The Simurgh is the god-bird or bird-king sought by the birds in the epic Persian allegory the Mantiq al-Tayr (The Parliament of Birds), a "monstrous bird . . . imagined as rational"¹. The birds never find him; we're informed that it gets a bit metaphysical at that point. Parts were translated by Edward Fitzgerald, of Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám fame.

The Simurgh is verbal (I assume it speaks Farsi, though "Mantiq al-Tayr" looks kinda Arabic to me), has been said to have four wings, and is unspeakably ancient. I seem to recall that Iain M. Banks serves up a (not "the") simurgh in his novel Feersum Endjinn, though it might have been a lammergeier.

Some illustrators believe that the Simurgh is a peacock with the head of William S. Burroughs, as drawn by Ralph Steadman:

http://www.hum.au.dk/romansk/borges/vakalo/zf/html/body_the_simurgh.html

I'm not so sure. Ignore the illo, anyway; the text is "The Simurgh" by Jorge Luis Borges, and it's wonderful: "they cross seven valleys or seas, the next to last bearing the name Bewilderment, the last the name Annihilation". The Borgesian Or is one of the great delights of modern letters.

I'd node it if it weren't probably still under copyright. It's my main source for this writeup.


¹ OED
The (non-)appearance of Simurgh in the Mantiq al-Tayr is a play of words. In the poem, the number of birds who finally reach Simurgh's palace is thirty, and 'thirty birds' in Farsi is si murgh. So, in a true Sufi manner, the birds arrive at the palace of their long-lost king after a long and arduous journey, only to be confronted by a mirror image of themselves - an obvious allegory for the mystical search for a god within oneself.

Simurgh also does a guest appearance in the national epic of Iran, the Shahname. This time the bird is female and acts as a guardian for the heroic house of Zal, delivering cryptic speeches and occasionally performing a miraculous healing or two. Firdawsi, the author of the Shahname, describes Simurgh as a huge, roc-like carnivorous bird with wonderfully coloured plumage. When the Simurgh is airborne, she completely obstructs the stars and covers the earth with her shadow. An eerie scent of musk emanates from her feathers. Occasionally she would shed one of them, and whoever found it was up for a real boon: a single feather could bestow artistic skills and inspiration to its possessor. Moreover, it could be burnt in a censer with incense to call forth the Simurgh herself.

The origins of Simurgh are obscure, but s/he seems to have been a pre-Zoroastrian god, worshipped by the early Indo-Aryan people living in the area covering modern Afghanistan, Iran and surrounding regions.




The Mantiq al-Tayr is translated into English with the name of Conference of the Birds, although wharfinger's parliament is a more accurate translation.

I was trying to find my way out through the corridors of a large building that was abandoned long time ago. Windows were broken, metal doors were rusted. I took the stairs down to the end of the hallway and found myself out. The building was by the sea, but there was no one on the shore, just an empty pool, filled with sand and dry leaves. The grey clouds covering the sky contrasted with the mild, sultry weather.I looked ahead to the ocean, which was few steps away, to see all kinds of birds raining dead on the surface of the sea, thousands of them, all in different colors.

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