BORZŪ-NĀMA (article 1)

an epic poem of ca. 65,000 lines recounting the exploits and adventures of the legendary hero Borzū, son of Sohrāb.


BORZŪ-NĀMA, an epic poem of ca. 65,000 lines recounting the exploits and adventures of the legendary hero Borzū, son of Sohrāb. The poem is ascribed by Anquetil Duperron to one ʿAṭāʾī, who has been identi­fied by Blochet as ʿAmīd Abu’l-ʿAlāʾ ʿAṭāʾ b. Yaʿqūb Kāteb Rāzī (q.v.), known variously as Nākūk, ʿAmīd-e ʿAṭāʾ, ʿAṭāʾ-e Yaʿqūb, and ʿAṭāʾ-e Rāzī, a poet of the Ghaznavid court who died in either 471/1078-79 (Hedāyat, Majmaʿ al-foṣaḥāʾ I, pt. 2, pp. 873-76) or 491/1097-98 (ʿAwfī, Lobāb I, pp. 72-75). Neither ʿAwfī nor Hedāyat mentions the Borzū-nāma among ʿAṭāʾī’s works. The language of the Borzū-nāma is characteristic of texts of the 5th/11th century. Written in the same meter and style as Ferdowsī’s Šāh-nāma, the Borzū-­nāma is the longest of the post-Šāh-nāma epic poems and includes much material from the Iranian national legend not used by Ferdowsī.

The story begins with Sohrāb on his way from Tūrān to fight Rostam. He marries a woman named Šahrū and leaves her a token to give to their unborn child. She names the child Borzū, and brings him up ignorant of the identity of his father. In his youth he is recruited into Afrāsīāb’s army. Having forced his mother to reveal his father’s name, he resolves to avenge the death of Sohrāb at the hands of Rostam. Afrāsīāb sends him with an army to Iran, but Borzū is soon captured by Farāmarz and taken to Sīstān. Šahrū learns of this and helps him escape, but he is recaptured by Rostam. Not recogniz­ing each other, grandfather and grandson fight and Borzū’s life is spared only at the last minute when Šahrū identifies him to Rostam. Borzū joins the Iranian forces, and when Afrāsīāb learns of this, he sends Sūsan-e Rāmešgar, a musician and sorceress, to capture the Iranian heroes (see suᵛsan-nāma). Afrāsīāb arrives with his army and a long series of battles and adventures begins involving most of the Iranian and Turanian heroes mentioned in the Šāh-nāma, plus many others as well as dīvs, parīs, and wizards. The tale ends with Borzū’s death at the hands of a dīv.

The Borzū-nāma first became known in the West in 1816 when Kosegarten published, with a German translation, a section of 275 lines from a manuscript brought from India by Anquetil Duperron. A different selection was published as an appendix to Turner Macan’s edition of the Šāh-nāma (4 vols., Calcutta, 1892, pp. 2160-96). The text as a whole remains unedited. Principal manuscripts are in the Bibliothèque Nationale (Cat. Bibliothèque Nationale, nos. 1189,1190), The Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan (A. Mirzoev and A. N. Boldyrev, eds., Katalog vostochnykh rukopiseĭ, vols. I-, Stalinabad, 1960-, II, no. 324), the Vatican Library (Fondo Sbath, no. 652), the Academy of Cluj, Rumania (Piemontese, p. 456), and in the library of Columbia University, New York.

Friedrich von Suhtschek, in a discussion of the Iranian sources of the Grail legend, claimed, but did not prove, that the Borzū-nāma is the direct source of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzifal.



The earliest independent account of the story of Borzū appears in Malekšāh Ḥosayn Sīstānī’s Eḥyāʾ al-molūk, ed. M. Sotūda, Tehran, 1344 Š./1965-66, pp. 30-34.

Discussions of the text and its place among the post-Šāh-nāma epics may be found in M. Molé, “L’épopée iranienne après Firdōsī,” La nouvelle Clio 5, 1953, pp. 377-93, and Ḏ. Ṣafā, Ḥamāsa-sarāʾī dar Īrān, Tehran, 1333 Š./1954, pp. 303-10.

ʿAṭāʾī as author of Borzū-nāma is men­tioned in Zend-Avesta, tr. Anquetil Duperron, I, pt. 1, Paris, 1771, p. DXXXVI. ʿAṭāʾī and his works are discussed by Ḏ. Ṣafā in his Adabīyāt II, pp. 477-83. See also EI2 I, pp. 1072-73.

The first European publication is in H. G. L. Kosegarten, “Bruchstücke aus dem persischen Heldengedichte Barsunameh,” Fundgruben des Orients 5, 1816, pp. 309-25.

This selection was published again in J. A. Vullers, Chres­tomathia Schahnamiana, Bonn, 1833.

For Italian prose translations of this and other passages, see V. Rugarli, La gazzella di Berzu, Bologna, 1889; Rustem e Berzu, Bologna, 1892; Il primo canto del libro di Berzu (Berzū-nāmeh), Bologna, 1899.

The efforts of Kosegarten and Vullers were criticized by S. de Sacy in his review of Vullers’ Chrestomathia in Journal des Savants, 1834, pp. 207-18.

Differences between the versions in the Bibliothèque Nationale ms. and the Vatican ms. are discussed by A. Piemontese in “I manoscritti persiani del Fondo Sbath nella Biblio­teca Vaticana e un nuovo "Barzūnāma",” Atti della Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei. Rendiconti della classe de scienze morali, storiche e filologiche, ser. 8, 33, 1978, pp. 447-64.

For a discussion of von Suht­scheck’s theories, with references, see H. Closs, “Con­vergence des sources,” in Lumière du Graal, ed. R. Nelli, Paris, 1951, pp. 50-68, and L. Ringbom, Graltempel und Paradies, Stockholm, 1951, pp. 115, 471.

(William L. Hanaway, Jr.)

Originally Published: December 15, 1989

Last Updated: December 15, 1989

This article is available in print.
Vol. IV, Fasc. 4, pp. 380-381