Throne and Pulpit in Shahnameh’s Narrative

This article is a review of the nature of the monarchical political system in pre-Islamic Iran as depicted in Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, and particularly in a letter written by Rostam Farrokhzad, the commander of the Persian army confronting the Muslim Arab invaders in 6th century. Indeed, Ferdowsi’s epic book of Iranian kings ends with vivid references to the fall of the fabled Iranian empire and the advent of another and wholly different period in the life of the inhabitants of the Iranian plateau. The verses if the letter forewarn of the impending disaster awaiting the Iranian people with the fall of the old monarchical order by the invading hordes of primitive Arab thrives. The warning is obviously not based on the actual events but on the foreboding shared by many Iranians about the impending fall of the Sassanid dynasty and the subsequent reversal of their fortunes.
The content of the letter may not have been penned by Rostam Farrokhzad himself but the gist of it could have well been transmitted to him by the collective pathos of those whose life had been deeply, and disastrously, affected by the onslaught of the bearers of a totally alien culture. It is suggested, therefore, that the letter, far from being forged, is characterized by an exceptional originality. In fact, it is the will and testament of Rostam Farrokhzad for his brother. It is the true and faithful will of someone in the throes of absolute despair and in a deadly confrontation with the forces of evil and hence, its historical validity.
The author’s despair emanates from the knowledge that the confrontation is not an ordinary one. It is, rather, a battle waged by an enemy with no other goal but the total repudiation of the concept of “royal” rule and replacing it with the unfettered supremacy of a totalitarian religion. In the new order, the “pulpit” would usurp the authority of the “throne,” and more. It is in such a transformation that Rostam Farrokhzad sees the seeds of all the ills calamities that would befall the land of Arians. Who else but the present generation of Iranians, who has witnessed a similar tragedy and suffered the same reversal of fortune, can appreciate the great spirit and lofty logic of a poet who has so eloquently described an eternal truth in such vivid, ever-lasting and heart wrenching verses?
باقر پرهام**
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