Sunday, April 22, 2007

"A Year Amongst the Persians"

I’ve been reading E.G. Browne’s “A Year Amongst the Persians”, a wonderful account of his travels in Iran 120 years ago. Unlike other western chroniclers from the period (and there are many) Browne has a deep love and appreciation of Persian culture and a knowledge of the language. He travels from city to city, village to village by mule and horse, introducing us to people along the way; some are high-born, others are servants and villagers – all are colorful. He also shares with us some of the tales he hears. Here’s a sample:

On the second day after leaving Teheran, we entered the dismal region called by the Persians Malaku ‘l-Mawl Dere (The Valley of the Angel of Death). Around this spot cluster most thickly the weird talkes fo the desert.

There are several species of supernatural monsters which haunt the gloomy defiles of the Valley of the Angel of Death. Of these the ghuls and the ‘ifrits are alike the commonest and the most malignant. The former usually endeavor to entice the traveler away from the caravan to his destruction by assuming the form or voice of a friend or relative. Crying out piteously for help, and entreating the unwary traveler to come to their assistance, they induce him to follow them to some lonely spot, where, suddenly assuming the hideous form proper to them, they rend him in pieces and devour him.

Another monster is the nasnas, which appears in the form of an infirm and aged man. It is generally found sitting by the side of a river, and bewailing its inability to cross. When it sees the wayfarer approaching, it earnestly entreats him to carry it across the water to the other side. If he consents, it seats itself on his shoulders, and, when he reaches the middle of the river, winds its long supple legs round his throat till he falls insensible in the water and perishes.

Besides these, there is the pa-lis, (“Foot-licker”), which only attacks those who are overtaken by sleep in the desert. It kills its victim, as the name implies, by licking the soles of his feet till it has drained away his life-blood. It was on one occasion circumvented by two muleteers of Isfahan, who being benighted in the desert, lay down feet to feet, covering their bodies with cloaks. Presently the pa-lis arrived, and began to walk round the sleepers to discover their feet, but on either side it found a head. At last it gave up the search in despair, exclaiming as it made off, “I have wandered through a thousand and thirty and three valleys, but never yet saw a two-headed man.”

“A Year Amongst the Persians”, Edward G. Browne, 1893.

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