Monday, March 14, 2005

storytime: rustam & the akwân dêw

this story comes from the shahnama of ferdowsi of tus (فردوسی طوسی, d. 1020), a persian epic that contains stories and legends dating back to the pre-islamic period of irån. this particular story is about the tussle of the hero rustam with "the akvân dêw". cousin with the sanskrit ("indian") word dêva "god" (and more distantly with latin deus "god"), dêw is the middle persian word for a demon.

zoroastrianism, which developed during the pre-islamic sasanian period out of indigenous persian religion, took the opposite stance that the people of india did: of the traditional two kinds of gods, they took the ahuras to be good, as seen in the old persian name for the one true god, ahura mazdâ or "ahura Wisdom" (versus sanksrit asura "demon"), and the second type to refer to evil divinities (worshipped by heretics or "daevics" in the provinces), the dêwas.

in modern fårsi, rustam's name, rostæm, sounds roughly like english "roast am", the word for demon, div, sounds like "deev", and the demon's actual name, ækun, sounds like "racoon" without the r.


the ruler of irån, called kæy kævus, learnt his great herds of fine horses was being depleted. a giant, red-gold onanger (the wild ass, which is native to persia and india) with a wicked black stripe running from his nose to tail, was killing his stallions, snapping their necks. this is how horses fight, but an ass killing his mightiest horses is like a coyote ripping his way through a pack of rottweilers - highly improbable.

"wild ass of persia", colonel h. smith. published in 1841 in the naturalist's library, vol. 'Equestrian' (sir william jardine, ed.)

the kæy had to move fast. he called on the greatest hero he had, the mighty rostæm (who appears wearing a tasteful hat made out of a kitty's face in every painting i've encountered - check below). rostæm agrees to mount his horse, rækhsh (not like that, you pervs!), and kill that asinine problem. (get it? asinine? ha ha!)

bravely did the greatest hero of the land ride out to shoot a donkey on his mighty warhorse, but he was in for a surprise. (though perhaps we weren't.)

see, every time horse-splitting rostæm - whose arrows could cleave a horse perfectly in two so that each half then weighed the same - got a good shot, he missed. he rode around and around chasing that damned ass all day, and when he could get an angle, the evil beast felt it coming somehow and dodged it, like it had eyes in the back of its head.

"rostam chases the onager" by muzzafar ali (c.1530)

finally, rostæm decided to make it a night. lying down with his horse (dirty, dirty! bad reader!), he fell fast asleep. shooting arrows with his magic kitty hat on is tiring work.

unsurprisingly, the plot now thickens. see, the onager was actually a div, and a well-hung one at that - don't believe me, check the miniatures below! once our hero was snoring away, the div ækun snook'd up on him and picked him up, lifting the very ground on which rostæm lay over his head, ready to hurl him into the distance: the original WWF smackdown, only without the acting and trickery. this would be the end of rostæm! he'd be nothing but ros-jam, crushed against the rocks of the mountaintops and then slowly frozen solid by the cold there!

left: "Rostam Carried by the Div Akvan": Folio 158 verso, Shahnama, mid-17th century; Safavi d. Signed by Mu3in Musavvir (active ca. 1638–97), Isfahan.
right: "The Div Akvan Hurling Rostam into the Sea as he Sleeps on a Rock"; probably Qazvin (c. 1570).

now our hero, wearing his requisite kitty-faced hat, had to think fast before he was ros-jam. luckily, he'd been watching buffy reruns the week before and remembered the div ækun had a fatal weakness: you could trick him through reverse psychology. our brave, kitty-hatted rostæm thus spoke:

"oh great-shlonged div, i am so glad you are going to hurl me to a hero's death on the peaks! i am terrified of the ocean: all those beasts and monsters make me piss my pants in terror, and that's a double-lousy way to die. imagine! eaten by monsters while you float in a warm spot! thank goodness you are such a merciful enemy!"

"aha!" thought our great, golden (or blue?) div. "i shall shame this wanker by hurling him 'mongst the eels and fishies!"

and he did. he threw that puny hoo-man right into the ocean, which was lucky because rostæm had a big chunk of rock and earth to break the water tension and prevent him from being splatted like a bridge-jumper. wading to shore, he wielded his brave sword, slicing those ferocious fishes into pieces.

now rostæm was pissed. his kitty-hat was all wet, and so was his bow and armour, which he shucked off as ruined, and not only that, he had to walk all the way back to the wilderness to kick that demon's ass.

but now he was prepared. he snook'd up behind the demon, who was snoring away with many satisfied fillies around him, and snicker-snack! went his vorpal blade.

rostæm, triumphant, returned to the court on her horse, rækhsh, bearing the demon's head. everyone marvelled appreciatively, pretending not to notice he was all gross from the salt dried on him and smelled from a week's worth of hiking, plus his kitty hat was in a sad shape and his hair - just appalling. then they went back to more important things, like last night's episode of lost and cocktail parties.

the end.

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