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Presented By: Medieval and Early Modern Studies (MEMS)

MEMS Faculty Showcase. Early Islamic World 3: Monsters and Humans in Medieval Persian Epic

Cameron Cross, U-M Middle East Studies

British Library OR 4615. f. 3v British Library OR 4615. f. 3v
British Library OR 4615. f. 3v
How to Tame a Dragon: Monstrous Bodies and the Ontology of Evil in the Poems of Īrānshāh ibn Abi'l-khayr

Whether externally manifested by demons, or internalized as the human flaws of greed, hatred, and hubris, the nature of evil is a driving question in Iranian mythology and epic, particularly in Firdawsī's famous Shāh-nāma (w. 1010). In dialogue with that work, I will take up the far less well-known example of Īrānshāh b. Abi'l-khayr (fl. ca. 1100), who composed two epics set in the world of the Shāh-nāma that questions the ontology of evil through its treatment of human and monstrous bodies. The Bahman-nāma begins with a prince's desire to avenge the death of his father, an ostensibly admirable goal that soon devolves into an obsessive quest to eradicate every trace of Rustam's semi-demonic family from the earth. The (anti-)hero of the Kōsh-nāma, in contrast, is a hideous demon who commits unspeakable acts for thousands of lines, only to turn over a new leaf at the end of the poem. By following the transformation of these two protagonists, Īrānshāh offers two portraits of evil that complicate questions raised by Firdawsī: what is the line that separates hero and monster? Can evil deeds ever be redeemed, and is the fight against evil necessarily good?
British Library OR 4615. f. 3v British Library OR 4615. f. 3v
British Library OR 4615. f. 3v

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