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The Div Akwan Flings Rustam into the Sea, from the Shahnama of Firdausi

Iranian

Artwork Details

The Div Akwan Flings Rustam into the Sea, from the Shahnama of Firdausi
circa 1460
Iranian
ink, opaque watercolor, and gold leaf on paper
10 1/2 in. x 7 in. ( 26.7 cm x 17.8 cm )
Museum Purchase
1963/1.53

On Display

Not currently on display

Description

Reports had come to Shah Kai Khusrau of a mysterious beast ravaging the herds in the countryside. Recognizing that it was a magical div (demon), he summoned Rustam to deal with the problem. Rustam soon came upon the creature, but every time he tried to lasso or spear it, it disappeared. Exhausted,
He watered Rakhsh and sank to sleep fordone,
But first ungirthed his steed, took off the saddle
To use its poplar pummel as his pillow,
And spread beside the spring his saddle-cloth
For sleep while Rakhsh to pasturage sped forth.
When from afar Akwan saw Rustam sleeping
He came as swift as wind, delved round about
The place where Rustam lay, and raised it skyward.

Then said Akwan to Rustam in his plight:
“Now, elephantine chieftain! take thy choice
To fall upon the mountains or the waves;
So whither shall I fling thee far from men?”
The elephantine hero communed thus:
“In every case naught bettereth artifice.
He will do contrary to what I say;
He will not recognise an oath or keep
A pact. If I say, ‘Throw me in the sea,’
Then will this evil-natured Ahriman*
Fling me upon the mountains, dash me there
To pieces, and destroy me. I must use
Some scheme to make him fling me into water. …”
Warner, III, 276–77
The encounter with the Div Akwan is the only moment in the Shahnama where Rustam is overpowered and must rely on his wits alone to survive. The artist of this page has managed to suggest both Rustam’s helplessness and his resolve: the lion-faced Akwan holds Rustam overhead as easily as a waiter manages a tray, while Rustam grasps his sword to prepare for the worst. (It may appear that Akwan is wounded due to some damage to the page.)
* Ahriman, sometimes translated as “the devil,” is the destructive force according to Zoroastrian teachings.
———
Maribeth Graybill, Senior Curator of Asian Art
Exhibited in "A Medieval Masterpiece from Baghdad: the Ann Arbor Shahnama"
August 14 through December 19, 2004

Subject Matter:

He watered Rakhsh and sank to sleep fordone,
But first ungirthed his steed, took off the saddle
To use its poplar pummel as his pillow,
And spread beside the spring his saddle-cloth
For sleep while Rakhsh to pasturage sped forth.
When from afar Akwan saw Rustam sleeping
He came as swift as wind, delved round about
The place where Rustam lay, and raised it skyward.

Then said Akwan to Rustam in his plight:
“Now, elephantine chieftain! take thy choice
To fall upon the mountains or the waves;
So whither shall I fling thee far from men?”
The elephantine hero communed thus:
“In every case naught bettereth artifice.
He will do contrary to what I say;
He will not recognise an oath or keep
A pact. If I say, ‘Throw me in the sea,’
Then will this evil-natured Ahriman*
Fling me upon the mountains, dash me there
To pieces, and destroy me. I must use
Some scheme to make him fling me into water. …”

Physical Description:

This Persian miniature is attributed to the Shiraz and Timurid schools, ca. 1460. The painting is done in ink, opaque watercolor and gold leaf on paper. The scene, The Div Akwan Flings Rustam into the Sea, is part of the Shahnama of Firdausi, the Persian book of kings. 

Usage Rights:

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