Epics and verse are not the result of hazard, but rather of a group that has developed a moral code and a sophisticated culture.
There exist diverse types of epic poetry around the world, but they typically revolve around the origins of the Gods; their teachings and the work of creating the city and agriculture; laying out of rules for marriage and the establishment of the family; and perhaps most notably the heroes who vanquished dark forces in the name of the Gods.
All of these mature themes and polished words could only emerge when humans had stepped out of backwardness, developed a set of norms that differentiated them from other animals, and nurtured a culture with an understanding of poetry and music.
The great Persian epic Shahnameh was written by the poet Ferdowsi over the course of three decades, from 977 to 1010. This masterpiece told the story of the Persian world from the time of its formation until the Muslim conquest, with many myths, heroes and history.
The work carries a message: life is short and all of us are merely passing through, so one should be wise enough to avoid cruelty, deceit, and other wrong actions. Our sole aim in life should be to strive for justice and truth and things that bring happiness, serenity, and honor.
Jamshid is the mythical king of Shahnameh (10th-century Epic of Persian Kings). In 2nd chapter of Zoroastrian Avesta (Vendidad) Ahura Mazda warns Jamshid of a harsh winter & orders him to build an enclosure to shelter the fittest humans and 2 of every animal so they may surivive. pic.twitter.com/oXab8LoooE
— Persian Rose 🇺🇸🇮🇷🏳️ (@PersianRose1) March 27, 2019
The epic Shahnameh features the incredible deeds of generations of heroes, and, above all, a reverence for the divine (@PersianRose1/ Twitter.com)
In the Russian epic Kiev, three brave soldiers, Dobrynya Nikitich, Ilya Muromets, and Alyosha Popovich chose to serve Vladimir Sviatoslavich (958-1015), the Grand Prince of Kiev, who taught people the basis of Christian morality and at the same time built a great, prosperous nation in Kievan Rus.
In the epic, monsters and bandits succumbed to the righteous power of the three men. The story, “Dobrynya Nikitich kills the snake-headed dragon,” shares commonalities with the pre-existing story of Saint George’s eradication of the evil dragon. Saint George was also the patron saint of Russia and Ukraine.
In Scandinavian verse, we also come across images of knights who are honored by the title “Herr” placed before their name, serving God and preserving the moral standards of human society.
Herr Mannelig in the Swedish version, who is known as Herr Magnus in the Danish version, firmly refuses female temptresses who offer great wealth in exchange for corruption.
However, according to the Swedish epic, not all the knights were steadfast in the face of temptation and fascination. In one version, Herr Oluf, who was the son of a king and thus should have been able to maintain his honor and his dignity, accepted a drink from a female demon seductress, leading him to his death by drowning.
Modern films and comic books have often borrowed from and modified the content of ancient epics and verses. However, these adaptations typically undermine the spirit of the original works, preventing the younger generations from truly understanding where they come from.
For example, Beowulf, the hero described in the Anglo-Saxon epic produced between 975-1025, served God and spent his whole life eradicating demons to protect humankind.
However, in the contemporary film adaption (2007), Beowulf is depicted as a flawed human, an unbeliever who is only slightly stronger than ordinary people and falls easily into the temptations of the flesh.
Although the Beowulf story dates back to the time before Scandinavia was Christianized, the famous version of the epic was composed by poets of the Middle Ages, so the hero is transformed into the model of the Christian knight with a profound sense of moral mission.
Today, as before, we need epics to help us make sense of where we came from and where we are going. Epic poetry still stands as the hallmark of any great civilization.
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