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“If Death is Just, What is Injustice?” Illicit Rage in “Rostam and Sohrab” and “The Knight's Tale

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022

Cameron Cross*
Persian and Arabic literature in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago, USA


This is a comparative study of anger and narrative control in two tragic stories cast in an epic-heroic register, the “Tale of Rostam and Sohrab” of Ferdowsi's Shahnameh and “The Knight's Tale” of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. The narrators of both stories are heavily invested in upholding a certain normative interpretation of the events they recount, a fatalistic worldview that justifies itself through the necessarily agnostic optimism that these senseless catastrophes gain meaning when situated within a greater order that is beyond the capacity of man to comprehend. The emotional responses of outrage and grief therefore have no legitimate place in this worldview, and must be submitted to a process of rationalization and violent suppression in order to be kept in check. However, this same process also reveals the underlying aporias of its own normative logic, producing a subtextual counter-narrative that resists and undermines the dominant voice of the text. The resulting fragmentation and narrative collapse provides a fruitful opportunity to investigate how both texts respond to a crucial ontological topic in medieval literature and philosophy: what does it mean to be an autonomous subject within a divinely ordered universe, and how can one distinguish justice from tyranny in a world entirely governed by fate?

Copyright © Association For Iranian Studies, Inc 2015

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