The Shah Nameh of the Persian poet Firdausi online

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White poison-foam drops from his hideous jaws,
Which yawning wide, display a dismal gulf,
The grave of many a hapless being, lost
Wandering amidst that trackless wilderness."

Kurugsar described or magnified the ferocity of the animal
in such a way, that Isfendiyar thought it necessary to be
cautious, and with that view he ordered a curious apparatus to

T 2


be constructed on wheels, something like a carriage, to which
he fastened a large quantity of pointed instruments, and har-
nessed horses to it to drag it on the road. He then tried its
motion, and found it admirably calculated for his purpose.
The people were astonished at the ingenuity of the invention,
and lauded him to the skies.

THIRD STAGE. Away went the prince, and having travelled
a considerable distance, Kurugsar suddenly exclaimed : " I now
begin to smell the stench of the dragon." Hearing this, Isfeii-
diy;ir dismounted, ascended the machine, and shutting the door
fast, took his seat and drove off. Bashutan and all the warriors
upon witnessing this extraordinary act, began to weep and
lament, thinking that he was hurrying himself to certain de-
struction, and begged that for his own sake, as well as theirs,
he would come out of the machine. But he replied : " Peace,
peace ! what know ye of the matter ; " and as the warlike
apparatus was so excellently contrived, that he could direct the
movements of the horses himself, he drove on with increased
velocity, till he arrived in the vicinity of the monster.

The dragon from a distance heard

The rumbling of the wain,
And snuffing every breeze that stirred

Acvoss the neighbouring plain,

Smeli. something human in his power,

A \velcome scent to him ;
For he was eager to devour

Hot recking blood, or limb.

And darkness now is spread around,

No pathway can be traced ;
The fiery horses plunge and bound

Amid the dismal waste.

And now the dragon stretches far

His cavern throat, and soon
Licks in the horses and the car,

And tries to gulp them down.

But sword and javelin, sharp and keen,

Wound deep each sinewy jaw ;
Midway, remains the huge machine,

And chokes the monster's maw.


In agony he breathes, a dire

Convulsion fires his blood,
And struggling, ready to expire,

Ejects a poison-flood 1

And then disgorges wain and steeds,

And swords and javelins bright ;
Then, as the dreadful dragon bleed*,

Up starts the warrior-knight,

And from his place of ambush leaps,

And, brandishing his blade,
The weapon in the brain he steeps,

And splits the monster's head.

But the foul venom issuing thence,

Is so o'erpowering found,
Isfcndiyar, deprived of sense,

Falls staggering to the ground !

Upon seeing this result, and his brother in so deplorable a
situation, Bashutan and the troops also were in great alarm,
apprehending the most fatal consequences. They sprinkled
rose-water over his face, and administered other remedies, so
that after some time he recovered ; then he bathed, purifying
himself from the filth of the monster, and poured out prayers
of thankfulness to the merciful Creator for the protection and
victory he had given him. But it was matter of great grief to
Kurugsar that Isfendiyiir had succeeded in his exploit, because
under present circumstances, he would have to follow him in
the remaining arduous enterprises ; whereas, if the prince had
been slain, his obligations would have ceased for ever.

" What may be expected to-morrow ? " inquired Isfendiyiir.
" To-morrow," replied the demon-guide, " thou wilt meet with
an enchantress, who can convert the stormy sea into dry land,
and the dry land again into the ocean. She is attended by a
gigantic ghoul, or apparition." " Then thou shalt see how
easily this enchantress and her mysterious attendant can be

FOUETH STAGE. On the fourth day Isfendiyar and his com-
panions proceeded on the destined journey, and coming to a


pleasant meadow, watered by a transparent rivulet, the party
alighted, and they all refreshed themselves heartily with various
kinds of food and wine. In a short space of time the enchant-
ress appeared, most beautiful in feature and elegant in attire,
and approaching our hero with a sad but fascinating expression
of countenance, said to him (the ghoul, her pretended paramour,
being at a little distance) :

" I am a poor unhappy thing,
The daughter of a distant king.
This monster with deceit and fraud,
By a fond parent's power unawcd,
Seduced me from my royal home,
Through wood and desert wild to roam ;
And surely Heaven has brought thec now
To cheer my heart, and smooth my brow,
And free me from his loathed embrace,
And bear me to a fitter place,
Where, in thy circling arms more softly prcst,
I may at last be truly loved, and blest."

Isfendiyar immediately called her to him, and requested her
to sit down. The enchantress readily complied, anticipating a
successful issue to her artful stratagems ; but the intended
victim of her sorcery was too cunning to be imposed upon.
He soon perceived what she was, and forthwith cast his
kamund over her, and in spite of all her entreaties, bound her,
too fast to escape. In this extremity, she successively assumed'
the shape of a cat, a wolf, and a decrepit old man : and so
perfect were her transformations, that any other person would
have been deceived, but Isfendiyar deteeted her in every variety
of appearance ; and, vexed by -her continual attempts to cheat
him, at last took out his sword and cut her in pieces. As soon
as this was done, a thick dark cloud of dust and vapour arose,
and when it subsided, a black apparition of a demon burst upon
his sight, with flames issuing from its mouth. Determined to
destroy this fresh antagonist, he rushed forward, sword in hand,
and though the flames, in the attack, burnt his cloth-armour
and dress, he succeeded in cutting off the threatening monster's
bead. " Now," said he to Kurugsar, " thou hast seen that with


the favour of Heaven, both enchantress and ghoul are extermi-
nated, as well as the wolves, the lions, and the dragon." u Very
well," replied Kurugsar, " thou hast achieved this prodigious
labour, but to-morrow will be a heavy day, and thou canst
hardly escape with life. To-morrow thou wilt be opposed by
the Simurgh, whose nest is situated upon a lofty mountain.
She has two young ones, each the size of an elephant, which
she conveys in her beak and claws from place to place." " Be
under no alarm," said Isfendiyir, " God will make the labour

FIFTH STAGE. On the fifth day, Isfendiydr resumed his
journey, travelling with his little army over desert, plain,
mountain, and wilderness, until he reached the neighbourhood
of the Simurgh. He then adopted the same stratagem which
he had employed before, and the machine supplied with swords
and spears, and drawn by horses, was soon in readiness for the
new adventure. The Simurgh, seeing with surprise an immense
vehicle, drawn by two horses, approach at a furious rate, and
followed by a large company of horsemen, descended from the
mountain, and endeavoured to take up the whole apparatus in
her claws to carry it away to her own nest ; but her claws were
lacerated by the sharp weapons, and she was then obliged to
try her beak. Both beak and claws were injured in the effort,
and the animal became extremely weakened by the loss of
blood. Isfendiyar seizing the happy moment, sprang out of
the carriage, and with his trenchant sword divided the Simurgh
in two parts ; and the young ones, after witnessing the death
of their parent, precipitately fled from the fatal scene. When
Bashutan, with the army, came to the spot, they were amazed
at the prodigious size of the Simurgh, and the valour by_ which
it had been subdued. Kurugsar turned pale with astonishment
and sorrow. " What will be our next adventure ? " said Isfen-
diyar to him. " To-morrow more pressing ills will surround
thee. Heavy snow will fall, and there will be a violent tempest
of wind, and it will be wonderful if even one man of thy legions
remains alive. That will not be like fighting against lions, a


dragon, or the Simurgh, but against the elements, against the
Almighty, which never can be successful. Thou hadst better,
therefore, return unhurt." The people on hearing this warning,
were alarmed, and proposed to go back ; " for if the advice of
Kurugsar is not taken, we shall all perish like the companions
of Kai-khosrau, and lie buried under drifts of snow.

" Let us return then, whilst we may :
Why should we throw our lives away ? "

But Isfendiyar replied that he had already overcome five 3f
the perils of the road, and had no fear about the remaining
two. The people, however, were still discontented, and still
murmured aloud ; upon which the prince said, " lie turn then,
and I will go alone.

I never can require the aid
Of men so easily dismayed."

Finding their leader immoveable, the people now changed
their tone, and expressed their devotion to his cause ; declaring
that whilst life remained, they would never forsake him, no

SIXTH STAGE. On the following morning, the sixth,
Isfendiyar continued his labours, and hurried on with great
speed. Towards evening he arrived on the skirts of a moun-
tain, where there was a running stream, and upon that spot,
he pitched his tents.

Presently from the mountain there rushed down
. A furious storm of wind, then heavy showers
Of snow fell, covering all the earth with whiteness,
And making desolate the prospect round.
Keen blew the blast, and pinching was the cold ;
And to escape the elemental wrath,
Leader and soldier, in the caverned rock
Scooped out by mouldering time, took shelter, there
Continuing three long days. Three lingering days
Still fell the snow, and still the tempest raged,
And man and beast grew faint for want of food.

Isfendiyar and his wai'riors, with heads exposed, now pros-


trated themselves in solemn prayer to the Almighty, and
implored his favour and protection from the calamity which
had befallen them. Happily their prayers were heard, Heaven,
was compassionate, and in a short space the snow and the
mig'hty wind entirely ceased. By this fortunate interference
of Providence, the army was enabled to quit the caves of the
mountain ; and then Isfendiyiir again addressed Kurugsar
triumphantly : " Thus the sixth labour is accomplished.
What have we now to fear ? " The demon-guide answered
him and said : " From hence to the Brazen Fortress it is forty
farsangs. That fortress is the residence of Arjasp ; but the
road is full of peril. For three farsangs the sand on the
ground is as hot as fire, and there is no water to be found
during the whole journey." This information made a serious
impression upon the mind of Isf endiyilr ; who said to him
sternly : " If I find thee guilty of falsehood, I will assuredly put
thee to death." Kurugsar replied : " What ! after six trials ?
Thou hast no reason to question my veracity. I shall never
depart from the truth, and my advice is, that thou haclst better
return ; for the seventh stage is not to be ventured upon by
human strength.

Along those plains of burning sand

Xo bird can move, nor ant, nor fly ;
No water slakes the fiery land,

Intensely glows the flaming sky.

Xo tiger fierce, nor lion ever

Could breath that pestilential air ;
Even the unsparing vulture never

Ventures on blood-stained pinions there.

At the distance of three farsangs beyond this inaccessible belt
of scorching country lies the Brazen Fortress, to which there
is no visible path ; and if an army of a hundred thousand
strong were to attempt its reduction, there would not be the
least chance of success."

SEVENTH STAGE. When Isfendiyar heard these things,
enough to alarm the bravest heart, he turned towards his


people to ascertain their determination ; when they unani-
mously repeated their readiness to sacrifice their lives in his
service, and to follow wherever he might be disposed to lead
the way. He then pat Kurugsar in chains again, aud prose-
cuted his journey, until he reached the place said to be covered
with burning sand. Arrived on the spot, he observed to the
demon-guide : " Thou hast described the sand as hot, but it is
not so." " True ; and it is on account of the heavy showers
of snow that have fallen and cooled the ground, a proof that
thou art under the protection of the Almighty." Isfendiyar
smiled, and said : " Thou art all insincerity and deception, thus
to play upon my feelings with false or imaginary terrors."
Saying this he urged his soldiers to pass rapidly on, so as to
leave the sand behind them, and they presently came to a great
river. Isfendiyar was now angry with Kurugsar, and said :
" Thou hast declared that for the space of forty farsangs there
was no water, every drop being everywhere dried up by the
burning heat of the sun, and here we find water ! Why didst
thou also idly fill the minds of my soldiers with groundless
fears ? " Kurugsar replied : " I will confess the truth. Did I
not swear a solemn oath to be faithful, and yet I was still
doubted, and still confined in irons, though the experience of
six days of trial had proved the correctness of my information
and advice. For this reason I was disappointed and dis-
pleased ; and I must confess that I did, therefore, exaggerate
the dangers of the last day, in the hopes too of inducing thee to
return and release me from my bonds.

For what have I received from thee,
But scorn, and chains, and slavery."

Isfendiyar now struck off the irons from the hands and feet
of his demon-guide and treated him with favour and kindness,
repeating to him his promise to reward him at the close of his
victorious career with the government of a kingdom. Kurugsar
was grateful for this change of conduct to him, and again
acknowledging the deception he had been guilty of, hoped for


pardon, engaging at the same time to take the party in safety
across the great river which had impeded their progress. This was
accordingly done, and the Brazen Fortress was now at no great
distance. At the close of the day they were only one farsang
from the towers, but Isfendiytir preferred resting till the next
morning. " What is thy counsel now ? " said he to his guide.
" What sort of a fortress is this which fame describes in such
dreadful colours ? " " It is stronger than imagination can con-
ceive, and impregnable." " Then how shall I get to Arjasp ?

How shall I cleave the oppressor's form asunder,

The murderer of my grandsire, Lohurasp ?

The bravest heroes of Turan shall fall

Under my conquering sword ; their wives and children

Led captive to Iran ; and desolation

Scathe the whole realm beneath the tyrant's sway."

But these words only roused and exasperated the feelings of
Kurugsar, who bitterly replied :

" Then may calamity be thy reward,

Thy stars malignant, and thy life all sorrow ;

And may'st thou perish, weltering in thy blood,

And the bare desert be thy lonely grave

For that inhuman thought, that cruel menace."

Tsfendiyar, upon hearing this unexpected language, became
furious with indignation, and instantaneously punished the
offender on the spot ; with one stroke of his sword he cleft
Kurugsar in twain.

When the clouds of night had darkened the sky, Isfendiyar,
with a number of his warriors, proceeded towards the Brazen
Fortress, and secretly explored it on every side. He found it
constructed entirely of iron and brass ; and, notwithstanding a
strict examination at every point, discovered no accessible part
for attack. It was three farsangs high, and forty wide ; and
such a place as was never before beheld by man.



Isfendiydr returned from reconnoitring the fortress with
acute feelings of sorrow and despair. He was at last convinced
that Kurugsar had spoken the truth ; for there seemed to be no
chance whatever of taking the place by any stratagem he could
invent. Revolving the enterprise seriously in his niind, he now
began to repent of his folly, and the overweening confidence
which had led him to undertake the journey. Eeturning thus
to his tent in a melancholy mood, he saw a Fakir sitting down
on the road, and him he anxiously accosted. " What may be
the number of the garrison in this fort ? " " There are a
hundred thousand veteran warriors in the service of Arjtisp in
the fort, with abundance of supplies of every kind, and streams
of pure water, so that nothing is wanted to foil an enemy."
This was very unwelcome intelligence to Isfencliyar, who now
assembled his officers to consider what was best to be done.
They all agreed that the reduction of the fortress was utterly
impracticable, and that the safest course for him would be to
return. But he could not bring himself to acquiesce in this
measure, saying : " God is almighty, and beneficent, and with
him is the victory." He then reflected deeply and long, and
finally determined upon entering the fort disguised as a
merchant. Having first settled the mode of proceeding, he
put Bashutan in temporary charge of the army, saying :

" This Brazen Fortress scorns all feats of arms,
Nor sword nor spear, nor battle-axe, can here
Be wielded to advantage ; stratagem
Must be employed, or we shall never gain
Possession of its wide-extended walls,
Placing my confidence in Ood alone
I go with rich and curious wares for sale,
To take the credulous people by surprise,
Under the semblance of a peaceful merchant."

Isfendiyar then directed a hundred dromedaries to be collected,


and when they were brought to him he disposed of them in the
following manner. He loaded ten with embroidered cloths,
five with rubies and sapphires, and five more with pearls and
other precious jewels. Upon each of the remaining eighty he
placed two chests, and in each chest a warrior was secreted,
making in all one hundred and sixty ; and one hundred more
were disposed as camel-drivers and servants. Thus the whole
force, consisting of a hundred dromedaries and two hundred
and sixty warriors, set off to wards the Brazen Fortress, Isfendiyar
having first intimated to his brother Bashutan to march with
his army direct to the gates of the fort, as soon as he saw a
column of flame and smoke ascend from the interior. On the
way they gave out* that they were merchants come with valuable
goods from Persia, and hoped for custom. The tidings of
travellers having arrived with rubies and gold-embroidered
garments for sale, soon reached the ears of Arjasp, the king }
who immediately gave them permission to enter the fort. "When
Isfendiyar, the reputed master of the caravan, had got within
the walls, he said that he had brought rich presents for the
king, and requested to be introduced to him in person. He
was accordingly allowed to take the presents himself, was
received with distinguished attention, and having stated his
name to be Kherad, was invited to go to the royal palace,
whenever, and as often as, he might please. At one of the
interviews the king asked him, as he had come from Persia, if
he knew whether the report was true or not that Kurugsar had
been put to death, and what Gushtasp and Isfendiyar were
engaged upon. ' The hero in disguise replied that it was five
months since he left Persia ; but he had heard on the road from
many persons that Isfeudiyar intended proceeding by the way
of the Heft-khan with a vast army, towards the Brazen Fortress.
At these words Arjtisp smiled in derision, and said: "Ah!
ah ! by that way even the winged tribe are afraid to venture ;
and if Isfendiyar had a thousand lives, he would lose them all in
any attempt to accomplish that journey." After this interview
Isfendiyar daily continued to attend to the sale of his merchandise,


and soon found that his sisters were employed in the degrading
office of drawing and carrying water for the kitchen of Arjiisp.
When they heard that a caravan had arrived from Iran, they
went to Isfendiyar (who recognized them at a distance, but hid
his face that they might not know him), to inquire what
tidings he had brought about their father and brother.
Alarmed at the hazard of discovery, he replied that he knew
nothing, and desired them to depart ; but they remained, and said:
" On thy return to Iran, at least, let it be known that here we arc,
two daughters of Gushtasp, reduced to the basest servitude, and
neither father nor brother takes compassion upon our distresses.

Whilst with bare head, and naked feet, we toil,
They pass their time in peace and happiness,
Regardless of the misery we endure."

Isfendiyar again, in assumed anger, told them to depart,
saying : " Talk not to me of Gushtasp and Isfendiyar what
have I to do with them ? " At that moment the sound of his
voice was recognized by the elder sister, who, in a transport of
joy, instantly communicated her discovery to the younger ; but
they kept the secret till night, and then they returned to com-
mune with their brother. Isfendiyar finding that he was
known, acknowledged himself, and informed them that he had
undertaken to restore them to liberty, and that he was now
engaged in the enterprise, opposing every -obstacle in his way ;
but it was necessary that they should continue their usual
labour at the wells, till a fitting opportunity occurred.

For the purpose of accelerating the moment of release,
Isfendiyar represented to the king that at a period of great
adversity, he had made a vow that he would give a splendid
banquet if ever Heaven again smiled upon him, and as he then
was in the way to prosperity, and wished to fulfil his vow, he
hoped that his majesty would honour him with his presence on
the occasion. The king accepted the invitation with satis-
faction, and said : " To-morrow I will be thy guest, at thy own
house, and with all my warriors and soldiers." But this did


not suit the scheme of the pretended merchant, who apologised
on account of his house being too small, and proposed that the
feast should be held upoa the loftiest part of the fortress, where
spacious tents and pavilions might be erected for the purpose,
and a large fire lighted to give splendour to the scene. The
king assented, and every requisite preparation being made, all
the royal and warrior guests assembled in the morning, and
eagerly partook of the rich viands set before them. They all
drank wine with such relish and delight, that they soon became
intoxicated, and Khertid seizing the opportunity, ordered the
logs of wood which had been collected, to be set on fire, and
rapidly the smoke and flame sprung up, and ascended to the
sky. Bashutan saw the looked-for sign, and hastened with two
thousand horsemen to the gates of the fortress, where he slew
every one that he met, calling himself Isfendiytir. Arjasp had
enjoyed the banquet exceedingly ; the music gave him infinite
pleasure, and the wine had intoxicated him ; but in the midst
of his hilarity and merriment, he was told that Isfendiydr had
reached the gates, and entered the fort, killing immense
numbers of his people. This terrible intelligence roused him
and quitting the festive board of Kherad, he ordered his son
Kahram, with fifty thousand horsemen, to repel the invader.
He also ordered forty thousand horsemen to protect different
parts of the walls, and ten thousand to remain as his own
personal guard. Kahram accordingly issued forth without
delay, and soon engaged in battle with the force under

When night came, Isfendiyar opened the lids of the chests,
and let out the hundred and sixty warriors, whom he supplied
with swords and spears, and armour, and also the hundred who
were disguised as camel-drivers and servants.

With this bold band he sped,

Whither Arjasp had fled ;

And all who fought around,

To keep untouched that sacred ground ;

(Resistance weak and vain,)

By him were quickly slain.


The sisters of Isfendiyar now arrived, and pointed out to
him the chamber of Arjasp, to which place he immediately
repaired, and roused up the king, who was almost insensible with
the fumes of wine. Arjasp, however, sprang upon his feet,

And grappled stoutly with Isfendiydr,

And desperate was the conflict : head and loins

Alternately received deep gaping wounds

From sword and dagger. Wearied out at length,

Arjasp shrunk back, when with one mighty blow,

Isfcndiyar, exulting in his power,

Online LibraryFirdawsiThe Shah Nameh of the Persian poet Firdausi → online text (page 25 of 35)