In the last post, I identified an argument by Alyssa Gabbay where she argued that a successful relationship between men and women in the Shahnameh was characterized by the male having authority over the female character. She concluded that the Bahram-Gur story was the evidence needed to support the claim that women had lower social status than men in the Shahnameh. (1) In this post, I will discuss “Fateful Women in Ferdowsi Shahnameh”, an article by Soheila Loveimi, that argued that Ferdowsi captured women as equal to males in the Shahnameh.
Loveimi identified multiple women in her article as evidence for women having a progressive and empowering role within the text. One of the women she identified is Pourandokht, the successor to Ardeshir Shiravi. She came to power after King Faramin died, and she focused her reign on helping the poor. Loveimi defined her as a kind ruler who possessed the love of the people. The people loved her so much that when she passed away 6 months after being appointed the people only had good names for her. Overall, her reign was characterized as being peaceful and prosperous, which was very different from the other Kings of the book whose reign focused solely on conquest or battling foreign rulers. Loveimi does not compare Pourandokht with other rulers; they only identified that she was a female ruler who was seen in a good light. Loveimi used this character to implicitly assert that women are not all placed in villainous roles within the Shahnameh.(2)
Another woman that Loveimi used to provide evidence for the assertion of women possessing a powerful role within the work is a character referred to as “Peasant’s wife.” This character spoke out against one of the King Bahram Gur for his mistreatment of villagers. The King had been leading his army constantly through the village’s land–causing damage and grief. She called him “cruel” and “oppressive.” (3) Loveimi implied that it was due to the Peasant’s wife that Bahram Gur eventually saw the error in his ways and repented for his sins. The King listened to this woman’s claims and eventually changed his ways. The Peasant’s wife spoke out against oppression and in return was rewarded with the King addressing the village’s grievances. (4)
Additionally, Gordafarid is another woman who is used as a confirmation of the female’s revolutionary role within the text. Gordafarid is a female warrior who picked up arms after she heard that her leader, Hejir, had been taken by King Sohrab’s army. Upset by the shame Hejir had brought to the White fortress, she dressed herself up as a knight, placed a helmet on her head to hide her identity, and rode her horse to challenge Sohrab. Gordafarid is an example of a female character participating in battle and possessing qualities of a male warrior. She comes into contact with King Sohrab and is only outed as a woman when her helmet is taken off. She is seen as having control over her own fate and works to make her own goals met.(5) She is one of the only female warriors of the work, but her story is nevertheless important in declaring that women do possess roles that are involved in a battle.
Loveimi uses all three of these characters as evidence for their assertion that men and women are on equal footing in the Shahnameh. A weakness in Loveimi’s argument is that they do not clearly state how certain characters are examples of the Shahnameh’s progressive characterization of women. They pull out characters as evidence but does not ever compare them to the male characters who are of the same ranking. For instance, in discussing Gordafarid, Loveimi does not compare the description of her to the description of a male warrior. It would have been a more compelling argument if they compared the diction of a male warrior with the diction of Gordafarid. Furthermore, the characters they do pull out sometimes do not capture the equality she would like to assert. An example of this would be the Peasant’s wife story. The Peasant’s wife speaks out about Bahram Gur’s oppression, but it’s not until there is no milk in the village cow’s udder does he realize the errors in his ways. To me, it seemed like it was more of the supernatural element that convinced him to repent and ask God for forgiveness than the peasant’s wife’s declaration.
Overall, Loveimi does address an interesting counter to Gabbay’s argument but does not completely dismiss Gabbay’s assertions. I now understand that women take on many different roles within the work, but I am not completely convinced that the Shahnameh captured men and women on equal footing. I am especially unconvinced when looking at the art piece below:
(Source: Sohrab fights Gordafarid. This photo is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)
This artwork shows Gordafarid being defeated by Sohrab. Loveimi described her as being a fearless warrior, but this art piece is definitely not painting her as that. In this art piece, her face is not shown and her body is askew–creating the image of a dishonorable defeat. The artist who interpreted this scene does not see her as being a warrior on par with the other male soldiers. Once again, I am faced with different interpretations of the work. Loveimi claimed that Gordafarid was a fearless warrior that was well respected. The above art piece showed her as a clumsy opponent who is easily defeated by the King Sohrab. I decided I had to go to the original text to see how Ferdowsi depicted the scene.
Looking at the text of the Shahnameh, Ferdowsi described her as being a well-experienced warrior who was trained with the bow and lance. She challenged Sohrab, but is defeated relatively quickly with her helmet being snatched from her head; her hair “streamed out, and her face shone like a splendid sun.” (6) This is where the text differs from the art piece. The art piece does not show Gordafarid face; thus ignoring the description that Ferdowsi had of this female character. Furthermore, Ferdowsi also states that she “brought no shame on [her] people due to her defeat. (7) The text of the Shahnameh provided evidence for Loveimi’s interpretation while distinguishing the art piece as being an inaccurate depiction of the event.
By looking exclusively at the cast of female characters, the Shahnameh took on the characteristic as being a progressive work that captures female characters in a good light. Loveimi does assert that the wide cast does imply that women are an important part of the text, but they are unable to clearly state their relationship with men and how that influences their role within the work. Furthermore, the artwork reflects that woman did not have an equal relationship with males and some female characters are depicted differently from how they are perceived in the text. The Shahnameh text supported Loveimi’s argument regarding Gordafarid’s description, but it is unable to completely address Loveimi’s weaknesses in their argument.
I, however, will not end here! I will continue to analyze female characterization and the relationship woman had with male characters. I still have several other sources that will further this research.
More to come!
- Gabbay, Alyssa. “Love Gone Wrong, Then Right Again: Male/Female Dynamics in the Bahrām Gūr–Slave Girl Story.” Iranian Studies 42, no. 5 (2009): 677-692.
- Loveimi, Soheila. “Fateful Women in Ferdowsi Shahnameh.” English Language Teaching 9, no. 5 (2016): 47.
- Ibid., 48.
- Ibid., 48.
- Ibid., 49.
- Ferdowsi, Abolqasem. “Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings.” Translated by Dick Davis. New York: Vikings, 2006. 191-192.
- Ibid., 193.