Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Owner of Stallions

I know we've been doing a lot of posts about mythologies that aren't officially in the Hero's Journey lineup to begin with, but the questions are just too good! Today someone asked: If you are still doing the women of mythology posts, can we hear about goddesses and heroines of Persia?

Heck yeah, we can. There are a lot of awesome goddesses in Persian mythology, including the incomparable Anahita, the pious Daena and the celestial Mah, but I'm going to single out a particular excellent lady to talk about today: Banu Goshasp, knight of ancient Persia and ass-kicker extraordinaire.


Banu Goshasp is the daughter of Rustam, perhaps the most famous hero of Persian myth, and inheritor of his crazy battleworthy tactics and ability to defeat any and all comers without breaking a sweat on her most loveliest of brows. She's the main character of the Banu goshaspnameh, or Epic of Banu Goshasp, which is primarily concerned with her and occasionally her brother Faramarz generally bossing it up all over India and the Kingdom of Turan where they were born.

It's a crying shame that Banu Goshasp doesn't get nearly the recognition her father does, because it is clear from day one that she is basically exactly as competent as he is but with a hotter streak of wreaking justice upon the countryside. One of the earliest stories in her epic involves her running into Rustam himself, who has come from afar because he's heard that there's an awesome lady warrior around here that he absolutely has to fight, but since both of them are garbed for travel and haven't seen one another in a long time and Rustam only introduces himself as "the Sultan" so he can preserve his anonymity, they don't recognize each other and battle ensues (you know, like it does when you meet strangers in ancient Persia who you suspect might be as good at swording as yourself). Much to his bewilderment, Rustam finds himself fought to a standstill, unable to gain the upper hand on his opponent in spite of being himself the legendary hero who has destroyed many deev.

Luckily for everyone, Banu Goshasp and Rustam figure out what is going on here (largely because they realize that nobody could be giving them this much of a run for their respective money without being a relative) in time to not stab each other to death, but it's a near thing. Once they take off their obscuring clothing, of course, both of them realize what's been going on - Rustam is famous, and Banu Goshasp is simultaneously so gorgeous but also obviously dangerous to life and limb that he's basically like, "Oh, yeah, that would have to be her."


The most delightful part of Banu Goshasp's epic concerns her marriage, which like most marriages at the time is arranged to politically benefit her father and also provide everyone with as much free entertainment from battling suitors as possible. Word of her incredible beauty spreads far and wide, so of course various young swains pop up to attempt to woo her with their manly prowess all the time, but Banu Goshasp is thoroughly unimpressed by what she considers their substandard skills and frequently attacks them, capturing and imprisoning those she doesn't kill in combat as a warning to other dudes not to screw with her. Alas, however, attempt to screw with her they still do, and eventually Rustam has to institute a gamut of ridiculous tests of martial prowess and valor just to give them all something to do so that his dungeons can have a little room to breathe and Banu Goshasp can stop denuding the entire countryside of young men, just in case another war crops up or something.

As is traditional in these stories, of course, someone does eventually manage to complete the unnecessarily outrageous tests through skill, courage, pluck and a serious desire to spend quality time with Banu Goshasp: Giv, a famous Persian warrior, who is renowned as the bravest man in Persia and becomes one of Rustam's most trusted and beloved supporters in later shenanigans. Banu Goshasp is obligated to marry him, because those are the rules and even she occasionally pays attention to them, but it turns out that there's no law saying she can't physically overpower her new husband on their wedding night and chain him to their bed before ignoring him all night.

Rustam, doing his dadly duty, is not particularly pleased about this development when he finds out about it, since Giv being kept in irons isn't getting him any grandchildren anytime soon. He attempts to mediate by telling Banu Goshasp that she's being a jerk, since Giv won her fair and square, and extolling his friend's virtues by explaining what an awesome warrior he is and how great he'll be as a husband. Much to Rustam's confusion, she informs him that she's not especially pissed off at Giv himself here; it's not that he's not a great catch and all, but rather that she objects to being sold off to whomever is best at track and field that day, and is not about to take this situation lying down.


Rustam, like many other obnoxious dads, does not understand what she's complaining about, but Giv is more than just an athletic and pretty face, and he does. While Rustam unshackles him, he composes impromptu poetry in honor of both Banu Goshasp and her father, highlighting Banu Goshasp's awesome skills, thanking Rustam for letting him marry her, and claiming himself to be honored and respectful of the fact that she allowed him to be her husband. And wouldn't you know it, Banu Goshasp is way more interested in a guy who says he's lucky to be with her and acknowledges that she has to agree to the situation than she was when she thought she was being turned over to a jock who she could probably have beaten if she'd been allowed to compete, and marital harmony is achieved. (Ironically, Rustam usually gets the credit for "mediating" this arrangement. Rustam tends to get credit for everything he's involved in.)

Although Banu Goshasp does not appear in too many more major stories after her marriage, she does become the mother of Bijan, who goes on to star in Bijan and Manizeh, an ancient Persian Romeo-and-Juliet epic of star-crossed lovers whose kingdoms are at war. It's lucky for both Bijan, who gets to exist, and us, who get to read about it, that she did in fact finally find a guy who was worthy of her badassitude (although it may have taken a lot of beatdowns of the less than awesome before she got there).