Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

and those of their ancestors. It is so, however; and, without undervaluing the labour and ingenuity displayed in extracting some scattered facts from the general mass of fable, and in reconciling others with the more credible accounts of the Greek and Roman historians, we greatly fear that the system of native Persian history, anterior to the period already mentioned, reposes on a foundation too weak to be of any considerable use, either in checking or correcting the facts or chronology of those western writers, on whom alone (as Sir John Malcolm, with much good sense, acknowledges) we can depend for any rational information.

He pleads, it is true, and pleads with reason, in behalf of those wonders which engross his earlier chapters, that

If we desire to be fully informed of a nation's history, we must not reject the fables under which the few traces that remain of its origin are concealed. These, however extravagant, always merit attention. They bave an influence on the character of the people to whom they relate. They mix with their habits, their literature, and sometimes with their religion. Tbey become, in short, national legends, which it is sacrilege to doubt; and to question the deeds of a Roostum, would raise in the breast of a Persian all those feelings which would be excited in that of an Englishman, if he heard a foreigner detract from the great name of Alfred. Such beroes often rise in importance (as far as their example is of value) in proportion as their real history is lost in obscurity; they are adopted as models by the painters and the poets of their country; every buman virtue is ascribed to them; and men are taught their duty from fables decorated with names which they have learnt (learned) to venerate from their cradle, and the love of which is cherished with all the enthusiasm of national pride.' -- vol. i. p. 7.

But though it be undoubtedly important to our knowledge of national character to be possessed, in some degree, of those facts to which the attention of youth is chiefly directed, and which leave no doubtful tinge on the temper and habits of maturer age--yet is the value, we apprehend, of these fabulous and heroic legends of a relative rather than a positive description. They serve to illustrate that state of society which can receive them as truths, and act on them as precedents, more than that which they themselves profess to depict to us ; and they will continue to possess this value, ihough the little historic truth which they contain should be buried so deep, or so lamentably mutilated, as to elude discovery, or not to be worth digging for. In general

, we cannot help thinking that such legends may be more advantageously placed in a dissertation preliminary to the history of those countries to which they belong, than incorporated with the work itself, and placed on a footing with those events which are probable in themselves and detailed on sufficient authority : for we are not to suffer our prejudice against eastern writers to carry us away so far as to conclude that

no history, deserving of the name, is really to be found among them. From the period which we have already noticed, and still more from that of the Mohammedan conquest, the annals of Persia are related by a succession of authors who are, in all essential respects, qualified to rank with the best models of ancient or modern Europe; and this

very

clearness of their more recent annals is in itself a considerable presumption against the authenticity of the marvellous and contradictory narratives which, in order of time, precede them. But the following short account of the style in which the ancient Persian history is written, and the authority on which it reposes, may enable our readers to decide for themselves, how far their writers are to be relied on, either in supplanting (as Richardson desired they should do) the authority of western historians when treating of the East-or in elucidating and confirming (as Sir John Malcolm has, by their means, endeavoured) the testimony

of Herodotus and the Scriptures.

The great majority of Persian historians commence the history of their country with a certain king Kaiomurs, whom the Guebres describe as the first-created man, but whom the Mohammedans; are content to make the grandson of Noah. Both adorn him with the character of a mighty legislator-the civilizer of the world, and the inventor of almost all useful arts; and both ascribe to him ex. ploits which would seem to identify him with that mythological person who was the Osiris and Bacchus of the west, and the Rama of India. There is, however, a single author, Mohsin Fani, (whom Sir William Jones regarded as worthy of great credit, but whom Sir John Malcolm is inclined to treat with far less deference,) who not satisfied with this moderate degree of antiquity, deduces, on the alleged authority of ancient Zend and Pehlivi writings, the empire of Persia and the world (through a long series of kings and revolutions anterior to Kaiomurs) from the prophet Mahabad, a sort of preadamite being, who, though not the first-created man, was, except his wife, the only survivor of one of those great cycles which, in the opinion of many nations in the east, successively terminate and renew the series of earthly things. It is almost needless to observe, that Mahabad and his successors are described as doing every thing which is usually attributed to fabulous kings and lawgivers. They beget children--they invent astronomy-they teach mankind the ceremonies of religion and the practice of justice,—and are each of them contented with a very moderate reign of eight or ten thousand years.

The exploits of the Paishdadian and Kaianian dynasties, with which the Mohammedans begin their history, are of a nature not materially different from those of the Dabistan :-Kaiomurs makes war against the Deevs, (devils, or enchanters,) assisted by an army

of lions and tigers--Jemsheed, his great grandson,--the most magnificent of all the ancient Persian kings-is driven, amid the dissipations natural to youth, from a throne which he had barely filled seven centuries, by a foreign tyrant, Zohauk; who, himself, bfter almost depopulating Persia in the course of a thousand years, was dethroned and slain by a blacksmith of the name of Kawah, who placed on the throne Ferihoon, a descendant of the native kings,-and whose leathern apron was thenceforth, as the Persian historians assure us, the royal standard of their monarchy. The adventures of Kai Khoosrou-of Afrasiaib-of his vizier PeeranWisa-of Isfundear-of Roostum,—nay, of Darab, or Darius Codomannus, and his illustrious antagonist Alexander,-are all told with the same attention to truth and probability; and if there be any

difference between the tone of the Shah Nameh and the Arabian Nights, it is only that the wonders contained in these last are of a tamer and more moderate description.

Now the inference which we would draw from this intermixture of obvious fable with the ancient Persian history, is, that such wonders must needs have been invented at a very great distance of time from the facts which they have displaced or disfigured, and that all authentic documents must have perished before such monstrous fictions could have been believed or endured by rational creatures. Fables are then only tolerated in the place of facts when real facts are no longer remembered. The exaggeration of contemporary flattery is of a very different kind; and the vainest conqueror that ever lived would receive no gratification in being told that he had defeated the White Dæmon;' that he had slain a giant with a serpent on each shoulder; or that his father and grandfather had each of them reigned two hundred years. Nor can that be proved, which has been sometimes rashly asserted, that it is peculiar to the genius of eastern authors to clothe the simple facts of history in the cumbrous trappings of allegory and fable, and that the priests and sages of the ancient world were accustomed, by mystic

legends, to conceal the truth from the knowledge of the vulgar. The authentic historians of the east have handed down to posterity such facts as we receive on their testimony in a manner not materially differing from that of our own writers; and the mysticism of the ancient priests (a point which the framers of mo-, dern systems have exceedingly exaggerated and misunderstood) had reference, we may be sure to other truths than those exploits of their countrymen which, from their nature, could not be secret, and which the natural vanity of every age would induce it, instead of endeavouring to conceal them, to hand down by every means in its power to the knowledge and admiration of posterity.

But the sins of omission in the native Persian historians are as

,

preposterous and yetmore unaccountable,except on the supposition of a general ignorance of all past events, than the exaggerations which we have already noticed. They appear to have preserved no recollections whatever of the mighty empire which their ancestors inconsiderable regions of Africa and Europe. No mention is found in their works of a permanent authority exercised by their ancient kingsoverany provinces west of the Euphrates ; the whole dynasty of the Arsacidæ, including a space of five centuries, the most glori. ous, perhaps, which Persia ever knew, is past over by them in perfect silence; and the only foreign enemies of whom any mention is made in the Shah Nameh are those which, in the life-time of Ferdusi himself, were still in the recent memory of his countrymen,--the Turks of Sogdiana and the Byzantine emperors. Nor is this all. There are many of those circumstances which are most confidently advanced, and have least the air of fable and poetic exag, geration, which, yet, we know to be untrue, from the authority of such western writers as had the most accurate means of information, and approach most nearly to the periods in question. Thus, when Ferdusi tells us that a leathern apron was, for a reason already mentioned, the royal and sacred standard of the Persian armies anterior to the invasion of Alexander, there is no internal circumstance in the story which would induce us to deny our belief; it was a circumstance of which the memory was likely to be long retained ; and as we know, from good authority, that a leathern standard was really used by the kings of the race of Sassan, it is, prima facie, probable that, with a people so fond of ancient customs, this national symbol was indeed derived from the earliest years of their empire. Accordingly, Sir John Malcolm considers the fact of Kawah's insurrection as one of the best authenticated in eastern history. Yet, from the concurrent testimony of the Greeks, we learn that the royal standard of Persia, down to the invasion of Alexander, was not a leathern apron, but a golden eagle. It is true that Sir John Malcolm supposes, in order to obviate an objection so fatal to Ferdusi's credit, that the leathern standard was only displayed on occasions of more than common dana ger or rejoicing. But was not the emergency worthy of such an exhibition when Artaxerxes in person contended with his brother, at Cynaxa, for his life and crown? Would the vain-glorious Xerxes have gone to war without the sacred pageant of his ancestors ? or were not Issus 'and the Granicus scenes where all means would have been employed which could inspire or strengthen the national spirit of the Persian soldiery? When, indeed, the general discrepancy between the Greek and Persian authors in treating of the same period of eastern history is so great as to call forth from

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

Richardson a declaration, that they had no more resemblance to each other than the annals of Persia and Japan; it is plain (though we should admit this statement to be somewhat exaggerated) that the credit must be very small which we can attach to one or other of these contradictory witnesses, and that either the Persians or the Greeks must be necessarily abandoned as mendacious or mis-informed.

Against the latter, when treating of Persia, the following objections have been alleged: First, theiroverweening opinion of their own little country, and their consequent ignorance of all which concerned those nations whom, in contempt, they termed barbarians, Secondly, the manner in which some of their most eminent authors contradict each other. And, lastly, the evident exaggeration of those accounts which they have given us of a part of history, in which, of all others, they were least likely to err—the celebrated expedition of Xerxes. Now, in answer to the first of these, it is far from our inclination to deny, that the Greeks had, like all Europeans, considerable difficulties in acquiring a knowledge of the writers and history of the cast, and that, where a contemporary castern writer is to be found, we should give him a very decided preference to the most learned inquirer of Athens. It is on this principle, in all those circumstances where the Jewish Scriptures differ from the accounts of Herodotus, that, setting aside all ques. tion of their inspired and sacred character, we should consider Ezra and Daniel, who had lived at the court of Cyrus, far better evidence of his exploits and character than a person who had merely travelled through his empire. But, whatever were the attachment of the Greeks to their native soil, it is far from true that it was of a nature to prevent a very extensive and continual intercourse with other nations; nor does it appear that they had less curiosity than any other nation, ancient or modern, as to the manners, laws, and his tory of the countries which they thus frequented. The narrow resources of their native land, and the excellence of their national edu. cation, induced them, (as the Scots and Swiss have been, by similar circumstances, induced,) in frequent instances, to seek their fortune among foreigners; and the dissensions which continually prevailed in their republics conspired to swell the number of those voluntary emigrants with a crowd of exiles and fugitives. And that a disposition was not wanting to improve such opportunities of information is apparent from the space occupied by the incidental mention of foreign customs, in all their more considerable works, whether political or philosophical ; a space, we apprehend, even greater than such topics will be found to occupy in the similar productions of modern authors. Nor will it be denied, that so far as Persia itself is concerned, the ancient Greeks had more opportu.

« AnteriorContinuar »