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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 36 page 18


Some teachers told me the story of the Fall was only “symbolic.” The characters were not really in heaven, they were on Earth. They were actually us. And the apple was symbolic of “knowledge.” Every human being at some point in their life, by acquiring knowledge (eating the apple), would sooner or later wake up to the real horrors of living on Earth. This reading of the story infuriated me even more than the literal interpretation. I felt stunned to realize I was living among people who saw the Fall as reflecting their own lives: corrupt, deceitful, and tragic. “The Fall must portray how the Arabs lived, they wrote this story,” I thought, because I learned the story in our Islamic Theology in primary school. A few years later, I realized the Christians and the Jews also believed in the same ugly picture of human society. The Arabs actually had stolen the idea from them.

I still had a chance to save my ancestral intellectual dignity. I was a Persian: a Pre-Abrahamic pagan. My ancestors didn’t have a role in writing this rubbish. I thought we might have our own Fall and I looked for it. I was right. We had a Persian Fall. Our Adam was Keyumars, the first human and the first Shah. Here is a loose translation of the story of Keyumars penned by the great poet Ferdowsi in the Shahnameh, the “Book of Kings”:

The first man was Keyumars and he was the first king. Keyumars, the sovereign of the earth set up his court in a mountain cave. Keyumars and his clan wore tiger-skins and walked around the world. They taught people how to dress and what to eat. All the beasts and birds of the world rested around his bed. And the tribes of the world came to his throne to pledge their allegiance and to receive their laws. He was loved universally. Someone became jealous: Ahriman the Devil. The army of Keyumars and the army of Ahriman started to fight....

I do admire Ferdowsi’s creativity by which he makes a caveman appear like a king, and his powers of persuasion that make people believe it’s impossible to imagine a society without a dictator with absolute powers. However, I should confess that, like the Abrahamic Fall, the Persian Fall miserably let me down. The literary structure of the tale is artlessly basic. It is primitive and aggressive. The first man was the first king. He bossed everyone around. People would have to meet him and swear allegiance in servitude. He had some men who imposed and enforced the law. Most of his men were members of his clan. He even ruled over beasts and birds: absolute control. This is the recipe of despotism. The first man was the first dictator. This narrative must have been constructed by a dictatorial system with a large propaganda scheme, or imagined by men and women who had experienced only authoritarian governance and administration.

Although the social implications of a narrative such as the Persian Fall could be as disastrous as the Abrahamic Fall, the latter should get credit for its complexity. The Persian narrative merely has a stickman plot that never creates enough dramatic space for tone, voice, or logical narrative development. Motivations are not clear and there is no psychological depth. Characters and their relationships are too underdeveloped to create any sense of identification. Unlike in the Abrahamic tale, women are not even mentioned in this story. There is not a god in the story either. As disturbing as gods are, they have great fictional value and can capture audiences. But Keyumars is a man who happens to rule everyone simply because he came first. Not very creative, I would claim.