The Shah Nameh of the Persian poet Firdausi online

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more of tli-.; world ; he therefore visited several other places,
and proceeded as far as Kdbul, where he pitched his tents, and
remained for some time.

* The province of Mazinder&n, of which the principal city is Amol, compre-
hends the whol<j of the southern coast of the Caspian sea. It was known to
the ancients ! the name of Hyrcania. At the period to which the text
refers, the country was in the possession of demons.



The chief of Kabul was descended from the family of Zohak.
He was named Mihrjib, and to secure the safety of his state,
paid annual tribute to Sum. Mihrab, on the arrival of Zal,
went out of the city to see him, and was hospitably entertained
by the young hero, who soon discovered that he had a daughter
of wonderful attractions.

Her name Rudabeh ; skreened from public view,

Her countenance is brilliant as the sun ;

From head to foot her lovely form is fair

As polished ivory. Like the spring, her cheek

Presents a radiant bloom, in stature tall,

And o'er her silvery brightness, richly flow

Dark musky ringlets clustering to her feet.

She blushes like the rich pomegranate flower;

Her eyes are soft and sweet as the narcissus,

Her lashes from the raven's jetty plume

Have stolen their blackness, and her brows are bent

Like archer's bow. Ask ye to see the moon ?

Look at her face. Seek ye for musky fragrance ?

She is all sweetness. Her long fingers seem

Pencils of silver, and so beautiful

Her presence, that she breathes of Heaven and love.

Such was the description of Rudabeh,* which inspired the

* Firdausiis very exuberant in his account of Rudabeh. Female beauty lias
always been a darling subject with the poets of all nations, and they Lave
generally embellished it with all their powers of description.

In comparing the Greek and Persian notions of female beauty and its
attributes, we find no important disparity, but a much closer resemblance
than might be expected, considering the physical difference between the two
countries. For the imagery of every genuine poet must be derived from
what be is accustomed to see, from the natural objects and circumstances by
which he is surrounded. Hence it is that every country must have what
Dr. Johnson calls, " traditional imagery, and hereditary similes." The Odea
of Hafiz have all the rich imagery of the Teian bard, besides an abundance o.f
beautiful epithets, unknown to the Greek, drawn from the varied productions!
of a still more genial climate.

The following is a fuller description of the charms of B iileh :

If thou would'st make her charms a r
Tliiuk of the Sun so bright and clear


heart of Zal with the most violent affection, and mv;;;
added to her charms.

Mihrab again waited on Zal, who received him graciously,
and asked him in what manner he could promote his wishes.
Mihriib said that he only desired him to become his guest at a
banquet he intended to invite him to ; but Zal thought proper
to refuse, because he well knew, if he accepted an invitation of
the kind from a relation of Zoluik, that his father Sam and the
King of Persia would be offended. Mihrab returned to Kabul
disappointed, and having gone into his harem, his wife, Sin-
dokht, inquired after the stranger from Zubul, the white-headed
son of Sam. She wished to know what he was like, in form
and feature, and what account he gave of his sojourn with the
Simurgh. Mihrab described him in the warmest terms of ad-
miration he was valiant, he said, accomplished and handsome,
with no other defect than that of white hair. And so bound-
less was his praise, that Riidabeh, who was present, drank every
word with avidity, and felt her own heart warmed into admira-

And brighter far, with softer light,
The maiden strikes the dazzled sight.
Think of her skin, with what compare I
Ivory was never half so fair !
Her stature like the Sabin tree ;
Her eyes ! so full of witchery,
Glow like the Nirgis * tenderly.
Her arching brows their magic fling,
Dark as the raven's glossy wing.
Soft o'er her blooming cheek is spread,
The rich pomegranate's vivid red.
Upon her bosom, white as snow,
Two vennil buds, in secret, blow.
Her musky ringlets, nnconfined,
In clustering meshes roll behind.
Love ye the moon ? Behold her face,
And there the lucid planet trace.
If breath of musky fragrance please,
Her balmy odours scent the breeze ;
I'us^'d of every sportive wile,
Tis heaven, 'tis bliss, to see her smile !

This imagery is all familiar to European taste, not excepting even tho
usion to the moon, which has usually been considered peculiar to the Poetry

* The Narcissus, to which the eyes of beautiful women are usually compared.


I love. Full of emotion, she afterwards said privately
to h attendants :

'' 10 you alone the secret of my heart

I now unic'.cl ; to you alone confess

The deep sensations of my captive soul.

I love, I love ; all day and night of him

I think alone I see him in my dreams

You only know my secret aid me now,

And soothe the sorrows of my bursting heart."

The attendants were startled with this confession and in-
treaty, and ventured to remonstrate against so preposterous an

" What 1 hast thou lost all sense of shame,

All value for thy honoured name !

That thou, in loveliness supreme,

Of every tongue the constant theme.

Should choose, and on another's word,

The nursling of a Mountain Bird 1

A being never seen before,

Which human mother never bore 1

And can the hoary locks of age,

A youthful heart like thine engage ?

Must thy enchanting form be prest

To such a dubious monster's breast 1

And all thy beauty's rich array,

Thy peerless charms be thrown away ? "

This violent remonstrance was more calculated to rouse (he
indignation of Rudabeh than to induce her to change her mi ml.
It did so. But she subdued her resentment, and again dwelt
rpon the ardour of her passion.

" My attachment is fixed, my election is made,
And when hearts are enchained 'tis in vain to upbraid
Neither Kizar nor Faghfiir I wish to behold.
Nor the monarch of Persia with jewels and gold ;
All, all I despise, save the choice of my heart,
And from his beloved image I never can part.
Call him aged, or young, 'tis a fruitless endeavour
To uproot a desire I must cherish for ever ;
Call him old, call him young, who can passion controul '
Ever present, and loved, he entrances my soul.
'Tis for him I exist him I worship alone,
And my heart it must bleed till I call him my own.'


As soon as the attendants found that Riidabeh's attachment
was deeply fixed, and not to be removed, they changed their
purpose, and became obedient to her wishes, anxious to pursue
any measure that might bring Zal and their mistress together.
Rudiibeh was delighted with this proof of their regard.

It was spring time, and the attendants repaired towards the
halting-place of Zal, in the neighbourhood of the city. Their
occupation seemed to be gathering roses along the romantic
banks of a pellucid streamlet, and when they purposely strayed
opposite the tent of Zal, he observed them, and asked his
friends why they presumed to gather roses in his garden.
He was told that they were damsels sent by the moon of
Kabulistan from the palace of Mihrab to gather roses, and
upon hearing this his heart was touched with emotion. He
rose up and rambled about for amusement, keeping the direc-
tion of the river, followed by a servant with a bow. He was
not far from the damsels, when a bird sprung up from the
water, which he shot, upon the wing, with an arrow. The
bird happened to fall near the rose-gatherers, and Zal ordered
his servant to bring it to him. The attendants of Rudabeh
lost not the opportunity, as he approached them, to inquire
who the archer was. " Know ye not," answered the servant,
" that this is Nirnruz, the son of Sam, and also called Dustan,
the greatest warrior ever known." At this the damsels smiled,
and said that they too belonged to a person of distinction and
not of inferior worth to a star in the palace of Mihrab. " We
have come from Kabul to the king of Zabulistan, and should
Zal and Rudabeh be of equal rank, her ruby lips may become
acquainted with his, and their wished-for union be effected."
When the servant returned, Zal was immediately informed of
the conversation that had taken place, and in consequence pre-
sents were prepared.

They who to gather roses came went back
With precious gems and honorary robes ;
And two bright finger-rings were secretly
Sent to the princess.


Then did the attendants of Riidtlbeh exult in the success of
their artifice, and say that the lion had come into their toils.
Kiidiibeh herself, however, had some fears on the subject. She
anxiously sought to know exactly the personal appearance of
Zal, and happily her warmest hopes were realized by the de-
scription she received. But one difficulty remained how were
they to meet ? How Avas she to see with her own eyes the man
whom her fancy had depicted in such glowing colours ? Her
attendants, sufficiently expert at intrigue, soon contrived the
means of gratifying her wishes. There was a beautiful rural
retreat in a sequestered situation, the apartments of which were
adorned with pictures of great men, and ornamented in the
most splendid manner. To this favourite place Rudabeh re-
tired, and most magnificently dressed, awaiting the coming of
Ziil. whom her attendants had previously invited to repair
thither as soon as the sun had gone down. The shadows of
evening were falling as he approached, and the enamoured
princess thus addressed him from her balcony :

" May happiness attend thee ever, thou,
Whose lucid features make this gloomy night
Clear as the day ; whose perfume scents the breeze ;
Thou who, regardless of fatigue, hast come
On foot too, thus to see me "

Hearing a sweet voice, he looked up, and beheld a bright face
in the balcony, and he said to the beautiful vision :

" How often have I hoped that Heaven

Would, in some secret place display
Thy charms to me, and thou hast given

My heart the wish of many a day ;
For now thy gentle voice I hear,

And now I see thee speak again !
Speak freely in a willing ear,

And every wish thou hast obtain."

Not a word was lost upon Kiiddbeh, and she soon accom-
plished her object. Her hair was so luxuriant, and of such a
length, that casting it loose it flowed clown from the balcony ;


and, after fastening the upper part to a ring, she requested Ziil
to take hold of the other end and mount up. lie ardently
kissed the musky tresses, and by them quickly ascended.

Then hand in hand within the chambers they
Gracefully passed. Attractive was the scene,
The walls embellished by the painter's skill,
And every object exquisitely formed,
Sculpture, and architectural ornament,
Fit for a king. Zdl with amazement gazed
Upon what art had done, but more he gazed
Upon the witching radiance of his love,
Upon her tulip cheeks, her musky locks,
Breatting the sweetness of a summer garden ;
Upon the sparkling brightness of her rings,
Necklace, and bracelets, glittering on her arms.
His mien too was majestic on his head
He wore a ruby crown, and near his breast
Was seen a belted dagger. Fondly she
With side-long glances marked his noble aspect,
The fine proportions of his graceful limbs,
His strength and beauty. Her enamoured heart
Suffused her cheek with blushes, every glance
Increas'd the ardent transports of her soul.
So mild was his demeanour, he appeared
A gentle lion toying with his prey.
Long they remained rapt in admiration
Of each other. At length the warrior rose,
And thus addressed her : " It becomes not us
To be forgetful of the path of prudence,
Though love would dictate a more ardent course,
How oft has Sam. my father, counselled me,
Against unseeming thoughts, unseemly deeds,
Always to choose the right, and shun the wrong.
How will he burn with anger when he hears
This new adventure ; how will Miniichihr
Indignantly reproach me for this dream !
This waking dream of rapture ! but I call
High Heaven to witness what I now declare
Whoever may oppose my sacred vows,
I still am thine, affianced thine, for ever."

And thus Rudabeh : " Thou hast won my heart,
And kings may sue in vain ; to thee devoted,
Thou art alone my warrior and my love."
Thus they exclaimed, then Zal with fond adieus
Softly descended from the balcony,
And hastened to his tent.

As speedily as possible he assembled together his counsellors
and Miibids to obtain their advice on the present extraordinary


occasion, and he represented to them the sacred importance of
encouraging matrimonial alliances.

For marriage is a contract sealed by Heaven
How happy is the Warrior's lot, amidst
His smiling children ; when he dies, his son
Succeeds him, and enjoys his rank and name.
And is it not a glorious thing to sny
This is the son of Zal, or this of Sam,
The heir of his renowned progenitor ?

He then related to them the story of his love and affection
for the daughter of Mihrab ; but the Miibids, well knowing
that the chief of Kabul was of the family of Zolulk, the serpent-
king, did not approve the union desired, which excited the
indignation of Zal. They, however, recommended his writing
a letter to Sam, who might, if he thought proper, refer the
matter to "Mimichihr. The letter was accordingly written and
dispatched, and when Sam received it, he immediately referred
the question to his astrologers, to know whether the nuptials, if
solemnized between Zal and Rudiibeh, would be prosperous or
not. They foretold that the nuptials would be prosperous, and
that the issue would be a son of wonderful strength and power,
the conqueror of the world. This announcement delighted the
heart of the old warrior, and he sent the messenger back with
the assurance of his approbation of the proposed union, but
requested that the subject might be kept concealed till he
returned with his army from the expedition to Karugsar, and
was able to consult with Mimichihr.

Zal, exulting at his success, communicated the glad tidings
to KmLibeh by their female emissary, who had hitherto carried
on successfully the correspondence between them. But as she
was conveying an answer to this welcome news, and some pre-
sents to Zal, Sindokht, the mother of Rudabeh, detected her,
and, examining the contents of the packet, she found sufficient
evidence, she thought, of something wrong.

" What treachery is this ? What have we here !
Sfrbund and male attire ! Thou, wretch, confess !
Disclose thy secret doings.' 1


The emissary, however, betrayed nothing ; but declared that
she was a dealer in jewels and dresses, and had been only
shewing her merchandize to Riidabeh. Sindokht, in extreme
agitation of mind, hastened to her daughter's apartment to
ascertain the particulars of this affair, when Riidabeh at once
fearlessly acknowledged her unalterable affection for Zal.

" I love him so devotedly, all day,
All night my tears have flowed unceasingly ;
And one hair of his head I prize more dearly
Than all the world beside ; for him I live ;
And we have met, and we have sat together,
And pledged our mutual love with mutual joy
And innocence of heart."

Rudabch further informed her of Sam's consent to their
nuptials, which in some degree satisfied the mother. But when
Mihrab was made acquainted with the arrangement, his rage
was unbounded, for he dreaded the resentment of Sam and
Minuchihr when the circumstances became fully known to
them. Trembling with indignation he drew his dagger, and
would have instantly rushed to Rudabeh's chamber to destroy
her, had not Sindokht Mien at his feet and restrained him.
He insisted, however, on her being brought before him ; and
upon his promise not to do her any harm, Sindokht complied.
Riidabeh disdained to take off her ornaments to appear as an
offender and a supplicant, but, proud of her choice, went into
her father's presence, gaily adorned with jewels, and in splendid
apparel. Mihrab received her with surprise.

" Why all this glittering finery ? Is the devil
United to an angel 1 When a snake
Is met with in Arabia, it is killed 1 "

But Rudabeh answered not a word, and was permitted to retire
with her mother.

When Minuchihr was apprized of the proceedings between
Zal and Rudabeh, he was deeply concerned, anticipating nothing
but confusion and ruin to Persia from the united influence of
Zal and Mihrab. Feridtm had purified the world from the


abominations of Zohak, and as Mihrab was a descendant of
that merciless tyrant, he feared that some attempt would be
made to resume the enormities of former times : Sam was
therefore required to give his advice on the occasion.

The conqueror of Karugsar and Mazinderan was received on
his return with cordial rejoicings, and he charmed the Icing
with the story of his triumphant success. The monarch against
whom he had fought was descended, on the mother's side, from
Zohak, and his Demon army was more numerous than ants, or
clouds of locusts, covering mountain and plain. Sam thus pro-
ceeded in his description of the conflict.

" And when he heard my voice, and saw what deeds

I had performed, approaching me, he threw

His noose ; but downward bending I escaped,

And with my bow I showered upon his head

Steel-pointed arrows, piercing through the brain ;

Then did I grasp his loins, and from his horse

Cast him upon the ground, deprived of life.

At this, the demons terrified and pale,

Shrunk back, some flying to the mountain wilds,

And others, taken on the battle-field,

Became obedient to the Persian king."

Minuchihr, gratified by this result of the expedition, ap-
pointed Sam to a new enterprise, which was to destroy Kabul
by fire and sword, especially the house of Mihrab ; and that
ruler, of the serpent-race, and all his adherents were to be put
to death. Sam, before he took leave to return to his own
government at Zabul, tried to dissuade him from this violent
exercise of revenge, but without making any sensible impression
upon him.

Meanwhile the vindictive intentions of Minuchihr, which
were soon known at Kabul, produced the greatest alarm and
consternation in the family of Mihrab. Zal now returned to
his father, and Sam sent a letter to Minuchihr, again to
deprecate his wrath, and appointed Zal the messenger. In this
letter Sam enumerates bis services at Karugsar and Mazinderan,
and especially dwells upon the destruction of a prodigious


" I am thy servant, and twice sixty years
Have seen my prowess. Mounted on my steed,
Wielding my battle-axe, o'erthrowing heroes,
Who equals Sam, the warrior ? I destroyed
The mighty monster, whose devouring jaws
Unpeopled half the land, and spread dismay
From town to town. The world was full of horror,
No bird was seen in air, no beast of prey
In plain or forest ; from the stream he drew
The crocodile ; the eagle from the sky.
The country had no habitant alive,
And when I found no human being left,
I cast away all fear, and girt my loins,
And in the name of God went boldly forth,
Armed for the strife. I saw him towering rise,
Huge as a mountain, with his hideous hair
Dragging upon the ground ; his long black tongue
Shut up the path ; his eyes two lakes of blood ;
And, seeing me, so horrible his roar,
The earth shook with affright, and from his mouth
A flood of poison issued. Like a lion
Forward I sprang, and in a moment drove
A diamond-pointed arrow through his tongue,
Fixing him to the ground. Another went
Down his deep throat, and dreadfully he writhed.
A third passed through his middle. Then I raised
My battle-axe, cow-headed, and with one
Tremendous blow, dislodged his venomous brain,
And deluged all around with blood and poison.
There lay the monster dead, and soon the world
Regained its peace and comfort. Now I'm old,
The vigour of my youth is past and gone,
And it becomes me to resign my station,
To Zal, my gallant son."

Mihrab continued in such extreme agitation, that in his own
mind he saw no means of avoiding the threatened desolation of
his country but by putting his wife and daughter to death.
Sindokht however had a better resource, and suggested the
expediency of waiting upon Sam herself, to induce him to
forward her own views and the nuptials between Ziil and
Rudabeh. To this Mihrab assented, and she proceeded,
mounted on a richly caparisoned horse, to Zabul with most
magnificent presents, consisting of three hundred thousand
dinars ; ten horses with golden, and thirty with silver, housings ;
sixty richly attired damsels, carrying golden trays of je\vels and


musk, and camphor, and wine, and sugar ; forty pieces of
figured cloth ; a hundred milch camels, and a hundred others
for burthen ; two hundred Indian swords, a golden crown and
throne, and four elephants. Sam was amazed and embarrassed
by the arrival of this splendid array. If he accepted the
presents, he would incur the anger of Miniichihr ; and if he
rejected them, Zal would be disappointed and driven to despair.
He at length accepted them, and concurred in the wishes of
Siudokht respecting the union of the two lovers.

When Zal arrived at the court of Miniichihr, he was received
with honour, and the letter of Slim being read, the king was
prevailed upon to consent to the pacific proposals that were
made in favour of Mihrab, and the nuptials. He too con-
sulted his astrologers, and was informed that the offspring of
Zal and Rudabeh would be a hero of matchless strength and
valour. Zal, on his return through Kabul, had an interview
with Rudabeh, who welcomed him in the most rapturous
terms :

Be thou for ever blest, for I adore thee,

And make the dust of thy fair feet my pillow.

In short, with the approbation of all parties the marriage at
length took place, and was celebrated at the beautiful summer-
house where first the lovers met. Sam was present at Kabul
on the happy occasion, and soon afterwards returned to Sistan,
preparatory to resuming his martial labours in Karugsar and

As the time drew near that Rudabeh should become a
mother, she suffered extremely from constant indisposition, and
both Zal and Sindokht were in the deepest distress on account
of her precarious state.

The cypress leaf was withering ; pale she lay,
Unsoothed by rest or sleep, death seemed approaching.

At last Zal recollected the feather of the Simurgh, and
followed the instructions which he had received, by placing it


on the fire. In a moment darkness surrounded them, which
was, however, immediately dispersed by the sudden appearance
of the Siruurgh. "Why," said the Slmurgh, "do I see all this
grief and sorrow ? "Why are the tear-drops in the warrior's
eyes ? A child will be bom of mighty power, who will become
the wonder of the world."

The Simurgh then gave some advice which was implicitly
attended to, and the result was that Kudabeh was soon out of
danger. Never was beheld so prodigious a child. The father
and mother were equally amazed. They called the boy Eastern.
On the first day he looked a year old, and he required the milk
of ten nurses. A likeness of him was immediately worked in
silk, representing him upon a horse, and armed like a warrior,
which was sent to Sam, who was then fighting in Mazinderan,
and it made the old champion almost delirious with joy. At
Kabul and Zabul there was nothing but feasting and rejoicing,
as soon as the tidings were known, and thousands of dinars
were given away in charity to the poor. When Rustem was
five years of age, he ate as much as a man, and some say that
even in his third year he rode on horseback. In his eighth
year he was as powerful as any hero of the time.

In beauty of form and in vigour of limb,*
No mortal was ever seen equal to him.

* In the heroic ages of Persia, as in the early periods of every nation, feats
of personal activity and muscular strength, constituted the most prominent
features of a champion, and accordingly Firdausf has thought it necessary to
give his hero extraordinary size and gigantic breadtii of limb. Hercules had
almost completed his eighth month before he strangled the serpents which
Juno had sent to devour him ; but Rustem, when a day old, was like a child
of twelve months. When three years old he was fond of warlike pursuits and
rode on horseback, and when ten, there was not a man in that country who
could contend with him in battle. In wrestling, and other violent exercises,

Online LibraryFirdawsiThe Shah Nameh of the Persian poet Firdausi → online text (page 7 of 35)