The Reign of Hormozd (Shahnameh Readalong 38)

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 Hormozd

Synopsis: “Hormozd begins by killing all his advisors, and spends his reign fighting against enemies and then his own ambitious champion Bahram Chubineh.”

TG:  I didn’t hate this section! It started off poorly, with Hormozd making clear what kind of king he was going to be by killing off all his advisors (in pretty imaginative ways)– a bad one. There were no women mentioned at all in the first 45 pages of the section either. Women are just absent entirely (but for the prophecy that Hormozd would have his eyes put out by his wife. Hormozd himself is just one more uninteresting, terrible king, and not very wise on top of that.

HOWEVER, I am very interested in Bahram Chubineh. He’s introduced as a Rostam character, but without the details that made me actively dislike Rostam–there are no magical horses to be mean to.

I almost liked Bahram, even, since he seemed like a pretty cool guy, within the context of this story, who was raised up by the king and lived up to it. I loved the fact that he had his dream about being defeated, but went to war anyway, for the right reasons. He faced terrible odds, and even his own doubt, and bravely led himself to success. (It was disappointing to find out the dream was sent by a magician, instead of being a dream from God

Once he began to fall from grace (at least in the eyes of the narrative and the king), I was even more interested because of the very blatant classism. All the conflict between Bahram and Hormozd can be traced to the fact that Bahram is not nobility, and no matter what great deeds he accomplishes, he still is not good enough to be on level with the king or even his defeated enemy Parmoudeh, and certainly unworthy of Seyavash’s earrings. I’d have been pissed at Parmoudeh, too, if he ignored me like he ignored Bahram. (I wonder what Seyavash would’ve said about Bahram, though.)

We did finally get some women affecting the story, who weren’t (yet) killed in terrible ways, though I have a bad feeling about Bahram’s sister. The others are the old woman astronomer and the Evil Sorceress, who sounds pretty great. Of course, once she put ambition in Bahram’s head, she just sort of vanished….

And speaking of women: DAMN sending Bahram the spindle and women’s clothes was cold. But also speaks to the really dangerous sexism that’s become so apparent in the last hundred or so pages of the Shahnameh. I don’t think that would have worked or even occurred to anyone during Rostam’s time.

I’m glad they’re still hanging on to Seyavash’s belt.


Gordiyeh advises her brother Bahram not to aspire to the Persian throne. Bahram sits in the center with four people around him, one his sister as she speaks.

KE:  I also quite enjoyed this section although I have to admit that I was thrilled that Hormozd was immediately identified as a king of “evil nature” since I knew it meant I was allowed to cheer for all his bad decisions rather than being meant to admire him as with the awful Kesra. Once Bahram Chubineh was introduced I perceived a likely conflict, and because by now I have grown tired of the repetitive nature of the man problems (and the constant championing of a hierarchical, patriarchal, authoritarian inequality as the most just and right system) I was hoping that it would all kind of fall apart. Of course it doesn’t — it never quite does — but at least there were set backs and entertaining conflict. And we are left with a rare cliffhanger of an ending, with Hormozd blinded (although not by a woman as we were promised, so I’m sad about that).

Like you I was amused by the blatantly sexist gift of the spindle and women’s clothing as an insult. It follows the path of the recent chapters with respect to women (I can’t see this as being done in an earlier section; it would just have seemed childish).

This section also has a sense of realism in the ways wars are fought or avoided. At first many people are marching on Persia but Hormozd’s advisors figure out how to deal with each one except Savad Shah. The long standing enmity toward the Turks remains. I guess the Chinese Turks aren’t really the Chinese? I wonder if they are the eastern steppe tribes? I’m not sure. It would be interesting to find an article that tries to identify who these various groups might have represented, especially since the place names are consistent.

But my favorite episode in this section was with Parmoudeh (not even his dad’s favorite son; a classic case of the younger son being the favorite and thus crown prince, while the less favored son manages to survive the catastrophe). Because I am petty, I enjoyed his petty treatment of Bahram Chubineh trying to get back into his good graces by ignoring him and refusing all his efforts to make nice. Parmoudeh’s final comment “Go back, you have tired yourself out enough” is classic.

Next week: The Reign of Khosrow Parviz

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 & ShapurThe 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

7 thoughts on “The Reign of Hormozd (Shahnameh Readalong 38)

  1. I think the Chinese Turks are not the same as the actual Chinese, not if we are trying to tie this to history. The whole China thing has been mostly anachronistically atemporal, but here I think we start to get something firmer.

    The real conflict between the Islamic Middle East and China is at AD 751, after all.

  2. For some reason I had thought we moved beyond magic in everyday life so I enjoyed the evil magician (fire was darting through the air!) and actually felt a little bad for him when he was so sad to be a failure. I kind of liked how that dream ended up being a feint.

    I liked this: “…like a white hair lost on a black ox’s hide.”

    I might be mis-remembering details but did anyone else think that was a weird place for Seyavesh’s belongings to be kept/preserved?

    I was distracted by what I would guess is a translation decision and wondered if anyone else was caught by this: “Parmoudeh quickly dismounted, and showed his DUPLICITY by this act of homage.” Duplicity? I would have thought “dual nature” more appropriate but maybe that’s because I have a very rigid and negative view of duplicity when applied to people. I sometimes find myself down these tangents while reading. 🙂

  3. Paul — yes, and later I see the Chinese Turks referenced as the Alans, clearly a Central Asian tribe. So I think that is the explanation, not the actual Chinese.

    Rachel! Welcome back! I also thought it was a weird place for Seyavash’s gear to be kept but he does have the Turkish connection so maybe that is it? The Sasanians would have no direct connection to him? I’m not sure.

    It seems to me that the code within the Shahnameh is very very strict about where your proper place is and how you are meant to respond to that; thus calling Parmoudeh’s action duplicitous.

  4. Hi again, I’d agree re the code of conduct but I read the entire scene more as an example of his sovereignty and subordinate status overlapping and thus saw it as dual nature. The rest of the scene read very positively to me so I was caught out by the word choice of duplicitous. But I suppose this just goes to show that translation is a tricky thing. Think if the two of us were translating and how differently we might present that scene. This is why I love lit discussions! 🙂

  5. Rachel, and that is indeed a super important point about translation and how the translator affects so deeply the work’s reception into another language.

    Although who knows? Perhaps the word specifically means “duplicitous”?

  6. Absolutely but then that just gets my brain in another noodle because what if there is a direct word for word translation available but you know it doesn’t translate culturally, then what do you do? I’m now thinking of this more abstractly than specifically to this scene which is how I end up in these endless mental loops of thinking about translation. I wish I spoke another language well enough to explore these conundrums first hand.

  7. That’s the whole problem with translation, isn’t it? Cultural translation is not the same as word for word translation. For example one can translate a Hawaiian word like aloha or pono into an English equivalent but there is a whole raft of cultural resonance that goes with the word that doesn’t cross over.

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