Thursday, September 16, 2010

Shah Nameh/Sikander(Great Alexander)

The Shahnameh (The King's Chronicles) is an enormous poetic opus written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi around 1000 AD and is the national epic of the cultural sphere of Greater Persia. Consisting of some 60,000 verses, the Shāhnāmeh tells the mythical and historical past of Greater Iran from the creation of the world up until the Islamic conquest of Persia in the 7th century. The work is of central importance in Persian culture, regarded as a literary masterpiece, and definitive of ethno-national cultural identity of Iran.

The Shâhnameh recounts the history of Persia, beginning with the creation of the world and the introduction of the arts of civilization (fire, cooking, metallurgy, law) to the Aryans and ends with the Arab conquest of Persia. The work is not precisely chronological, but there is a general movement through time. Some of the characters live for hundreds of years but most have normal life spans.

The work is divided into three successive parts: the mythical, heroic, and historical ages. At the the historical age A brief mention of the Ashkānīyān dynasty follows the history of Alexander and precedes that of Ardashir I, the founder of the Sassanid dynasty.

The following text describe the age of the Great Alexander.

Failakús(Philip II), before his death, placed the crown of sovereignty upon the head of Sikander(Alexander), and appointed Aristú(Aristotle), who was one of the disciples of the great Aflátún(Plato), his vizir. He cautioned him to pursue the path of virtue and rectitude, and to cast from his heart every feeling of vanity and pride; above all he implored him to be just and merciful, and said:--

"Think not that thou art wise, but ignorant,
And ever listen to advice and counsel;
We are but dust, and from the dust created;
And what our lives but helplessness and sorrow!"

Sikander for a time attended faithfully to the instructions of his father, and to the counsel of Aristú, both in public and private affairs.

Upon Sikander's elevation to the throne, Dárá(Darius) sent an envoy to him to claim the customary tribute, but he received for answer: "The time is past when Rúm(Greece) acknowledged the superiority of Persia. It is now thy turn to pay tribute to Rúm(Greece). If my demand be refused, I will immediately invade thy dominions; and think not that I shall be satisfied with the conquest of Persia alone, the whole world shall be mine; therefore prepare for war." Dárá had no alternative, not even submission, and accordingly assembled his army, for Sikander was already in full march against him. Upon the confines of Persia the armies came in sight of each other, when Sikander, in the assumed character of an envoy, was resolved to ascertain the exact condition of the enemy. With this view he entered the Persian camp, and Dárá allowing the person whom he supposed an ambassador, to approach, enquired what message the king of Rúm had sent to him. "Hear me!" said the pretended envoy: "Sikander has not invaded thy empire for the exclusive purpose of fighting, but to know its history, its laws, and customs, from personal inspection. His object is to travel through the whole world. Why then should he make war upon thee? Give him but a free passage through thy kingdom, and nothing more is required. However if it be thy wish to proceed to hostilities, he apprehends nothing from the greatness of thy power." Dárá was astonished at the majestic air and dignity of the envoy, never having witnessed his equal, and he anxiously said:--

"What is thy name, from whom art thou descended?
For that commanding front, that fearless eye,
Bespeaks illustrious birth. Art thou indeed
Sikander, whom my fancy would believe thee,
So eloquent in speech, in mien so noble?"
"No!" said the envoy, "no such rank is mine,
Sikander holds among his numerous host
Thousands superior to the humble slave
Who stands before thee. It is not for me
To put upon myself the air of kings,
To ape their manners and their lofty state."

Dárá could not help smiling, and ordered refreshments and wine to be brought. He filled a cup and gave it to the envoy, who drank it off, but did not, according to custom, return the empty goblet to the cup-bearer. The cup-bearer demanded the cup, and Dárá asked the envoy why he did not give it back. "It is the custom in my country," said the envoy, "when a cup is once given into an ambassador's hands, never to receive it back again." Dárá was still more amused by this explanation, and presented to him another cup, and successively four, which the envoy did not fail to appropriate severally in the same way. In the evening a feast was held, and Sikander partook of the delicious refreshments that had been prepared for him; but in the midst of the entertainment one of the persons present recognized him, and immediately whispered to Dárá that his enemy was in his power.

Sikander's sharp and cautious eye now marked
The changing scene, and up he sprang, but first
Snatched the four cups, and rushing from the tent,
Vaulted upon his horse, and rode away.
So instantaneous was the act, amazed
The assembly rose, and presently a troop
Was ordered in pursuit--but night, dark night,
Baffled their search, and checked their eager speed.

As soon as he reached his own army, he sent for Aristátalís and his courtiers, and exultingly displayed to them the four golden cups. "These," said he, "have I taken from my enemy, I have taken them from his own table, and before his own eyes. His strength and numbers too I have ascertained, and my success is certain." No time was now lost in arrangements for the battle. The armies engaged, and they fought seven days without a decisive blow being struck. On the eighth, Dárá was compelled to fly, and his legions, defeated and harassed, were pursued by the Rúmís with great slaughter to the banks of the Euphrates. Sikander now returned to take possession of the capital. In the meantime Dárá collected his scattered forces together, and again tried his fortune, but he was again defeated. After his second success, the conqueror devoted himself so zealously to conciliate and win the affections of the people, that they soon ceased to remember their former king with any degree of attachment to his interests. Sikander said to them: "Persia indeed is my inheritance: I am no stranger to you, for I am myself descended from Dáráb; you may therefore safely trust to my justice and paternal care, in everything that concerns your welfare." The result was, that legion after legion united in his cause, and consolidated his power.

When Dárá was informed of the universal disaffection of his army, he said to the remaining friends who were personally devoted to him: "Alas! my subjects have been deluded by the artful dissimulation and skill of Sikander; your next misfortune will be the captivity of your wives and children. Yes, your wives and children will be made the slaves of the conquerors." A few troops, still faithful to their unfortunate king, offered to make another effort against the enemy, and Dárá was too grateful and too brave to discountenance their enthusiastic fidelity, though with such little chance of success. A fragment of an army was consequently brought into action, and the result was what had been anticipated. Dárá was again a fugitive; and after the defeat, escaped with three hundred men into the neighboring desert. Sikander captured his wife and family, but magnanimously restored them to the unfortunate monarch, who, destitute of all further hope, now asked for a place of refuge in his own dominions, and for that he offered him all the buried treasure of his ancestors. Sikander, in reply, invited him to his presence; and promised to restore him to his throne, that he might himself be enabled to pursue other conquests; but Dárá refused to go, although advised by his nobles to accept the invitation. "I am willing to put myself to death," said he with emotion, "but I cannot submit to this degradation. I cannot go before him, and thus personally acknowledge his authority over me." Resolved upon this point, he wrote to Faúr, one of the sovereigns of Ind, to request his assistance, and Faúr recommended that he should pay him a visit for the purpose of concerting what measures should be adopted. This correspondence having come to the knowledge of Sikander, he took care that his enemy should be intercepted in whatever direction he might proceed.

Dárá had two ministers, named Mahiyár and Jamúsipár, who, finding that according to the predictions of the astrologers their master would in a few days fall into the hands of Sikander, consulted together, and thought they had better put him to death themselves, in order that they might get into favor with Sikander. It was night, and the soldiers of the escort were dispersed at various distances, and the vizirs were stationed on each side of the king. As they travelled on, Jamúsipár took an opportunity of plunging his dagger into Dárá's side, and Mahiyár gave another blow, which felled the monarch to the ground. They immediately sent the tidings of this event to Sikander, who hastened to the spot, and the opening daylight presented to his view the wounded king.

Dismounting quickly, he in sorrow placed
The head of Dárá on his lap, and wept
In bitterness of soul, to see that form
Mangled with ghastly wounds.

Dárá still breathed; and when he lifted up his eyes and beheld Sikander, he groaned deeply. Sikander said, "Rise up, that we may convey thee to a place of safety, and apply the proper remedies to thy wounds."--"Alas!" replied Dárá, "the time for remedies is past. I leave thee to Heaven, and may thy reign give peace and happiness to the empire."--"Never," said Sikander, "never did I desire to see thee thus mangled and fallen--never to witness this sight! If the Almighty should spare thy life, thou shalt again be the monarch of Persia, and I will go from hence. On my mother's word, thou and I are sons of the same father. It is this brotherly affection which now wrings my heart!" Saying this, the tears chased each other down his cheeks in such abundance that they fell upon the face of Dárá. Again, he said, "Thy murderers shall meet with merited vengeance, they shall be punished to the uttermost." Dárá blessed him, and said, "My end is approaching, but thy sweet discourse and consoling kindness have banished all my grief. I shall now die with a mind at rest. Weep no more--

"My course is finished, thine is scarce begun;
But hear my dying wish, my last request:
Preserve the honour of my family,
Preserve it from disgrace. I have a daughter
Dearer to me than life, her name is Roshung;
Espouse her, I beseech thee--and if Heaven
Should bless thee with a boy, O! let his name be
Isfendiyár, that he may propagate
With zeal the sacred doctrines of Zerdusht,
The Zendavesta, then my soul will be
Happy in Heaven; and he, at Náu-rúz tide,
Will also hold the festival I love,
And at the altar light the Holy Fire;
Nor will he cease his labour, till the faith
Of Lohurásp be everywhere accepted,
And everywhere believed the true religion."

Sikander promised that he would assuredly fulfil the wishes he had expressed, and then Dárá placed the palm of his brother's hand on his mouth, and shortly afterwards expired. Sikander again wept bitterly, and then the body was placed on a golden couch, and he attended it in sorrow to the grave.

After the burial of Dárá, the two ministers, Jamúsipár and Mahiyár, were brought near the tomb, and executed upon the dar.

Just vengeance upon the guilty head,
For they their generous monarch's blood had shed.

Sikander had now no rival to the throne of Persia, and he commenced his government under the most favorable auspices. He continued the same customs and ordinances which were handed down to him, and retained every one in his established rank and occupation. He gladdened the heart by his justice and liberality. Keeping in mind his promise to Dárá, he now wrote to the mother of Roshung, and communicating to her the dying solicitations of the king, requested her to send Roshung to him, that he might fulfil the last wish of his brother. The wife of Dárá immediately complied with the command, and sent her daughter with various presents to Sikander, and she was on her arrival married to the conqueror, acceding to the customs and laws of the empire. Sikander loved her exceedingly, and on her account remained some time in Persia, but he at length determined to proceed into Ind to conquer that country of enchanters and enchantment.

On approaching Ind he wrote to Kaid, summoning him to surrender his kingdom, and received from him the following answer: "I will certainly submit to thy authority, but I have four things which no other person in the world possesses, and which I cannot relinquish. I have a daughter, beautiful as an angel of Paradise, a wise minister, a skilful physician, and a goblet of inestimable value!" Upon receiving this extraordinary reply, Sikander again addressed a letter to him, in which he peremptorily required all these things immediately. Kaid not daring to refuse, or make any attempt at evasion, reluctantly complied with the requisition. Sikander received the minister and the physician with great politeness and attention, and in the evening held a splendid feast, at which he espoused the beautiful daughter of Kaid, and taking the goblet from her hands, drank off the wine with which it was filled. After that, Kaid himself waited upon Sikander, and personally acknowledged his authority and dominion.

Sikander then proceeded to claim the allegiance and homage of Faúr, the king of Kanúj, and wrote to him to submit to his power; but Faúr returned a haughty answer, saying:--

"Kaid Indí is a coward to obey thee,
But I am Faúr, descended from a race
Of matchless warriors; and shall I submit,
And to a Greek!"

Sikander was highly incensed at this bold reply. The force he had now with him amounted to eighty thousand men; that is, thirty thousand Iránians, forty thousand Rúmís, and ten thousand Indís. Faúr had sixty thousand horsemen, and two thousand elephants. The troops of Sikander were greatly terrified at the sight of so many elephants, which gave the enemy such a tremendous superiority. Aristátalís, and some other ingenious counsellors, were requested to consult together to contrive some means of counteracting the power of the war-elephants, and they suggested the construction of an iron horse, and the figure of a rider also of iron, to be placed upon wheels like a carriage, and drawn by a number of horses. A soldier, clothed in iron armor, was to follow the vehicle--his hands and face besmeared with combustible matter, and this soldier, armed with a long staff, was at an appointed signal, to pierce the belly of the horse and also of the rider, previously filled with combustibles, so that when the ignited point came in contact with them, the whole engine would make a tremendous explosion and blaze in the air. Sikander approved of this invention, and collected all the blacksmiths and artisans in the country to construct a thousand machines of this description with the utmost expedition, and as soon as they were completed, he prepared for action. Faúr too pushed forward with his two thousand elephants in advance; but when the Kanújians beheld such a formidable array they were surprised, and Faúr anxiously inquired from his spies what it could be. Upon being told that it was Sikander's artillery, his troops pushed the elephants against the enemy with vigor, at which moment the combustibles were fired by the Rúmís, and the machinery exploding, many elephants were burnt and destroyed, and the remainder, with the troops, fled in confusion. Sikander then encountered Faúr, and after a severe contest, slew him, and became ruler of the kingdom of Kanúj.

After the conquest of Kanúj, Sikander went to Mekka, carrying thither rich presents and offerings. From thence he proceeded to another city, where he was received with great homage by the most illustrious of the nation. He enquired of them if there was anything wonderful or extraordinary in their country, that he might go to see it, and they replied that there were two trees in the kingdom, one a male, the other a female, from which a voice proceeded. The male-tree spoke in the day, and the female-tree in the night, and whoever had a wish, went thither to have his desires accomplished. Sikander immediately repaired to the spot, and approaching it, he hoped in his heart that a considerable part of his life still remained to be enjoyed. When he came under the tree, a terrible sound arose and rung in his ears, and he asked the people present what it meant. The attendant priest said it implied that fourteen years of his life still remained. Sikander, at this interpretation of the prophetic sound, wept and the burning tears ran down his cheeks. Again he asked, "Shall I return to Rúm, and see my mother and children before I die?" and the answer was, "Thou wilt die at Kashán.[51]

"Nor mother, nor thy family at home
Wilt thou behold again, for thou wilt die,
Closing thy course of glory at Kashán."

Sikander left the place in sorrow, and pursued his way towards Rúm. In his progress he arrived at another city, and the inhabitants gave him the most honorable welcome, representing to him, however, that they were dreadfully afflicted by the presence of two demons or giants, who constantly assailed them in the night, devouring men and goats and whatever came in their way. Sikander asked their names; and they replied, Yájuj and Májuj (Gog and Magog). He immediately ordered a barrier to be erected five hundred yards high, and three hundred yards wide, and when it was finished he went away. The giants, notwithstanding all their efforts, were unable to scale this barrier, and in consequence the inhabitants pursued their occupations without the fear of molestation.

To scenes of noble daring still he turned
His ardent spirit--for he knew not fear.
Still he led on his legions--and now came
To a strange place, where countless numbers met
His wondering view--countless inhabitants
Crowding the city streets, and neighbouring plains;
And in the distance presently he saw
A lofty mountain reaching to the stars.
Onward proceeding, at its foot he found
A guardian-dragon, terrible in form,
Ready with open jaws to crush his victim;
But unappalled, Sikander him beholding
With steady eye, which scorned to turn aside,
Sprang forward, and at once the monster slew.

Ascending then the mountain, many a ridge,
Oft resting on the way, he reached the summit,
Where the dead corse of an old saint appeared
Wrapt in his grave-clothes, and in gems imbedded.
In gold and precious jewels glittering round,
Seeming to show what man is, mortal man!
Wealth, worldly pomp, the baubles of ambition,
All left behind, himself a heap of dust!

None ever went upon that mountain top,
But sought for knowledge; and Sikander hoped
When he had reached its cloudy eminence,
To see the visions of futurity
Arise from that departed, holy man!
And soon he heard a voice: "Thy time is nigh!
Yet may I thy career on earth unfold.
It will be thine to conquer many a realm,
Win many a crown; thou wilt have many friends
And numerous foes, and thy devoted head
Will be uplifted to the very heavens.
Renowned and glorious shalt thou be; thy name
Immortal; but, alas! thy time is nigh!"
At these prophetic words Sikander wept,
And from that ominous mountain hastened down.

After that Sikander journeyed on to the city of Kashán, where he fell sick, and in a few days, according to the oracle and the prophecy, expired. He had scarcely breathed his last, when Aristú, and Bilniyás the physician, and his family, entered Kashán, and found him dead. They beat their faces, and tore their hair, and mourned for him forty days.

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