Academic Bio :
Professor of English. Research interests in rhetoric, eighteenth century English literature, contemporary Persian fiction
Concise Paper Title :
The Nobility of Battle and the Scourge of War
Paper Abstract (maximum of 400 words) :
The commonality of war as the inspiration and theme of enduring literature is pervasive in many literary traditions. So much so, in fact, that the epic form, having armed conflict as its focal point, is a universal genre of poetry and is present in every literary tradition in the world. In the literature of the Persian language the most prominent example is of course the Shāhnāmé, or "The Book of Kings,” the national epic of Iran.
This presentation commences with an examination of the effect of the Shāhnāmé on the ethos of the average Iranian reader. It is true that the epic glorifies (and in some cases deifies) individuals, Rustum the most prominent among them. Yet the basis for the sublimation of the heroes is not only bravery at war and willingness to face at great risk formidable adversaries, human or otherwise, but also their sterling character and their unwavering loyalty to their respective sovereign lords.
In addition to the great influence of the Shāhnāmé, Iranian readers are also endowed with an awareness of the heroics of the Battle of Karbala, which, aside from its religious significance, has bred manifold literary sensitivities in the Iranian readership. Such predispositions, however, promote an expectation of formality both in the behavior of war heroes as well as the literary depiction of their exploits. As such, the paper argues, Iranian national ethos, unlike that in the west, had no precedent in dealing with the dynamics of modern warfare until the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war. The introduction of firearms and mechanization of combat had changed dynamic of war and with it the aesthetics of literature emanating from it.
This study finds that earlier Iranian fiction coming out of the frontlines heavily echoes the tenor of the Shāhnāmé and Karbala tradition in character and plot development. However, we find that ultimately the protagonists in later literary representations of war experience emanating from the trench warfare in the south of Iran are presented more realistically and are as a rule outwardly simple, ordinary individuals. However, once exposed to the dynamics of the battleground, they turn fatalistic and their daily encounters with blood and gore and the imminence of death and dismemberment become the leitmotif for the violence and misery concomitant with the larger picture of the war itself.