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The First Biographical Data About Firdowsi in Europe

07. Juny 2010 The First Biographical Data About Firdowsi in Europe The earliest reference to Firdowsi is found in the notes of the German diplomat and traveller Eisliger, a famous scholar, who signed his name as Olearius. In 1647, he published A Detailed Description of e Travel of the Holsteen Embassy to Moscovia and Persia in 1633, 1636, and 1639,1) in which Gakim Firdowsi is mentioned. As the auth¬or knew, in the Orient, the word Gakim. the actual Arabic form of which is Khakim, means a "sage." or a "healer." or a "counselor". Here we also come across the first European version of the famous legend detailing the relationship between the poet Firodwsi and Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna. his patron king. Another famous poet, Jami, de¬scribes in his "Bakharistan" the episode as follows:

Within a set period of time he [i. e., Firdowsi] was assigned to write a book in verse about the deeds of the shahs. Having composed a thousand bayts, he pre¬sented the book to the Sultan. The latter prised the poet lavishly and granted him a donation worth a thousand dinars of pure gold [sic]. Thereafter, for thirty years, the poet laboured on a Book of Shahs and, once complete, presented it to the Sultan. As before, he hoped to receive a thousand dinars of pure gold for every bayt, but the poet's enemies interfered and said to the Sultan: 'Is any poet worthy of being granted such a great reward? 2)

As a result, the sum of sixty thousand silver dirhams was offered to Firdowsi. It is said that, when this money was brought to the poet, he was in the bathhouse. Upon leaving the bathhouse, Firdowsi gave twenty thousand dirhams to a bathhouse attendant, twenty thousand to trader who had delivered some cups of beer beforehand, and the last twenty thousand to those who had brought the reward. As for the Sultan, he w as ridiculed in a satire, consisting of approximately forty bayts. Here are some lines from this poem:

1) For a full discussion of the Holstein mission to the Czar of Russia and the Shah of Persia, see Weiss, 1983 2) Cf., Aini´s findings in this regard, in "Abu al-Qasim Firdowsi in Sadriddin Aini's Investigation".

Had worth or judgment glimmer'd in your soul, You had not basely all my honour stole. Had royal blood flow'd in your grov'ling veins, A monarch's laurels had adorn'd my strains; Or were your mother not, ignobly base, The slave of lust- thou first of all thy race- A poet's merits had inspir'd thy mind, By science tutor'd, and by worth refin'd. Such as thou art, the vileness of thy birth Precludes each generous sentiment of worth: _ Nor Kingly origin, nor noble race, Warms thy low heart, the offspring of disgrace. 1)

After publishing this satire, Firdowsi disappeared and no matter how intensely they searched to find him, he was nowhere to be found. Some time passed. Then, one day, on some occasion, Khaja Hassan Maimandi, Sultan Mahmud's wazir, recited several lines from The Book of Shahs. I The Sultan liked the verses very much and asked his wazir: "Whose lines are these?"
"They are from the poem by Firdowsi," answered Maimandi. The Sultan was ashamed of his past action and ordered sixty thousand dinars, along with robes of honor, to be sent to Tus, to the poet´s ¬house. But the stars didn't indulge it. When the Shah's courtiers were ¬coming into Tus through one gate, the body of Firdowsi: was being carried out of Tus through another gate."
Olearius did not provide the complete story. Rather, he confined himself to the size of the "reward" and the abusive language between Firdowsi and his patron, Mahmud. The French Orientalist Barthelemi D'Herberlot became the first European "biographer" of Firdowsi. In 1697, he published Oriental Library, a major encyclopedic dictionary on the culture, art and history of the Orient. In this work, D'Herberlot dedicated a special section to Firdowsi and his poem, the Shahname. Evidently, he knew the Shahname well. In fact, he used the epic as a primary source for the genealogy of the legendary shahs of ancient Persia. The Legend we are interested in is also mentioned, again, not in full. Poetically romaticized ideas about the ingratitude of kings towards poets didn´t interest the men of business and, in general, practically oriented scholars such as Olearius and D'Herberlot. Yet we tend to emphasize this very aspect, which the later European authors distinguished as a "romantic orientation".

1) Arberry, 1958. pp. 43-44.

D'Herberlot was familiar with the contents of the Shahname, but he did not share that knowledge with his contemporaries. The first episodic translations from Firdowsi's epic, with more detailed infor¬mation about the poet himself, appeared in Europe at the end of the 18th century. However, only a fragment of the story called "Rustam and Suhrab" was translated by the most well-known English Oriental¬ist, Sir William Jones, and published in his Essay on the Poetry of Oriental Peoples (1772). Some lyrics and a part of the satire on Sultan Mahmud were also translated by Jones in his Six Books of Commen¬taries on Oriental Poetry. Sir William Jones's attitude toward the great Persian poet is best expressed in the Latin epithet "Sancta (saint) Fir¬dowsiorum" that he used to refer to the bard.
In 1785, the translation of some fragments from the Shahname was published in Calcutta by Joseph Chapman 1). In 1814, J. Atkinson trans¬lated the story of "Rustam and Suhrab." Then, translations from the Shahname started appearing in France, Germany, and Russia. Follow¬ing the German translation of the romanticist-poet F. Ruckert, others were inspired to create their own versions of "Rustam and Zorab." V. A. Zhukovsky is a prime example. In addition, images and quotations from the Shah'name appear in original works of European poets. In 1817, Sir Thomas Moore, in his famous Oriental poem, mentions the scene of the battle that Rustam leads against the White Demon. He refers also to the episode from the Shahname dwelling on Zal and his beloved. Even the name of one of the personages of the poem by Moore, Feramors, 2) appears regularly in European literature, espe¬cially among the romantic poets. Similar phenomena are found in Russian literature as well, but, as is known, the Russian tradition pre¬cedes the European. Consider, for instance, the heroes of the Shah¬name in the Enchanted 'Labyrinth.
Usually the first acquaintance of the Russian readers with Fir¬dowsi' s epic is associated with fragments that appeared in the journal Vestnik Evropy (Herald of Europe) in 1815. These were fragments from the translations of the Perso-Tajik classics, presented by the French Orientalist Ambele Jourdin from his book called Persia, published in Paris in 1814.

I) The London edition was published in 1788. 2) Later on this name would occur quite often in European literary tales. It is a distorted form of the name of Rustam's son Faramarz.

The first Russian critical publication about Firdowsi is Botyanov's "Firdowsi, the Persian Homer" That Article ¬was published in the journal Aziatsky Vesmik (The Asian Herald) in 1826. Russian-educated readers could get acquainted with The Book' Shahs, in German translation, through the works of the poet-romanticist Fr. Ruckert. In fact, the famous translation by V. A. Zhukovsky of the "Rustam and Suhrab" story (I 846-1847) was based on this same version. These are then the sources and the facts about the acquaintance of the Russian readers with the Shahname. The impression one gets is quite upbeat, although the fact remains that the Russian reader could have become acquainted, if not with the whole epic, with its main heroes at least, much earlier.

Let us consider the narrative of the Russian writer of 18 th century, Vasily Levshin, called Viz irs, or Enchanted Labyrinth, ¬(1779). Therein we find something unexpected, a reference to the theme we are interested in. Levshin's narrative has an eastern folkloric orientation both in its plot and in its set of entertaining adventures. ¬Levshin was familiar with A Thousand and One Nights, in the translation of the French Arabist, A. Galland, and with the Persian Tales, in the translation of the French Orientalist Pati de la Croix. Both of these translations were widely known in Russian circles of the 18th century. ¬Indeed, their existence had made the so-called "oriental narrative", a popular genre of the Enlightenment.

The heroes of the narrative are two Persian princes who had been deprived of their father's benevolence. Following the advice of the wise and experienced mother, they follow the magic labyrinth: prophetic sage, Luqman. 1) The sage teaches the brothers how to come worthy of their father's benevolence, In accordance with spirit of the Oriental folklore, the princes are subjected to different adventures and undergo prolonged periods of wandering; they even kiddneped by thieves and robbed. What complicates the plot is that they are both predestined to fall in love with the same princess, Perizada. They participate in single combat against each other, with victor becoming the king of a remote country, while the other wins¬ Perizada´s heart. And, of course, the ever-present Luqman saves from all perils. Although encumbered with improbable events and adventures, the narrative ends in a happy finale.

1) Luqman is a very widely known personage in the Orient.

A moral resulting from Vizirs is extracted without difficulty. The princes in the narrative personify adolescence, which yields to temptation and passion. Luqman symbolizes reason, the only thing which can resist misfortunes, temptations, passions, and the blows of Fate.
It should be mentioned that the author diligently aspires to reproduce the oriental coloring to the best of his ability, which he does' so well that his work assumes a personality of its own. In his introduc¬tion, he touches on his own personal interests. We find out, for in-stance, that V. Levshin resorted to a study of special literatures, especially the Oriental Library (1697) of Barthelemi D'Herberlot and the Historv by Nadir Shah, simply to provide materials for his stories. Oriental Library, the first European encyclopedic inquiry into the East, was well-known in the Russia of the 18th century, at least, to specialists and those interested in the Orient. It is also mentioned by the "ensign and translator from Chinese," Larion Rossokhin, in the journal Monthly Compositions Profiting and Entertaining Clerks, (1757) that there were other references and footnotes in the scientific and publicist literature of the time.
The most interesting thing in Levshin's narrative, besides commen¬taries on Persian and Arabic lexemes, is his introductory remarks about a number of heroes unknown to a wide circle of readers, and the majority of these characters are from the Shahname by Firdowsi (!).
It appears that V. Levshin neither knew nor could have known The Book of Shahs. 1) He became acquainted with it, most likely, by read¬ing the very detailed articles of the Oriental Library, which was devoted to the shahs and dynasties of ancient Iran. In this encyclopedia, there is also a detailed section about Firdowsi himself and his works. That is perhaps why the shah's name in the narrative should be Logo¬razb 2) (in Levshin's comments, "The fourth shah of the kin of the Cayanians of the second Persian dynasty")-this is Shah Luhrasp, from the Slwhname, a remote descendant of the king at whose court the prophet Zoroaster appeared (he is mentioned in Vizirs). The princes created by Levshin have the names of Gustasp and Serir (in the Shahnanme, Luhrasp's sons are Gushtasp and Zarour). Perizada (in Levshin's comments, "peri' s daughter") turns out to be the daughter of the glorified hero of the epic, Rustam. She lives in Daghistan.

I) The first partial translation of the Shahname was done by the English orientalist J. Chapman in 1785, in Calcutta (a 1788 edition in London). 2) D'Herbelot is Bibliotheque Orientale. Maestricht, MCCCLXXVl, p. 128.

There appear, episodically, in the narrative Afrasiyab, Qubad, Kayka´us (in the text-Kakkaus), and his son, Siyavosh (Siavesh). It is mentioned accordance with the poem that Siyavosh was killed in Touran (Turan). ¬Even a motive from the Shahname appears when Gustasp and Jserir, not recognizing each other, engage in single combat. Their combat however, does not end as tragically as the one between Firdowsi´s. Rustam and Suhrab.
In Levshin's narrative there occur a considerable number of what could be called Iranisms. These are mostly translated from Persian ¬culture or the interpretations of the author on the basis of the knowledge of his commentaries. For instance, he uses such notionsas "Nourouts" (cf., navruz, the Persian New Year) or "Zohara" (Zuhra, ¬or the Persian Venus). Other such references include "div" (demon), "peri" (genii), and such Iranian names as "Sitara" (in the comments, "star") and "Firouz" (happy). Even the characteristics of the person¬ages and the commentaries on the above-mentioned Iranisms, almost fully (even textually) coincide with the separate sequences of the Oriental Library. We can, certainly say that the Shahname is the most authentic source of the Enchanted Labyrinth. Such description, as for the "Irem" 1) are undoubtedly taken from D'Herberlot's work. The transcriptions of names from the Shahname are reproduced exactly as are those in the Oriental Library. All these facts, along with names ¬like Lohorasb and Siavesh, testify to the fact that Firdowsi's epic is the source of the work.
Taking into consideration the extreme popularity of "Oriental" narratives and tales 2), the The Enchanted Labyrinth was, for the mass reader, an intermediary step in learning about the Shahname, bringing the Shahname to the people thirty years prior to the official acquaintance with Firdowsi's work. From the 19th and into the 20th centuries, Firdowsi's. fame has become genuinely recognized, and it is growing globally in popularity every decade.
Let us return, to our legend. We come across the epic in the retelling of the great German romanticist, Heinrich Heine (the poem "Firdausi"), and it will finally be incorporated in the works of the most popular fairy tale writer, H. C. Andersen, where it becomes part of the body of historical parables and tales of the world.

1) Irem is earthly paradise of the Arabs, inhabited by custodian angels appointed by King Sheddad's will. 2) In Russia, these-stories were written copiously and read literally by all the literate people, from the poorest man to the Empress Yekaterina II.

The tragic theme of a lack of comprehension of the poet's magnificence and im¬portance on the part of some contemporaries, of course, worries only some writers of romantic disposition.
We started this discussion with Jami, and it is appropriate to end it with the words of this same great poet. In his biographical essay dedi¬cated to Firdowsi, Abd al-Rahman Jami is prophetic:

The world at last will estimate all rightly,- The curved sky put the arrows of penalty into the bow. Mahmud had gone, Mahmud is nowhere,-

Who will remember him?- He was unable to value Firdowsi, ¬ And everybody will this know!

The poet didn't receive thousands of golden dinars from the shah; perhaps, he didn't need them greatly. However, by his labour, he gained something much greater -e gained thousands of years of glory, the first thousand of which is being marked today.

07. Juny 2010

By Alexander Heiser