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.


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)


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

3 thoughts on “The Legend of Seyavash (part two) Shahnameh Readalong 17

  1. Pingback: The Legend of Seyavash (part one)(Shahnameh Readalong 16) | I Make Up Worlds

  2. Our (sadly) nameless princess says “My mother’s nobly born, and my father’s descended from Feraydun, my grandfather is Garsivaz…” so I’ve been thinking great-grandfather for Seyavash but perhaps familial titles are not always accurate? Sometimes/places they can be more loose than I tend to think of them. Speaking of family ties, I’m hugely regretting not doing a family tree for everyone. I want to see all the family ties from Feraydun’s descendents in one place and I’m having the hardest time finding anything online (obv the internet needs for Shahnameh fangirls). I’m almost tempted to go back and just start one… maybe some rainy weekend when I can’t get out to ride my horse. Have either of you come by any genealogies?

    Along the lines of family ties and timelines, years passed in this part 2 of 3 and yet nothing from those left behind that were meant to pursue the war? Is the army still camped there? Did Kavus change his mind? Is he building an even bigger army for a later attack? Feels like that part has just dropped entirely from the story. AND for a people who are used to their rulers being around for 100+ years I was surprised at “Once a man reaches sixty-five the fire of anger begins to fail in him.” Not so much from what I’ve seen tbh.

    I remember thinking ‘doesn’t Afrasyab have sons that would resent his adoption of Seyavash’ and a son did finally get named (Shideh) but then it’s ended up being Garsivaz which is odd to me as he’s far older than Seyavash (and maybe even Afrasyab?) and so seems like they wouldn’t even be in competition or in the same peer group. I suppose resentment and jealously know no boundaries, it just surprised me a little.

    By the way, I adore that being good at sports is part of farr. When they are playing polo: “We’ve never seen a horseman with such skills.” Afrasyab said, “This is how a man who has God’s farr is!” Though I have to say I’d be really annoyed if a fellow player kept hitting the ball well (well, well) out of play. I hope they had a ready supply.

    Favorite lines –
    “The king’s brain is like a brazier filled with coals, and all his plans and wars are mere folly.”

    “…and in my trial the wild deer wept for me.” –just can’t help but wonder: why the deer specifically. 🙂

    “…but when smoke rises from his pillaged cities, regret will be useless.”

    “Come, let us rejoice and feast while we may; the world passes; why tie your heart to it, since neither our efforts nor the wealth we delight in will remain?”

    Interesting to include efforts. Like he doesn’t even have faith that if you act rightly and work to enact change and ensure justice that it will have a lasting impact. Maybe why he is wholly accepting of his fate of an early death?

  3. I think Seyavash is right to be skeptical that efforts have any lasting effect. He’s been a good guest, a good husband, a good son-in-law, a good friend, a good ruler,: all for naught in the end.

    There must be scholarly work on the Shahnameh accessible in English. I just haven’t really gone looking yet.

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