Pahlavi Narratives and Their Permutations

This panel was compiled by the Conference Program Team from independently submitted paper proposals.


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Many of the characters in the Persian national epic, the Shāh-nāmeh (“Book of Kings”), of Ferdowsi, a tenth-century epic poem which celebrates the glories of Iran’s pre-Islamic past, are also found in the Avesta and in the Rig-Veda. This paper focuses on two female figures in the Shāh-nāmeh, Sūdābeh and Rūdābeh, whose names are both associated with water (and are perhaps even derived from each other), and therefore possibly constitute reflections of the ancient Indo-European water goddess who became Anahita.

In the Shāh-nāmeh version of the legend of Siyāvaš, Sūdābeh appears to be a stand-in for the Mesopotamian goddess Ištar, many of whose functions were taken over by Anahita by the Achaemenid period. Rūdābeh is also associated with water, as her name attests: “she of the river water.” In the Shāh-nāmeh Rūdābeh is the lover of Zāl and the mother of the hero Rostam. Rūdābeh is an archetypical positive role model for women, just as Sūdābeh is a negative one. The personalities of Sūdābeh and Rūdābeh with their similarities and differences can thus be considered as embodying opposing aspects of feminine power, like two sides of the same coin.

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The Pahlavi literature has transmitted to us two samples of hemerologies: a shorter one is contained in the collection of pieces of advice attributed to the Sassanian high priest Adurbād ī Mahraspandān, and a longer one is found in the Wizīrkard ī dēnīg (a text of uncertain date, dealing with several different topics). Both hemerologies list the religious and daily activities that it is appropriate to perform in each of the 30 days that compose the Zoroastrian month. The paper will set these two texts in the context of the wisdom genre, a literary genre which aimed at establishing the good religious and daily behavior, and which was very popular in pre-Islamic Iran. The paper will also present a hypothesis on the development of the hemerologies in the Zoroastrian literature, from the origins (that can be connected to a Mesopotamian influence) to the early Islamic times.

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In nature it is through the interaction of a male and a female that procreation happens. In the religions of the ancient agricultural
societies, the universe is made up of two primordial principles -- male and female. In the mythology of Mesopotamia, the collaboration of these two elements brings harmony and balance to the world.

In the Shahnameh, the national epic of Iranians, the cosmic orde is protected and sustained by sacred kingship. It is my contention that the righteous king is the one who is in touch with his positive feminine side, and through this close relationship maintains cosmic order. As a result, the country enjoys wealth and prosperity. And an evil king is the one who wants to control the world through violence and dictatorship. To prove my theory I analyze the stories of Jamshid, Zahhak, and Fereidun. However my main focus is on the role which Farahnak, the mother of Fereidun plays in the restoration of Order. It is my intention to prove that the sole dominance of one gender leads to corruption and chaos, and that it is through a respectful collaboration that civilizations prosper.

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Yazd Srosh is an Iranian divinity in the Zoroastrian tradition who occupies a high position in the ritual and daily observances of the Zoroastrians. In this paper the author first attempts to provide an overview of Srosh's character, functions and development based on classical Zoroastrian sources (the Gathas and the Younger Avesta), as well as on Pahlavi Texts (Bondahishn, Ravayat-i Pahlavi, Minooye Khrad and the Pahlavi version of Khorde Avesta, “Zand-i Khurtak Avistak”); then she looks at the Shahnameh of Ferdosi to follow the traces of this mythical character’s traits and functions at the later stages of the development of Iranian culture and literature.

This paper is based on a comparative case study to clarify the characteristics of this Zoroastrian divinity through religious and
non religious sources.