Sunday, October 09, 2022

Bringing Hard Back

I have finished Anthony Sattin's 'Nomads: the wanderers who shaped our world' (passim). Got in the habit of walking down to the Canedo Cafe at the end of the road of an early evening and reading twenty or thirty pages over a glass of red. So much more satisfying than Kindle in fact that I have splashed out on another hardback, 'Roland in Moonlight' by David Bentley Hart. A physical book, red wine, and cheese of an evening perhaps? Living for pleasure alone!

Nomads sat very well with my current interests. It begins and ends in Iran's Zagros Mountains; topped and tailed with the author encountering and meditating on the Bakhtari tribe's annual migration. Between this alpha and omega though it is a real page turner. He casts his net so wide that one never knows what the next paragraph may bring. This is praise not criticism. For example, I was genuinely staggered to discover that the quagmire that was the Scythian campaign of Persia's Darius I, was mostly fought in what is now called ........ Ukraine. The parallels with 2022's Putin/Zelensky standoff are uncanny.

Page 300:

Then, out of nowhere: 'Do you know my name comes from our Shahnameh?'

Shahnameh ... Ferdowsi's great poem of Persian and Zoroastrian history is still as fresh and relevant as when it was composed a thousand years ago. Its 50,000 couplets start at the dawn of time and end with the Arab conquest, moving from the mythical to the heroic to the historic. Shahnameh, the Book of Kings, was an attempt to preserve the culture of a Persian world that had been overwhelmed by Arabs, Turks and by Islam. It was an act of setting down intended to preserve the language, culture and history of nomadic Zoroastrian Persia. In the Shahnameh, Fereydun is the heroic king who frees Iran from a foreign power and stands as an archetype for the strong, just ruler. Siyavash is a tragic prince of such extraordinary beauty that his face blazes like a planet and whoever sees it falls in love with him. Other great heroes none greater nor more heroic than Rostom dance through the epic couplets as they do through the lives and imagination of Bakhtiari, who are often mourned after death with a full recitation of Ferdowsi's masterpiece.

Which is where we came in, having found many tie ins to the Shahnameh in the 1,001 Nights; up to the six hundred and eighty oddth story now. Also Robert Irwin (passim) is name-checked in Sattin's book for having read and commented on a draft.

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