Page:Frederic Shoberl - Persia.djvu/167

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140
PERSIA.

at the zour-kaneh who, for a gratuity, rub those who resort thither to practise, compressing the muscles and stretching the joints, all in cadence.

These gymnasiums, like those of antiquity, have each their gymnasiarch, who is called pehlevan hero. Superior strength, skill, and dexterity, are the qualifications for this office. The pehlevan must have vanquished all competitors in the different exercises. He is then invested with the superintendence over them, adjudges the victory, encourages emulation, keeps good order, and in eloquent harangues, in which the names of Ali and Hossein frequently occur, he reminds them of the good humour, friendship and respect, which, though rivals, they ought mutually to show to each other.


SECTION III.

HUNTING, FIELD-SPORTS, AND HORSE-RACING.

The Persians are passionately fond of the chase; it is an exercise to which they are addicted from their youth, and in which they excel. All the people of distinction keep falcons, sparrow-hawks, and other birds of prey, for sporting. In Chardin's time, the hunting establishment of the sovereign contained eight hundred of those birds. Upon the whole, the Persians make but little use of dogs in hunting, considering them as the most impure of animals; hence they employ birds in their stead.

They have brought their hawks to a great degree of docility, particularly one class which they call the churkh, and which is trained to catch antelopes. It is hunted with in this manner:—When a herd of deer is discovered, one is separated from the rest by the dogs, and the bird, being let loose, almost immediately pounces upon it, flapping its wings over the eyes of the antelope. The animal endeavours to rid itself of the churkh, by beating its head against the ground; but as the bird is perched on the upper part of the head, this attempt is of no avail. As the antelope stops the instant the churkh pounces on it, the dogs soon come up to secure their prey. One of these birds will kill two, seldom three antelopes in a day. This manner of catching deer affords much amusement.

The churkh is reared with infinite pains and trouble. Fryer calls this bird the Muscovy hawk, and says that in his time one of them cost from one hundred to four hundred pounds. If it has not been well attended to, and taken the usual medicines, it becomes lazy, and often flies away. There are different kinds of hawks for catching partridges, quails, pigeons, and other game.