SDCC Panel on Love in the Time of YA

Last month (July) I attended San Diego Comicon along with perhaps 160,000 other people (I’m not sure of the numbers). I had the honor of participating in a great panel moderated by the excellent Mary Pearson, with panelists Alexandra Bracken, Andrea Cremer, Kami Garcia, Amy Tintera, and Brenna Yovanoff. I was impressed with how well Mary ran it, and what great comments everyone had.

Even better, the panel was recorded and now you can watch it:

Rostam & Esfandyar (1st half)(Shahnameh Readalong 24)

Join Tessa Gratton and me as we read the Shahnameh by Abolqasem Ferdowsi. We’re using the Dick Davis translation (Penguin Classics).

If you haven’t already don’t forget to check out this  AMAZING post by Rachel W in which she works out the complicated genealogy of our main and secondary characters.

This week: the first half of Rostam and Esfandyar.

Synopsis: “The Prince of Iran Esfandyar meets Rostam who has been living apart from the Persian court and the two engage in a ‘My Dick Is Bigger Than Yours’ contest” 

TG: My feelings about this section are probably pretty clear based on my summary.

At one point they even *literally* have a handshake contest. In which they squeeze blood and pus out from under each other’s fingernails. (At least the narrative is ALL IN).

My two real issues with section are:

a) nobody listens to good advice

b) wtf motivations

Both Esfandyar’s mother Katayun and his advisor Pashutan give Esfandyar good advice multiple times, but he disregards them. His only counter-point is a good one, (that it’s bad news to go against the king’s command) but I’m not sure it out weighs the legions of reasons Katayun and Pashutan offer to disregard his father’s unreasonable command. What’s the point of having advisors if you never listen to them? Only Afrasyab regularly listened to his advisor, and of course his advisor was evil and led him astray again and again.

With Katayun, at least, I’m pretty sure Esfandyar only asked her because he thought she’d tell him what he wanted to hear. When she doesn’t, he treats her terribly and regrets asking her at all. When he says those mean things to her about asking a woman’s advice I think he’s making it up, since he’s all “some guy said this” instead of having an actual citation.

As for motivations…. I think it’s interesting that Esfandyar is so interested in inheriting the throne before his time, just like Goshtasp was and did, and I can’t help but wonder what we missed thematically in the skipped-over section that might have helped us understand the shift from heirs being named only when the king was near death to this legacy situation. Is it just that Lohrasp has a living son, who has a living son, instead of sons dying tragically? Is it a shift with the coming of Zoroaster? The desire to take the crown from your father doesn’t seem like something that should sit well with the presence of farr.

The other aspect of my wtf motivations reaction is that I have mixed feelings about the kind of narrative when prophecy causes its own conclusion: If Goshtasp hadn’t had his son’s astrological chart read, would any of this happened? And when he gets the prophecy, he only momentarily tries to figure out a way to thwart it. When the councilor says you can’t change fate Goshtasp seems to decide “well, if I can’t change my son’s fate of dying at Rostam’s hand, I guess I should just give in and create a TERRIBLE SCENARIO.”

side note: HOW DO YOU NOT RECOGNIZE ZAL???

esfandyar fighting wolves

Esfandyar, wearing lamellar armor and a lovely helm, and riding a splendid black horse, wields a sword as he hunts two gray wolves (one of which has ANTLERS) in a landscape of trees and bushes.

KE: Goodness. We have finally met a man who is as obnoxious and self centered as Rostam.

The first thing that strikes me on reading Rostam and Esfandyar (the first half) is that the dispute between Khosrow and Zal isn’t really over. Zal spoke out against Khosrow’s decision to leave the kingship, and while he apologized (in a beautiful gesture) for doubting the king’s appointment of Lohrasp as his heir, in fact it now seems that Rostam and Zal have not acknowledged Lohrasp’s heir in any meaningful way. That in part is what ignites this rather dreadful story.

Once again a mother gives advice to her son and is ignored, this time with bonus sexism about women’s advice. At first I thought Esfandyar was too young to have married but he has a grown son, so it’s interesting that none of his wives/concubines are deemed important enough to influence him. Again I can’t analyze because I don’t know the cultural context but it’s fascinating to me which of our famous men are given relationships with mothers, which with wives, and which basically have no female figure to interact with as adults.

The debates between the two men are amusing as they each strive to out-dick each other using courtly flowery language mixed with stabs of insults and demands. Also, I want to note that I wrote the previous sentence before I saw Tessa’s comments, just to note that we independently came to the conclusion that Esfandyar is a dick to rival Rostam.

I was also intrigued and puzzled by the son who wants to supplant his father, in contrast to the father who (in the case of Kavus, for example) steps aside when it is time for his son (or grandson) to take his place. It does feel as if a sea change has happened, or a cultural shift. As we haven’t reached Alexander the Great’s time yet I’m not sure if all of this still exists in the “legendary past” or if any of it has any correspondence to the Achaemenid era. It doesn’t seem to, but (according to the book I mentioned last week) it’s clear the Persians have had a tradition of “Books of Kings” from before the time of Alexander and maybe as far back as the Median kings who reigned prior to Cyrus and the Achaemenids.

The thing is: given Esfandyar’s history of wanting to supplant his father, why would Goshtasp even try to stop him from getting killed by Rostam? That absolves him from the crime of killing his own son or acting against him, and rids him of an heir who will never be satisfied until his father is dead.

Oh, and yes: The handshake scene is a classic piece of dick dueling. I am sure we should be more respectful of the deep masculine profundity in all this, but I just can’t.

Next week: The second half of this story will doubtless end badly for someone whose name is Esfandyar.

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

Interlude (Shahnameh Readalong 23)

Join Tessa Gratton and me as we read the Shahnameh by Abolqasem Ferdowsi. We’re using the Dick Davis translation (Penguin Classics).

If you haven’t already don’t forget to check out this  AMAZING post by Rachel W in which she works out the complicated genealogy of our main and secondary characters.

This week we aren’t reading because Tessa has a deadline.

Next week: the first half of Rostam and Esfandyar.

Instead, a brief digression. I am reading POETICS AND POLITICS OF IRAN’S NATIONAL EPIC, THE SHAHNAMEH by Mahmoud Omidsalar. (Palgrave Macmillan)

I’m not far into it yet but basically he begins by examining, and refuting, the standard Western interpretations of the epic. I will give a report on what I’ve read on that aspect later.

For now: We’ve noted how translator Dick Davis has been skipping material, especially here in the middle. He gives some explanation of what and how he decided to abridge/leave out, and of course it is his decision to make as translator. But I was stunned to read this very emotional sequence in the introduction to Omidsalar’s book and am honestly puzzled why one would leave this out.

Seyavash, having foreseen his doom, takes his leave of Faragis, then goes to the stable and frees his favorite horse, Bihzad. This part is included, of course.

And we read (in synopsis) that the hero Giv finds Faragis and Kay Khosrow and escorts them to Iran. But what isn’t mentioned is this scene, which I will reproduce in its entirety (Omidsalar, p 4-5).

+++

the princess tells her son to take Bihzad’s saddle and halter to a nearby meadow where herds of horses come to drink water at midday. . . . Giv accompanies the young prince into the pastures.

The valiant lord mounted

And Giv walked in front, leading the way

They set out for a [nearby] hill

Where they could survey the fields

When the herd came by

And the horses drank their fill

Bihzad looked up, saw the prince,

And sighed piteously

He saw that saddle of Seyavash, covered in leopard’s skin

Those long stirrup leathers and the fine pommel

Resolutely, he stood at the waterhole

And did not move from where he was

Seeing his calm, Kay Khosrow

Treaded toward him with the saddle

He caressed and laid his cheek upon his face

He ran his fingers through his mane and touched him gently

Then the prince haltered and saddled him,

And remembered his [slain] father [to him].

When he mounted and steadied himself in the saddle

The colossal steed stirred

And rose like the wind.

It flew and vanished from Giv’s sight.

++

And here an illustration of Kay Khosrow riding Bihzad for the first time:

kay khosrow rides bihzad

The Occultation of Kay Khosrow (Shahnameh Readalong 22)

Join Tessa Gratton and me as we read the Shahnameh by Abolqasem Ferdowsi. We’re using the Dick Davis translation (Penguin Classics).

If you haven’t already don’t forget to check out this  AMAZING post by Rachel W in which she works out the complicated genealogy of our main and secondary characters.

This week’s portion: The Occultation of Kay Khosrow

Synopsis: “The king, fearing he will fall to temptation like his predecessor,s prays to God, who tells him to give away his possessions and disappear into the mountains. Nobody is happy about it.”

The-occultation-of-King-K-010

The angel Sorush watches or guides the king ascending into the heavens as lords wait around a fire, below. The background is white, depicting snow.

TG: Also known as “that time five Persian warriors DIED IN THE SNOW.”

Damnit, Bizhan, you were supposed to live happily ever after, not DIE IN THE SNOW.

So mostly I liked this chapter a lot, because it was so different, but the intrigue depended on the history and patterns established in all the hundreds of pages before it. In order to understand both Zal’s side and Khosrow’s side, we have to have been with these previous warriors and kings so that we can see exactly what Khosrow is afraid of AND understand why Zal thinks everything is wrong and terrible.

It seems very smart of Khosrow to recognize that it’s his nature to be tempted to the Dark Side like basically every single one of his ancestors on both sides of his family have been. He doesn’t have a threat to face down, so his idle mind turns toward temptation. The surprising thing is that he’s learned from Kavus’s incredible mistakes (oh that flying machine, I love that it’s the thing Zal is most pissed about, too, because WHAT a doozy), and does the right thing: he asks God for guidance.

There was a lot of wisdom thrown around in this chapter, especially about how to act justly and how to be a good king, as well as the kind of actions that the Persians deem worthy of the highest rewards. And Khosrow spent a good amount of time comforting his wives and talking about who was awaiting them in death. I want to know more about this Mah Afarid though.

We get a bit of a flawed Zal, especially with regards to a vicious sort of classism in his immediate rejection of Lohrasp, which was interesting, and I’m delighted the two came to an accord. The visual of Zal smearing dirt on his mouth to blacken his lips and cancel his sin is maybe my favorite moment of the entire book so far.

This Goshtasp we’re skipping over sounds like a RIOT so that’s too bad. And ZOROASTER I’ve been waiting for him to show up, and am pretty disappointed it won’t be on page.

Cannot believe all those dudes died in the snow.

occultation

Seated on a cloud like vessel and attended by angels, the king ascends into the heavens. Below, men gather around a fire, arms raised toward the sky.

KE: I found this story quite gripping. The consternation and befuddlement of the courtiers in regard to Khosrow’s strange behavior worked well, especially as contrasted to the endless partying in the garden scenes from before. The debate between Khosrow and Zal, and the way Zal is able to not only see that he has misjudged the situation but makes a clear and public declaration of it, was for me quite suspenseful, however odd that may seem when we are so accustomed to page-turning meaning there is lots of physical action and violence.

I’m traveling so can’t find the quote but I loved the comparison with the shining moon and how it can be darkened.

Like you, I did feel Khosrow was right to be concerned about losing his farr given the history of Jamshid and Kavus, just to name two. Yet for all that what most struck me is this: He was completely caught up in analyzing his own behavior, fixated on his own legacy, really concerned only with himself. No where are his connections to others signaled as primary. He never knew his father although much of his legitimacy and fame comes about because he revenges Seyavash’s death. Once his mother delivers him to Persia she vanishes from the story (as far as we know from this translation). His wives (if they are wives rather than concubines) don’t have names or context beyond his palace. Given that he has to name an unknown as his successor, he either has no worthy sons or NO SONS AT ALL.

Contrast this with the endless discussion by other princes and lords about their brothers, sons, and grandsons, their pride in and love for them; even occasionally their love and respect for daughters and wives (and sometimes mothers). For me, it felt as if Khosrow was a man with no place in the world except as peerless ruler. He evidently has no descendants, nothing to hold to as a legacy except the idea that he must have a spotless reputation. It’s not that having a child is the only path to meaning in life. It isn’t. But contextually in a story about legacies and generations, and men who to a great degree measure their success in life by knowing they have a worthy successor of their own lineage, Khosrow’s situation stood out for me.

Like you I was again frustrated by wondering what we are missing in the synopsized portion. I don’t know why these cuts are showing up now except that, as per the introduction, the translator felt there was repetition of theme and action. But I am sorry to have missed Goshtasp.

And while I basically know nothing about the Persian language, this shift of names interests me: Lohrasp, Goshtasp, Arjasp. Don’t these sound like regional differences or even a different (perhaps related) language? I don’t know, maybe not, but I wonder if it signals a shift in dynasty linguistically as well as politically, and I also wondered how it related to the arrival of Zoroaster.

In fact the mention of Zoroaster got me all excited but, alas, we skip over it. It does mean the story is now venturing into history known to us (although I grant you not much is actually known about the historical Zoroaster); I don’t know what historical sources and legends Ferdowsi had access to a thousand years ago that were obliterated or lost due to the Islamic conquest and/or the passage of time.

#

Next week: Rostam and Esfandyar (first of two parts, I don’t have page numbers on hand because I’m writing this while traveling but read about 26 pages). Somehow I suspect this will end tragically because when Rostam gets involved that tends to be the outcome.

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

SDCC 2016 Schedule

I will be attending SDCC on Friday 22 July. Come and say hi!

Here’s my schedule:

10 am – 11 am:  Panel: Love in the Time of YA Room 32AB

(Mary Pearson, Kami Garcia, Andrea Cremer, Brenna Yovanoff, Amy Tintera, Alexandra Bracken, Kate Elliott)

 

12 pm – 1 pm: Signing (with all the above mentioned panelists): AA 09

 

1:30 – 2:15: Signing at Orbit Books booth #1116 (giveaway of copies of Cold Magic & Black Wolves)

 

BONUS:

On Thursday from 6 pm, at the Little, Brown Books for Young Readers booth #1116, they’ll be giving away copies of Poisoned Blade.

Bizhan and Manizheh (Shahnameh Readalong 21)

Join Tessa Gratton and me as we read the Shahnameh by Abolqasem Ferdowsi. We’re using the Dick Davis translation (Penguin Classics).

If you haven’t already don’t forget to check out this  AMAZING post by Rachel W in which she works out the complicated genealogy of our main and secondary characters.

This week’s portion: Bizhan and Manizheh

Synopsis: Another contained episode in which Rostam saves Bizhan from the clutches of Afrasyab with undercover work and actually! trusting! a! woman!

TG:  I didn’t dislike Rostam so much in this one, since he showed a lot of interesting initiative and thoughtfulness regarding how best to get Bizhan safe, instead of just crashing wildly in because he CAN. I loved that he and the other warriors went in as merchants, basically spying on the Turks at first to discover the best way to get Bizhan out.

And of course that best way was to let Manizheh help.

OH MANIZHEH. I love her. She is rich and takes what she wants damn the consequences (she gets this from her dad, no doubt), including drugging Bizhan and kidnapping him! She’s bold and also loyal once she’s given her heart. But the best thing about her is how she stands up to men who are treating her like she’s not worthy of them: Rostam and Bizhan. They both act like she can’t be trusted, or  are mean to her, and she stands up and basically cusses them out for being unfair fools. And it works! They change their behavior. It’s clear the narrative is on her side about Rostam and Bihan’s treatment of her.

She gets her reward, too, for sticking with Bizhan and helping him escape.

I am livid Afrasyab’s execution is a footnote. And Piran’s stoic, noble death, too. What the hell, Davis? Given how painful reading Seyavash’s death was, I expected some emotional payback getting at least a little bit vengeance in Afrasyab’s death. But no! It’s a footnote and not only that, but Garsivaz is still being a terrible counselor and still alive.

I’m curious about what this means about the purpose of the over-arching narrative. We’re supposed to focus on the suffering of our heroes, and be less invested in relishing vengeance? Are we, like Bizhan, supposed to “drive all thoughts of hatred” from our hearts and forgive the bad guys? At least to the point where the story isn’t ruined by not being allowed access to the catharsis of vengeance?

I can’t help assuming there IS some greater narrative point, because I want there to be.

rostam rescues Bizhan

An illustration that shows Bizhan in the pit holding onto a rope. The hero Rostam is holding onto the other end and hauling him out while Manizheh watches. Six random hero dudes stand around together with two horses.

KE: I too was absolutely fascinated and delighted by the “disguised as merchants” trope. Two hundred years after Ferdowsi the Mongols sent spies disguised as merchants ahead of their line of conquest to check things out, so this means it’s not just a trope but a real aspect of historical espionage in this era.

I loved this episode in large part because it has an active woman character in it. Once again I am intrigued by the sexual politics on display in the Shahnameh because ONCE AGAIN it is the woman who is the sexually assertive one, the woman who approaches the man, who invites him to be with her. There is so much I could say about how the post-Victorian post-50s Puritanical culture of the UK and USA has warped the ability of readers steeped in those two traditions to conceive of sexual politics different from those we have been assured are traditional and inevitable worldwide. If a woman lives in something resembling a woman’s palace or women’s wing or a harem, etc, then it is also assumed she is a guarded virgin who is either too constrained or too passive and virginal to get up to anything. But, again, virginity is a particularist concept, not a universal one. Many societies simply do not valorize virginity even if they value women being faithful to their husbands, for example. And yet even Sudabeh is not taken to task so much (I think) for wanting to have sex with Seyavash but for her anger at his rejection and her efforts to lie about him and thus destroy him.

Look how often we have seen the female gaze at work in this story, even with the relatively minor roles women have played. Manizheh sees Bizhan and desires him: that’s classic female gaze right there. Her father’s anger seems directed at her defiance in sleeping with the enemy rather than any concern over her “purity.”

Again, notice how he strips her of her wealth, which makes it clear that these women controlled their own finances. Whatever constraints they lived under (and I’m not entirely sure of what those are as we have seen women traveling in earlier episodes in order to resolve conflicts) they were not dependent for their pin money on some man’s parsimonious doling out of a few coins here and there. Women’s financial and intellectual and physical dependence often seems like such a staple of British and USA Victorian and post-Victorian literature that it really delights me to see my expectations shattered to bits here, where Manizheh acts on her own desires, suffers the consequences, questions Rostam, and as reward is shown the respect she deserves.

miniature of two in bed

Not sure who this image of a man and a woman in bed together represents but honestly it could be so many of the couples in the Shahnameh, so I will imagine it is Bizhan and Manizheh enjoying some well deserved canoodling.

I also was OUTRAGED that Afrasyab’s death is passed over in a synopsis. I assume this means it is written and that Davis just chose not to translate it. It’s just very odd to me too. Faragis’s flight is skipped over although surely it is dramatic, and now Afrasyab’s death when he has been the antagonist for so long. *sigh*

I also wish I knew more about the cultural aspects of forgiveness in this context especially since in other cases Rostam is unforgiving. So what and why now? SO MANY QUESTIONS. So far if there is one over-arching commentary it is that both good fortune and bad fortune are transitory compared to the inevitability of death. There’s a bit of the same tone as Ecclesiastes underlying this poem, perhaps.

Next week: The Occultation of Kay Khosrow

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

The Akvan Div (Shahnameh Readalong 20)

Join Tessa Gratton and me as we read the Shahnameh by Abolqasem Ferdowsi. We’re using the Dick Davis translation (Penguin Classics).

 

This week’s portion: The Akvan Div

Synopsis: “An interlude in which Rostam defeats a pretty nifty demon and steals horses from Afrasyab.”

TG: This was pleasant enough, and nicely contained, though I remain more invested in Rakhsh than Rostam. BUT Rostam does continue to want vengeance for Seyavash and that endears him to me slightly.

The div is great, I thought, and I like how well he’s fleshed out. This is like a fairy story, really reminding me of some old Irish legends. The hunt for a beast who disappears and reappears and the choice given to Rostam how he should die, but of course only meaning the opposite of what he says, are staples of Irish and Celtic fairy stories.

I also note that Rakhsh did not warn Rostam when the Akvan Div approached this time. Rakhsh is learning. Too bad when he found shelter with the Turkish horses Rostam had to find him again. Rakhsh just can’t escape.

Surprise! Addressing! The! Reader! I’m glad it doesn’t happen very often since it’s pretty condescending in tone. “If you don’t appreciate this tale, it may be that you have not seen its real meaning.” I took this pretty personally, I admit.

I went looking for color images of the Akan Div, and found several: they stand out from the black and white image in our copy of Shahnameh because they HAVE GIANT SCHLONGS. Except one, which is actually coded female, with dangling breasts and more feminine curves instead of masculine shoulder-to-hip ratio and pec muscles.

My favorite: http://magictransistor.tumblr.com/post/89287070076/muin-musavvir-the-div-akvan-carries-rustam-to

The second image on this page: http://www.paaia.org/CMS/loc-persian-collection.aspx

And here’s the female-coded one: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/545217098614537309/

(These all have artist credits.)

Possibly the exaggerated sex organs is because the Akvan Div is connected to the Aka Manah, one of the main demons of Zoroastrianism, according to my not-so-thorough wikipedia research, and this demon is a demon of sensual desire. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aka_Manah)

rostam in the water

A gorgeous modern rendition of Rostam thrown into the sea by the Akvan Div. Artist credit: Sahar Haghgoo

 

KE:  I’m fond of stories where no one is surprised when unusual people and/or creatures appear. I love how Khosrow takes the herdsman’s complaint seriously and dispatches only the best to pursue the wild ass. Yet why appear first as a wild ass? I really loved the trick the Akvan Div plays on Rostam (when he’s sleeping), and I had a lot of sympathy for Rakhsh who it almost kind of seems is trying to hide from his master. But I’m probably only saying that because of my persistent annoyance with Rostam.

Again I note the emphasis on courtly graces and behavior, the gathering in gardens to drink but also for poetry and discussion. Even though these gatherings are inevitably interrupted by violence and war, they are still clearly depicted as what people should strive for since Ferdowsi’s mentions of “the world [being] filled with his justice and goodness” always coincide with the king presiding over a peaceful court. I have a book on Persian gardens that emphasizes their importance historically through the various eras, as well as the standard templates for garden architecture and flora. Also, the herdsman feels quite free to bring his complaint to the king personally, so there is an interesting mix of hierarchy with reciprocal degrees of responsibility.

I was bothered by Rostam killing half of Afrasyab’s herdsmen, seemingly at random (what did they ever do to him?), but I guess this is still setting us up for a later confrontation regarding Seyavash’s death.

As you noted, it’s interesting to get a glimpse of the authorial voice here, and especially the statement: “When a man leaves the ways of humanity, consider him as a div, not as a person.” On the one hand, one can agree with this with respect to norms of human decency. On the other, it is a very slippery slope indeed depending on how those in power decide to start defining what the “ways of humanity” are. But I think I am projecting my own background into the work here.

Finally, it’s also interesting to watch the secondary heroes cycle through. Last week a son and a nephew died, and Bizhan was introduced, and he appears here again in preparation for his greater role next week in what I hope will be a more cheerful episode.

Next Week: Bizhan and Manizheh

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

Forud, the Son of Seyavash (Shahnameh Readalong 19)

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.

A 5802

Giv chides Bizhan for failing to defeat Forud

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

The Legend of Seyavash (part three): Shahnameh Readalong 18

Join Tessa Gratton and me as we read the Shahnameh by Abolqasem Ferdowsi. We’re using the Dick Davis translation (Penguin Classics).

This week’s portion: The Legend of Seyavash (third of three parts, this part starting on page 259 and going until the end of the section)

Synopsis: Garsivas turns Afrasyab against Seyavash, who is murdered. His son by Farigis is born.

TG: This was terrible. I’m so upset I can’t make paragraphs.

1) Seyavash doesn’t even get to die in battle! Instead he’s captured and his throat is cut like he’s an animal. D: D: D:

2) Garsivas just… gets away with it? WTF I am very angry about that. I skimmed ahead and I don’t see any retribution coming for him. VERY distressing. He just turned everybody against each other, for jealousy and bitterness, and he doesn’t even get to find out Seyavash is his grandkid, and tear out his hair???

3) I take back every nice thing I’ve ever said about Afrasyab. He’s way too easily manipulated.

4) I’m less sure about the timing of all this… since right after this Kay Khosrow becomes king, either we were wrong about the timing of the incident with Sohrab, or it happens while Khosrow is growing up in secret with the shepherds?

5) I loved it when Farigis calls Seyavash “my lion lord.”

6) It was interesting that Seyavash could give such a specific prophecy to Farigis about her future and his son, down to how they would escape Turan, but all his own personal prophecies were so much more generic. I wonder if there are rules to that (I’m constantly in search of magical rules, and the Shahnameh doesn’t have many).

7) I love that in Seyavash’s absence Seyavashgerd became a wilderness of thorns.

8) Someday I might start a novel “On a dark, moonless night, when birds and beasts were sleeping, the lord Piran saw in a dream a candle lit from the sun. Seyavash stood by the candle, a sword in his hand, crying out in a loud voice, ‘This is no time for rest; rise from sleep, learn how the world moves onward; a new day dawns and new customs come; tonight is the birth of Kay Khosrow.'”

It is just so inspiring and beautiful– or possibly I just already miss Seyavash so much I was thrilled for another appearance.

The_Slaying_of_Siyâvash-_Ferdowsi's_Shahnameh

KE: I’m in total agreement. The death of Seyavash is by miles the most dispiriting event in the Shahnameh so far. Obviously the degrading manner of his death is on purpose, including the one person who speaks out against it and isn’t listened to. It’s not just degrading to Seyavash; it dishonors those who kill him like this, and it is clear they are considered beyond the pale (at least by the author).

I also skimmed ahead to see if Garsivaz gets his comeuppance and yet, despite everything, he apparently does not (maybe he is a footnote in the coming fall of Afrasyab). Shades of Iago, though: People resist his nasty insinuations at first and then fall for them, perhaps out of his sheer persistence. This is one of the most depressing forms of story: the envious courtier who destroys the people he is envious of, sowing destruction and bitterness wherever he goes. I had hoped Seyavash would see through him as he saw through Sudabeh, but it does seem a combination of getting worn down (and not suspecting G’s duplicity) and then his own prophetic powers.

It was also interesting to see the contrast between his friendship with Piran and that with Garsivaz. Seyavash treats the two men more or less the same but one always feels that Piran is the more genuine.

I love Faragis in this. Her obvious love for him (I also adored “my lion lord”) and how she pleads for his life. As with most of the women we have seen so far, she is well educated, well spoken, intelligent, and unafraid to speak her mind (at least at dramatic points in the story). She does not cower.

Also I would have loved to know more about Piran’s wife, briefly mentioned BY NAME (we still don’t know the name of Seyavash’s mother), Golshahr. One of the interesting things for me about the Shahnameh is, as I’ve said before, the sense within the text that this merely scratches the surface of a much larger cycle of tales. How fortunate we are that Ferdowsi lived and wrote when he did because if he had not, much of this would have been lost as the great Persian culture was partially subsumed by Islam/Arab culture (although obviously Persia has always retained its own identity as one of the great, noble civilizations of the world).

After finishing (and crying) I re-read the part of the introduction where the translator talks about what parts he chose to leave out. I couldn’t help but notice the italicized synopsis at the end in which it is mentioned in a sentence that Kavus had Sudabeh executed! The events referred to in that synopsis seemed so important to me, but perhaps they weren’t as interesting to read? I don’t know. This is one of several fundamental issues with translation: it is always a form of gatekeeping in which the translator (or abridger) makes choices and we are then left reading a version that may seem to us as the complete one when in fact it is incompletely. I don’t fault Davis, who has done a wonderful job. Just noting how often people and events are left out as “insignificant” or “unimportant” when that is always a judgment call by a subjective scholar or translator.

As for the issue of chronology, now I am wondering if there is any scholarship on that.

And, yes, please do someday start a story with that paragraph.

*weeps*

#

Next week: Forud, The Son of Seyavash

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 (part two) Shahnameh Readalong 17

Join Tessa Gratton and me as we read the Shahnameh by Abolqasem Ferdowsi. We’re using the Dick Davis translation (Penguin Classics).

Today’s portion: The Legend of Seyavash (second of three parts, this part starting on page 237 and ending on page 259)

Synopsis: Seyavash moves to Turkestan to escape Kavas’s terrible decisions, making a home there and marrying into Afrasyab’s family.

Siyavash_faces_Afrasiyab_across_the_Jihun_River

I suspect this scene of Seyavash facing Afrasyab across the Jihun River is for next week but it’s such a great image I used it this week.

TG: I am full of dread.

This middle section is basically Seyavash being awesome, while Afrasyab tries to be better than it’s in his nature to be (and constantly worrying that Seyavash will turn around and bite him someday), and Seyavash himself makes dire predictions about his destiny.

I’m so done with Kavus. Obviously. The nicest thing I can say about him is “at least he’s consistent in his terribleness.” It’s nuts that he makes Rostam look wise and level-headed. (And actually, with them side by side I suspect Rostam is supposed to be wise, generally good, but with the kind of temper that leads to being a total bad-ass on the battlefield, while Kavus is just temperamental and childish. Most of our looks at Rostam have been involving war and Kavus, the two things guaranteed to piss Rostam right off. The only other time I’ve sympathized with him was when he mourned so heavily for Sohrab.)

And speaking of Sohrab, I wonder if these stories are out of chronological order (assuming we’re right about that) because Sohrab is the ultimate doomsday version of father-son relationship, and Seyavash is forced into several father-son relationships here, and one (or all) of them is bound to go very wrong very soon. Kavus is his actual father, Piram and Afrasyab both sort of adopt him and take on a fatherly role, and of course we know but, like Rostam and Sohrab, neither Seyavash nor Garsivas knows that Garsivas is Seyavash’s actual grandfather or grand-uncle or something (and I suspect the downfall is going to start with Garsivas and jealousy).

Having the tale of Sohrab right before this one creates more tension for me than I might otherwise have had because of all the father-son talk. My dread just builds and builds because I both know how likely a terrible ending is, but also hope more strongly for a happier ending than Sohrab and Rostam got.

It is fascinating to me that Seyavash has personal knowledge of his impending doom! And he accepts it, even walking toward it. He doesn’t take Bahram and Zangeh’s advice because “the heavens secretly willed another fate for him.” At first I wondered if it was something he was aware of, or a coy narrator’s insertion. But later when the astrologers tell him not to build his city in Khotan, Seyavash basically has a breakdown about what he knows but cannot reveal, confessing to Piran that he’s not long for this world, but must accept his fate and enjoy life while he can. It’s obvious by then that Seyavash DOES hear God’s will or something like it, and accepts it even though it means his doom. It made me think of Gethsemane, and the tragic themes that come with a character knowing their terrible fate, but choosing to face it because of faith or love.

I wonder if the knowledge of destiny is related to his farr, and also if he’s taking warnings from God as inexorable destiny, instead of warnings for things to avoid! Maybe he got a little bad judgement from his father….

polo playing

An illustration of playing polo, with five men on horseback (one a sixth rider partially obscured), with polo sticks.

KE: I too am in dread. Seyavash is clearly doomed, and I too am puzzled by his acceptance of his early death. I enjoyed the depictions of friendship between men, especially Piran and Seyavash, and the sense that he and Faragis have a reasonable marriage of mutual respect. This is the behavior I expect from the noble born if they are going to claim that their noble born ways are somehow superior, and yet they so rarely act this way!

After all this time putting up with Kavus just because he is king and descended from the right people, we get a person with actual farr, someone who acts for peace rather than war, and — naturally — he is not long for this world and destiny rolls against him.

I read Garsivas as his grandfather (or his great-grandfather? depending on if he is his mother’s grandfather or father). And yes, things aren’t looking good. The sense of impending disaster looms large.

And honestly: could Seyavash be any better of a YA hero? He’s practically perfect except for his passive acceptance of destiny, and even that is depicted as an aspect of his preternatural maturity and intelligence.

On to part three, which will doubtless break our hearts.

Next week: The final part of The Legend of Seyavash (page 259 to the end of the section)

*sob*

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