. I was never in doubt as to what he thought but I never felt like he was brow-beating. Definitely passionate about his opinions but he seems the kind of person who would willingly listen to someone else’s unequivocal opinions (even if it won’t change his). I’m currently browsing through this one: http://www.palgrave.com/kr/book/9780230113459
There’s overlap but a few different topics are explored.
The story told from Gordyeh’s point of view would be epic. And this is why it matters so much to find and write stories that flip the usual script.
I did like Omidsalar’s firm stance and clear language and I was glad to have read the first part of the book (that specific book that you link). I couldn’t quite manage the later essays though because too Freudian or something, and with that mildly anti-woman bent that annoys me.