Chapter 7. Royal Usurpations in Iranian Literary Traditions II: The Evidence of the Šāhnāme

Up to this point, we have found strong evidence for the composition of the Sasanian inscriptions within the framework of an oral tradition in (1) the appearance of a high formulaic density in the narrative of Kerdīr’s inscriptions, together with the presence of formulaic parallels in two epigraphic corpora that are more than nine hundred years apart (see chapter 5); and (2) the similarity in story pattern between the Sasanian inscription of Paikuli and Herodotus’ account (chapter 6). We now turn our attention to the Šāhnāme to further substantiate this claim. [1] Towards this end, we will investigate the particular episode of the Šāhnāme pertaining to the reign of Zahāk, an episode whose story pattern, despite minor variations, is similar to those of DB, Herodotus, and NPi, and thus decisively confirms an oral path of transmission among all these bodies of tradition. In the following I will compare the various aspects of Zahāk’s rule with those of Darius and Narseh as reflected in their inscriptions and—as for Darius—in Herodotus’ account.

Seduction by the Devil

Much like Warahrān, upon whom Wahnām bestowed the diadem of rulership with the help of Ahreman and the devils, and similar to the Herodotean Smerdis, whom his brother Patizeithēs convinced to partake of the plot aimed at seizing Cambyses’ throne, young Zahāk, seduced by the devil himself, was incited to usurp his father’s throne as a first step towards world-dominion:
čōnān bod ke eblīs rōzī pegāh
beyāmad basān-e yekī nēkxāh
del-e mehtar az rāh nēkī bebord
ǰavān gōš goftār-e ō rā sepord

One day at dawn, the Devil
came along as a friend,
won the heart of the groom with kindness,
(and) the youth gave ear to his words.
Š-KhM, I, 46, ll. 78–79
bedō goft ǰoz tō kasī kad-xodāy
če bāyad hamī bā tō andar sarāy
če bāyad pedar ke-š pesar čōn tō būd
yekī pand-at az man bebāyad šonūd
zamāne bar īn xᵛāǰe-ye sāl-xᵛard
hamī dēr mānad tō andar navard
begīr īn sar-e māye-var gāh-e ōy
tō-rā zībad andar ǰahān ǰāh-e ōy
garīn gofte-ye man tō ārī beǰāy
ǰahān rā tō bāšī yekī kad-xodāy

He told him: “Apart from you
why ought there be another lord in the house,
what is a father needed for, whose son is like you,
(now) you must listen to my advice,
the fortune has lasted long
on this old master, (thus,) you in battle,
take from this crowned head his throne,
(as,) his place in the world suits you,
if you give consent to my word, then
you would be lord of the world.”
Š-KhM, I, 47, ll. 93–97
sabok-māye żaḥḥāk-e bīdādgar
bedīn čāre begreft gāh-e pedar
be sar bar-nahād afsar-e tāzīyān
bar-īšān bebaxšīd sōd o zīyān

The vile and unjust Zahāk,
towards that end seized the father’s throne,
placed on his head the crown of the Arabs,
and exempted them from gain and loss[?]/
and bestowed upon them gain and loss[?]
Š-KhM, I, 48, ll. 119–120
Although evil, having seduced young Zahāk, disappears as a Gestalt from the story, it nonetheless leaves behind perennial companions for the seduced one, which symbolize the paramount presence of evil chez Zahāk. Indeed, upon departing, the devil kisses Zahāk’s shoulders, whence in time two serpents would emerge that abided in osmosis with the evil king, as if they were forming an aggregate. Many of Zahāk’s misdeeds will be, as we shall see, dictated by the insatiable need of the two serpents to be fed the brains of two youths:
čō żaḥḥāk bešnīd goftār-e ōy
nehānī nadānest bāzār-e ōy
bedō goft dādam man īn kām-e tō
bolandī gerad zīn magar nām-e tō
befarmūd tā dīv čōn ǰoft-e ōy
hamī bōse dād az bar-e soft-e ōy
bebōsīd o šōd dar zamīn nāpadīd
kas andar ǰahān īn šegeftī nadīd
dō mār-e sīyāh az dō katfaš be-rost
γamī gašt o az har sūyī čāre ǰost
saranǰām be-borīd har dō ze kefet
sazad gar bemānī bedīn dar šegeft
čō šāx-e deraxt ān dō mār-e sīyāh
barāmad degar bāre az ketf-e šāh

Having heard his [the devil’s] discourse, Zahāk
did not suspect any secret agenda
he told him [the devil]: “I shall grant this wish of yours,
on account of it your name shall be but exalted.”
He [Zahāk] ordered that the demon/devil, like a consort of his,
(be allowed to) caress with his lips the top of his [Zahāk’s] shoulders;
he [the demon/devil] kissed them and (promptly) vanished into the ground
nobody had seen anything as stupefying as this in the world.
Two black serpents waxed from his shoulders
he [Zahāk] was distressed and sought remedy everywhere.
In the end he severed the two (serpents) from his shoulder blade
—it would be befitting were you to marvel at this—
(but) the two black serpents, like the trunk of a tree,
grew a second time from the king’s shoulders.
Š-KhM, I, 50, ll. 152–158
In a way the serpents as a duo are reminiscent of the two (magian) evildoers who within the context of Darius’ accession are in control of the realm. It is true that within the framework of our classical sources, one of the magian brothers is functionally the kingmaker, and the other, the puppet-king. Here, however, we may observe that, due probably to the confluence of different traditions, evil in its duality is represented twice. It is preserved as the arch-evil seducing a willing but subaltern villain/victim, which is the closest rendition we may find to the function of the kingmaker. But since the story of Zahāk may not have tolerated the presence of another (potentially dominant) evil, the duality aspect was retained under the guise of two serpents—that are bequeathed to Zahāk by the devil (in his function as kingmaker)—and fused with Zahāk to metastasize to a singleton.

Lie and Falsehood

The events that occur after Zahāk’s ascent are closely paralleled by the consequences of Wahnām’s and Warahrān’s seizure of power in NPi, and of Gaumāta’s usurpation in DB: in all three cases Lie and falsehood grow strong within the realm, while rectitude and wisdom vanish:
čō żaḥḥāk bar taxt šod šahriyār
barō sāliyān anǰoman šod hazār
sarāsar-e zamāne bedō gašt bāz
bar-āmad barīn rōzgārī derāz
nehān gašt kardār-e farzānegān
parākande šod kām-e dīvānegān
honar xᵛār šod ǰādūyī arǰomand
šode bar badī dast-e dīvān derāz
be nēkī nabūdī saxon ǰoz rāz

As Zahāk became lord of the throne,
he ruled for a thousand years,
the whole world lay open to him,
he was granted a long age,
the deeds of the wise were concealed,
(and) the madmen’s desire was widespread,
virtue was despised, and sorcery dear,
absent (was) rectitude, manifest the wrong,
the devils reached for the evil,
there was no word of goodness, unless in secret.
Š-KhM, I, 55, ll. 1–5
Intriguingly, the virtues ascribed to the righteous king (Narseh) in NPi are frazānagīhvirtus; wisdom” and farroxīhfortuna,” whereas those of which the evildoer Wahnām is accused are drōzanīh “deceit” and ǰādūgīh “sorcery,” both attested in a comparable configuration in the Šāhnāme, which distinguishes between the rule of Zahāk and the (more fortunate) state of the realm prior to his accession. Worth mentioning also is the fact that in NPi Narseh is depicted as striving to become more righteous (rāsttar) and better (wēhdar), qualities (rāstī) and (nēkī) that, judging from the Šāhnāme, were lost following Zahāk’s accession; moreover, in NPi, Wahnām is accused of being an evildoer (wadgar), the very instrument of Ahreman and the devils (Ahreman ud dēwān), peculiarly, the same terms dēw “devil(s)” and wad ° “evil-” are correlated in the Šāhnāme to describe a similar theme: the “devils’ reaching out for evil”: šode bar badī dast-e dīvān derāz.
Virtues Replaced by Vices
kardār-e farzānegān / farzānegī
“deeds of the wise / wisdom”
kām-e dīvānegān / dīvānegī
“desire of madmen / madness”
honar “paideia” ǰādūyī “sorcery”
rāstī “rectitude” gazand “damage”
nēkī “goodness” badī (be) dast-e dīvān

“evil at the hands of devils”

Two Sisters

A theme that is absent from both the Bisotun and the Paikuli inscriptions, but is well attested in Herodotus, pertains to the espousal by Darius of two of Cyrus’ daughters, Atossa and Artystone, one of whom, Atossa, had been the sister-wife of Cambyses before being wedded to the magian usurper Smerdis and delivered by Darius:
γάμους τε τοὺς πρώτους ἐγάμεε Πέρσῃσι ὁ Δαρεῖος Κύρου μὲν δύο θυγατέρας Ἄτοσσάν τε καὶ Ἀρτυστώνην τὴν μὲν Ἄτοσσαν προσύνοικήσα-σαν Καμβύσῃ τε τῷ ἀδελφεῷ καὶ αὖτις τῷ μάγῳ τὴν δὲ Ἀρτυστώνην παρθένον.
Darius took to wife the foremost among the Persians, (namely,) the two daughters of Cyrus, Atossa and Artystone; the one, Atossa, lived as wife before with Cambyses, (her) brother, and again with the magus, and the other, Artystone, was a virgin.
Herodotus 3.88
Similarly, Fereydōn, having defeated Zahāk, marries two sisters, Šahrnāz and Arnawāz , both sisters of the legendary mythical king Jamšīd (much like Atossa and Artystone, who were the daughters of the celebrated king Cyrus). These sisters unwillingly became the companions of the usurper Zahāk, which again bears a strong analogy with the fate of Atossa, who, being the sister-wife of Cambyses, was forced to become the magus’ consort:
dō pākize az xāne-ye ǰamšīd
bar-ōn āvarīdand larzān čō bīd
ke ǰamšīd rā har dō xāhar bodand
sar-e bānūvān rā čō afsar bodand
ze pōšīde-rōyān yekī šahrzād
degar pākdāman be nām-e arnavāz
be eyvān-e żaḥḥāk bordand-šān
bedān aždahāfaš sepordand-šān
beparvard-šān az rah-e ǰādūyī
beyāmōxt-šān kažī o bad-xōyī
nadānest xᵛad ǰoz bad āmōxtan
ǰoz-az koštan o γārat o sōxtan

Two maidens from the house of Jamšīd,
were brought to him (Zahāk) like a Weeping-willow trembling,
(maiden), who were both sisters to Jamšīd,
(and) of the ladies were the crowns,
of the veiled ones, one was Šahrnāz,
and the other chaste one Arnawāz, by name,
they were taken to the court,
and entrusted over to the Dragon,
who raised them in the ways of sorcery,
(and) taught them crookedness and bad temper,
he himself did not know better than evil teaching,
killing, pillage, and burning.
Š-KhM, I, 55, ll. 6–11
That this theme was part of the oral epic tradition is supported not only by the fact that it has been preserved in Herodotus’ account, but also by its attestation in the epic sections of the Yašts, as well as in the Šāhnāme . Indeed, in these hymns addressed to diverse divinities (Yt. 5.34: Ardwīsūr bānū yašt ; Yt. 9.14: Druuāsp yašt (Gōš yašt); Yt. 15.24: Rām yašt ; and Yt. 17.34: Ard yašt), θraētaona- requests the boon (āiiapta-) enabling him, among others, to overcome (aiβi.vaniiah- bauua-) the dragon (aži- dahāka-), and to carry off (aza-) his (dahāka-’s) two beloved ones (vaṇtā-), Saŋhauuācī- and Arǝnauuācī- (= Arnawāz):
āat̰ hīm jaiδiiat̰
auuat̰ āiiaptǝm dazdi mē
arǝduuī sūre anāhite
yat̰ bauuāni aiβi.vaniiå
ažīm dahākǝm
θrizafanǝm θrikamarǝδǝm
xšuuaš.ašīm hazaŋrā.yaoxštīm
aš.aojaŋhǝm daēuuīm drujim
aγǝm gaēθāuuiiō druuaṇtǝm
yąm aš.aojastǝmąm drujim
fraca kǝrǝṇtat̰ aŋrō mainiiuš
aoi yąm astuuaitīm gaēθąm
mahrkāi a š ṣahe gaēθanąm
uta hē vaṇta azāni
saŋhauuāci arǝnauuāci
yōi hǝn.kǝhrpa sraēšta
zazātəe gaēθiiāi
tē yōi abdō.tǝme

Thus he asked her:
Give me that prize,
O Arǝduuī Sūrā Anāhitā,
that I may overcome
the giant dragon
with three mouths, three heads,
six eyes, a thousand tricks,
the mighty strong, deceiving Lie,
the Lieful evil (affecting) the living beings:
the mighty strong Lie
which the Evil Spirit whittled forth
upon the bony world of the living
for the destruction of the living beings of Order,
and also that I may carry off his two beloved:
Saŋhauuācī and Arǝnauuācī,
the two most beautiful of the same shape
to have been won for the world of the living,
those two, who are (also) the most wonderful! [2]
Yt. 5.34

Fear of Zahāk and Killing of the Grandees

The Bisotun inscription forcefully accuses Gaumāta of killing the people (kāra -) so that they cannot contest his rule; similarly, the inscription at Paikuli accuses the usurper Wahnām of exterminating the enemies of Prince Warahrān, who, as we learn, are members of the imperial aristocracy, namely, the wispuhr , wuzurg, and āzād . Again, the same theme is attested in the Šāhnāme with respect to Zahāk, who, although primarily killing to feed the insatiable needs of the serpents that had grown on his shoulders, nonetheless perpetrates the same crimes as the magus Gaumāta and the usurper Wahnām: every night two young men irrespective of their social status are slain.
čenān bod ke har šab dō mard-e ǰavān
če kehtar če az toxme-ye pahlavān
xōrešgar bebordī be eyvān-e ōy
hamī sāxtī rāh-e darmān-e ōy
bekoštī o maγzaš bepardāxtī
marān aždahā rā xᵛareš sāxtī

Thus, (each) night two young men,
whether of low birth, or from the seed of heroes,
the cook would take them to his (Zahāk’s) Court,
making them into the means of his remedy,
would kill them and treat their brains, (and)
would work them into the Dragon’s meal.
Š-KhM, I, 55–56, ll. 12–14
In another passage, the Šāhnāme explicitly refers to the killing of the nobility by Zahāk, who (seized by whim) would accuse its members of conspiracy (with the devils):
pas āyīn-e żaḥḥāk-e vārōne xōy
čonān bod ke čōn mī-bodī-š ārezōy
ze mardān-e ǰangī yekī xᵛāstī
bekoštī ke bā dīv barxāstī

Then thus was the custom of Zahāk (and) his devious character that whenever he desired,
from amidst the warriors he chose one,
and would kill (him) on the grounds that he had mingled with the devils.
Š-KhM, I, 57, ll. 38–39
Comparing the three narratives of NPi, DB, and the Šāhnāme , we can discern two common themes of the oral tradition. One was the decimation of the nobility by the usurper(s) because of fear of conspiracy/retaliation:
ud abar ēd (ādūg) [hēm kū wispuhrān] ud wuzurgān ud āzādān ōzanān … (ēg Sagān) šāh [dušmenīn?] wany kunān
(And of this I am capable, namely,) to kill [the princes], grandees, and nobles … then I shall destroy [the enemies of?] the king of Sakas
NPi A12,03–A7,04
kāram vasiy avājaniyā haya paranam Bạrdiyam adānā
He killed many people, who previously had known Bardiya
DB 1.51
ze mardān-e ǰangī yekī xᵛāstī
bekoštī ke bā dīv bar-xāstī
From amidst the warriors he would chose one and would kill (him) on the grounds that he had mingled with the devils.
Š-KhM, I, 57, l. 39
The other was the nobility’s fear of the usurper(s), as the following passage of the Šāhnāmeclearly illustrates:
čonān bod ke yek rōz bar taxt-e ʿāǰ
nehāde be-sar bar ze pērōze tāǰ
ze har kešvarī mehtarān rā bexᵛāst
ke dar pādšāhī konad pošt rāst
az ān pas čonīn goft bā mōbadān
ke ey porhonar nāmvar bexradān
marā dar nehānī yekī došman-ast
ke bar bexradān īn saxon rošan-ast

Thus, one day on the Ivory throne,
the turquoise crown placed on his head,
he [Zahāk] called the grandees from each land,
to straighten the back of (his) rulership;
then he thus said to the mobads:
“O dexterous wise men of repute,
I have an enemy in hiding,
as this matter is apparent to the wise men.”
Š-KhM, I, 66, ll. 186–189
yekī maḥżar aknōn bebāyad nebešt
ke ǰoz toxm-e nēkī spahbod nakešt
nagōyad saxon ǰoz hame rāstī
naxāhad be dād andarōn kāstī
ze bīm-e sepahbod hame rāstān
bedān kār gaštand ham-dāstān
bedān maḥżar-e aždahā nāgozīr
gavāhī nebeštand bornā o pīr

Now a document has to be written, (stating)
that the commander (Zahāk) did not saw, but the seed of good,
did not speak, but all truth,
did not desire (any) loss to justice,
for fear of the commander,
all the righteous ones unanimously agreed to that act
inevitably, upon the Dragon’s document,
young and old wrote their sanction.
Š-KhM, I, 67, ll. 194–197
and again in comparison with our excerpt from DB:
ze bīm-e sepahbod hame rāstān for fear of the commander, all the righteous ones 
kāra-šim hacā dạršam atạrsa “the people in arms were very much afraid of him”
DB 1.50–51

Seeking Out the “Redresseur de torts”

In Herodotus’ account, the leader of the conspiracy who sought out other accomplices—among whom figured Darius, the future king—was Otanes, a scion of the Persian high nobility. Similarly, in NPi, a delegation of the Persian and Parthian high nobility set out for Asōrestan to meet Narseh after having pledged allegiance to him by letter in the fight against the usurpers. In the Šāhnāme, as in the Herodotean account, we have a charismatic leader, namely Kāve, who set in motion the conspiracy/uprising against the usurper(s) magus/Zahāk, after having penetrated the treachery/evil of the usurper(s); while Otanes drew up the plan to foment a coup d’état, Kāve enabled the return of the hero-king Fereydōn. Unlike his aristocratic pendant Otanes (Herodotus), or the foremost members of the royal court (NPi), Kāve was a commoner, who, however, like the dignitaries in NPi gathered an army (sepāhī bar-ō anǰoman šod na xord “he gathered a large army”), began the journey to meet the future king Narseh/Fereydōn, and, finally, devised his return.
In short, the account of the Šāhnāme combines variations on the theme depicted in Herodotus and NPi:
hamān kāve ān bar sar-e neyze kard
hamāngah ze bāzār barxāst gard
xrōšān hamī raft neyze bedast
ke ey nāmdārān-e yazdānparast
kasī kū havāy ferēdōn konad
sar az band-e żaḥḥāk bērōn konad
bepōyīd k-īn mehtar āhrman ast
ǰahān-āfrīn rā be del došman ast
hamī raft pēš andarōn mard-e gord
sepāhī bar-ō anǰoman šod na xord
bedānest xᵛad k-āfrēdōn koǰā-st
sar andar kešīd o hamī raft rāst
biyāmad be dargāh-e sālār-e nav
bedīdand-aš az dōr o barxāst ʿav

Kāve stuck it (the leather apron) on a spear’s head,
at the same time, dust arose from the market,
he was going (around), spear in hand, roaring
“O men of repute, (who are) worshipers of God
those who favor Fereydōn,
shall escape from Zahāk’s fetters,
run! for this chief is Ahreman (himself),
foe in his heart to the creator (of the world).”
Valiant men were coming over to him,
warriors joined him not in small number,
he himself knew where Ferēydōn was,
he rebelled and kept going straight,
he came to the new prince’s court,
they saw him from afar and shouts arose.
Š-KhM, I, 69, ll. 229–235

Storming of the Palace and Killing of the Magi  /Devils

Another interesting parallel between Herodotus’ account and the Šāhnāme is the storming of the palace of the usurper(s) by Darius and his companions, and likewise by Fereydōn and his consorts. In both narratives, the insurgents do not encounter any resistance from the palace guards, and are depicted either as experiencing divine guidance (θείῃ πομπῇ χρεώμενοι), or as soliciting the help of the creator (ǰahān-āfarīn rā bexᵛānd “he evoked the creator of the world”):
tō goftī yekī ātaš-astī drost
kē pēš-e negahbānān-e eyvān berost
kas az rōzbānān be darbar namānd
Ferēdōn ǰahān-āfarīn rā bexᵛānd
Be asp andar āmad be kāx-e bozorg

One would say it is a consuming fire
that erupted in front of the palace’s guardians
None of the guards remained at Court,
Fereydōn called the name of the creator,
(and) on horseback entered the great palace,
the valorous but inexperienced youth.
Š-KhM, I, 75, ll. 321–322
ἐπιστᾶσι δὲ ἐπὶ τὰς πύλας ἐγίνετο οἷόν τι Δαρείῳ ἡ γνώμη ἔφερε· καταιδεόμενοι γὰρ οἱ φύλακοι ἄνδρας τοὺς Περσέων πρώτους καὶ οὐδὲν τοιοῦτον ὑποπτεύοντες ἐξ αὐτῶν ἔσεσθαι παρίεσαν θείῃ πομπῇ χρεωμένους οὐδ᾿ ἐπειρώτα οὐδείς.
As they came upon the gates, it happened the way Darius had in mind; the guards, feeling reverence before the foremost Persians, and (also) because they did not suspect such thing from them, let pass those, who were divinely sent [/were under divine guidance], and not even one asked (them).
Herodotus 3.77
Both narratives report the carnage created by the insurgents once the palace has been stormed: Darius and his companions kill the magian usurpers and cut off their heads, and then do the same to their followers, that is, the remaining magi; similarly Fereydōn, having forced his way into the palace—from which Zahāk is absent—with two of his consorts, beheads all the devils with his heavy mace. In short, in both cases the devils/magi and the henchmen and helpers of the usurper(s) are decapitated.
vazān ǰādūvān k-andar eyvān bodand
hame nāmvar narre-dīvān bodand
sarān-ešān be gorz-e gerān kard past
nešast az bar-e gāh-e ǰādū-parast

And from among the sorcerers who were at Court,
all were illustrious male-devils,
their heads he laid low with the heavy mace
and sat upon the throne of the enchanter.
Š-KhM, I, 75, ll. 325–326
ἀποκτείναντες δὲ τοὺς μάγους καὶ ἀποταμόντες αὐτῶν τὰς κεφαλὰς τοὺς μὲν τρωματίας ἑωυτῶν αὐτοῦ λείπουσι καὶ ἀδυνασίης εἵνεκεν καὶ φυλακῆς τῆς ἀκροπόλιος.
Having killed the magi and cut off their heads, they left their wounded where they were, by reason of their infirmity, and in order to guard the citadel.
Herodotus 3.79
be asp andar āmad be eyvān-e šāh
dō pormāye bā ō ham-ēdōn be rāh
bīyāmad be taxt-e kayī bar-nešast
hame band o neyrang-e tō kard past
har ānkas ke būd andar eyvān-e tō
ze mardān mard o ze dīvān-e tō
sar az bār yeksar frōrīxt-ešān
hame maγz bā xōn bar āmīxt-ešān

On horseback he entered the king’s Court,
with him on his way likewise two noblemen,
he came and sat on the Kayanian throne,
broke all your charms and spells;
whoever was at your Court,
from the bravest men to your devils,
he struck straight their heads off their trunk,
(and) mixed all their brains with blood.
Š-KhM, I, 79, ll. 393–396
οἱ δὲ πέντε αὐτῶν ἔχοντες τῶν μάγων τὰς κεφαλὰς ἔθεον ἔξω βοῇ τε καὶ πατάγῳ χρεώμενοι καὶ Πέρσας τοὺς ἄλλους ἐπεκαλέοντο ἐξηγεόμενοί τε τὸ πρῆγμα καὶ δεικνύοντες τὰς κεφαλάς· καὶ ἅμα ἔκτεινον πάντα τινὰ τῶν μάγων τὸν ἐν ποσὶ γινόμενον.
The other five took the magi’s heads and ran with shouting and noise, calling all Persians to aid, telling them what they had done and showing the heads, and at the same time, they killed all the magi who were engaged there.
Herodotus 3.79

Binding and Carrying Off of the Evildoer

The final theme, treated in this chapter, involves the punishments to which the usurpers—Wahnām in NPi, and Zahāk in the Šāhnāme were subjected. Wahnām was bound, placed upon a maimed donkey, and led to Narseh’s court; similarly Zahāk, after succumbing to Fereydōn, was bound, placed upon a camel’s back, and led away, as we shall see.
The ubiquity of this theme in the Iranian (oral) literature—notably, the parallel between the end of Wahnām and that of the Turanian king Arǰāsp in the Ayādgār ī Zarērān [3] —has been noted elsewhere. [4]
ud ōy-iz [Arǰāsp ī Xyōnān xwadāy] yal Spandyād gīred aziš dast-ēw ud pāy<-ēw> ud gōš-ēw brīnēd ud aziš čašm-ēw pad ātaxš sōzēd u-š pad brīdag dumb xar-ēw abāz <ō> šahr ī xwēš frēstēd.
And also the hero Spandyād seized him [Arǰāsp the Lord of the Xyoni-ans], cut off one of his hands, feet, and ears, burnt out one of his eyes, set him on a donkey with its tail cut off and sent him home.
Ayādgār ī Zarērān , 113
Returning to the binding of Zahāk, the Šāhnāme says:
bebast-aš be bandī dō dast o mīyān
ke nagošād ān zande pīl-e žīyān
nešast az bar-e taxt-e zarrēn-e ōy
beyafgand nā-xōb āyēn-e ōy

And he (Fereydōn) tied him (Zahāk)
around the two arms and the waist with bonds,
that no formidable elephant would break,
then he sat on his (Zahāk’s) golden throne,
(and) overthrew his bad customs.
Š-KhM, I, 83, ll. 449–450
be band andar-ast ān-ke nāpāk būd
ǰahān rā ze kardār-e ō bāk būd

He is in bonds the one who was impure,
(and) whose deeds inspired terror to the world.
Š-KhM, I, 83, l. 456
Now comparing the Šāhnāme with the tenor of NPi:
ud Bay[šābuhr …] Wahnām bandēd ud u-š (bast abar) xar ī rēšt frāz ō šahrestān ī Warahrām-Šābuhr ō dar (ī) amā ānayēd.
And (Bayšābuhr) […] bound Wahnām and brought him (bound on) a maimed donkey to the city of Warahrāmšābuhr (to) Our Court.
NPi e14–17,01–E14,05
hame šahr dīde be dargāh bar
xorōšān bar-ān rōz kōtāh bar
ke tā aždahā rā berōn āvarīd
be band-e kamandī čonān čo sazīd
domādom berōn raft laškar ze šahr
vozān šāh nāyāfte šahr bahr
bebordand żaḥḥāk rā baste zār
be pošt-e hayōnī bar afgande xᵛār

The whole city with eyes fixed on the Court,
clamoring for the life of one, whose days were to be cut short,
(demanding) that the dragon be brought out,
fastened with a lasso, as was befitting;
back to back the army left the city,
whence the king [Zahāk] never secured a gain,
they carried off Zahāk shamefully bound,
on a camel’s back abjectly thrown.
Š-KhM, I, 84, ll. 471–472


[ back ] 1. For an excellent and concise survey of Iranian and Persian epic, see Davidson 2009. On the orality of the Šāhnāme, see the authoritative study by Davidson (1994:19–72 and 168–169); and also Davidson 1988. For criticism of Davidson’s application of the precepts of the Oral-Formulaic School to (and against the orality of) the Šāhnāme, see Omidsalar 1996:235–242; de Blois 1992:42–58; and de Blois 1998:269–270. For a response to the critiques, see Davidson 1998:63–68 (= Davidson 2000:9–28); also Davidson 2000:59–69. For a study of the sources of the Šāhnāme, making allowance for both the oral and written components of the work, see Davis (1996:48–57), who favors oral material for the mythological and legendary sections, and written sources for the “historical,” that is, the predominantly Sasanian, portions of the Šāhnāme: “We should perhaps shift our perspective of the poem from one deriving largely from written prose texts, perhaps supplemented by oral materials … to one deriving, at least in its earlier mythological and legendary portions, substantially from oral verse performances … supplemented at some points by written prose sources” (56). See also more recently Yamamoto 2003, esp. 8–19, 60–80, 81–109, with a cautious analysis of the sources, as well as the written and oral characteristics of the Šāhnāme; also 51–52, 140, for a definition of the Oral-Performance Model (OPM), on the strength of whose structural and thematic criteria Yamamoto seeks “to examine the role played by oral tradition in the genesis of written narrative texts.” Through analysis of a section of the Key Khosrow episode in Šāhnāme’s Rostam cycle (81–109), she arrives at the conclusion that the Šāhnāme represents a written composition that enacted oral performance on paper, a result of the exposure of its author, a listener to heroic narratives, to the form and techniques of oral performance: “This suggests that Ferdowsi modeled this particular story … intuitively on oral performance, the form and technique of which were deeply imprinted in his consciousness through his experience as a listener; this was probably how he thought of heroic narratives” (Yamamoto 2003:141). Compare also the stern (and as always refreshing) review of Omidsalar (2005). For a vigorous repudiation of Šāhnāme’s orality, compare Omidsalar 2002. Most recently, Rubanovitch (2012:653–660) has pronounced herself against the orality of the Šāhnāme: “Theories of oral composition thus appear to be hardly effective in dealing with the Shāh-nāma, whose author conceived of his work as a book to endure and become a monument (yādgār) to his name—an aspiration in line with established written literary tradition of Firdausī’s time” (659). See also the noteworthy remarks of Vevaina (forthcoming). For recent works on the orality of the Iranian epic tradition, see notably Skjærvø 2009c; Skjærvø 2008; Skjærvø 2005–2006; Skjærvø 2005; Skjærvø 1999; Skjærvø 1998a; Skjærvø 1998c; Skjærvø 1996a; Skjærvø 1996b; and Skjærvø 1995.
[ back ] 2. Text and translation according to Skjærvø (unpublished).
[ back ] 3. For the text of the Ayādgār ī Zarērān, see Monchi-Zadeh 1981, to be consulted only in conjunction with MacKenzie 1984:155–163. For studies on the Ayādgār ī Zarērān, see Shaki 1986:257–271; Utas 1975:409–411; still Benveniste 1932:244–293; and Nöldeke 1892:1–46.
[ back ] 4. See Skjærvø 1997 [2000]:99n1: “In my commentary on the Paikuli inscription I pointed out several parallels between this inscription and other Iranian literature: Avestan, Old Persian, and Pahlavi, notably the fact that the punishment of the traitor Wahnām, who was put on ‘mutilated donkey’ (xar ī rišt) and led to Narseh’s court, corresponds to the punishment of the Turanian king Arǰāsp by the hero Spandyād in the Ayādgār ī Zarērān, where Spandyād seizes Arǰāsp, cuts off one of his hands, feet, and ears, burns out one of his eyes, sets him on a donkey with its tail cut off [emphasis mine] and sends him home.”