Among the most eye-catching features observable on the cultural materials of 12th-14th centuries, are painted or drawn scenes which narrate a specific story and can be classified as “narrative motifs”. One of these narrative motifs are scenes which depict Faridun’s victory over Zahhak. These motifs bring the famous story of Zahhak in Firdowsi’s Shahname to the mind. Most researchers consider these motifs exactly in the same vein i.e. as part of “Shahname-related motifs”. But this author is doubtful on asttributing these motifs to Firdowsi’s grand masterpiece. The main question here is to understand that how and in which regard this motif can be related to Firdowsi’s story of Faridun. To reach to an answer two kinds of evidence have been studied: pictorial narratives; and written narrative which describe the story of Faridun. For this reason, in the first step, all the depictions related to this story from the 12th through the 14th centuries, have been described. The repeated and distinctive motifs in these depictions have been discussed under the thematic subject termed the “Mace-wielding bull-rider”. In the second step, this thematic subject has been compared with written narratives from Firdowsi’s Shahname and the other historical sources. considering the fact that the main data used here are depictions that lack any written descriptions, the earliest illustrated manuscripts of Shahname were also studied so that we can reach a more comprehensive conclusion. In the last section, the author, by collating the pictorial and written documents, refutes the theory that takes the Shahname as the origin of the depictions of Faridun’s victory over Zahhak, and explain its as an independent and distinct narrative of Faridun’s Story.
Keywords: Narrative, Firdowsi’s Shahname, Faridun, Zahhak, Bull-rider, 12th-14th centuries.
Research on cultural materials from 12-17th centuries show that in this period use of visual language reached an unprecedented apex. Among the most important subjects depicted in this period, scenes of War and Festivities, scenes different personalities on throne, Astronomical scenes and Narratives scenes can be mentioned. The last, i. e. Narrative images, is one of the most challenging part of this body of Iranian visual culture. These scenes have been depicted on potteries, tiles, vessels, metal objects, textiles and murals. Many researchers consider these scenes to be mainly derived from the great book of kings written by Firdowsi. Stories such as Bahram-e gur and Azade, Bizhan and Manizhe, and Faridun and Zahhak are among the most famous “Shahname-related figures.” Considering the fact that the first illustrated manuscripts of Shahname belong to 8th century A. H./ 14th century A. D., The importance of depictions on other material culture, which have been created 300 years before the first illustrated manuscripts, becomes clear. In another word, the tradition of illustrating scenes from the book of kings’ Stories began 300 earlier. whether there was any illustrated Shahname before the 14th century is a matter of debate, but many researchers who work on the earliest manuscripts of Shahname use the material culture created before the 13th century as a reliable point of reference in their study. In their opinion the “Depicted Shahname-related Scenes” are vital links which connect the time of creation of the firdowsi’s book to its first extant written manuscripts. All of these opinions are based on the assumption that the book by firdowsi is the main source of scenes painted on these material culture. This author is doubtful on this matter. It seems that many of these “Shahname-related figures” were not studies so that their relationship to the actual text of Shahname become transparent. Besides, till now none of these motifs have been studies individually. Here the “Mace-wielding bull-rider” visual pattern is chosen to clarify the relationship between the Shahname-related figures and the actual text of Firdowsi’s Shahname.
Materials and Methods
Typical objects with scenes of Fariduns’s victory over Zahhak are Mina’I bowls on which the inner parts are completely covered by painting. Other specimens are luster bowl and tiles and some metal vessels. In most specimens, scenes are depicted from left to right.
Three characters can be recognized in these scenes; each one has specific attributes which are numerated below (Tab. 1)
Here considering the central position of the mace-wielding bull-rider and its larger stature, he is the most important character in the scene. In all depiction of this specific scene in this period, the large body of the bull has been intentionally emphasized so that the focus of observer’s attention will be directed toward this part of the scene.
Among the characters’ attributes, the snake on the shoulders of one of the characters clearly identify him as Zahhak and the bounded hands and naked upper body refer to his defeat. Thus, the central person is none but Faridun who, in epic narrative, is closely related to bulls and wields a bull-shaped mace. The person who raises the flag is probably no one but Kaveh, the Iron-smith who began the rebellion against Zahhak. Therefore, this becomes clear that the creator of this scene has used some figurative signs to show the main attributes through which these characters can be identified. This scene clearly shows the victory of Faridun over Zahhak.
When comparing the “mace-wielding bull-rider” visual pattern with Firdowsi version of the story, this should be mentioned that although the story of Fardiun is one of the longest and most important throughout Shahname, taking Zahhak to Damavand is described very briefly, in only two couplets (Firdowsi 1987: 84). In contrast, the mace-wielding bull-rider pattern, depicts exactly this neglected scene. Beside this, in the first look, there are two major narrative differences between this visual pattern and Firdowsi’s story: first, according to Firdowsi, Kaveh was not present when Faridun took Zahhak to Damavand. Second, in Firdowi, Faridun put Zahhak on a ride and then take him to Damavand, but on the Visual pattern, he is on foot.
An important Iconographic point here is depicting Faridun as a bull-rider. This attribute is emphasized to such an extent that this motif can be calld “mace-wielding bull-rider”. some secondary attributes (For example mace of Fardiun or nakedness of Zahhak) or characters (Zahhak or Kaveh) are absent in some specimen, but this never occurs in the case of Faridun and the bull. Here it should be reminded that in Shahname, Faridun never rides a bull. In Shahname, especially in story of his rebellion against Zahhak, he specifically rides horses. It seems that the use of bull as constant motif on this visual pattern is intentional and not an accident or mistake. Here it is vital to resort to other sources beside Shahname. In Tarikh-e Tabarestan and Zin al-akhbar (both written in the 5th century A. H.) Faridun rides a bull (Ibn-e Isfandiyar 1941: 57-8; Gardizi 1984: 524). In Nouruzname, Faridun is a personality who never use horses (Khayyam1951: 51). The same conclusion can be drawn from Aburayhan Biruni (4th century A. H.) and Ibn-e Balkhi (Biruni 1998: 346; Ibn-e Balkhi 1984: 12). Therefore, this visual pattern is closer to the texts which were written before Firdwosi.
One of the most important and extensive visual patterns on the material culture form the 6th to 8th centuries/ 11 to 13th century, is depiction of captured Zahhak who is being taken by Faridun to mount Damavand. Here this visual pattern is defined as “mace-wielding bull-rider” scene. Three persons (Faridun, Kaveh and Zahhak) are depicted in this scene and every one of them has his own iconographical attribute. The main question of this study was to understand the extent that these attributes were related to Firdowsi’s Shahname. Intimate study of these attribute and verses in Shahname, showed that some of the main motifs especially Faridun’s bull-riding is not mentioned in Shahname but is described in other, earlier, sources. Therefore, this visual pattern is not related to Shahname, and in fact, it is an independent interpretation of story of Faridun by artists from this period who were influenced by wide variety of Sources, both oral and written.