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Ethical Verses in Shahnameh

 

A splendid encomium, indeed, for Ferdowsi for his thirty-five years labour spent for reviving and revitalizing Persia through the Shahnameh, his Persian Epic. Shahnameh is essentially a history of the Persian kings (mythological and historical) and the heroes of Iran. The central figure in the History of Kings is Rustom, yet Shahnameh contains many ethical verses, a few of which are quoted below:

(1) It is an old adage that "Knowledge is 'Power'." This proverb is partially true because generally speaking power means strength, army etc. Power really means 'wisdom' and 'intelligence'. Ferdowsi has clarified this in one verse:

One who has wisdom is powerful.

(2) There is vast difference between an individual and collective work and efforts. An individual or a dictator will not agree to consult others, while in collective work even a child's opinion can be accepted and acted upon.

This point is dealt by Ferdowsi in the verse given below:

I have heard from a wise man that there is much wisdom in the world but it is scattered among the people; and hence all people must be gathered together.

(3) It is said that true friends are seldom found in this world, but it depends on ourselves to make a friend true or false. If we are sincere, true and sympathetic, others will act in the same manner with us, but if we are insincere, false and lacking in sympathy for others we cannot expect others to be good to us. Ferdowsi writes:

If the enemy is a thorn it is because of your own sowing, If he is a brocade it is because of your own weaving.

(4) One should neither be over-philanthropist nor a miser. Ferdowsi recommends the middle path:

Rustom the possessor of Raksh (name of a horse) has said, 'If you want to earn a name bestow dirhams, Not so much that you become poor because people of the world shun an indigent person Eat, put on (nice) clothes and bestow, but save for the rainy day.

(5) One must try to make everyone one's friend, one should not be satisfied with a few friends:25 Till you possess earth (die) go on sowing friends.

(6) Reward and punishment are inevitable. If we harm any body we must be prepared to receive reprisal in return:

Son of Zal (Rostom) said, "When you dig the pit dig it according to the estimate of the size of body" (one who digs a well or pit for others falls himself).

(7) Do what you can today, do not leave it for tomorrow. This is a hackneyed and oft-quoted saying. Ferdowsi expresses this maxim in a beautiful verse:

Flowers which have blossomed today in the garden;If you pluck them tomorrow they will be of no use.

(8) Root of excellence and perfection is action, not knowledge; says Ferdowsi:

Practice is better than precept.

(9) Cut your coat according to the cloth; that is, do not spend beyond your means. Sa'di says:

If you have no income spend less, because the sailors sing this tune, If there is no rain in summer the Tigris will become a dry stream.

Ferdowsi expresses the same idea thus:

If some stones are removed from the mountain and if they are not replaced, In the end the whole mountain will disappear. Ferdowsi not only admonishes to spend less but also tells to replace the money spent from the capital.

(10) Friend's reprimand is better than enemy's love:

If the father imprisons the son, It is better than an enemy showering flowers on him.

(11) Greatness cannot be achieved without sacrifice:

The person who wants to achieve greatness, First will have to wash his hands in his own blood.

(12) A wise enemy is better than a foolish friend.

(13) It is better to die in honour than to live in disgrace.

(14) The hero of Shahnameh is Rustom. In his fight with the Khaqan of China, Rustom has overpowered him. In the midst of victory Ferdowsi reminds Rustom of the vicissitudes of life and not to humble the fallen enemy.

He says:

This is the way of the deceitful world, O Rustom sometimes high, sometimes low, Since the Creation of heaven war is sometimes poison sometimes honey.

(15) Rustom. has overpowered his own son Sohrab without recognizing him. Immediately Ferdowsi begins to think. An animal recognizes his offspring while Rustom, a human being, does not recognize his son, why? Is he blind because of selfishness or because he wants to assert his superiority?

Ferdowsi sermonizes:

A horse recognizes its foal, fish in water and wild boar in jungle know their offspring's, But man, because of greed and selfishness, does not distinguish his son from his enemy.

(16) Virtue and chastity are the most prized treasure of women. Ferdowsi, in Shahnameh, has shown great respect for women, considered them equal to men in the management of affairs of state and never degraded them. In reply to who has seen a faithful horse, woman and sword?

Ferdowsi has put in the mouth Of Bahram the following verse:

God's religion is firmly established because of her (the woman), She guides the young on the path of virtue. What better praise can there be for woman than this?

(17) To Ferdowsi religion and kingship cannot be separated from one another:

Religion and Kingship are so closely knit that one would say they are under one coverlet. There can be no kingship without religion nor religion with out kingship.

(18) Everyone is free to follow his religion and worship God in his own way. Someone said to Nawshirwan, "Christians and. Jews are allowed to live in your kingdom although they are your enemies. Their religion is Devil's religion.

Nawshirwan's reply was that the splendour and glory of the kingdom depended on people of various religions inhabiting the state. Ferdowsi's Shahnameh is a national epic, a historical epic, a story of kings and heroes but a book full of ethical verses.

 

Shahnameh ( The Epic of Kings )

One of the definite classics of the world, it tells kings and heros tales of ancient Persia.

By: Hakim Abul-Ghasem Ferdowsi Toosi

 

 

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