JAMŠID ii. In Persian Literature

Sources all agree that he reigned for several hundred years, but they differ on the exact length of his rule.




The name Jamšid often alternates in Persian poetry with the short form Jam in response to metrical requirements. It is also interpreted as such in some Islamic sources (e.g., Meskawayh, 1, p. 6; Balʿami, 1974, I, p. 130; Mojmal al-tawāriḵ, p. 25; Ebn al-Balḵi, p. 29; Ebn Esfandiār, p. 57; Mostawfi, p. 80). Sources all agree that he reigned for several hundred years, but they differ on the exact length of his rule. Ebn Qotayba (p. 652) reports it to be 960 years, while, according to Menhāj-e Serāj (I, pp. 135-36), he ruled for 400 years as a godly king and 400 years more after he was deceived by Satan. The authors of the Persian translation of Ṭabari’s Qurʾān commentary assign him 1000 years (II, p. 403), Pseudo-Ḵayyām (pp. 17-18) 800 years, but Ebn al-Balḵi (p. 30), Mojmal al-tawāriḵ (p. 39), and Faḵr-e Modabber (p. 8) 716 years. According to Abu ʿAli Moḥammad Balʿami (I, p. 131), Jamšid ruled for either 400 or 700 years; the latter figure is mentioned also in a number of other sources (e.g., Šāh-nāma I, p. 41; Ḡazāli, p. 90, Mostawfi p. 80). Abu Rayḥān Biruni (ed. Aḏkāʾi, pp. 122-23) gives Jam’s rule as 716 years according to one report and as 616 according to another, and Abu Manṣur Ṯaʿālebi (p. 17) reports 500 years.

Two narrative strands are discernable in Jamšid’s biography: the secular epic strand, in which he is the son of king Ṭahmuraṯ (e.g., Šāh-nāma, I, p. 41, v. 3; Ebn al-Faqih p. 406; Ṭusi p. 255; Mostawfi, 1362, p. 80), and the priestly or religious strand, according to which he is Ṭahmuraṯ’s brother (e.g., Balʿami, I, p. 130; Meskawayh, I, p. 6; Mojmal al-tawāriḵ, p. 25; Maqdesi, III, p. 24, tr. Šafiʿi Kadkani, I, p. 425; Pseudo-Ḵayyām, p. 17; Ebn al-Balḵi, pp. 10, 29, who also says that Jam may have been Ṭahmuraṯ’s nephew; Menhāj-e Serāj, I, p. 135; Haft laškar, p. 6; cf. Dārāb Hormazyār, I, p. 313). A number of other texts do not specify the relationship of Jamšid to Ṭahmuraṯ at all (e.g., ʿAskari, p. 411; Eṣṭaḵri, pp. 123, 150, tr. pp. 109, 141; Ḡazāli, p. 90). The secular tradition, found in the Šāh-nāma and related texts, in time overwhelmed the religious story and is also supported by Iranian oral tradition (Enjavi, II, p. 314, III, pp. 17-18).

Jamšid’s epic life-story may be divided into the period of his kingship and the period after he was deposed. Jamšid’s most coherent epic biography is found in the Šāh-nāma, according to which he was Ṭahmuraṯ’s son, succeeded his father to the throne, and proclaimed himself to be both king and priest (I, pp. 41, vv. 3-4, 8). He invented a series of important implements and institutions in the following order. He spent fifty years in inventing various weapons and armor (I, pp. 41-42, vv. 10-13), fifty in inventing weaving and tailoring (I, p. 42, vv. 14-17), fifty more in ordering his subjects into separate professions (I, p. 42, vv. 19-26, p. 43, vv. 30-31), and finally fifty more years in instituting social casts according to the functionalities that he had assigned to each group (I, p. 43, vv. 32-34). Although arranging his subjects into different professions is a different task from instituting social casts, these functionalities are often conflated in scholarship on Jamšid. He spends the next fifty years in instructing the demons, whom his father Ṭahmuraṯ had already subdued, to make bricks and buildings such as palaces and bath-houses (I, p. 43, vv. 35-38). It should be noted that, contrary to some readings of these lines, demons did not teach Jamšid how to build anything. It was rather Jamšid who, having taught them brick making (I, p. 43, v. 35), employed them in his building projects. Some demons appear to have been outside his dominion. For instance, the demon Pulādvand claims to have caused much trouble for Jamšid and a number of other kings (III, p. 270, v. 2674). Jamšid goes on to mine precious stones, establish the use of aromatics, and teach the art of medicine. He then builds ships and crosses the waters that separate the seven realms. All of these activities took another fifty years to complete (I, p. 43, vv. 39-46). Following all this, Jamšid builds himself a magnificent bejeweled throne, which he ascends and orders his demons to carry in the air on the first day of the vernal equinox. He thus institutes the festival of the New Year (Nowruz; I, p. 44, vv. 48-55). This period of creative activity lasts 250 years. During the next three hundred years Jamšid rules peacefully and his subjects neither fall sick nor die (I, p. 44, vv. 56-57). At the end of this 550 years, Jamšid grows arrogant, claims divinity, and alienates everyone (I, p. 45, vv. 65-71). He loses his royal gory (farr, q.v.), and his realm falls into chaos (I, p. 45, v. 74, p. 51, vv. 166-71). His subjects go over to the land of the Arabs, and ask Żaḥḥāk, a new and powerful Arab ruler, to come to Iran and take over Jamšid’s throne. Żaḥḥāk attacks Jamšid’s capital at the head of a large army comprised of Arabs and Persians (I, p. 51, vv. 172-78), and Jamšid, unable to resist Żaḥḥāk’s forces, escapes and disappears for one hundred years (I, p. 51, vv. 179-82). However, at the end of this period he is captured by Żaḥḥāk, who orders him to be sawed in half (ba arra-š sarāsar ba do nim kard; Šāh-nāma I, p. 52, vv. 183-86).

The longitudinal sawing of Jam’s body is suggestive of a “castration” motif (Omidsalar, 1987, p. 349, see also illustrations). Balʿami (d. 974), who must have had access to Ferdowsi’s prose archetype, corroborates Ferdowsi by reporting that the “saw was put on Jamšid’s head and he was sawed down to his legs” (Balʿami, I, p. 132). Every illustration in the Šāh-nāma Project’s data bank of miniatures (http://shahnama.caret.cam.ac.uk/) shows Jamšid being cut longitudinally with the saw blade placed on his head and worked down toward his feet. Therefore, it is not difficult to imagine that the saw is displaced upward to mask the symbolic nature of Jamšid’s castration and death. There is evidence that indicates the existence of a story about Jamšid’s death, according to which Jamšid does not react to the pain and undergoes his punishment in silence (Ḵāqāni, 1995, p. 860). Another report tells of his execution by being thrown to wild beasts who devour him (e.g., Ṯaʿālebi, p. 17). According to yet another version that must have been available to Faḵr-e Modabber in the early 13th century (ca. 1229 CE or after), he dies peacefully after a long reign (Faḵr-e Modabber, p. 8).

The Šāh-nāma has nothing to say about what happened to Jamšid in the century following his defeat. That information is provided in the Garšāsb-nāma (comp. in 458/1066) of Asadi Ṭusi, according to which (pp. 21-22), following his ouster, Jamšid is forced to live incognito, because Żaḥḥāk has ordered all the kings under his command to arrest and send him to Iran. In the course of his travels Jamšid meets the beautiful warrior daughter of king Gurang of Zābol. This princess, who is not named in the Garšāsb-nāma, but is called Paričehra in the Mojmal al-tawāriḵ (p. 25). Many kings and princes ask for her hand in marriage, but she refuses to get married because her father has authorized her to choose her own husband (Garšāsb-nāma, p. 23, v. 35) and, besides, her nursemaid has told her that she is destined to marry a great king and give birth to a heroic son (Garšāsb-nāma, p. 23). Jamšid comes upon her garden and asks for three cups of wine from one of her attendants and is taken to her. The princess falls in love with him and they begin to feast (pp. 24-27). Soon the feasting leads to a subtle flirtatious discourse centering upon two courting doves on a nearby tree that Jam and the warrior princess kill by arrows (Garšāsb-nāma, pp. 29-30). The passage is reminiscent of a similar enigmatic flirtation scene between Cuchulainn and Emer in the Irish epic Táin Bó Cúailnge (Kinsella, pp. 26-27). The nurse-maid arrives and reveals Jamšid’s identity to the princess, who confronts Jamšid with it. Jamšid denies his identity even when he is shown one of the “wanted posters” (lit. a piece of silk bearing Jamšid’s portrait) that Żaḥḥāk had sent far and wide for his arrest, and gives his name as Māhān-e Kuhi (Garšāsb-nāma, pp. 31-32, vv. 195-240). Finally, after receiving assurances that he will not be betrayed, Jamšid relents and the two quietly marry (Garšāsb-nāma, pp. 33-36). Soon the princess gets pregnant and her father, who has grown suspicious of her behavior, discovers the truth. At first he threatens to arrest Jamšid and send him to Żaḥḥāk, but he changes his mind and agrees to protect his new son-in-law (Garšāsb-nāma, pp. 36-40). Jamšid predicts that a great line of heroes will be born of his union with the princess; and that the fifth of them will be an exceptionally powerful paladin (Garšāsb-nāma, p. 41, vv. 53-56). This is somewhat contradictory to the story of Jamšid’s spiritual fall, because, although according to the Šāh-nāma, Jamšid’s farr (royal glory)—that is, the power that gives legitimate kings their magical abilities including the ability to predict future events—has left him; in the Garšāsb-nāma, Jamšid is able to foretell the future as though he still possesses his farr. Indeed, the Garšāsb-nāma makes no reference to Jamšid’s loss of his royal glory at all. In time, Jamšid’s wife gives birth to a son whom they name Tur; and although the king tries to keep Jamšid’s marriage to his daughter a secret by claiming that the baby is his own son (Garšāsb-nāma, p. 42, v. 5), the boy’s resemblance to Jamšid’s many wanted posters betray his true paternity (Garšāsb-nāma, p. 43, vv. 8-9). Rumors about Jamšid grow, and king Gurang advises him to leave lest Żaḥḥāk’s spies find out his whereabouts (Garšāsb-nāma, p. 43, vv. 13-16). Jamšid leaves Zābolestān and travels first to India, and later to China, but he is captured and surrendered to Żaḥḥāk, who orders him sawed in half. Informed of his death, Jamšid’s wife commits suicide after a month of mourning (Garšāsb-nāma, pp. 43-44).

Although the Garšāsb-nāma gives the impression that Jamšid was killed immediately after his arrest, according to the Kuš-nāma (comp. ca. 501/1108) of Irānšāh b. Abi’l-Ḵayr, he lived for fifty years in Żaḥḥāk’s prison before his execution (p. 189, v. 740). Jamšid’s son, Tur, ascends the throne of Zābolestān following his maternal grandfather’s death. His progeny all resemble their ancestor Jamšid in appearance and physical prowess (e.g., Garšāsb-nāma, p. 49, v. 81, p. 52, vv. 30-31, p. 244, v. 62). Apparently the reason Jamšid’s progeny turn out to be such powerful heroes is that he was quite physically powerful himself and could kill any kind of wild beast by his bare hands (Ebn Balḵi, p. 30).

There are quite a few variations on the Šāh-nāma story of Jamšid’s life and personality. Aside from the princess of Zābolestān, who is mentioned in the Garšāsb-nāma, Jamšid had a number of wives and many children. He had married a Chinese princess because, according to the Kuš-nāma, following Żaḥḥāk’s attack, Jamšid sends his wife, the daughter of the king of China, along with his two sons, Fārak and Nunak, to a forest in China (Irānšāh, 1998, pp. 187-88). Once assured of his family’s safety, he rides against the Indian king Mehrāj at the head of a great army. Unfortunately, the single manuscript of the Kuš-nāma has a large lacuna here and the narrative suddenly jumps to the scene of Jamšid’s execution (pp. 188-90). Jamšid’s adventures in India and his wars with the Indian king are also mentioned in the Mojmal al-tawāriḵ (p. 40), which although gives no more details at least corroborates the Kuš-nāma’s version. According to the Šāh-nāma, a number of paladins aside from the hero Garšāsb/Garšāsp descend from Jamšid (III, p. 289, vv. 21-22). A group of these are called Jamšidiān (Šāh-nāma, V, p. 90, v. 143), the most famous of whom are the descendants of king Lohrāsb/Lohrāsp (IV, p. 360, v. 2,947). This accounts for the fact that Jamšid’s pavilion, weapons, and other possessions are later found in the possession of Lohrāsb’s descendants (e.g., Šāh-nāma V, p. 106, v. 309, p. 141, v. 710, p. 366, v. 883, p. 367, v. 890). The epics composed after the Šāh-nāma confirm this and tell us that Lohrāsb’s great grandson Bahman owned Jamšid’s pavilion (sarā-parda; Irānšāh, 1991, p. 549, vv. 9,452, 9461, cf. Haft laškar, p. 549). In the Farāmarz-nāma (q.v.), the hero Farāmarz is mentioned as a Jamšid descendant (Farāmarz-nāma, pp. 59-60, vv. 72-91, p. 107: vv. 794-95), and we are also told that Bižan (q.v.), during his adventures, came upon the burial chamber of one of Jamšid’s lesser known son, Nušzād (Farāmarz-nāma, pp. 87-88, vv. 510-14). Some authorities report that one of Jamšid’s descendents was in Noah’s arc (Balʿami, 1974, I, p. 146; Menhāj-e Serāj, I, p. 137). Among the later Iranian rulers, Yaʿqub b. Layṯ (r. 861-79) is said to have traced his lineage to him (Tāriḵ-e Sistān, pp. 201-2).

Jamšid is described as a man quite handsome, luminous (e.g., Tarjama-ye Tafsir-e Ṭabari II, p. 402; Qaṭrān, pp. 367, 525), and huge enough to receive the epithet piltan “immense” (lit. “of elephant-like body”; Ḵāqāni, 1995, p. 74), which is ordinarily reserved for his heroic descendants Rostam and Esfandiār in the Šāh-nāma. He was physically powerful (e.g., Ebn al-Balḵi, p. 30), and rode a black horse when he was not being carried around by demons (Sanāʾi, p. 72; Faḵr-e Modabber, p. 185). There may have been a story about his invulnerability to which Ḵāqāni alludes (1995, p. 69). Indeed, a folk version of his capture and death confirms his invulnerability (see below). Another story in the Bustān of Saʿdi alludes to Jamšid’s sorrow for loss of one of his children, but it is not clear if the story is original or was created by Saʿdi in order to make a moral point (Saʿdi, 1363, p. 186 vv. 3,679-82). Unlike the great kings and heroes of old, Jamšid seems to have had a special place in the popular imagination of classical Iran. This may be partly because he was associated with the prophet Solomon, and partly because of his association with the ruins of Persepolis. Ebn al-Balḵi, the author of the Fārs-nāma, who must have seen these ruins considers many of the images that depict various Achaemenid kings to have been representations of Jamšid (Ebn al-Balḵi, p. 127). Others must have thought the same.

Jamšid’s character as an originator of social customs is implied in many literary sources in which certain rites are said to have been practiced according to his “rule.” He is viewed as the founder of funerary rites. For instance, the hero Garšāsb orders that his corpse “be dressed according to the prescriptions of Jamšid” (bapuš-am ba jāma bar āyin-e Jam) before he is placed in his tomb (Garšāsb-nāma, p. 465, v. 51). Since Zoroastrians expose their dead rather than enshroud or bury them, and since Jamšid’s practice in this verse implies entombment without a hint of exposure, the verse may be cited as an indication of Jamšid’s pre-Zoroastrian character. Jamšid’s rules must have included marriage law as well. In the story of Bahrām V Gōr (q.v.), the hero marries the daughters of Borzin “according to the customs of Gayumart and Jamšid” (Šāh-nāma VI, p. 483, v. 874).

A number of important discoveries and inventions are ascribed to him in addition to what is mentioned in the Šāh-nāma. Some of these are: millstones and water wheel (Ṯaʿālebi, pp. 8-9), astronomy and glass-making (Maqdesi, III, p. 140, tr. Šafiʿi Kadkani, I, p. 500), talc paper (zar-waraq; Ebn al-Balḵi, p. 32), roads and paint (Balʿami, 1974, I, p. 130), dyeing (Gardizi, p. 2), sugar (ʿAskari, p. 411; Biruni, p. 266), writing (Ebn al-Nadim p. 15, tr. p. 23), different languages (Mojmal al-tawāriḵ, p. 145), and locks and keys, as well as domestication of the elephant (Menhāj-e Serāj, I, p. 135). He is said to have built a large number of cities such as Hamadān, Eṣṭaḵr, Ctesiphon (q.v.), and Ṭus (Maqdesi, IV, p. 99, tr. Šafiʿi Kadkani, II, p. 616; Ebn al-Balḵi pp. 32, 34; Mojmal al-tawāriḵ, pp. 40, 521; Qomi, pp. 60, 73-77; Mostawfi, p. 81; Gardizi, p. 2), and is also credited with creating important waterworks in the city of Fin in Kāšan and elsewhere (Qomi, p. 77; Maqdesi, IV, p. 60, tr. Šafiʿi Kadkani, II, p. 594). The founding of a number of holy fires are also attributed to Jamšid (e.g., Ṭusi, p. 74; Qomi, p. 88; Gorgāni, p. 358). One of the most important of his innovations is wine, the story of which is associated with a charming narrative that concerns one of his concubines (Ṭusi, pp. 15-16; ʿAwfi, pp. 30-31; Moʿin I, p. 433). It may be deduced from the wording of the Šāh-nāma that Jamšid’s invention of wine was known to Ferdowsi, because he is the first king in the epic to engage in feasting with wine (Šāh-nāma I, p. 44, v. 54). Frequent allusion to his connection with wine throughout Persian literature implies that the story of his invention of wine, though not explicitly stated in the Šāh-nāma, must have been quite well-known (e.g., Manučehri, pp. 18, 120; Moḵtāri, p. 486; Ḵāqāni, 1995, p. 661; see also Moʿin, I, pp. 433-35).

Because of his long reign and association with absolute dominion, Jamšid’s name is paired with “royal glory” and the concept of the ideal kingship in the Šāh-nāma (e.g., II, p. 406, vv. 347-48, V, p. 454, v. 182, VII, p. 16, v. 9, VIII, p. 203, v. 2,664), post-Šāh-nāma epics (e.g., Garšāsb-nāma, p. 417, v. 13; Zartošt-e Bahrām, p. 7; Bānugošasb-nāma, p. 111), as well as Persian court poetry (e.g., Farroḵi, p. 411; ʿOnṣori, p. 202; Moḵtāri, p. 618; Ḵāqāni, 1995, p. 618; Qaṭrān, p. 473; Ašraf, p. 142; Anwari, I, p. 96) and prose (e.g., Ebn al-Balḵi, p. 30; Lāhuri, p. 60). Perhaps his reputation as the ideal king is responsible for his further association with wisdom in the Šāh-nāma, where frequent reference is made to his dicta (e.g., VI, p. 250, v. 107, VII, p. 34 v. 37), and a number of other Persian and Arabic texts (cf. Faḵr-al-Din Gorgāni, p. 320, v. 20; Saʿdi, 1363, p. 52, vv. 478-80, p. 186 vv. 3679-82; Moḥammadi, IV, pp. 315-18). He is also associated with the worship of the sun in the Šāh-nāma (e.g., V, p. 77, v. 22, p. 83, v. 69). It is not, however, clear whether the pairing of Jamšid and Ḵoršid “the sun” in the epic and other poetry (e.g., Farroḵi, p. 132; Qaṭrān pp. 390, 473 and esp. p. 525; Sanāʾi, p. 500; Moʿezzi p. 170; Moḵtāri, p. 618; Faḵr-al-Din Gorgāni, p. 25, v. 12; Suzani, p. 228; Ḵāqāni, 2006, p. 86, vv. 10-11, p. 174 v. 7; Ašraf, p. 142; Jamāl-al-Din Moḥammad b. ʿAbd-al-Razzāq p. 373; Mādeḥ, p. 144; Ḵᵛāju, p. 24) is motivated by requirements of meter and rhyme, by the memory of his flying towards the sun in the pre-Islamic religious tradition (see above), or by something else.

Jamšid’s grand throne, made for him by the demons, is already mentioned in the Šāh-nāma (I, p. 44, vv. 48-51) and other Persian poetry. The famous throne of Ṭāqdis, which was one of the prized possessions of Ḵosrow II Parvēz (r. 591-628), is also said to have been originally built by Jamšid (Mojmal al-tawāriḵ, p. 79). He is also said to have left behind several great treasures, one of which was later discovered by Bahrām Gōr (Šāh-nāma VI, pp. 459-60, p. 562, v. 596). A fantastic animal called Gorg-e guyā, “the speaking wolf,” tells of a great treasure that was hidden by Jamšid in a vast cave built for him by the demons and fairies under his command, and that he had ordered this wolf to guard it. The beast tells of Jamšid’s many hidden treasures, and later the hero Bižan finds one of the hordes that contains Jamšid’s own crown (Farāmarz-nāma, pp. 82-84).

Perhaps Jamšid’s most famous magical implements are his wine cup and his ring. Yet, his wine cup is mentioned neither in the Šāh-nāma nor in the works of early poets and appears to be a later development, probably from the middle of the 6th/12th century. In all likelihood it was formed under the influence of Kay Ḵosrow’s magical cup and the similarity of the word jām (cup) with the name Jam which would be tempting to Persian poets. Jām-e Jam (Jam’s cup) is said to have magical properties that helped the owner to either achieve dominion over the world (e.g., Moʿezzi, p. 491) or enabled him to see the unseen and forecast the future (e.g., Ḵᵛāju, p.55; Moʿin, II, p. 300). Mystics reinterpreted the cup as a metaphor for the heart and the soul (Moʿin II, pp. 302-6). Farid-al-Din ʿAṭṭār uses it as a metaphor for the divine tablet on which all is written (ʿAṭṭār, 1983, p. 122, v. .2, p. 213, v. 5). Ḥāfeẓ employs similar metaphors (e.g., I, p. 112, v. 5 and p. 244 v. 1).

Whereas Jamšid’s cup is not mentioned in the Šāh-nāma, his ring is explicitly mentioned in a manner that proves that it was part of his legend in the Iranian heroic tradition (II, p. 6, v. 50). The Šāh-nāma also alludes to the ring indirectly (I, p. 51, v. 178) and it is further mentioned in the verses of at least two Ghaznavid poets (ʿOnṣori, pp. 202, 229; Sanāʾi, p. 83). Therefore, although it may be tempting to consider Jam’s ring as an Iranian manifestation of the famous ring of king Solomon that has been referred to in many religious and legendary texts (e.g., Neysāburi p. 305), and although there must have been some influence from that direction, the objects are common enough and magically potent enough to have grown independently in the Iranian and the Jewish narrative traditions. In other words, because of the similarities between the legends of Solomon and Jamšid in their respective traditions, aspects of these narratives, including that of the magical ring, may have coalesced in the absence of a genetic relationship. Not only are similarities between Solomon and Jamšid noted in classical sources (e.g., Ebn Qotayba, p. 652; Maqdesi, III, pp. 106-7, tr. Šafiʿi Kadkani, I, pp. 474-75; Eṣṭaḵri, p. 123, tr. p. 109), but also often personages or objects of their respective courts are paired in Persian poetry (e.g., Farroḵi, pp. 226, 242; Masʿud-e Saʿd, I, p. 484; Moʿezzi, pp. 43, 478; Ḵāqāni, 1995, pp. 23, 70; Sanāʾi, pp. 375, 500; Qaṭrān, p. 167; Anwari, I, pp. 171, 274). Be that as it may, there may be no doubt that the two legends have merged in the Iranian tradition. For instance, the story of Solomon’s encounter with the king of the ants that has been alluded to in the Qurʾān (27:18) and is quite well known from other religious literature (e.g., Neysāburi, pp. 287-88) is attributed to Jamšid in Ḵāqāni’s Divān (pp. 166, 904) as is the story of Solomon’s loss of his ring to the demon Ašmodai (see Krappe; Shaked; and motif K1934.1 “Impostor [magician, demon] takes the place of the king”; see Thompson) in spite of the fact that Jamšid’s loss of his throne to Żaḥḥāk, unlike Solomon’s loss of his throne to Ašmodai, was quite final (see Ḵāqāni, 1995, pp. 86, 422; Anwari, I, p. 331, II, p. 643; Ḵᵛāju, p. 85). Interestingly enough Ḵāqāni ascribes all the details of Solomon’s fall and his employment as a fisherman during the period of his exile to Jamšid (1995, pp. 422, 425; cf. Neysāburi, pp. 303-6). There is reason to believe that what gave Jamšid’s ring its potency was the formula that was written on its stone (ʿOnṣori, pp. 202, 229; Moḵtāri, pp. 317, 345, 552; Sanāʾi p. 500; Anwari, I, p. 339) and that the ring’s gemstone may have been green (Anwari, I, p. 7; cf. Šahidi, p. 40).

Jamšid has three functionality in Persian folklore. On the one hand, his name, usually in the form of Malek Jamšid, is a common name for the main hero of various folktales. In that general sense, the name has no connection with the Jamšid of the Šāh-nāma. Thus, Vladimir Minorski’s suggestion that the Jamšid mentioned in the Vis o Rāmin (p. 138, v. 50, p. 146, v. 31), which has all the hallmarks of a literary version of a folk story, is necessarily the famous Jamšid of the Šāh-nāma may not be taken at face value without corroborating evidence (see Gorgāni, p. 426). Jamšid also appears in a series of folktales that are derived from the Šāh-nāma narratives. These tales tend to elaborate upon certain Šāh-nāma scenes or persona. For instance, whereas in the Šāh-nāma version of Zāl’s story an unnamed “man from the land of Indians” appears to Zāl’s father in a dream and informs him of the whereabouts of his son (I, p. 168, vv. 93-95), according to the oral versions of this tale, the man in the dream is Jamšid (Enjavi, I, p. 67). Similarly, whereas the Šāh-nāma provides no explanation about why Żaḥḥāk kills Jamšid by sawing him in half rather than by a more conventional means of dispatch (I, p. 52, v. 186), the folk version of the story explains that Żaḥḥāk first tried killing his captive by the sword, but, because Jamšid was invulnerable, he could not be killed by the blade. Later, the devil appeared in as an old man and informed the tyrant that Jamšid could be killed only by being cut asunder with a saw (Enjavi, II, pp. 303-4). There are a number of interesting features of Jamšid’s legend in the ṭumārs (scrolls) of the naqqāls (story-teller). These scrolls, which narrate idiosyncratic versions of Iranian epic literature in prose, are primarily derived from the Šāh-nāma and extra Šāh-nāma texts; but they also freely mix the literary narratives with elements adopted from Persian folklore (see Omidsalar and Omidsalar). For instance, the story of Jamšid’s fall, which in the Šāh-nāma merely precedes Żaḥḥāk’s appearance, is made into a prerequisite of Żaḥḥāk’s legend in one of these scrolls. According to the Haft laškar, the very moment when Jamšid begins to entertain the idea of claiming divinity is the moment when “Żaḥḥāk is conceived” (Haft laškar, p. 7). Similarly, although the Garšāb-nāma tells of how the princess of Zābolestān recognized Jamšid from having seen the “wanted posters” that Żaḥḥāk had sent far and wide, according to the Haft laškar, she had already fallen in love with his picture before she ever laid eyes on him (motif T11.2. “Love through sight of picture”; see Thompson).

It is interesting that although Jamšid is held responsible for his sin in the Zoroastrian priestly tradition, which sends him to hell and forgives him only grudgingly (Dārāb Hormozyār, II, pp. 208-9), he has been totally rehabilitated in Persian literature and folklore. Thus, aside from the many positive references to his character that abounds in Persian literature, the Haft laškar portrays him as a saint with special knowledge of the activities and mission of the Shiʿite messiah (Haft laškar, pp. 133-14).


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(Mahmoud Omidsalar)

Originally Published: December 15, 2008

Last Updated: April 10, 2012

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