THE special interest presented to the mythologist by the study of Iranian myths lies in the fact that they show with ideal clearness the various stages in the evolution of myth toward historical legend.
As is well known, a myth originally is an effort toward accounting for some phenomenon. The attempt is made, of course, with the mental tendencies of people of a fairly elementary culture, but it is clear enough that primitive man does not only aim at giving an explanation, but at making it picturesque and appealing to his imagination; and it is equally obvious that he desires to stimulate the fancy of his fellow men by using symbols, testing their ingenuity by transferring one order of facts to another. This tendency generates parable, moral fiction, and riddle, and it is difficult to doubt that myth is one more aspect of that same turn of mind when we compare old riddles with old myths.
Otto Schrader has collected (l) several Indo-European riddles that are very instructive in this regard, and an episode of the Shahnamah also illustrates this explanation of myth. Thus, in Firdausi's epic (2) Minucihr tests Zal by hard questions, concocted by the shrewd priests, who formulate a series of riddles that are very much of the same kind as those which are found among people of primitive culture and which Schrader considers to be a source of myths. Zal is asked what are a dozen cypresses with thirty boughs on each, and he finds them to be the twelve moons of every year, each moon having thirty days. Two horses, one white and one black, moving rapidly to catch  each other, but in vain, prove to be day and night. A lofty pair of cypresses in which a bird nests, on the one at morning and on the other at evening, represents the two portions of the sky, and the bird which flies between them is the sun. The turn of mind which generated such stories would readily produce myths.
In the Rgveda, where we have found so many names of gods and heroes of Iranian mythology, mythical symbolism is rife and in full operation. Not only does the singer in his prayers remind his god of the myths that are current about him, but he makes new ones and gives another turn to mythical interpretations of facts because he is conscious that they are myths. For that reason the Rgveda makes us live in an atmosphere that is truly mythic, but, on the other hand, it presents such a free treatment of the various stories that it is much more difficult to give a clear account of the old Indian myths than of the Iranian legends. Vedic mythology is more fluid; the singer deals freely with the stories, mixes them, makes new combinations with the traditional elements, and even goes so far as to invent myths which are entirely new.
If we compare the Iranian situation with the Vedic, which, of course, at one time was the Indo-Iranian status, we observe that the Mazdean Iranians have plenty of myths, but that, to a great extent, the creative tendency has been checked. Their myths appear rather as survivals of prior times, and, consequently, they are more clearly delineated than in the Veda. In addition to this, they have been systematized according to the general tendency of Mazdeism, and the necessity of fitting them into the dualistic scheme accounts for the monotonous character of these myths, in which a good being is always at war with some evil one. The good beings are pretty much identical with one another, and the fiends are almost the same throughout. A sure proof that the real meaning of the myths has faded is the great number of epithets and details that are quite clear in the original form of the story, but are often meaningless and merely traditional in Mazdean lore.
 The special evolution of myths in Iran assumes three forms.
(a) The myth, being no longer understood as such, becomes a mere tale and, as is the case with tales, is apt to be subdivided into several stories or to be reproduced many times with different names. This has especially been the case with the storm-myth. The dragon is Azhi, Srvara, Zainigav, Apaosha, Gandarewa, etc.; the youthful and godlike victor is Thraetaona, Keresaspa, Raodhatakhma (Rustam), Haosravah, etc.
Myths are duplicated. Besides Yima-Yimak, we find Mashya-Mashyoi. Kavi Usan is twice a prisoner; Kavi Keresavazdah has been calumniated twice; Urupi and Keresaspa both ride on a demon; Kavi Kavata and Zal are both abandoned on Mount Alburz at their birth; Thraetaona and Vistauru both cross a river in a miraculous way; Yoishta and Aoshnara both answer the riddles of a sphinx. All heroes marry Turanian girls, and all stories take place on Mount Hara Berezaiti (Alburz) or in the sea Vourukasha, etc., etc.
(b) On the other hand, several myths coalesce into one story, the most complete instance being the legend of Yima, which unites a story of primeval twins, a winter-myth, a myth comparing sunset to the death of man, a story of women captured by a fiend, etc.
(c) There is a gradual anthropomorphization of the myths. On the one hand, the mythical contest is changed into a moral one, the cloud-dragons, imprisoners of water, becoming heretics or enemies of the Zoroastrian religion. A curious instance of this is Faridun's conversion of Jamshid's daughters, who had been brought up in vice and pagan lore by Dahhak, this being a transformation of the traditional story of the storm-god releasing the women of the cloud, i.e. the imprisoned waters. In Yima's story a moral motive has been introduced into the darkening of the sun by the cloud-dragon.
On the other hand, the mythical material becomes historical or, at least, epic. Monsters, dragons, etc., become Turanians,  and the gods are transformed into kings of a purely human character, so that in many cases in the Shahnamah it is impossible to determine whether we are dealing with some historical event, more or less embellished by legend, or with a nature-myth that has been humanized. Dahhak is an Arabian king; Faridun is an audacious soldier; haoma, the draught of immortality, becomes a hermit in the story of Afrasiyab, etc.
In the legend of Yima we see all successive stages. First we have the setting sun, and then the setting sun, showing the path to the departed, becomes their sire, and his solar quality fades away. He is thus evolved into the first mortal or the king of the dead, and finally becomes an ordinary Iranian monarch of ancient times.
This transformation has, it is true, deprived the Iranians of the great source of Indian poetry, but has resulted, on the other hand, in providing them with a rich epic material, the direction in which their literature has been developed. They were also creative in this domain, for they wove many legends around their real kings, their prophet, etc. Both sources of inspiration have been so blended that in the Shahnamah Rustam's mace, which was originally the thunderbolt of Indra, is swung against the castellan bishops of the Syrian Church (3), and that Zairivairi, a son of Apam Napat, is the lover of the daughter of the Emperor of Byzantium.
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