The towers of Afrasiab

December 3 2014

“The spider has wove his web in the imperial palace, and the owl hath sung her watch-song on the towers of Afrasiab.”

Ferdowsi, quoted by Gibbon.

[Footnote: “From Saint Sophia he [Mehmed the Conqueror] [bracket in Toynbee] proceeded to the august but desolate mansion of an hundred successors of the Great Constantine, but which, in a few hours, had been stripped of the pomp of royalty. A melancholy reflexion on the vicissitudes of human greatness forced itself on his mind, and he repeated an elegant distich of Persian poetry.” – Gibbon, E.: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, chap. lxviii.

In a footnote, Gibbon observes that “this distich, which Cantemir gives in the original, derives new beauties from the application. It was thus that Scipio repeated, in the sack of Carthage, the famous prophecy of Homer. The same generous feeling carried the mind of the conqueror to the Past or the Future.”]

The prophecy, uttered by Hector, is in Book II of the Iliad, lines 448-49. The History of the Growth and Decay of the Othman Empire by the polyglot Dimitrie Cantemir, Prince of Moldavia, one of Gibbon’s sources, was written in Latin. Was Gibbon reading the English translation? Who translated the distich by Ferdowsi?

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954

One Response to “The towers of Afrasiab”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    The lines would be less magical if “has” or “hath” had been used twice for consistency.

    Cantemir is writing early in the eighteenth century about the decay of the Ottoman Empire.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s