Shah-nama (The Epic of Kings)

By Firdausi

Translated by Helen Zimmern [1883]



The Shahs of Old



Zal and Rudabeh


The March into Mazinderan

Kai Kaous Committeth More Follies

Rustem and Sohrab


The Return of Kai Khosrau


The Vengeance of Kai Khosrau

Byzun and Manijeh

The Defeat of Afrasiyab

The Passing of Kai Khosrau


Rustem and Isfendiyar

The Death of Rustem


Whilom the fancy seized upon the Shah of Iran that he would visit his empire, and look face to face upon his vassals, and exact their tribute. So he passed from Turan into China, and from Mikran into Berberistan. And wheresoever he passed men did homage before him, for the bull cannot wage battle with the lion. But it could not remain thus for ever, and already there sprang forth thorns in the garden of roses. For while the fortunes of the world thus prospered, a chieftain raised the standard of revolt in Egypt, and the people of the land turned them from the gates of submission unto Iran. And there was joined unto them the King of Hamaveran, who desired to throw off the yoke of Persia. But Kai Kaous, when the tidings thereof came unto him, got ready his army and marched against the rebels. And when he came before them, their army, that had seemed invincible, was routed, and the King of Hamaveran was foremost to lay down his arms and ask pardon of his Shah. And Kai Kaous granted his petition, and the King departed joyously from out his presence. Then one of those who stood about the Shah said unto him:

"Is it known to thee, O Shah, that this King hideth behind his curtains a daughter of beauty? It would beseem my lord that he should take this moon unto himself for wife."

And Kai Kaous answered, "Thy counsel is good, and I will therefore send messengers unto her father, and demand of him that he give me his daughter as tribute, and to cement the peace that hath been made between us."

When the King of Hamaveran heard this message his heart was filled with gall, and his head was heavy with sorrow, and he murmured in his spirit that Kai Kaous, who owned the world, should desire to take from him his chiefest treasure. And he hid not his grief from the Shah in his answer, but he wrote also that he knew it behoved him to do the thing that Kai Kaous desired. Then in his distress he called before him Sudaveh his daughter, whom he loved, and he told her all his troubles, and bade her counsel him how he should act. For he said:

"If I lose thee, the light of my life is gone out. Yet how may I stand against the Shah?"

And Sudaveh replied, "If there be no remedy, I counsel thee to rejoice at that which cannot be changed."

Now when her father heard these words he knew that she was not afflicted concerning that which was come about. So he sent for the envoy of Kai Kaous and assented unto his demands, and they concluded an alliance according to the forms of the land. Then when the King had poured gifts before the messenger, and feasted him with wine, he sent forth an escort to bear his daughter unto the tents of the Shah. And the young moon went forth in a litter, and she was robed in garbs of splendour, and when Kai Kaous beheld her loveliness he was struck dumb for very joy. Then he raised Sudaveh unto the throne beside him, and named her worthy to be his spouse. And they were glad in each other, and rejoiced; but all was not to be well thus quickly.

For the King of Hamaveran was sore in his heart that the light of his life was gone from him, and he cast about in his spirit how he should regain her unto himself. And when she had been gone but seven days, he sent forth a messenger unto Kai Kaous and entreated him that he would come and feast within his gates, so that all the land might rejoice in their alliance.

When Sudaveh heard this message her mind misgave her, and she feared evil. Wherefore she counselled the Shah that he should abstain from this feast. But Kai Kaous would not listen unto the fears of Sudaveh, he would not give ear unto her warning. Wherefore he went forth unto the city of the King of Hamaveran, and made merry with him many days. And the King caused gifts to be rained down upon Kai Kaous, and he flattered him, and cozened his vanity, and he made much of his men, and he darkened their wits with fair words and sweet wine. Then when he had lulled their fears, and caused them to forget wherefore and why and all knowledge of misfortune, he fell upon them and bound them with strong chains, and overthrew their glories and their thrones. And Kai Kaous did he send unto a fortress whose head touched the sky and whose foot was planted in the ocean. Then he sent forth a strong band into the camp of Iran, and veiled women went with them, and he charged them that they bring back Sudaveh unto his arms.

Now when Sudaveh saw the men and the women that went with them she guessed what was come about, and she cried aloud and tore her robes in anguish. And when they had brought her before her father she reproved him for his treachery, and she sware that none should part her from Kai Kaous, even though he were hidden in a tomb. Then the King was angered when he saw that her heart was taken from him and given to the Shah, and he bade that she be flung into the same prison as her lord. And Sudaveh was glad at his resolve, and she went into the dungeon with a light heart, and she seated herself beside the Shah, and served him and comforted him, and they bore the weight of captivity together.

After these things were come about, the Iranians, because that their Shah was held captive, returned unto Iran much discomfited. And when the news spread that the throne was empty many would have seized thereon. And Afrasiyab, when he learned it, straightway forgot hunger and sleep, and marched a strong army across the border. And he laid waste the land of Iran, and men, women, and children fell into bondage at his hands, and the world was darkened unto the kingdom of light. Then some arose and went before the son of Zal to crave his help in this sore need, saying unto him:

"Be thou our shield against misfortune, and deliver us from affliction, for the glory of the Kaianides is vanished, and the land which was a paradise is one no more."

Now Rustem, when he heard the news, was grieved for the land, but he was angered also against the Shah that he had thus once again run into danger. Yet he told the messengers that he would seek to deliver Kai Kaous, and that when he had done so he would remember the land of Iran. And forthwith he sent a secret messenger unto Kai Kaous, a man subtle and wise, and caused him to say unto the Shah:

"An army cometh forth from Iran to redeem thee. Rejoice, therefore, and cast aside thy fears."

And he also sent a writing unto the King of Hamaveran, and the writing was filled with threats, and spake only of maces and swords and combat. And Rustem loaded the King with reproaches because of his treachery, and he bade him prepare to meet Rustem the mighty.

When the King of Hamaveran had read this letter his head was troubled, and he defied Rustem, and threatened him that if he came forth against him he should meet at his hands the fate of the Shah. But Rustem only nsmiled when he heard this answer, and he said:

"Surely this man is foolish, or Ahriman hath filled his mind with smoke."

Then he mounted Rakush, and made ready to go into Hamaveran, and a vast train of warriors went after him. And the King of Hamaveran, when he saw it sent forth his army against him. But the army were afraid when they beheld Rustem and his might of mien, his mace, and his strong arms and lion chest, and their hearts departed from out their bodies, and they fled from before his sight, and returned them unto the King of Hamaveran.

Now the King was seated in the midst of his counsellors, and when he saw the army thus scattered before they had struck a blow, his heart misgave him, and he craved counsel of his chiefs. Then they counselled him that he should cast about him for allies. So the King of Hamaveran sent messengers of entreaty unto the Kings of Egypt and Berberistan, and they listened to his prayers, and sent out a great army unto his aid. And they drew them up against Rustem, and the armies stretched for two leagues in length, and you would have said the handful of Rustem could not withstand their force. Yet Rustem bade his men be not discomfited, and rest their hopes on God. Then he fell upon the armies of the Kings like to a flame that darteth forth, and the ground was drenched with gore, and on all sides rolled heads that were severed from their bodies; and wheresoever Rakush and Rustem showed themselves, there was great havoc made in the ranks. And ere the evening was come, the Kings of Egypt and Berberistan were his captives; and when the sun was set, the King of Hamaveran knew that a day of ill fortune was ended. So he sent forth to crave mercy at the hands of the Pehliva. And Rustem listened to his voice, and said that he would stay his hand if the King would restore unto him Kai Kaous, and the men and treasures that were his. Then the King of Hamaveran granted the just requests of Rustem. So Kai Kaous was led forth from his prison, and Sudaveh came with him. And when they beheld him, the King of Hamaveran and his allies declared their allegiance unto him, and they marched with him into Iran to go out against Afrasiyab. And Sudaveh went with the army in a litter clothed with fair stuffs, and encrusted with wood of aloes. And she was veiled that none might behold her beauty, and she went with the men like to the sun when he marcheth behind a cloud.

Now when Kai Kaous was come home again unto his land, he sent a writing unto Afrasiyab. And he said:

"Quit, I command thee, the land of Iran, nor seek to enlarge thyself at my cost. For knowest thou not that Iran is mine, and that the world pertaineth unto me?"

But Afrasiyab answered, "The words which thou dost write are not becoming unto a man such as thou, who didst covet Mazinderan and the countries round about. If thou wert satisfied with Iran, wherefore didst thou venture afield? And I say unto thee, Iran is mine, because of Tur my forefather, and because I subdued it under my hand."

When Kai Kaous had heard these words he knew that Afrasiyab would not yield save unto force. So he drew up his army into array, and they marched out to meet the King of Turan. And Afrasiyab met them with a great host, and the sound of drums and cymbals filled the air. And great was the strife and bloody, but Rustem broke the force of Turan, and the fortunes of its army were laid to rest upon the field of battle. And Afrasiyab, when he beheld it, was discomfited, and his spirit boiled over like to new wine that fermenteth. And he mourned over his army and the warriors that he had trained, and he conjured those that remained to make yet another onslaught, and he spake fair promises unto them if they would deliver unto his hands Rustem, the Pehliva. And he said:

"Whoever shall bring him alive before me, I will give unto him a kingdom and an umbrella, and the hand of my daughter in marriage."

And the Turks, when they heard these words, girded them yet again for resistance. But it availed them nought, for the Iranians were mightier than they, and they watered the earth with their blood until the ground was like a rose. And the fortunes of the Turks were as a light put out, and Afrasiyab fled before the face of Rustem, and the remnant of his army went after him.

Then Kai Kaous seated himself once more upon his throne, and men were glad that there was peace. And the Shah opened the doors of justice and splendour, and all men did that which was right, and the wolf turned him away from the lamb, and there was gladness through all the length of Iran. And the Shah gave thanks unto Rustem that he had aided him yet again, and he named him Jahani Pehliva, which being interpreted meaneth the champion of the world, and he called him the source of his happiness. Then he busied himself with building mighty towers and palaces, and the land of Iran was made fair at his hands, and all was well once more within its midst.

But Ahriman the wakeful was not pleased thereat, and he pondered how he could once again arouse the ambition of the Shah. So he held counsel with his Deevs how they might turn the heart of Kai Kaous from the right path. And one among them said-

"Suffer that I go before the Shah, and I will do thy behest."

And Ahriman suffered it. Then the Deev took upon him the form of a youth, and in his hand he held a cluster of roses, and he presented them unto the Shah, and he kissed the ground before his feet. And when Kai Kaous had given him leave to speak he opened his mouth and said:

"O Shah, live for ever! though such is thy might and majesty that the vault of heaven alone should be thy throne. All the world is submissive before thee, and I can bethink me but of one thing that is lacking unto thy glory."

Then Kai Kaous questioned him of this one thing, and the Deev said:

"It is that thou knowest not the nature of the sun and moon, nor wherefore the planets roll, neither the secret causes that set them in motion. Thou art master of all the earth, therefore shouldst thou not make the heavens also obedient to thy will?"

When Kai Kaous heard these words of guile his mind was dimmed, and he forgot that man cannot mount unto the skies, and he pondered without ceasing how he could fly unto the stars and inquire into their secrets. And he consulted many wise men in his trouble, but none could aid him. But at last it came about that a certain man taught him how he could perchance accomplish his designs. And Kai Kaous did according to his instructions. He built him a framework of aloe-wood, and at the four corners thereof he placed javelins upright, and on their points he put the flesh of goats. Then he chose out four eagles strong of wing, and bound them unto the corners of this chariot. And when it was done, Kai Kaous seated himself in the midst thereof with much pomp. And the eagles, when they smelt the flesh, desired after it, and they flapped their wings and raised themselves, and raised the framework with them. And they struggled sore, but they could not attain unto the meat; but ever as they struggled they bore aloft with them Kai Kaous and the throne whereon he sat. And so long as their hunger lasted, they strove after the prey. But at length their strength would hold no longer, and they desisted from the attempt. And behold! as they desisted the fabric fell back to earth, and the shock thereof was great. And but for Ormuzd Kai Kaous would have perished in the presumption of his spirit.

Now the eagles had borne the Shah even unto the desert of Cathay, and there was no man to succour him, and he suffered from the pangs of hunger, and there was nothing to assuage his longing, neither could his thirst be stilled. And he was alone, and sorrowful and shamed in his soul that he had yet again brought derision upon Iran. And he prayed to God in his trouble, and entreated pardon for his sins.

While Kai Kaous thus strove with repentance, Rustem learned tidings of him, and he set out with an army to seek him. And when he had found him he gave rein unto his anger, and he rebuked him for his follies, and he said:

"Hath the world seen the like of this man? Hath a more foolish head sat upon the throne of Iran? Ye would say there were no brains within this skull, or that not one of its thoughts was good. Kai Kaous is like a thing that is possessed, and every wind beareth him away. Thrice hast thou now fallen into mishap, and who can tell whether thy spirit hath yet learned wisdom? And it will be a reproach unto Iran all her days that a king puffed up with idle pride was seated upon her throne, a man who deemed in his folly that he could mount unto the skies, and visit the sun and moon, and count the stars one by one. I entreat of thee to bethink thee of thy forefathers, and follow in their steps, and rule the land in equity, neither rush after these mad adventures."

When Kai Kaous had listened to the bitter words spoken by Rustem, he was bowed down in his spirit and ashamed before him in his soul. And when at last he opened his mouth it was to utter words of humility. And he said unto Rustem:

"Surely that which thou speakest, it is true."

Then he suffered himself to be led back unto his palace, and many days and nights did he lie in the dust before God, and it was long before he held him worthy to mount again upon his throne. But when he deemed that God had forgiven him, he seated him upon it once again. In humility did he mount it, and he filled it in wisdom. And henceforth he ruled the land with justice, and he did that which was right in the sight of God, and bathed his face with the waters of sincerity. And kings and rulers did homage before him, and forgot the follies that he had done, and Kai Kaous grew worthy of the throne of light. And Iran was exalted at his hands, and power and prosperity increased within its borders.