Baum Wilhelm: Shirin

Baum Wilhelm: ShirinChristian - Queen - Myth of love. Historical Reality and Literary Effect

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Shirin, the beloves wife of the Persian shah, Chosroes II (b. 628), pulled political strings behind the scenes and supported the Christian minority in Iran. After the fall of Chosroes, Firdausi remembered Shirin in his epic, the "Shahnama". Around 1180, the Persian poet Nizami wrote of her alleged love for the master builder Ferhad in his epic "Chosroes ans Shirin", which was often mimitated in Persian, Turkish, and Indian literary circles. Shirin besame an image of love par excellence, living on even as far as Europe in no less a work than Goethes "West-östlicher Divan".

This book performs a valuable service. It is the first monographic study of Shirin, the Christian wife of the Persian-Sassanian shah Chosroes II, who lived at the end of the 6th and at the beginning of the 7th centuries. Baum presents the historical background of this famous woman and her effect on later poetry and art in four chapters.
The first chapter gives a brief yet sound introduction into "
in Late Antiquity" (pp. 3-17); it is also an ecumenically balanced overview of Syriac Christian history in that period.
Chapter two explores Shirin as a historical person (pp. 19-61). In the center is her life on the Persian court in the framework of her relationship to her husband Chosroes II. In fact, one learns a lot about Chosroes' reign itself, his alliance with
, and Persian imperial intrigues. The author also clarifies the myth that Chosroes had been married with the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Maurice. About half of this chapter on Shirin's influence on Chosroes as queen of the queens focuses upon Sassanian politics concerning East and West Syriac Christians, i.e. the Church of the East and the Syriac Orthodox Church. This is an invaluable and historically rich chapter that clearly demonstrates how politics shape ecclesiastical history, and - in the context of the present topic - how Shirin shaped politics.
The following chapter three (pp. 63-83) traces the development of the various myths of Shirin and analyzes how the historic person entered literature and the arts. While Christian authors after the 14th century rarely mention her, Islamic writers had developed their stories already a century after her death. Among others, Baum describes the image of Shirin in Firdausi's "Book of Kings (Shahnama)", in the "The Tales of the 1001 Arabian Nights", and in Nizami's verse epic "Chosroes and Shirin". He shows how the latter was received and modified by later Persian, Indian, and Georgian authors. Furthermore, he analyzes the birth of the entirely unhistorical story of the love between Shirin and Chosroe's supposed architect Ferhard, which was adopted in Turkish literature: Ali Shir Navai's epic "Ferhard and Shirin" spread through miniature paintings from
Asia Minor through Afghanistan, Persia and India
The last chapter four (pp. 85-91) discusses Shirin's rediscovery in
by the Austrian Orientalist Josef von Hammer-Purgstall and its influence on German literature, especially on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's "West-östlicher Divan".
On occasion, the reader might wish for more references in the notes. But there is no doubt that this booklet investigates a wide area of literature and synthesizes it with great profundity. It serves as a valuable source of information to the reader. The book jacket describes the author as historian, theologian, and philosopher, who lives in
Klagenfurt (Germany); this is correct, despite the fact that Klagenfurt is in Austria.


Hugoye Journal of Syriac Studies, 7, 2004