It is well known that the
past experience can be a guiding light for the present and future actions.
In this context I believe that the European experience in search of an
identity and freedom of thought started from the Renaissance to the end of
the 19th century, and the major role played by Zarathushtra
throughout this experience, can be of the highest importance, as a model,
for today’s seekers of freedom.
In fact for the past 2500
years Zarathushtra's ideas and views on the existence and the world have
been an integral part of the European culture. But this very long period
has not always been a love story. It has been marked by the alternation of
the highest veneration for Zarathushtra and the deepest rejection of him.
Praised and venerated
passionately for about 1000 years as the highest symbol of knowledge by
almost all the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, Zarathushtra, was
severely demonized as from the 6th century by the Church in
Europe as the father of Dualism; and with him all the Persian doctrines
such as Mithraism and Manichaeism together with
The 6th century
was the beginning of the Middle Ages in Europe. A horrible time called the
great heresy. A period of terror, obscurantism and inquisition that
destroyed by what is called today “collateral damage” the finest part of
the Western European civilization.
The Church had decided
that any idea, any philosophy or any movement that has incorporated in
their Christianity a belief in Dualism, was at war against God. Thus they
should be punished. And punishment meant either to be killed or to be
burned in public places. Behind the concept of “dualism”, according to
which the existence is conditioned by the struggle between two opposite
forces, good and evil, the Church saw mainly Zarathushtra.
Zarathustra’s rejection, almost the whole Pre-Christian European
civilization was rejected by the Church.
In fact, many of the Greek
and Roman philosophers, mostly dualistically inspired, had astonishingly
either sheltered their philosophical or scientific work under the cover of
Zarathustra’s authority or had related themselves in one way or another to
Zarathushtra For instance Pythagoras the great philosopher and
mathematician of the 5th century BC., a convinced dualist,
called himself a pupil of Zarathustra, another great dualist philosopher,
Plato of the 4th century BC. was called by his famous student
Aristotle, a reincarnation of Zarathushtra, so much he was influenced by
the Persian Master.
also the Manichaeism, another Persian religion, under the form of the
Southern French Catharism and many other movements around the
Mediterranean sea and in Central Europe, behind which the Church saw again
Zarathushtra, as the great evil.
years of a terrible war initiated by Pope Innocent III in the 13th
century, on the Cathars and the horrible carnage at Montsegur the Cathar's
stronghold in the South of France, is well documented (1). As, Paul
Kriwaczek, the author of “In Search of Zarathushtra” points out,
“the more one reads accounts on successive crusade that left hundreds of
thousands dead and the conquest of the south of France by Catholic
orthodoxy, the more one is reminded of the totalitarian tyrannies of our
Perhaps it is worthy to
note that, the Protestant Churches, since the Reform, kept distance with
the Catholic Church and didn’t praise any of Catholic excommunications(2).
confusion and the absurdity regarding Zarathushtra went so far that during
the whole European Middle-Age, Zarathushtra was called prince of the Magi,
when the magi in return were strangely mistaken for magicians! Even the
invention of the astrology, alchemy and the Jewish Cabala was attributed
In such a confusing and
repressive climate, gradually the discontent voices of some enlightened
minds against the religious totalitarism, here and there, start to raise.
We are in the 14th
century, the beginning of the slow European Renaissance. Europe in search
for a new cultural reference and a new identity starts to be interested in
the long forgotten culture and civilization of the ancient Greece and
Rome. Everything was to rediscover.
At this time the great and
influential Byzantine philosopher of the 14th and 15th
century, Giorgius Plethon, who was initiated into the Zoroastrian
philosophy by his Jewish master Eliaus, decided with a number of
intellectuals of that time to promote an ambitious, perhaps too ambitious
idea. He said, “the world is tired of the endless wars between the three
religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. So let’s try another road,
another vision for this world”. Using his important political influence at
the Byzantine court and his great intellectual notoriety among the
Intellegencia of that time, he tried to set up a universal religion made
of Zoroastrianism and Platonism to replace the three mentioned
Despite the years of huge
effort, he did not succeed. However, his ideas spread among European
elite and flourished within the famous Platonic academy in Florence. They
became the basis of the process that lead to the humanism in Europe during
the Renaissance. As from that period the interest in Zarathushtra was
once again reborn in Europe.
The cultural freedom
fighters of that time, namely philosophers, historians, writers,
musicians, scientists, poets and many others, in search of the means for
their struggle against the totalitarian power of the Middle Age Church,
felt that Zarathushtra could bring them a new light and a new instrument
in their fight.
But in those times, who
really knew what exactly Zarathushtra's existential philosophy was, or
what did he say. Since at least 1500 years, even the Zarathushtra's
language had been forgotten. The Moslem invasion of Persia, in the 7th
century had burned and destroyed almost the whole Zoroastrian texts and
So, everything was to be
rediscovered. But this attempt of rediscovery, and consequently the
recuperation of Zarathushtra, became a pretext for another battle between
the Christian, Jewish and Humanist scholars. The first attempt by the
Christians in that direction was made by a professor at Oxford University,
named Thomas Hyde at the end of the 17th century. He based
himself on the all sources available at the time, and wrote a large book
in Latin. This work was to influence all the subsequent researches on the
Hyde was a fervent
Christian, for whom everything in the history of mankind turned around
Christianity. Therefore, he tried to show Zarathushtra and his doctrine in
the light most favorable and acceptable to Christian eyes. He wrote” in
reforming the ancient Persian religion, Zarathushtra repeated the work of
Abraham, and showed the religion of one and only God”. He insisted that
Zoroastrians were always monotheists, because in their religion God namely
Ahura Mazda had priority over the evil called Angra Mainyu.
It was of course a huge
change compared to Christian dualist view of Zoroastrianism throughout the
But, only two years later,
Hyde was severely attacked by other zealous Christian scholars.
The first one was Pierre
Bayle. A famous French scholar that wrote in 1702 in his important work
“Dictionnaire historique et critique” that Hydes argument on the
monotheism of the Zoroastrians was weak and false. He wrote “because the
Zoroastrians, submitted to the hard rule and hatred of the Moslems, wanted
to protect themselves; so they adopted the Semitic religions belief
according to which God has created evil”. Bale’s attack on Hyde was to be
carried on by another French scholar Abbe Foucher. He blamed Hyde in his
numerous papers with much arrogance for having put doubts on the ancient
Greek authors’ affirmations according to which the Persians were dualists.
He then advised Hyde, a devout Christian himself, to stay in the line of
serving the true Religion, that is to say Christianity.
In this scholastic
quarrel, undermined by the religious militantism, another famous scholar,
this time a Jew named Humphry Prideaux, enter the battlefield. In his book
“History of the Jews” published in 1715, he pushed the argument to such an
extend that he considered Zarathushtra has been born a Jew ! So he was a
monotheist. He even situated Zarathushtra's birth in the 5th
century BC. and designated Zarathushtra's Jewish teachers namely Elias,
Ezra and Daniel.
With the rediscovery and
translation of Avesta, in the late 18th century by the French
scholar Anquetil Duperron, it was the turn of the Humanists, made of
philosophers, scholars, writers, poets, musicians, artists to enter this
The translation of Avesta
provoked passionate discussions in Europe. Voltaire (6), Grimm (7),
Didérot (8), Goethe (9), Von Kleist (9), Byron (10), Wordsworth (11),
Shelley (12) and later Nietzsche and many others joined this ideological
fight (6). The great musicians participated as well. Rameau included
Zarathushtra in his opera “Zoroastre”, Mozart in his “ The Magic Flute”
and Richard Strauss in his symphony “Thus Spake Zarathushtra”.
The main interest for the
European intellectuals in Zarathushtra was that they thought having found
a weapon against the power of the Church. To them the Church did not have
anymore the monopoly of the truth. The truth could also be found in a
non-Christian tradition, much older than Christianity.
More and more, as Jacques
Duchesne-Guillemin in his book “Western Response to Zoroastre” points out,
“Zarathustra became part of an attempt in Western Europe to emancipate
modern men and women from Christianity”. Zoroastrianism was praised with
all the virtues which Christianity was supposed to be lacking: such as
rationality, simplicity, contact with nature, constructive and positive
instincts, and above all, Zarathushtra was acclaimed for his dualistic
solution to the problem of evil.
The old and disturbing
question about the nature of Jewish and Christian God that had been left
unanswered for at least two thousand years, once again, was brought
You say: your God is All
Knowledgeable and All Powerful. Tell us why He has created a creature
named Satan, to deceit the weak human beings, that He Himself has created.
Either this God is not All Knowledgeable or He is not All Powerful or the
Evil is a part of him. In reaction to this embarrassing question, the
Christian intellectuals counter attacked and changed the front. They
accused Duperron of being a forger and the translation of Avesta a
forgery. Facing such a poisoning situation, Duperon, himself a faithful
Roman Catholic, set back and refused to see anything in the Avesta that
could be used against Christianity. His attitude, of course, disappointed
the anti-church intellectuals, though Voltaire insisted on Duperron’s
At this point philologists
and linguists also joined the battle. Three years later another
translation of Avesta made by the German linguist Kleukers proved
that Duperron was right and Avesta entered for good the field of
scientific research(15). It took however another thirty years until the
last pan Christian resistance gave in and recognized its authenticity.
From then on the scholars became interested to research the hidden sources
of Christianity within the Zoroastrian doctrine. The discovery of Sanskrit
and the relationship between this language and the Avestan language, made
easier the comprehension of the Avesta. The idea of the common origin of
the civilization of Iran and India was thus established.
For the Humanists however,
there was another victory on the way. That was the recognition and
translation of the Gathas, in the middle of the 19th century,
by the brilliant German philologist Martin Haug(16). Through a very hard
study, he isolated and translated 17 out of the 72 chapters of the Avesta,
written in a much older language. These 17 chapters, the Gathas, proved to
be the words coming from the very mouth of Zarathushtra, about 3000 years
Haug could thus
distinguish between Zarathushtra's theology, that was monotheistic and his
existential philosophy that was dualistic. This affirmation was
enthusiastically welcomed by the Parsis in India because it was pointing
out their original monotheism.
But some other scholars,
such as Spiegel and Darmesteter could hardly digest the fact that
Zarathushtra could be the discoverer of monotheism(17). So they counter
attacked. The first one tried to show it was the Hebrews that had given to
Zarathushtra the idea of a single God in the Gathas, and the second went
farther and claimed the Gathas were forgeries, composed under the
influence of Hellenizing Jews. Of course neither of these views could be
sustained for longtime, specially when the further researches proved that
Zarathustra had been lived in the Eastern of Iran where the Jewish ideas
had not been penetrated at the time of Zarathushtra. These claims were
abandoned soon even by their authors themselves.
This kind of attitudes led
other German scholars such as Rhode(18) and Creuzer(19) to claim the
Zoroastrian origin for all cultures, Western and Eastern. Perhaps such
claim was excessive, but it was the climate of the intellectual battles of
Just a few years after the
rediscovery of the texts of the Gathas, the gist of Zarathushtra's ideas
expressed 3000 years earlier was recovered in a brilliant way in 1883 by
one of the greatest philosophers of our time, Friedrich-Wilhelm Nietzsche,
in his book “ Thus Spake Zarathushtra”. His work based on an extremely
well understanding of Zarathushtra's revolutionary concept and ideal,
rendered in European thought, is considered as the final victory in the
struggle against the power of the Church in Europe. It changed radically
the European thought of modern times, delivering people from the sins they
had never committed(20).
Please let me finish
this short talk by this phrase: “I am from today and I am from
yesterday; but something in me is from tomorrow, from after tomorrow and
from always. Thus spake Zarathushtra.
Khazai ( Pardis)
Brussels, November 2003
- Please see the
references on the page 6
Zoe Oldenbourg; Massacre at Montsegur. A History of the Albigensian
- P. de Breuil
; New scope on some aspects of Zoroastrian history and philosophy,
J. Bidez et F. Cumont, Les mages hellénisés, Paris 1938, rééditée 1973,
p. 6 ; J. Duchesne-Guillemin,
Les religions de l’Iran, . p. 253, 1961
J. Duchesne-Guillemin; Western Response to Zaratoustra,. p. 4, 1957; H.
Levy, Chaldean Oracles in the later Roman Empire, Cairo 1956 p.
- Thomas Hyde;
De Vetere Religione Persarm, Oxford 1700
Voltaire; Dictionnaire philosophique, “Zoroastre” Paris 1764
J.Grimm; Deutsch Mithologie, 1835, p.76
- Diderot ;Encyclopedie,
Article « Perses », p.12
- Goethe; Parsi
Nameh ( West-Ostihicher Diwan, with notes on the ancient Persians)
Heindrich von Kleist ; Priere de Zoroastre; 1810
- Byron ; Child
Thus Spake Zarathustra ; 1885- 1887
- J. Kleukers;
Zend-Avesta, Riga 1776
- Martin Haug;
Essays on the sacred language, 2e éd. 1878.
- Fr. Spiegel;
Eranisch Alterthumskund, P.1 and 24, 1873 ;
J..Darmesteter; Le Zend-Avesta ; 3 volumes,1892
- J.Rhode; Die
Heilige Sage und Gesammte Relgionsystem, 1980, P. 20
Creuzer ; Symbolik und Mythologie, 1819-1821, P. 21
Farrell; The Influence of Zarathustra on Western Culture, 1977
1 Based on a speech given
by Dr. Khosro Khazaie in Anahiem, California in Dec. 2004 on the
occasion of the celebration of the 3000th anniversary of
Zoroastrian culture organized by California Zoroastrian Center.