Aspects of History and Epic in Ancient Iran: From Gaumāta to Wahnām

  Shayegan, M. Rahim. 2012. Aspects of History and Epic in Ancient Iran: From Gaumāta to Wahnām. Hellenic Studies Series 52. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Chapter 4. The Evil Brothers in the Iranian Tradition

The Legend of the Indo-European Twins

In the Mahābhārata, a story is told about the two Nāsatya, or Aśvin, originally twin deities associated with healing. In this story, the two attempt to seduce Sukanyā, wife of the old Cyavana, but are refused by her. They offer to help her old husband, Cyavana, regain his youth, but in return for this favor, they request that Sukanyā chose a husband from among the three of them (the Aśvin and Cyavana). The Aśvin, however, resort to trickery, changing both their appearances to match that of Sukanyā’s rejuvenated husband, in order to confound her. Forced to single out her true husband from among three men with the same shape (tulyarūpadhara-) she decided spiritedly, and gained her husband back (niścitya manasā buddhyā devī vavre svakaṃ patim labdhvā, “the princess decided with spirit and mind, and chose her very own master”). Returning their favor, Cyavana eventually helped the brothers to obtain acceptance among the exclusive group of Soma-drinking divinities in heaven. The full story is as follows.

After some time the two Aśvins from among the gods saw Sukanyā, o king, when she had bathed and was nude. When they saw the lovely-limbed princess, like the daughter of the king of the gods, the Aśvins/Nāsatyas hastened to her and said, “Whose are you, woman of the shapely thighs, and what are you doing in the forest? We want to know about you, pretty, do tell us, lovely!” Sukanyā covered herself and told those best of the best of the gods that she was Śaryāti’s daughter and the property and wife of Cyavana. The Aśvins laughed out and again said to her, “… Why does a woman like you wait on a decrepit husband, my pretty, one long past the joys of love? One incapable of protecting and nourishing you, sweet-smiling maid? It were better you cast off Cyavana and chose either one of us for your husband, you that are like the child of a god. Do not spoil your best years!” At these words Sukanyā addressed the gods: “I am devoted to my husband, Cyavana. Do not cast suspicion on me!” Again they resumed: “We are the great divine healers. We shall make your husband young and handsome, then choose yourself a husband from among the three of us’ ” … On hearing her declare that it should be done, the Aśvins said to the princess, “Your husband must get into the water.” Whereupon Cyavana, who was desirous of beauty, rapidly plunged into the water, and the Aśvins too jumped into the lake … A little while later they all climbed out of the lake, all young and divinely beautiful, with shining earrings, wearing the same outward appearance. And increasing the love of her heart and mind, they all said to her, “Beautiful young woman, choose one of us for your husband, whomever you desire.” When she saw them all stand there looking the same, the princess decided with heart and mind, and chose her very own husband. Cyavana, having acquired a bride and the youthful beauty he wanted, spoke joyfully these words to the Nāsatyas: “Now that you have endowed me, an old man, with beauty and youth, and I have acquired this woman for bride, I am pleased and for that I shall entitle you to drink Soma, before the very eyes of the king of gods—this I swear to you as the truth.” [3]

Mahābhārata 3.123.1–23

All tafsīrs agree about the interpretation of the passage: having witnessed humanity’s depravity, the angels in heaven appeal to God to let two of them descend to earth in order to serve as judges in human affairs, but also to prove how resistant the angels themselves are to sin. Hārūt and Mārūt are chosen, infused with the desire of mankind (the source of all human depravity), and are challenged to prove themselves superior to Man.

On earth, while judging a dispute between a young woman and her husband, Hārūt and Mārūt fall desperately in love with a woman, who is of unparalleled beauty, of royal or princely family, and from the province of Fārs; Ṭabarī’s tafsīr calls her Zohre, but other tafsīrs name her Bīdoxt, “God’s daughter; ‘Theodora’,” or Nāhīd. The two repeatedly attempt to seduce her, but the woman sets several conditions for acceding to their wishes, including the commission of various crimes that vary slightly in the different tafsīrs, but range from the mild, and only constant, requirement to drink alcohol, to murder and the burning of the Koran and idol worship.

The following two excerpts from the tafsīrs of Ṭabarī and Sūrābādī provide a glimpse of the tenets of some of earlier Persian interpretations of the legend of Hārūt and Mārūt. The story of Hārūt and Mārūt from Ṭabarī’s tafsīr (964 CE):

Gōyand Hārūt o Mārūt dō frēšte būdand o andar xvāstand az xodāy-e ʿazz o jall ke mārā molk-at zamīn deh tā be-ǰahān dar dād konīm o bar rōy-e zamīn hēč gonāh nakonīm ke īn farzandān-e ādam bar rōy-e zamīn gonāh mī-konand. Xodāy-e ʿazz o jall īšān rā goft ke man šahvatī dar tan-e īšān morakkab karde-am ke agar ān šahvat andar tan-e šomā bāšad xvēštan rā negāh natavānī dāštan o andar zamīn āṣī gardīd. Īn dō frēšte goftand ke mā bedān tan-e xvēštan negāh dārīm o andar tō āṣī na-gardīm o agar āṣī gardīm mā rā ʿoqūbat farmāy. Pas az xodāy-e ʿazz o jall šahvat andar tan-e īn dō frēšte morakkab gardānīd o molkat-e zamīn bedīšān dād o īšān rā be zamīn frestād. O čōn bar zamīn āmadand zanī rā dīdand saxt nēkrōy. O Hārūt o Mārūt har dō bar-ō fetneh šod[and] o mar ān zan rā be-xvēštan xvāndand o ān zan farmān-e īšān nakard o se čīz pēš īšān benhād goft agar xvāhīd ke man farmān šomā konam marīn kodak-e bī gonāh rā bekošīd yā īn qorʿān kalām-e xodāy rā besōzānīd yā īn may-e mast-konande bāz xvarīd. Īšān az ān har se may xvardan extīyār kardand. Goftand ke kōdakī bī gonāh na-tavānīm koštan o xōnī be nāḥaq berīxtan o kalām-e xodāy-e ʿazz o jall be-natavānīm sōxtan. Īn may bāz xvarīm o baʿd az ān tōbatī bekonīm. Pas may bāz xvardand o čon bāz xvardand o mast šodand kōdak rā bekoštand o kalām-e xodāy rā besōxtand. Pas īn zan rā goftand mā har se farmān tō kardīm aknōn tō nīz farmān-e mā kon. Ān zan goft ke nām-e mehīn-e xodāy-e ʿazz o jall ke bedān nām mī- bezamīn āyīd o bāz be-āsmān ravīd beman āmōzī tā man farmān šomā konam. Īšān nām mehīn-e xodāy-e ʿazz o jall ke bedān nām bezamīn mī-āmadand bāz be-āsmān mī-raftand ō rā dar āmōxtand o čōn ān nām bedō āmōxte bōdand ān zan xodāy-e ʿazz o jall rā bedān nām be-xvānd o be āsmān raft o kār-e ō bā xodāy-e ʿazz o jall ōftād o farmān īšān nabord o gerd-e īšān nagardīd … Pas xodāy-e ʿazz o jall īšān-rā be-bābel be-kōh-e damāvand dar zīr-e zamīn be-čāhī andar ʿaẕāb hamī konad o īšān-rā negōn-sār andar ān čāh āvīxte-and o az tešnegīh zabān-e īšān bedar ōftāde ast az dahān-e īšān tā sar-e āb yek tīγ-e šamšēr ast o be āb ne-mītavānand resānīd o tā rōz-e qīyāmat ke donyā be sar āyad īšān bedīn ʿaẕāb andar-and … o gōyand ke har kasī ke xvāhad ke ǰādōy āmōzad bedān sar-e čāh šavad o az īšān soxanhā porsad o gōyad o ǰādōy az īšān āmōzad.

It is said that Hārūt and Mārūt were two angels who thus solicited God (He be Exalted and Glorified): “Grant us rulership over the earth, so we may carry out justice in the world, and may no commit any sin on earth, as do the children of Adam on earth.” Then God (He be Exalted and Glorified) infused the bodies of these two angels with Desire, and granted them rulership over earth and sent them to earth. And, when they came to earth, they perceived a woman of much beauty, and Hārūt and Mārūt, both of them, were infatuated with her, and summoned her; but that woman did not follow their command, and put forth three [conditions] onto them: “If you want me to follow your command, then kill that innocent child; or burn this Koran, the word of God (He be Exalted and Glorified); or consume this intoxicating beverage (time and again).” They chose from among all those three [conditions] to drink the intoxicating beverage. They said: “We may not kill an innocent child and spill blood unjustly; and burn the word of God (He be Exalted and Glorified). We shall consume this intoxicating beverage and repent ourselves of it later.” And then they drank (time and again) and became intoxicated and after they drank and became inebriated, they killed the child and burnt the word of God (He be Exalted and Glorified). Then, they said to the woman: “We executed all your three commands, now, you too shall do as we command.” That woman said: “Teach me the ineffable name of God (He be Exalted and Glorified), that name, by dint of which you keep coming to earth and returning to heaven, disclose it [that name] to me and I shall do as you bid me.” And upon revealing that name to her, that woman called God (He be Exalted and Glorified) with that name and she went to heaven and her dealings were [henceforth] with God (He be Exalted and Glorified); she did not obey their command and did not pay homage to them. Then God (He be Exalted and Glorified) made them suffer steadily by [the river] Babel, on the [summit of] Mount Damāvand, [deep] under the ground, within a pit, and there they are hung head downwards; and their tongue protrudes out of thirst and from their mouth to the watercourse there is but the space of a sword’s blade and they cannot reach for the water; until the day of resurrection, when it shall be the end of time, they shall be subject to this grief … And it is said that whoever wants to learn sorcery, has to go upon that pit, talk to them, and learn sorcery from them.

Taǰome-ye Tafsīr-e Ṭabarī (Yaγmāʿī 1960–1961: I:96–97)

The story of Hārūt and Mārūt from Sūrābādī’s tafsīr (1091 CE):

Yekčandī barāmad zanī az farzandān-e Nuḥ ʿaleyhe as-salām nām-e vey zohre be-tāzī o bīdoxt o nāhīd be-pārsī bedīšān āmad be-taḥākom o taẓālom az šōhar ke ān šōhar rā došman mī-dāšt; o ān zan rā ǰamālī būd beγāyat. ʿAzā o ʿAzāyā rā češm barōy ōftād fetne šodand goftand mā tō rā az ān šōhar ǰodā konīm tō be-ḥokm-e mā šaw. Goft be-ḥokm-e šomā šavam. Īšān ḥokm be nā-ḥaq be-kardand vey rā az šōhar ǰodā kardand. Vey bā īšān vaʿde kard be-ǰāy-e xālī čōn qaṣd-e vey kardand goft man hanō imen nīstam az īn šōhar magar vey rā halāk konīd. Īšān vey rā halāk kardand. Zan goft yek kār nīz mānde-ast man bot parastam šomā-rā bot bāyad parstīd tā man šomā ra bāšam maʿāẕe allāh ke mā bot parastīm. Zan xvad dānīst ke del-e īšān dar qabż āvarde goft agar bot naparastīd xamr bexvarīd īšān dar havā-ye ān zan xamr bexvardand mast šodand. Ān zan xvad rā ārāste bedīšān nemūd čōn qaṣd-e vey kardand goft nām-e mehīn-e xvadāy-e taʿālī ke mīdānīd dar man āmōzīd. Dar vey āmōxtand. Zohre ān begoft o be-āsmān šod o īšān rā frō-goẕāšt.

After a while, a woman of the seed of Noah (Peace be upon him)—her name was Zohre in Arabic, and Bīdoxt as well as Nāhīd in Persian—came to them complaining about, and condemning, her husband, to whom she was hostile. And that woman was of endless beauty. Hārūt [ʿAzā] and Mārūt [ʿAzāyā] upon a glimpse at her became infatuated with her. They said: “If we divorce you from that husband, you shall be at our behest.” She said: “I will be yours to command.” They did administer justice unjustly and divorced her from her husband. She convened with them at an empty spot, when they pursued her, (and) said: “I am still not secure from this husband, unless you put him to death.” They killed him. The woman said: “there is yet another matter, I am an idolater, you ought to worship idols, so I may belong to you.” They said: God forbid that we should be idolaters! The woman knew that she had taken hold of their hearts (and) said: “if you do not worship idols, then drink intoxicating beverage (xamr).” Longing for her, they drank and became intoxicated. That woman adorned herself for them, (and) as they longed for her, (she) said: “Instruct me of the ineffable name of God (May He be Exalted), which you know.” They revealed it to her. Zohre pronounced it and went to heaven, leaving them behind.

Tafsīr-e (Abu Bakr ʿ Atīq Nēšābūrī) Sūrābādī(Saīdī Sīrǰānī 2002–2003:16–17)

Thus, assuming that the myths of the Twins preserved in the Judeo-Muslim tradition faithfully reflect a mutation of the Twins in the earlier period of Iranian history—from gods in India to disgraced evildoers in Iran—it would not seem improbable that the story or tale of two associates was recast into the mold of quasi-demonized brothers, a speculation that is supported not only by the presence of a woman in the unveiling of evil in both cases, but also by a further clue.

Up to this point we have refrained from explaining how in the Bisotun in-scription, as well as in classical accounts, the magus, or one of the magian brothers, was able to replace Bardiya. Here again the myth of the Twins as preserved in the Indian tradition is instructive. Once the Nāsatya rejuvenate Cyavana, the old husband of our heroine, they attempt once more time to seduce her, by simultaneously changing their appearances to match that of her newly rejuvenated husband. Needless to say, the unfortunate woman, forced to choose her veritable spouse amidst the identical men, chooses poorly and gets her husband back.

But what is remarkable in this episode is not the capacity of the Nāsatya/Aśvin to alter their appearance, as other divinities are capable of doing when resolved to deceive, but rather the fact that we seem to find in the Herodotean story of the magus—who, in consort with his brother, usurped Bardiya’s identity—a faint reflection of the divine shape-shifting abilities, which the Iranian Twins following their disgrace could still have exhibited, that could account for the plausibility of Darius’ story for his audience. Thus, the myth of the Twins provides a Vorlage to explain how the historical reality of two associates could have been altered into the story of “two evil brothers.”

The Twin Brothers in Creation Myths

In the Younger Avesta, these twin spirits are said to act as demiurges, each arranging its own creation (dāman-) in competition with the other:

yat̰ mainiiū dāmąn daiδītəm
yasca spəṇtō mainiiuš yasca aŋrō

When the two spirits established their creations:
the Life-Giving Spirit and the Evil one.

Yasna 57.17 = Yašt 13.76

Thus, as early as in the Young Avesta, Ahura Mazdā (rather than the Life-Giving Spirit) is (also) attested as the direct antagonist of the Evil Spirit, which, in light of the presence of the cosmogonic myth of the twin mainiius, could have led to the interpretation of Ōhrmazd and Ahreman being brothers. [28] We find this echo in several Manichaean passages [29] —among them a polemical hymn from the recently (in its entirety) published text M 28 I [30] —disputing this identification:

ud gōwēnd kū Ōhrmezd ud Ahremen brādar hēnd
ud padisāy ēn saxwan rasēnd ō wanyūdīh

And they said that Ōhrmezd and Ahremen are brothers
and on account of this saying they shall come to ruin.

M 28 I Rii 1–4 (Skjærvø 1995 [1997]:245–247)

It is also evident in a passage of the Warštmānsr nask [
31] —serving as an exegesis on the Gathic strophe of the twin mainiius—that disapprovingly comments on their being brothers:

From the saying of Zoroaster on the howling of the demon Arš to the people: “Ohrmazd and Ahreman were two brothers in one womb.” The Amahraspand loved the worse one of them, and preached to those knowing him the worship of the demons, and (said) this that: “Henceforth you shall offer cattle to the earthly demons.”

Dēnkerd 9.30.4

The Wizīdagīhā ī Zādspram thus report on the origins of the two creations:

[1] Hād pad dēn ōwōn paydāg kū rōšnīh azabar ud tārīgīh azēr u-šān mayānag ī har dō wišādagīh būd. [2] Ōhrmazd andar rōšnīh ud Ahreman andar tārīgīh ud Ōhrmazd astīh ī Ahreman madan-iz ī ō pahikār āgāh ud Ahreman az astīh ī rōšnīh Ōhrmazd nē āgāh būd. [3] Ahreman andar tam ud tārīgīh ō frōd kustān hamē raft did handāzišnīg ul ō abar āmad u-š tēx-ēw ī rōšnīh frāz dīd ud ǰud-gōhrīh ī awiš rāy tuxšīd kū awiš rasēd u-š ham-ōwōn padiš andar kāmgārīhēd čiyōn pad-iz tārān. [4] ka frāz ō wimand mad Ōhrmazd abāz dāštan ī Ahreman az xwēš šahr rāy frāz ō ham-rānīh mad u-š pad abēzag gōwišn <ī> yazdīg stardag kerd u-š abāz ō tam abgand pāsbānīh az druz rāy mēnōgīhā andar ō *bālist mēnōg <ī> āsmān āb zamīg {āb} urwar gōspand mardōm ud ātaxš brēhēnīd u-š sē hazār sāl dāšt.

It is thus revealed in the religion that light was above and darkness below, and between the two of them was the void. Ōhrmazd was in light and Ahreman in darkness, and Ōhrmazd was aware of the existence of Ahreman, as well as of his coming to do battle [with him], and Ahreman was unaware of the existence of light and Ōhrmazd. Ahreman was in darkness and progressed down towards the dark regions, then he premeditatedly came up, saw a ray of light, and on account of its ontological difference with his (nature), strove to reach for it, and to exercise the same empire upon it, as it also did over darkness. When he came up towards the boundary, Ōhrmazd, in view of warding off Ahreman from his realm, came forth to deliver battle, and through the agency of pure and divine speech he stunned him, and threw him back into darkness. In order to protect (himself) from Lie, he fashioned forth on the highest (station) the mēnōg of the sky, water, earth, plants, cattle, man, and fire, and kept them (in that state) for three thousand years.

Wizīdagīhā ī Zādspram 1.1–4(Gignoux and Tafazzoli 1993:30–31)

And the Bundahišn reports:

[1.0] ān zand āgāhīh nazdist abar buništīh ī Ōhrmazd ud petyāragīh ī Ganāg Mēnōy pas abar čiyōnīh ī gēhān dām az bundahišnīh tā frazām čiyōn az dēn ī Mazdēsnān paydāg pas abar xīr kē gēhān dārēd pad wizārišn ī čēīh ud čiyōnīh. [1.1] pad weh-dēn ōwōn paydāg Ōhrmazd bālistīg pad harwisp-āgāhīh ud wehīh zamān ī akanārag abar rōšnīh hamē būd. [1.2] ān rōšnīh gāh ud gyāg ī Ōhrmazd ast kē asar rōšnīh gōwēd ud ān harwisp-āgāhīh ud wehīh zamān ī akanārag čiyōn Ōhrmazd ud gāh ud dēn ud zamān ī Ōhrmazd būd hēnd. [1.3] Ahreman andar tārīgīh pad pas-dānišnīh ud zadār-kāmagīh zofr-pāyag būd. [1.4] u-š zadār-kāmagīh xēm ud ān tārīgīh gyāg ast kē asar tārīgīh gōwēd. [1.5] u-šān mayān tuhīgīh būd ast kē Wāy kē-š gumēzišn padiš. [1.6] har dō hēnd kanāragōmandīh ud akanāragōmandīh. [1.7] čē bālistīh ān ī asar rōšnīh gōwēd kū nē sarōmand ud zofr-pāyag ān ī asar tārīgīh ud ān ast akanārīh. [1.8] ud pad wimand har dō kanāragōmand kū-šān mayān tuhīgīh ēk ō did nē paywast hēnd ud did har *dōnān mēnōy pad xwēš tan kanāragōmand. [1.9] ud did harwisp-āgāhīh ī Ōhrmazd rāy harw tis andar dānišn ī Ōhrmazd kanāragōmand čē ān ī har *dōnān mēnōy paymān dānēd. [1.10] ud did bowandag-pādaxšāyīh ī dām ī Ōhrmazd pad tan ī pasēn tā hamē ud hamē-rawišnīh ud ān ast akanāragīh. [1.11] ud dām ī Ahreman pad ān zamān bē abesīhēnēd tā ka tan ī pasēn bawēd ān-iz ast kanāragōmandīh.

[1.0] That hermeneutics (concerns) first the foundational creation of Ōhrmazd and the aggression of the Foul Spirit, then the property of the material creation from its inception until its end, as it is revealed in the Mazdean religion, then the things the world entails with a report on their quiddity and proprieties. [1.1] It is thus revealed in the Good Religion [that] Ōhrmazd was up in the heights in a state of omniscience and goodness for endless time in light. [1.2] That light is the throne and abode of Ōhrmazd; there is one who calls it endless light. And that omniscience and goodness were for an endless time, for Ōhrmazd, (his) throne, the religion, and time of Ōhrmazd’s were(, are, and shall be). [1.3] Ahreman was in darkness in the depths in a state of nescience [retrograde knowledge] and (bestowed) with the desire to kill. [1.4] And his nature is the desire to kill, and his abode is darkness; there is one who calls it endless darkness. [1.5] And between them was the void; there is one who (calls it) the Wind [Wāy], wherein there is mixture. [1.6] Both are limited and unlimited; [1.7] for the heights, which are “endless light,” it is said that they are limitless, and the depths, which are “endless darkness,” and those have no limit. [1.8] And at the border, both are limited, for between them is the void, and they are not connected to each other. [1.9] Further, both spirits are limited in themselves [pad xwēš tan]. Further, as to Ōhrmazd’s omniscience, all that is in Ōhrmazd’s knowledge is limited, for he knows of the compact between the two spirits. [1.10] Further, there is the supreme rule of Ōhrmazd’s creation at the Final Body until ever and ever, and that is infinitude. [1.11] And he [Ōhrmazd] shall destroy Ahreman’s creation at the time when there will be the Final Body, and that also is finitude.

Bundahišn 1.0–1.11(Pakzad 2005:4–7)

Although the separation of opposite principles maintained the perception of Ōhrmazd’s essential purity, as he was not responsible for begetting the Evil Spirit, it certainly must have been perceived as a limitation to Ōhrmazd’s omni-potence at some point in the long journey of Zoroastrian thought. [

Thus, despite a well-established dominant tendency during the Sasanian empire to impose a myth of creation in which the two principles are separate from pre-existent time, there seems to be evidence for presuming the simultaneous acceptance of an alternate myth, wherein these same principles were brothers or twins, either under the guise of Zurvanism in late antiquity, or in a more arcane antiquity as embryonic twins. Therefore, one may further wonder whether a similar opposition to the myth of creation, in which the opposite prin-ciples are interlaced, as Eudemus’ note would suggest, may have already existed prior to the Sasanians, possibly under the Achaemenids.

If the preceding argument is right, the vilification of the two brothers in Iranian history and epic could be explained. The rejection of a myth of creation, wherein the Good and Evil Spirits could have shared the same primordial essence as twins, may have brought the very notion of twins into disgrace, with the result that they came to be exclusively associated with the Evil Spirit, and viewed as representative of a theological thrust wholly at variance with one championing their distinct natures.

In summary, the vilification of the two brothers in ancient Iranian history and epic traditions led us to investigate the diverse conceptions of creation myths in ancient Iran. Having established that the authoritative theological treatises of the Sasanian era reject any relation between the two opposite principles, it has been suggested here that the disgrace of the two brothers might have been related to a similar theological posture against the co-essentiality of the two principles in earlier times, which would have tilted the very notion of the twin brothers into the evil spirit’s camp.

The Two Brothers in the Iranian Epic Traditions

The Šāhnāme: Fereydōn and His Brothers Katāyōn and Barmāye (Barmāyōn)

Among the numerous attestations of the evil brothers in the epic literature, two may be briefly mentioned in this context. The first is the Iranian epic “Book of the Kings,” the Šāhnāme, which is the receptacle of the Iranian oral epic tradition, put into writing towards the end of the first millennium. It describes the campaign of one of the foremost king-heroes of the Iranian epic tradition, Fereydōn (Frēdōn), that is, the Avestan Θraētaona-, against the archetypal evil, the personified giant dragon of the past, the Aži- Dahāka-, [39] now called Zahāk. In his successful campaign against the Dragon, Frēdōn almost suffers annihilation from unexpected quarters: two of his (older) brothers, possibly twin brothers (dō farrox hamāl) called Katāyōn and Barmāye—both already known to us from their brief mention in the Bundahišn as Kadāyōn and Bramāyōn. [40] These brothers erupt ex nihilo into the story: envious of Fereydōn’s fortune and secretly desiring his rule, they design his demise through treachery; needless to say, their attempt is foiled by divine intervention:

barādar dō būd-aš dō farrox hamāl
az-o har dō āzāde mehtar be sāl
yekī būd az ēšān Katāyōn-aš nām
degar nām Barmāye-ye šādkām

He [Fereydōn] had two brothers, blessed twin? brothers,
the two highborn ones were older than him in years.
One of them was called Katāyōn,
and the name of the other (was) the gay Barmāye.

Š-KhM, I, 70, ll. 253–254

barādar-aš har dō barō xāstand
tabah kardan-aš rā bēyārāstand
be pāyān-e koh šāh xofte be nāz
šode yek zamān az šab-e dēryāz
yekī sang būd az bar-e borz kōh
barādar-aš har dō nehān az gorōh
davīdand bar kōh o kandand sang
bedān tā bekōbad sar-aš bē-derang
vo-z-ān kōh γalṭān ān forō-gāštand
mar-ān xofte rā košte pendāštand
be farmān-e yazdān sar-e xofte-mard
xorōsīdan-e sang bīdār kard
be afsōn hamān sang bar ǰāy-e xvēš
bebast o naǰonbīd ān sang bēš

The two brothers raised an eyebrow,
and planned for his demise.
The king was peacefully asleep in the mountain’s foothills,
some time had passed from the long night.
There was a stone on top of that tall mountain,
his two brothers moved away in secret from the group,
they ran towards the mountain and detached the stone,
so that it may crush his [Fereydōn’s] head at once,
rolling it, they threw it down from that mountain (top),
they were (already) deeming the sleeping one killed,
(but) by order of the gods the clamor of the stone
awakened the sleeping man.
Through magic he [Fereydōn] bound the stone in its place,
And no further did that stone move.

Š-KhM, I, 72–73, ll. 285–291

The Dārābnāme: Dārāb and the Brothers Māhyār and ǰānōsyār

A second example that shows the prevalence of the theme of two evil brothers/evildoers in the Iranian epic tradition is provided by the medieval (tenth/eleventh century CE) Persian variation on the Alexander Romance, called the Dārābnāme, which was penned by Abu Ṭāher-e Ṭarsōsī. [41] This “Book of Dārāb” tells the tale of the last Achaemenid king, Darius III, who, having been defeated by Alexander the Great, was eventually murdered by his closest retinue. Dārāb’s murderers are depicted as two brothers, called Māhyār and ǰānōsyār: [42]

Amā moʿalef-e axbār o gozārande-ye asrār Abu Ṭāher-e Ṭarsōsī [az īn qeṣe] čenīn ravāyat mī-konad ke dō amīr būdand mar Dārāb rā yekī Māhyār nām būd o yekī rā ǰānōsyār o īn har dō az Dārāb mottahem būdand. Har dō be-ham segālīdand ke Dārāb rā bekošīm. Ān-ke ō rā Māhyār nām būd ō goft ke az šāh Eskandar ṭamaʿ dārīm ke pāygāh-e mā boland gardānad o martabe-ye mā be-afzāyad. Īn soxan befrestādand tā īn šaxṣ bā Eskandar begoft. Šāh īšān rā del-xošī dād o čenīn goft ke agar īn šoγl az dast īšān kefāyat šavad man īšān rā ganǰ o xazīne daham o har rōzī haftād ḥāǰat īšān rā ravā gardānam o īn gōhar bedān-kas dād o ō rā gosīl kard.

But the interpreter of this account and the drawer of (past) secrets, Abu Ṭāher-e Ṭarsōsī, thus reports [on this story] that Dārāb had two magnates (at his service), one was called Māhyār, and the other ǰānōsyār [dō amīr būdand mar Dārāb rā yekī Māhyār nām būd o yekī rā ǰānōsyār]. And these two had been accused by Dārāb (of some crime). Both had been thinking: “We ought to kill Dārāb.” The one, whose name was Māhyār, said: “We shall expect King Alexander to elevate our condition and increase our rank.” They sent someone to report these words to Alexander. The king (= Alexander) gave them hope and said that if they were able to complete this task, “I would give them treasures and treasuries, and each single day I would fulfill seventy of their wishes.” He gave a precious stone to that person, and sent him away.

Dārābnāme (Ṣafā 1965–1966: I:461)

In the hope of preserving their status and finding riches, Māhyār and ǰānōsyār kill Dārāb, but a repentant Alexander, who becomes Darius’ avenger, puts them to death as punishment for their actions:

Amā moʿalef-e axbār o gozārande-ye asrār Abu Ṭāher-e Ṭarsōsī čenīn ravāyat mī-konad ke čōn rōz-e dēgar har dō laškar āhang-e meydān kardand o beyāmadand o dar barābar- e yek-dēgar be-īstādand ān dō tan ke Eskandar rā vaʿde karde būdand ke mā Dārāb rā bekošīm o be xedmat āyīm Māhyār o ǰānōsyār yekī az rāst o yekī az čap-e Dārāb ebn Dārāb dar āmadand o żarbat-hā bar Dārāb berāndand čenānk-e zaxm-e ān ḥarb-hā dar šekam-e Dārāb ōftād. Čōn γolāmān Dārāb ān aḥvāl bedīdand bāng bar īšān zadand o qaṣd-e īšān kardand. Īšān ān kār rā āmāde būdand o forṣat negāh mī-dāštand. Aspān bar angīxtand o be-sōy-e Eskandar raftand o aḥvāl bāz goftand. Čōn Eskandar bešnīd ʿaǰab dāšt o motoγayer šod o az koštan-e Dārāb taʾasof xvard o begrīst o goft īn har dō rā begīrīd. Ān har dō tan rā begreftand o band-e gerān bar pāy-e īšān nahādand.

But the interpreter of this account and the drawer of (past) secrets, Abu Ṭāher-e Ṭarsōsī, thus reports that when, on another day, the two armies decided to go to war, took to the field, and took position opposite each other, those two who had promised Alexander that “We shall be killing Dārāb and serving you,” namely, Māhyār and ǰānōsyār, emerged, one from the right side, and the other from the left side, of Dārāb, son of Dārāb, and afflicted him with blows, so that these foes wounded Dārāb in the stomach. Upon seeing this, Dārāb’s subjects charged them and aimed at them. They [Māhyār and ǰānōsyār] were expecting this move, and were looking for the opportunity [to escape]. They stirred up their horses, went over to Alexander, and reported the matter to him. When Alexander heard this, he was stupefied, became perplexed, regretted having killed Dārāb, cried, and ordered the two of them be seized. They seized those two men and placed a heavy chain around their feet.

Dārābnāme(Ṣafā 1965–1966: I:461–462)

The Samak-e ʿAyyār: Xōršīd Šāh and the Brothers Alīyān and Alyīār

The first time we encounter the two “paladins” it is in connection with Xōršīd šāh’s yearning to go to hunting grounds, to which his father Marzbān šāh acquiesces, not without placing him, and his younger brother Farrox-rōz,under the protection of the “champions” Alīyān and Alīyār:

Pas etefāq-e īzadī yek rōz šāhzāde be xedmat-e pedar āmad o šarṭ be ǰāy āvard o dar vaqt-e bāz-gaštan zamīn rā namāz bord. Goft pedar-e bozorgvār bande rā šekār dastōr-ī bāšad tā yek hafte dar kōh o morγzār tamāšā konam. Pedar ō rā dar kenār gereft o bar vey nām-e yazdān bexvānd. Goft ǰān-e pedār tō dānī … Marzbān šāh dō pahlavān ferestād tā dar xedmat-e farzand-e vey bāšand. Yekī rā nām Alīyān o dēgarī Alīyār.

Then, incidentally, one day the prince came into the presence of his father, presented his respects, and upon retiring he showed his reverence (by bowing) to the ground. He said: “O noble father, it behooves me to go to hunt, so that I may be an observer for one week in the mountains and the meadows.” The father embraced him and invoked upon him the name of god(s). He said: “O father dear, you know best” … Marzbān šāh sent two paladins to serve his child. One of them was called Alīyān and the other Alīyār.

Samak-e ʿAyyār(Nātel-Khānlari 1997–1998: I:6, ll. 19–25)

While the prince and his retinue were resting and feasting following a day of hunt, an onager appeared, which Xōršīd šāh, the ever avid hunter, pursued alone, leaving his companion behind in their encampment:

Xvadāvand-e ḥadiṯ goyad ke ān laškar [ke] bā šāhzāde be šekār āmade būdand Farrox-rōz barādar-aš o pahlavānān Alīyān o Alīyār dar ān xeyme bā šāhzāde šarāb mī-xvardand ke ān gōr-e xar padīd āmad o šāhzāde īšān rā be ǰāygāh benšānd o xvad az dombāle-ye gōr-e xar be raft tā ō rā ṣeyd konad.

The author of the narrative says that that army, which had accompanied the prince to the hunt, namely, his brother Farrox-rōz, and the paladins Alīyān and Alīyār, were (all) drinking wine with the prince in (his) tent, when that onager appeared, and the prince left them seated on their place, while he himself took up the pursuit of the onager, so that he may hunt it down.

Samak-e ʿAyyār (Nātel-Khānlari 1997–1998: I:9, ll. 22–25)

The appearance of the onager, as we later find out, was a mere artifice, a disguise for the mighty sorcerer, nurse to princess Mah-parī, whose purpose was to lure the prince to the presence of Mah-parī (as an apparition), so he would pursue her as a love-stricken suitor, willing to subject himself to the danger of the trials to which she would have exposed him.

Upon returning to Aleppo, unable to attainMah-parī,and having finally received the consent of his father,Xōršīd šāh sets out to find Mah-parī.In this enterprise, he is again aided by his trusted brother Farrox-rōz and the two paladinsAlīyān and Alīyār:

Pas ān dō pahlavān Alīyān o Alīyār rā bexvānd va goft bāyad ke bā farzand-e man be velāyat-e čīn ravīd ke ō kōdak ast o tartīb-e har kār-ī nadānad o rosūm-e har čīz-ī našenāsad o haq bar šomāst o īn kār bā šomā ōftād. Ham bā šomā mī-ravad. Har dō xedmat kardand o goftand mā bandegānīm ān konīm ke šāh farmāyad.

Then he [Marzbān šāh] summoned the two paladins, Alīyān and Alīyār, and said: “You must accompany my son to the land of China, for he is a child and unaware of how things are done, and does not know all customs, [thus,] he is your responsibility, and you are bound by this. He shall depart with you.” Both men prostrated themselves and said: “We are your subjects and shall do as you command.”

Samak-e ʿAyyār (Nātel-Khānlari 1997–1998: I:17, ll. 22–26)

However, while traversing a particularly trying desert, still in search of Mah-parī, and possibly frustrated by their subservient status to a child and his whims, Alīyān and Alīyār are apparently seized by the demon of envy (šeyṭān-e ḥasad beyāmad o garībān Alīyān o Alīyār begreft o aṣl-e bad dar nahād īšān be-ǰoš āmad), which prompts them to plan the assassination of the two princes, the seizure of their wealth, and eventually the reach for royalty for themselves.

Pas rōy dar biyābān nahādand. Biyābān-ī dar pīš-e īšān āmad ke pendāštī ke hargez ādam-ī [rā] dar ān rāh nabūde ast bī āb o bī xāšāk zamīn-ī sāde narm o ǰāygāh-ī garm ǰāygāh-e dīvān o γōlān-e sahmnāk. Tarsande dar čenīn biyābān-ī mi-raftand tā yek nīme az biyābān begzaštand. Šeyṭān-e ḥasad beyāmad o garībān Alīyān o Alīyār begreft o aṣl-e bad dar nahād īšān be-ǰoš āmad. Feʿl-e bad o harām-zādegī dar kār āward. Bā ham goftand čerā dar farmān kōdak-ī bāšīm. Ō rā qahr gardānīm o īn māl-e farāvān bar-gīrīm o xvad farmānde o pādšāh bāšīm. Dēgar bā Farrox-rōz če konīm. Bā ham mašverat kardand ke har dō rā bar bāyad dāšt ke laškar xvad bā mā-and o har-ke dar ʿahd mā nayāyad ō rā be-košīm. Har dō bar-īn etefāq dādand o mī-sāxtand tā če-gōne īšān rā halāk bāyad kard. Bar ān qarār oftād ke īšān rā be zahr halāk konand.

Then they entered the desert. They encountered a wasteland, which one would think a human had never crossed: arid and barren, covered with soft sand, a torrid place, the den of devils and terrifying demons. Fearful, they traversed this desert until they had covered the better half of it. [Then,] the demon of envy appeared, seized their [Alīyān and Alīyār’s] collar(s), and the root of evil arose in their mind. It prompted evil deeds and perversion [in them]. They said to each other: “Why shall we be at the command of a child? Let us subdue him, take possession of this abundant wealth, and become commander(s) and king(s) ourselves. But what to do with Farrox-rōz?” They consulted among themselves [and decided] that they ought to eliminate both: “The army is with us, and whoever does not take side with us, him we shall strike down.” Both agreed on this [plan of action], and were in agreement as on how to put those [Xōršīd šāh and Farrox-rōz] to death. They decided on putting them to death by means of poison.

Samak-e ʿAyyār (Nātel-Khānlari 1997–1998: I:18–19, ll. 30–33, 1–7)

For this purpose, they attempted to induce a young servant, Tamar-Tāš, into the plot; although pretending to consent to their design, he denounced them to Xōršīd Šāh:

Golāmī būd kōčak az ān Ālīyān o Ālīyār nām Tamar-Tāš saxt bā ǰamāl būd o ʿāqel. Čōn Xōršīd Šāh šarāb xvardī ān γōlām sāqī būdī. Pas Ālīyān o Ālīyār mašverat kardand ke ān Tamar-Tāš [rā] bar ān kār bāz dārand tā šāhzāde o Farrox-rōz [rā] halāk konand. Pas γōlām rā pēš-e xvad xvāndand ke kārī bar tō afkande-īm agar ān kār bekonī torā āzād konīm o az māl-e ǰahān bē-niyāz gardī o pahlavān-e laškar tō bāšī.

By the grace of God, Alīyān and Alīyār had a young slave by the name of Tamar-Tāš, exceedingly handsome and wise. Whenever Xōršīd šāh was drinking wine, he would be his cupbearer. Thus, Alīyān and Alīyār conferred with each other on making that same Tamar-Tāš kill Xōršīd šāh and Farrox-rōz. They summoned the slave to their presence [and said to him]: “We have conceived of a task for you; if you were to accomplish it well, we would set you free, and you would be without any material need, and become the army’s chief.”

Samak-e ʿAyyār (Nātel-Khānlari 1997–1998: I:19, ll. 9–13)


Tamar-Tāš xedmat kard goft bande-am har-če farmāyand ān konam. Goftand kārī-st kardanī. Īn dārō pāre-yī be-stān o negāh dār. Čōn šāhzāde šarāb xvard dar qadaḥ-e šarāb afkan o dar qadaḥ-e šarāb-e šāh[-zāde] o Farrox-rōz nah tā be-xvarand o halāk šavand o īn māl-hā [mā] rā be-mānad o bahre be tō dahīm o bāqī mā bar-dārīm. Pas mes̱qāl-ī zahr-e košande be ān γōlām dādand ke Alīyān peyvaste dāštī o besabab īn bad-gōhrī ke dāšt az rāh bēyoftād o bē-ḥormatī pēš gereft o qaṣd-e ǰān dō šāhzāde kard.

Tamar-Tāš made a reverence and said: “I am at your service, what you command I shall fulfill.” They said: “This is what you ought to do. This medicine, take a portion of it and keep on to it. Whenever the prince will be drinking wine, drop it into his wine cup, and place it into the cups of the prince and Farrox-rōz, so that they may drink and perish and this wealth shall remain for us, and we shall give you a part, and keep the rest.’ ” They then gave to that slave a mesqāl of the mortal poison, which Alīyān used always to have on him, and on account of his evil essence, he had left the path [of rectitude] and followed that of dishonor, aiming at the life of the two princes.

Samak-e ʿAyyār (Nātel-Khānlari 1997–1998: I:19, ll. 14–19)


čōn Tamar-Tāš īn aḥvāl bešnīd o ān γadr kardan-e īšān maʿlūm o ān dārō be-dīd ke be vey dādand o zēnhār xvardan-e īšān bar ǰān-e īn dō ǰavān be-baxšīd o γamnāk šūd o del-aš be-sōxt. Goft darīγ bāšad čenīn dō ǰavān bar dast-e īn ḥarām-zādegān halāk šavand o zamānī bā xvad andīše kard tā čāre-ye ān konad. Bā del-e xvad monāẓere kard o goft ey [ǰavān] tā hēč ʿaql nadārī ke čenīn kārī dar pēš gīrī o īn qadr nadānī ke agar īšān rā halāk konī īn dō pahlavānān tō-rā nagozārand o halāk konand o dar qīyāmat gereftār šavī o tō-rā dar dōzax kār bāšad o dar donyā tō-rā maqṣūdī ḥāṣel nayāyad. Borō o īn ḥāl bā šāhzādegān begōy.

When Tamar-Tāš heard this account, which revealed their perfidy [γadr], and saw the medicine they had given to him, as well as their treachery [zīnhār], he had mercy on the two youths’ lives, became sorrowful, and took pity on them. He said: “It would be regretful for these two youths to perish at the hand of these bastards,” and for some time he reflected in his own mind, in order to find a solution. He undertook a discussion with his heart, and said to himself: “O youth, you must not have your wits about you if you undertake such an action, and this much you should know that if you were to kill them, then these two paladins [Alīyān and Alīyār] would not let you live, and would kill you. You shall be tormented until the end of time, and shall be destined to go to hell, and will not have any purpose in this world. Go and reveal this matter to the princes.”

Samak-e ʿAyyār (Nātel-Khānlari 1997–1998: I:19, ll. 20–27)

Upon Tamar-Tāš’s revelation, the two paladins were eventually caught, and beheaded, like common criminals.

Čōn be šarāb xvardan mašqūl šodand ān har dō pahlavān ḥāżer āmadand bā xāṣagīyān o Tamar-Tāš īstāde būd o šarāb dar mī-dād o pahlavānān bar ān omīd ke šāhzāde bekošand o šāhzāde sar dar pēš afkande o qavām bar mī-gereft. Agar če īmen būd γāfel na-būd tā šarāb dar īšān kār kard. Har dō pahlavānān ešārat be γolām kardand. Šāhzāde bedīd. Dārō dar qadaḥ-e šarāb afgand čenānke kasī nadīd o dar nōšānōš āmad. Bēyāmad o be Alīyān dād Alīyān bāz xvard. Dar ḥāl qadaḥ-e šarāb dar kard o dārō dar afgand o be Alīyār dād. Bāz xvard. Pas šarāb dar dādan greft. Hanōz šarāb be šāhzāde naresīde būd ke har dō bēyoftādand. Tamar-Tāš xedmat kard o goft ey šāhzāde došmanān-e tō hame hamčenīn xār oftāde bād. Ey šāhzāde [sar-e] īšān rā bar bāyad dāšt ke došman-and o došman sar kōfte be bāšad. Pas šāhzāde bar Tamar-Tāš āfrīn kard. Pas aḥvāl bā laškar be-goft. Hamegān ʿaǰab dāštand o bar īšān nefrīn mī-kardand. Pas šāhzāde befarmūd tā har dō rā sar az tan ǰodā kardand.

When they began drinking wine, those two paladins appeared together with their intimate/favorite retinue, and Tamar-Tāš was standing and serving wine. The champions were hoping to kill the prince, who kept his head bent, albeit managing the events. And although he was safe, he was not inattentive, until the time the wine would take effect in them. The two champions made a sign to Tamar-Tāš. The prince saw it. He [Tamar-Tāš] cast the drug into the goblet of wine, in a way no one saw, and served it. He came towards Alīyān and offered the goblet of wine to him. Alīyān swallowed it [the wine]. At once he produced [another] goblet of wine, placed therein the drug, and offered it to Alīyār. He swallowed it [the wine] down. Then, he began to serve wine [to others]. He had not yet served the prince when the two [Alīyān and Alīyār] collapsed. Tamar-Tāš bowed and said: “O prince, may your foes all fall that abjectly. O prince, they should be beheaded, for they are enemies and a beheaded foe is best.” Then the prince praised Tamar-Tāš, and revealed the matter to the army; the peers were stupefied, and were cursing them. Then the prince ordered their heads to be taken off.

Samak-e ʿAyyār (Nātel-Khānlari 1997–1998: I: 20, ll. 8–19)

Bigthan and Teresh in the Book of Esther 2:21–22

Of importance to our investigation is the presence of the theme of two ac-complices striving to eliminate the king, identified here intriguingly as eunuchs, similar to the way magi (as well as other Persian high officials) are sometimes indiscriminately referred to in the later Greek tradition, as the examples of the Ctesian Bagapatēs, or Plato’s “usurper,” known elsewhere as the magus, suggest. Equally striking is the execution of the eunuchs through impalement, as were the liar-kings in the Bisotun inscription, and implicitly the two evildoers in the Dārābnāme.


[ back ] 1. On pertinent—albeit unrelated to the present inquiry—examples of myths involving pairs and brothers, whereby one symbolized the civilizational force and the other the “savage,” in ancient Near Eastern, biblical, classical, and Western medieval traditions, see D’Onofrio 2011:31–55, 126–140.

[ back ] 2. For this chapter, see Dumézil 1994:34–88, from whose essays, as evident in the following pages, I have drawn.

[ back ] 3. Translation from van Buitenen 1975:2.459–460.

[ back ] 4. On the daēuuas, see now the exciting pages penned by Kellens (2006:139–154, esp. 150–153), with a discussion of the linguistic accident as a possible reason for the demonization of the daēuuas in Iran, that is, the emergence within a religious discourse of the phenomenon of semantic amphipolarity, which may have resulted from the “praise and blame” rhetoric, and the eventual turning of amphipolar words into specific polarities, in case of the word daēuua- in Iran into a negative polarity or meaning: “L’accident de language est la meilleure explication que l’on est donnée de la démonisation des daivas,” and “Pour toutes les tribus iraniennes qui nous ont transmis des textes religieux explicites, *daiva était réduit à sa polarité négative. Mais d’autres avaient opté pour la polarité positive … et néanmoins adoraient exactement les mêmes personalités divines”; Kellens 2006:153; see also Kellens 2005 [2007]:283–288. See also Panaino 2004:114–120.

[ back ] 5. See Videvdad 10.9 (and V 19.43):

āat̰pasca θrišāmrūta vaca
ime vaca framruua vārəθraγne baēšaziia
paiti.pərərne Iṇdrəm
paiti.pərərne Saurum
paiti.pərərne Nåŋhaiθīm daēum

And after the words which are said three times,
say forth these healing words, rich in obstruction-smashing strength:
I prevail/fight against [the daēuua] Indra,
I prevail/fight against [the daēuua] Sauruua,
I prevail/fight against the daēuua Nåŋhaiθiia …

On the meaning of pərən- “overcome; fight (against),” see Kellens 1995:33, and Sims-Williams 1989:258, with reference to Khotanese purr- “to overcome.”

[ back ] 6. On the history of the interpretations of the aməṣa- spəṇta-, see Kellens 2006:132–139; still Narten 1982.

[ back ] 7. On the legend of Shemḥazaī, ʿUzza, and ʿAzaʾel in the Book of Enoch, and of Shemḥazaī and ʿAzaʾel in the Aggadic literature, in the Midrash Abkir, as well as their parallels with, and dependency on, the Iranian myth, see still Grünbaum 1877; also Heller 1910:202–206; and de Menasce 1985:190–193. For relevant passages of the Book of Enoch, see Black 1985: chs. 6–11 (27–31). For the presence of Shemḥazaī, ʿUzza, and ʿAzaʾel in the Manichaean Book of Giants, which probably drew not only on the Aramaic versions of the apocryphal Book of Giants, of which fragments have survived in Qumran, but also on the Book of Enoch, see still Henning 1943; and more recently Skjærvø 1995. For the Aramaic Qumran fragments of the apocryphal Book of Giants, see Reeves 1992; for the Sogdian Manichaean text, wherein the giant brothers Ohya and Ahya, also called Sāhm and Pāt-Sāhm in Sogdian—who correspond to ʿUzza, and ʿAzaʾel—sons of Šahmīzād (that is, Shemḥazaī), see Henning 1943: excerpt H, 69–70; and Skjærvø 1995:199: “To Šāhmīzād two(?) sons were born by … One of them he named Ohya, who in Sogdian is called Sāhm the Giant. And again a second son [was born] to him. He named him Ahya; and in Sogdian he was Pāt-Sāhm.” See also Reeves 1992:86–88.

[ back ] 8. Dumézil 1994:34–88.

[ back ] 9. For the Koranic passage, see Arberry 1955: vol. 1, 2.96:

Solomon disbelieved not,
but the Satans disbelieved, teaching
the people sorcery, and that which was sent down
upon Babylon’s two angels, Harut and Marut;
they taught not any man, without they said,
“We are but a temptation; do not disbelieve.”
From them they learned how they might divide
a man and his wife, yet they did not hurt
any man thereby, save by the leave of God,
and they learned what hurt them, and did not
profit them, knowing well that who so buys it
shall have no share in the world to come;
evil then was that they sold themselves for,
if they had but known.

[ back ] 10. For the Tarǰome-ye Tafsīr-e Ṭabarī, see Yaγmāʿī 1960–1961; for Esfrāyenī’s Tāj al-tarājim, see Haravī and Xorāsānī 1995; for the Tafsīr-e (Abū Bakr-e ʿAtīq Nēšābūrī) Sūrābādī, see Saīdī Sīrǰānī 2002–2003; for Meybodī’s Kashf al-asrār, see Hekmat 1952–1960.

[ back ] 11. For (oral) legends of Hārūt and Mārūt circulating in the Persianate world—among others, one reported by Adam Olearius, the envoy of Frederick III of Holstein-Gottorp to the Safavid court, in 1637—see de Gubernatis 1882:370: “Olearius, en l’année 1637, a entendu en Perse cette légende: ‘Pour consoler les pauvres et les malheureux, Dieu envoya sur terre les anges Aroth et Maroth, avec l’ordre de ne faire mourir personne, de ne commettre aucun acte injuste, et de ne pas boire de vin. Une belle femme qui se querellait avec son mari, appela comme juges les deux anges et les engagea à boire; les anges, non seulement consentirent, mais, après savoir bu, lui demandèrent les complaisances extrêmes. La femme çéda, à condition que les anges lui auraient d’abord indiqué le moyen de monter au ciel et de redescendre de nouveau sur la terre. Aussitôt montée au ciel, la chaste femme y resta et fut changée en la plus belle étoile du ciel.’ ” For further examples, see Dähnhardt 1907:294–297; Littmann 1916, who has also included the compilations of Ṭabarī’s Arabic tafsīr (rather than the tarǰome) on Hārūt and Mārūt; and Heller 1910:206–210.

[ back ] 12. Intriguingly, compare the punishment afflicted upon ʿAzaʾel in the Book of Enoch 10.4–5: “And to Raphael he [God] said, ‘Go, Raphael, and bind Asael; fetter him hand and foot and cast him into darkness; make an opening in the desert which is in Dudael, and there go and cast him in. | And place upon him jagged and rough rocks, and cover him with darkness and let him abide there for all time, and cover his face that he may not see light.’”

[ back ] 13. Dumézil 1994:67–78.

[ back ] 14. The subterfuge consisted in discovering, when it was Phaidyme’s turn to spend the night in Smerdis’ chambers, whether the latter still possessed his ears, for Smerdis, the magus, in contrast to prince Bardiya, had been in the past punished by Cambyses for a crime he had perpetrated with the multilation of his ears (Herodotus 3.68–69); on the Greek origin of this episode, compare still Demandt 1972:97–101; Balcer 1987:111–114; and West and West 1991:176–181.

[ back ] 15. See Kellens 1989:217–228.

[ back ] 16. See the following passage of the Ahunauuaitī Gāθā, in Kellens and Pirart 1988: Yasna 28.2:

yə̄ vå mazdā ahurā # +pairijasāi vohū manaŋhā
maibiiō dāuuōi ahuuå # astuuatascā hiiat̰cā manaŋhō

(I) who embrace you with the Good Thought, o Ahura Mazdā (so that) you give me the rewards/boons of the two states of existence (ahu-), the bony one and that of thought …

[ back ] 17. On the Evil Spirit’s attempt to enter Ahura Mazdā’s creation and being prevented from doing so by the Good Thought and Fire, see Frawardīn Yašt (Yašt 13.77–78):

yat̰ titarat̰ aŋrō mainiiuš
dāhīm aṣ̌ahe vaŋhə̄uš
aṇtarə pairi.auuāitəm
vohuca manō ātaršca
tå hē tauruuaiiatəm t̰baēšå
aŋrahe mainiiə̄uš druuatō …

When Aŋra Mainiiu crossed over … of good Order, the Good Thought and Fire came down in-between. Those two overcame his aggressions, those of the deceitful Aŋra Mainiiu … [ back ] On this passage, see Skjærvø forthcoming: ch. 8.4; and Skjærvø 2011b:341. On the meaning of the injunctive verbal form titarat̰ (~ tar “hinübergelangen über; cross over”), see also Skjærvø 1995 [1998]:268n12. Also Kellens 2003:237.

[ back ] 18. On this topic, see authoritatively Shaked 1994:13–26; also Stausberg 2002:104.

[ back ] 19. In his exhilarating Quatrième naissance de Zarathushtra, Kellens reduces Avestan “dualism,” in this taking the lead from Darmesteer, to a cosmogonical myth on the relationship of Order and Chaos, which had ended up coloring ancient Mazdaism by transmuting into a principle for the creation of the world: “Le véritable dualisme Zoroastrien, dont Darmesteter avait justement perçu le développement: un mythe cosmique sur le rapport entre l’Ordre et le Chaos transformé en dramaturgie de l’histoire du monde [emphasis mine]” (Kellens 2006:110); see also Kellens 2003:240. See similarly Herrenschmidt 2009:126–127: “Le mazdéisme … n’est pas un dualisme. Mais d’où provient l’imprégnation ‘dualiste,’ par example des pratiques, entre autres linguistiques avec un vocabulaire daevique s’opposant au vocabulaire normal, et surtout de la mentalité qui classifie tant d’actes et de choses d’un côté ou de l’autre, du côté de l’‘ordre cosmique et rituel’ ou du ‘mensonge’? La réponse, depuis un certain temps et qui est également celle de Jean Kellens, revient à dire que le mazdéisme serait coloré par le mythe cosmologique. La religion serait polythéiste et le mythe cosmologique responsable de ses aspects dualistes.”

[ back ] 20. See also Kellens 2006:138–139, and Kellens 2003.

[ back ] 21. Skjærvø (2011a:58–59) presupposes a “dual dualism,” which he explains as follows: “There are two bipartitions in Zoroastrian cosmology. First, there is what we may call cosmogonic dualism, which refers to the fact that the contents of the world were made and (dis)arranged by two primordial entities: the one good, the other bad; the one causing light and life, the other causing darkness and death … Second, there is what we may call cosmic dualism, which refers to the division of the world into two: the world of thought and that of living beings (or the world of living beings with bones, the bony existence) … Both worlds were established by Ahura Mazdâ, but were subsequently infiltrated by evil.” However, were one to acquiesce to the “cosmogonic dualism,” it would be difficult to adhere to the so-called “cosmic dualism,” which seems to have been inspired by the ontological and perforce epistemological divides (which despite all due differences is not without resemblance to the eidetic and phenomenal worlds) that distinguish the world of thought and the bony existence. Suffice it to say that the perceived duality relates to an ontological difference, and may not be qualified as “dualism,” for the simple reasons that both worlds are Ahura Mazdā’s creations, or not emendations of conflicting principles. Thus, “non-existence” alone may form a “dualistic” counterpart to the realm of existence (ahu-; sti-), of which that of thought (ahu- manaŋhō / ahu- manhiia-) and the bony one (ahu- astuuaṇt-) are modi, distinguished from each other by an ontological difference. See similarly Panaino 2004:111–112: “Cette dichotomie entre existence osseuse et celle de la pensée, ne s’explique pas comme une opposition de type gnostique ou manichéen entre esprit et matière, car il n’y a dans le cadre zoroastrien ni considération négative, ni dévaluation de l’existence matérielle et physique.” As Panaino (2004:112–114 and 133–134) astutely observes, the countercreation is without ontological actuality, that is, although its effects are felt in the bony existence as a polluting factor, it is limited to the realm of the mainiiu-, absent from the creation, thus inexistent: “Anŋra Mainiiu, par voie de fait, avec tous les êtres démoniaques adonné[s] au principe négatif (druj-) n’appartiennent qu’à la dimension mainiiauua-, car privés de qualités vitales et génératives.” On the inexistence of Ahreman, see also Schmidt 1996:79–95. For a discussion of “dualism” (as well as polytheism, ditheism, and pantheism) within Mazdaism, see Stausberg 2002:91–111, esp. 94–95.

[ back ] 22. Kellens and Pirart 1988:110; Kellens and Pirart 1997:31–72; and Kellens 2000a:16–17.

[ back ] 23. Skjærvø forthcoming, ch. 8.4; Skjærvø 2011a:66–67, 69–70; Skjærvø 2011b:340–341. On the Twin strophe in the Ahunauuaitī Gāθā, see also Humbach and Faiss 2010:38–42.

[ back ] 24. Skjærvø forthcoming, chs. 8.5 and 8.6; and Skjærvø 2011a:70.

[ back ] 25. Translation according to Skjærvø forthcoming, ch. 8.4. Kellens and Pirart (1988:110) translate as follows: “(Je vais dire aussi) les deux états d’esprit fondamentaux qui sont connus pour être des songes jumeaux lors de la pensée et de la parole. Lors de l’acte (rituel), ce sont le meilleur (acte) et le mauvais (acte). Entre ces deux (états d’esprit), les généreux distinguent bien, non les avares.”

[ back ] 26. On airiiana- vaējah- “Aryan Expanse,” the mythical abode of the Iranians, see Grenet 2005:35–36; Skjærvø 2007b:109–112; Kellens 1997–1998:761; and still valuable Gnoli 1989:38–53.

[ back ] 27. See Bundahišn 11a.7: Dāitī rōd az Ērān Wēz bē āyēd pad *Gō(ba)destān bē šawēd (“The Dāitī River flows from Ērān Wēz to *Gō(ba)destān”); see Pakzad 2005:152. See also Benveniste 1934:271; and MacKenzie 2001.

[ back ] 28. See Skjærvø 2011a:67: “Thus already in the Young Avesta, we see a merging of creative functions of Ahura Mazdâ and the Life-Giving Spirit. This state of affairs eventually led to the notion that it was Ahura Mazdâ himself who was the twin of the Evil Spirit, rather than the Life-Giving Spirit. By the Sasanian period, this myth had developed into one in which Ohrmazd and Ahrimen (commonly also Ganâg Mênôy, ‘the Foul Spirit’) were in fact brothers, a very dangerous notion, which the Sasanian theologians strongly opposed, putting it down to one of the wiles of the cosmic Deception.”

[ back ] 29. See also the following fragmentary Manichaean passage, wherein the different origins of Ōhr-mazd and Ahreman are being stated:

[az buni]št ī Ahremen
[ud nē A]hremen az buništ
[ī Ōhr]mazd

From the origin of Ahreman
and Ahreman is not from the origin
of Ōhrmazd. (Sunderman 1981:24.3.ii, vv. 9–11)

[ back ] 30. See Skjærvø 1995 [1997]:242–250 (hymn 2).

[ back ] 31. See Skjærvø 1995 [1997]:244. On the Warštmānsr nask, see Vevaina 2010b.

[ back ] 32. Madan 1911: vol. 2, 829, ll. 1–5. See also Zaehner 1955:429–430; and Schaeder 1972:288–289.

[ back ] 33. Shaked 1994:15. See also Stausberg 2002:100–105.

[ back ] 34. On the origins of the Mazdean tri-millenarian doctrine already in the Avesta, see Kellens 2003; also Herrenschmidt 1998:131–143; and more recently, the exhaustive study by Rezania (2010:37–148). See also Hultgård 2002:91–108, for the concept of emanations in the Iranian cosmogonic myth as reflected in Bundahišn, esp. 101–102.

[ back ] 35. The observation of Stausberg (2002:104)—that because of the ultimate defeat and overcoming of evil in late Mazdaism, the “dualistic” system was bound to transmute into a pantheism—merits attention, as it may explain how the perception of Ōhrmazd’s limitation could have been mitigated by the promise of his ultimate triumph: “Durch die Reiningung und ‘Herrlichmachung’ der Welt wird das ‘dualistische’ Modell sozusagen in ein ‘pantheistisches’ transformiert.”

[ back ] 36. For the testimony of Šahrestānī, see Gimaret and Monnot 1986: vol. 1, 636: “La cause occasion-nelle de la création d’Ahriman, c’est que, disent-ils, yazdan pensa en lui-même: ‘si je venais à avoir un antagoniste, comment serait-il?’ Cette pensée était mauvaise, en discordance à la nature de la Lumière.” For Masʿūdī, see Zaehner 1955:443.

[ back ] 37. For the textual evidence on the “Zurvanite” cosmogonical myth, conveniently placed together, see still Bidez and Cumont 1973:2.88–92; and Zaehner 1955:419–428. See also de Jong 1997:63–64, 330–338. In a notice preserved in codex 81 of Photius’ Bibliotheca, we read about a treatise attributed to Theodore of Mopsuestia (mid fourth to early fifth century ce) on Magian religion (περὶ τῆς ἐν Περσίδι μαγικῆς καὶ τῆς εὐσεβείας διαφορά), wherein the latter reportedly exposed the doctrine of Zarathustra (Zaradēs) on Zurwān (Zourouam) (καὶ ἐν μὲν τῷ πρώτῳ λόγῳ προτίθεται τὸ μιαρὸν Περσῶν δόγμα ὃ Ζαράδης εἰσηγήσατο ἤτοι περὶ τοῦ Ζορουάμ, “and in the first book is exposed the accursed doctrine of the Persians that Zaradēs introduced, to be sure, on Zourouam”). This Zurwān, continues the notice of Photius, engendered both Ōhrmazd and the Devil, whose blood were mingled (περὶ τῆς αὐτῶν περὶ αἱμομιξίας). On the passage, see Henry 1959:1.187. For the Syriac text (and its translation) of Yohannan bar Penkayē (which has been reproduced below), see still de Menasce 1938:588–590: “Ils disaient donc qu’avant que Zarwan n’eut créé le ciel et la terre, il offrait, mille années durant, des libations à Dieu dans le but d’obtenir un fils, Hormizd, qui créerait le ciel et la terre. Et au terme de cette période de (mille) années, il réfléchit dans son cœur et se dit: ‘Aurai-je vraiment quelque profit de ces sacrifices, ou est-ce en vain que je me fatigue?’ Au moment même où cette pensée lui vint, Hormizd et Ahrman furent conçus, Hormizd en raison des libations, Ahrman en raison du doute [emphasis mine] dès qu’il s’en fût avisé, il fit un vœu, disant: ‘A celui qui se trouvera etre l’aîné, je donnerai ces baguettes—ils les appellent būrsemē—et je lui donnerai puissance pour créer le ciel et la terre.’ Ahrman, quand il entendit cela, déchira aussitôt le ventre de sa mère, en sortit et se présenta devant son père Arzwan. Celui-ci dit en le voyant: ‘Qui es tu?’ Ahrman lui repondit par une tromperie: ‘C’est moi qui suis ton fils Hormizd.’ Et tandis qu’Arzwan s’en contristait et qu’ils étaient en contestation, le moment vint pour Hormizd et il nacquit. Et il lui donna puissance. Hormizd créa toutes les choses qui sont bonnes et belles et Ahrman fit tout ce qui est nuisible. C’est là ce qu’inventaient les Mages au sujet de la création des choses. D’autres disaient que le monde procède de deux principes, le bon et le mauvais.” See also the anonymous little Syriac text ʿl ṭʿywtʾ d-mgwšʾ “on the erring of the magi,” which also makes god Zurwān the begetter of both Ōhrmazd and Ahreman: “Il [Zardušt] pose deux antagonists comme chefs de ce monde-ci; il dit que ces deux sont nés du dieu Zarvān. Il partage les choses créées entre ces deux en disant: la lumière appartient à Hormezd, les ténèbres appartiennet à Ahremēd”; see Nyberg 1929:238–239.

[ back ] 38. For this passage, see Westerink and Combès 1991:125bis; and Clemen 1920:95. It reads: “μάγοι δὲ καὶ πᾶν ἄρειον γένος ὡς καὶ τοῦτο γράφει ὁ Εὔδημος οἱ μὲν Τόπον οἱ δὲ Χρόνον καλοῦσι τὸ νοητὸν ἅπαν καὶ τὸ ἡνωμένον ἐξ οὗ διακριθῆναι ἢ θεὸν ἀγαθὸν καὶ δαίμονα κακόν ἢ φῶς καὶ σκότος πρὸ τούτων ὡς ἐνίους λέγειν. οὗτοι δὲ οὖν καὶ αὐτοὶ μετὰ τὴν ἀδιάκριτον φύσιν διακρινομένην ποιοῦσι τὴν διττὴν συστοιχίαν τῶν κρειττόνων τῆς μὲν ἡγεῖσθαι τὸν Ὠρομάσδη τῆς δὲ τὸν Ἀρειμάνιον.” For an excellent recent translation of Damascius’ work, and the above passage, see Ahbel-Rappe 2010:418, 125.2: “As for Magi and the entire Iranian race, as Eudemus writes about this, some of them call the intelligible and unified universe Space (Topos), and others call it Time (Chronos), from which are differentiated either a good deity or a bad demon, or light and darkness before these, as some say. And they then themselves posit the twofold differentiated rank of the superiors after the undifferentiated nature, one leader of which is Horomasda, and the other of which is Areimenios.”

[ back ] 39. On Aži Dahāka, see now the pertinent study of Skjærvø (2008); see also Vevaina 2010a:236.

[ back ] 40. Bundahišn 35.9–10: ān 1000 sāl Dahāg duš-pādixšāyīh būd. Az Aspīyān ī Purr-gāw Frēdōn zād kē kēn ǰam xwāst. Anīz frazend Barmāyōn ud Kadāyōn. Frēdōn az awēšān purr-xwarrahtar būd (“those thousand years belonged to the evil-rule of Dahāg. To Aspīyān Purr-gāw Frēdōn was born, who sought to avenge ǰam; also the other children [of Aspīyān] were Barmāyōn and Kadāyōn. Frēdōn was bestowed with more (royal) glory than them”). For a critical edition of the Bundahišn, see now Pakzad 2005.

[ back ] 41. On the Dārābnāme, see Hanaway 1996:8–9; on the function of Bōrān-doxt, the heroic daughter of the assassinated king Dārā, and the allusion of her character to the Mazdean divinity Anāhīd, see Hanaway 1982.

[ back ] 42. See Gaillard 2005:9–17, 149.

[ back ] 43. As a case in point, one may compare the treatment reserved for the Mede liar-king Fravartiš, who was seized by Darius’ troops, brought to him, and mutilated, before being impaled: pasāva hauv fravartiš hadā kamnaibiš asabāraibiš amuθa ragā nāma dahạyāuš mādaiy avaparā ašiyava pasāva adam kāram frāišaya nipadiy fravartiš agạrbiya ānayatā abiy mām adamšaiy utā nāham utā gaušā utā hạzānam frājanam utāšaiy [I caš]ma avajam duvarayāmaiy basta adāriya haruvašim kāra avaina pasāvašim hagmatānaiy uzmayāpatiy akunavam, “Then that Fravartiš fled together with a few horsemen. They went all the way to Ragā, a region in Media. Then I sent an army after them. Fravartiš was seized and brought to me. I cut off his nose, ears, and tongue, and gouged out one of his eyes. He was held bound at my gate. The whole people in arms saw him. Then I impaled him in Ecbatana” (see DB 2.71–76). On the treatment of rebels in Achaemenid Persia, see Lincoln 2005:167–179, esp. 177; also Schwinghammer 2011:665–687, with an excellent table (621–673), among others, on the nature of punishments and executions suffered by the rebels in Bisotun; see also the exhaustive study of Rollinger (2010).

[ back ] 44. On the ʿayyār, member of Iranian medieval Männerbünde, bound by the chivalric ethos of ǰavānmardī, albeit also associated with turmoil and ruffianism, see foremost the valuable studies of Xānlarī 1968–1969:1071–1077; Xānlarī 1969–1970:19–26, 113–122, 263–267, 477–480; and Maḥǰūb 1969–1970:869–883, 1059–1073, 1182–1195; Maḥǰūb 1970–1971:38–51, 173–199, 301–311; and Maḥǰūb 1977:2–13. See also Yaγmāʾī 1988; Cahen and Hanaway 1989:159–163; and Gaillard 2006:143–173. On the role of ʿayyār heroines, see Gaillard 2005:163–198, esp. 166–181 on the characters of Sorxvard and Rōzafzōn in Samak-e ʿAyyār.

[ back ] 45. On the redaction date for the Samak-e ʿAyyār, its narrative genre, and belonging to oral literature, see more recently Gaillard 2009; Gaillard 1987; also Razavi 1972:7–10; and Nātel-Khānlari 1997–1998:v–xii.

[ back ] 46. For a synopsis of the story, see Gaillard 2009; Gaillard 1987:55–83 (les articulations du texte); and Gaillard 1985.

[ back ] 47. On the identity of the Persian king in the Book of Esther as Xerxes (on the basis of the Hebrew text), or Artaxerxes (owing to the Septuagint), see Hintze 1994:34–35. Also Duchesne-Guillemin 1953:105–106.

[ back ] 48. For a comparison of the Hebrew Masoretic text and the Greek Septuagint pertaining to this episode, see Kahana 2005:119–125; for a comparison of the extant Greek variants (LXX and L texts), as well as the Old Latin text (Vetus Latina), of the present episode, see Haelewyck 2006:428–462.

[ back ] 49. Text and translation by Berlin (2001:31–32).

[ back ] 50. On the names of the two eunuchs, see Russell 1990:34n5, 37–38; and Duchesne-Guillemin 1953:106–108. On Vašti’s name, see Zadok 1986:109–110.

[ back ] 51. Berlin 2001:31: “This episode is recounted succinctly, with no motives ascribed to the culprits, which gave rise to a range of speculations to fill the gap, including jealousy of Mordecai, jealousy of Esther, and anger at the king for his treatment of Vashti.”