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. Iranian Mythology


 By:  Professor A. SHAPUR SHAHBAZI


Iraj, the youngest son of Ferêdun and the eponymous hero of the Iranians in their traditional history. A cluster of legends in the Avesta, Pahlavi books, Sasanian-based Arabic and Persian sources and particularly in the Šâh-nâma of Ferdowsi have elevated Iraj to the rank of a favorite hero who is at once the name-giver of the Iranian nation, the ancestor of their royal houses and a paragon of those slain in defense of just causes.

The most developed form of the story of Iraj is given by Ferdowsi (Šâh-nâma, ed. Khaleghi, I, pp. 92-157) in an episode remarkable for its eloquence and picturesque language (rendered in an abridged prose version by Yarshater, 1959, pp. 47-60, 62-79).

Fifty years into his reign as the king of the world, Ferêdun (q.v.) begot three sons. As they came of age, he searched out three royal sisters for them as wives, finding them in the daughters of Sarv, king of Yemen. Sarv invited the princes to Yemen to appraise their worth; satisfied, he gave them his daughters in marriage. On their way back, Ferêdun decided to test his sons' characters by assuming the form of a fire-belching dragon and rushing towards them furiously. The oldest fled to safety, saying that only a fool would fight a dragon. The second accepted the challenge with reckless courage. The youngest went forward gallantly and cried out that they were sons of Ferêdun and feared no monster. Reappearing in person, Ferêdun welcomed them to his palace and, "seating them upon the thrones of majesty," revealed the truth; he added: "I have chosen fit [throne] names for you" (Š, ed. Khaleghi, I, p. 105). The eldest, who wisely sought "safety" (salâmat), he called Salm (here wrongly interpreted as derived from Arabic slm); the second, who showed unrestrained daring, he named Tur (i.e., tur, "reckless, brave"); and to the youngest, who exhibited the right character of prudent bravery and was thus "alone worthy of praise," he gave the name "Iraj" (i.e., from êr "noble"). Then Ferêdun "divided the world" into three realms. He created one kingdom for Salm by joining Rum and the West (kh); China and Turân he assigned to Tur, who became known as Turânšâh; and on Iraj he bestowed Iran and Arabia as well as the golden throne, crown of chiefs, and the royal seal (ibid., p. 107).

The three ruled over their respective kingdoms "for a long time"; but in Ferêdun's old age Salm revealed the extreme envy he felt towards Iraj for having received the choicest share, and he incited Tur to rebellion. The two met and sent an envoy to Ferêdun ordering him to assign a remote region to Iraj or else prepare to fight his two sons. Hoping to reconcile his brothers with their father, even if it meant himself renouncing the throne, Iraj went to them. They received him wrathfully, their envy increased by hearing their own troops murmuring "none but Iraj deserves the imperial rule and the hat of nobility" (ibid., p. 118). Incited by Salm, Tur slew Iraj and sent his head to Ferêdun. The grief-stricken king prayed for a descendant of Iraj to avenge his murder. His prayers were answered. One of Iraj's ladies called Mâhâfarid bore a daughter, whom Ferêdun later gave in marriage to his own nephew Pešang (ibid., p. 125 with n. 18). The couple engendered a son, whom Ferêdun named Manuchehr and raised as his own heir. After coming of age, Manuchehr slew Salm and Tur, whereupon Ferêdun abdicated in his favor and died soon after.

Tha'âlebi (Gh, pp. 41-60) gives the same account, which suggests that both he and Ferdowsi drew from a common source, most likely the Š of Abu Mansáur Mohammad b. 'Abd-al-Razzâq. The Kuš-nâma (pp. 609-54) reproduces this account with some elaborations, such as the alliance of Salm and Kuš, a nephew of Zahhâk. In the account by Tabari (I, pp. 226-30, 430-34), Ferêdun assigns the lands of the Turks and Khazars together with China to Tuj; Rum, and the lands of the Slavs and al-Burjân (Georgia) to Sarm, and "the center of the world" called Khonâratò (Av. xúaniraƒa) and known to Iraj as Irânšahr. This partition is based on the idea that the world was divided into "Seven climes". Others who give the story in its essentials include Bal'ami (ed. Bahâr, pp. 148-50), Maqdesi (Bad÷ III, pp. 144-46), Mas'udi (Moruj, pp. 115-17, 140-41, 240), Ebn Khordâdòbeh (p. 15: "Êrân, who is Iraj"), and Hamza (p. 33). Dinavari (p. 9) also refers to Airaj, Salm, and Tus (for *Tuš < Tuch) sons of Nimrod (= Ferêdun], and Manušehr son of Airaj. All but Dinavari consider Manuchehr a remote descendant of Iraj (see Yarshater, 1983, p. 433). Most were aware that the name Iran derived from êrej/Iraj (see also Qoddâma, Ketâb al-kherâj, p. 234: "Iran is an attribute relating to êr"). A tradition affected by Hebrew-Persian syncretism claimed that "Iran son of Aswad son of Sâm" had ten sons who gave their names to various regions of Irânšahr: Khorasan, Sakastân, Kerman, Mokrân, Isfahan, Gilân, Sabadân, Jorjân, Azerbaijan, and Armenân (Yâqut, Boldân I, p. 418). "Irajid by descent" (Iraji-zâdeh) is attested as a synonym for "Iranian" (Daqiqi in the Šâh-nâma, ed. Khaleqi, V, p. 100, v. 253).

The legend of Iraj can be traced back to Pahlavi and Avestan literatures. According to the Ayâdgâr î Jâmâspîg (4.39-45 in Messina, 1939, pp. 44-46), Ferêdun divided "the entire world" between his three sons based on their ideals: Salm, who desired great riches, received the [wealthy] land of Rum; Tôz (Tur), who asked for valor, received Turkistan [the land of warriors], and Êrich (Iraj), who desired law and religion, (dât u dên), received Êrânšahr together with Ferêtôn's crown and royal glory (xúar™nah), whereby his descendants were destined to have the royalty and sovereignty over those of his brothers. Envious of their younger brother's lot, Salm and Tôz later found an opportunity and killed Êrich. The Sasanian Avesta had the story in the Ùihrdâd Nask (q.v.), of which a summary is preserved in Dênkard (ed. Madan, 596, 689; ed. and tr. Mole, 1963, pp. 279-81): "Ferêtôn, the lord (xvatây) of Xvaniras" vanquished Dahâk and divided Xvaniras among his three sons Salm, Tôch, and Êrich. He had them wed the three daughters of Patsra£, the king of the Arabs (tâ‘ikân), and later Manušchihr "king of Iran and descendant of Êrich" succeeded Frêtôn. The Bundahišn (ed. Anklesaria, p. 211; tr. p. 212) refers to the story of the three brothers and to Manušchihr's avenging of the murder of Êrich by Sarm and Turch.

The oldest trace of the story of Iraj and his brothers is found in the Fravardin Yašt where the fravaši of Manušchiƒra (> Manuchehr) son of Airiya (> Iraj) is venerated (Yt. 13.131), as are those of the pious men and women of the groups of lands of Airyana, Tûiriyana, Sairima, Dâhi, and Sâinu (143-44). Three of these nations derive their names from the three sons of Ferêdun: Airya "Iranian" + ê of the oblique case + ch gives the Middle Persian Êrich and Persian Iraj (on the possible Old Pers. *Airya-cha seen in Harriyazza/Harrizza of the Persepolis Elamite tablets, see, with literature, Cereti, 2002, p. 36). Similary, Tuiriyana produces Tûr(a)cha and Tur, and Sairima Sarm/Salm (on these names see Marquart, Ê, p. 155; Christensen, 1928, pp. 15-17, 22-25; Nyberg, 1938, pp, 250-52; Gnoli, 1980, pp. 60-61, n.; but cf. Cereti, p. 36, n. 51). That two other nations are also mentioned in the same context should not be seen as an obstacle to the tripartite division, since the descendants of Êrich/Iraj, were destined to rule over other countries, and in later accounts Ferêdun apportions five (or seven) lands between his three sons (see above).

It has long been recognized that the story of Iraj and his brothers goes back to very old traditions evolved around legends of origins (Christensen, 1916a; idem, 1916b, pp. 68-69; idem, 1928, pp. 15-17, 22-25; Nyberg, 1938, pp. 250-52, 463; Dume‚zil, 1968, pp. 446-52, 586-88; idem, 1973, pp. 13-14, 133-34; Widengren, 1965, pp. 156-58; Yarshater, 1983, pp. 428-29, 433-34; Mole, 1952; Gnoli, 1980, pp. 60-61, 115-16). In brief, some Indo-Europeans shared a tradition about a "first king," who divided the world he knew among his three sons. In Iran we have the case of Ferêdun and his sons. Herodotus (4. 5-6) attests the legend which the ancient Scythians "gave of their origin." Their first king Targitaus begot three sons; the oldest was Lipoxais, the middle Arpoxais, and the youngest Colaxais. They ruled for some time but when divine fortune favored Colaxais, the elder brothers made over the whole kingdom of Scythia to him. From these three sprang all of the Scythians. Lipoxais became the ancestor of the Auchatae, Arpoxais that of the Catiari and Traspians, and from Colaxais sprang the Royal Scythians or Paralatae. Later, Colaxais divided his kingdom among his three sons. The analogy to the Iranian saga goes so far that even the surname of the Royal Scythians, Paralatae, is the same as the surname of Ferêdon and his family, the Para’âta (> Pîšdâd). The ancient Germans also had a similar legend, which they recounted "in old poems which serve these people as annals" (Tacitus, Germania 2.2). They relate that the ancestor of the Germans, called Mannus, divided the Germanic world between his three sons who became the eponyms of the three main German nations: Ingaevones (north), Herminones (middle), and Istaevones (south). The same notion of a world divided into three parts underlies the Iranian legend that, during Jamšêd's reign, thrice the earth became too crowded, and each time he was allowed to enlarge it by one-third (Vd. 2.9-19). In other words, originally the world had been imagined as consisting of three parts. Jamšêd was first given sovereignty over one-third, then over two-thirds, and finally over the entire world. Accordingly, his successors ruled over the whole world until Ferêdun divided it again into three realms.



Carlo Cereti, "On Zoroaster's genealogy," Iran: Questions et connaissances. I. La pe‚riode ancienne (Studia Iranica. Cahier 25), Paris, 2002, pp. 29-45. 

Arthur Christensen, "Trebödre- og Tobrödre-Stamsagn," Danske Studier 1916a, p. 56. Idem,"Reste von Manu-Legenden in der iranischen Sagenwelt," Festschrift für Friedrich Carl Andreas zur Vollendung des siebzigsten Lebensjahre am 14. April 1916, Leipzig, 1916b, pp. 63-69. Idem, Études sur la zoroastrisme de la Perse antique, Copenhagen, 1928. 

Georges Dume‚zil, Mythe et Épope‚e. I. L'ide‚ologie des trois functions dans les e‚pope‚es des peoples indo-europe‚ens, Paris, 1968. Idem, The Destiny of a King, tr. from French by Alf Hiltebeitel, Chicago, 1973. 

Gherardo Gnoli, Zoroaster's Time and Homeland, Naples, 1980. 

Irânšân b. Abi-al-Khayr, Kuš-nâma, ed. Jalâl Matini, Tehran, 1998. 

Marian Mole‚, "Le partage du monde dans la tradition iranienne," JA 240, 1952, pp. 455-63. Idem, Culte, mythe et cosmologie dans l'Íran ancien. Le probleàme zoroastrien et la tradition mazde‚enne, Paris, 1963. 

G. Messina, Libro apocalittico persiano Ayâtkâr î Žâmâspîk, Rome, 1939. 

H. S. Nyberg, Die Religionen des alten Iran, tr. from the Swedish by H. H. Schaeder, Leipzig, 1938. Geo Widengren, Die Religionen Irans, Stuttgart, 1965. 

Ehsan Yarshater, Dâstanhâ-ye Šâh-nâma (Stories from the Šâh-nâma), Tehran, 1955. Idem, "Iranian National History," Camb. Hist. Iran III, 1983, pp. 359-477.






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