Copyright
Firdawsi.

The Shah Nameh of the Persian poet Firdausi online

. (page 1 of 35)
Online LibraryFirdawsiThe Shah Nameh of the Persian poet Firdausi → online text (page 1 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


JN VERS TY OF CALIFORNIA. SAN DIEGO



II || III I

3 182202510 1346



fl)



A.F.




N.ERSTO



O.EGO




31822025101346



SIX JOHN LUBB OCR'S HUNDRED BOOKS

18



THE SHAH NAMEH



SIR JOHN LUBBOCICS HUNDRED BOOKS.



ORDER OF PUBLICATION.

1. HERODOTUS. Literally translated from the Text

of BAEHR, by HENRY CAKY, M. A. 35. 6d.

2. DARWIN'S VOYAGE OF A NATURALIST IN

H.M.S. "BEAGLE." 25.

3. THE MEDITATIONS OF MARCUS AURELIUS.

Translated from the Greek by JEKEMY COLLIER.
is. 6d.

4. THE TEACHING OF EPICTETUS. Translated

from the Greek, with Introduction and Notes, by
T. W. ROLLESTON. is. 6d.

5. BACON'S ESSAYS. With an Introduction by

HENRY MORLEY, LL.D. is. 6d.

6. MILL'S POLITICAL ECONOMY. 3 s. 6d.

7. CARLYLE'S FRENCH REVOLUTION. 35. 6d.

8. SELF-HELP. By SAMUEL SMILES. 6s.

q. WHITE'S NATURAL HISTORY OF SEL-

BORNE. 3 s. 6d.

10. THE PICKWICK PAPERS. By CHARLES DICKENS.
35. 6d.

1. THE SHI KING. Chinese National Poetry. 35. 6d.

2. POPE'S HOMER. 3 s. 6d.

3 . DRYDEN'S VIRGIL, is. 6d.

4 . MONTAIGNE'S ESSAYS. 33. 6d.

5. MILL'S SYSTEM OF LOGIC. 3 s. 6d.

6. LEWES'S HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY. 3 s. 6d.

7. THACKERAY'S VANITY FAIR. 3 s. 6d.

8. THE SHAH NAMEH OF THE PERSIAN POET

FIRDAUSL y. 6d.



GEORGE ROUTLEDGE AND SONS, LIMITED.



JOHN LUB BOCK'S HUNDRED BOO R$
18



THE



SHAH NAMEH



OF

THE PERSIAN POET

/FIRDAUSI.



TRANSLATED AND ABRIDGED IN PROSE AND VERSE,

BY

JAMES ATKINSON, ESQ.,

OF THE HONOURABLE EAST-INDIA COMPANY'S BENGAL MEDICAL SERVICE
EDITED BY

RKV. }. A. ATKINSON, M.A.,

RECTOR OF LONGSICHT ; HON. CANON OF MANCHESTER.



LONDON

GEORGE ROUTLEDGE AND SONS, LIMITED

BROADWAY, LUDGATE HILL

GLASGOW, MANCHESTER, AND NEW YORK

1892



LOlfDON !
BKADBURV, AONEW, & CO. UMD., PB1XTER8. WHITBrKI AB.



INTRODUCTION

BY

THE RIGHT HON. SIR JOHN LUBBOCK, BART., M.P.,
F.R.S., D.C.L., LL.D.



l^' the year 1886 I gave an address on " Books and Reading"
at the Working Men's College, which in the following year was
printed as one of the chapters in my " Pleasures of Life."

In it I mentioned about one hundred names, and the list has
been frequently referred to since as my list of "the hundred best
books." That, however, is not quite a correct statement. If I
were really to make a list of what are in my judgment the hundred
greatest books, it would contain several Newton's " Principia,"
for instance which I did not include, and it would exclude several
the " Koran," for instance which I inserted in deference to the
judgment of others. Again, I excluded living authors, from some
of whom Ruskin and Tennyson, Huxley and Tyndall, for in-
stance, to mention no others I have myself derived the keenest
enjoyment ; and especially I expressly stated that I did not select
the books on my own authority, but as being those most frequently
mentioned with approval by those writers who have referred
directly or indirectly to the pleasure of reading, rather than as
suggestions of my own.

I have no doubt that on reading the list, many names of
books which might well be added would occur to almost any one.
Indeed, various criticisms on the list have appeared, and many
books have been mentioned which it is said ought to have been
included. On the other hand no corresponding omissions have
been suggested. I have referred to several of the criticisms, and
find that, while 300 or 400 names have been proposed for addition,
only half a dozen are suggested for omission. Moreover, it is
remarkable that not one of the additional books suggested appears
in all the lists, or even in half of them, and only about half a
dozen in more than one.

But while, perhaps, no two persons would entirely concur as to
all the books to be included in such a list, I believe no one would
deny that those suggested are not only good, but among the best.

I am, however, ready, and indeed glad, to consider any sugges-
tions, and very willing to make any changes which can be shown
to be improvements. I have indeed made two changes in the list
as it originally appeared, having inserted Kalidasa's " Sakoontala,



INTRODUCTION.



or The Ring," and Schiller's "William Tell"; omitting Lucretius,
which is perhaps rather too difficult, and Miss Austen, as English
novelists were somewhat over-represented.

Another objection made has been that the books mentioned are
known to every one, at any rate by name ; that they are as household
words. Every one, it has been said, knows about Herodotus and
Homer, Shakespeare and Milton. There is, no doubt, some truth
in this. But even Lord Iddesleigh, as Mr. Lang has pointed out
in his " Life," had never read Marcus Aurelius, and I may add
that he afterwards thanked me warmly for having suggested the
"Meditations" to him.* If, then, even Lord Iddesleigh, "prob-
ably one of the last of English statesmen who knew the literature
of Greece and Rome widely and well," had not read Marcus
Aurelius, we may well suppose that others also may be in the same
position. It is also a curious commentary on what was no doubt
an unusually wide knowledge of classical literature that Mr. Lang
should ascribe and probably quite correctly Lord Iddesleigh's
never having had his attention called to one of the most beautiful
and improving books in classical, or indeed in any other literature,
to the fact that the emperor wrote in " crabbed and corrupt Greek."

Again, a popular writer in a recent work has observed that " why
any one should select the best hundred, more than the best eleven,
or the best thirty books, it is hard to conjecture." But this remark
entirely misses the point. Eleven books, or even thirty, would be
very few ; but no doubt I might just as well have given 90, or no.
Indeed, if our arithmetical notation had been duodecimal instead
of decimal, I should no doubt have made up the number to 120.
I only chose 100 as being a round number.

Another objection has been that every one should be left to
choose for himself. And so he must. No list can be more than
a suggestion. But a great literary authority can hardly perhaps
realize the difficulty of selection. An ordinary person turned into
a library and sarcastically told to choose for himself, has to do so
almost at haphazard. He may perhaps light upon a book with an
attractive title, and after wasting on it much valuable time and
patience, find that, instead of either pleasure or profit, he has
weakened, or perhaps lost, his love of reading.

Messrs. George Routleclge and Sons have conceived the idea of
publishing the books contained in my list in a handy and cheaj>
form, selecting themselves the editions which they prefer ; and .
believe that in doing so they will confer a benefit on many who
have not funds or space to collect a large library.

JOHN LUBBOCK.
HIGH ELMS,

DOWN, KENT,

30 March, 1891.

* I have since had many other letters to the same effect.



TO



THE RIGHT HONOURABLE

THE EAKL OF MUNSTEE,

DISTINGUISHED FOB HIS ZEAL AND EXERTIONS
IN PROMOTING

A. MORE GENERAL DIFFUSION
OF

ORIENTAL LITERATURE

THIS

of tlje JsMjalj llamclj

IS
MOST RESPECTFULLY INSCRIBED

BT

THE AUTHOR.



TEANSLATOE'S PEEFACE.



THE work here submitted to the public, presents for the
first time in the English language an abridgment of the
heroic poem of the great poet of Persia. It is now about five-
and-twenty years since I first contemplated an abstract of the
Shsili Nameh, in prose and verse ; and it was in the course of
reading for that purpose that the episode containing the story
of Sohrab, which I published with the original text in Calcutta
in 1814, struck me as peculiarly meriting, from its highly
chivalrous spirit and pathetic denouement, a more full transla-
tion than could be given to the whole poem. But it was not
till 1829 that the sea-voyage from India gave me an oppor-
tunity of making such progress in the present undertaking, as
to enable me to bring it to a speedy conclusion, and prepare it
for the press. The general reader will now have the means of
forming his own estimate of a production so celebrated, and so
often referred to under the flattering designation of the Iliad
of the East. Ho will at any rate see through an unpretending
but intelligible medium, of what materials it is composed.

The Shall Ndmeh is indeed a history in rhyme. It com-
prises the annals and achievements of the ancient kings of
Persia, from Kaiumers down to the invasion and conquest of
that empire by the Saracens, in G3G, an estimated period of



* TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE,

more than 3,600 years !* It was finished early in the eleventh
century, gathered from the tales and legends for ages tradi-
tionally known throughout the country, and in accordance
with that origin, it abounds in adventures of the most wild and
romantic description, in prodigious efforts of strength and
valour, and there are heroines to be met with in the Persian
bard as intrepid and beautiful as ever vanquished heart or
wielded sword in western poetry. Ifc is, in fact, considered
one of the finest productions of the kind which Oriental, or
rather, perhaps, Mahommedan nations can boast ; and though
the general character of Persian composition is well known to
be excess of ornament and inflation of style, the language of
Firdausl is comparatively simple, and possesses a greater
portion of the energy and grace of our own poets than has
been commonly admitted. His verse is exquisitely smooth
and flowing, and never interrupted by inverted and harsh
forms of construction. He is perhaps the sweetest as well as
the most sublime poet of Persia, In epic grandeur he is above
all, and he is besides one of the easiest to be understood.

The author of the Shah Nameh has usually been called the
Homer of the East, but it certainly could not be from any
consideration of placing the Greek and Persian together in
the same scale of excellence. Each may be more properly
looked upon as the best of his own country. Sir William
Jones, in his essay on the Poetry of the Eastern Nations, does
" not pretend to assert that the poet of Persia is equal to that
of Greece ; but there is certainly," he observes, " a very great
resemblance between the works of those extraordinary men ;
both drew their images from nature herself, without catching



* Kar&mers is understood to be the Adam of the fire-worshippers, and the
grandson of Nii, or Noah, of the Mahommedans.



TRANSLATOR'S PEEFACE. xi

them only from reflection, and painting, in the manner of the
modern poets, the likeness of a likeness ; and both possessed,
in an eminent degree, the rich and creative invention, which is
the very soul of poetry." There is another resemblance, which
is, however, unconnected with their comparative merits ; but
it is one which has chiefly, I think, given occasion to the
Persian being called the Homer of the East ; the heroic poems
of Firdausi are held exactly in the same estimation with
reference to the works of other poets of Persia, as those of
Homer are in the West. Like Homer, too, he describes a rude
age, when personal strength and ferocious courage were chiefly
valued, and when the tumultuous passions of the mind had
not been softened and harmonized by civilization, or brought
under the control of reason and reflection. Firdausi is also as
much the father of Persian poetry as Homer is of the Greek ;
but it would be little less than sacrilege to draw a critical
comparison between the Shah Xameh and the Iliad !

It has been observed by Dr. Kurd, in his letters on Chivalry
and Romance, that "there is a remarkable correspondence
between the manners of the old heroic times, as painted by
their great romancer Homer, and those which are represented
to us in the modern books of knight-errantry." The corre-
spondence is, however, infinitely more striking between the
manners described by Firdausi and those of the age of
European chivalry. It is well known that the Moors carried
into Spain the fictions and romances of Arabia and Persia,
and most of our best tales are supposed to be derived from the
same source. It has already been said that Firdausi wrote in
the beginning of the eleventh century, but it was not till the
twelfth that romances of chivalry began to amuse and delight
the western world. Although the Roman de la Rose was the
first considerable work of the kind in verse, the poem which



xii TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE.

gave life and character to all succeeding tales of chivalry was
the Orlando Innamoraio of Boyardo, afterwards improved and
paraphrased by Berni. To this production we are indebted for
the Orlando Furioso of Ariosfco ; and in a similar relation to
each other stand the Bastan-Nameh, of which we shall presently
speak, and the Shah Nameh of Firdausi.

In the series of romantic adventures which constitute the
Shah Nameh, the principal hero is Rustem. He is born
during the reign of Minuchihr, and it is not till some centuries
afterwards, whilst Gushtasp is sovereign of Persia, that he
perishes by treachery, to avenge the death of Isfendiyiir, in-
voluntarily slain by the champion. The career of this prodigy
of strength, and piety, and valour, must thus have been of more
than antediluvian duration, unless indeed it could be imagined
that Rustem was adopted by the champion of every successive
reign as a name or title of distinction ; but that is impossible, for
his brother Ziiara dies with him : he is always the son of Zal,
who indeed survives him, and the grandson of Sain, and there
can be no doubt of his being the same individual throughout,
the same everlasting conqueror.* So well has Firdausi preserved
the indomitable spirit of this heroic character, that, even iu
his last moments, he slays the wretch who had betrayed him.

Rustem has been generally called the Persian Hercules, and
in bravery and power the two heroes present many points of
resemblance. Sir William Ouseley, in his valuable travels, has
drawn an ingenious parallel between them, especially with
regard to the labours of these celebrated champions. The

* But the Shah Xameh cannot be said to have any pretensions to true
history, and chronology is equally disregarded in the poetical imagination of
Firdausi ; for, according to him, Jemshid had reigned seven hundred years
before he was inspired with the impious ambition which occasioned his
downfall, and the despotism of the usurper Zonal is stated to have lasted one
thousand years !



TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE. xiii

labours of Rustcm were however only seven, whilst those of
Hercules were twelve. It is not, I believe, understood that
the series of exploits performed by the Persian hero are at
all figurative, like those of the Grecian god ; for according
to the theory of Dupuis, Hercules is considered as no other
than the sun, and his twelve labours are regarded as a repre-
sentation of the annual course of that luminary through the
signs of the Zodiac. In the Shall Ntimeh, Isfendiyur has also
his seven labours as well as Eustem, and both consist in the
overthrow of devouring monsters, and the destruction of
talismans and works of enchantment. Eustem, however,
performs his exploits alone, mounted on his famous horse
Eakush, whilst Isfendiydr is accompanied and assisted by a
numerous party of horsemen. All nations, indeed, have had
their unconquerable knights and destructive dragons. We
had our St. George, and other countries can no doubt boast
of cavaliers equally valiant, and of monsters equally pestiferous
and horrible.

Of Abul Kisim Firdausi, the author of this celebrated
work, little is satisfactorily known. He was born at Tus, a
city of Khorassan, about the year 950. But in Daulet Shah's
account of the Persian poets, his proper name is said to have
been Hassan, and that of his father Ishak Sherif Shah, who
worked as a gardener on the domain of the governor of Tus.
The following circumstances, respecting the origin of the
poem and the life of the poet, are chiefly derived from the
preface to the copy of the Shah Nameh which was collated
in the year of the Hejira 829, about 400 years ago, by order
of Bayisunghur Bahader Khcin. It appears from that preface
that Yezdjird, the last king of the Sassanian race, took con-
siderable pains in collecting all the chronicles, histories and
traditions, connected with Persia and the sovereigns of that



xir TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE.

country, from the time of Kaiiimers to the accession of the
Khosraus, which, by his direction, were digested and brought
into one view, and formed the book known by the name of
Syur-al-Miiluk, or the Bastan-Nameh. "When the followers
of Mahommed overturned the Persian monarchy, this work
was found in the plundered library of Yezdjird. The preface
above alluded to minutely traces its progress through different
hands in Arabia, Ethiopia, and Hindustan. The chronicle
was afterwards continued to the time of Yezdjird. In the
tenth century, one of the Kings of the Samanian dynasty
directed Dukiki to versify that extensive work, but the poet only
lived to finish a thousand distiches, having been assassinated
by his own slave. Nothing further was done till the reign
of Sultan Mahmud Sabuktugin, in the beginning of the
eleventh century. That illustrious conqueror, whose restless
ambition extended his dominion from the Tigris to the Ganges,
and from the mountains of Tartary to the Indian Ocean, with
the intention of augmenting the glories of his reign projected
a history of the kings of Persia, and ordered the literary
characters of his court conjointly to prepare one from all
accessible records. While they were engaged upon this laborious
undertaking, a romantic accident, which it is unnecessary to
describe, furnished the Sultan with a copy of the Bastan-
Nameh, the existence of which was till then unknown to him.
From this work Mahmud selected seven Stories or Romances,
which he delivered to seven poets to be composed in verse, that
he might be able to ascertain the merits of each competitor.
The poet Unsari, to whom the story of Kustem and Sohrab
was given, gained the palm, and he was accordingly engaged
to arrange the whole history in verse.

Firdausi was at this time at TUB, his native city, where he
cultivated his poetical talents with assiduity and success. He



TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE. xv

had heard of the attempt of Dukiki to versify the historj
of the kings of Persia, and of the determination of the reigning
king, Mahmiid, to patronize an undertaking which promised
to add lustre to the age in which he lived. Having fortunately
succeeded in procuring a copy of the Bastan-Nameh, he pur-
sued his studies with unremitting zeal, and soon produced
that part of the poem in which the battles of Zohak and
Feridiin are described. The performance was universally read
and admired, and it was not long before his fame reached
the ears of the Sultan, who immediately invited him to his
court.

Another notice of his life states, that he and his brother
Mahsud were originally husbandmen, occupied in the labours
of the field at Tiis, and that it was the persecution of a malicious
enemy which drove the poet from his native place. Firdausi
told his brother that he was unable to endure the insults that
were continually heaped upon him, and proposed that they
should depart together to another country ; but Mahsud, not
disposed to abandon his home, objected to this scheme. Fir-
dausi however was determined to remain no longer at Tus, and
immediately set out unfriended and alone on his way to
Ghizni.

When our author had reached the vieinity^of the capital, he
happened to pass near a garden where Unsari, Usjudi, and
Furroki were sitting drinking wine. These celebrated poets
observed a stranger approach, and one of them said : " If that
fellow comes hither he will spoil our pleasure, let us therefore
get rid of him at once by scolding him away." But the others
disapproved of this harsh mode of proceeding, and thought it
would be better, and more consistent with their condition and
character, to overcome him by some stroke of learning or
waggery. When Firdausi drew near, mutual salutations having



xvt TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE.

passed between them, they thus familiarly addressed him :
" Here we are, engaged in making extemporaneous verses, and
whoever is able to follow them up with promptitude and effect,
shall be admitted as an approved companion to our social
board." Firdausi was willing and ready to submit to this test,
And Uusari thus commenced upon an apostrophe to a beautiful
woman :

The light of the moon to thy splendour is weak

Usjudi rejoined :

The rose is eclipsed by the bloom of thy check.

Then Furroki :

Thy eye-lashes dart through the folds of the joshun.*

It was now Firdausi's turn ; and he said without a moment's
pause, but with admirable felicity :

Like the javelin of Giw in the battle with Poshun.

The poets were astonished at the readiness of the stranger ;
and being totally ignorant of the story of Giw and Poshun,
inquired of him from whence it was derived, when Firdausi
related to them the onslaught or encounter as described in the
Bastan-Nameh. Upon which they treated him with the greatest
kindness and respect, and were so pleased with the power and
genius he displayed on other subjects, that they recommended
him to the patronage of Shah Mahmiid ; an instance of dis-
interestedness, if true, highly honourable to the rival poets.

It is also related that the Sultan, when Firdansi was first
introduced to him, requested the poet to compose some verses

* Josliun armour



TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE. xvii

m his presence ; upon which, Firdausi instantly pronounced
the following :

The cradled infant, whose sweet lips are yet
Balmy with milk from its own mother's breast,
Lisps first the name of MahmM.

This rare compliment delighted the king, and confirmed his
high opinion of the extraordinary merits of the poet.

When Firdausi arrived at Ghizni, the success of Unsari,
in giving a poetical dress to the romance of Rustem and Sohrtib,
was the subject of general observation and praise. Animated
by this proof of literary taste at court, he commenced upon
the story of the battles of Isfendiyar and Rustem ; and having
completed it, he embraced the earliest opportunity of getting
that poem presented to the Sultan, who had already seen
abundant evidence of the transcendent talents of the author.
Mahmud regarded the production with admiration and delight.
He without hesitating a moment appointed him to complete the
Shah Nameh, and ordered his chief minister * to pay him a
thousand miskals for every thousand distichs, and at the same
time honoured him with the surname of Firdausi, because that
he had diffused over his court the delights of paradise.t
Unsari himself liberally acknowledged the superiority of
Firdausi's genius, and relinquished the undertaking without
apparent regret.

The minister, in compliance with the injunctions of Mahmud,
offered to pay the sums as the work went on ; but Firdausi
unfortunately preferred waiting till he had completed his
engagement, and receiving the whole at once, as he had long
indulged the hope of being able to do something of importance
for the benefit of his native city.

It appears that Firdausi, in his new situation, did not act

* Ahmed Mymundi. t Firdaus signifies paradi-e.

'



xviii TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE.

with becoming discretion. He had composed verses in honour
of the minister whose office it was to supply him with whatever
he might require, but did nothing to conciliate the good graces
of Aiyar, one of the principal favourites of Mahmud. In con-
sequence of this omission, Aiyar sought every opportunity to
injure Firdausi and ruin his interests with the king. Several
passages in his poems were extracted and invidiously com-
mented upon, as containing sentiments contrary to the prin-
ciples of the true faith ! It was alleged that they proved him
to be a hypocritical philosopher, and a schismatic. The king
was highly indignant on hearing that the poet was guilty of
cherishing impious doctrines ; upon which occasion Firdausi
solicited an audience, and throwing himself at the feet of
Mahmud, protested against the malignant calumny which had
been brought against him ; but Mahmud replied that all the
people of Tiis were of the same character, all heretics alike !
The situation of the poet under royal displeasure had thus
become critical, and he remained at Ghizni, though still pro-
secuting his labours, in a state of great anxiety and alarm.
But in spite of all that artifice and malignity could frame, the
poet rose in the esteem of the public. Admiration followed
him in the progress of the work, and presents were showered



Online LibraryFirdawsiThe Shah Nameh of the Persian poet Firdausi → online text (page 1 of 35)