The Shah Nameh of the Persian poet Firdausi online

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upon him from every quarter. The poems were at length
completed. The composition of sixty thousand couplets * ap-

* In ' dissertation called Yamini, it is said that the ancient poet liudiki,
who flourished half a century before Firdansf, had written one million and
three hundred verses ; an Oriental Lope de Vega !

The copies of the Shah Nameh now generally met with, vary in extent
many thousand couplets few of them containing the original number. This
inequality has been thus accounted for ; the katibs, or copyers, engaged upon
so immense a work, are apt to expedite the accomplishment of their task by
omissions in different parts, whilst, on the other hand, many of them hare
not only interpolated passages but whole episodes. The curious in composition
and style have long been amused in conjecturing what is genuine, and what is
added or doubtful, but to very little purpose, some of the questioned stories
being fully equal to the best parts of the poem.


pears to have cost him the labour of thirty years. The Sultan
was fully sensible of the value and excellence of that splendid
monument of genius and talents, and proud of being the
patroniscr of a work which promised to perpetuate his name,
he ordered an elephant-load of gold to be given to the author.
But the malignity of the favourite was unappeased, and he was
still bent upon the degradation and ruin of the poet. Contriv-
ing to establish his own success with the king, instead of the
elephant-load of gold, he managed to get sent to him 60,000
silver dirhems ! Firdausi was in the public bath at the time ;
and when he found that the bags contained only silver, he was
so enraged at the insult offered to him, that on the spot he gave
20,000 to the keeper of the bath, 20,000 to the seller of refresh-
ments, and 20,000 to the slave who brought them. "The
Sultan shall know," said he, " that I did not bestow the labour
of thirty years on a work, to be rewarded with dirhems ! "
When this circumstance came to the knowledge of the king, he
was exceedingly exasperated at the conduct of his favourite,
who had, however, artifice and ingenuity enough to exculpate
himself, and to cast all the blame upon the poet. Firdausi was
charged with disrespectful and insulting behaviour to his sove-
reign ; and Mahmud, thus stimulated to resentment, and no
longer questioning the veracity of the favourite, passed an order
that the next morning he should be trampled to death under
the feet of an elephant ! The unfortunate poet was thrown
into the greatest consternation when he heard of the will of the
Sultan. He immediately hurried to the presence, and agam
falling at the feet of the king, begged for mercy, pronouncing
at the same time an elegant eulogium on the glories of his
reign, and the innate generosity of his heart. The king,
touched by his agitation, and still respecting the brilliancy of
his talents, at length condescended to revoke the order.

I 2


But the wound \vas deep, and not to be endured without a
murmur. He immediately obtained from the librarian of
Mahmud the' copy of the Shah Ndmeh which he had presented
to the king, and wrote in it his satire on the Sultan with all
the bitterness of reproach which insulted merit could devise,
and instantly fled from the court. He passed some time at
Maziuderiin (Hyrcania), and afterwards took refuge at Bagdad,
where he was in higli favour with the Kalif al Kildcr Billah, in
whose praise he added a thousand couplets to the Shah Nameh,
and for which he received a robe of honour and 60,000 dinars.
He also wrote a poem called Joseph during his stay in that

Another account says, that after abandoning his own country,
Firdausi remained for some time in the house of Abu el Miiali,
a dealer in books at Herat. Mahmud had, after his escape,
sent persons in search of him in every direction ; and as they
made known the purpose of their mission in every town they
came to, our poet in great sorrow returned to Tiis ; but afraid
of not being safe there, he took leave of his relations and friends
and obtained a place of refuge in Rusterndar. The governor
received him with kindness, and offered him one hundred and
sixty miskals * of gold if he would cancel from the Shah Nameli
the satire composed by him against Mahmud. Firdausi, adds
this account, agreed to the proposal, cancelled the verses, and
then returned to Tiis, where he lived obscurely to an old age.

It is further said that Mahmud at length became acquainted
with the falsehood and treachery of the vizir, whose cruel perse-
cution of the unoffending poet had involved the character and
reputation of his court in disgrace. His indignation appeared
to be extreme, and the favourite was banished for ever from his

* A misk;;l is about a drachm and a half in weight


presence. Anxious to make all the reparation in his power for
the injustice he had been guilty of, whether purposely or other-
wise, he immediately dispatched a present of G0,000 dinars and
a robe of state with many apologies for what had happened.
But Firdausi did not live to be gratified by this consoling ac-
knowledgment. He had returned to his friends at Tus, where
he died before the present from the king arrived. His family,
however, scrupulously devoted it to the benevolent purposes
which the poet had originally intended, viz. the erection of
public buildings, and the general improvement of his native

This latter circumstance is somewhat differently related in
Daulet Shah's biography. Mahmutl, it is said, in one of his
twelve expeditions to India, hearing his minister repeat a pas-
sage from the Shah Nameh happily descriptive of his situation
at the time, was strongly reminded of Firdausi ; and recollect-
ing with regret the injustice he had done the poet, inquired
what had become of him. The minister replied that he was
now very old and infirm, and living obscurely at Tus. The
Sultan instantly ordered a present, worthy of the poet and of
himself, to be forwarded to him ; but at the moment the per-
sons in charge of this present entered the gate of Tus, the body
of Firdausi was being conveyed through the same gate to be
buried. When the funeral ceremony was over, however, the
amount was carried to his surviving sister : but she refused to
receive it, saying, " What have I to do now with the wealth of
kings ? "

This brief biographical notice is the sum of all that is known
of the great Firdausi. The poet seems to have lived to a con-
siderable age. When he -\vrote the satire against Mahmiid,
according to his own account, he was more than seventy.


Wheii charity demands a bounteous dole,
Close is thy hand, contracted as thy soul ;
Now seventy years have marked my long career,
Nay more, but age has no protection here !

Probably about ten years elapsed during his sojourn at Muzin-
deran and Bagdad, after he quitted the court of Ghizni, so that
he mnst have been at least eighty when he died. It appears
from several parts of the satire, that a period of thirty years
was employed in the composition of the Shah Nameh, from
which it must be inferred that he had been engaged upon
that work long before the accession of Mahimid to the throne,
for that monarch survived Firdausi ten years, and the period of
his reign was only thirty-one. Although there be nothing in
the preceding memoir to indicate that the poet had com-
menced versifying the Bastan Nameh nine years before the
reign of Mahmiid, the circumstance can hardly be questioned.
All oriental biography is so vague, metaphorical, and undeter-
mined, that there is always great difficulty in arriving at the
simplest fact, yet it is not at all probable that the round
number of thirty years was falsely assumed by the poet.

Notwithstanding the turn which is given, by the preface just
mentioned, to the cause of Firdausi's disappointment, in re-
ferring it solely to the rancour of the minister, the conduct of
Mahmiid appears to have been, in the highest degree, in-
considerate and cruel. He mnst have well known that dirhems
had been sent instead of the elephant-load of gold, and it was
unworthy of the conqueror of the world to suffer himself to be
flattered and cajoled into petty resentment against the man
who had immortalized the exploits of so many ancient heroes,
and who, in the opening verses of the poem, had done such
honour to his name. The present of <50,000 dinars which he
afterwards sent to him seems at any rate to shew (upon the


presumption of his having been purposely unjust) that he felt
some stings of conscience, and that he wished to recover from
the disgrace which attached to him, as a patron of literature,
from so dishonourable a transaction.

A more favourable construction, however, may be enter-
tained from the facts adduced. The order for an elephant-
load of gold to be presented to the poet, whatever might be
meant by that imposing term, appears to have arisen from
a spontaneous impulse of generosity. Mahmud may have
been afterwards the dupe of the minister, and his last atoning
act of liberality would seem to favour that conclusion ; but no
dependence can be placed on the humour of an Asiatic despot.
Yet it might be presumed that the sovereign who had the
justice aud magnanimity to punish with death an offender
whom he would not see till after execution, suspecting
him to be his own son,* would hardly treat a poor poet so
disgracefully. However this may have been, the satire of
Firdausi, written at the moment of provocation, and with
strongly exasperated feelings, appears to have had the power of
stamping with obloquy in this respect the character of Mahmud,
and of giving negative effect to the adulation which he had
lavishly bestowed upon the same individual at the com-
mencement of his poem. Thus singularly enough the work
begins with an extravagant eulogy, and ends with the most
scornful vituperation of his patron.

The tomb of Firdausi is in the city of Tus, and much fre-
quented by pilgrims. It is said of Shaik Abul Kasim Korkani
that he refused to offer up the customary prayer for Firdausi,
because he had written so much in praise of the fire- worshippers.
But upon the following night he dreamt that he saw Firdausi

* The story is told by Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.


in Paradise raised to a high degree of glory, when he asked
him how he had merited that distinction, and the poet replied,
" On account of the passages in which I have celebrated the
greatness and the unity of God."

In delivering this abridgment to the public, I have been
anxious to make it as comprehensive and interesting to the
general reader, as the extent of the labour I had prescribed to
myself, and my own ability would allow. But it necessarily
contains merely the substance of the Shah Nameh, though in
many parts in considerable detail ; and I have therefore deemed
it important, with the view of showing more fully Firdausf s
powers as a poet, to add a revised edition of my translation of
Sohrab. Thus whilst the abridgment exhibits the scope and
character of the poem, this favourite episode will at once dis-
play the force and spirit with which Firdausi's outlines are
traced and his colouring supplied.

But I must not conclude without remarking, that Fir-
dausi's great work continues to be held in the highest estima-
tion throughout Persia, and favourite passages from the
various adventures are still treasured up and quoted on all
fitting occasions. So popular is our old romancer, that the
copies of the Shah Nameh are innumerable, and some of them
are not only admirable specimens of fine ornamental writing,
but they are generally enriched with coloured drawings of
exquisite finish, illustrative of the most prominent events of
the work. One of the copies which I used in the execution of
the present abridgment was of this kind, splendidly illuminated
and sprinkled with gold, and cost upwards of one hundred
guineas. In India even, that is Hindustan and the southern
regions of the East, \vhereverthePersianlanguageisunderstood
and cultivated, the Shah Nurnch is also highly prized ; but it is
perhaps most known by a very clever epitome of it, written in.


the same language, by Shumshfr Khan in the year 1063 of the
Mahommedan era. The original work has outlived eight
centuries with undiminished lustre, in countries, too, where
copies can only be multiplied at a great expense, verifying the
prophecy of the poet, who predicted the immortality of his
verse with as much confidence as Ovid when he wrote his
celebrated peroration

Jamque opus exegi ; quod nee Jovis ira, nee ignis.
Nee poterit ferrum, nee edax abolere vetustas.

LONDON, May 1, 1832.



Kaiiimers, the first king of Persia 1

Hiisheng ascends the throne, and founds the religion of the Fire-
worshippers 3

Tahumers, the Binder of Demons 5

Jemshid, his ambition and the declension of his power 6

Mirtas-Tazf, his generosity 8

Zohak, instigated by Iblis, causes his father's death 9

Two black-serpents rise out from his shoulders, and are fed with

" the brain of man" 10

Jemshid, a wanderer, his misfortunes, marries the daughter of the

kingofZabul 11 -

Is obliged to fly, to avoid being betrayed into the hands of Zohak... 23

Jemshid in fetters before Zohak 24

Put to death 24

Zohak's dream, prophetic of his fall 25

The birth of Feridun, and death of his father, Abtin 26 *

Faranuk escapes, with Feridun her son^ to the mountain Albcrz ... 27
Feridun vows vengeance against Zohak, for the murder of his

father !. 28

Kavah, the Blacksmith, rebels against Zohak on account of his

cruelty 29

Brings Feridun from his retreat, and accompanies him against

Zohak 31

The capture of Zohak's palace, and release of Jemshid 's two sisters 32

Zohak woiinded, and buried alive in a deep cave 34

The revolt of Ferklun's two sons, Silim and Tiir, and their enmity

against their younger brother, Irij 35

Irij proceeds on a conciliatory mission from his father, and is put

to death by them 40

The agony of Feridun 41

The birth of Minuchihr .. 42 /

xxviii CONTEXTS.

Preparations of Minuchihr against Silim and Tur, who in vain sue

for peace with Feridun 43

A battle ensues, in which the two brothers are defeated 46

Tiir and Silim slain 47

The birth of Zal 49 /

He is abandoned on the mountain Alberz, on account of having

white hair is nourished by the Simurgh 43

In a dream, Sam, his father, is warned to bring back his child, now

grown up, and of great promise 50

Zal's marriage with Rudabeh 51

The exploits of Sam described to Minuchihr 03

The birth of Rustem G.~>

Whilst yet a boy, kills the white elephant of Minuchihr 67

His expedition against the fort on the mountain Sipnnd 68

The death of Minuchihr 70

The tyranny of Nauder his successor 71

Afrasiyab marches against Naiider 74

Becomes the ruler of Persia 78

Puts Nauder to death 79

And also his own brother, Aglmrns 80

Zal places Zau on the throne of Persia, and Afrasiyiib is driven back

into Turan Garshasp, the son of Zau, ascends the throne 81

Poshang's grief on account of the murder of Aghriras, his son 82

Zal equips Eustem for battle against Afrasiyab, but first sends him

to discover the retreat of Kai-kobacl 84

Kai-kobad raised to the throne 87

The battle between the Persians and Turanians, in which Rustem

carries off Afrasiyab's crown and girdle 88

Kai-kaiis succeeds his father, and longs for the invasion of Mazin-

dcran 92

His expedition fails he, and the army are captured by the

Demons 96

Rustem engages to liberate them, and proceeds by the Heft-Khan

First Stage, encounters and overcomes a lion 98

Second Stage. Traverses a burning desert 100

Third Stage. Kills a furious dragon 101

Fourth Stage. Destroys a sorceress 102 /

Fifth Stage. Conquers Aulad, who describes the caves of the

demons, and kills Arzang, the demon chief 103

Sixth Stage. Enters the city of Mazinderan, and releases Kai-kaus,

though still blind by the sorcery of the demons 10o



Seventh Stage. Overthrows and kills the White Demon lUti

The blcKxl of the White Demon's heart restores Kaus' sight , 108

Rustem kills the magician-king of Mazinderan 110

Kaus makes a tour of the provinces of Persia Ill

The rebel Shah of Hamaveran subdued 112

Kaus marries Sudarch, his daughter, and is deceived and im-
prisoned by the father 112 -/

In consequence Afrasiyab invades and takes possession of Iran ... 113
Rustem collects an army, and defeating the Shah of Ilarnavcran,

restores Kaus to liberty 116

Afrasiyab is driven back to Tiiran 117

Kaus is persuaded to explore the Heavens, supported by eagles ... 118

Is thrown down into a desert, and rescued by Rustem 119

Rustem and his seven companions proceed towards Tiira.ii on a

hunting excursion, and a great battle ensues 120

The story of Sohrab, the son of Rustem 122

Sohrab is encouraged by Afrasiyab to fight against Kails 127

Captures the barrier fort 129

Rustem is sent to oppose his progress 131

Sohrab's anxiety to discover his father 133

They engage in combat unknown to each other, and Sohrab is slain. 139

Rustem's agony in discovering that he was his son 141 /

Tahmineh inconsolable 142 /'

The story of Saiawush 143

A damsel met with in a forest, is espoused by Kaus, and gives birth

to Saiawush 144 v

When he grows up, Siidaveh becomes enamoured of him her in-
trigues 146

In her despair she accuses him of outrage 147 '

He is sentenced to the ordeal of fire, and his innocence proved 148

Afrasiyab threatens another invasion of Iran, is defeated and has a
terrible dream, which induces him to sue for peace and deliver

hostages to Saiawush 149

Kaus disapproves of the terms and supersedes Saiawush, who in

anger joins Afrasiyab 151

Saiawush marries the daughter of Piran-wisah, and afterwards the

daughter of Afrasiyab 154

Intrigues of Gersiwaz against Saiawush, who is put to death by

order of Afrasiyab 156

Condemns also his daughter Ferangis to death, but she is saved by

Piran, and gives birth to Kai-khosrau 160 '



The young prince is brought up in secret 161

Rustem upbraids Kai-kaiis for his conduct to Saiawush, and puts

Siidaveh to death 164

Proceeds against Af rdsiyab the conflict and defeat of the Turanians 1 66

Rustem conquers Turan, and rules the country seven years 167

Kai-khosrau and his mother Ferangis brought f rom their retirement

by Giw their escape across the Jihiin 173

Friburz and Khosrau, each attack a demon-fortress, the latter suc-
ceeds 177

Kai-khosrau raised to the throne 179

A severe battle between the Persians and Turanians, the latter

victorious 183

Baru the magician put to death 184

Piran-wisah victorious 185

Rustem opposed by Kamus, the Khnkan of Chin, and Piran-wisah 186

Is victorious Kamus slain 188

Piransues for peace 191

The Khakan of Chin slain 194

Kafiir, the cannibal 195

Defeat of Puladwund, and flight of Afrasiyab 197

Akwan Diw 198

His combat with Rustem, and death 201

The loves of Byzun and Manijeh, the daughter of Afrasiyab 202

Afrasiyab's wrath against them, and punishment of Byzun 207

Byzun released by Rustem 215

Barzii and his conflict with Rustem.. 217

Siisen the sorceress, and Afrasiyab 227

Her plot to get the Iranian warriors into her power 228

Rnstem frustrates her views, and Afrasiyab is defeated 232

The expedition of Gudarz against Afrasiyab 235

Piran-wisah is slain in battle 236

The death of Afrasiyab 240

The mysterious death of Kai-khosrau 243

The reign of Lohurasp 246

Gushtasp abandons his father's house 247

Is married to Kitabun. the daughter of the king of Rum 250

His bravery and exploits 252

Gushtasp is restored in favour by the king of Rum and subdues

Khuz 254

Succeeds his father Lohurasp 257


The valour of his son Isfendiyar 262

He propagates the faith of Zerdusht 263

Gurzam stimulates his father against him 263

He is put iu prison 265

Arjasp invades the kingdom, Gushtasp is defeated and his house-
hold and daughters made prisoners 267

Isfendiyar is released, to rescue the kingdom arid his sisters, and

proceeds against Arjasp by the Heft-Khan 270 ~S

First Stage destroys two wolves 274

Second Stage a lion and lioness 275 -^

Third stage a great dragon 276

Fourth stage an enchantress 277

Fifth Stage kills a Simurgh 279

Sixth Stage is overtaken by a tempest of wind and snow, and

escapes unharmed 280

Seventh Stage passes a burning desert 281

Capture of the brazen fortress, and death of Arjasp 284

The return of Isfendiyar 290

His fate foretold 291

Gushtasp orders him to bring Ilustem to him in fetters 292

Proceeds reluctantly against the champion 296

Altercation with Eustem 298

The combat 305

The death of Isfendiyar 309

The death of Kustem 313

Bahman succeeds Gushtasp 317

Hiimai, and the birth of Darab 320 \/

The reign of Darab 327

Dara 328

Sikander, his victories 329

His death 338

Firdausi's Invocation 339

Firdausi's Satire on Mahmad 341

The Story of Sohrab 344

The system of Sir William Jones in the printing of Oriental words has
been kept in view in the following work, viz. The letter a represents the
short vowel as in lat, a with an accent the broad sound of a in hall, i as
in lily, i with an accent as in police, u as in bull, u with an accent as in
rude, 6 with an accent as o in. pole, the diphthong ai as in aisle, au as in
the German word kraut or ou in Jioutc.



ACCORDING to the traditions of former ages, recorded in the
Bastan-nameh, the first person who established a code of laws
and exercised the functions of a monarch in Persia, was
Kaiiimers. It is said that he dwelt among the mountains, and
that his garments were made of the skins of beasts.

His reign was thirty years, and o'er the earth
He spread the blessings of paternal sway ;
Wild animals, obsequious to his will,
Assembled round his throne, and did him homage.
He had a son named Saiamuk, a youth
Of lovely form and countenance, in war
Brave and accomplished, and the dear delig'ut
Of his fond father, who adored the boy,
And only dreaded to be parted from him.
So is it ever with the world the parent
Still doating on his offspring. Kaiiimers
Had not a foe, save one, a hideous Demon,*

* The first encounter in the Shah Nameh is between the son of Kaiumers
and a demon. There does not seem to exist among the Persians any very
well denned notion respecting these demons, diws, or dives. They are,
however, generally represented in human shape, with horns, long ears, and
sometimes with a tail, as Lord Monboddo says, " depending from their gable
ends," yet possessed of superior power and intelligence. They are also
enchanters, and sorcerers. The most renowned were those of Mazinderan,
whom Rustem overthrew. They were always considered superior to common
human beings, and always the most effective allies, and the most formidable
foes. They were often of caliban-aspect, giants ; and though they had the
faculty of vanishing whenever they chose, we frequently see them dispatched
and slain in battle, in the common way, by sword or battle-axe. They are
sometimes like spirits of the storm, wild and destructive, and sometimes they
we of less consequence, and occupied in inferior duties. JemshSd had many



Who viewed his power with envy, and aspired
To work his ruin. He, too, had a son.
Fierce as a wolf, whose days were dark and bitter.
Because the favouring heavens in kinder mood
Smiled on the monarch and his gallant heir.
When Saiamuk first heard the Demon's aim
Was to o'erthrow his father and himself,
Surprise and indignation filled his heart,
And speedily a martial force he raised,
To punish the invader. Proudly garbed
In leopard's skin, he hastened to the war ;
But when the combatants, with eager mien,
Impatient met upon the battle-field,
And both together tried their utmost strength,
Down from his enemy's dragon-grasp soon fell
The luckless son of royal Kaiumers,
Vanquished and lifeless. Sad, unhappy fate !

Disheartened by this disastrous event, the army immediately
retreated, and returned to Kaiumers, who wept bitterly for the
loss of his son, and continued a long time inconsolable. But
'after a year had elapsed a mysterious voice addressed him,
saying : " Be patient, and despair 1 not, thou hast only to
send another army against the Demons?, and the triumph and

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