As I have mentioned many a time, I have a soft spot in my heart for Afghanistan, and the work I was involved with for years opened a window into a fascinating world of beauty and history. I used to pester colleagues with my “Of Interest” emails, in which I would relate things that made me ponder. Now, I shall not just ponder, but actually read The Book of Kings:
Samangan is one of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. What I did not know, is that it is also the setting of an epic love story, that comes from the Persian equivalent of the Odyssey and the Ilyad: The Book of Kings, or Shahnameh.
The story, written in verse around 1,000 years ago by Persian poet Ferdowsi, tells how a mighty warrior, Rustam, makes it all the way to Samangan, seeking his lost horse. While the guest of the king, Rustam retires to his chambers, after enjoying a sumptuous meal with the king, only to be woken up by the king’s daughter, Tahmineh, who declares her love for the warrior. That one night of passion, that results in a marriage, yields a son, whom Rustam will only meet in battle many years hence.
The woeful story of Rustam and Tahmineh and their son Sohrab starts like this:
STORY OF SOHRÁB
O ye, who dwell in Youth’s inviting bowers,
Waste not, in useless joy, your fleeting hours,
But rather let the tears of sorrow roll,
And sad reflection fill the conscious soul.
For many a jocund spring has passed away,
And many a flower has blossomed, to decay;
And human life, still hastening to a close,
Finds in the worthless dust its last repose.
Still the vain world abounds in strife and hate,
And sire and son provoke each other’s fate;
And kindred blood by kindred hands is shed,
And vengeance sleeps not—dies not, with the dead.
All nature fades—the garden’s treasures fall,
Young bud, and citron ripe—all perish, all.
And now a tale of sorrow must be told,
A tale of tears, derived from Múbid old,
And thus remembered.—
What a beautiful translation! It is so true that “All nature fades–the garden’s treasures fall, young bud, and citron ripe–all perish, all.”
You can find the whole translated epic in Project Gutenberg. There is also a new illustrated version of the Shahnameh, that has been a labor of love for filmmaker Hamid Rahmanian.
Rustam in Samangan meets the King’s daughter, Tahmineh.
The Atlantic Magazine and CNN have interesting articles explaining the new version of the Shahnameh.