Friday, June 24, 2011


The Cypress of Kashmar

I often feel like Tom Sawyer persuading his friends to do the work of painting Aunt Polly's fence. Today is one of those days. Thanks to Eric Thomson for all of what follows.

From the mid-seventeenth century Persian Dabistān-i Mazāhib. Mazāh apparently means ‘sect’ in this context so ‘school of manners’ is not quite accurate.

The Dabistan or School of Manners, tr. David Shea and Anthony Troyer, Volume I (Paris, Oriental Translation Fund, 1843), pp. 306-308:
The professors of the excellent faith and the Moslem historians agree, that in Kashmir or Kashmar,2 a place celebrated for female beauty, a dependency of Naishapur, there was formerly a cypress3 [p. 307] planted by Zardusht [Zoroaster] for king Gushtasp, the like of which was never seen before or since, for beauty, height, or straightness: mention of this tree having been made at the court of Mutawakkal1 when he was engaged in building the Sarman raï, or Samarah2 palace in the Jâafriyah,3 the Khalif felt a great desire to behold it: and as it was not in his power to go to Khorasan, he wrote to Abdallah Táhir Zavalimin, "possessor of happiness," to have the tree cut down, fastened on rollers, and sent to Baghdád. When intelligence of this came to the people of the district and the inhabitants of Khorasan, they assembled at the foot of the tree, imploring for mercy with tears and lamentations, and exhibiting a scene of general desolation. The professors of the excellent faith offered the governor fifty thousand dinars to spare the tree, but the offer was refused. When the [p. 308] cypress was felled, it caused great detriment to the buildings and water-courses of the country; the birds of different kinds which had built their nests on it issued forth in such countless myriads as to darken the air, screaming out in agony with various tones of distress: the very oxen, sheep, and other animals which reposed under its sheltering shade, commenced such piteous moans of woe that it was impossible to listen to them. The expense of conveying the trunk to Baghdad was five hundred thousand dinars; the very branches loaded one thousand and three hundred camels. When the tree had reached one station from the Jaafriyah quarter, on that same night, Mutawakkal the Abasside was cut in pieces by his own guards,1 so that he never beheld the tree. Some Muhammedan writers state the circumference of the trunk at twenty-seven táziáynah, each a cubit and a quarter long, and also that fourteen hundred and fifty years had elapsed from the time of its being planted to the year 252 of the Hejirah (846, A. D.).2


[p. 306]

2 Kashmar, Kishmar is the name of a town in the country of Tirshez, in Khorasan or in Bactria (Hyde, p. 332).
3 Upon the cypress, see notes pp. 236 [sic, read 246], 280. According to the Ferhang Jehangiri and the Burhani Kati, Zardusht planted two cypress-trees; one in the town just mentioned, and the other in the town of Faru’mad, or Feru'yad, or Ferdi'd, which is in the country of Tus. The Magi believe, he planted these trees by means of two shoots brought by him from paradise. – A. T.
[footnote p. 246: To these miracles add that related in the Shah nameh naser, quoted by Hyde (p. 324): Zoroaster planted before the king's palace a cypress-tree, which in a few days grew to the height and thickness of ten rasons (measure undetermined), and upon the top of it he built a summer palace. – A. T.]

[p. 307]

1 He was the tenth Khalif of the Abbassides, and began to reign in the year of the Hejira 232, A.D. 846. – A. T.
2 Samarah is a town in Chaldaea, from which the Samaritan Jews have their name, and which was for some time the seat of the Muselman empire (Herbelot). – A. T.
3 Jâafriyah is a town in the Arabian Irak, so called from its builder, Jâfar, the original name of the khalif who assumed the title of Matavakhel al Allah, "he who confides in God." – A. T.

[p. 308]

1 He had then reigned fourteen years and two months. The Turks were excited to murder him by his own son Montassar, in the town of Makhuriah, on the very spot where Khosru Parviz had been put to death by his son Shiruyah (Siroes)–(Herbelot). – A. T.
2 According to the above statement, the tree would have been planted 604 years before our era, that is, about the time of Gushtasp, king of Persia, if the years above stated be taken for solar years; but if for lunar (that is for only 1408 solar) years, the epoch of the plantation of the cypress would be 562 years B.C., and 548, if the computation be referred to the end of Mutawakhal's life. – A. T.

Hyde is Thomas Hyde, Veterum Persarum et Parthorum et Medorum Religionis Historia, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1760), who says (p. 332):
Mira multa de eo credunt Magi, ejus Asseclae, quale est illud in Libro Pharh. Gj. [= Farhang-i Jahangiri, a seventeenth-century Persian lexicon], apud Káshmer, seu Keshmer, quod est nomen urbis ex regione Terjhíz, quae in Chorasân, seu Bactriâna. Magi credunt quòd Zerdusht duas Cupressos sub fausto Sydere plantavit; unam sc. in dicta urbe, & alteram in urbe Pharûyad (aliàs dicta Pharâyad, seu Pherdíd) quae ex regione Tus. Credunt eum has arbores plantasse ex duobus ramis [seu virgultis] quos secum ex Paradiso attulit.— Dicitur quòd Chalípha Mutawâkkil Abbasides scripsit ad Tâhìr Ibn Abdallah, qui tunc praefectus Chorasaniae fuit, ut dictam arborem succideret, & Truncum Currubus seu Plaustris, Ramos verò Camelis imponeret, & hoc modo mitteret ad Bagdâd. Magi, hoc audito, obtulerunt 50,000 Dinar ut illa Arbor non succideretur: sed Táhir non acceptavit. — Ajunt sub hujus Arboris umbrâ plures quàm 10,000 Boum Ovium & Caprarum cubasse; & alia innumera Animalia inter ejus ramos nidificâsse, terram casu ejus tremuisse, & Aves ex eâ avolantes totum aërem operuisse, eásque, quasi per modum precandi, gemitum suum edidisse, & Oves ac Boves mugitu ingemuisse. Trunci ad Bagdâd Translatio constitit 500,000 Dirèm, & Ramis ejus onusti fuêre 1600 Cameli.

A.V. Williams Jackson cites other sources for this story, including the geographer Zakariya al-Qazwini (1280-1283), in ‘The Cypress of Kashmar and Zoroaster’, Section D of ‘Miscellaneus Zorastrian Studies’ in Zoroastrian Studies: The Iranian Religion and Various Monographs (New York: Columbia, 1928).


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