The Book of Kings

An age of invasions

About 2,200 years ago, brilliant civilizations were flourishing in Asia and in Europe. While ancient Egypt was another very important cultural pole on the edges of the Mediterranean Sea, ancient Greece was rapidly expanding: the time of the great philosophers, Socrates, Plato and his disciple Aristotle was still close, and the Acropolis shone on the whole Mediterranean basin, while Rome and Carthage were at each other’s throat.

Thousand of miles east of the Peloponnese, the great kingdom of Persia dominated immense Eurasia with the Persian civilization fostering cultural links with the no less brilliant Hindu civilization. This was the time of the historical Buddha. Meanwhile, the followers of Lao Tsu were spreading his philosophy of the Tao in a China sheltered from the formidable Mongolian tribes by the recently erected famous Great Wall. Unable to cross this colossal wall noticeable from the moon which will safeguard Chinese civilization from their invasion attempts for centuries, the Turko-Mongol hordes turned away from it to swarm onto Central Asia and the Iranian plateau before reaching Europe around 450 AD, under the banner of the terrible Attila, king of the Huns and "the scourge of God."

Two centuries later, with the Sassanid Empire extending from the borders of present Afghanistan to the banks of Mesopotamia, the invasions from the west by rising Islam’s conquering Arabs chattered Persia’s central power. This, in turn, opened the empire’s northern border to the Tartar barbarians and other Mongolian tribes.

The Arabs, whose numbers were in fact very small by comparison with the Persian Empire’s denizens, had difficulty in conquering this immense country. To overcome the numerous pockets of resistance they encountered, they then literally hired an army of mercenaries from Turkmen tribes of Asian origin. Once they achieved military control of ancient Persia, this Turkish army eventually took the reins of the country’s political power.

The main characteristic of all these Turko-Mongol tribes who successively invaded Persia does not only lay in their common racial origin: one can indeed notice that all these invaders whose numbers and culture are much lesser than their Iranian "hosts’" successively merged and fused with the great Persian civilization. As soon as a conquering tribe would settle down and begin to civilize, another would arrive through the northern plains, only to undergo, after two or three generations, the same fate as the previous one: the military conquerors were culturally conquered and swallowed up by the civilization they were supposed to have subjected. And this story ceaselessly repeated itself throughout Iran’s history, practically till the beginning of the twentieth century!

Ferdowsi’s opus 

Well before the seventh century CE’s Arab invasion, numerous very ancient books of Hindu origin, such as the tales of the Thousand and One Nights, the adventures of Sinbad the Sailor, as well a very substantial anthology that range from history to the epic, called "XodaÔ Namak," existed in Sassanid times’ Persia. Preserved with great care by the scholars of the time, these books were written in Pahlavi, the Indo-European language then commonly spoken in Iran. As the invading Arab conquerors’ armies on their way to propagate their new Islamic religion approached from the South-West, the wise men took the precaution to send the most invaluable works amongst their impressive libraries to the north of the country. During the next decades, the scientific works, some of which are the founding grounds of mathematics, were gradually translated into Arabic. This allowed for their dissemination to the very confines of the Muslim territories, i.e. Spain and Central Europe. This is how the famous "Al Jabr’" —later to become known in the West as "algebra"— has come to us as an Arab contraption!

The history books and the poetry collections were, on the other hand, translated for the main part into Persian, the Indo-European language spoken by Northern Iranians who lived in the Khorasan province, a vast area of the country covering most of Central Asia. Tous was the name of one of its cities.

To this very day, some of these works constitute the foundations of Persian culture: in the good city of Tous lived, about a thousand years ago, a certain Ferdowsi who was to undertake the monumental task of translating into Persian what he considered to be the most essential parts of the "XodaÔ Namak", hence fashioning the famous Shah Nameh or Book of Kings. Indeed, the Arab armies had been an overbearing and devastating example of the Persian nation’s military as well as political incapability to face multiple invasions. This had not escaped Ferdowsi’s notice who consequently decided to protect the Aryan culture and civilization at all costs by raising his own version of an invisible "Great Wall of China." Such was, he reasoned, his Shah Nameh’s true mission. This explains why Ferdowsi did not translate all of the XodaÔ Namak. First of all, the task was enormous. Knowing how low the average life expectancy was at the time, a whole life probably would not have been sufficient. Ferdowsi was, in his great wisdom, well aware of this fact.

Beside, not all various chapters of the XodaÔ Namak had the same spiritual force: some merely narrated historical or epic events while others concealed an authentic mystical message, a deep esoteric meaning. Being, above all, an accomplished mystic Sufi, Ferdowsi was perfectly able to identifyand select the passages with a high spiritual content. Those he decided to translate into Persian and record in a book much less voluminous than its original model, although already quite sizable: the Shah Nameh, or Book of Kings.

The Book of Kings 

Staging a constant confrontation between Light and Darkness where mystic knights defend the values of justice, Beauty, Good, and Truth against malefic forces continuously at work, always regenerated and never short of guiles or dark designs, the Shah Nameh is, as a result, a book of indisputable spiritual chivalry. While certain popular traditions glorify traditional physical force, the Shah Nameh extols, instead, the force of humility in front of God.

The more humbled in front of God the hero is, the more he bows to his will and implores his help and support, and the likelier he is to prevail, make decisive advances, and deal fatal blows to his treacherous foes.

Armed by the hand of God, the spiritual knight safeguards civilization and its values from anarchy, injustice, and chaos.

These knights have had to pass seven successive spiritual trials in order to purge themselves from the dragon symbolizing their lower soul, their animal drives and their ego’s seat before acquiring this status. This animal soul of theirs, also called "nafs," is the sum of all primitive instincts, sexuality, violence and aggressiveness at the service of self-complacency, vanity and personal self-centered ambition. Only he who controls his nafs can hope to reach the ultimate step where he comes into contact with the Simorgh, the legendary mythical bird living in the eighth reach, i.e. the world of immortality, heavenly Paradise, beyond the intermediate worlds inhabited by beings still lingering on the long path to perfection. This Simorgh represents, for its part, the ultimate evolution of the mystic’s soul who, upon having reached the end of its journey, has become a magnificent and all-knowing dweller of the spiritual heavens.

The mystic knights are placed under the protection of a spiritual guide —or "pir" in Persian— portrayed as a white haired young man, young as in the eternal youth of those who have reached immortality and, at the same time, white haired as in the wisdom and knowledge of the very old.

This guide, named Zal, is continually in touch with the Simorgh. Since he holds the Simorgh’s feathers, whenever he is confronted with an insuperable impediment, he places one of them in the fire and the Simorgh responds to Zal’s call by descending into the material world to aid him.

The knights’ spiritual guide Zal also is the father of Rostam, the most famous and bravest knight of the Iranian epic.

Having torn the veil separating the sensible from the supersensible worlds, these knights are now active on both sides of this veil. Thereupon, most of the Shah Nameh’s events take place simultaneously in both worlds. Accordingly, the reader must expect "shuttling" between both material and invisible worlds.

The reader must also reflect upon the mystical significance of this Book of Kings’ chivalry tales Ferdowsi raised as an invisible wall against barbarousness and materialism.

Bare eyes may not be able detect it. Yet this wall is no less real: to spot it, one needs a sixth sense latent in all souls. But only mystics have learnt how to develop and use this sense.

Indeed this bulwark has, to this day, effectively insured the survival of an apparently subdued civilization as well as of a Persian culture that preserved its identity for over a thousand years by indefatigably and fully assimilating invading outsiders who literally dissolved into it.

As mentioned earlier, this Shah Nameh is one of the pillars of Persian mystic culture: Mowlana Rumi hints at Rostan in his writings. So does Hafez of Shiraz, who drafted many poems—or "Ghazals"— in the style of the Shah Nameh. Hafez had a copy of the Shah Nameh made for his personal library, and he makes numerous references to it.

Likewise, Saadi imitated the rhythms and style of Ferdowsi’s Book of Kings—of which he quotes many passages—when he drafted his "Boostan," a book of admonitions, in poetic form.

The Book of Kings’ influence on Persian literature and poetry is so immense it remains to this day the object of comprehensive scholarly research.

Ferdowsi’s mission 

Despite the voluminous amount of papers he left behind, Ferdowsi speaks very little about his family and his personal life. The great mystic Sufi that he was insists more on his own love for the prophet Ali. Ferdowsi undertook the translation of the Book of Kings from Pahlavi into Persian as his existence’s spiritual mission. It was to occupy the next thirty-five years he still had to live.

Ferdowsi was a well-to-do man with a substantial wealth when he began his translation. Knowing his was a long-term endeavor, he realized it was going to be very timeconsuming and costly. He thus hired two full-time assistants, a translator and a scribe, to work with him on the writing of the Shah Nameh. Ferdowsi’s "enterprise" worked as a workgroup along a well organized assembly line: the translator would translate a sentence aloud, which Ferdowsi would attempt to transpose forthwith into Persian verse which the scribe would in turn put down on paper; then the scribe would read aloud what he had just written, so that Ferdowsi could amend, if necessary, his verses which the scribe would then rewrite. The procedure would then repeat for the next sentence of the original Pahlavi.

This technique precluded Ferdowsi from exercising any other professional activity for he composed himself the Persian verses of this unimaginable monumental piece. Because of that, he had to sell bit-by-bit all of his belongings in order to keep paying wage to his coworkers and pursue his translation and versification work. The only way of financing his work without drawing from his personal assets would have been to seek subsidies from the state, a common occurrence in those times. Nonetheless, Ferdowsi was well aware that monarchs primarily endow works that flatter and glorify them, and that because of this, he truly was highly unlikely to obtain his king’s support for such a long poem of ancient epics that did not praise the king of Persia in any close or remote fashion.

Hence Ferdowsi withdrew from the world to accomplish his translation. After two decades, the main fundamental parts amongst the most important passages that contained authentic spiritual messages had been translated. By then, Ferdowsi was practically ruined. Some his friends advised him, given his old age for the time—he was over sixty—to send the king a copy of his work to seek financial help from him. This would have enabled him to pursue the Persian translation and versification of the Book of Kings.

Now, fate had it that at that precise time, the Shiite dynasty that ruled Persia was brutally overthrown by Turkish invaders.

They were Sunni. And Ferdowsi was notorious as a Shiite who continually mentioned his faith and his love for Ali in his writings…

Ferdowsi’s request for funding came back from the new Turkish headman of Iran, king Mahmoud, with the answer that should he agree to conceal his Shiite views, he would then pay him thirty thousand golden coins —a colossal sum which would allow him to pursue comfortably his translation— whereas if he kept publicly proclaiming the prophet Ali’s glory, he would have him crushed under his elephants’ feet!

But Ferdowsi had the courage of his opinions!

Above all, he wanted to be able to appear with his head high in front of his master Ali upon his permanent arrival in the next world.

As a perfect mystic, he was certain of life’s continuance after physical death, and ceaselessly readied himself for it, contending that: "Our true dwelling is elsewhere."

For he had seen in a dream the important spiritual mission assigned to him. He knew without fail that he would eventually sink into poverty. Nonetheless he had resigned himself to it because the certainty that this mission was his earthly existence’s most important matter inhabited him. He could thus not give it up for any reason.

Far from yielding to the king and complying with his demands, Ferdowsi chose instead to ignore his threats. He even publicly insulted him, before taking at once the path to exile and becoming an itinerant dervish who roamed from city to city for about fifteen years…Indeed Ferdowsi lived over the age of eighty-three.

The fate of the ancient texts 

The XodaÔ Namak comprised the history of Persia throughout seven millennia, from prehistoric legendary times to the time of the Sassanid kings who had ordered the collection of a number of ancient tales from various sources to compose this imposing book.

A few decades after the Arab invasion and the Sassanid emperors’ fall, pockets of Persian nationalism began to give birth, in various areas of this immense territory, to practically independent actual feudal states. To assert their Aryan identity before the Arab invader, these states began to translate the very old texts harboring the values of Indo-European culture into Persian. Such was the case, in the fourth century of the Hegira (around 1,000 CE), of the state of Safarid, located in present Baluchistan, east of Iran, where a prose translation of the XodaÔ Namak was first initiated.

Likewise, a considerable impulse towards the translation of ancient texts, including that of "Kalileh and Demnah," blossomed in Samanid, the last independent Iranian state where Persian culture and Shiite tradition was flourishing before the Turkish invasion.

The adventures this "Kalileh and Demnah" underwent deserve to be narrated, so that one can fully comprehend how chaotic the fate of an ancestral text can be and how it can undergo many successive translations. Let us open a parenthesis on this subject: The original text of the "Kalileh and Demnah" was written in Sanskrit about five thousand years ago. Brought to Iran during Sassanid times, it was translated into Pahlavi, the common language of the time, by wise men from the royal court. A certain Ibn Moqafa then translated the text into Arabic after the Sassanids fell. Then, as we wrote earlier, the Samanids translated "Kalileh and Demnah" into Persian: the great poet Roudaki put it into verse at that time. This very text by Roudaki was later imported to Europe and translated into Latin where it greatly inspired seventeenth century CE French fable writer La Fontaine for the great majority of his fables, which were in fact nothing but a loose French translation of Roudaki’s poems! Lastly, La Fontaine’s fables influenced in turn in Khadjar times, i.e. in the nineteenth century CE, an Iranian poet by the name of Iradj Mirza, who translated some of them into Persian, in the form of very simple and very popular verses… thus completing the loop!

Birth of a vocation 

Iran considered Roudaki, who had translated "Kalileh and Demnah" into Persian poems, as the biggest poet of his time. Born in Samanid times the same year Roudaki died, Ferdowsi who was immersed in this nationalist Shiite culture could not fail to be influenced by his illustrious elder.

It could not escape Ferdowsi’s daily notice that a number of his fellow countrymen knew protracted passages of "Kalileh and Demnah" by heart. He then understood that, because of its ability to live in people’s memory, poetry was his message’s best vehicle. Further, Ferdowsi had, since his early youth, an unquestionable gift for poetry. He versified with great ease, creating for his own pleasure and for art’s sake attractive musical poems, telling histories excerpted from very ancient tales.

A few years earlier, another poet, named Daqiqi, had undertaken the task of translating the XodaÔ Namak into Persian. A Zoroastrian, Daqiqi had begun his translation with a passage telling the prophet Zarathoustra’s story but his slave murdered him after he completed the translation of one thousand lines.

Ferdowsi was only forty years old when this murder took place. Unlike other poets of his time, he did not frequent the royal court, preferring instead to live his life away from worldliness, between poetry, his hobby, and the management of his business, for he belonged to a well-to-do social class called "Dehqan" made up of deeply rooted landowners: his family owned vast lands tilled by numerous farmers.

Ferdowsi was entertaining the idea of translating the XodaÔ Namak for his own pleasure when one night, he had a dream which was determining for the remainder of his long earthly existence. In this dream, he met Daqiqi in a magnificent flowery garden shaded by big trees. Daqiqi held in his right hand a cup of delicious wine. Approaching

Ferdowsi, he raised slightly his cup and told Ferdowsi this wine must be drunk only in king Kavous’ honor. Kavous was the famous king of the great Persian epic told in the XodaÔ Namak, and Ferdowsi understood right away, once he collected himself, that Daqiqi had just entrusted him from the next world with the mission of translating the XodaÔ Namak into Persian.

According to some stories, Ferdowsi went the next day to a Sufi master who lived in his city of Tous, to ask him for permission and for the courage to perform this long-term mission. This master was known as Sheik Mahmoud Ma’chouq Toussi.

When he accepted this mission, Ferdowsi was perfectly aware that undertaking this pursuit would bring him no material benefit. On the contrary, he would have to devote most of his wealth to it.

He also realized this was a twenty or thirty years affair, if not more!

Despite all the difficulties this meant for him, he threw himself into this mission because, besides being firmly convinced of the necessity of defending Aryan culture vis-‡-vis Arab occupants, Ferdowsi believed above all in the truthfulness of messages delivered through the channel of dreams.

Indeed Ferdowsi himself wrote that dreaming is a path towards supersensory knowledge, a window on the metaphysical world: During sleep, clear minds see the reality of all things as one sees the fire on the water.

Do not think that the dream you see is a light matter, for dream is a faculty proper to prophets, he writes.

Ferdowsi even gives a number of technical explanations in regard to dreams, and in particular to the influence of the moon and the travel of celestial bodies and other cosmic bodies as contributing to the creation of the adequate conditions for the supersensible world’s door to open in the human soul. For he who, like Ferdowsi, believes in the truthfulness of dreams, the message of a dream is even more important than an order personally handed down by the king himself: it definitely stands at a higher level since messages delivered in dreams emanate from higher spirits which represent divinity itself…

This is why this mission became a top priority for Ferdowsi. Nothing would be able to make him deviate from the path he had taken: Ferdowsi now took into account the message contained in his dream whose secret he had decoded.

What matters most, indeed, is not the ability to dream, but rather the ability to interpret these dreams. To be able to decipher the symbols that are the most common mode of expression of dreams, it is necessary to know their language. This knowledge is generally recognized as being germane to prophets and clairvoyants.

Ferdowsi goes on to explain that the learning and the mastery of this language have nothing to do either with experience, nor with age, nor with academic transmission. Rather, it is an entirely innate faculty. Some are capable of it, as if their soul knew this language, just as we may know a language other than the one that we usually speak.

That is why stories that he went to a Sufi master to confirm this mission and receive his spiritual support are definitely believable, and even very reasonable.

Ferdowsi also writes in Shah Nameh that he saw Daqiqi who told him in a dream: I have already translated one thousand verses; when you reach the passage which I translated, quote exactly my verses, so that my own name also abide in history…

Ferdowsi very scrupulously honored this request!

When, in the course of his own translation, he gets to the passage previously translated by Daqiqi, he stops translating, quotes very faithfully Daqiqi’s one thousand thirty five lines, not without criticizing afterwards his style which he finds approximate and not much to his taste…

It should also be noted that this last dream is a direct exchange, which by no means calls upon the symbolic language most often encountered in significant dreams.

This infers that Ferdowsi saw Daqiqi in two different dreams, very remote in time: a first dream, entirely symbolic, seen before taking up his translation of the Book of Kings, and which was to determine his vocation, and the second, much more direct, undoubtedly seen just before getting to the translation of the passage already previously translated by Daqiqi, located about forty thousand lines after the beginning of the Shah Nameh. This probably puts these two dreams almost twenty years apart, a time during which Ferdowsi translated without respite!

Many fanciful and unfounded stories on Ferdowsi’s life, contrived by story tellers decades after his death, exist. In this matter as in many others, it is necessary to know how to sort things, and sift seeds from weeds, so as not to lose the thread of what his existence and his deep motives really were.

The surest, in this particular case, is to trust only what Ferdowsi himself reported, and amongst others things, the two above mentioned dreams, which show well to what point Ferdowsi was persuaded of the truthfulness of dreams.

In view of what himself wrote on the subject, it cannot be doubted that Ferdowsi was, throughout his life, led on the spiritual path by way of dreams.

The poet’s death 

We remember that in Ferdowsi’s time, while he had already completed the major part of the Book of Kings, Sultan Mahmoud’s Turkish armies invaded Persia. From then on, Sunni Moslems dominated the country and Shiites were removed from strategic positions and even chased by the country’s new masters. Shiite Persians would, from then on, hide their actual faith under the appearances of orthodox Sunnis.

In the eleventh century CE, more exactly in the year 412 of the Hegira, Ferdowsi breathed his last at age eighty-three.

Now, that Ferdowsi was a Shiite was notorious. His poems, which refer ceaselessly to his faith and love for Ali, broadcast it.

For this reason, the imam of the city of Tous where Ferdowsi had lived and just died, refused to bury him religiously in the Muslim cemetery. So, the late poet’s close relatives subsequently took his body to bury him in a small garden located outside of the city’s bulwarks. Just as his body was going through the city gate on its way to its resting place, a messenger of the Sultan was entering the town through exactly the opposite door, carrying the thirty thousand golden coins the Turkish Sultan had eventually agreed to give Ferdowsi to subsidize his work… But it was too late! And the poet’s daughter sent the messenger with all his gold back, refusing categorically, as her father would probably have done, the monarch’s belated reward.

The Sultan decided to use these thirty thousand golden coins to build a dike, which allowed for the irrigation of the city of Tous.

Twenty-seven years after Ferdowsi’s death and the episode of the golden coins bearing messenger, a famous traveling Sufi by the name of Nasser Khosrow vouched having seen that dike dedicated to the Book of Kings’ great author.

Let us return to Ferdowsi’s burial: it is customary, upon a Muslim’s death, for a cleric to pray over his body. And the imam of Tous had refused to bestow this ultimate honor upon the Shiite poet.

The chroniclers report that Sheik Abol Qassem Coraqani, the Sufi Grand Master of the time who was considered to be the spiritual guide of his time, took himself to Ferdowsi’s burial where he led the prayer. Now, considering the troubled circumstances of the time, when Shiites, and Sufis in particular, had better be as discreet as possible vis-‡-vis the Sunni occupant, this gesture from the Grand Master means a lot. Indeed, he certainly would not have taken the risk to display so openly his Shiite belief by defying the official imam’s religious authority had there been no master to disciple bond between him and the deceased. This heavily symbolic gesture shows with certainty that Ferdowsi was a very close disciple of the mystic Grand Master.

Several historians have claimed in earnest that the Sufi Sheik was not actually present to Ferdowsi’s interment. It would thus have been a very private affair, without the presence of any religious authority. The latter historians say the Sheik went to Ferdowsi’s grave not on the same day but the day after the burial, and it is at this time that he recited the prayer of the dead in honor of his deceased follower.

What is certain, it is that Sheik Abol Qassem Coraqani wrote having seen at this moment a dream showing the state of Ferdowsi’s soul after his physical death. The sheik writes he met in Paradise, in a luxuriant, green and flowery garden, Ferdowsi dressed with a big "abba" or dervish dress, green in color, with a crown on his head in the center of whichshone a magnificent jewel bright green in color too.

For a mystic like the Sheik, all these symbols show without ambiguity the very high spiritual rank occupied by the great poet’s spirit in the mystic heavens of the eighth climate, beyond the seven intermediate worlds inhabited by the vast company of lesser evolved souls.

It is upon awakening that the Sheik allegedly went, after he saw this dream, across the city to recite the prayer of the dead on Ferdowsi’s grave.

The way of dreams 

This dream by Sheik Abol Qassem Coraqani is, after the two above-mentioned ones, what determined the poet’s vocation as a translator, the third dream of utmost importance in Ferdowsi’s life.

This third dream reveals to us the poet’s spiritual connection to the Sufi Grand Master of his time. For him, dreaming was part of the world of prophecy, and a holy spirit was capable of seeing everything through the mirror of dreams!

Yet, Ferdowsi was not a cleric attached to dogma and literalism but rather, a mystic upholding his spiritual beliefs on his experiences of the invisible world in his master’s pathway.

Indeed his hometown of Tous was at the time the historic center of Sufism: most mystic great masters of Iranian Sufism lived right there, in the heart of the Khorasan province, and at the time of Ferdowsi, around 1,000 CE.

All that which constitutes the essence of Sufism, its meditation techniques, the Zekr and the Fekr, the very word "dervish," originates from this cradle of historical Sufism: it is in this part of the country, and more particularly in the city of Tous, that the transition from ancient Mazdean Iran to esoteric Islamic Iran as represented by Shiite Sufism took place.

Indeed, when the Arabs invaded Persia through Mesopotamia, the magi of the time collected the most important manuscripts and, to safeguard them from the invaders, sent them to the far North Eastern part of the country, towards the province of Khorasan.

When, following the decisive battle of Qadessieh, the last Sassanid king fled, all the writings recording the ancient Aryan Mazdeans’ science, culture and spirituality had been brought together far away from the major cities of central and Southern Iran, on the outer reaches of central Asia’s mountains. Thus, this region became for the keepers of ancient Zoroastrian mysteries and the ancestral knowledge of Persian tradition a kind of sanctuary where the flame of the magi’s wisdom kept glimmering.

During the Christianizing of Europe between the sixth and the tenth century of the Christian era, the ancient druids’ had endeavored to keep their sacred science, which was not written but exclusively orally transmitted from master to disciple, alive by merging into the new monastic orders. Subsequently, those keepers of the Celts’ esoteric learnedness in the West used the construction of cathedrals to try and pass their science on. Likewise, the magi of ancient Persia used similar stratagems to insure the survival of what constituted the essence and the spiritual foundations of their civilization. Luckily, a good part of this knowledge was written, barely veiled in the form of tales and epic stories.

As the country got progressively Islamized, the erudite translators adapted the Mazdean values to the features of conquering Islam, in particular to the Qur’anic verses having an esoteric value. There indeed are two types of verses in the Qur’an: those that simply have an exoteric value, without hidden meaning, and those that have an esoteric meaning, a deeply spiritual message, conveying universal truths.

It is in this atmosphere of Persian nationalism and active spirituality in the background of an irresistible Islamization that Ferdowsi was born in the year 329 of the Hegira in the city of Tous where he lived, surrounded with the most important spiritual Sufis masters of his time.

Ferdowsi thus quotes in his Shah Nameh about forty dreams that are essential to the understanding of the story and progression of events. We can even say that, in general, every event of the Shah Nameh arises from a dream explaining and motivating it. As we stated earlier, before having consequences in the physical world, the Book of Kings first takes place in the invisible world.

The values of Iranian spirituality 

This feature is characteristic of the Persian Weltanschauung, for whom supersensory knowledge plays a fundamental role, contrary, for example, to the Greeks known to be more rationalistic and less visionary.

The Book of Kings epitomizes these fundamental values of Iranian culture and spirituality: the eternal preeminence of the supersensory world on the physical world, man’s powerlessness to change his fate without assistance from spiritual forces, and the necessity for each one to take care first hand of his own spiritual progress, knowing that, rich or poor, prince or beggar, everyone shall have to leave this world some day. It is thus advisable to ready ourselves for this unavoidable step.

Such are the essential messages of the Shah Nameh.

Its knights are powerless in front of death and cannot change their fate.

It is a book of wisdom, replete with mystic symbols, and placed under the protection of the wings of the Simorgh, the great mythical bird who inhabits spiritual heavens and intervenes in Persian history under the guise of the winged man of Persepolis’ famous bas-reliefs.

The great knight Rostam is the only one of the epic to have successfully passed the seven tests of spiritual chivalry, and as such, the Simorgh’s shadow is always over his head.

In his book The Language of Birds, Attar explains how a bird should proceed in order to pass the seven spiritual tests. In his Shah Nameh, Ferdowsi shows the role played by the Simorgh in the history of humanity.

Thus the Shah Nameh is essentially, above all, a mystic book.

Nonetheless Ferdowsi was not able to complete his monumental work. The XodaÔ Namak contains stories that convey a spiritual message, such as the legend of the old man Arach, which Ferdowsi would no doubt have liked to translate into Persian.

The legend of the old man Arach 

This legend takes place during an invasion. A Turkish army had descended from the northern mountains towards the Iranian plateau where it defeated the Persian army and penetrated all the way to the center of the country. The defeated Iranians asked for a truce bounding new borders. The Turks wanted to further humiliate their defeated opponents.

They then suggested that an Iranian archer, placed at the edge of the territory conquered by the Turkish advance, would cast an arrow northward, in the direction of the former border located thousands of miles from there. The point of impact of the Iranian arrow would bound the new border! The Turks chortled: even cast by an experimented archer and carried over by the wind, an arrow could not reasonably span over a few hundreds yards! There could be no doubt in their minds that they had got hold of the most part of the rich Iranian plains. They knew this would humble the brilliant Persian civilization…

Then an old man by the name of Arach volunteered to cast the arrow.

While he may not have been a man of great physical strength, Arach was a man of a great wisdom, a substantially evolved man. He rose to the top of a mountain and launched his arrow.

But at the very same time, he had his soul leave his physical body and carry the arrow in the airs all the way to the Turkish border, where it pierced the trunk of a tree in the city of Marv, in present Tajikistan. Borne by the old man’s soul, the arrow had journeyed for a whole day, and thus traveled for two or three thousand miles!

Arach had sacrificed himself for Persia’s independence by putting his soul in this arrow.

The message of Arach’s legend is that a spiritually evolved man can, even singlehandedly, perform miracles, and, in this particular case, succeed where an entire army had failed, i.e. in driving the enemy out and in guaranteeing the country’s independence.

This tale is a critical regarding the role of substantially evolved men in a nation’s historical evolution.

Iran’s history is, in particular, strewed with interventions of isolated mystics who likewise influenced the course of historic events in a decisive fashion.

This legend excerpted from the XodaÔ Namak shows, if need be, that the main lead of the ancient Book of Kings in Pahlavi was also about pure spirituality, not the heroic knights’ deftness or physical force.

Immersed since his earliest childhood in the Sufi culture of his home town of Tous, Ferdowsi believed in these same values and this eminently spiritual book immediately found an echo in the heart of the young poet who was enthused with it: what Ferdowsi actually reveals his reader throughout his Book of Kings is his own personality and his spiritual life, as in a mirror of the soul. 

bonyad@erfan-gonabadi.com