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Lords of the Light; An Outlook on Persian Myths

Zoroastrian Mythology

The Achaemenid court, especially King Darius I, had a unique devotion to the supreme god, Ahura Mazda or the Lord of Wisdom, originally the great god of Zoroastrianism whom he calls ‘The great god, and the greatest of the gods who created the sky and the Earth, and especially created happiness for the people’. In the bas-reliefs of Persepolis, we find a representation of Ahura Mazda hovering in the air above the altar of fire, the symbol of divinity. In Persian Zoroastrian mythology, ātar (fire) is regarded as a deity itself, and he is believed as the son of Ahura Mazda. The supreme god wears the same costume as the king in the bas-reliefs.

The other bas-relief of Persepolis shows King Darius I grasping with his left hand the horn of a winged monster that stands upright on its hind legs while its right forepaw is warding off the King’s arm and the left set against his breast; the royal combatant is thrusting the sword in his right hand into the entrails of the dreadful beast (Huart, 1985: 37). It might be a personification of drauga (falsehood) or a lion as a symbol of power. In the palace of Susa, we also see bull’s heads on the huge stone pillars which have certain affinities with fertility and kingly power.

Meanwhile, Ahura Mazda is not the one God whom King Darius noted in his inscriptions; he is the personification of light and good, but over against him, he has a formidable adversary called Angra Mainyu or Ahriman, the spirit of darkness and evil. This is a dualistic faith which survived from around three thousand years ago and is believed to have had an influence on the Greek dialectical philosophy.

Therefore, Ahura Mazda is the personification of good, and Ahriman is the personification of evil. These two are engaged in a perpetual contest, with alternating success and defeat for one as well as the other. The universe is divided in two by an immense abyss; on either side, the forces of the two enemies fight. Ahura Mazda creates all the good; Ahriman all the evil. This struggle will last for twelve thousand years, divided into periods of three thousand each; each of the two principles is to dominate in turn during one of these periods. At present, we are in a time when evil predominates. However, it is presumed that in the end, good will vanquish evil, and light will conquer the darkness, which is the triumph of Ahura Mazda (ibid, 41).

The rest of this article is published in the 3rd number of Gilgamesh international edition

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