Mem û Zîn Analytical Study*: IV – 2 (1): Analytical reading of Mem û Zîn as a tragic drama

Analytical Study of Mem û Zîn

By Dr Kamal Mirawdeli:

Love and Existence: Analytical Study of Ahmadi Khani’s Tragedy of Mem û Zîn’

Part IV, Chapter Two (Part 1): Analytical reading of Mem û Zîn as a tragic drama

Act I – Love and beauty

Prologue: Storyteller’s introduction to the story

The actual story starts with verse 363. A storyteller described by Khani as “the painter of the page of the story and the castor of the plate of the narrative” starts “portraying the customs and the events”. The storyteller starts the story in the traditional way: “In the old times there was a Mîr who was running the affairs of his government successfully. Many nations and groups were obedient to him.” (364-36). He was known as the Mîr of Botan.

Then Khani gives a detailed background of the majestic household of the Kurdish Mîr Zînaddin. He draws elaborate characterizations of the Mîr, his estate and castle, his army, his customs, his two sisters: princess Stê and princess Zîn and prince Tazhdin who is a young man from his own clan and Mem who is the son of his cleric and an intimate soul friend of Tazhdin.  This all prepares the context, scene and suspense for the reader to hear the story of the lovers whom Khani has promised to idealize, eternalize and make the pretext and proponents of deeper texts.

Introductory characterization

Khani shows his skill in dramatic characterization. The Mîr’s attributes are power, wealth, and virtue. His best virtues are courage, kindness, piety and generosity. People ‘spoke well of him, his good reputation was defined by his piety.” He has everything possible in the world. It is noteworthy that Khani mentions Reason as the first thing of the list of his possessions: “Reason, art, generosity, battlefield, discipline, organization, majestic court, religion, state (dewlet), leadership, military skills and defence”:  from each of them he has a treasure.  After this list Khani mentions his gold, jewels and wealth and his beautiful guards and soldiers, women and girls, and then, the crux of the story, his two angelic sisters Zîn and Stê.

Khani again refers to the story-teller in mentioning the historical fact of the existence and name of the girls. He says: the storyteller told me her name as a puzzle. It was half of the name of the Mîr. (389) The name of the Mîr as mentioned, is Zînaddin. Thus the first half of the name is Zîn, which is the name of his sister.

Zîn and Stê’s characterization concentrates on their beauty and chastity. Their beauty is described in meta-human or divine terms. Stê was blond; Zîn was a fairy with black eyes. Yes, it is physical beauty but “no one had seen a beauty as the beauty of their face, because it was an infinite divine beauty”. They were made of the light of “He who is eternal”, that is God (394). Khani continues to portray their beauty in religious terms. This was a kind of beauty that no one, from any class, race, status and rank, could avoid being captivated by. “Anyone who would see the face and the cheek would immediately lose reason and sense. (406). “When they showed their arm and wrist, no one could be blamed.” (411). Even other creatures and non-living things are attracted to this submission to the supernatural power of beauty. “When they (Zîn and Stê) went to the gardens like night lights, living and lifeless things would groan; grass, plants, and human beings would give away their souls.” (418) Lovers would die for their love. The Wali (reigious men devoting their lives to the companion of the Prophet) would become insane in their solitude. (420-425).

Introducing initial themes: Universality of love of beauty

After making this detailed description of the divine beauty of the two sisters and their supernatural impact on the world, Khani offers his opinion: a theory (a generalization) about beauty and love.

There is no one, whether [religious men such as] Shekh and Mala;
Or princes, dervishes, the rich and the poor
There is no one who lacks desire for beauty
There is no one who does not wish to meet a lover.
Some seek eternal beauty, some look for empty shells
But all of them are certainly One
Their difference is like that between skin and substance.

For Khani love, which is inspired and empowered by beauty is universal and, in spite of its difference manifestations, it is the same in its original cause and universal effect.

But the beauty of Zîn and Stê was ‘ideal’: people would mention them as an example. (434)”The beauty which radiates from Stê and Zîn’s faces, would radiate like waves of fire, making the sun rise and dive with them. Naturally many would have dreamed of being blessed by the paradise of their love, but had nothing but pain and despair”. Khani says:

Beauty that has no limit and scope
Its lovers would see no end for their love (438)

So, who would be in a state and status that might match the divinity of their beauty? The whole story is an attempt to answer this question. But before creating further settings and structures for his drama, Khani makes another generalization about the nature of love:

The ‘ashiq and pleasure-seekers are different
This seeks his own pleasure; that offers his soul
Some want lover for their souls
Some give their souls to their lover
Some pursuit physical union like Tazhdin
Some suffer the pain and agony of love like Mem and Zîn (439-442)

This theoretical differentiation of love from the beginning is a very important theme as it indicates how Khani would deal with the heroes of the story:

1. It is clear that from the start he has designed his plot to make Mem and Zîn embodiments of spiritual love or tragic heroes, while Tazhdin is described as an example of someone who seeks physical love; 2. It shows how Khani intends to use the original folk story as a pre-text for the second level of his creative activity, which is expression of his own philosophical ideas and ideals.

How can Khani enact his tragedy according to the laws of necessity and probability suggested by Aristotle? At the initial prologue of his drama, as well as throughout the story, as we shall see, Khani understands necessity as the unity of the action of oppositions, which is a necessary divine order of all things, beings and manifestations, known and unknown, in the world and universe. Thus, here too, the phenomenon and reality of love, whatever form it may take, cannot be understood materially without the relationship between the opposite sexes. Stê and Zîn are women of royal status and divine beauty, but still they are women, and there are men who seek their love and union and, if not by law of necessity then by law of possibility, there must be some men whose status and destiny would match theirs.

At this stage Khani uses various mechanisms to prepare the way for the introduction of such possibility. But at the same time Khani stresses the inner mode of existence, its substance or essence, which is the real state of the spiritual existence of things.

The Mîr’s beautiful boys and Mem and Tazhdin

After this philosophical diversion about love and beauty, Khani returns to the traditional story, the pretext, to provide the substance, setting and context for this possibility.

The pre-text-story-line says that those who were afflicted by the love of Zîn and Stê were countless; they included every sort and status of people from “common people, servants, and private people. But among the best servants (of the Mîr) there were about 100 tall slim handsome young men, each resembling a moon in its 14th night.”  (444-448). Then Khani, moving a further step in his dramatic scheme, identifies two young men as at the top of these beautiful young men. He first introduces Tazhdin. While beauty was Khani’s foremost definition for the character of Zîn and Stê, courage and heroism is the essential characterization of Tazhdin. He was the Goderz (an old Iranian hero) of his time. Then he had highly-regarded ancestry and established household. His father was a lion in battles. That is all what Khani says about Tazhdin himself. (450-455) Then he moves to his brothers. Tazhdin “had two proud brothers who were like eagles.” One was Chako, the other was Arif.

“But among all his brothers, relatives, and public and private friends, Tazhdin has chosen one person, friend, to make him his brother, “or rather the lamp of his life.” If he missed seeing his friend one day, it was like passing a night without light. “All the world would be dark.”  He was his mate and confidante companion in happiness and sadness. The name of this special friend was Mem. “He was unlike father, uncle and brother to him. He was his ‘brother of the-other world’ but in fact he was the brother of the world and the other world of resurrection.”  (460-465) Khani here uses a Zoroastrian practice preserved by Ezidi Kurds when a person chooses a close friend to be his brother in the next world (Rasul, 2000, p. 81, footnote) and thus his spiritual brother in this world too. This fraternity surpasses any sort of strong blood, family or friendship ties. This spiritual bond, thus, theoretically cements the friendship between the two friends. But tragedy is not about character and personal properties. It is about how they are put into action, proved in practice, expressed in the choices, trials and challenges of life and time.

Tazhdin was the son of the Mîr’s Court Minister while Mem was the son of the court’s cleric. Khani stresses their strong bond of friendship and love. “They were two brothers truthful and faithful to each other. They were yar (beloved friend) of each other’s heart not body.”  It is noteworthy that Khani here identifies another theme of his story, another sort of love, which is that between friends. This love “comes from heart not body”, it is emotional, deep and spiritual at the same time. Khani compares this kind of love to the ‘Ishq (passionate love) of famous Islamic epic lovers such as Qeyes and Layla and Wamiq and A’zra. (465-466). Khani uses this example of ideal fraternity and friendship to make another generalization expressing his idea of true friendship:

Friendship between them emanated from heart not skin
They were like the sun and Mushtari
For friendship, fraternity and brotherhood
Cannot be possible with hypocrisy and sweet words
Friendship is not easy; it is suffering
The aim of which is loyalty
If you cannot give loyalty its right due at the end
Then do not take this trouble in the first place. (467-470)

With this discourse on love and friendship, Khani’s effort in preparing the right narrative context for his tragedy is completed. He does not need and give any more abstract or second-hand information on these characters. Tragedy is about actions, events, incidents, trials, and destinies through which characters are processed and pronounced and this is exactly what Khani will do from now on. But these according to Aristotle must happen according to the laws of necessity or probability in order to give them structured sequence, rational order and power of recreating not what has already happened but what might necessarily or possibly happen. This is the existential space of poetry or poetic language, description and recreation.

* ‘Love and Existence: Analytical Study of Ahmadi Khani’s Tragedy of Mem û Zîn’ by Dr Kamal Mirawdeli is published by the Khani Academy in association with authorhouse, uk. The hard cover, soft cover, or the electronic edition of the book can be ordered from:

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