What is the significance of kissing someone's shoulder in the Shahnameh?

  • I have been reading the Shahnameh, and there's a scene where a demon kisses a character's shoulders, which causes "two black snakes [to grow from the character's] shoulders."

    "I have one request to ask of the victorious king, even though I am quite unworthy of it, and this is that he will command me to kiss his shoulders, and rub my eyes and face there." When Zahhak heard his words he had no notion of what the man was plotting and said, "I grant your request, and may your name be honored for it." Then he said that the cook should kiss his shoulders, as if he were his bosom friend. The demon kissed the king's shoulders, and disappeared forthwith.

    (Firdawsī. Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings. Trans. Dick Davis. New York: Penguin, 2007. Print. )

    It seems like has some sort of social meaning (like a handshake or a hug), as it is implied that the gesture is reserved for "bosom friends." Could anyone elaborate on this?

    This site has been less active lately: I would encourage everyone to start reading a myth and ask questions about things you don't understand.

  • Shoulder kissing is a tradition that seems to be practiced as a greeting in, among other places, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

    The Guardian has an article about one instance:

    Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was supposed to be endorsing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his second term as the president of Iran, but his awkward body language at today's ceremony has again raised questions about possible splits in the regime.

    Ahmadinejad was permitted only a peck on the shoulder of Khamenei, and the supreme leader did not embrace the president as he did four years ago.

    A blog writes (emphasis mine)

    A Saudi man greeting another Saudi man whom he knows and respects will likely shake nose-kissinghis hand, embrace him and kiss him. Usually like with the women, the kiss will take place on either side of the cheek. Sometimes they will exchange multiple “air kisses” to the sides of each others neck. Other times Saudi men who are well known to one another may share a brief “nose kiss” which is the tips of the noses touching. Or if a Saudi man is an elder, the younger male may show his respect with a kiss to the shoulder, the hand or perhaps on the forehead. This manner in showing of affection is a natural custom and tradition in Saudi Arabia.

    This indicates even more clearly that the gesture is between a subordinate and an elder. This seems to be more of a tradition, rather than an event specific to a myth.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM