The Shah Nameh of the Persian poet Firdausi online

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plied, and the first kingdom he invaded was Rum. The sove-
reign of that country having no power nor means to resist the
incursions of the enemy, readily adopted the faith of Zer-
dusht, and accepted the sacred book named Zendavesta, as
his spiritual instructor. Isfendiyar afterwards invaded Hin-
dustan and Arabia, and several other countries, and success-
fully established the religion of the fire-worshippers in
them all.

Where'er he went he ,was received
With welcome, all the world believed,
And all with grateful feelings took
The Holy Zendavesta-book,
Proud their new worship to declare,
The worship of Isfendiyar.

The young conqueror communicated by letters to his father
the success Avith which he had disseminated the religion of
Zcrdusht, and requested to know what other enterprises re-
quired his aid. Gushtasp rejoiced exceedingly, and com-
manded a grand banquet to be prepared. It happened that
Gurzam a warrior, was particularly befriended by the king, but
retaining secretly in his heart a bitter enmity to Isfendiyar,
now took an opportunity to gratify his malice, and privately
told Gushtasp that he had heard something highly atrocious in
the disposition of the prince. Gushtasp was anxious to know
what it was ; and he said, " Isfendiyar has subdued almost
every country in the world : he is a dangerous person at the
head of an immense army, and at this very moment meditates
taking Balkh, and making even thee his prisoner !

Thou know'st not that thy son Isfcudiyar
Is hated by the army. It is said
Ambition fires his brain, and to secure


The empire to himself, his wicked aim

Is to rebel against his generous father.

This is the sum of my intelligence ;

But thou'rt the king, I speak but what I hear."

These malicious accusations by Gurzam insidiously made,
produced great vexation in the mind of Gushtasp. The
banquet went on, and for three days he drank wine incessantly,
without sleep or rest because his sorrow was extreme. On the
fourth day he said to his minister : " Go with this letter to
Isfendiyjir, and accompany him hither to me." Jamasp, the
minister, went accordingly on the mission, and when he
arrived, the prince said to him, " I have dreamt that my father
is angry with me." " Then thy dream is true," replied
Jamasp, "thy father is indeed angry with thec." "What
crime, what fault have I committed ?

Is it because I have with ceaseless toil
Spread wide the Zendavesta, and converted
Whole kingdoms to that faith 1 Is it because
For him I conquered those far-distant kingdoms,
With this good sword of mine? Why clouds his brow
Upon his son some demon must have changed
His temper, once affectionate and kind,
Calling me to him thus in anger ! Thou
Hast ever been my friend, my valued friend
Say, must I go? Thy counsel I require."

" The son does wrong who disobeys his father,
Despising his command," Jamasp replied.

" Yet," said Isfendiyar, "why should I go ?
He is in wrath, it cannot be for good."

" Know'st thou not that a father's wrath is kindness 1

The anger of a father to his child

Is far more precious than the love and fondness

Felt by that child for him. 'Tis good to go,

Whatever the result, he is the king,

And more he is thy father ! "

Isfendiyar immediately consented, and appointed Bahman,
his eldest son, to fill his place in the army during his absence.
He had four sons : the name of the second was Mihrbus : of the


third, Avir ; and of the fourth, Nushahder ; and these three
lie took along with him on his journey.

Before he had arrived at Balkh, Gushtitsp had concerted
measures to secure him as a prisoner, with an appearance of
justice and impartiality. On his arrival, he waited on the
king respectfully, and was thus received : " Thou hast become
the great king ! Thou, hast conquered many countries, but
why am I unworthy in thy sight ? Thy ambition is indeed
excessive." Isfendiyar replied : " However great I may be, I
am still thy servant, and wholly at thy command." Upon
hearing this, Gushtasp turned towards his courtiers, and said,
" What ought to be done with that son, who in the lifetime of
his father usurps his authority, and even attempts to eclipse
him in grandeur ? What ! I ask, should be done with such
a son ! "

" Such a son should either be
Broken on the felon tree,
Or in prison bound with chains,
Whilst his wicked life remains,
Else thyself, this kingdom, all
Will be ruined by his thrall ! "

To this heavy denunciation Isfendiyar replied : " I have
received all my honours from the king, by whom I am appointed
to succeed to the throne ; but at his pleasure I willingly resign
them." However, concession and remonstrance were equal!/
fruitless, and he was straightway ordered to be confined in the
tower-prison of the fort situated on the adjacent mountain, and
secured with chains.

Dreadful the sentence : all \vlio saw him wept ;
And sternly they conveyed him to the tower.
Where to four columns, deeply fixed in earth,
And reaching to the skies, of iron formed,
They bound him ; merciless they were to him
Who had given splendour to a mighty throne.
Mournful vicissitude ! Thus pain and pleasure
Successive charm and tear the heart of man ;
And many a day in that drear solitude.
He lingered, shedding tears of blood, till times
Of happier omen dawned upon his fortunes.


Having thus made Isfendiyar secure in the mountain-prison,
and being entirely at ease about the internal safety of the
empire, Gushtasp was anxious to pay a visit to Zal and Rustem
at Sistiin, and to convert them to the religion of Zcrdusht.
On his approach to Sistan he was met and respectfully welcomed
by Rustein, who afterwards in open assembly received the
Zendavesta and adopted the new faith, which he propagated
throughout his own territory ; but, according to common report
it was fear of Gushtitsp alone which induced him to pursue this
course. Gushtasp remained two years his guest, enjoying all
kinds of recreation, and particularly the sports of the field and
the forests.

When Bahman, the son of Isfendiyar, heard of the imprison-
ment of his father, he, in grief and alarm, abandoned his trust,
dismissed the army, and proceeded to Balkh, where he joined
his two brothers, and wept over the fate of their unhappy

In the mean time the news of the confinement of Isfendiyar,
and the absence of Gushtasp at Sistan, and the unprotected
state of Balkh, stimulated Arjasp to a further effort, and he
dispatched his son Kahram with a large army towards the
capital of the enemy, to carry into effect his purpose of revenge.
Lohurasp was still in religious retirement at Balkh. The people
were under great apprehension, and being without a leader,
anxiously solicited the old king to command them, but he said
that he had abandoned all earthly concerns, and had devoted
himself to God, and therefore could not comply with their
entreaties. But they would hear no denial, and, as it were,
tore him from his place of refuge and prayer. There were
assembled only about one thousand horsemen, and with these
he advanced to battle ; but what were they compared to the
hundred thousand whom they met, and by whom they were
soon surrounded. Their bravery was useless. They were at
once overpowered and defeated, and Lohurasp himself was
unfortunately among the slain.

Upon the achievement of this victory, Kabram entered


Balkh in triumph, made the people prisoners, and destroyed
all the places of worship belonging to the Gubers. He also
killed the keeper of the altar, and burnt the Zendavesta, which
contained the formulary of their doctrines and belief.

One of the Avomen of Gushtasp's household happened to
elude the grasp of the invader, and hastened to Sistan to
inform the king of the disaster that had occurred. "Thy
father is killed, the city is taken, and thy women and daughters
in the power of the conqueror." Gushtasp received the news
with consternation, and prepared with the utmost expedition
for his departure. He invited Rustem to accompany him, but
the champion excused himself at the time, and afterwards
declined altogether on the plea of sickness. Before he had
yet arrived at Balkh, Kahram hearing of his approach, went
out to meet him Avith his Avhole army, and was joined on the
same clay by Arjasp and his demon-legions.

Great was the uproar, loud the brazen drums

And trumpets rung, the eartli shook, and seemed rent

By that tremendous conflict, javelins flew

Like hail on every side, and the warm blood

Streamed from the wounded and the dying men.

The claim of kindred did not check the arm

Lifted in battle mercy there was none,

For all resigned themselves to chance or fate,

Or what the ruling Heavens might decree.

At last the battle terminated in the defeat of Gushtasp, who
Avas pursued till he was obliged to take refuge in a mountain-
fort. He again consulted Jamiisp to knoAV what the stars fore-
told, and Jarnasp replied that he would recover from the defeat
through the exertions of 1 alone. Pleased with this
interpretation, he on that very day sent Jarnasp to the prison
with a letter to Isfendiyar, in AA'hich he hoped to be pardoned
for the cruelty lie had been guilty of toAvards him, in conse-
quence, he said, of being deceived by the arts and treachery of
those who Averc only anxious to effect his ruin. He declared
too that he would put those enemies to death in his presence,
and replace the royal croAvn upon his head. At the same time


he confined in chains Gurzam, the wretch who first practised
upon his feelings. Jam asp rode immediately to the prison, and
delivering the letter, urged the prince to comply with his
father's entreaties, but Isfendiyar was incredulous and not so
easily to be moved.

" Has he not at heart disdained me?
Has he not in prison chained me 1
Am I not his son, that he
Treats me ignominiously ?

Why should Gurzam's scorn and hate

Rouse a loving father's wrath ?
Why should he, the foul ingrate.

Cast destruction in my path ? "

Janiiisp, however, persevered in his anxious solicitations,
describing to him how many of his brethren and kindred had
fallen, and also the perilous situation of his own father if he
refused his assistance. By a thousand various efforts he at
length effected his purpose, and the blacksmith was called to
take off his chains ; but in removing them, the anguish of the
wounds they had inflicted was so great that Isfendiyar fainted
away. Upon his recovery he was escorted to the presence
of his father, who received him with open arms, and the
strongest expressions of delight. He begged to be forgiven
for his unnatural conduct to him, again resigned to him the
throne of the empire, and appointed him to the command of
the imperial armies. He then directed Gurzam, upon whose
malicious counsel he had acted, to be brought before him, and
the wicked minister was punished with death on the spot, and
in the presence of the injured prince.

Wretch I more relentless even than wolf or ,pard.
Thou hast at length received thy just reward !

When Arjasp heard that Isfendiyar had been reconciled to
his father, and was approaching at the head of an immense
army, he was affected with the deepest concern, and forthwith


sent his son Kahram to endeavour to resist the progTess of the
enemy. At the same time Kurugsar, a gladiator of the demon
race, requested that he might be allowed to oppose Isfendiyar ;
and permission being granted, he was the very first on the
field, where instantly wielding his bow, he shot an arrow at
Isfendiyar, which pierced through the mail, but fortunately for
him did no serious harm. The priuco drew his sword with the
intention of attacking him, but seeing him furious with rage,
and being doubtful of the issue, thought it more prudent and
safe to try his success with the noose. Accordingly he took
the kamund from his saddle-strap, and dexterously flung it
round the neck of his arrogant foe, who was pulled headlong
from his horse ; and, as soon as his arms were bound behind
his back, dragged a prisoner in front of the Persian ranks.
Isfendiyar then returned to the battle, attacked a body of the
enemy's auxiliaries, killed a hundred and sixty of their warriors,
and made the division of which Kahram was the leader fly in
all directions. His next feat was to attack another force, which
had confederated against him.

With slackened rein he galloped o'er the field ;
Blood gushed from every stroke of his sharp swcrtl,
And reddened all the plain ; a hundred warriors
Eighty and five, in treasure rich and mail,
Sunk underneath him. such his mighty power.

His remaining object was to assail the centre, where Arjasp
himself was stationed ; and thither he rapidly hastened.
Arjasp, angry and alarmed at this success, cried out, " "What !
is one man allowed to scathe all my ranks, cannot my whole
army put an end to his dreadful career ? " The soldiers
replied, " No ! he has a body of brass, and the vigour of an
elephant: our swords make no impression upon him, whilst
with his sword he can cut the body of a warrior, cased in
mail, in two, with the greatest case. Against such a foe, whal
can we do ? " Isfcndiyiir rushed on ; and after an over-
whelming attack, Arjasp was compelled to quit his ground and


effect his escape. The Iranian troops were then ordered to
pursue the fugitives, and in revenge for the death of Lohimisp,
not to leave a man alive. The carnage was in consequence
terrible, and the remaining Turanians were in such despair
that they flung themselves from their exhausted horses, and
placing straw in their mouths to show the extremity of their
misfortune, called aloud for quarter. Isfendiyar was moved
at last to compassion, and put an end to the fight ; and when
he came before Gushtasp, the mail on his body, from the number
of arrows sticking in it. looked like a field of reeds ; about a
thousand arrows were taken out of its folds. Gushtasp kissed
his head and face, and blessed him, and prepared a grand
banquet, and the city of Balkh resounded with rejoicings on
account of the great victory.

Many days had not elapsed before a farther enterprise was
to be undertaken. The sisters of Isfendiyar were still in con-
finement, and required to be released. The prince readily
complied with the wishes of Gushtasp, who now repeated to
him his desire to relinquish the cares of sovereignty, and place
the reins of government in his hands, that he might devote
himself entirely to the service of God.

" To thee I yield the crown and throne,
Fit to be held by thee alone ;
From worldly care and trouble free,
A hermit's cell is enough for me."

But Isfendiyar replied, that he had no desire to be possessed
of the power ; he rather wished for the prosperity of the king,
and no change.

0, may thy life be long and blessed,
And ever by the good caressed ;
For 'tis my duty still to be
Devoted faithfully to thee !
I want no throne, nor diadem ;
My soul has no delight in them.
I only seek to give thee joy,
And gloriously my sword employ.


I thirst for vengeance ou Arjasp :
To crush him in my iron grasp,
That from his thrall I may restore
My sisters to their home again,
Who now their heavy fate deplore,
And toiling drag a slavish chain."
" Then go ! " the smiling monarch said,
Invoking blessings on his head,
" And may kind Heaven thy refuge be,
And lead thee on to victory."

lafcndiyiir now told his father that his prisoner Kurngsar
was continually requesting him to represent his condition in the
royal ear, saying, " Of what use will it he to put me to death ?
No benefit can arise from such a punishment. Spare my life,
and you will see how largely I am able to contribute to your
assistance." Gushtasp expressed his willingness to be merciful,
but demanded a guarantee on oath from the petitioner that he
would heart and soul be true and faithful to his benefactor.
The oath was sworn, after which his bonds were taken from his
hands and feet, and he was set at liberty. The king then
called him, and pressed him with goblets of wine, which made
him merry. " I have pardoned thee," said Gushtasp, " at the
special entreaty of Isfendiyar be grateful to him, and be
attentive to his commands." After that, Isfendiyar took and
conveyed him to his own house, that he might have an oppor-
tunity of experiencing and proving the promised fidelity of his
new ally.


Rustem had seven great labours, wondrous power
Nerved his strong arm in danger's needful hour ;
And now Firdausi's legend-strains declare
The seven great labours of Isfendiyar.

The prince, who had determined to undertake the new expo-


dition, and appeared confident of success, now addressed him-
self to Kurugsar, and said, " If I conquer the kingdom of
Arjiisp, and restore my sisters to liberty, thou shalt have for
thyself any principality thou mayst choose within the boun-
daries of Iran and Tiirau, and thy name shall be exalted ; but
beware of treachery or fraud, for falsehood shall certainly bo
punished with death." To this Kurugsar replied, " I have
already sworn a solemn oath to the king, and at thy interces-
sion he has spared my life why then should I depart from the
truth, and betray my benefactor ? "

" Then tell me the road to the brazen fortress, and how far
it is distant from this place ? " said Isfendiyar.

" There are three different routes," replied Kurugsar. " One
will occupy three months ; it leads through a beautiful country,
adorned with cities, and gardens, and pastures, and is pleasant
to the traveller. The second is less attractive, the prospects
less agreeable, and will only employ two months ; the third,
however, may be accomplished m seven days, and is thence
called the Heft-khan, or seven stages ; but at every stage some
monster, or terrible difficulty, must be overcome. No monarch,
even supported by a large army, has ever yet ventured to pro-
ceed by this route ; and if it is ever attempted, the whole party
will be assuredly lost.

Nor strength, nor juggling, nor the sorcerer's art
Can help him safely through that awful path,
Beset with wolves and dragons, wild and fierce,
From whom the fleetest have no power to fly.
There an enchantress, doubly armed with spells,
The most accomplished of that magic brood,
Spreads wide her snares to charm and to destroy,
And ills of every shape, and horrid aspect,
Cross the tired traveller at eveiy step."

At this description of the terrors of the Heft-khan, Isfendiyar
became thoughtful for a while, and then, resigning himself to
the providence of God, resolved to take the shortest route.
" No man can die before his time," said he ; " heaven is my
protector, and I will fearlessly encounter every difficulty on the


road." " It is full of perils," replied Kurugsar, and endeavoured
to dissuade him from the enterprise. " But with the blessing
of God," rejoined Isfeudiyar, " it will be easy." The prince
then ordered a sumptuous banquet to be served, at which he
gave Kurugsar abundant draughts of wine, and even in a state
of intoxication the demon-guide still warned him against his
proposed journey. " Go by the route which takes two months,"
said he, " for that will be convenient and safe ; " but Isfendiyar
replied : " I neither fear the difficulties of the route, nor the
perils thou hast described."

And though destruction spoke in every word,

Enough to terrify the stoutest heart,

Still he adhered to what he first resolved.

" Thou wilt attend me," said the dauntless prince ;

And thus Kurugsar, without a pause, replied :

" Undoubtedly, if by the two months' way,

And do thee ample service ; but if this

Heft-khan be thy election ; if thy choice

Be fixed on that which leads to certain death,

My presence must be useless. Can I go

Where bird has never dared to wing its flight 1 "

Isfendiyar, upon hearing these words, began to suspect the
fidelity of Kurugsar, and thought it safe to bind him in chains.
The next day as he was going to take leave of his father,
Kurugsar called out to him, and said : " After my promises of
allegiance, and my solemn oath, why am I thus kept in chains ? "
" Not out of anger assuredly ; but out of compassion and kind-
ness, in order that I may take thee along with me on the enter-
prise of the Heft-khan ; for wert thou not bound, thy faint
heart might induce thee to run away.

Safe thou art when bound in chains,

Fettered foot can never fly.
Whilst thy body here remains.

We may on thy faith rely.
Terror will in vain assail thee ;
For these bonds shall never fail thee.
G uirded by a potent charm,

will keep thee free from harm,"


IsfendiyaY having received the parting benediction of Gush-
tdsp, was supplied with a force consisting of twelve thousand
chosen horsemen, and abundance of treasure, to enable him to
proceed on his enterprise, and conquer the kingdom of Arjasp.

FIEST STAGE. Isfendiyar placed Kurugsar in bonds among
his retinue, and took with him his brother Bashiitan. But the
demon-guide complained that he was unable to walk, and in
consequence he was mounted on a horse, still bound, and the
bridle given into the hands of one of the warriors. In this
manner they proceeded, directed from time to time by Kurugsar,
till they arrived at the uttermost limits of the kingdom, and
entered a desert wilderness. Isfendiyar now asked what they
would meet with, and the guide answered, " Two monstrous
wolves are in this quarter, as large as elephants, and whose
teeth are of immense length." The prince told his people, that
as soon as they saw the wolves, they must at once attack them
with arrows. The day passed away, and in the evening they
came to a forest and a murmuring stream, when suddenly the
two enormous wolves appeared, and rushed towards the legions
of Isfendiydr. The people seeing them advance, poured upon
them a shower of arrows. Several men, however, were wounded,
but they were themselves much exhausted by the arrows which
had penetrated their bodies. At this moment Bashiitan attacked
one of them, and Isfendiyar the other ; and so vigorous was
their charge, that both the monsters were soon laid lifeless in
the dust. After this signal overthrow, Isfendiyar turned to
Kurugsar, and exclaimed : " Thus, through the favour of
Heaven, the first obstacle has been easily extinguished ! " " The
guide regarded him with amazement, and said : " I am indeed
astonished at the intrepidity and valour that has been dis-

Seeing the bravery of Isfendiyar,
Amazement filled the soul of Kurugsar.

The warriors and the party now dismounted, and regaled
themselves with feasting and wine, They then reposed till the
following morning.


SECOND STAGE. Proceeding on the second journey, Isfen-
diyar inquired what might now be expected to oppose their
progress, and Kurugsar replied : " This stage is infested bj
lions." " Then," rejoined Isfendiyar, " thou shalt see with
what facility I can destroy them." At about the close of the
day they met with a lion and a lioness. Bashiitan said :
" Take one and I will engage the other." But Isfendiyar
observed, that the animals seemed very wild and ferocious, and
he preferred attacking them both himself, that his brother
might not be exposed to any harm. He first sallied forth
against the lion, and with one mighty stroke put an end to his
life. He then approached the lioness, which pounced upon him
with great fury, but was soon compelled to desist, and the
prince rapidly wielding his sword, in a moment cut off her
head. Having thus successfully accomplished the second day's
task, he alighted from his horse, and refreshments being spread
out, the warriors and the troops enjoyed themselves with great
satisfaction, exhilarated by plenteous draughts of ruby wine.
Again Isfendiyiir addressed Kurugsar, and said : " Thou seest
with what facility all opposition is removed, when I am assisted
by the favour of Heaven ! " " But there are other and more
terrible difficulties to surmount, and amazing as thy achieve-
ments certainly have been, thou wilt have still greater exertions
to make before thy enterprise is complete." " What is the next
evil I have to subdue ? " " An enormous dragon,

With power to fascinate, and from the deep
To lure the finny tribe, his daily food.
Fire sparkles round him ; his stupendous bulk
Looks like a mountain. When incensed, his roar
Makes the surrounding country shake with fear.

Online LibraryFirdawsiThe Shah Nameh of the Persian poet Firdausi → online text (page 24 of 35)