Friday, February 05, 2010

The middle way between earth and fire

Not feeling too well, but chugging along. Curled up in bed last night, like a kid, to read Dick Davis's translation of Shahnameh, the Persian Book of Kings. Part of my project to read the ancient classics of all civilizations. I have read so far Gilgamesh, Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita, Zhuang Zi, the Analects, Beowulf, Iliad, and Odyssey. I appreciate suggestions for reading.

Shahnameh, the Persian national epic, was composed by the poet Abolqasem Ferdowsi in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries C.E. "Its subject matter is vast," writes Davis in the Introduction, "being nothing less than the history of the country and its people from the creation of the world up to the Arab conquest, which brought the then new religion of Islam to Iran, in the seventh century C.E." The scope is vast but the telling, in Davis's prose translation, interspersed with verse, is pleasingly simple.

The battle is between just kings and nasty demons who make themselves tyrants of the world. Hushang versus the Black Demon. Feraydun versus Zahhak. The story changes a little when Feraydun's three sons outwit another human ruler, the king of the Yemen, and win his three beautiful daughters. On their way home, Feraydun tests his sons by attacking them in the form of a huge dragon. The oldest runs away, and so is named by his father Salm (Salamat means safety). The second son is named Tur for his impetuous bravery. The third, always the favorite, who has both dignity and fierceness, "who chooses the middle way between earth and fire," was named Iraj.

4 comments:

Shropshirelad said...

I am especially fond of Gilgamesh. I read the excellent David Ferry translation about 15 years ago. The relationship of Gilgamesh and Enkido affected me very deeply and I think it casts long shadows in my own work. You have inspired me to go back and read it again. I think it may help me solve a certain problem with a certain epic I have myself been working on.

Ferry has also translated Horace and Virgil (The Eclogues, I believe, maybe The Georgics...)

Sarah Sarai said...

Wait. Maybe I'm in a bad mood (well I am) you you hadn't read Homer? Nah. That couldn't be. Assure me.

Gregory Lewis Bynum said...

I hope you feel better soon, Jee. Recently I listened to a book-on-tape of the Stephen Mitchell version of Gilgamesh, which I liked a lot. It's interesting to see "heroes" expressing so much fear before facing monsters - not at all like Superman and Batman (the heroes I grew up with).

Jee Leong Koh said...

I think I heard Stephen Mitchell read his then-new translation when I was at Sarah Lawrence.