In the memory of our contemporary artist and woman of letters, Sima Kouban
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How do legends make use of historic events? What role does the collective memory of nations play in this use? How does the river of legends flow forth from historic sources? How do the streams of collective memory arisen from historic events in different periods merge into the river of legends? How does the river of legends alter its course, adapting itself to the beliefs of different eras? How does legend change in time and space, and how does it blend with other historic events? And many other questions, to which even a brief investigation of the story of Samak-e ‘Ayyar and its inspiration from the relations between Iran and Egypt in ancient times, may provide some answers.
To the present, little attention has been given to the influence of ancient Egyptian culture on Iranian culture and literature, while we know that, in the Achaemenian period, Egypt was twice a Persian satrapy, for a total of 132 years during the 27th and 31st dynasties, and that the Iranians also ruled over Egypt for a while in the Sasanian period. Monarchical rule was more than twenty-four centuries old in Egypt when Cambyses founded the 27th dynasty, known as the dynasty of Persian Pharaohs. Of course, culture and art were even older in Egypt than monarchical rule, having long reached their summit of perfection when the Iranian conquerors set foot on Egyptian soil. The Iranians were as fascinated by this rich culture and art as the Greeks, among whom Herodotus wrote “… Egypt being, among all the regions of the earth, the richest in marvels.”1 We are not concerned here with assessing the contributions of ancient Egyptian art to Achaemenian or Sasanian arts. Rather, we are seeking to determine how the culture and civilization of a vanquished nation has influenced the collective memory of the victor, as can be traced here and there in a version of Samak-e ‘Ayyar written in the sixth or seventh century (12th-13th c. A.D.) The only manuscript found so far of Samak-e ‘Ayyar is “in three volumes… preserved at the Bodleian Library, Oxford.”2
Parts of this manuscript are missing. Thus, “many pages are absent between volumes two and three,”3 and the story remains unfinished at the end of volume three. Fortunately, Khanlari has unearthed the second volume of a late tenth or early eleventh century (16th-17th c. A.D.) Turkish translation in two volumes of this book. This manuscript is preserved “as item Or. 3298 in the Turkish Manuscripts section of the British Museum Library… under the title of The Story of Farrokhrooz… On the basis of this translation… a large part of the lost pages of the original can be recovered.”4 In his revised edition, Khanlari has included the Persian translation of the Turkish second volume from the beginning to the point where the story rejoins the beginning of the Persian third volume at the Bodleian Library.