It just so happens that, at the same time as I was piecing together the idea for this blog, I was also reading the Dick Davis translation of the Shahnameh (abridged, and published in 2006). The Shahnameh is the massive poetic epic history of Persia, covering the history of the Persian people from the very first man, to the last Sassanid King, Yazdegerd III (who died while fleeing the Muslim conquest.) Since this work covers over 6,000 years of history, and more characters than in the entire Lord of the Rings corpus, there is a lot to work from here, in regards to discerning what ideals of gentlemanly virtue were in Persian Culture. Following are some quotes from throughout the text, with some pointers on how we gentlemen-in-training can apply them to our own lives:
(And remember, I could have made this really difficult and done this with the Popol Vuh. I’m doing us a favor. Well, mostly me; I don’t really want to read the Popol Vuh again; it’s a very strange book. Trust me on that. Though I could have probably done the same thing with Lord of the Rings, and made everyone happy. Oh well. Hindsight is 20/20. Also, a warning: Persian literature is very fond of Purple Prose. Furthermore, apologies for the improper citation for…pretty much all of these quotes. I took these notes down on my cellphone, mostly just for myself. I never thought I’d actually share these. Double whoops. They are arranged in order of the narrative, and furthermore, express in condensed sentences ideas which appear hundreds of times within the Shahnameh.):
Turn from this world’s inconsistent vanity, and put your trust in God’s eternity.
As Orthodox Gentlemen, we need to, of course, place our trust in God above all other things. Prayer is an essential part of being a gentleman. But it is also not the only part of being a gentleman. It’s the whole works vs. faith debate, and, in this case, being a gentleman does definitely require work.
Talk civilly, as a knight should, and keep your cold, contemptuous words unsaid.
This is almost exactly, word-for-word, what was said off the bat in the intro for this topic. See? This is a big deal. Do not use words that can hurt unless you absolutely have a VERY good reason to do so. Do not let your tongue escape your mouth, unless it is to some greater purpose. Which means we need to watch out for sarcasm. Important etymological fact: sarcasm comes from the same greek root as the greek word for cutting.
You fearless fool, haven’t you heard what the leopard said to the sea monster: ‘When passion overcomes wisdom, no one can escape its clutches; but the wise man who overcomes passion will be renowned as a lion’?
Being a Christian gentleman is all about this. Overcoming the base passions, overcoming the rebellious nature of sin, for the betterment of self, and oftentimes, the world around them, in tiny little ways. Yes, it’s tough, but we can do it. Together. There is a lot of overcoming of the self that goes into being a gentleman, and we’ll work through it.
You are a root stock of manliness and a mine of virtues; your deeds shine like the sun, for their goodness is seen everywhere.
Mostly, I really like this quote. But again; here it is—being a gentleman is not only about inner discourse, but also about doing good deeds. Generosity is paramount among these, we’ll see that in a moment with Kay Khursrow. But here’s something else: goodness is supposed to be seen, at least, that’s the idea. This can be a bit of a shock for us as Christians. We’re taught, according to Matthew 6:3, that when we do good things, we must “not let [our] left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Perhaps we can, however, agree that while we should be doing good deeds, perhaps we should let these deeds speak for themselves–rather than us speak about them.
O higher than the highest, show to me
The ways of righteousness and purity:
Guide me to heaven, let me leave behind
This fleeting habitation of mankind,
And let my heart shun sin, so that I might
Pass to the realms of everlasting light.
Prayer is paramount to the gentleman. Without prayer, you can accomplish nothing. Even the ancient kings of Persia, as portrayed in the Shahnameh, knew this. And it’s something we, as budding gentlemen, need to remember as well.
Take these [jewels] in remembrance of me and see that you only sow seeds of righteousness in the world–Kay Khosrow
Generosity appears once more. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that throughout the narrative of the Shahnameh, Kay Khosrow is seen as the perfect king; the king which all other kings compare themselves to. Not because of territories conquered, or skills in battle, but because of the nature of his soul; he is the only one of the ancient kings to ascend directly to Heaven while alive. He is seen as a dispenser of wisdom, but not just of wisdom, but of wealth and aid to his people. Gentlemen are supposed to be generous and magnanimous.
Henceforth see that only justice issues from your mouth, since it is justice that will bring you victory and prosperity… be wise, harm no one, and always guard your tongue.
Here’s the Philosopher King of ancient Persia, again, repeating that same super-important piece of advice that truly seems to serve as the keystone of Gentlemanliness. (Is that a word? It should be.) Be careful what you say to others. Sometimes words hurt, whether yourself, or others. Yes, that’s right, things you say can hurt yourself. An excellent example of this would be beating yourself up after some grave sin you’ve committed. Just go to confession, and be absolved. Don’t beat yourself up with your imperfection and mistake, because that solves nothing. We should strive to be loving, deliberate, and hold high standards for ourselves and others. We are to use our anger, when we have it, judiciously, and to make it instructional, rather than destructive. It also means watch your tongue when you’re rejected. (There will be a full post on that later.)
…calm your rage, for a man who speaks unjustly is more interested in smoke than fire.
Are you seeing that this idea is important yet? Good. Again, I can’t emphasize this enough.
Rejoice in God’s commands and be content.
This is pretty much the same idea that St. John Chrysostom had, when he proclaimed as he was sent to exile in Georgia, “Glory to God in all things.” Again; ties in loosely with rejection. You get rejected. It’s not the end of the world. Glory to God in all things. God has a different plan, and it’s invariably a better one, speaking from my own experience with jobs, at the very least. Be content with knowing that God has a plan, and that your mission is to seek to fulfill it. Yes, you can’t know what that plan is all the time, but trust that there IS one.
Do not rush to embrace the world, for its depths are but darkness: live in justice and happiness
As Gentlemen, we are not of the world, at least, not anymore. Just as in the same way, we are Christians who are not of the world, but live in it.
A noble Prince will neither talk at length nor eat too much.
Here’s the end of the quotes coming from Kay Khosraw. A nod towards fasting. Which yes, it sadly means that gorging yourself on all of the meat at the Paschal feast is probably not very gentlemanly. (Drat.) And, it means being silent when the occasion calls for it. One does not always need to speak. Silence can be golden.
When a man becomes pure in thought, he goes into the mountains
Self-explanitory. Sometimes, a gentleman needs to retreat into the place where he can connect with God once more. Mountains are a good place. Forests are another. And monasteries are still another. Connection with God is required for good and proper thought in the Shahnameh. Good kings are constantly going on pilgrimages to mountaintop holy sites. It’s worthy to consider the idea of occasional visits to monasteries simply to reconnect.
“…there is no one else in the world like Sekandar. In his manliness, policy, good fortune, and wisdom he surpasses all that anyone could imagine. “
Here, in essence, are the attributes that make up a Gentleman-king in Persian culture: manliness, his policy towards others, and wisdom. It’s also worth it to note that Sekander is Alexander the Great’s name in the narrative of the Shahnameh. In other words: Here’s a Persian text praising an outsider for having these attributes that make for a proper gentleman. Yes, outsiders can become gentlemen.
When a man drinks, he must choose enough so that he can sit astride a lion without the lion trampling him, but not so much that when he leaves the king’s presence a raven will peck his eyes out.
While amusing, this quote raises an extremely valid point: watch what you drink, and how much. Drink in moderation, lest you make very, very stupid decisions that you will not only regret, but that you’ll probably have to go to confession for. (Said quote sort of makes sense in the context of the narrative, I promise.)
Next up: Things that we can start on off the bat, while I’m off crushing grapes down in Arizona’s wine country. It will also be a much shorter post, I promise. (Edit: Or not. It rained all last night and most of today, which means the harvest is being pushed back a few days. So it goes. )