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Zoroastrian Heritage

Author: K. E. Eduljee





The epic

The Poet Ferdowsi


Writing & Books

Oral Tradition

Ferdowsi's Sources

Khvatay-Namak / Khodai-Nama

Achaemenian Era Book of King - Basilikai Difeterai


Other Legends

Ferdowsi's Original Work Lost

Differences in Shahnameh Copies

Reconstruction of an Authoritative Shahnameh

English Translations

Spelling of the Names

Resources-Persian Text


Ferdowsi's Manuscript

Earliest Surviving Manuscript Copies Known

Recent Manuscript Discovery in Beirut

Illuminated Manuscripts

Great Mongol/Demotte Manuscript

Bayasanghori Manuscript

Tahmaspi/Houghton Manuscript

Elation, Regret & Hope

Shahnameh's Characters

The Heroes - Story in Brief

English Translation

W = Warner & Warner
A = James Atkinson
Z = Helen Zimmerman

1. Prologue W

2. Creation W

3. Gaiumart W

3. Kaiumers A

4. Hushang W

5. Tahmuras W

6. Jamshid W

7. Zahak W

3-7. Shahs of Old Z

8. Faridun W

9. Minuchihr, Sam, Zal, Rustam W

10. Naudar W

11. Zav W

12. Kai Kaus 1 W

13. 7 Courses of Rustam W

14. Kai Kaus 2 W

15. Kai Kaus 3 W

16. Warriors W

17. Suhrab W

18. Siyawush W

19. Kai Khusrau 1 W

20. Kai Khusrau 2 W

21. Farud W

22. Kai Khusrau 3 W

23. Rustam W

24. Rustam's Exploits W

25. Bizhan W

26. Gudarz W

27. Great War W

28. Passing of Kai Khusrau W

29. Luhrasp & Gushtasp W

30. Gushtasp & Zardhusht W

31. Asfandiyar's Seven Stages W

32. Asfandiyar W

33. Asfandiyar's Fight with Rustam W

34. Rustam & Shaghad W

35. Bahman W

36. Humai & Darab W

36a. Humai & Darab A

37. Darab & Dara A

38. Sikandar A

Satire on Sultan Mahmud A

The Heroes - Story in Brief


The Characters

Locale - Sistan

Pahlavans & Their Role


Zal Woos Princess Rudabeh

The Birth of Rustam

Rustam's Horse Rakhsh

Rustam Meets Princess Tahmina

The Tragedy of Sohrab

Page 24

Rustam's Exploits

The Prelude

Be adoration as thy duty, sage!
To God the Lord of soul and wisdom raised,
Yet let this question thy bright mind engage:-
Can any praise Him as He should be praised?
All knowledge that we have is feebleness;
For such poor weaklings who can tears repress?
Philosopher! in vain thou biddest me
In many words to make thy path mine own,
The best word witnesseth God's unity,
Albeit, said or not said, God is One.
What things soever pass before thine eyes
Accord to this conviction of thy mind,
Walk then the beaten track if thou art wise
Or else discussion will no limit find.
Born, soul and body, in a single breath
Of mighty moment is thyself to thee,
Yet here thou hast but brief reprieve from death,
And in another home thy rest will be.
Think first of the Creator then and base
Thy worship on the thought well understood
That He who keepeth turning heaven in place
Is He that is thy Guide to every good.
The world is full of wonders to thy view,
And none hath means to judge them here below
Thy soul is wonderful, thy body too,
So let thy first task be thyself to know,
And next the sky which turneth over thee
In all its daily mutability.
The rustic minstrel's tale of days of old
Thou mayest not be willing to receive,
For men of wisdom who shall hear it told,
And weigh it learnedly, will disbelieve;
Yet, if thou wilt the inner meaning scan,
Thou wilt accept it and from carping cease,
So hear the story of the ancient man

Though it may be his words will fail to please.

How Khusrau summoned Rustam to fight the Div Arkwan

Thus saith the storying minstrel: Kai Khusrau
One morn adorned his Rose-bed like the spring.
Such chieftains as Gudarz, Tus, Gustaham,
Barzin son of Garshasp, sprung from Jamshid,
With Giv and with Ruhham the veteran,
Gurgin and sage Kharrad sat with the Shah,
And drained the goblet to the king of kings
Right merrily. One hour of day had passed
When there arrived a herdsman from the plain,
Who came before Khusrau, first kissed the ground,
And then addressed that Shah of glorious race:-
"An onager hath come amongst the herds,
And seemeth like a div escaped from bond!
Thou wouldest say: ' It is a savage lion!'
He breaketh our steeds' necks; he is in colour
As 'twere the sun itself; thou wouldest say
The sky hath washed him in a bath of gold.'
Drawn from his neck and reaching to his tail
There is a line as black as musk. If thou
Wouldst judge by his round haunches and his feet
Thou wouldest say: ' He is a noble steed."'
Khusrau, aware that 'twas no onager,
For onagers surpass not steeds in strength,
And having heard that people near the stream,
Where this man used to turn the herds to graze,
Made much complaint about Akwan the div,
Said to the hind: "This is no onager,
And I have knowledge of it. Go thy way."
He then addressed the chiefs: "Ye paladins,
With Grace and state! we need one lion-fierce
Among yourselves to go on this emprise."
He scanned the warriors but found none to please him,
For only Rustam son of Zal could help
In such a cause, and so Khusrau prepared
A letter couched in just and loving terms,
And gave it to Gurgin son of Milad,
To whom he said: "Bear to the son of Zal _
My letter, go like smoke both night and day,
And slumber not within Zabulistan.
Greet Rustam much and lovingly from me,
Say to him: 'Live while heaven itself shall last,'
And add when he hath read the letter through:-
"My Grace is all from thee, aspiring chief!
Show us thy face, arise, and come. When thou
Hast read the letter stay not in ZAbul.' "
Gurgin departed like a rushing wind,
Or onager in terror for its life,
And gave the letter when he reached the chieftain,
Who heard, obeyed, and went to court in state,
There kissed the ground before the throne and blessed
The imperial fortunes, saying thus: "O Shah
Thou calledst me, and here am I girt up
To do thy will. Be might and goodness thine."
Khusrau, on seeing Rustam, welcomed him,
Gave him a seat upon the royal throne,
And afterward spake thus: "O paladin!
Mayst thou live ever glad and bright of soul.
This day is blessed since I look on thee
My fortunes all depend on thy shrewd mind.
A work is toward, O elephantine one!
For which I summoned thee of all the mighty,
So that, if thou distaste not my command,
Thou mayest gird thee to win crown and treasure.
A hind hath said: ' An onager hath come
Among the herds."'
The Shah told o'er the tale,
And added: "Now, O matchless one, make ready!
And undertake this further enterprise.
Go, and in dealing with it have a care,
For it may be malicious Ahriman."
" Through thy good fortune," Rustam made reply,
"Now whether it be lion, div, or dragon,
The servant of thy throne is not afraid;
It shall not 'scape my scimitar's sharp blade."

How Rustam event in Quest of the Div

He went forth like a lion to the chase,
A lasso on his arm and under him
A Dragon, went to where that hind was tending
His cattle and that div was roaming loose.
Three days he searched the champaign mid the steeds,
And on the fourth perceived a Thing careering,
And rushing by him like the north wind's blast.
It was a glossy beast of golden hue,
But with fell mischief 'neath its hide. Then Rustam
Spurred fleet-foot Rakhsh but thought as he drew near:-
"I need not cast but noose it with my lasso;
There is no call to spoil it with the sword;
I will convey it living to the Shah. "
So Rustam flung his royal lasso forth,
Intent to take the creature by the head.
The lusty onager perceived the noose,
And vanished instantly. Then Rustam knew:-
"This is no onager; I must proceed
By craft not force. It is Akwan himself,
And I must smite him with a whiff of steel.
The sages told me that this is his haunt,
But his appearance as an onager
Is strange! The scimitar must now avail
To make blood overflow that yellow gold."
Just then the onager appeared again;
Again the chieftain urged his swift career,
Strung up his bow and from his wind-like steed
Let fly an arrow like Azargashasp,
But even as he drew his royal bow -
The onager was gone the second time.
Then Rustam rode about the open plain
A day and night in want of sustenance,
And nodding in the saddle, till he found
A fountain like rose-water. Lighting there
He watered Rakhsh and sank to sleep fordone,
But first ungirthed his steed, took off the saddle
To use its poplar pummel as his pillow,
And spread beside the spring his saddle-cloth
For sleep while Rakhsh to pasturage sped forth.

How the Div Akwan flung Rustam into the Sea

When from afar Akwan saw Rustam sleeping
He came as swift as wind, delved round about
The place where Rustam lay, and raised it skyward.
When Rustam woke from sleep he woke to sorrow,
And his wise head was filled with consternation.
He thought: "So this foul div hath laid for me
A snare like this! Woe for my strength and courage,
My neck, and blows with mace and scimitar'
This matter will make desolate the world,
Achieving all AfrAsiyab's desire,
While Tus, Gudarz, Khusrau, the throne and crown,
The elephants and drums, will be no more.
Through me the world will suffer, since Akwan
Hath spoiled my marketing. Who will take vengeance
On this curst div? No one will match him now."
Then said Akwan to Rustam in his plight:-
Now, Now, elephantine chieftain! take thy choice
To fall upon the mountains or the waves;
So whither shall I fling thee far from men?"
The elephantine hero communed thus:-
In In every case naught bettereth artifice.
He will do contrary to what I say;
He will not recognise an oath or keep
A pact. If I say, 'Throw me in the sea,'
Then will this evil-natured Ahriman
Fling me upon the mountains, dash me there
To pieces, and destroy me. I must use
Some scheme to make him fling me into water,"
Then said: "A sage of Chin hath spoken well:-
' Whoe'er is drowned his soul will never see
Surush in Paradise, his lot will be
To tarry in his place in misery,
And not to find a welcome to the sky.'
Let me not therefore fall upon the ocean
To make the fishes' maws my winding-sheet,
But drop me on the mountains that the lions
And tigers may behold a brave man's hands.'
Akwan at this roared like the sea, and answered:-
Now Now will I fling thee to the place wherein
Thou wilt be lost for ever to both worlds."
And, acting contrary to Rustam's words.
Dropped him upon the sea. As Rustam fell
He drew his sword, and when the crocodiles
Approached they turned aside from fighting him.
He struck out with his feet and his left hand _
While with his right he fought his way along,
Not resting for a moment from his toils,
But acting as a warrior in all.
If valour could avert the fatal day
Time had not taken Rustam's stance away,
But know that circling time is ever thus -
At whiles all sweet, at whiles all venomous.
He struggled bravely, reached the shore, beheld
The desert, and gave praises to the Maker,
Who had delivered thus His slave from ill.
He rested, took his armour off, and laid
His tiger-skin cuirass beside the stream.
Whenas his lasso and his armour dried
That savage Lion donned' his coat of mail,
And went back to the'stream where he had slept
When that malignant div had raged at him;
But glossy Rakhsh was nowhere in the mead,
And Rustam, wroth and raging at his luck,
Went plodding doggedly with reins and saddle
In Rakhsh's track till in his quest he came
Upon a meadow-land of streams and shaws
Well stocked with francolins and cooing doves.
The herdsman of Afrasiyab who kept
The steeds lay fast asleep within a coppice,
While Rakhsh was prancing madly like a div
Among the herd and neighing. Rustam cast
His royal lasso, caught Rakhsh by the head,
Then rubbed the dust away and saddled him,
With, thanks to God, the Giver of all good,
Put on the bridle, mounted, took in hand
His trenchant scimitar, and drove the herd
Therewith, still calling on the name of God.
The herdsman, at the tumult, raised his head,
Still half asleep, and called the horsemen with him
To mount upon their lofty-crested steeds.
They took each man his lasso and his bow
To learn what foe dared come upon the pasture,
And to approach so many cavaliers.
These went together hotly in pursuit
To strip the warlike Lion of his hide,
But Rustam, when he saw them rushing on,
Drew quickly from his waist his vengeful sword,
Roared like a lion, and proclaimed: "My name
Is Rustam son of Zal the son of Sam."
He slew the more part with his scimitar,
Which when the herdsman saw he showed his back,
And fled away with Rustam following,
His bow upon his arm slung by its string.

How Afrasiyab came to inspect his Steeds, and how Rustam slew the Div Akwan.

It happened strangely that Afrasiyab
Had sped forth like a blast to view his steeds,
And brought with him wine, harps, and warriors
To merrymake upon the watered plain
Where every year the herdsman loosed the herds.
The monarch on arriving saw them not.
Then suddenly rose clamour, horse on horse
Passed, and Afrasiyab saw far away
The dust of Rakhsh, and other noble chargers.
The ancient herdsman rushed up franticly
In evil plight and wounded by an arrow,
Then in amazement told Afrasiyab:-
"Though single-handed, Rustam hath borne off
Our horse-herds, killed no few of us, and gone! "
The Turkmans clamoured: "He is all alone,
And we must arm, for this is past a jest.
Have we become so wretched, weak, and frail
That one can shed our blood? The very herds
Will shame thereat! We cannot let it pass."
The monarch with four elephants and troops
Went in pursuit of Rustam who, when they
Had overtaken him, took from his arm
His bow and charged against them furiously.
He rained upon them, as the clouds rain hail,
Shafts from his bow and strokes from his steel sword.
He dropped his arrows and his scimitar,
When sixty gallant chiefs had been o'erthrown,
And taking up his mace slew forty more.
Afrasiyab in dudgeon showed his back
While Rustam took the four white elephants.
The warriors of TUribn were in despair,
For Rustam came behind them with his mace,
And, like a cloud in spring, for two leagues onward
Rained blows like hail and beat in helms and casques.
He turned back, driving off the elephants
And herds, and took the baggage-train withal,
Yet when he went back to the spring at leisure
His valiant heart was ready still for fight!
The div Akwan again encountered him,
And said: "Art thou not surfeited with strife?
Thou hast escaped the ocean and the claws
Of crocodiles, and come back to the waste
To battle. Now shalt thou behold thy fate,
For never shalt thou seek to fight henceforth."
The peerless Rustam, hearing what the div
Said, roared out like a lion of the fray,
Released his twisted lasso from its straps,
Flung it, and caught the div about the waist;
Then Rustam, turning in his saddle, raised
His mace as 'twere the hammer of a smith,
And smote the div like some mad elephant
Upon his head and smashed it, brains and neck;
The hero lighted, drew his blue steel sword
And cut the div's head off, then offered up
Thanksgivings to Almighty God through Whom
He had achieved the victory that day.
Know thou that every one that is the thrall
Of ill, and offereth not to God his praise,
And whosoever doth transgress the ways
Of manhood, is a div, not man at all.
The wisdom that rejecteth what I tell
May miss the goodly inner sense as well
If then a paladin be full of might -
A man of lusty limbs and lofty height -
Let him, and. not Akwan, thy hero be,
And let thy tongue tell tales of chivalry.
What sayest thou, O man exceeding old,
Experienced much in this world's heat and cold?
Who knoweth what vicissitudes will here
Betide us often in time's long career,
Time which by virtue of its length alone
Will bear away all that we call our own?
Who knoweth what yon turning vault's decree
Assigneth him of war or revelry?

How Rustam Went back to the Land of Iran

When Rustam had cut off the vile div's head
He mounted on his elephantine steed,
Collected all the herds in front of him,
With all the baggage that the Turkmans left,
And went off with the elephants and goods,
Illustrating the world. When to the Shah
Came tidings: "Rustam hath returned in triumph!
He girt himself to noose that onager,
But he hath taken div and elephant,
The elephant by land, the crocodile
By sea: the lions, divs, and warriors
That counter him escape not from his sword!"
Khusrau prepared to go and welcome Rustam;
The warriors put their casques upon their heads,
And took the standard of the king of kings
With clarions, bells, and mighty elephants.
When Rustam saw the exalted monarch's flag
Advancing on the way to welcome him
He lighted from his steed and kissed the ground
Midst shouting troops and din of trump and drum.
The chieftains of the army went afoot
To him; the king of kings urged on his steed.
That chief of chiefs, the crown-bestowing prince,
Bade Rustam mount, and thus they reached the .palace
With open hearts and mutual good-will.
Then Rustam portioned to the Iranians
The horse-herds, keeping Rakhsh as his own mount,
And sent the elephants to join the Shah's,
Since Lions do not fare with elephants.
For one week there was feasting in the hall,
Wine, harp, and minstrelsy were in request,
While Rustam o'er the wine discoursed at large,
And told the Shah the story of Akwan:-
"I never saw so fine an onager,
Such neck and limbs, and such magnificence!
But when my scimitar had cleft his hide
No friend or foe had pitied him. His head
Was like an elephant's, his hair was long,
His mouth was full of tusks like some wild boar's,
His eyes were white, his lips were black, his form
Was ill to see. No camel is so large
And strong. The waste became a sea with blood,
Which spurted, when I had beheaded him,
Up to the welkin and came down like rain!"
Then Kai Khusrau amazed put by his cup,
And gave God thanks for such a paladin,
Since none had seen such wonders - that a man
Such as was Rustam should exist at all
In all his manliness and mien and stature.
He said: "Unless the Lord had given me
A share both in His justice and His love
I never should have had a liege like this
With whom to hunt down divs and elephants."
Thus spent they two weeks joyfully; their talk
Was all of wine and banquet. On the third
The matchless Rustam purposed to go home
Victorious and glad. "I yearn for Zal,
The son of Sam," he said, "and such desire
May not be blinked, but I will go apace,
And come back to the court. We must prepare
Fresh vengeance, for revenge for Siyawush
Is not thus easily to be forgone
By taking steeds and herds."
The world's great king
Unlocked the portal of his treasury,
Brought forth the precious jewels hoarded there,
And filled a cup with treasure. Of king's raiment
Five changes made throughout of cloth of gold,
With golden-girdled slave-boys brought from Rum,
And likewise handmaids decked with golden torques,
With tapestries and thrones of ivory,
Embroideries, dlndrS, and turquoise crowns,
All these the Shah sent Rustam, saying: "Take
This gift with thee, but stay with us to-day,
And afterward make ready to depart."
They spent the day together quaffing wine,
But Rustam was resolved to go at dawn.
The Shah went two days with him and embraced him
At parting. Rustam cottoned to the road,
Khusrau returned. Well ordered 'neath his signet
The world became as he would have it be.
The ancient sky revolveth ever so,
At whiles like arrow and at whiles like bow.
The matter of Akwan with what befell
'Twixt him and Rustam endeth. Now I tell
The conflicts of Bizhan, and thou shalt hear
Of strivings that will ask of thee a tear.

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