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Post by PAARSE » Thu Nov 08, 2007 6:55 am

The Persian dance

Iranian dance history is characterized by many fascinating and also tragic incidents. It seems to be completely unknown to the outside world, partly because of the present political situation of the country that has toned down the interest for a profound research effort. The other reason is the current archaeological discoveries and excavations in Iran, during the past thirty years. They have made it possible to have access to material and evidence for the origin of Persian dance, ever since the appearance of the cult of Mithra about two thousand years before our calendar.
By virtue of these bases, Iran can be considered as one of the ancient world’s empires, which methodically and actively was devoted to the development of the art of dance. For this ancient nation, dancing has been an important social phenomenon and a religious ritual.


The origin and rise of Persian dance as an independent and distinctive art form is estimated to be parallel with the birth of Mithraism and its spread. This cult centrally revolves around the ancient Persia’s sun and light God, Mithra, who is the main figure in this mystery religion that during the late antique era spread over the entire Roman Empire. Numerous temples and depictions of the legendary Mithra have been located and excavated in the three continents of the ancient world; Asia, Africa and Europe. The latest discovery has been done in London as late as 1954.
The most important ritual in this cult has been the worship of Mithra, as he is sacrificing a bull. This act was believed to promote the vigour of life. The consecration to this belief was accomplished among other rites through the baptism in the blood of a bull, followed by a ritual dance performed only by men. This ceremonial act is considered as the earliest known form of Iranian dance, and the origin of the magic dance of the antique civilisations. It is typical for sacred Persic (Persian) dance, so called “Danse Persique Sacrée”.
In several occasions he has indicated and in detail described the cultural and social habits of Persians. He has mentioned the wide cultural exchange that Persians had with the ancient world. “From every corner of the known (antique) world, the most appreciated artists were imported to the imperial court in order to practice their artistic abilities in the presence of the majestic Emperor and his court.”


The cultural exchange with the ancient civilizations, particularly with Egypt and Greece has been extensive and proceeded during several centuries. In various works by Greek historians “Persian dance masters” (choreographs and pedagogues) have been mentioned as they have appeared in antique Greece, and Greek “sportsmen, poets and dancers” have been sent to the Persian Empire.
This cultural exchange has been described as one of the distinctive characteristics of ancient Persian culture, which gave rise to the term of “acculturation”, meaning the acceptance of new cultures. This was an evident quality for the legitimation and survival of an empire that ruled over numerous nations, from Egypt in North Africa, to India in Far East. It was the world’s first religiously tolerant empire and consisted of a multitude of different languages, races, religions and cultures.
Achaemenians, the first ruling dynasty of the Persian Empire, contained several enthusiastic emperors who encouraged the advancement of different art forms. Ketzias, another Greek historian writes about the popular and talented female dancer, Zenon from Crete, who was Artaxerxés II:s (Ardeshir Shah II) court dancer and “the apple of the King’s eye”.
Another Greek historian, Polukleitos, reports that at the marriage of Alexander the Great with the Persian woman “Roxana” in Susa, which continued in five days, he was amused by Greek musicians, singers and dancers who were engaged at the Persian Imperial Court.
Ketzias has specifically mentioned a sort of Persian dance, which was performed in connection with the ceremonies of Mithrakana (Mehrgan) in which even the King participated. “The King in India never appears if he is drunk. But unlike him in Persia, the Emperor drinks precious wine and devotes himself to the Persic dance during the ceremonies arranged in honor of Mithra”. Douris from Samos reports about the same royal tradition: “Only in one occasion the King drinks wine and dances Persic dance and it is when worshipping Mithra.”
Xenophon emphasizes that this kind of Persic Dance (Danse Persique) has been very usual and as popular as “riding” because “Persic Dance, like a sport, strengthens the muscles”!
The importance of the art of dance among Persians can clearly be viewed relatively numerous Greek history books. Different forms of dance have existed as they were performed on ceremonial, ritual or entertaining occasions. “For acquainting their horses with the tumultous scenes of war, the Persians used to execute a “military dance”, which meant that in a collective arrangement, clashing the weapons together rhythmically and dancing with their horses".
“… the man from Mysie performed a Persic dance by clashing his shields together, bending himself forward and rising up again. He did all that harmonically and proportionally to the rhythm of the flute.”
Dancing was a well-developed and protected art form during the existence of other dynasties of Persian Empire, for instance Parthian and Sasanian. According to the Greek texts, there have been detailed descriptions for different forms of dancing, like fire dance, sword dance and even horse dance, which meant dancing while riding on horseback.




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Post by PAARSE » Wed Mar 26, 2008 12:00 pm

The art of wine in ancient Persia

“I could drink much wine and yet bear it well”
-- Darius the Great, the King of Kings of Achaemenid Empire (6th BCE), Athenaeus 10.45

The history of wine making and wine drinking is an old one in Persia, and today the Darioush vineyard in the Napa Valley which has become renowned in the art of wine making, is attempting to revive this tradition in the United States. Wine connoisseurs today may be familiar with the word Shiraz, the name of a town in southwest Persia famed for its grapes.

Whether or not the Shiraz grape was the source of the Medieval Syrah, brought to France from Persia in the thirteenth century CE by the knight, Gaspard de Sterimberg, or not is not central to the issue. What is important is that the mere fact that Shiraz is alleged as the source of the Rhone Valley grapes in Avignon, makes it clear that the prestige of the town and its grapes was fabled in antiquity and the middle ages. It was the Shiraz grape, again, which was brought to Australia in the nineteenth century CE, and which now has become well-known in the United States.
But the history of wine making in Persia is much older. How old, one may ask? Archaeological investigations have shown that in fact it was in Persia that the earliest wine was made in world history. At Godin Tepe in Western Persia the earliest evidence for wine making and wine points to the fourth millennium BCE.

The jars found there have yielded evidence of wine residue and it is thought that they were used for storing wine as its funnel for the wine makers. The location of Godin Tepe along the east-west trade route also plays along with the story of Shiraz grape having been taken to the West, and the evidence here suggests that wine making may very well have had its diffusion from this location.

It is with the first Persian dynasty, the Achaemenid Empire (550-330 BCE), that we find the culture of wine drinking in the form of long drinking vessels known as rhython. We hear that the Persian court was most elaborate place of feasting that the Greeks knew. The existence of rhytons and the mention of wine filters (Greek oino th toi) in the antique literature from Persia, all suggest the importance of the drink.
Herodotus tells us that the Persians were very foind of wine (Old Persoan batu) and that they made important decisions in the following manner. First they became drunk, since they believed that only when you are drunk do you tell the truth. Then, the next day when they were sober they reconsidered the matter. Pliny states that wine was also used with drugs for collecting information. The type of drug used with wine was called Achaemenis which had the following effect: “when it is drunk in wine, criminals confess to everything.”
This interest in wine in Ancient Persia is manifest not only in material culture such as jars, plates and cups but is also documented in the written sources. A Middle Persian text from the Sasanian Empire (224-651 CE) entitled (King) Husraw and Page mentions the best foods and drinks that are fit for a king. It is really a royal menu which is rarely noticed by food historians.

The text was composed at the court of the King of Kings, Khosraw I in the sixth century CE, one of the greatest of the Sasanian monarchs who ruled Persia. What this text demonstrates that, just as today when we identify wines with regions such as France, Australia, Italy, California, etc. the Persians also were interested in wines from all regions. By this time the various kinds of wines were distinguished, by their color and filtering technique.
In this passage from the text the king asks what are the best wines and the Page answer:

“May you be immortal, these wines are all good and fine, the wine of Transoxania, when they prepare it well, the wine of Herat, the wine of Marw-Rud, the wine of Bust and the must of Hulwan, but no wine can ever compare with the Babylonian wine and the must of Bazrang.”
The taste for various wines included may i sepid “white wine,” may i suxr “red wine.” These wines of course could have different qualities such as may i wirastag “clarified wine,” or also badag i abgen “crystal wine,” which were served in dolag or tong. For information on the daily usageand consumption of wine we can look at the papyri which are basically letters between Persian officers in the seventh century CE and which mention the following (Papyri 8809):

With the coming of Islam the consumption of wine and other alcoholic beverages was deemed haram “illicit,” but Medieval Persian texts, especially the genre known as “Mirrors for Princes,” demonstrate the continuing love of wine. Persians throughout their history have been able to compartmentalize their contradictory habits and mores. Thus, while Islam became an important facet of the Persian culture and, in turn benefited from that culture, may “wine” remained a constant motif in Persian literature.
One can argue over the literal or metaphoric nature of the use of wine in Persian literature, but this persistent mention is owed to the ancient Persian tradition of wine drinking and wine making. This reminds me of Prophet Zarathushtra who in proclamation against the drinking of Haoma brings us back full circle (48:10):

When, Wise One (Mazda), shall men desist from murdering?
when shall they fear the folly of that intoxicating drink (i.e., Haoma),
through the effects of which the Karpans (mumbling priests),
as well as the evil rulers of the lands torture our (good) intentions in an evil way?[9]
Needless to say the Persians did not stop consuming Haoma and they still didn’t abstain when the Prophet Muhammad proclaimed against the consumption of wine.

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