Copyright
Firdawsi.

The Shah Nameh of the Persian poet Firdausi online

. (page 13 of 35)
Online LibraryFirdawsiThe Shah Nameh of the Persian poet Firdausi → online text (page 13 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


ensued between the two combatants, in which the vain boaster
was precipitately thrown from his horse, and afterwards made a
prisoner by the stripling-warrior. Gurd-afrid, the daughter of
Gustahem, perceiving this unhappy result, left the fort precipi-
tately for the purpose of encountering the youth, and bein;^
revenged upon him.

When tidings reached her of the fate Hujfr

Had thus provoked, she dressed herself in mail,

And, hastily, beneath her helmet hid

Her glossy ringlets ; down she, from the fort,

Came bravely like a lion, nobly mounted ;

And as she approached the hostile army, called

With nn undaunted voice. Sohrab beheld

The gallant foe \\i.h smiles, believing her

A boy of tender years, and, wondering, saw

The vigour of the arm opposed to him ;

The force with which the pointed spear was thrown.

Assailed so bravely, he drew forth, his nooso,

And, casting it around the enemy, brought

Her headlong to the ground. Off flew her helm,

\Vhen her luxuriant tresses scattered loose,

And cheeks of radiant bloom, her sex betmyed !

When the astonishment produced by this unexpected dis-
covery had' subsided, Sohrdb regarded her with tender emotion,
and securely made her his captive ; but Gurd-afrid promptly
addressed him, and said : " Allow me to return to the fort ;
all the treasure and property it contains are at my command,
and shall be given to thee as my ransom. My father is old,
and his fondest hopes are centered in me. Be therefore con-
siderate and merciful." Sohrab was too young and ardent not



the Philistine said to David, Come to me, and I will give thy flcsli unto the
fowls of the air, and to the leasts of the field." I. Samuel, xvii. 44. This is
like the boast of Hujir. These denunciations are frequent in Homer as well as
Firdausi. Thus Diomed to Glaucus :

If the fruits of earlh,
Sustain thy life and human be thy birth ;
} old as thou art, too prodigal of breath,
Approach and enter the dark gates of death 1

POPE : ILIAD, vl. 42.



THE SHAH NAMEH. 129

to be carried away by bis feelings ; he was affected by her
beauty and her tears, and set her at liberty ! As soon as the
damsel had re-entered the fortress, a council was held to deli-
berate on the exigencies of the time, and the garrison resolved
upon evacuating the place by secret passages during the ensuing
night. "When morning dawned, Sohrab approached the gate,
und not a person was anywhere to be found. Grieved and
disappointed, sorrow preyed deeply upon his heart, losing, as
he had done, so foolishly, the lovely heroine of whom he had
become enamoured.

The father, and daughter, and the garrison, shaped their
course immediately to the court of Ktlus, to whom they related
that a wonderful hero had come from Tunin, against whose
courage it was in vain to contend, and said to be not more
than fourteen years of age ! What then would he be, they
thought, when arrived at maturity ! The capture of Hujir,
and the accounts of Sohrab's amazing prowess, filled Kaiis with
alarm, and the warrior Giw was forthwith deputed to Zabulistan
to call Rustem to his aid. The letter ran thus : " A youthful
warrior, named Sohrab, has invaded Persia from Turan, and
thou art alone able to avert his destructive progress ;

" Thou art the sole support of Persia ; thou
Endued with nerve of more than human power ;
Thou art the conqueror of Mazinderdn ;
And at Hamaveran thou didst restore
The king to liberty and life ; thy sword
Makes the sun weep ; thy glorious actions fling
Unequalled splendour o'er the kingly throne."

When the letter was received, Rustem inquired anxiously
about the particular form and character of Sohrab, whom Giw
described as being like Sam and Nariman. This made him
ponder, and he thought it might be his own son ; but he re-
collected Tahmineh had written from Samcngiin, that her child
was a daughter ! He, however, still pondered, although Giw
repeated the commands of the king that no time should be lost.
Regardless of the summons, Rustem called for wine and music,

K



130 THE SHAH NAMEH.

and made a feast, which continued seven days. On the eighth
he said, " This too must be a day of festivity ; " and it was not
till the ninth that he ordered Rakush to be saddled for the
journey. He then departed with his brother Ziidra and the
Ziibul troops, and at length arrived at the royal court. Kiiiis
was in great indignation at the delay that had occurred, and
directed both Rustem and Giw to be impaled alive for the
offence they had committed in not attending to his instruc-
tions. Tiis was commanded to execute this order ; but when
he stretched out his hand towards Rustem, the champion
dashed it aside ; and retiring from the assembly, and vaulting
upon his horse, thus addressed the king :

" Weak and insensate ! take not to thy breast
Devouring fire ; thy latest actions still
Outdo the past in baseness. Go, thyself,
And, if thou canst, impale Sohrab alive 1
When wrath inflames my heart, what is Kaus !
What, but a clod of earth ? Him must I dread ?
No, to the Almighty power alone I bend.
The warriors of the empire sought to place
The crown upon my head ; but I was faithful,
And held the kingdom's laws and customs sacred.
Had I looked to the throne, thou would'st not now
Have had the power with which thou art surrounded,
To injure one who is thy safest friend.
But I deserve it all ; for I have ever,
Ungrateful monarch 1 done thee signal service."

Saying this, Rustem withdrew ; and as he went away, the
hearts of all the courtiers and warriors sunk with the most
painful anticipations of unavoidable ruin to the empire.
Gtidarz afforded the only spark of hope, for he was in great
favour with the king ; and it fortunately so happened, that
by his interposition, the blind anger of K;ius was soon ap-
peased. His next office was to follow Rustem, and to restore
the harmony which had been destroyed. He said to him :

" Thou know'st that Kaiis is a brainless king,
Wayward, capricious, and to anger prone ;
But quickly he repents, and now he seeks
For reconciliation. If thou'rt deaf



THE SHAH NAMEH. 131

To this good change in him, and nourishest
The scorn he has inspired, assuredly
The people of our nation will be butchered ;
For who can now resist the Tartar brand ?
Persia again will groan beneath the yoke
Of the Turanian despot. Must it be ?
Have pity on thy countrymen, and never
Let it be bruited through the scornful woii 1,
That Rustem feared to right a beardless boy ! "

The speech of Giidarz had its due effect ; and the champion,
with altered feelings, returned to the court of the king ; who,
rising from his throne, received him with the highest honour
and respect, and apologized for the displeasure into which he
had been betrayed.

" Wrathful and wayward in my disposition,
I felt impatient at the long delay ;
But now I see my error, arid repentance
Must, for that insult unprovoked, atone."

Rustem, in reply, assured the king of his allegiance, and of
his readiness to undertake whatever might be desired of him ;
but Ktius said :

'' To-day let us feast ; let us banquet to day,
And to-moiTow to battle we'll hasten away."

Having feasted all night, in the morning Kaus placed all his
warriors, and his army, under the command of Rustera ; who
immediately set off to oppose the progress of Sohnib.

The countless thousands seemed to hide the earth ;
The Heavens, too, were invisible ; so great
And overspreading was the Persian host.
Thus they rolled on, until they reached the fort,
The barrier-fort, where still Sohrdb remained.



When the stripling from the top of the fort first observed
the approach of the Persians, he said to Human " Look, on
every side at the coming legions ; " at which the Tartar chief
turned pale. But the youth added " Fear not, by the favour

K 2



132 TEE SHAlI NAMEH.

of Heaven I will soon disperse them ; " and then called for a
goblet of wine, full of confidence in his own might, and in the
result of the expected battle. Descending from the walls, he
proceeded to his pavilion, pitched on the plain in front of the
fort, and sat in. pomp among the chiefs of the Turanian
army.

Rustem repaired thither in secret, and in disguise,* to watch
the motions of his formidable enemy, and beheld him sitting
drinking wine, surrounded by great men and heroes. Zindeh,
a warrior, retiring from the banquet, saw the shadow of some
one, and going nearer to the spot, found it to be a man in
ambush. He said, " "Who art thou ? " when Rusteni struck
him a blow on the neck, which stretched him lifeless on the
ground, and effected his escape. In a few minutes another
person came, who seeing the body, brought a light, and dis-
covered it to be Zindeh. "\Vheu the fatal circumstance was
communicated to Sohrdb, the youth well knew that it must
have been the work of the enemy, who had secretly entered
his pavilion, and he solemnly vowed that next day he would be
revenged on the Iranians, and especially on Kaus, wherever he
might be found.

In the mean time Rustem described to Kalis the appearance
and splendour of Sohnlb :

" In stature perfect, as the cypress tree.
No Tartar ever boasted such a presence ;
Turan, nor even Persia, now can shew
A hero of his bold and gallant bearing :
Seeing his form thou would'st at once declare
That he is Sam, the warrior ; so majestic
In mien and action 1 "

When morning dawned, Sohrab took Hujir to the top of

* It appears that in Rustem's time there was nothing dishonourable in the
character of a spy. The adventure of Diomed and Ulysses in the tenth book of
the Iliad shows a similar conclusion with respect to the Greeks. Alfred
entered the hostile camp of the Danes, under "the disguise of a harper, and
so entertained them with his music and facetious humours, that he met with
a -welcome reception."



THE SHAH XAMEH. 133

the fortress, and speaking kindly to him, promised to release
him if he would answer truly what he had to ask. Com-
mencing his anxious inquiries, he then said : " To whom
belongs that pavilion surrounded by elephants ? " Hujir re-
plied "It belongs to king Kcius." Sohrtib resumed "To
whom belongs the tent on the right ? " " To the warrior
Tiis." " To whom, then, belongs that crimson pavilion ? "
" To Gudarz." " Whose is that green pavilion, with the
Gaviini banner flying over it, and in which a throne is seen ?"
Hujir knew that this was Rustem's tent ; but he reflected
that if he told the truth, Sohrab might in his wrath attack
the champion unprepared, and slay him ; better it would be,
he thought, to deny his being present, and accordingly he
said : " That tent belongs to the chief of the troops sent
by the Emperor of Chin in aid of king Kaiis." "Dost
thou know his name ? " " Xo, I do not." Sohrab meditated,
and said in his heart : " I see here the plain indications of
Rustem's presence, which my mother gave me why am I
deceived ? " He again questioned Hujir, and received the
same answer. " Then where is Rustem's tent ? " he asked,
impatiently. "It appears that he has not yet arrived from
Zubulistan."

At this the stripling's heart was sunk in grief ;
The tokens which his mother gave, were all
Conspicuous ; yet his father was denied ;
So Fate decreed it. Still he lingering hoped
By further question, and encouragement,
To win the important secret from Hujir.

Again he said, with persuasive gentleness, " Look well
around ; try if thou can'st find the tent of Rustem, and thou
shalt be richly rewarded for thy trouble." " Rustem's tent
may be in some degree similar to that ; but it is not Rustem's."
Ilujir then went on in praise of the champion, and said :

" When roused to fury in the battle-field,
What is a man, an elephant, or pard ;
The strength of five-score valiant men exceeds not
Eastern's unwearied nerve and towering frame."



134 THE SHAH NAMEH.

Then Sohrtib said to him : " "Why dost thou praise Rustem
in this manner to me ? Where hast thou seen the strife of
heroes ? " Hujir became alarmed, and thought within him-
self, if I point out Eustem's tent, no doubt he will be killed
by this ambitious youth, and then there will be no one to
defend the Persian throne. Sohrtib continued with emotion :
"Point out to me the tent of Rustem, this moment, or
thou shalt die ! " Hujir again paused, and said within him-
self: ''More honourable will it be to save the lives of
Rustern and Kalis than my own. "What is my life compared
to theirs ? Nothing !" He then said aloud: " "Why thus
seek for a pretext to shed my blood why these pretences,
since my life is in thy power ! " Sohrab turned from him
in despair, and descending from the rampart on which he
stood, arrayed himself in armour, and prepared for battle.
His first object was to attack the centre where Kaiis was
posted ; thither he proceeded, and called out aloud : " I
have sworn to be revenged on Kaus for the murder of Zin-
deh ; if he has any honour let him meet me in single com-
bat." Sohrab stood alone on the plain, firm as the mountain
Alberz, and such terror had seized upon the hearts of the
warriors, that not a man had courage enough to advance a
step against him. After a short space, Sohrab called out
again: "The king cannot be excused. It is not the custom
of kings to be without honour, or to skulk away like foxes
from the power of lions in battle. 0, Kiiiis, wherefore dost
thou hesitate to enter the field ?

" Why have they named thee. Kai-Kaus, the king,
If thou'rt unfit to combat with the brave ? ' '

Kaiis was appalled by the insulting boldness of the youth,
and called to his friends to inform Rustem of the dilemma
into which he was thrown, and the panic of his warriors, who
seemed deprived of their senses. But Rustem had resolved
not to fight on that day. "Let another chief," said he,



THE SHAH XAMEH. 135

"oppose the Tartar, and when he is overthrown it will be
my turn." Kaiis then sent Tiis to urge him to comply, and
the champion being made acquainted with the distress and
terror of the king, hurried on his armour, and left his tent.
On the way, he said to himself : " This enemy must be of
the demon-breed, otherwise why should such an impression have
been made on the warriors, that they are afraid to oppose him."
Then throwing aside all apprehension on his own account, and
placing his trust in God, he appeared before Sohnib, who in-
vited him to go to a little distance, and fight apart from the
beholders. The invitation being accepted, Sohrdb said : " No
mortal has power to resist this arm thou. must perish ! "
" "Why this boasting ? Thou art but a child, and where hast
thou seen the conflicts of the valiant ? I am myself an old
experienced warrior ; I slew the "White Demon and all his
Demon-host, and neither lion, nor dragon, nor tiger, can escape
from me.

" Compassion rises in my heart,

I cannot slay thee let us part !

Thy youth, thy gallantry, demand

A different fate than murderous brand."

" Perhaps," replied Sohrab, " thou art Rnstem ! " " No, I
am only the servant of Rustem." At this declaration,

Aspiring hope was turned to sad dismay,

And darkness quenched the joyous beam of day.

At first the two combatants fought with spears, which were
soon shivered to pieces ; then with swords, which became
hacked like saws, and then with clubs. So fiercely they con-
tended that their mail was torn in pieces, their weapons bent,
and their horses almost exhausted. Blood and sweat poured
down on the ground as they strugged, and their throats were
parched with thirst. Both stood still for a while to breathe.
Rustem said to himself : " I never saw man or Demon with
such activity and strength ; " and Sohrab thus addressed the



136 THE SHin NAMEII.

champion gaily, " When thou art ready, come and try the
effects of bow and arrow ! " They then engaged with bows
and arrows, but without any decisive result. Afterwards they
used their hands and arms in wrestling, and Rustem applied as
much force as might have shaken a mountain, to raise Sohrab
from the ground, but he could not move him. Sohrab then
endeavoured to lift up his antagonist, but in vain. Both were
satisfied, and forsook each other's hold. Sohrab however had
recourse to his mace, and struck a heavy blow on the head of
Eastern, who reeled with the pain it inflicted. The laughing
stripling, in consequence, spoke tauntingly to him, and Rustem
said, " Night is coming on, we will resume the battle to-ruorrow."
Sohrab replied, " Go, I have given thee enough, I will now let
KMs feel the sharpness of my sword ! " and, at the same
moment that he proceeded against the Persian king, Rustem
galloped forward to be revenged on the Turanians. But in the
midst of his career, the unprotected situation of Kdus struck
his mind, and returning to his own army, found that Sohrab
had slain a number of his warriors, and was still com-
mitting great havoc. He called to him, and said, " Let
there be a trace to-night ; but if thou art still for war,
oppose thyself to me alone ! " Sohrab was himself weary,
and closed with the first proposal. Both accordingly retired
to their tents.

In the night Kaiis sent for Rustem, and observed, that during
the whole period of his life he had never witnessed or heard of
such overwhelming valour as had been exhibited by the young
invader ; to which Rustem replied, " I know not, but he seems
to be formed of iron. I have fought him with sword, and
arrow, and mace, and he is still unhurt. In the warrior's art
he is my superior, and Heaven knows what may be the result
to-morrow." Having retired to his own place of rest, Rustem
passed the night in petitions to the Almighty, and to his
brother Ziiara he said, " Alas ! I have felt that the power
of this youth's arm is prodigious. Should any thing untoward
happen in the ensuing fight, go immediately to Zal, and think



THE SHAH NAMEII. 137

not of opposition to this triumphant Tartar, for certainly the
whole of Persia will fall under his control."

Meanwhile Sohnlb, having returned to his tent, said to
Humjin, " This old man has the strength and the port of
Rustem ; God forbid that, if the signs which my mother gave
be true, he should prove my father!" Human said, in answer:
"I have often seen Rustem, and I know him ; but this is not
the champion of Persia and though his horse is like Rakush,
it is not the same." From this declaration of Human, Sohrab
felt assured that this was not Rustem.

As soon as the morning dawned both the combatants were
opposed to each other ; and when the eye of Sohrab fell upon
Rustem, an instinctive feeling of affection rose in his heart,
and he wished to close the contest in peace.

" Let us together sit and shun the strife,
Which sternly seeks each other's valued life ;
Let others mix in fight, whilst we agree,
And yield our hearts to peace and amity.
Affection fills my breast with hopes and fears,
For thee my cheeks are overflowed with tears ;
How have I ceaseless sought to know thy name,
Oh, tell it now, thou man of mighty fame."

To this address, Rustem replied, that the words of the pre-
ceding evening were of a different import, and the agreement
was to wrestle to-day. " I am not," said he, " a person of
trick or artifice, nor a child, as thou art, but I am prepared
to wrestle with thee." Sohrab finding every effort fruitless,
all his hopes disappointed, and his views frustrated at every
step, dismounted and prepared for the contest. Rustem was
already on foot, tightening his girdle previous to the struggle.

Like lions they together tugged, and strained
Their nervous limbs ; and from their bodies flowed
Streams of red blood and sweat. Sohrab with force
Equal to a mad elephant's, raised up
The champion, and upon the sandy plain
Dashed him down backward. Then upon his breast,
Fierce as a tiger on a prostrate elk,
lie sat, all ready to lop off the head.



138 THE SHAH NAMEII.

But Eastern called out in time, and said, "According to
the custom of my country, the first time a combatant in
wrestling is thrown, his head is not severed from his body,
but only after the second fall." As soon as Sohrdb heard
these words, he returned his dagger into the sheath, and
allowed his antagonist to rise.

"When the youth returned to his tent, and told Human
what he had done, the Turanian chief lamented deeply the
thoughtlessness of his conduct. " To ensnare the lion," said
he, "and then set him at liberty to devour thee, was cer-
tainly a foolish thing ! " But Sohrab said, " He is still in
my power, being inferior to me in skill and strength, and I
shall to-morrow be able to command the same advantage.'
To this, Human replied, " The wise never look upon an enemy
as weak and contemptible ! "

"When Eustem had escaped from the battle with Sohrab,
he purified himself with water, and prostrated himself all
night in devotion to the Almighty, praying that his former
strength and power might be vouchsafed to him. It is said
that in the first instance God gave him so much strength,
that in placing his foot upon a rock it sunk to its centre.
But as he was thus unable to walk, he prayed for a suitable
diminution of power, and the prayer was accepted. "With
this diminished power, though still prodigious, he was now
again favoured, and on the following day the fight was re-
newed. " What ! here again ? " said Sohnib, triumphantly.

Again their backs they wrestling bend,*
Again their limbs they seem to rend ;
They seize each other's girdle-band,
And strain and grasp with foot and hand,
Doubt hanging still on either side,
From morn to sombre even-tide.



* Wrestling is a favourite sport in the east. From Homer down to Statins,
the Greek and Roman poets have introduced wrestling in their Epic poems.
Wrestlers, like the gladiators at Rome, are exhibited in India on a variety of
occasions. Prize wrestlers were common in almost every European nation.



THE SIIAII NAMEH. 139

At length Eastern made a powerful effort, and got Sohrab
under him. Apprehensive however that he had not strength
enough to keep him there, he plunged his dagger in the side
of the unhappy youth, and fatally prevented all further re-
sistance. Groaning heavily, the dying Sohrab said : " Alas !
I came here in anxious search of my father, and it has cost
me my life. But if thou wert a fish, and sought refuge at
the bottom of the ocean, or a star in the heavens, my father
will be revenged on thee for this deed." ""What is thy
father's name ? " said the champion. " His name is Kustem,
and my mother is the daughter of the king of Samengan."
On hearing these words, the world faded before Rustem's
eyes, and he fell senseless on the ground. After some time
he rose up in deep agitation, and asked Sohrab what tokens he
possessed to prove the truth of his assertion, " for I am
Rustem ! " he said in agony. " Alas ! " rejoined Sohrab,
" the instinctive feeling was ever at my heart, but, wonderful
to say, it received no mutual assurance from thine ! If a
token is required, ungird my mail, and there behold the
amulet which my mother bound on my arm, and which
Rustem gave to her, saying that it would be of extraordinary
use on a future day." The sight of the amulet was an over-
whelming blow to the father he exclaimed in bitterness of
soul : " cruelly art thou slain my son ! my son ! What
father ever thus destroyed his own offspring ! I shall never
be released from the horror of this dreadful crime, and there-
fore better will it be that I put an end to my own existence ! "
But Sohrub dissuaded him from this resolution. "It has been



The old poet Drayton in his Poly-Olbion alludes to this manly exercise in
England.

This isle in wrestling doth excel ;

With collars be they yoked, to prove the arm at length,
Like bulls set head to head, with ineer deliver strength :
Or by the girdles grasp'd, they practice with the hip,
The forward, backward, falx, the mar, the turn, the trip :
When stript into their shirts each other they invade,
Within a spacious ring, for the beholders made,
According to the law.



140 THE SHAH NAMEH.

my destiny thus to perish, ifc can be of no avail to kill thyself.
Let me depart, alone and thou remain for ever." Rustem, in
utter despair, flung himself on the ground, and covered his
head with dust and ashes ; whilst Sohrab continued writhing
and fluttering like a bird, from the anguish of his wound.

When the people of Kaiis perceived Eakush riderless, they
reported to him that Rustem was dead, and a loud wail of
sorrow arose from the whole army. The messenger who wr.s
sent to ascertain the particulars of the misfortune, found Rus-
tem rolling in the dust in the deepest affliction, and Sohrab at
the point of death ; and raising up the head of the champion,



Online LibraryFirdawsiThe Shah Nameh of the Persian poet Firdausi → online text (page 13 of 35)