The Shah Nameh of the Persian poet Firdausi online

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The arrival of the bier in Persia, at the palace of Gushtasp,
produced a melancholy scene of public and domestic affliction.
The king took off the covering and wept bitterly, and the
mother and sisters exclaimed, " Alas ! thy death is not the
work of human hands ; it is not the work of Eustem, nor of Zal,
but of the Simurgh. Thou hast not lived long enough to be
ashamed of a grey beard, nor to witness the maturity and
attainments of thy children. Alas ! thou art snatched away at
a moment of the highest promise, even at the commencement
of thy glory." In the meanwhile the curses and imprecations
of the people were poured upon the devoted head of Gushtasp
on account of his cruel and unnatural conduct, so that he was
obliged to confine himself to bis palace till after the interment
of Isfendiyar.

Eustem scrupulously fulfilled his engagement, and instructed
Bahman in all manly exercises ; in the use of bow and javelin,


in the management of sword and buckler, and in all the arts
and accomplishments of the warrior. He then wrote to Gush-
tasp, repeating that he was unblameable in the conflict which
terminated in the death of his son Isfendiyar, that he had
offered him presents and wealth to a vast extent, and moreover
was ready to return with him to Iran, to his father ; but every
overture was rejected. Relentless fate must have hurried him
on to a premature death. " I have now," continued Eustem,
" completed the education of Bahman, according to the direc-
tions of his father, and await thy further commands." Gush-
tasp, after reading this letter, referred to Bashutan, who con-
firmed the declarations of Rustem, and the treacherous king,
willing to ascribe the event to an overruling destiny, readily
acquitted Rustem of all guilt in killing Isfendiyar. At the
same time he sent for Bahman, and on his arrival from Sistan,
was so pleased with him that he without hesitation appointed
him to succeed to the throne.

" Methinks I see Isfendiyar again,

Thou hast the form, the very look he bore,
And since thy glorious father is no more,

Long as I live thou must with me remain."


Firdausf seems to have derived the account of Shughad, and
the melancholy fate of Rustem, from a descendant of Sam and
Nariman, who was particularly acquainted with the chronicles
of the heroes and the kings of Persia. Shughad, it appeal's,
was the son of Zal, by one of the old warrior's maid-servants,
and at his very birth the astrologers predicted that he would be
the ruin of the glorious house of Sam and Nariman, and the
destruction of their race.


Throughout Sistan the prophecy was heard
With horror and amazement ; every town
And city in Iran was full of woe,
And Zal, in deepest agony and grief,
Sent up his prayers to the Almighty Power
That he would purify the infant's heart,
And free it from that quality, foretold
As the destroyer of his ancient house.
But what are prayers, opposed by destiny ?

The child, notwithstanding, was brought up with great care
and attention, and when arrived at maturity, he was sent to the
king of Kabul, whose daughter he espoused.

Eustem was accustomed to go to Kabul every year to receive
the tribute due to him ; but on the last occasion, it is said that
he exacted and took a higher rate than usual, and thus put
many of the people to distress. The king was angry, and ex-
pressed his dissatisfaction to Shughad, who was not slow in
uttering his own discontent, saying, " Though I am his brother,
he has no respect for me, but treats me always like an enemy.
For this personal hostility I long to punish him with death."
" But how," inquired the king, " couldst thou compass that
end ? " Shughad replied, " I have well considered the subject,
and propose to accomplish my purpose in this manner. I shall
feign that I have been insulted and injured by thee, and carry
my complaint to Zal and Rustem, who will no doubt come to
Kabul to redress my wrongs. Thou must in the meantime
prepare for a sporting excursion, and order a number of pits to
be dug on the road sufficiently large to hold Rustem and his
horse, and in each several swords must be placed with their
points and edges upwards. The mouths of the pits must then
be slightly covered over, but so carefully that there may be no
appearance of the earth underneath having been removed.
Everything being thus ready, Rustem, on the pretence of going
to the sporting ground, must be conducted by that road, and he
will certainly fall into one of the pits, which will become his
grave." This stratagem was highly approved by the king, and-
it was agreed that at a royal banquet, Shughad should revile
and irritate the king, whose indignant answer should be before


all the assembly : " Thou hast no pretensions to be thought of
the stock of Sam and Nariman. Zal pays thee no attention, at
least, not such attention as he would pay to a son, and Rustem
declares thou art not his brother ; indeed, all the family treat
thee as a slave." At these words, Shughad affected to be greatly
enraged, and, starting up from the banquet, hastened to Rustem
to complain of the insult offered him by the king of Kabul.
Rustem received him with demonstrations of affection, and
hearing his complaint, declared that he would immediately
proceed to Kabul, depose the king for his insolence, and place
Shughad himself on the throne of that country. In a short
time they arrived at the city, and were met by the king, who,
with naked feet and in humble guise, solicited forgiveness.
Rustem was induced to pardon the offence, and was honoured
in return with great apparent respect, and with boundless hos-
pitality. In the meantime, however, the pits were dug, and
the work of destruction in progress, and Rustem was now
invited to share the sports of the forest. The champion was
highly gratified by the courtesy which the king displayed, and
mounted Rakush, anticipating a day of excellent diversion.
Shughad accompanied him, keeping on one side, whilst Rustem,
suspecting nothing, rode boldly forward. Suddenly Rakush
stopped, and though urged to advance, refused to move a step.
At last the champion became angry, and struck the noble
animal severely ; the blows made him dart forward, and in a
moment he unfortunately fell into one of the pits.

It was a place, deep, dark, and perilous,
All bristled o'er with swords, leaving no chance
Of extrication without cruel wounds ;
And horse and rider sinking in the midst,
Bore many a grievous stab and many a cut
In limb and body, ghastly to the sight.
Yet from that depth, at one prodigious spring,
Rakush escaped with Rustem on his back ;
But what availed that effort ? Down again
Into another pit both fell together,
And yet again they rose, again, again ;
Seven times down prostrate, seven times bruised and


They struggled on, till mounting up the edge
Of the seventh pit, all covered with deep wounds,
Both lay exhausted. When the champion's brain
Grew cool, and he had power to think, he knew
Full well to whom he owed this treachery,
And calling to Shughad, said : " Thou, my brother !
Why hast thou done this wrong ? Was it for thee,
My father's son, by wicked plot and fraud
To work this ruin, to destroy my life ? "
Shughad thus sternly answered : " 'Tis for all
The blood that thou hast shed, God has decreed
This awful vengeance, now thy time is come ! "
Then spoke the king of Kabul, as if pity
Had softened his false heart : " Alas 1 the day
That thou shouldst perish, so ignobly too,
And in my kingdom ; what a wretched fate !
But bring some medicine to relieve his wounds
Quick, bring the matchless balm for Eustem's cure ;
He must not die, the champion must not die ! "
But Rustem scorned the offer, and in wrath,
Thus spoke : " How many a mighty king has died,
And left me still triumphant still in power,
Unconquerable ; treacherous thou hast been,
Inhuman, too, but Feramurz, the brave,
Will be revenged upon thee for this crime."

Rustem now turned towards Shughad, and in an altered and
mournful tone, told him that he was at the point of death, and
asked him to string his bow and give it to him, that he might
seem as a scare-crow, to prevent the wolves and other wild
animals from devouring him when dead.

Shughad performed the task, ; nl lingered not,
For he rejoiced at this catastrophe,
And with a smile of fiendish satisfaction,
Placed the strong bow before him Rustem graspe-1
The bended horn with such an eager hand,
That wondering at the sight, the caitiff wretch
Shuddered with terror, and behind a tree
Shielded himself, but nothing could avail ;
The arrow pierced both tree and him, and they
Were thus transfixed together. thus the hour
Of death afforded one bright gleam of joy
To Rustem, who, with lifted eyes to Heaven,
Exclaimed : " Thanksgivings to the great Creator,
For granting me the power, with my own hand,
To be revenged upon my murderer 1 "
So saying, the great champion breathed his last.


And not a knightly follower remained,

Ziiara, and the rest, in other pits,

Dug by the traitor-king, and traitor-brother,

Had sunk and perished, all, save one, who ticJ,

And to the afflicted veteran at Sistan

Told the sad tidings. Zal, in agony,

Tore his white hair, and wildly rent his garments,

And cried : " Why did not I die for him, why

Was I not present, fighting by his side ?

But he. alas ! is gone I Oh ! gone for ever." '

Then the old man dispatched Feramurz with a numerous
force to Kabul, to bring away the dead body of Rustem. Upon
his approach, the king of Kabul and his army retired to the
mountains, and Feramurz laid waste the countiy. He found
only the skeletons of Rustem and Zuara, the beasts of prey
having stripped them of their flesh : he however gathered the
bones together and conveyed them home and buried them,
amidst the lamentations of the people. After that, he returned
to Kabul with his army, and encountered the king, captured the
cruel wretch, and carried him to Sistan, where he was put to

Gushtasp having become old and infirm, bequeathed his
empire to Bahman, and then died. He reigned one hundred
and eight years.


Bahman, the grandson of Gushtasp, having at the commence-
ment of his sovereignty obtained the approbation of his people,
by the clemency of his conduct and the apparent generosity of
his disposition, was not long in meditating vindictive measures
against the family of Rustem. "Did not Kai-khosrau," said
he to his warriors, "revenge himself on -Afrasiyab for the
murder of Saiawush ; and have not all my glorious ancestors


pursued a similar course ? Why, then, should not I be revenged
on the father of Rustcm for the death of Isfendiyar ? " The
warriors, as usual, approved of the king's resolution, and in
consequence one hundred thousand veteran troops were as-
sembled for the immediate invasion of Sistan. "When Bahman
had arrived on the borders of the river Behermund, he sent a
message to Zal, frankly declaring his purpose, and that he must
sacrifice the lives of himself and all his family as an atonement
for Rustem's guilt in shedding the blood of Isfendiyar.

Zal heard his menace with astonishment.
Mingled with anguish, and he thus replied :
"Eastern was not in fault; and thou canst tell,
For thou wert present, how he wept, and prayed
That he might not be bound. How frequently
He offered all his wealth, his gold, and gems,
To be excused that ignominious thrall ;
And would have followed thy impatient father
To wait upon Gushtasp ; but this was scorned ;
Nothing but bonds would satisfy his pride ;
All this thou know'st. Then did not I and Rust cm
Strictly fulfil Isfendiyar's commands,
And most assiduously endow thy mind
With all the skill and virtues of a hero,
That might deserve some kindness in return ?
Now take my house, my treasure, my possessions,
Take all ; but spare my family and me."

The messenger went back, and told the tale
Of Zal's deep grief with such persuasive grace,
And piteous accent, that the heart of Bahman
Softened at every word, and the old man
Was not to suffer. After that was known,
With gorgeous presents Zal went forth to meet
The monarch in his progress to the city ;
And having prostrated himself in low
Humility, retired among the train
Attendant on the king. " Thou must not walk,"
Bahman exclaimed, well skilled in all the arts
Of smooth hypocrisy " thou art too weak ;
Remount thy horse, for thou requirest help."
But Zal declined the honour, and preferred
Doing that homage as illustrious Sam.
His conquering ancestor, had always done,
Barefoot, in presence of the royal race.


Fast moving onwards, Bahman soon approached
Sistan, and entered Zal's superb abode ;
Not as a friend, or a forgiving foe,
But with a spirit unappeased, unsoothed ;
True, he had spared the old man's life, but there
His mercy stopped ; all else was confiscate,
For every room was plundered, all the treasure
Seized and devoted to the tyrant's use.

After remorselessly obtaining this booty, Bahman inquired
what had become of Feramurz, and Zal pretended that, un-
aware of the king's approach, he had gone a-hunting. But
this excuse was easily seen through, and the king was so
indignant on the occasion, that he put Zal himself in fetters.
Feramurz had, in fact, secretly retired with the Zabul army to
a convenient distance, for the purpose of acting as necessity
might require, and when he heard that Zal was placed in con-
finement, he immediately marched against the invader and
oppressor of his country. Both armies met, and closed, and
were in desperate conflict three long days and nights. On the
fourth day, a tremendous hurricane arose, which blew thick
clouds of dust iu. the face of the Zabul army, and blinding
them, impeded their progress, whilst the enemy were driven
furiously forward by the strong wind at their backs. The
consequence was the defeat of the Zabul troops. Feramurz,
with a few companions, however, kept his ground, though
assailed by showers of arrows. He tried repeatedly to get face
to face with Bahman, but every effort was fruitless, and he felt
convinced that his career was now nearly at an end. He
bravely defended himself, and aimed his arrows with great
precision ; but what is the use of art when Fortune is un-
favourable ?

When Fate's dark clouds portentous lower,

And quench the light of day,
No effort, none, of human power,

Can chase the gloom away.
Arrows may fly a countless shower,

Amidst the desperate fray ;
But not to sword or arrow death is given,
Unless decreed by favouring Heaven.


And it was so decreed that the exertions of Feramurz should
be unsuccessful. His horse fell, he was wounded severely, and
whilst, insensible, the enemy secured and conveyed him in
fetters to Bahman, who immediately ordered him to be hanged.
The king then directed all the people of Sisttin to be put to the
sword ; upon which Bashutan said : " Alas ! why should the
innocent and unoffending people be thus made to perish ?
Hast thou no fear of God ? Thou hast taken vengeance for
thy father, by slaying Feramurz, the son of Rustem. Is not
that enough ? Be merciful and beneficent now to the people,
and thank Heaven for the great victory thou hast gained."
Bahman was thus withdrawn from his wicked purpose, and was
also induced to liberate Zal, whose age and infirmities had
rendered him perfectly harmless. He not only did this, but
restored to him the possession of Sistun ; and divesting himself
of all further revenge, returned to Persia. There he continued
to exercise the functions of royalty, till one day he happened to
be bitten by a snake, whose venom was so excruciating, that
remedies were of no avail, and he died of the wound, in the
eighth year of his reign. Although he had a son named
Sassan, he did not appoint him his successor ; but gave the
crown and the throne to his wife, Humai, whom he had married
a short time before his death, saying : " If Hiimai should have
a son, that son shall be my successor ; but if a daughter,
Humai must continue to reign."


Wisdom and generosity were said to have marked the
government of Humai. In justice and beneficence she was
unequalled. No misfortune happened in her days, even the


poor and the needy became rich. She gave birth to a son,
whom she entrusted to a nurse to be brought up secretly, and
declared publicly that it had died the same day it was born.
At this event the people rejoiced, for they were happy under
the administration of Humai. Upon the boy attaining his
seventh month, however, the queen sent for him, and wrapping
him up in rich garments, put him in a box, and when she had
fastened down the cover, gave it to two confidential servants, in
the middle of the night, to be flung into the Euphrates. " For,"
thought she, " if he be found in the city, there will be an end
to my authority, and the crown will be placed upon his head ;
wiser, therefore, will it be for me to cast him into the river ;
and if it please God to preserve him, he may be nurtured, and
brought up in another country." Accordingly in the darkness
of night, the box was thrown into the Euphrates, and it floated
rapidly down the stream for some time without being observed.

Amidst the waters, in that little ark

Was launched the future monarch. But, vain mortal 1

How bootless are thy most ingenious schemes,

Thy wisest projects ! Such were thine, Humai I

Presumptuous as thou wert to think success

Would crown that deed unnatural and unjust.

But human passions, human expectations

Are happily controlled by righteous Heaven.

In the morning the ark was noticed by a washerman ; who,
curious to know what it contained, drew it to the shore, and
opened the lid. Within the box he then saw splendid silk-
embroidered scarfs and costly raiment, and upon them a lovely
infant asleep. He immediately took up the child, and carried
it to his wife, saying : " It was but yesterday that our own
infant died, and now the Almighty has sent thee another in its
place." The woman looked at the child with affection, and
taking it in her arms fed it with her own milk. In the box
they also found jewels and rubies, and they congratulated them-
selves upon being at length blessed by Providence with wealth,
and a boy at the same time They called him Darab, and the



child soon began to speak in the language of his foster-parents.
The washerman and his wife, for fear that the boy and the
wealth might be discovered, thought it safest to quit their
home, and sojourn in another country. When Darab grew up,
he was more skilful and accomplished, and more expert at
wrestling than other boys of a greater age. But whenever the
washerman told him to assist in washing clothes, he always ran
away, and would not stoop to the drudgery. This untoward
behaviour grieved the washerman exceedingly, and he lamented
that God had given him so useless a son, not knowing that he
was destined to be the sovereign of all the world.

How little thought he, whilst the task he prest,
A purer spirit warmed the stripling's breast,
Whose opening soul, by kingly pride inspired,
Disdained the toil a menial slave required ;
The royal branch on high its foliage flung,
And showed the lofty stem from which it sprung.

Darab was now sent to school, and he soon excelled his
naster, who continually said to the washerman : " Thy son is
of wonderful capacity, acute and intelligent beyond his years,
of an enlarged understanding, and will be at least the minister
of a king." Da"ra"b requested to have another master, and also
a fine horse of Irak, that he might acquire the science and
accomplishments of a warrior ; but the washerman replied that
he was too poor to comply with his wishes, which threw the
youth into despair, so that he did not touch a morsel of food
for two days together. His foster-mother, deeply affected by
his disappointment, and naturally anxious to gratify his desires,
gave an article of value to the washerman, that he might sell
it, and with the money purchase the horse required. The
horse obtained, he was daily instructed in the art of using the
bow, the javelin, and the sword, and in every exercise becoming
a young gentleman and a warrior. So devouringly did he
persevere in his studies, and in his exertions to excel, that he
never remained a moment unoccupied at home or abroad. The
development of his talents and genius suggested to him an


inquiry who he was, and how he came into the house of a
washerman ; and his foster-mother, in compliance with his
entreaties, described to him the manner in which he was found.
He had long been miserable at the thoughts of being the son of
a washerman, but now he rejoiced, and looked upon himself as
the son of some person of consideration. He asked her if she had
any thing that was taken out of the box, and she replied: " Two
valuable rubies remain." The youth requested them to be
brought to him ; one he bound round his arm, and the other
he sold to pay the expenses of travelling and change of place.

At that time, it is said, the king of Eiim had sent an army
into the country of Iran. Upon receiving this information,
Humai told her general, named EishnawtLd, to collect a force
corresponding with the emergency ; and he issued a proclama-
tion, inviting all young men desirous of military glory to flock
to his standard. Darab heard this proclamation with delight,
and among others hastened to Kishnawad, who presented the
young warriors as they arrived successively to Humai. The
queen steadfastly marked the majestic form and features of
Darab, and said in her heart : " The youth who bears this
dignified and royal aspect, appears to be a Kaianian by birth ; ''
and as she spoke, the instinctive feeling of a mother seemed to
agit?te her bosom.

The queen beheld his form and face,
The scion of a princely race ;
And natural instinct seemed to move
Her heart, which spoke a mother's love ;
She gazed, but like the lightning's ray,
That sudden thrill soon passed away.

The army was now in motion. After the first march, a
tremendous wind and heavy rain came on, and all the soldiers
were under tents, excepting Dara"b, who had none, and was
obliged to take shelter from the inclemency of the weather
beneath an archway, where he laid himself down, and fell
asleep. Suddenly a supernatural voice was heard, saying :

Y 2


" Arch stand firm, and from thy wall

Let no ruined fragment fall 1

He who sleeps beneath is one

Destined to a royal throne.

Arch 1 a monarch claims thy care,

The king of Persia slumbers there ! "

The voice was heard by every one near, and Rishnawdd
having also heard it, inquired of his people from whence it
came. As he spoke, the voice repeated its caution :

" Arch ! stand firm, and from thy wall
Let no ruined fragment fall I
Bahman's son is. in thy keeping ;
He beneath thy roof is sleeping.
Though the winds are loudly roaring,
And the rain in torrents pouring,
Arch ! stand firm, and from thy wall
Let no loosened fragment fall."

Again Rishnawad sent other persons to ascertain from
whence the voice proceeded ; and they returned, saying, that
it was not of the earth, but from Heaven. Again the caution
sounded in his ears :

" Arch ! stand firm, and from thy wall
Let no loosened fragment fall."

And his amazement increased. He now sent a person under
the archway to see if any one was there, when the youth was
discovered in deep sleep upon the ground, and the arch above
him rent and broken in many parts. Rishnawa'd being
apprised of this circumstance, desired that he might be
awakened and brought to him. The moment he was removed,
the whole of the arch fell down with a dreadful crash, and
this wonderful escape was also communicated to the leader
of the army, who by a strict and particular enquiry soon
became acquainted with all the occurrences of the stranger's
life. Rishnawdd also summoned before him the washerman
and his wife, and they corroborated the story he had been told.
Indeed he himself recognized the ruby on Ddrab's arm, which


convinced him that he was the son of Bahman, whom Humai
caused to be thrown into the Euphrates. Thus satisfied of hi?
identity, he treated him with great honour, placed him on hia
right hand, and appointed him to a high command in the
army. Soon afterwards an engagement took place with the
Riimis, and Dtlrsib in the advanced guard performed prodigies

Online LibraryFirdawsiThe Shah Nameh of the Persian poet Firdausi → online text (page 28 of 35)