Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

Infanticide as Instructing Ethics in "Rostam and Sohrab"

Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

Infanticide as Instructing Ethics in "Rostam and Sohrab"

Article excerpt


The present paper investigates the story of "Rostam and Sohrab" by Abolghasem Ferdowsi - the poet of the fourth century. This paper aims to demonstrate the relationship between infanticide by the major character of this work, Rostam, and ethical dilemmas in the light of Emmanuel Levinas's notion of responsibility and depicts how instructing ethics will appear in the act of infanticide by him. Therefore, this paper shows how infanticide despite of being indecent is considered as an ethical dead in specific circumstances.

Key words: Infanticide; Responsibility; Ethics


It is normally thought that infanticide is considered to be common in various societies. According to the first article of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN General Assembly sanctioned in 1989): "An infant is every human under eighteen who needs legal support." (Zeraat, 1386, no. 50) Infanticide has severe emotional and psychological effects. Therefore, many stories are created based upon that among which the story of "Rostam and Sohrab" by Abol alghasem Ferdowsi is investigated in the present paper. Strikingly different works are generated in relation to this story. Each tried to remove some of the ambiguities. Although infanticide is mentioned in some of the works, none has specifically decoded it.

In connection with the story of "Rostam and Sohrab", it can be said that this story is one of the most painful and doleful stories of Shahnameh. Abol alghasem Ferdowsi depicts the dead story of the young Sohrab who is killed by his father due to the war with Rostam. Numerous works has also been created about this happening. Each has been criticized this issue from different angles.

The present study attempts to investigate the act of infanticide by the main character of this work in the realm of ethics from Emmanuel Levinas's point of view, one of the most important moral philosophers of the twentieth century who is less known in Iran. According to Levinas, "Ethics is paying attention to Others' right and this is not of ontology, for this has a meaning beyond ontology" (Levinas, 2006, p. 46).

This shows for Levinas unlike Heidegger, existence is prior to ontology. Levinas points to the fact that "The ethical relation to the Other is 'something beyond ontology' not 'a part of ontology'" (The same, p. 46). Therefore, the relation between the same and the Other can be considered as the key concept in Levinas's philosophy. In fact, Levinas believes that "In the first relation to the Other, I is always called to the Other, to whom I is held hostage by an unlimited responsibility; for the Other always come first. Therefore, violence may exist in any dialectical relation - kinship relation - to the Other in which the Other is reduced to the same" (Levinas, 1969, p. 58). In other words, he sometimes considers violence as a necessary part of ethics. The present paper tries to investigate the relationship between infanticide by the major character of this work and ethical dilemmas from Levinas's view.


The present study is based upon focusing on Ferdowsi's epic story, "Rostam and Sohrab", in the glare of Emmanuel Levinas's concept of responsibility. Having brought some lines from Shahnameh as witness, this study tries to represent how the heroin murders his child consciously as well as how this infanticide can be considered as an ethical deed and the real and imagined virtues and values of heroines despite of its marks of social taboo.


The sense of responsibility appears in Ferdowsi's Shahnameh. In order to analyze this sense of responsibility, investigation of the mournful story of "Rostam and Sohrab", one of the magnificent as well as the deepest tragedies of Shahnameh, seems to be necessary. But what is the starting motivation of this war? Whether Sohrab's ambitiousness and foolishness causes him to campaign? Is it possible to consider Rostam as an unwise stubborn who is surrendered to destiny? …

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