August 5, 2004
* Iran in Shahnameh
Dear Mr. Kadivar, [Sekandar, Iran and Aryans]
Thank you for your message. To go through your
questions one by one:
On balance I think Ferdowsi uses Sekandar (never Sikandar - i.e. there
are no long vowels in the name), slightly more often than Eskandar, but
he uses Eskandar quite often too. His choice of which form
to use is according to the meter.
Freemasonry is an 18th century European invention, and is a product
of Deism and the Enlightenment. Like virtually all "new" religions,
it claims to be a return to a lost earlier "true" faith, but
this has no basis in reality. Kipling's story is of course pure fantasy,
and the film was even more of a fantasy, particularly in its use of Urdu
and Islamic chants for a society supposedly untouched by Islam.
The word "Iran" comes literally thousands of times in the
Shahnameh, and is the name used in the poem for the whole country
we now call Iran / Persia. The word originally referred to the inhabitants
of the country, rather than the country itself, and this is clear from
the fact that the country is also sometimes called "Iran-zamin" ,
ie "the land of the Aryans". The word is of pre-Islamic origin,
and derives from the same Indo-European root from which the English word "Aryan" derives.
Aryan more precisely refers to the speakers of a
language rather than to the descendants of a common ancestor.
this was an Indo-European language, Persian has many cognates in
other Indo-European languages.
It's not true however to say that "koenig" and "king" derive from "kia",
or that "daughter" and "tochter" derive from "dokhtar". Rather, "koenig",
"king" and "kia" can be assumed to derive
from a common Indo-European root, and "daughter", "tochter" and "dokhtar" can
to derive from
another Indo-European root. In each case the three words are equivalent
branches of one stem, rather than one of them being the parent stem of
the other two.
In each case the parent stem exists in no recorded language,
though for many words linguistics specialists in Indo-European languages
(of whom I'm not in any way one - my field of expertise, in so far as
I have any, is Medieval Persian poetry, not Indo-European
linguistics) have reconstructed what they think such stems were.
Given our present discussion, it might be of interest that these cognates
across the Indo-European languages, and therefore the probability of
a common ancestor to these languages, were first noticed by William Jones
(1746-1794), who wrote the first Persian grammar in a Western language,
and who had a particular interest in the Shahnameh. Indeed, it was said
to be whilst he was reading the Shahnameh that the first intuition of
the existence of a family of Indo-European languages came to him.
Dumezil's tri-partite society, and his elaborations of this, are perhaps
discernible in the Shahnameh, particularly in the very early stories,
but the theory is so vague and adaptive to specific circumstances (that
doesn't mean it's not a good description of what ancient Indo-European
societies were like, I think it quite likely is one) that this doesn't
perhaps mean very much.
The poem includes or refers to various kinds
of political order. For example, a loose federation of chieftains in
the legendary stories, as against a very centralized system with almost
no independence for local lords under the Sasanians. Or, a system in
which the king is chosen by his peers, despite claims of legitimate descent
from a former king, as when Qobad is chosen over the apparently "legitimate" heir
Tus, as against a system in which primogeniture is the sole criterion
Or, the inclusion and acceptance of foreign, liminal
and apparently disruptive elements into the society in the legendary
stories, as against a deep suspicion of the foreign, liminal and disruptive
in the Sasanian stories.
Because of this fluidity in the social structures
represented in the poem, almost any structure can be found there
if one looks hard enough, including Dumezil's.
As I said in my original
to Jahanshah Javid [A
huge conservation project], the poem's exploration of such
themes is very complex,
and not at all simplistic or reductive. Put beside the totality
of Ferdowsi's exploration, Dumezil's scheme seems a bit reductive, and
if at all, to one part of the poem (the very early stories: say,
up to the end of the story of Feraydun).
If you wanted to reproduce these or my previous remarks anywhere that
is fine by me of course.
With all best wishes,