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At the time when the Assyrian kings of the neo-Babylonian epoch were publishing the Babylonian mythological cycles, and when Egyptian and Greek mythologies were flourishing, the original Persian or Iranian mythology was being stopped in its growth; afterwards nearly all records of it were destroyed. This happened in the reign of Darius (sixth century B.C.), through the rise of the Mazdean or Zoroastrian dualism which, accepted by the king and the governing classes, had the effect of depriving the old mythology of all value and significance.

The Zoroastrian dualism represented a religion that was on a higher level than the religions of Egypt and Babylon. Says Professor Rostovtzeff :

Like the Hebrew prophets, Zoroaster reached the conception of a single spiritual god, Ormuzd or Ahura Mazda, in whom the principle of good is personified, while the evil principle is embodied in Ariman or Angra Mainyu. The two principles strive eternally in life and nature, and in the struggle men take part. Man is responsible for his actions, good and bad; he is the master of his fate; his will determines his line of conduct. If he struggles against evil, confesses God, and cares for the purity of his body and soul, then, after four periods, of three thousand years each, in the world's history, when the time shall arrive for final victory of good over evil and of Ormuzd over Ariman--the general resurrection of the dead and the last judgment will assure him his place among the saved and the righteous9

The Persian religion had strong influence upon both Judaism and early Christianity: a king who was the champion of early Zoroastrianism ended the Babylonian captivity and enabled the Jews to reconstitute themselves as a religious body; the star of the Nativity was hailed by

p. xiii

the Magi who were Persians and Zoroastrians. This religion in the form of the worship of one of the angelic powers of Zoroastrian theology, Mithra, spread through the West during the late Roman Empire, and made itself a powerful rival of young Christianity. Mithra, who was identified with the Sun, had a cult that was fostered by the Roman military guild; it is known that as far west as Britain there was a temple built to him. Present-day Christianity, on the side of ceremony and ritual, has elements that have come into it from its one-time closeness to Mithraism. If we read Francis Thompson's "Orient Ode" we shall know something of the fervours of Mithraism; it is significant that the metaphors in the opening verse are from the sacred ritual of the Mass:

Lo, in the sanctuaried East,
Day, a dedicated priest
In all his robes pontifical exprest,
Lifteth slowly, lifteth sweetly,
From out its Orient tabernacle drawn,
Yon orbéd sacrament confest
Which sprinkles benediction through the dawn.

[paragraph continues] Mithraic feeling is stronger in another verse:

Thou art the incarnated Light
Whose Sire is aboriginal, and beyond
Death and resurgence of our day and night;
From his is thy vicegerent wand
With double potence of the black and white.
Giver of Love, and Beauty, and Desire,
The terror, and the loveliness, and purging,
The deathfulness and lifefulness of fire!

The original mythology of Iran or Persia is supposed to have been of the type that existed in Aryan India around 1000 B.C.--the mythology of the Vedic Hymns. Many names out of the oldest strata of Iranian tradition can be equated with names in the Vedic Hymns. One of these names is Yima which in later Persian becomes Jamshīd. Yima is the same as the Vedic god Yama: Yama, in India, was the god of the dead. "The evidence concerning Yama-Yima," writes Albert J. Carnoy, "is, on the whole, that he is the setting sun. He follows the path of the sun to go to a remote recess, whither he leads all men with him. . . . In Iran the solar nature of Yima is rather more accentuated than in India, and the old epithets of Yima are striking

p. xiv

in this respect. He is commonly called Khshaēta ('brilliant'), an adjective which is at the same time a regular epithet of the sun." 10 The story of Jamshīd is the most explicit piece of mythology that has come down to us from ancient Iran--it is preserved in a very late work--in the Shāhnāmah, written by the poet Firdausī, who died about 1025 A. D. Firdausī used old traditions which were mythology that had been turned into pseudo-historical legends. It is of interest to note that not long after the time when Firdausī treated the fragments of an Aryan mythology as historical traditions and romantic tales, a like work was accomplished at the other side of the Aryan world--in Wales where the fragments of Celtic mythology were made over into the collection of romantic stories that we know as the Mabinogion.


xii:9 A History of the Ancient World, Vol. I.

xiv:10 Iranian Mythology, Volume VI of Mythology of All Races.

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