A Song from Mâzandarân: Lessons in Demonic Poetry
Kay Kâvus, the second Kayanid ruler in Ferdowsi’s Book of Kings, was not the wisest monarch in the dynasty. The 11th century Persian epic reports that the sovereign, driven by hubris and vainglory, set out to conquer Mâzandarân, the land of the demons, where none of his forefathers had dared to venture. The outcome is well known: after a shameful defeat at the hands of the fiends, the Iranian king and his champions are blinded and taken prisoner. Were it not for Rostam, the great hero come to their rescue, the empire would have collapsed and the radiant aura of Iranian kings forever dimmed. At the center of this critical episode lies the performance of a lyric poem that spurred the king’s thirst for conquest. How can a ruler risk his kingdom for a song? Does the destiny of an empire rest in the artful spinning of words and rhymes? Medieval Iranian philosophers did not consider these questions unworthy of their attention. Drawing on the Avicennan legacy, such authors as Nasir al-Din Tusi (13thc.) sought to account for the powers of poetry in terms of logic and natural science. Their teachings may shed some light on this momentous episode in the Shâhnâmeh, and on the far-reaching consequence of one demonic song.
Co-Sponsored by Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies.