However, parts of the text remain obscure. Thus, at the end of the second volume at the Bodleian Library, Prince Farrokhrooz is a two and a half year old tot (when he comes in possession of Siamak’s treasure), while at the beginning of the Turkish translation’s second volume he is a youth in love wondering “how he can endure the absence of Golbooy.”5
The hero of the story is an elfin paladin known as Samak-e ‘Ayyar6, who together with his companion brigands, gives assistance to Khorshid Shah, the son of Marzban Shah, and his son, Prince Farrokhrooz, and is eventually entitled ‘Alamafrooz after rendering outstanding services.
In Khanlari’s opinion: “The phrasing of the book is such that it appears to have been written to be narrated…” He continues: “Samak-e ‘Ayyar is a Persian popular story that has brought entertainment and joy to the people of this land for many centuries and which storytellers have learned from their masters or fathers, spending their entire lives retelling it in towns and villages, and eventually conferring this social service on their own students or sons before departing.”7
Some attribute the original story of Samak-e ‘Ayyar to the Parthian period. The oath of the story’s heroes to “… Noor, Nar, Mehr and the Seven Stars…” can be seen as a relic of Mithraic beliefs. Khanlari, without putting forth a date, highlights points that indicate a relation between this story and pre-Islamic Iranian narratives, including the “appellation of Khorshid Shah, the main hero of the story of Samak-e ‘Ayyar,” which he believes corresponds “to what is recorded in the Pahlavi book Bondehesh … concerning the descendants of the Kiani monarch, Manuchehr.”8 In the preface to his Shahr-e Samak, he adds: “These types of popular stories have very ancient origins in the history of a people’s life. Narrators learn them from one another in the course of time, transmitting them from bosom to bosom, while tinting each in accordance with their times and social developments so that they remain familiar to their listeners. However, their overall structure remained in place as massive tree trunks, with only their branches altered now and then.” Khanlari concludes: “Perhaps the roots of this story must be sought in very ancient times. The original story appears to have come into being in the heroic period and been repeatedly revived and renovated in the course of time.”9
The author, taking into consideration the concepts involved in some illustrations and textual passages, believes that some of the story’s events must be traced in the Iranians’ collective memory in relation to Egypt, from antiquity to the time when the story was written, i.e., the seventh century A.H. (13th c. A.D.) The origins of this relationship may be remnants from the time when Cambyses invaded Egypt. Here we concern ourselves only with those parts and illustrations of this book that may be related to the Iranians’ perception of Egyptian civilization and culture.
The three existing volumes of the Samak-e ‘Ayyar manuscript contain 80 illustrations. The calligraphy and illustration of this copy were undoubtedly commissioned by its author, whose social status was enhanced to the best ability of the artists involved. These types of paintings have come to be known as the Provincial School, owing to their distinctly lower artistic quality in comparison with the illustrations of manuscripts produced in royal and princely courts. On the other hand, these crude paintings made by one or a few painters constitute a rare source of knowledge on popular beliefs, customs and ways of life in the sixth and seventh centuries A.H. (12th-13th c. A.D.)10
The discussion of the visual significance of these paintings, which are believed to be relics of the pre-Islamic tradition of mural painting in southwestern Iran, falls beyond the scope of the present article and will be dealt with in a research embodying the entire illustrations of the Samak-e ‘Ayyar manuscript.
As in many other manuscripts, the illustrations of this only known copy of Samak-e ‘Ayyar are more or less damaged and one or more fanatic individuals have obliterated a number of the faces, which fortunately has not diminished their documentary value.