King Shaput Zu˒l Aktaf
Firdausī ṭūsī, Abū˒ al-Qāsim
King Shaput Zu˒l Aktaf Observes Mani's Flayed Body
Shāhnāma (Book of Kings), in Persian
Promised gift of William M. Voelkle.; voelkle leaf
This miniature appears in a sixteenth-century manuscript of Firdausī's Shāhnāma (Book of Kings), the Persian national epic, written between 980 and 1010. He tells the story of Mani (ca. 216–276), a painter and prophet from China, who sought an audience with the king, Shapur, to seek his support as a prophet of a new religion. Shapur had doubts about his creed, however, and Mani was unable to address Shapur's remarks concerning the faith of Zoroaster. The enraged king had Mani flayed and his skin stuffed with straw so that no one would be tempted to follow his teachings. Representations of the subject are extremely rare. Mani was the founder of Manichaeanism, but he actually died in prison during the reign of Bahrām I, Shapur's second successor.
The Persians loved their poetry and their poets, though the Qur˒an warned against believing their words (sura 69.41) and "those straying in evil who follow them" (sura 26.224). While Arabic was the first language of Islam and the language of the Qur˒an, Persian was favored by poets. Even Firdausī's (940–1020) celebrated Shāhnāma (Book of Kings), the national epic of Persian, was written in verse—some 50,000 couplets! Rūmī (1207–1273), the best known of the Sufi poets, put poetry in perspective when he wrote, "A hundred thousand books of poetry existed / Before the word of the illiterate [Prophet] they were put to shame!" (Masnavī I, 529). Presented here are illustrations of Firdausī's Shāhnāma as well as works by Sa˓ dī (ca.1184–1292), Hāfiz (ca. 1320–1389), and Jāmī (1414–1492), regarded as the last of the great Sufi poets. Also featured are illustrations from each of the five poems of the Khamsa (Quintet), by Niẓāmī (ca. 1141–1209), especially Lailā and Majnūn (The Persian Romeo and Juliet) and Bahrām Gūr's Seven Princesses.