Historical and Cultural Accuracy and its effect on the Tales of the Peries

The Tales of the Peries is heavily influenced by Middle Eastern history and culture, particularly ancient Persian culture. This essay is a brief exploration of the influences in Leyden’s Tales of the Peries. It will examine the accuracy or inaccuracy of Leyden’s usage of particular aspects of Persian history and its effectiveness in fleshing out the Tales as a fantastical tale fully embodied with the mysticism of an Eastern mythological tale.

In the creation of Tales of the Peries, John Leyden took numerous creative liberties with the historical and cultural facts of ancient Persian civilization. He drew from various different points in the timeline of Persian history, resulting in a non-linear, non-continuous stream of historical imagination. Of note, three main cultural aspects that he drew from to create the world of the Peries in his Tale with varying degrees of accuracy was the Persian ruling system, the use of animals, and particular Persian cultural practices.

With the ruling system and traditional practices associated with it, Leyden drew from different historical points in ancient Persian history. For example, the concentric seating arrangements of Persians according to rank around the monarch harks back to Alexander the Great’s conquest of the Persian Empire, and his subsequent practicing of particular Persian traditions. The range of titles used in Leyden’s tale is also incongruous with historical reality. The titles “Shah” and “Sultan” come from two different periods of Persian history, with “Shah” existing from ancient Persian kings during the time of monarchy, and “Sultan” only existing from the 11th century onwards once Islam became the main religion practiced in Persia. Yet, in Leyden’s tale, the two titles from disparate points of Persian history exist at the same time. In the Tales, Leyden uses the different titles to signify different communities, with the different titles signifying the different heads of those communities.

The use of animals was abundant in Leyden’s tale. There are not many sources indicating Leyden’s reasons for choosing particular animals- however, there are several cultural meanings to particular animals. Most of the animal meanings were used accurately in Leyden’s Tales, with their significance in the Tales’ plot congruent with their symbolic meanings. However, there were a few which had symbolic meanings incongruous with their roles in the story. For instance, the meaning of the serpent in Persian mythology is traditionally associated with evil and darkness, the serpent embodying many demons in Persian myths. However, in Leyden’s Tales the serpent becomes a victim of oppression by the scorpion, and does not harm the character Roshen Zemir. Even though Roshen Zemir is forced by the serpent to do its bidding, the serpent is never overtly portrayed as a villainous character. This overturning of the traditional meaning of the serpent becomes a point of interest to the reader in terms of character portrayals.

Leyden utilizes Persian cultural practices depending on the particular culture he wants to portray in the Tales. In his depiction of the Peries and their opulence, he uses traditional Persian royal customs like feasting and banquets to depict the elaborate opulence of the Peries culture and the royal lifestyle. At the same time, he uses terminology like “cestus” to describe Gheti Afroz’s belt. The “cestus” is a term used to describe a woman’s belt in Ancient Greece, which is from a totally different culture altogether than the primarily Middle Eastern-Persian culture Leyden intends to depict with his Tales. Again, this reveals Leyden’s creative liberty with ‘picking and choosing’ which cultural aspects of different histories to use in his creation of mythology in the same Orientalist vein of “Arabian Nights.”

For the reader unfamiliar with Ancient Persian history and culture, this results in an instinctively foreign view of the mythological tale- while the reader instinctively recognizes the tales as being in the Middle Eastern culture, the unfamiliar reader would be unconcerned with the various inaccurate creative liberties Leyden takes with historical facts. At the same time, it has to be admitted that Leyden has successfully created a mythological tale rooted in Orientalist fantasy, for the vibrant images conjured through his various picking and choosing of particular aspects all contribute to the foreign mysticism of the Tales. Regardless of from which points of history Leyden chooses to depict particular aspects of foreign culture, he still successfully evokes the exoticism of the Middle East. It can be concluded that the Tales do benefit from the inclusion of the historical and cultural influences, regardless of accuracy. Due to the Tales being firmly rooted in the fantasy genre, this lends a degree of flexibility to the historical imagination Leyden is creating, with the emphasis more on the ambience created rather than firm historical fact and accuracy.

Sources: See pages on Ancient Persian Ruling System, Animals in Ancient Persian Culture, and Cultural Practices in Ancient Persia.