The Shah Nameh of the Persian poet Firdausi online

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Prospiciunt Teucri, ac tenebras insurgere cainpis. ^EXEID, ix. 33.

In the Hennosura de Angelica of the famous Lope de Yega, there is a beauti-


Nor earth, nor sky appeared all, seeming lost,

And swallowed up by that wide-spreading host.

The steely armour glitfcer'd o'er the fields,*

And lightnings flash'd from gold emblazoned shields ;

Thou wouldst have said, the clouds had burst in showers,

Of sparkling amber o'er the martial powers.f

Thus, close embodied, they pursued their way,

And reached the Barrier-fort in terrible array.

The legions of Tiiran, with dread surprise,
Saw o'er the plain successive myriads rise ;
And showed them to Sohnib ; he, mounting high
The fort, surveyed them with a fearless eye ;
To Human, who, with withering terror pale,
Had marked their progress through the distant vale,
He pointed out the sight, and ardent said :
" Dispel these woe-fraught breedings from thy head,

ful simile, descriptive of the hostile troops of the Moors and Spaniard.?, which
may be well applied to the motley appearance of a Persian army :

Como en le triangular cristal se mira.
De varies y di versos tornasoles,
Campo, cielo, ciuclad, o mar ; y adinira
Yer tan diversos nubes, y arreboles ;
Assi la esquadra que entra y se retira,
De Moros Africanos, y Espanolcs
A la vista, qne juntos coni'undian,
Jardin florkla en Mayo parccian :

And in English thus :

As in the prism we pleased survey,
Rich prospects through the crystal play,
The fields, the cities, clouds, aTid sea,
Appear commingling variously ;
Thus moving o'er the battle-plain,
The Moors are mixed with Knights of Spain ;
The field, confusedly bright and jjay,
Looks like the garden's pride in May.

In the Gulistan of Sadi there is a similar thought :

"An assembly mixed together like a bed of roses and tulips."

* In his descriptions of battle-array, Firdausf seldom omits "go'den
slippers,'* which, however, I have not preserved in this place.

t The original is Sandnrus, sandaraca ; for which I have substituted
amber. Sandurus is the Arabic name for Gum Juniper.


" I wage the war, Afrasiyab ! for thcc,

" And make this desert seem a rolling sea."

Thus, while amazement every bosom quellM,

Sohrab, unmoved, the coming storm beheld,

And boldly gazing on the camp around,

Raised high the cup with wine nectarcous crowned :

O'er him no dreams of woe insidious stole,

No thought but joy engaged his ardent soul.

The Persian legions had restrained their course,
Tents and pavilions, countless foot and horse,
Clothed all the spacious plain, and gleaming threw
Terrific splendours on the gazer's view.
But when the Sun had faded in the west,
And night assumed her ebon-coloured vest,
The mighty Chief approached the sacred throne,
And generous thus made danger all his own :
" The rules of war demand a previous task,
" To watch this dreadful foe I boldly ask ;
" With wary step the wondrous youth to view,
" And mark the heroes who his path pursue."
The King assents : " The task is justly thine,
" Favourite of heaven, inspired by power divine."
In Turkish habit, secretly arrayed,
The lurking Champion wandered through the shade.
And, cautious, standing near the palace gate,
Saw how the chiefs were ranged in princely state.

What time Sohrab his thoughts to battle turned,
And for the first proud fruits of conquest burned,
His mother called a warrior to his aid,
And Zinda-ruzm his sister's call obeyed.
To him Tahmineh gave her only joy,
And bade him shield the bold adventurous boy :
" But, in the dreadful strife, should danger rise,
" Present my child before his father's eyes !
" By him protected, war may rage in vain,
" Though he may never bless these arms again ! "


This guardian prince sat on the stripling's right,
Viewing the imperial banquet with delight
Human and Barman, near the hero placed,
In joyous pomp the full assembly graced ;
A hundred valiant Chiefs begirt the throne,
And, all elate, were chaunting his renown.
Closely concealed, the gay and splendid scene,
Rustern contemplates with astonished mien ;
When Zind, retiring, marks the listener nigh,
Watching the festal train with curious eye ;
And well he knew, amongst his Tartar host,
Such towering stature not a Chief could boast
" What spy is here, close shrouded by the night ?
" Art thou afraid to face the beams of light ? "
But scarcely from his lips these words had past,
Ere, fell'd to earth, he groaning breathed his last ;
Unseen he perish'd, fate decreed the blow,
To add fresh keenness to a parent's woe.

Meantime Sohrab, perceiving the delay
In Zind's return, looked round him with dismay ;
The seat still vacant but the bitter truth,
Full soon was known to the distracted youth ;
Full soon he found that Zinda-ruzm was gone,
His day of feasting and of glory done ;
Speedful towards the fatal spot he ran,
Where slept in bloody vest the slaughtered man.

The lighted torches now displayed the dead,
Stiff on the ground his graceful limbs were spread ;
Sad sight to him who knew his guardian care,
Now doom'd a kinsman's early loss to bear ;
Anguish and rage devour his breast by turns,
He vows revenge, then o'er the warrior mourns :
And thus exclaims to each afflicted Chief :
" No time, to-night, my friends, for useless grief ;
" The ravenous wolf has watched his helpless prey,
" Sprung o'er the fold, and borne its flower away ;


" But if the heavens my lifted arm befriend,

" Upon the guilty shall my wrath descend

" Unsheathed, this sword shall dire revenge pursue,

" And Persian blood the thirsty land bedew."

Frowning he paused, and check'd the spreading woo,

Resumed the feast, and bid the wine-cup flow !

The valiant Giw was sentinel that night,
And marking dimly by the dubious light,
A warrior form approach, he claps his hands,
With naked sword and lifted shield he stands,
To front the foe ; but Rustem now appears,
And Giw the secret tale astonished hears ;
From thence the Champion on the Monarch waits.
The power and splendour of Sohrab relates :
" Circled by Chiefs this glorious youth was seen,
" Of lofty stature and majestic mien ; *
" No Tartar region gave the hero birth :
" Some happier portion of the spacious earth ;
" Tall, as the graceful cypress he appears ;
" Like Sam, the brave, his warrior-front he rears ! "
Then having told how, while the banquet shone,
Unhappy Zind had sunk, without a groan ;
He forms his conquering bands in close array,
And, cheer'd by wine, awaits the coming day.

When now the Sun his golden buckler raised,
And genial light through heaven diffusive blazed,
Sohrab in mail his nervous limbs attired,
For dreadful wrath his soul to vengeance fired ;
With anxious haste he bent the yielding cord,
Ring within ring, more fateful than the sword ;

Girt with many a baron bold,

Sublime their starry fronts they rear,

In the midst a form divine ! GRAY.

Beneath a sculptured arch he sits enthroned,
The peers encircling form an awful round.

POPE Odyssey


Around his brows a regal helm he bound ;
His dappled steed impatient stampt the ground.
Thus armed, ascending where the eye could trace
The hostile force, and mark each leader's place,
He called Hujir, the captive Chief addressed,
And anxious thus, his soul's desire expressed :
" A prisoner thou, if freedom's voice can charm,
" And dungeon darkness fill thee with alarm,
" That freedom merit, shun severest woe,
" And truly answer what I ask to know !
" If rigid truth thy ready speech attend,
" Honours and wealth shall dignify my friend."

" Obedient to thy wish," Hujir replied,
" Truth thou shalt hear, whatever chance betide ;
" For what on earth to praise has better claim ?
" Falsehood but leads to sorrow and to shame ! "

" Then say, what heroes lead the adverse host,
" Where they command, what dignities they boast ;
" Say, where does Kalis hold his kingly state,*
" "Where Tiis, and Giidarz, on his bidding wait ;

* Fimilar descriptions of Chiefs and encampments are common amongst
the epic poets of the West. In the third book of the Iliad, Helen describes
to Priam on the walls of Troy the leaders of the Grecian army. Upon this
passage Pope says, " it is justly looked upon as an episode of great beauty,
as well as a master-piece of conduct in Homer ; who by this means acquaints
the readers with the figure and qualifications of each hero in a more lively
and agreeable manner." Firdausi is entitled to equal praise for his address
in introducing the description of the Persian army. The objection which
Scaliger makes in asking, "how it happens that Priam, after nine years'
siege, should be yet unacquainted with the faces of the Grecian leaders, " does
not obtain here. Nothing can be more natural and unforced than the passage
as it occurs in the Persian poet. The following is the opening of the parallel
passage in Homer :

' But lift thy eyes and say what Greek is lie,

' (Far as from hence these aged orbs can sec,)

' Around whose brow such martial graces shine,

1 So tall, so awful, and almost divine ! "

' The King of Kings, Atrides you survey,

' Great in the war, and great in arts of sway."
Tin's said, once more he viewed the warrior train,
" What's he whose anus lie scatter'd on the plain?"


" CHw, Gust'hem, and Bahrain all known to thee,
" And where is mighty Eustem, where is he ?
" Look round with care, their names and power disjUy
" Or instant death shall end thy vital day."

" Where yonder splendid tapestries extend,*
" And o'er pavilions bright infolding bend,
" A throne triumphal shines with sapphire rays,
" And golden suns upon the banners blaze ;
" Full in the centre of the hosts and round
" The tent a hundred elephants are bound,

Then Helen thus : " Whom your discerning eyes

" Have singled out, is Ithacus the wise.

" See ! bold Idomeneus superior towers

" Amidst yon circle of his Cretan powers,

" Great as a God." POPE. Iliad, iii. 167.

Chapman's translation of this passage is quaintly expressed :

Sit then, and name this goodly Greek, so tall and broadly spread ;
Who than the rest, that stand by him, is higher than the head ;
The bravest man I ever saw and most majesticall ;
His only presence makes me think him king amongst them all ! !

Thus also the well-known imitation in the third book of Gerusalemme Libcrata :

Erminia il vide, e dimostrollo a dito,

Al Re pagano, e cosl a dir riprese :

Goffredo e quel, che nel purpureo manto,

Ha di Regio, e d'Augusto in se cotantp.

Dimmi chi sia colni, c'ha pur vermiglia,

La sopravesta, e seco a par si vede.

E' Baldovin, risponde ; e ben si scopre

Kel volto a lui fratel, ma piu nell'opre. Stanza 58, 6L

Full on the Chief Erminia cast a look,
Then show'd him to the King, and thus she spoke :
' There Godfrey stands in purple vesture seen,
' Of regal presence and exalted mien."
' Say who is he who stands by Godfrey's side,
' His upper garments with vermilion dyed?"
' 'Tis Baldwin, brother to the Prince (she cried),
In feature like, but most in deed allied." HOOLK.

But Sohrab was more peculiarly interested in the description of those warriors
amongst whom he expected to meet his father. On this account particularly,
as well as with regard to its general fitness, I think that this passage is
equal, if not superior, to that in Homer, which has given rise to so many

* The tents and pavilions of Eastern Princes were exceedingly magnificent ;
they were often made of silks and velvets, and ornamented with pearls and
gold. The tent of Nadir Shah was made of scarlet and broadcloth, and lined
with satin, richly figured over with precious stones.


" As if, in pomp, he mocked the power of fate ;
" There royal Kalis holds his kingly state.

" In yonder tent which numerous guards protect,
" Where front and rear illustrious Chiefs collect ;
" Where horsemen wheeling seem prepared for fight,
" Their golden armour glittering in the light ;
" Tiis lifts his banners, deck'd with royal pride,
" Feared by the brave, the soldier's friend and guide.*

" That crimson tent where spear-men frowning stand,
" And steel-clad veterans form a threatening band,
" Holds mighty Gudarz, famed for martial fire,
" Of eighty valiant sons the valiant sire ;
" Yet strong in arms, he shuns inglorious ease,
" His lion-banners floating in the breeze."

" But mark, that green pavilion ; girt around
" By Persian nobles, speaks the Chief renowned ;
" Fierce on the standard, worked with curious art,
" A hideous dragon writhing seems to start ;
" Throned in his tent the warrior's form is seen,
" Towering above the assembled host between ! f
" A generous horse before him snorts and neighs,
" The trembling earth the echoing sound conveys.
" Like him no Champion ever met my eyes,
" Xo horse like that for majesty and size ;
" What Chief illustrious bears a port so high ?
" Mark, how his standard flickers through the sky ! "

Thus ardent spoke Sohrab. Hujir dismayed,
Paused ere reply the dangerous truth betrayed.
Trembling for Rustem's life the captive groaned ;
Basely his country's glorious boast disowned,

* The banners were adorned with the figure of an elephant, to denote hi*
royal descent.

t Thus in Homer :

The king of kings majestically tall,

Towers o'er his armies aiid out-shines them all.

. Iliad, ii. 4S3.



And said the Chief from distant China came

Sohrab abrupt demands the hero's name ;

The name unknown, grief wrings his aching heart,

And yearning anguish speeds her venom' d dart ;

To him his mother gave the tokens true,

He sees them all, and all but mock his view.

When gloomy fate descends in evil hour,

Can human wisdom bribe her favouring power ?

Yet, gathering hope, again with restless mien

He marks the Chiefs who crowd the warlike scene.

" Where numerous heroes, horse and foot, appear,
" And brazen trumpets thrill the listening ear,
" Behold the proud pavilion of the brave !
" With wolves emboss'd the silken banners wave.
" The throne's bright gems with radiant lustre glow,
" Slaves rank'd around with duteous homage bow.
u What mighty Chieftain rules his cohorts there ?
" His name and lineage, free from guile, declare I "

" Giw, son of Giidarz, long a glorious name,
" Whose prowess even transcends his father's fame.*"

" Mark yonder tent of pure and dazzling white,
" Whose rich brocade reflects a quivering light ;
" An ebon seat surmounts the ivory throne ;
" There frowns in state a warrior of renown.
" The crowding slaves his awful nod obey,
" And silver moons around his banners play ;
" What Chief, or Prince, has grasped the hostile sword ? '
" Fraburz, the son of Persia's mighty lord."

Again : " These standards shew one champion more,
" Upon their centre flames the savage boar ; f

* The text says that lie was also the son-in-law of Rustem.

f The word Guraz signifies a wild boar, but this acceptation is not very
accordant to Mussulman notions, and consequently it is not supposed, by the
orthodox, to have that meaning in the text. It is curious that the name of
the Warrior, Guraz, should correspond with the bearings on the stand :rd.
This frequently obtains in the heraldry of Europe- Family bearings seem to


" The saffron-hued pavilion bright ascends,

" Whence many a fold of tasselled fringe depends ;

" Who there presides ? "

" Guraz, from heroes sprung,
" Whose praise exceeds the power of mortal tongue."

Thus, anxious, he explored the crowded field,
Nor once the secret of his birth revealed ; *
Heaven will'd it so. Pressed down by silent grief,
Surrounding objects promised no relief.
This world to mortals still denies repose,
And life is still the scene of many woes.
Again his eye, instinctive turned, descried
The green pavilion, and the warrior's pride.
Again he cries : " tell his glorious name ;
" Yon gallant horse declares the hero's fame ! "
But false Hujir the aspiring hope repelled,
Crushed the fond wish, the soothing balm withheld,
" And why should I conceal his name from thce ?
" His name and title are unknown to me."

Then thus Sohrab " In all that thou hast said,
" No sign of Rustern have thy words conveyed ;
" Thou sayest he leads the Persian host to arms,
" With him has battle lost its boisterous charms ?
" Of him no trace thy guiding hand has shewn ;
" Can power supreme remain unmark'd, unknown ? "

be used in every country of any degree of civilization. Krusenstern, tlie
Russian circumnavigator, speaking of the Japanese, says, "Every one has his
family arms worked into his clothes, in different places, about the size of a
half dollar, a practice usual to both sexes ; and in this manner any person
may be recognized, and the family to which he belongs easily ascertained. A
young lady wears her father's arms until after her marriage, when she assumes
those of her husband. The greatest mark of honour which a Prince or a
Governor can confer upon any one, is to give him a cloak with his arms
upon it, the person having such a one wearing his own arms upon his under

* FirdausI considers this to be destiny ! It would have been natural in
Sohrab to have gloried in the fame of his father, but from an inevitable dis-
pensation, his lips are here sealed on that subject ; and he inquires of Rustern
as if he only wanted to single him out for the purpose of destroying him.
The people of Persia are all fatalists.

r. r. 2


" Perhaps returned to Zabul's verdant bowers,
" He undisturbed enjoys his peaceful hours,
' The venial banquets may constrain his stay,
" And rural sports invite prolonged delay."

" Ah ! say not thus ; the Champion of the world,
" Shrink from the kindling war with banners furled ! *
"It cannot be ! Say where his lightnings dart,
" Shew me the warrior, all thou know'st impart ;
" Treasures uncounted shall be thy reward,
" Death changed to life, my friendship more than shared.
" Dost thou not know what, in the royal ear,
" The Miibid said befitting Kings to hear ?
" * Untold, a secret is a jewel bright,
" ' Yet profitless whilst hidden from the light ;
" ' But when revealed, in words distinctly given,
" ' It shines refulgent as the sun through heaven.' " f

To him, Hujir evasive thus replies :
" Through all the extended earth his glory flies !
" Whenever dangers round the nation close,
" Rustem approaches, and repels its foes ;
" And shouldst thou see him mix in mortal strife,
" Thou'dst think 'twere easier to escape with life

* The continued anxiety and persevering filial duty of Solirdb are described
with great success. The case is unparalleled. Telemachus at once declares the
object of his inquiries.

My sire, I seek, where'er the voice of fame

Has told the glories of his noble name ;

The great Ulysses POPE.

But Sohrab is dark and mysterious, and, as Firdausf says in another place,
the unconscious promoter of his own destruction.

f This passage will remind the classical reader of the speech of Themis-
tocles, in Plutarch, addressed to Xerxes. The Persian King had assured him
of his protection, and ordered him to declare freely whatever he had to pro-
pose concerning Greece. Themistocles replied, " That a man's discourse was
like a piece of tapestry which, when spread open, displays its figures ; but
when it is folded up, they are hidden and lost ; " therefore he begged time.
The King, delighted with the comparison, bade him take what time he
pleased ; and he desired a year ; in which spaco he learned the Persian
language, so as to be able to converse with the King without an interpreter.


" From tiger fell, or demon or the fold
" Of the chafed dragon, than his dreadful hold
" When fiercest battle clothes the fields with fire,
" Before his rage embodied hosts retire ! "

" And where didst thou encountering armies see ?
" Why Eustem's praise so proudly urge to me ?
" Let us but meet and thou shalt trembling know,
" How fierce that wrath which bids my bosom glow :
" If living flames express his boundless ire,
" Overwhelming waters quench consuming fire !
" And deepest darkness, glooms of ten-fold night,
" Fly from the piercing beams of radiant light."

Hujir shrunk back with undissembled dread,
And thus communing with himself, he said
" Shall I, regardless of my country, guide
" To Rustem's tent this furious homicide ?
" And witness there destruction to our host ?
" The bulwark of the land for ever lost !
" What Chief can then the Tartar power restrain !
" Kalis dethroned, the mighty Rustem slain !
" Better a thousand deaths should lay me low,
" Than, living, yield such triumph to the foe.
" For in this struggle should my blood be shed,
" No foul dishonour can pursue me, dead ;
" No lasting shame my father's age oppress,
" Whom eighty sons of martial courage bless ! *
" They for their brother slain, incensed will rise,
" And pour their vengeance on my enemies."
Then thus aloud" Can idle words avail ?
" Why still of Rustem urge the frequent tale ?
" Why for the elephant-bodied hero ask ?
" Thee, he will find, no uncongenial task.

* Hujir was the son of Giidarz. A family of the extent mentioned in the
text is not of rare occurrence amongst the Princes of tbe East. The King of
Persia had, in 1809, according to Mr. Morier, "sixty-five sons!" As the
Persians make no account of females, it is not known how many daughters
he had.


" Why seek pretences to destroy my life ?

" Strike, for no Rustem views th' unequal strife ! "

Sohrab confused, with hopeless anguish mourned,
Back from the lofty walls he quick returned,
And stood amazed.

Now war and vengeance claim,
Collected thought and deeds of mighty name ;
The jointed mail his vigorous body clasps,
His sinewy hand the shining javelin grasps ;
Like a mad elephant he meets the foe,
His steed a moving mountain deeply glow
His cheeks with passionate ardour, as he flies
Eesistless onwards, and with sparkling eyes,
Full on the centre drives his daring horse *
The yielding Persians fly his furious course ;
As the wild ass impetuous springs away,
When the fierce lion thunders on his prcy.f
By every sign of strength and martial power,
They think him Rustem in his direst hour ;
On Kaus now his proud defiance falls,
Scornful to him the stripling warrior calls :
" And why art thou misnamed of royal strain ?
" What work of thine befits the tented plain ?
" This thirsty javelin seeks thy coward breast ;
" Thou and thy thousands doomed to endless rest.
" True to my oath, which time can never change,
" On thee, proud King ! I hurl my just revenge.

* The Kulub-gah is the centre or heart of the army, where the Sovereign
or Chief of the troops usually remains.

t Firdausi is generally very brief in his similes, "like a lion," "like a
wolf," occur repeatedly. Thus in the fourth book of the Iliad, the Greeks
and Trojans are characterized in two words, "like wolves," which Pope
has translated :

As o er their prey rapacious wolves engage.

But in this place the Persian poet is more circumstantial.

" The chiefs fled from him like wild -asses from the claws of a lion.


" The blood of Ziud inspires my burning hate,

" And dire resentment hurries on thy fate ;

" Whom canst thou send to try the desperate strife ?

" What valiant Chief, regardless of his life ?

" Where now can Fraburz, Tus, Giw, Giidarz, be,

" And the world-conquering Rustem, where is he ? "

Xo prompt reply from Persian lip ensued,
Then rushing on, with demon-strength endued,
Sohrab elate his javelin waved around,
And hurled the bright pavilion to the ground ;
With horror Kaiis feels destruction nigh,
And cries : " For Rustem's needful succour fly !
" This frantic Turk, triumphant on the plain,
" Withers the souls of all my warrior train."
That instant Tiis the mighty Champion sought,
And told the deeds the Tartar Chief had wrought ;
" 'Tis ever thus, the brainless Monarch's due !
" Shame and disaster still his steps pursue ! "
This saying, from his tent he soon descried,
The wild confusion spreading far and wide ;
And saddled Rakush whilst, in deep dismay,
Girgin incessant cried " Speed, speed, away."
Reham bound on the mace, Tiis promptly ran,
And buckled on the broad Burgustuwan.
Rustem, meanwhile, the thickening tumult hears
And in his heart, untouched by human fears,
Says : " What is this, that feeling seems to stun !
" This battle must be led by Ahirmun,*
" The awful day of doom must have begun."
In haste he arms, and mounts his bounding steed,
The growing rage demands redoubled speed ;

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