On Heroic Death and Valiant Life in Shahnameh

Ferdowsi’s eloquent reference to the inevitability of death, as the ultimate enslaver of man and the constant, inseparable, innate companion of life, leads the author to ponder the relationship between bondage and freedom, man’s primordial longing to defy and escape time and death and his conscious awareness of the futility of his longing. Man’s desire to be existentially free is also futile since he is inescapably enslaved by death. He can not be free either, for his own will affects neither his birth nor his death; his existence having preceded his will. Yet the very knowledge of the truth, of the constancy and inevitability of death, can by itself be liberating. In this awareness lies the key to man’s freedom from all that debase and enslave him in life.

Thus, man’s only hope to defy death is the search for the truth that will be a testament to his honor and good name, a measure of his true identity. Indeed, it is in their striving for honor that the true heroes of Shahnameh welcome death. They gladly sacrifice their lives to guard and preserve their honor. For, though flesh and blood are the prey of time and therefore ephemeral, man’s name and honor may, by his deeds, escape time and death and turn eternal. Only by seeking and finding the truth, the ultimate morality, by transcending all the base instincts embedded in man’s nature, can man’s name survive death.

It is, furthermore, in the quality of life that man’s good name may thrive, in the way he struggles to free himself from the mundane, and in his determination to overcome his fear of death. It is how we encounter death that our name triumphs in the crucible. And ultimately, it is in disdaining death, in purposefully risking our lives that we may reach the ultimate level of physical and spiritual fulfillment that includes the survival of our good name.

Shahrokh Meskoob
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