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Thus saith the Lord, My prophet's word obey,
The king is converted, and, with all the zeal of a proselyte, busies himself to introduce the new faith as the religion of the state. He wisely begins the work of reform with his nobles'; and so powerful was the influence of Zoroaster, or so weak the popular prejudices in favour of idolatry, that the worship of fire was quickly established throughout Persia. Our poet closes his account of this internal revolution, with the historical tradition of the first erection of a fire-temple. The figure employed in the former passage as typical of the prophet, seems in the following extract to apply, with greater precision, to the religion of which he was the founder.
“ As year by year the rapid seasons flew,
Kishtasp had a valiant son, named Isfendiar, whose actions are greatly extolled by the Persian poets. This is not the place to enter into any historical disquisition, and we shall therefore merely state, that this son, who did not live to occupy the throne of his father, is very generally supposed to have been the prince who is named Xerxes by the western historians, and who invaded Greece. Imperfect as the annals of Persia are known to be, it is most singular, that no trace of this remarkable event is to be found in any one of their chronicles. They do, it is true, commemorate bis victories in the west; but when they name his conquests, they only appear to have extended to Arabia, Syria, and Egypt, and these he is said to have reduced
• The kamand, or noose, is used by all Ferdusi's heroes; and, though it sounds more unpoetical to us even than the bow-string, which in Asia excites sometimes ideas as unpleasant as the noose of a halter does with us, it was, in their day, an indispensable weapon, and thrown over the enemy's head to seize him in battle.
not only to the Persian temporal sovereignty, but also to the spiritual dominion of Zoroaster, to the pure worship of one God, and the adoration of his visible glory in the element of fire. Of Xerxes, or Isfendiar, the reader may perhaps feel anxious to know the history, according to the Persian records. As the Shah-námeh contains almost every particular of the antient annals, it may be referred to as one of the best historical authorities, and if it is difficult, as it certainly is, to reconcile its relation of the life and death of Xerxes with what we learn from the more faithful writers of Greece, we may be assured, that no other eastern writings would enable us to dissipate the cloud that hangs over this portion of oriental history.
After his return from his western conquests, the king, his father, suspecting him of an intention to seize the throne during his own life-time, directed his general, Rustem, to march against the supposed rebel. This is the last important exploit of Rustem's life, and, with him, ceases the most heroic age
of Persian history. After a war of some continuance, the contest between these principal heroes of Ferdusi is decided by single combat. On the first encounter, Rustem is wounded by his adversary, and retires from the field discomfited. On this occasion, the poet calls to the aid of his favorite warrior the sacred bird, called the Simorg, which is represented as a beneficent being, preserving under its special protection our Persian Hercules. Ariosto, it has been conjectured, borrowed the notion of his Hippogriff from this fiction of Ferdusi, which is supposed to have found its way into Europe through the writings of the Spanish Arabs. But, besides that the Shah-námeh was written at a time when such an introduction of his fables was not likely to take place through a people who took no particular interest in Persian poetry, Ariosto's Griffin is a creation of a very
different kind from the fairy bird of the Persian, as will appear from the following description of the mode which Rustem's father, Zál, adopted to invoke and obtain the assistance of this good genius, which he had assured his wounded son would restore him to his former vigour.
“ Three golden censers in his halls he sought,
Sees Zál beside it sit, o'erwhelm'd with care,
There is no great resemblance between this being of oriental creation, except in the comparison to a bird, and
The Simorg, who is described as a “ monster of the feathered tribe,” by all the faithful artists who adorn the manuscripts of the Shah-númeh with their strange devices of the pencil, comforts the old man who had called her down from the sky; cures the hero and his horse of their wounds; and presents Rustem with an arrow, which would unerringly decide his next encounter with his enemy. The remembrance of his former defeat hung heavily on him when they next met, and his misgiving heart almost prompted him to have recourse to a milder method of avoiding the danger of a second disgrace; for, like Homer, our poet sometimes exposes his heroes more to the ridicule than the sympathy of his readers.
“ But Rustem knew that prayer would ne'er controul
Thou see'st him oft the crouching slave oppress,
Thus Rustem pray'd-Impatient of delay,
Swift from his bow the hero loos’d his dart,
Proud of his victory, Rustem, scoffing, cried,
Thus Rustem, taunting, spoke; but long the chief
After vanquishing Isfendiar, which is almost the last of his actions recorded, Rustem himself falls into disgrace with his sovereign, and dies; and with his disappearing from the scene, the interest of the poem declines. This circumstance and the length of our remarks will sufficiently excuse us from pursuing our account any farther. The reader will perhaps have no very clear idea of the plan of that part of the work which we have noticed, as our abstract of its contents has, from the extent of the whole, been necessarily much abridged. To those, however, who have not attended to the Persian history as reported by themselves, it would have been wholly uninteresting to chronicle the events in a dry series of the reigns of their kings, while such as are acquainted with the eastern annalists will find no difficulty in following our sketch historically.
As to the general merits of this poem, we would observe, that, since an epic poem is the highest reach of the poet's art, we think that Ferdusi is indisputably entitled to take his station in this first order of the "sons of song." The Shah-námeh, considered as a whole, is certainly liable to the same objection as the Pharsalia and Thebaid, which are called, not epic, but historical poems. And this objection is
And this objection is of even greater force
when applied to Ferdusi, as the great length of time which he occupies, extending, on the shortest calculation, to three thousand seven hundred years, violates the unity of action in a much greater degree than the series of events detailed by Lucan and Statius. We have, however, mentioned an instance of the possibility of detaching from the great work. a poem on the defeat of Afrasiab, which would suffer no injury by the separation, but would, in almost every particular, answer to the rules of heroic poetry. In addition to the unity of action, it is required, that an epic poem should contain a moral, which is said, in the Iliad, to be an exemplification of the evils attending a misunderstanding between confederated princes. If both the rule and this instance of its application are not absurd, we may be satisfied, that Ferdusi is correct on this head, in the lesson he gives in the punishment inflicted upon the Tartar king, for his unjust invasion, by the patriotic armies of the injured kingdom.
Though the plan of some parts of the Shah-námeh is strictly epic, it must be admitted, that its execution is inferior to its design. In comparison with the great bard of Greece, with whom he is, notwithstanding, worthy to be ranked, he fails decidedly on this point. But allowance must be made for the different tastes and habits of thinking of the different people of the earth; and, after such allowance, there will be discovered a greater resemblance between Homer and Ferdusi, than would appear at first sight. There is, indeed, a very material variety of opinion in those writers who have mentioned the Persian poet with regard to his merits; but certainly some of those, whose education and prejudices would have predisposed them to judge him with severity, have been most un, equivocal in their expressions of enthusiastic admiration, Sir William Jones, especially, says, in speaking of his noble work---" profecto nullum est ab Europæis scriptum poëma, quod ad Homeri dignitatem et quasi cælestem ardorem propius accedat”-and adds, that he intended, if he had leisure, to discuss its excellencies in a separate volume, and, perhaps, to edit the whole; an intention which, unhappily, he was never able to fulfil. The most successful parts of the Shah-námeh are its descriptions. These abound in every page, and are, sometimes, as in the Iliad, the pictures of battles, or of the encounters of the heroes in single combat, and, sometimes, of royal feasts, or of the splendours of palaces; here are painted the scenes of riot and carnage, and there the quiet retreats of innocence and peace. Ferdusi, also, pleases us as much by the variety he throws into his sketches of the opening day, with which he perpetually begins a new adventure or story : some minute peculiarity distinguishes every instance, and we should be tempted to exhibit