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.


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.



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

9 thoughts on “The Legend of Seyavash (part three): Shahnameh Readalong 18

  1. Oh my gosh! This last bit was seriously draining. And it was so graphic. The murder of Seyavash and the abuse of Farigis were really ignoble and wholly awful. What a nightmare.

    I wonder if, despite Garsivaz being the worst, Afrasyab is ultimately considered the responsible party and so justice will be served through him? (Justice right now does not seem possible.)

    I also have that scratch the surface feeling. Unless I’m totally immersed in what is happening on the page I am always wondering “but what about…?” because so much is going on and it feels like many things sort of drop off and are never picked up again.

    Speaking of being totally immersed, my side trip down genealogy lane really enhanced my reading this week because it was a great review of everyone and how they are connected. Lots of little things fell into place for me that I have missed due to reading in installments. That ended up being bittersweet since this week’s events were so terrible.

    “You’re not out hunting now, bringing down some wild ass or deer; you’re destroying a prince…”

    (I noticed more horse hamstringing! Why? Why?)

    On a more prosaic note, why did Piran have the Kayanid crown and belt? Why wouldn’t Kavus have that? And, actually, Piran wouldn’t even have Seyavash’s personal crown as he sent that back with Bahram (I think). Might be like the magic rules TG mentioned, sometimes these things just don’t stay consistent with the Shahnameh.

    I also liked Piran and Golshahr. I thought it was really cool that Golshahr’s sisters are mentioned and we learn that Piran has daughters who I am going to assume are Golshahr’s. I’m totally ‘shipping Golshahr and Farigis as bffs. Those two will need each other after this hot mess.

  2. Now I need some Faragis & Golshahr as bff fic. I really really need it.

    It’s interesting because I have heard so much about the Rostam killing Sohrab as the central tragedy of the story, but frankly Seyavash’s brutal murder and the abuse of Faragis are more devastating for me as a reader.

  3. I am also struck by how Seyavash’s story, taken alone, without reference to everything that comes before, would not have the same effect.

  4. I think part of why Seyavash’s death hits harder than Rostam killing Sohrab is simply to the fact that Rostam IS TERRIBLE. I expect terrible things to happen to him and for him to make bad choices, because he was mean to his horse (among other things). Tragedy for me really comes with a person’s good/heroic nature and fatal flaw BOTH working within the narrative to bring them to a sad/terrible place, whereas Rostam doesn’t work for me re: his “heroic” nature in the first place, and instead of a fatal flaw, he is just flawed. Sohrab was closer to a tragic figure for me, as sort of a proto-Seyavash, but we’re expected by the narrative frame to be focused more on Rostam’s grief and misfortune than Sohrab’s totally tragic circumstances and heroism vs fatal flaw.

    (I’ve been thinking about Sohrab and Seyavash in parallel a lot)

  5. I found the Seyavash debacle was much more devastating for me as it really showed the break down of family bonds. I know we’ve had some issues with brothers but inter-generational support has seemed pretty consistent. We did just have Sohrab but that’s almost a cheat imo because they don’t know each other as family. It was hard for me to see the tragedy of it not just because Rostram is not my fave but because he and Sohrab didn’t have a personal connection to each other.

    I also think that the tragedy of Seyavash would not stand alone well. It’s much better within the context of the whole. For me, that’s because Seyavash is almost too good. Without the larger storyline and what I’d been going through as a reader I wouldn’t have felt his downfall as keenly. Also, within his section we see new sides to old characters. That would be lost if I hadn’t already known them and formed ideas of who they are.

  6. Yes. For me Seyavash showing so much maturity when he shows up at court is what really made him appeal to me. He is smart enough in the right ways to see what Sudabeh is up to and to reject it, while at the same time remaining very circumspect about it and not accusing her until he has no choice. For me this makes him much more of a heroic character than Rostam’s abrasive aggressiveness and constant posturing about his strength and physical heroism.

    This kind of emotional wisdom is not celebrated enough in literature, I feel! Notice how everyone loves Seyavash, even his enemies, because clearly he is really great at being a guy you want to hang out with. It’s even the actual reason Garsivaz hates him. Because everyone likes him FOR GOOD REASON.

    So, yeah. Agree with everything you’ve both said.


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  8. And, yes, the Sohrab story also felt like a bit of a cheat to me precisely because in the rest of the stories everyone seems to know exactly who they are and where they come from (am I forgetting anyone?). So the particular nature of how and why Rostam refuses to reveal who he is to Sohrab EVEN WHEN SOHRAB SUSPECTS annoyed me narratively and took away some of the sting of the sad encounter.

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