The Shah Nameh of the Persian poet Firdausi online

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gence to Poshang, and the Turanian army was in consequence
immediately withdrawn within the prescribed line of division.
Rustein, however, expostulated with the king against making
peace at a time the most advantageous for war, and especially
when he had just commenced his victorious career ; but Kai-
kobild thought differently, and considered nothing equal to
justice and tranquillity. Peace was accordingly concluded, and
upon Rustem and Zal he conferred the highest honours, and
his other warriors engaged in the late conflict also experienced
the effects of his bounty and gratitude in an eminent degree.

Kai-kobad then moved towards Persia, and establishing his
throne at Istakhar,* he administered the affairs of his govern-
ment with admirable benevolence and clemency, and with un-

* Istakhar, also called Pcrsepolis, and Chchel-minar, or the Forty Pillara.
This city was said to have been laid in ruins by Alexander after the conquest
or Darius ; that,

Thais led the way,
And like another Helen fired another Troy.


But this, for the credit of Alexander, does not appear to be the fact. M.
Langlcs has shown that the destructioD of this renowned city was owing, long
afterwards, to the fanatic Arabs.


ceasing solicitude for the welfare of his subjects. In his eyes
every one had an equal claim to consideration and justice.
The strong had no power to oppress the weak. Alter lie had
continued ten years at Istakhar, building towns and cities, and
diffusing improvement and happiness over the land, he removed
his throne into Iran. His reign lasted one hundred years,
which were passed in the continual exercise of the most princely
virtues, and the most munificent liberality. He had four sons :
Kai-kaiis, Arish, Poshin, and Aramin ; and when the period of
his dissolution drew nigh, he solemnly enjoined the eldest, whom
he appointed his successor, to pursue steadily the path of in-
tegrity and justice, and to be kind and merciful in the admini-
stration of the empire left to his charge.


When Kai-kuiis* ascended the throne of his father, the
whole world was obedient to his will ; but he soon began to
deviate from the wise customs and rules which had been recom-
mended as essential to his prosperity and happiness. He
feasted and drank wine continually with his warriors and chiefe,
so that in the midst of his luxurious enjoyments he looked

* Kai-kaus, the second King of Persia of the dynasty called Kuianides. lie
succeeded Kai kobad, about six hundred years B.C. According to Firdausi he
was a foolish tyrannical prince. He appointed Rustem captain-general of the
armies, to which the lieutenant-generalship and the administration of the
state was annexed, under the title of " the champion of the world." He also
gave him a taj, or crown of gold, which kings only were accustomed to wear,
and granted him the privilege of giving audience seated on a throne of gold.

It is said that Kai-kaus applied himself much to the study of astronomy,
and that he founded two great observatories, the one at Babel, and the other
on the Tigris. Perhaps his reputed fondness for astronomical studies gave rise
to the fable of his aerial excursion recorded further on.


npon himself as superior to every being upon the face of the
earth, and thus astonishsd the people, high and low, by his
extravagance and pride.

One day a Demon, disguised as a musician, waited npon the
monarch, and playing sweetly on his harp, sung a song in praise
of Mazindenin.

And thus he warbled to the king
" Mazinderan is the bower of spring,
My native home ; the balmy air
Diffuses health and fragrance there";
So tempered is the genial glow,
Nor heat nor cold we ever know ;
Tulips and hyacinths abound
On every lawn ; and all around
Blooms like a garden in its prime,
Fostered by that delicious clime.
The bulbul sits on every spray,
And pours his soft melodious lay ;
Each rural spot its sweets discloses,
Each streamlet is the dew of roses ;
And damsels, idols of the heart,
Sustain a more bewitching part.
And mark me, that untravelled man
Who never saw Mazinderan,
And all the charms its bowers possess,
Has never tasted happiness ! "

No sooner had Kai-kdiis heard this description of the country
of Mazinderan than he determined to lead an army thither,
declaring to his warriors that the splendour and glory of his
reign should exceed that of either Jcmshid, Zohak, or Kai-
kobad. The warriors however were alarmed at this precipitate
resolution, thinking it certain destruction to make war against
the Demons ; but they had not courage or confidence enough
to disclose their real sentiments. They only ventured to
suggest, that if his majesty reflected a little on the subject, he
might not ultimately consider the enterprize so advisable as he
had at first imagined. But this produced no impression, and
they then deemed it expedient to despatch a messenger to Ztil,
to inform him of the wild notions which the Evil One had put
into the head of Kai-kaus to effect his ruin, imploring ZaJ to


allow of no delay, otherwise the eminent services so lately per-
formed by him and Rustem for the state would be rendered
utterly useless and vain. Upon this summons, Zal imme-
diately set off from Sistan to Iran ; and having arrived at the
royal court, and been received with customary respect and con-
sideration, he endeavoured to dissuade the king from the con-
templated expedition into Mtizinderan.

" 0, could I wash the darkness from thy mind,
And show thee all the perils that surround
This undertaking I Jemshkl, high in power,
Whose diadem was brilliant as the sun,
Who ruled the demons never in his pride
Dreamt of the conquest of Mazinderan !
Remember Feridun, he overthrew
Zohak destroyed the tyrant, but he never
Thought of the conquest of Mazinderan !
This strange ambition never fired the souls
Of by-gone monarchs mighty Minuchihr.
Always victorious, boundless in his wealth,
Nor Zau, nor Nauder, nor even Kai-kobad,
With all their pomp, and all their grandeur, ever
Dreamt of the conquest of Mazinderan !
It is the place of demon-sorcerers,
And all enchanted. Swords are useless there,
Nor bribery nor wisdom can obtain
Possession of that charm-defended land,
Then throw not men and treasure to the winds ;
Waste not the precious blood of warriors brave,
In trying to subdue Mazinderan ! "

Kai-kaiis, however, was not to be diverted from his purpose ;
and with respect to what his predecessors had not done, he
considered himself superior in might and influence to either
Feridun, Jemshid, Minuchihr, or Kai-kobad, who had never
aspired to the conquest of Milzinderan. He further observed,
that he had a bolder heart, a larger army, and a fuller trcasu-*
than any of them, and the whole world was under his swry

And what are all these Demon-charms,

That they excite such dread alarms .'
What is a Demon-host to me,
Their magic spells and sorcery ?
( >ne effort, and the field is won ;
Then why should I the battle shun ?


Be thou and Rustem (whilst afar

I wage the soul-appalling war),

The guardians of the kingdom ; Heaven

To me hath its protection given ;

And, when I reach the Demon's fort,

Their severed heads shall be my sport 1

When Zal became convinced of the unalterable resolution of
Kai-kaus, he ceased to -oppose his views, and expressed his
readiness to comply with whatever commands he might receive
for the safety of the state.

May all thy actions prosper mayst thou never

Have cause to recollect my warning voice,

"With sorrow or repentance. Heaven protect thee I

Zal then took leave of the king and his warrior friends, and
returned to Sistan, not without melancholy forebodings respect-
ing the issue of the war against Mazinderan.

As soon as morning dawned, the army was put in motion.
The charge of the empire, and the keys of the treasury and
jewel-chamber were left in the hands of Milad, with injunc-
tions, however, not to draw a sword against any enemy that
might spring up, without the consent and assistance of Z;il
and Rustem. AVhen the army had arrived within the limits
of Miizindcran, Kai-kaus ordered Giw to select two thousand
of the bravest men, the boldest Avieldcrs of the battle-axe, and
proceed rapidly towards the city. In his progress, according
to the king's instructions, he burnt and destroyed every thing
of value, mercilessly slaying man, woman, and child. For the
king said :

Kill all before thee, whether young or old,

And turn their day to night ; thus free the world

Fruin the magician's art.

Proceeding .in his career of desolation and ruin, Giw came
near to the city, and found it arrayed in all the splendour of
heaven ; every street was crowded with beautiful women, richly
adorned, and young damsels with faces as bright as the moon.
The treasure-chamber was full of gold and jewels, and the


country abounded with cattle. Information of this discovery
was immediately sent to Kai-kiiiis, who was delighted to find
that Mazinderan was truly a blessed region, the very garden
of beauty, where the cheeks of the women seemed to be tinted
with the hue of the pomegranate flower, by the gate-keeper of

This invasion filled the heart of the king of Mazinderan
with grief and alarm, and his first care was to call the gigantic
White Demon to his aid. Meanwhile Kai-kaus, full of the
wildest anticipations of victory, was encamped on the plain
near the city in splendid state, and preparing to commence the
final overthrow of the enemy on the following day. In the
night, however, a cloud came, and deep darkness like pitch
overspread the earth, and tremendous hail-stones poured down
upon the Persian host, throwing them into the greatest con-
fusion. Thousands were destroyed, others fled, and were scat-
tered abroad in the gloom. The morning dawned, but it
brought no light to the eyes of Kai-kaus ; and amidst the
horrors he experienced, his treasury was captured, and the
soldiers of his army either killed or made prisoners of war.
Then did he bitterly lament that he had not followed the wise
counsel of Zal. Seven days he was involved in this dreadful
affliction, and on the eighth day he heard the roar of the White
Demon, saying :

' king, them art the willow-tree, all barren,
With neither fruit, nor flower. What could induce
The dream of conquering Mazinderan ?
ITadst thou no friend to warn thee of thy folly ?
Hadst thou not heard of the White Demon's power
Of him, who from the gorgeous vault of Heaven
Can charm the stars? From this mad enterprize
Others have wisely shrunk and what hast thou
Accomplished by a more ambitious course ?
Thy soldiers have slain many, dire destruction
And spoil have been their purpose thy wild will
Has promptly been obeyed ; but thou art now
Without an army, not one man remains
To lift a sword, or stand in thy defence ;
Not one to hear thy groans and thy despair."


There were selected from the army twelve thousand of the
demon-warriors, to take charge of and hold in custody the
Iranian captives, all the chiefs, as well as the soldiers, being
secured with bonds, and only allowed food enough to keep them
alive. Arzang, one of the demon-leaders, having got possession
of the wealth, the crown and jewels, belonging to Kai-kaiis,
was appointed to escort the captive king and his troops, all
of whom were deprived of sight, to the city of Mazinderan,
where they were delivered into the hands of the monarch of
that country. The White Demon, after thus putting an end to
hostilities, returned to his own abode.

Kai-kaiis, strictly guarded as he was, found an opportunity
of sending an account of his blind and helpless condition to
Z;il, in which he lamented that he had not followed his advice,
and urgently requested him, if he was not himself in confine-
ment, to come to his assistance, and release him from captivity.
When Zitl heard the melancholy story, he gnawed the very skin
of his body with vexation, and turning to Rustem, conferred
with him in private.

" The sword must be unsheathed, since Kai-kails
Is bound a captive in the dragon's den,
And Rakush must be saddled for the field,
And thou must bear the weight of this cmpriza ;
For I have lived two centuries, and old age
Unfits me for the heavy toils of war.
Should'st thou release the king, thy name will be
Exalted o'er the earth. Then, don thy mail,
And gain immortal honour."

Rustem replied that it was a long journey to Mdzinderdn,
and that the king had been six months on the road. Upon
this Zal observed that there were two roads the most tedious
one was that which Kai-kaiis had taken ; but by the other,
which was full of dangers and difficulty, and lions, and demons,
and sorcery, he might reach Mdzinderan in seven days, if he
reached it at all.

On hearing these words Rustem assented, and chose the
short road, observing :



" Although it is not wise, they say,
With willing feet to track the way
To hell ; though only men who've lost,
All love of life, by misery crossed,
Would rush into the tiger's lair,
And die, poor reckless victims, there ;
I gird my loins, whate'er may be,
And trust in God for victory."

On the following day, resigning himself to the protection of
Heaven, he put on his war attire, and with his favourite horse,
Rakush, properly caparisoned, stood prepared for the journey.
His mother, Rudabeh, took leave of him with great sorrow ;
and the young hero departed from Sistan, consoling himself
and his friends, thus :

" O'er him who seeks the battle-field,

Nobly his prisoned king to free,
Heaven will extend its saving shield,
And crown his arms with victory."


FIRST STAGE. He rapidly pursued his way, performing two
days' journey in one, and soon came to a forest full of wild
asses. Oppressed with hunger, he succeeded in securing one of
them, which he roasted over a fire, lighted by sparks produced
by striking the point of his spear, and kept in a blaze with
dried grass and branches of trees. After regaling himself, and
satisfying his hunger, he loosened the bridle of Rakush, and
allowed him to graze ; and choosing a safe place for repose
during the night, and taking care to have his sword under his
head, he went to sleep among the reeds of that wilderness. In
a short space a fierce lion appeared, and attacked Rakush with


great violence ; but Rakush very speedily with his teeth and
heels put an end to his furious assailant. Rustem, awakened
by the confusion, and seeing the dead lion before him, said to
his favourite companion :

" Ah ! Rakush,* why so thoughtless grown,

To fight a lion thus alone ;

For had it been thy fate to bleed,

And not thy foe, my gallant steed !

How could thy master have conveyed

His helm, and battle-axe, and blade,

Kamund, and bow, and buberyan,

Unaided, to Mazinderan ?

Why didst thou fail to give the alarm,

And save thyself from chance of harm,

By neighing loudly in my ear ;

But though thy bold heart knows no fear,

From such unwise exploits refrain,

Nor try a lion's strength again."

Saying this, Rustem laid down to sleep, and did not awake
till the morning dawned. As the sun rose, he remounted
Rakush, and proceeded on his journey towards Mazinderan.

* Though Raknsli was a model of intelligence and sagacity, he could not
speak, like Xanthus and Balius, the two horses of Achilles ! The former,
prophesied the doom of Ins master. There is nothing therefore extravagant in
Rustem addressing his horse so familiarly.

" We may be assured, says Cowper, that it was customary for the Greeks
occasionally to harangue their horses, for Homer was a poet too attentive to
nature, to introduce speeches that would have appeared strange to his country-
men. Hector addresses his horses in the eighth book, and Antilochus, in the
chariot race, whose horses were not only of terrestrial origin, but the slowest
in the camp of Greece. That Achilles, then, should have spoken to his steeds,
is not surprising, seeing that they were of celestial seed."

Aristotle and Pliny, write that these animals often deplore their masters
lost in battle, and have shed tears for them and ^lian relates the same of
elephants, who, like the Swiss, overcome with the maladie du, pays, weep in
f;ir-oiT captivity to think of their native forests. Suetonius, in the life of
Csesar, tells us that several horses which, at the passage of the Rubicon, had
been consecrated to Mars, and turned loose on the banks, were observed some
days after to abstain from feeding, and to weep abundantly. Virgil knew all
this, and could not. therefore, forbear copying this beautiful circumstance in
those fine lines on the horse of Pallas :

Post Bell.'itor equus, positis insignibus, -Ethon
It lacymans, guttisciue huiuectat granclibus ora. ..EN'KID, xi. 80.

H 2


SECOND STAGE. After travelling rapidly for some time, he
entered a desert, in which no water was to be found, and the
sand was so burning hot, that it seemed to be instinct with
fire. Both horse and rider were oppressed with the most
maddening thirst. Bustern alighted, and vainly wandered
about in search of relief, till almost exhausted, he put up a
prayer to Heaven for protection against the evils which
surrounded him, engaged as he was in an enterprize for the
release of Kai-kaiis and the Persian army, then in the power of
the demons. With pious earnestness he besought the Almighty
to bless him in the great work ; and whilst in a despairing
mood he was lamenting his deplorable condition, his tongue
and throat being parched with thirst, his body prostrate on the
sand, under the influence of a raging sun, he saw a sheep pass
by, which he hailed as the harbinger of good. Rising up and
grasping his sword in his hand, he followed the animal, and
came to a fountain of water, where he devoutly returned thanks
to God for the blessing which had preserved his existence, and
prevented the wolves from feeding on his lifeless limbs. Re-
freshed by the cool water, he then looked out for something to
allay his hunger, and killing a gor, he lighted a fire and roasted
it, and regaled upon its savoury flesh, which he eagerly tore
from the bones.

When the period of rest arrived, Rustem addressed Rakush,
and said to him angrily :

" Beware, my steed, of future strife.
Again thou must not risk thy life ;
Encounter not with lion fell,
Nor demon still more terrible ;
But should an enemy appear,
Ring loud the warning in my ear.'

After delivering these injunctions, Rustem laid down to
sleep, leaving Rakush unbridled, and at liberty to crop the
herbage close by.

THIRD STAGE. At midnight a monstrous dragon -serpent
issued from the forest ; it was eighty yards in length, and so


fierce, that neither elephant, nor demon, nor lion, ever ventured
to pass by its lair. It came forth, and seeing the champion
asleep, and a horse near him, the latter was the first object of
attack. But Rakush retired towards his master, and neighed
and beat the ground so furiously, that Rustem soon awoke ;
looking round on every side, however, he saw nothing the
dragon had vanished, and he went to sleep again. Again the
dragon burst out of the thick darkness, and again Rakush was
at the pillow of his master, who rose up at the alarm : but
anxiously trying to penetrate the dreary gloom, he saw nothing
all was a blank ; and annoyed at this apparently vexatious
conduct in his horse, he spoke sharply :

" Why thus again disturb my rest,

When sleep had softly soothed my breast ?

a. told thee, if thou chanced to see

Another dangerous enemy,

To sound the alarm ; but not to keep

Depriving me of needful sleep ;

When nothing meets the eye ftor ear,

Nothing to cause a moment's fear !

But if again my rest is broke,

On thee shall fall the fatal stroke,

And I myself will drag this load

Of ponderous arms along the road ;

Yes, I will go, a lonely man,

Without thee, to Mazinderan."

Rustem again went to sleep, and Rakush was resolved this
time not to move a step from his side, for his heart was grieved
and afflicted by the harsh words that had been addressed to
him. The dragon again appeared, and the faithful horse
almost tcro up the earth with his heels, to rouse his sleeping
master. Rustem again awoke, and sprang to his feet, and was
again angry ; but fortunately at that moment sufficient light
was providentially given for him to see the prodigious cause of

Then swift he drew his sword, and closed in strife
With that huge monster. Dreadful was the shock
And perilous to Rustem ; but when Rakush
Perceived the contest doubtful, f uriously,


With his keen teeth, he bit and tore away

The dragon's scaly hide ; whilst quick as thought

The Champion severed off the ghastly head,

And deluged all the plain with horrid blood.

Amazed to see a form so hideous

Breathless stretched out before him, he retarded

Thanks to the Omnipotent for his success,

Saying " Upheld by thy protecting arm,

What is a lion's strength, a demon's rage,

Or all the horrors of the burning desert,

With not one drop to quench devouring thirst ?

Nothing, since power and might proceed from Thee.

FOURTH STAGE. Rustem having resumed the saddle, con-
tinued his journey through an enchanted territory, and in the
evening came to a beautifully green spot, refreshed by flowing
rivulets, where he found, to his surprise, a ready-roasted deer,
and some bread and salt. He alighted, and sat down near the
enchanted provisions, which vanished at the sound of his voice,
and presently a tambourine met his eyes, and a flask of wine.
Taking up the instrument he played upon it, and chaunted a
ditty about his own wanderings, and the exploits which he
most loved. He said that he had no pleasure in banquets, but
only in the field fighting with heroes and crocodiles in war.
The song happened to reach the ears of a sorceress, who,
arrayed in all the charms of beauty, suddenly approached him,
and sat down by his side. The champion put up a prayer of
gratitude for having been supplied with food and wine, and
music, in the desert of Miizindcrun, and not knowing that the
enchantress was a demon in disguise, he placed in her hands a
cup of wine in the name of God ; but at the mention of the
Creator, the enchanted form was converted into a black fiend.
Seeing this, Rustem threw his kamund, and secured the demon ;
and, drawing his sword, at once cut the body in two !


From thence proceeding onward, he approached

A region destitute of light, a void

Of utter darkness. Neither moon nor star


Pecp'd through the gloom ; no choice of path remained,

And therefore, throwing loose the rein, he gave

Rakush the power to travel on, unguided.

At length the darkness was dispersed, the earth

Became a scene, joyous and light, and gay,

Covered with waving corn there Rustem paused

And quitting his good steed among the gras<,

Laid himself gently down, and, wearied, slept ;

His shield beneath his head, his sword before him.

When the keeper of the forest first saw the stranger and his
horse, he went to Rustem, then asleep, and struck his staff
violently on the ground, and having thus awakened the herq
he asked him, devil that he was, why be had allowed his horse
to feed upon the green corn-field. Angry at these words,
Rustem, without uttering a syllable, seized hold of the keeper
by the ears, and wrung them off. The mutilated wretch,
gathering up his severed ears, hurried away, covered with
blood, to his master, Auldd, and told him of the injury he had
sustained from a man like a black demon, with a tiger-skin
cuirass and an iron helmet ; showing at the same time the
bleeding witnesses of his sufferings. Upon being informed of
this outrageous proceeding, Aiilad, burning with wrath, sum-
moned together his fighting men, and hastened by the directions
of the keeper to the place where Rustem had been found asleep.
The champion received the angiy lord of the land, fully pre-
pared, on horseback, and heard him demand his name, that he
might not 'slay a worthless antagonist, and why he had torn off
the ears of his forest-keeper ! Rustem replied that the very
sound of his name would make him shudder with horror
Aiilad then ordered his troops to attack Rustem, and they
rushed upon him with great fury ; but their leader was
presently killed by the master -hand, and great numbers were

Online LibraryFirdawsiThe Shah Nameh of the Persian poet Firdausi → online text (page 10 of 35)