The Book of Felicity

The Book of Felicity f. 83v, A Man Killing a Snake

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f. 83v, A Man Killing a Snake

The title of this illustration is descriptive, mentioning that a man who had helped a snake subsequently killed it. We are not informed, however, about the name of the man or, consequently, the source of the story: being a fairly common deed in Arab and Persian epic and non-epic literature, it is difficult to pinpoint.

Like Saint George slaying the dragon in Eastern Christian iconography but also like the epic hero Esfandyar in the Persian Shahnameh (Book of Kings), the man is depicted piercing the throat of the dragon-headed snake with an impossibly slender spear. The reptile is also trampled under the feet of the camel on which the man rides high. The mount has a full caparison including a bell tied around the base of its neck. The scene shows a stream in the foreground and a high rocky landscape with a large tree behind the main characters.
The face of the man killing the snake is inexpressive; he wears a turban that is also wrapped around his chin, an atypical Ottoman headgear probably intended to represent a tribal nomadic character setting the scene in an earlier period. The illustration is comparable to many others in the contemporary manuscript Qisas al-anbiya’ (The Tales of the Prophets, see above, f. 80r) and a source for the story may perhaps be found in similar texts.

Stefano Carboni
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Curatorial Assistant in Islamic Art
 (Fragment of the Book of Felicity commentary volume)


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