The Shah Nameh of the Persian poet Firdausi online

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As if in sport, and death the end of all 1

After the achievement of this victory Afrasiytlb directed
that Karun should be pursued and attacked wherever he might
be found ; but when he heard that he had hurried on for the
protection of the shubistan, and had conquered and slain
Biirnuin, he gnawed his hands with rage. The reign of
Nauder lasted only seven years. After him Afra'siya'b was the
master of Persia.


It has already been said that Shimasas and Khazemln were
sent by Afra'siya'b with thirty thousand men against Kabul and
Zilbul, and when Zal heard of this movement he forthwith
united with Mihrdb the chief of Ka"bul, and having first
collected a large army in Sistdn, had a conflict with the two
Tartar generals.


7A\ promptly donned himself in war attire,

And, mounted like a hero, to the field

Hastened, his soldiers frowning on their steeds.

Now Khazervan grasps his huge battle-axe,

And, his broad shield extending, at one blow

Shivers the mail of Zal, who calls aloud

As, like a lion, to the fight he springs,

Armed with his father's mace. Sternly he looks

And with the fury of a dragon, drives

The weapon through his adversary's head,

Staining the ground with streaks of blood, resembling

The waving stripes upon a tiger's back.

At this time Eustem was confined at home with the small
pox. Upon the death of Khazerviln, Shimasiis thirsted to be
revenged ; but when Zal meeting him raised his mace, and
began to close, the chief became alarmed and turned back, and
all his squadrons followed his example]

Fled Shimasas, and all his fighting train,
Like herds by tempests scattered o'er the plain.

Zal set off in pursuit, and slew a great number of the
enemy ; but when Afrasiyab was made acquainted with this
defeat, he immediately released Nauder from his fetters, and in
his rage instantly deprived him of life.

He struck him and so deadly was the blow,
Breath left the body in a moment's space.

After this, Afrdsiyab turned his views towards Ttis and
Gustahem in the hope of getting them into his hands ; but as
soon as they received intimation of his object, the two brothers
retired from Inin, and went to Sisttin to live under the pro-
tection of Ztil. The champion received them with due respect
and honour. Ktlrum also went, with all the warriors and
people who had been supported by Nauder, and co-operated
with Zal, who encouraged them with the hopes of future
success. Zal, however, considered that both Tiis and Gustahem
were still of a tender age that a monarch of extraordinary
wisdom and energy was required to oppose Afrasiyjib that he


himself was not of the blood of the Kais, nor fit for the duties
of sovereignty, and, therefore, he turned his thoughts towards
Aghriras, the younger brother of Afrasiyab, distinguished as
he was for his valour, prudence, and humanity, and to whom
Poshang, his father, had given the government of Rai. To
him Zal sent an envoy, saying, that if he would proceed to
Sistan, he should be supplied with ample resources to place him
on the throne of Persia ; that by the co-operation of Zsit
and all his warriors the conquest would be easy, and that
there would be no difficulty in destroying the power of
Afrasiydb. Aghriras accepted the offer, and immediately pro-
ceeded from his kingdom of Rai towards Sistan. On his
arrival at Bdbel, Afrasiyab heard of his ambitious plans, and
lost no time in assembling his army and marching to arrest the
progress of his brother. Aghriras, unable to sustain a battle,
had recourse to negotiation and a conference, in which
Afrasiyab said to him, " "What rebellious conduct is this, of
which thou art guilty ? Is not the country of Rai sufficient
for thee, that thou art thus aspiring to be a great king ? "
Aghriras replied : " Why reproach and insult me thus ? Art
thou not ashamed to accuse another of rebellious conduct ?

Shame might have held thy tongue ; reprove not me

In bitterness ; God did not give thce power

To injure man, and surely not thy kin."

Afrasiyab, enraged at this reproof,

Replied by a foul deed he grasped his sword,

And with remorseless fury slew his brother !

"When intelligence of this cruel catastrophe came to ZuFs
ears, he exclaimed : " Now indeed has the empire of Afrasiyab
arrived at its crisis :

Yes, yes, the tyrant's throne is tottering now,
And past is all his glory."

Then Zal bound his loins in hostility against Afnisiyab, and
gathering together all his warriors, resolved upon taking


revenge for the death of Nauder, and expelling the tyrant froir
Persia. Neither Tiis nor Gusfcahem being yet capable ol
sustaining the cares and duties of the throne, his anxiety war
to obtain the assistance of some one of the race of Feridun.

These youths were for imperial rule unfit :
A king of royal lineage and worth
The state required, and none could he remember
Save Tahmasp's son, descended from the blood
Of Feridun.


At the time when Selim and Tiir were killed, Tahmasp, the
son of Selim, fled from the country and took refuge in an
island, where he died, and left a son named Zau. Ztll sent
Karun, the son of Kavah, attended by a proper escort, with
overtures to Zau, who readily complied, and was under favour-
able circumstances seated upon the throne :

Speedily, in arms,

He led his troops to Persia, fought, and won
A kingdom, by his power and bravery
And happy was the day when princely Zau
Was placed upon that throne of sovereignty ;
All breathed their prayers upon his future reign,
And o'er his head (the customary rite)
Shower'd gold and jewels.

When he had subdued the country, ne turned his arms
against Afrasiyab, who in consequence of losing the co-operation
of the Persians, and not being in a state to encounter a
superior force, thought it prudent to retreat, and return to his
father. The reign of Zau lasted five years, after which he
died, and was succeeded by his son Garshasp.




Garshiisp, whilst in liis minority, being unacquainted with
the affairs of government, abided in all things by the judgment
and counsels of Zal. When Afnisiyab arrived at Turan, his
father was in great distress and anger orf account of the in-
human murder of Aghriras ; and so exceedingly did he grieve,
that he would not endure his presence.

And when Afrasiyab returned, his sire,

Poshang, in grief, refused to see his face.

To him the day of happiness and joy

Had been obscured by the dark clouds of night ;

And thus he said : ' ; Why didst thou, why didst thou

In power supreme, without pretence of guilt,

With thy own hand his precious life destroy ?

Why hast thou shed thy innocent brother's blood ?

In this life thou art nothing now to me ;

Away, I must not see thy face again."

Afrasiyab continued offensive and despicable in the mind of
his father till he heard that Garshasp was unequal to rule over
Persia, and then thinking he could turn the warlike spirit of
Afrasiyab to advantage, he forgave the crime of his son. lie
forthwith collected an immense army, and sent him again to
effect the conquest of Iran, under the pretext of avenging the
death of Selim and Tur.

Afrasiydb a mighty army raised,
And passing plain and river, mountain high,
And desert wild, filled all the Persian realm
With consternation, universal dread.

The chief authorities of the country applied to Zal as their
only remedy against the invasion of Afrasiyab.

They said to Zal, " How easy is the task

For thee to grasp the world then, since thou canst

Afford us succour, yield the blessing now ;

For, lo ! the King Afrasiyab has come,

In all his power and overwhelming might."


Zal replied that he had on this occasion appointed Kustem
to command the army, and to oppose the invasion of Afnisiy;ib.

And thus the warrior Zal to Rustem spoke

" Strong as an elephant thou art, my son,

Surpassing thy companions, and I now

Forewarn thee that a- difficult emprize,

Hostile to ease or sleep, demands thy care.

Tis true, of battles thou canst nothing know,

But what am I to do ? This is no time

For banquetting. and yet thy lips still breathe

The scent of milk, a proof of infancy ;

Thy heart pants after gladness and the sweet

Endearments of domestic life ; can I

Then send thee to the war to cope with heroes

Burning with wrath and vengeance 1 " Rustem said,

" Mistake me not, I have no wish, not I,

For soft endearments, nor domestic life,

Nor home-felt joys. This chest, these nervous limbs,

Denote far other objects of pursuit,

Than a luxurious life of ease and pleasure."

Zal having taken great pains in the instruction of Rustem
in warlike exercises, and the rules of "battle, found infinite
aptitude in the boy, and his activity and skill seemed to be
superior to his own. He thanked God for the comfort it gave
him, and was glad. Then Rustcm asked his father for a
suitable mace ; and seeing the huge weapon which was borne
by the great Slim, he took it up, and it answered his purpose

When the young hero saw the mace of Siiru
He smiled with pleasure, and his heart rejoiced ;
And paying homage to his father Zal,
The champion of the age, asked for a steed
Of corresponding power, that he might use
That famous club with added force and vigour.

Ziil shewed him all the horses in his possession, and Rustcm
tried many, but found not one of sufficient strength to suit
nim. At last his eyes fell upon a mare followed by a foal of
great promise, beauty, and strength.

Seeing that foal, whose bright and glossy t-k!n
Was dappled o'er, like blossoms of the rose
Upon a saffron lawn, Rustem prepared
His noose, and held it ready in his baud.

O 2


The groom recommended him to secure the foal, as it was
the offspring of Abrcsh, born of a Di\v, or Demon, and called
Rakush. The dam had killed several persons who attempted
to seize her young one.

Now Rustem flings the noose, and suddenly
Kakush secures. Meanwhile the furious mare
Attacks him, eager with her pointed teeth
To crush his brain but, stunned by his loud cry,
She stops in wonder. Then with clenched hand
He smites her on the head and neck, and down
She tumbles, struggling in the pangs of death.

Rakush, however, though with the noose round his neck,
was not so easily subdued ; but kept dragging and pulling
Rustem, as if by a tether, and it was a considerable time before
the animal could be reduced to subjection. At last, Rustem
thanked Heaven that he had obtained the very horse ho

" Now am I with my horse prepared to join
The field of warriors ! " Thus the hero said,
And placed the saddle on his charger. Z;ii
Beheld him with delight, his withered heart
Glowing with summer freshness. Open then
He threw his treasury, thoughtless of the pnst
Or future present joy absorbing all
His faculties, and thrilling every nerve.

In a short time Zal sent Rustem with a prodigious army
against Afriisiyab, and two days afterwards set off himself and
joined his son. Afrdsiyab said, " The son is but a boy, and the
father is old ; I shall have no difficulty in recovering the
empire of Persia." These observations having reached Zal,
he pondered deeply, considering that Garshasp would not be
ble to contend against Afrasiyab, and that no other prince of
the race of Feridiin was known to be in existence. However,
he dispatched people in every quarter to gather information on
the subject, and at length Kai-kobad was understood to be
residing in obscurity on the mountain Alberz, distinguished for
his wisdom and valour, and his qualifications for the exercise of


sovereign power. Zal therefore recommended Rustcm to pro-
ceed to Alborz, and bring him from his concealment.

Tims Zal to Eastern spoke, " Go forth, my son,
Ami speedily perform this pressing duty,
To linger would be dangerous. Say to him,
' The army is prepared the throne is ready,
And thou alone, of the Kaianian race,
Deemed fit for sovereign rule.' "

Rustem accordingly mounted Rakush, and accompanied by a
powerful force, pursued his way towards the mountain Alberz ;
and though the road was infested by the troops of Afnisiyab,
he valiantly overcame every difficulty that was opposed to his
progress. On reaching the vicinity of Alberz, he observed a
beautiful spot of ground studded with luxuriant trees, and
watered by glittering rills. There too, sitting upon a throne,
placed in the shade on the flowery margin of a stream, he
saw a young man, surrounded by a company of friends and
attendants, and engaged at a gorgeous entertainment. Ilustem,
when he came near, was hospitably invited to partake of the
feast : but this he declined, saying, that he was on an important
mission to Alberz, which forbade the enjoyment of any pleasure
till his task was accomplished ; in short, that he was in search
of Kai-kobad : but upon being told that he would there receive
intelligence of him, he alighted and approached the bank of the
stream where the company was assembled. The young man
who was seated upon the golden throne took hold of the hand
of Rustcm, and filling up a goblet with wine, gave another to
his guest, and asked him at whose command or suggestion he
was in search of Kai-kobtld. Rustern replied, that he was scut
by his father Zal, and frankly communicated to him the special
object they had in view. The young man, delighted with the
information, immediately discovered himself, acknowledged thai
.he was Kai-kobild, and then Rustem respectfully hailed him as
the sovereign of Persia.

The banquet was resumed again
And, hark, the softly warbled strain,


As harp and flute, in union sweet,

The voices of the singers meet.

The black-eyed damsels now display

Their art in many an amorous lay ;

And now the song is loud and clear.

And speaks of Rustem's welcome here.

" This is a day, a glorious day,

That drives ungenial thoughts away ;

This is a day to make us glad,

Since Rustem comes for Kai-kob;id ;

O, let us pass our time in glee,

And talk of Jemshid's majesty.

The pomp and glory of his reign,

And still the sparkling goblet drain.

Come, Saki, fill the wine-cup high,

And let not even its brim be dry ;

For wine alone has power to part

The rust of sorrow from the heart.

TDrink to the king, in merry mood,

Since fortune smiles, and wine is good ;

Quaffing red wine is better far

'J han shedding blood in strife, or war ;

Man is but dust, and why should he

Become a fire of enmity 1

Drink deep, all other cares resign.

For what can vie with ruby wine ? "

In this manner ran the song of the revellers. After which,
and being rather merry with wine, Kai-kobad told Rustem of
the dream that had induced him to descend from his place of
refuge on Alberz, and to prepare a banquet on the occasion.
He dreamt the night before that two white falcons from Persia
placed a splendid crown upon his head, and this vision was in-
terpreted by Rustem as symbolical of his father and himself,
who at that moment were engaged in investing him with
kingly power. The hero then solicited the young sovereign to
hasten his departure for Persia, and preparations were made
vithout delay. They travelled night and day, and fell in with
Averal detachments of the enemy, which were easily repulsed
"jy the valour of Rustem. The fiercest attack proceeded from
Keliin, one of Afrasiydb's warriors, near the confines of Persia,
who in the encounter used his spear with great dexterity and


Put Rustcm with his javelin soon transfixed

The Tartar knight who in the eyes of all

1 'inked like a spitted chicken down he sunk.

An I all his soldiers lied in wild dismay.

'1 li ii Uusicm turned aside, and found a spot

A\ here verdant meadows smiled, and streamlets flowed,

Inviting weary travellers to rest.

There they awhile remained and when the sun

Went down, and night had darkened all the sky,

The champion joyfully pursued his way,

And brought the monarch to his father's house.

Seven days they sat in council on the eighth

Young Kai-kobad was crowned and placed upon

The ivory throne in presence of his warriors,

Wlio all besought him to commence the war

Against the Tartar prince, Afrasiyab.


Kai-kob;ld having been raised to the throne at a council of
the warriors, and advised to oppose the progress of Afrasiydb,
immediately assembled his army. Mihrab, the ruler of Kabul,
was appointed to one wing, and Gustahcm to the other the
centre was given to Kiirun and Kishwad, and Rustem was placed
in. front, Ziil with Kai-kobad remaining in the rear. The glo-
rious standard of Kavah streamed upon the breeze.

On the other side, Afrasiydb prepared for battle, assisted by
his heroes Akbds, "Wisah, Shimasas, and Gerslwaz ; and so great
was the clamour and confusion which proceeded from both
"armies, that earth and sky seemed blended together.* The
clattering of hoofs, the shrill roar of trumpets, the rattle of

* The numerical strength of the Persian and Turanian forces appears pro-
digious on all occasions, but nothing when compared with the army under
Xerxes at Thermopylae, which, with the numerous retinue of servants,
eunuchs, and women that attended it, is said to have amounted to no less
than 5,283,220 souls.


brazen drums, and the vivid glittering of spear and shield, pro-
duced indescribable tumult anJ. splendour.

Karon was the first in action, and he brought many a her
to the ground. He singled out Shimasas ; and after a desperate
struggle, laid him breathless on the field. Rustem, stimulated
by these exploits, requested his father, Zal, to point out Afra-
siyab, that he might encounter him ; but Zal endeavoured to
dissuade him from so hopeless an effort, saying,

" My son, be wise, and peril not thyself ;
Black is his banner, and his cuirass black
His limbs are cased in iron on his head
He wears an iron helm and high before him
Floats the black ensign ; equal in his might
To ten strong men, he never in one place
Remains, but everywhere displays his power.
The crocodile has in the rolling stream
No safety ; and a mountain,' formed of steel,
Even at the mention of Afrasiyab,
Melts into water. Then, beware of him."
Rustem replied : " Be not alarmed for me
My heart, my arm, my dagger, are my castle,
And Heaven befriends me let him but appear,
Diagon or Demon, and the field is mine."

Then Rustem valiantly urged Rakush towards the Tunluian
army, and called out aloud. As soon as Afrasiyab beheld him,
he inquired who he could be, and he was told, " This is Rustem,
the son of Zal. Seest thou not in his hand the battle-axe of
Sam ? The youth has come in search of renown." When the
combatants closed, they struggled for some time together, and
at length Rustem seized the girdle-belt of his antagonist, and
threw him from his saddle. He wished to drag the captive as
a trophy to Kai-kobdd, that his first great victory might bo
remembered, but unfortunately the belt gave way, and Afra-
siyab fell on the ground. Immediately the fallen chief was
surrounded and rescued by his own warriors, but not before
Rustem had snatched off his crown, and carried it away with
the broken girdle which was left in his hand. And now a
general engagement took place. Rustem being reinforced by
the advance of the king, with Zdl and Mihnlb at his side,


Both armies seemed so closely waging war.
Thou wouldst have said,* that they were mixed together.
The earth shook with the tramping of the steeds,
Rattled the drums ; loud clamours from the troops
Echoed around, and from the iron grasp
Of warriors, many a life was spent in air.
With his huge mace, cow-headed, Rustem dyed
The ground with crimson and wherever seen,
Urging impatiently his fiery horse,
Heads severed fell like withered leaves in autumn.
If. brandishing his sword, he struck the head,
Horseman and steed were downward cleft in twain-
And if his side-long blow was on the loins,
The sword passed through, as easily as the blade
Slices a cucumber. The blood of heroes
Deluged the plain. On that tremendous day,
With sword and dagger, battle-axe and noosc.f
He cut, and tore, and broke, and bound the brave,
Slaying and making captive. At one swoop
More than a thousand fell by his own hand.

Zal beheld his son with amazement and delight. The Ttini-
nians left the fire- worshippers in possession of the field, and
retreated towards the Jihun with precipitation, not a sound of
drum or trumpet denoting their track. After halting three
days in a state of deep dejection and misery, they continued
their retreat along the banks of the Jilnin. The Persian army,

* This mode of expression, so frequent in Firclausf, and which makes the
reader a spectator of the scene described, is constantly to be met with in
Homer. Longinus has pointed out its peculiar force and beauty, and gives
the following observations on the subject "A very powerful dramatic efficacy
arises from a change of persons, which frequently makes the hearer or reader
imagine himself engaged in the midst of danger :

"Thou wouldst have thought, so furious was their fire I

No force could tame them, and no toil could tire." ILIAD, xv. 844.

11 And where the discourse is addressed to an individual ; as in this example

" Thou hadst not known with whom Tydidcs fought." ILIAD, v. 85.

f Herodotus speaks of a people confederated with the army of Xerxes, who
employed the noose. "Their principal dependance in action is upon cords
made of twisted leather, which they use in this manner : when they engage an
enemy, they throw out these cords, having a noose at the extremity ; if they
entangle in them either horse or man, they without difficulty put them to
death." Beloe's transl. Polymnia, Sec. 85.


upon the flight of the enemy, fell bajk with their prisoners of
war, ad Rustem was received by the king with distinguished
honour. When Afrusiy;ib returned to his father, he communi-
cated to him, with a heavy heart, the misfortunes of the battle,
and the power that had been arrayed against him, dwelling
with wonder and admiration on the stupendous valour of

Seeing my sable banner,
He to the fight came like a crocodile,
Thou wouldst have said his breath searched up the plain ;
He seized my girdle with such mighty force
As if he would have torn my joints asunder ;
And raised me from my saddle that I seemed
An insect in his grasp but presently
The golden girdle broke, and down I fell
Ingloriously upon the dusty ground ;
But J was rescued by my warrior train I
Thou knowest my valour, how my nerves are strung,
And may conceive the wondrous strength, whicli thus
Sunk me to nothing. Iron is his frame,
And marvellous his power ; peace, peace, alone
Can save us and our country from destruction.

Poshang, considering the luckless state of affairs, and the
loss of so many valiant warriors, thought it prudent to ac-
quiesce in the wishes of Afnlsiyiib, and sue for peace. To this
end Wisah was intrusted with magnificent presents, and the
overtures which in substance ran thus : " Mimichihr was re-
venged upon Tiir and Selim for the death of Irij. Afrasiyiib
again has revenged their death upon Nauder, the son of
Minuchihr, and now Rustem has conquered Afnisiytib. But
why should we any longer keep the world in confusion Why
should we not be satisfied with what Feridiin, in his wisdom,
decreed ? Continue in the empire which he appropriated to
Irij, and let the Jihtm be the boundary between us, for are we
not connected by blood, and of one family ? Let our kingdoms
be gladdened with the blessings of peace."

When these proposals of peace reached Kai-kobiid, the fol-
lowing onswer was returned :


" Well dost thou know that I was not the first
To wage this war. From Tiir, thy ancestor,
The str.fe began. Bethink tlice how he slew
The gentle ' r 'J ^' s owu brother ; how,
1 n these our da3*s. thy son, Af rsisiyab,
Crossing the Jihun, with a numerous force
Invaded Persia think how Nandcr died !
Not in the field of battle, like a hero,
But murdered by thy son who, ever cruel,
Afterwards stabbed his brother, young Aghriras,
80 deeply mourned by thee. Yet do I thirst not
For vengeance, or for strife. I yield the realm
Beyond "the Jihun let that river be
The boundary between us ; but thy son,
Afrasiyab. must take his solemn oath
Never to cross that limit, or disturb
The Persian throne again ; thus pledged, I grant
The peace solicited/'

The messenger without delay conveyed this welcome intelli-

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