This panel is the literary companion to the art historical panel “Divine Delusions: Visions of the Supernatural in Persianate Painting.” It explores the marvellous worlds of the Shahnameh (Book of Kings) and the Dastan-i Amir Hamzeh (Romance of Amir Hamzeh). As late as the twentieth century, Persianate epic tales or romances (qisseh/dastan) performed by storytellers beguiled the imaginations of their audiences with their depictions of demons, sorcery, and enchanted worlds. Revolving around the adventures of mythological, religious and historical figures, they were sustained by worldviews that found a place for unconventional, or khariq-i ‘adat, beings and events.
These worldviews grew faded and obscured as rationalist and empiricist epistemologies took hold of the minds of intellectuals, as well as for other reasons. Given this shift, which determines our twenty-first-century viewpoints—and the concomitant devaluation of such tales, in some quarters, as absurd, frivolous, or childish—how do we deal justly with Persianate dastans? Each of our papers presents an approach to this problem, whether by reading for religious symbolism (“Ardashir's Battle against the Giant Worm”), by highlighting the porous boundary between human and nonhuman (“Of Monsters and Men”), by probing the category of the uncanny (“The Adventures of Amir Hamza and the Question of the Uncanny”), or through historical investigation (“Dastans and Disenchantment”).