Thinking Aloud: Surprising Tidbit From the “Shahnameh”

Apr. 17, 2015 by Darius

I’ve started reading the Shahnameh, the Iranian national epic written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi about 1000 AD, and I came across an interesting “creation” story.  This section of the Shahnameh takes place during the reign of the mythic evil (Arab) king Zahhak, who, for some reason that isn’t immediately clear, has two snakes growing out of his shoulders:

“Each night two young men, either peasants or of noble stock, were brought to Zahhak’s palace.  There, in the hope of finding a cure for the king’s malady, they were killed and their brains made into a meal for the snakes [growing out of Zahhak’s shoulders].  At the same time, there were two noble, upright men who lived in his realm; one was named Armayel the Pious, and the other, Garmayel the Perceptive.  Together they talked of the king’s injustice and the evil manner in which he was nourished.  One said, ‘We should go and present ourselves as cooks to the king, to see if we can save at least one of each pair who are killed to feed the snakes.’  They learned how to prepare numerous dishes and were accepted as cooks in the king’s kitchens.  When the victims were dragged before the cooks, and the time came for their blood to be spilled, the two men looked at one another with eyes filled with tears and with rage in their hearts.  Unable to do more, they saved one of the two from slaughter, substituting the brains of a sheep, which they mixed with the brains of the man they killed.  And so they were able to rescue one of each pair, to whom they said, ‘Hide yourself away in the plains and mountains, far from the towns.’  In this way they saved thirty victims a month, and when there were two hundred of them the cooks secretly gave them goats and sheep, and showed them a deserted area where they could live.  The Kurds, who never settle in towns, are descended from these men.”

Didn’t see that coming :).

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