Shahnameh (The Epic of Kings)
By: Hakim Abol Qasem Ferdowsi Tousi
Translated by: Helen Zimmern
Five hundred years did Feridoun rule the world, and might and virtue increased in the land, and all his days he did that which was good. And he roamed throughout the kingdom to seek out that which was open and that which was hid, and wrong was righted at his hands. With kindness did he curb the sway of evil. He ordered the world like to a paradise, he planted the cypress and the rose where the wild herb had sprouted.
Now after many years were passed there were born to him three sons, whose mother was of the house of Jamshid. And the sons were fair of mien, tall and strong, yet their names were not known to men, for Feridoun had not tested their hearts. But when he beheld that they were come to years of strength he called them about his throne and bade them search out the King of Yemen, who had three daughters, fair as the moon, that they should woo them unto themselves. And the sons of Feridoun did according to the command of their father. They set forth unto Yemen, and there went with them a host countless as the stars. And when they were come to Yemen, the King came forth to greet them, and his train was like to the plumage of a pheasant. Then the sons of Feridoun gained the hands of the daughters of Serv, King of Yemen, and departed with them to their own land. And Serv gave to his new sons much treasure laid upon the backs of camels, and umbrellas too did he give unto them in sign of kingship.
Now it came about that when Feridoun learned that his sons were returning, he went forth to meet them and prove their hearts. So he took upon him the form of a dragon that foamed at the mouth with fury, and from whose jaws sprang mighty flames. And when his sons were come near unto the mountain pass, he came upon them suddenly, like to a whirlwind, and raised a cloud of dust about the place with his writhings, and his roaring filled the air with noise. Then he threw himself upon the eldest born, and the prince laid down his spear and said, "A wise and prudent man striveth not with dragons." And he turned his back and fled before the monster, and left him to fall upon his brothers. Then the dragon sprang upon the second, and he said, "An it be that I must fight, what matter if it be a furious lion or a knight full of valour?" So he took his bow and stretched it. But the youngest came towards him, and seeing the dragon, said, "Thou reptile, flee from our presence, and strut not in the path of lions. For if thou hast heard the name of Feridoun, beware how thou doest thus, for we are his sons, armed with spears and ready for the fight. Quit therefore, I counsel thee, thine evil path, lest I plant upon thy head the crown of enmity."
Then the glorious Feridoun, when he had thus made trial of their hearts, vanished from their sight. But presently he came again with the face of their father, and many warriors, elephants, and cymbals were in his train. And Feridoun bore in his hand the cow-headed mace, and the Kawanee, the apron of Kaweh, the kingly standard, was waved above his head. Now when the sons saw their father, they alighted from their steeds and ran to greet him, and kissed the ground before his feet. And the cymbals were clashed, and the trumpets brayed, and sounds of rejoicing were heard around. Then Feridoun raised his sons and kissed their foreheads, and gave unto them honour according to their due. And when they were come to the royal house he prayed to God that He would bless his offspring, and calling them about him, he seated them upon thrones of splendour. Then he opened his mouth and said unto them-
"O my sons, listen unto the words that I shall speak. The raging dragon whose breath was danger was but your father, who sought to test your hearts, and having learned them gave way with joy. But now will I give to you names such as are fitting unto men. The first-born shall be called Silim (may thy desires be accomplished in the world!) for thou soughtest to save thyself from the clutches of the dragon, nor didst thou hesitate in the hour of flight. A man who fleeth neither before an elephant nor a lion, call him rather foolhardy than brave. And the second, who from the beginning showed his courage, which was ardent as a flame, I will call him Tur, the courageous, whom even a mad elephant cannot daunt. But the youngest is a man prudent and brave, who knoweth both how to haste and how to tarry; he chose the midway between the flame and the ground, as it beseemeth a man of counsel, and he hath proven himself brave, prudent, and bold. Irij shall he be called, that the gate of power may be his goal, for first did he show gentleness, but his bravery sprang forth at the hour of danger."
When Feridoun had thus opened his lips he called for the book wherein are written the stars, and he searched for the planets of his sons. And he found that Jupiter reigned in the sign of the Archer in the house of Silim, and the sun in the Lion in that of Tur, but in the house of Irij there reigned the moon in the Scorpion. And when he saw this he was sorrowful, for he knew that for Irij were grief and bale held in store. Then having read the secrets of Fate, Feridoun parted the world and gave the three parts unto his sons in suzerainty. Roum and Khaver, which are the lands of the setting sun, did he give unto Silim. Turan and Turkestan did he give unto Tur, and made him master of the Turks and of China, but unto Irij he gave Iran, with the throne of might and the crown of supremacy.
For many years had the sons of Feridoun sat upon their golden thrones in happiness and peace, but evil was hidden in the bosom of Fate. For Feridoun had grown old, and his strength inclined to the grave. And as his life waned, the evil passions of his sons waxed stronger. The heart of Silim was changed, and his desires turned towards evil; his soul also was steeped in greed. And he pondered in his spirit the parting of the lands, and he revolted thereat in his thoughts, because that the youngest bore the crown of supremacy. Then he bade a messenger mount him upon a dromedary swift of foot, and bear this saying unto Tur-
"O King of Turan, thy brother greeteth thee, and may thy days be long in the land. Tell unto me, I pray thee, for thou hast might and wisdom, should we remain thus ever satisfied, for surely unto us, not unto Irij, pertaineth the throne of Iran, but now is our brother set above our heads, and should we not strive against the injustice of our father? "
Now. when Tur had listened to these words, his head was filled with wind, and he spake unto the messenger and said-
"Say unto your master, O my brother, full of courage, since our father deceived us when we were young and void of guile, with his own hands hath he planted a tree whence must issue fruit of blood and leaves that are poison. Let us therefore meet and take counsel together how we may rid us of our evil fate."
When Silim heard this he set forth from Roum, and Tur also quitted China, and they met to counsel together how they should act. Then they sent a messenger unto Feridoun the glorious, and they said-
"O King, aged and great, fearest thou not to go home unto thy God? for evil hast thou done, and injustice dost thou leave behind thee. Thy realm hast thou allotted with iniquity, and thine eldest born hast thou treated with disfavour. But we thy sons entreat thee that ere it be too late thou listen to our voice. Command thou Irij to step down from the throne of Iran, and hide him in some corner of the earth, that he be weak and forgotten like ourselves. Yet if thou doest not our bidding, we will bring forth riders from Turkestan and Khaver filled with vengeance, and will utterly destroy Irij and the land of Iran."
When Feridoun had listened to these hard words he was angered, and straightway said-
"Speak unto these men, senseless and impure, these sons of Ahriman, perverse of heart, and say unto them, Feridoun rejoiceth that ye have laid bare before him your hearts, for now he knoweth what manner of men ye are. And he answereth unto you that he hath parted his realm with equity. Many counsellors did he seek, and night and day did they ponder it, and gave unto each that which seemed best in their sight. And he now speaketh unto you a word that he doth bid you treasure in your hearts, As ye sow, so also shall ye reap, for there is for us another, an eternal home. And this is the rede sent unto you by an aged man, that he who betrayeth his brother for greed is not worthy to be sprung from a noble race. So pray unto God that He turn your hearts from evil."
When the messenger had heard these words he departed. Then Feridoun called Irij before him and warned him against the craft of his brethren, and bade him prepare an army and go forth to meet them. But Irij, when he had heard of the evil thoughts of his brothers, was moved, and said-
"Not so, O my father, suffer that I go forth alone and speak unto my brethren, that I may still the anger that they feel against me. And I will entreat them that they put not their trust in the glory of this world, and will recall unto them the name of Jamshid, and how that his end was evil because that he was uplifted in his heart."
Then Feridoun answered and said, "Go forth, my son, if such be thy desire. The wish of thy brethren is even unto war, but thou seekest the paths of peace. Yet I pray thee take with thee worthy knights, and return unto me with speed, for my life is rooted in thy happiness."
And he gave him a letter signed with his royal seal that he should bear it unto the kings of Roum and China. And Feridoun wrote how that he was old, and desired neither gold nor treasures, save only that his sons should be united. And he commended unto them his youngest born, who was descended from his throne and come forth to meet them with peace in his heart.
Now when Irij was come to the spot where his brethren were encamped, the army saw him and was filled with wonder at his beauty and at his kingly form, and they murmured among themselves, saying, "Surely this one alone is worthy to bear the sceptre." But when Silim and Tur heard this murmur their anger was deepened, and they retreated into their tents, and all night long did they hold counsel how they might do hurt unto their brother.
Now when the curtain that hid the sun was lifted, the brethren went forth unto the tents of Irij. And Irij would have greeted them, but they suffered him not, but straightway began to question him, and heap reproaches upon his head. And Tur said-
"Why hast thou uplifted thyself above us, and is it meet that thy elders bow down before thee?"
When Irij heard their words, he answered, "O Kings greedy of power, I say unto you, if ye desire happiness, strive after peace. I covet neither the royal crown nor the hosts of Iran; power that endeth in discord is an honour that leadeth to tears. And I will step down from the throne of Iran if it shall foster peace between us, for I crave not the possession of the world if ye are afflicted by the sight. For I am humble of heart, and my faith bids me be kind."
Now Tur heard these words, but they softened not his spirit, for he knew only that which is evil, and wist not that Irij spoke truly. And he took up the chair whereon he sat and threw it at his brother in his anger. Then Irij called for mercy at his hands, saying-
"O King, hast thou no fear of God, no pity for thy father? I pray thee destroy me not, lest God ask vengeance for my blood. Let it not be spoken that thou who hast life takest that gift from others. Do not this evil. Crush not even the tiny ant that beareth a grain of corn, for she hath life, and sweet life is a boon. I will vanish from thy sight, I will live in solitude and secrecy, so thou grant that I may yet behold the sun."
But these words angered Tur only the more, and he drew from his boot a dagger that was poisoned and sharp, and he thrust it into the breast of Irij, the kingly cedar. And the young lord of the world paled and was dead. Then Tur cut the head from the trunk, and filled it with musk and ambergris, and sent it unto the old man his father, who had parted the world, saying-
"Behold the head of thy darling, give unto him now the crown and the throne."
And when they had done this evil deed the brethren furled their tents, and turned them back again unto the lands of Roum and Cathay.
Now Feridoun held his eyes fastened upon the road whither Irij was gone, and his heart yearned after him. And when he heard that the time of his return was come, he bade a host go forth to meet him, and he himself went in the wake. Now when they were gone but a little way they beheld a mighty cloud of dust upon the sky. And the cloud neared, and there came thence a dromedary whereon was seated a knight clad in the garb of woe. And he bare in his arms a casket of gold, and in the casket were rich stuffs of silk, and in the stuffs was wrapped the head of Irij. And when Feridoun beheld the face of the messenger his heart was smote with fear, but when he saw the head of his son he fell from his horse with sorrow. Then a cry of wailing rent the air, and the army shouted for grief, and the flags were torn, and the drums broken, and the elephants and cymbals hung with the colours of mourning, because that Irij was gone from the world. And Feridoun returned on foot unto the city, and all the nobles went with him, and they retraced their steps in the dust. Now when they were come to the garden of Irij, Feridoun faltered in his sorrow, and he pressed the head of the young King, his son, unto his breast. And he cast black earth upon his throne, and tore his hair, and shed tears, and his cries mounted even unto the seventh sphere. And he spake in his grief and said-
"O Master of the world, that metest out justice, look down, I pray thee, upon this innocent whom his brethren have foully murdered! Sear their hearts that joy cannot enter, and grant unto me my prayer. Suffer that I may live until a hero, a warrior mighty to avenge, be sprung from the seed of Irij. Then when I shall have beheld his face I will go hence as it beseemeth me and the earth shall cover my body."
Thus wept Feridoun in the bitterness of his soul, neither would he take comfort day and night, nor quit the garden of his son. And the earth was his couch and the dust his bed, and he watered the ground with his tears. And he rested in this spot till that the grass was grown above his bosom, and his eyes were blinded with weeping. Yet his tongue did not cease from plaining and his heart from sorrow. And he cried continually-
"O Irij, O my son, my son, never prince died a death like thine! Thy head was severed by Ahriman, thy body torn by lions."
Thus mourned Feridoun, and the voice of lamentation was abroad.
Then it came about that after many years had passed Feridoun bethought him of the daughter of Irij, and how that men said she was fair. And he sought for her in the house of the women; and when he learned that she was fair indeed, he desired that a husband be found for her, and he wedded her unto Pescheng, who was a hero of the race of Jamshid. And there was born unto them a son fair and strong, worthy the throne. And when he was yet but a tender babe they brought him to Feridoun and cried-
"O Lord of earth, let thy soul rejoice, behold this Irij!"
Then the lips of Feridoun were wreathed with smiles, and he took up the infant in his arms and cried unto God, saying-
"O God, grant that my sight be restored unto me, that I may behold the face of this babe."
And as he prayed his eyes were opened, and his sight rested upon his son. Then Feridoun gave thanks unto God. And he called down blessings upon the child, and prayed that the day might be blessed also, and the heart of his enemies be torn with anguish. And he named him Minuchihr, saying, "A branch worthy of a noble stock hath borne fruit." And the child was reared in the house of Feridoun, and he suffered not that ill came near unto him, and though the years passed above his head the stars brought him no evil. And when he was of a ripe age Feridoun gave to Minuchihr a throne of gold, and a mace, and a crown of jewels, and the key to all his treasures. Then he commanded his nobles that they should do him reverence and salute him king. And there were gathered about the throne Karun, the son of Kaweh, and Serv, King of Yemen, and Guerschasp the victorious, and many other mighty princes more than tongue can name. But the young Shah outshone them in strength and beauty, and joy was once more in the land.
But tidings of the splendour that surrounded Feridoun pierced even unto the lands of Roum and China, and the kings thereof were troubled and downcast in their hearts. Then they conferred how they should regain the favour of the Shah, for they feared Minuchihr when he should be come unto years of might. So they sent a messenger unto Feridoun bearing rich gifts, and bade him speak unto their father and say-
"O Shah, live for ever I bear a message from the humblest of thy slaves, who are bowed unto the earth with contrition, wherefore they have not ventured into thy presence. And they pray that thou pardon their evil deed, for their hearts are good, and they did it not of themselves, but because it was written that they should do this wrong, and that which is written in the stars surely it is accomplished. And therefore, O King, their eyes are filled with tears, and they pray thee incline unto them thine ear. And as a sign of thy grace send unto them Minuchihr thy son, for their hearts yearn to look upon his face and do him homage."
Now when Feridoun had listened to the words of his sons, he knitted his brows in anger, for he knew that they sought only to beguile him. And he said unto the messenger-
"Go, say unto your masters that their false-hearted words shall avail them nothing. And ask them if they be not shamed to utter white words with tongues of blackness. I have heard their message, hear now the answer that I send. Ye say unto me that ye desire the love of Minuchihr, and I ask of you, What did ye for Irij? And now that ye are delivered of him ye seek the blood of his son. Verily I say unto you, never shall ye look upon his face save when he leadeth a mighty army. Then shall be watered with blood the leaves and fruits of the tree sprung from the vengeance that is due. For unto this day hath vengeance slumbered, since it became me not to stretch forth mine hand in battle upon my sons; but now is there sprung a branch from the tree which the enemy uprooted, and he shall come as a raging lion, girt with the vengeance of his sire. And I say unto you, take back the treasures ye have sent me, for think ye that for coloured toys I will abandon my vengeance, and efface for baubles the blood that ye have spilled, or sell for gold the head of mine offspring? And say yet again that while the father of Irij lives he will not abandon his intent. And now that thou hast listened unto my message, lay it up in thy heart and make haste from hence."
When the messenger had heard these words he departed with speed. And when he was come unto Silim and Tur he told them thereof, and how he had seen Minuchihr sitting upon a throne of gold, and how for strength he was like unto Tahumers, who had bound the Deevs. And he told how heroes bearing names that filled the world with wonder stood round about him, Kaweh the smith, and Karun his son, and Serv, the King of Yemen, and next in might unto the Shah was Saum, the son of Neriman, the unvanquished in fight, and Guerschasp the victorious, his treasurer. Then he spake of the treasures that filled the house of Feridoun, and of the army great in number, so that the men of Roum and China could not stand against them. And he told how their hearts were filled with hatred of the Kings because of Irij.
The Kings, when they heard this and the message of their father, trembled for fear. And Tur said unto Silim-
"Henceforth we must forego pleasure, for it behoveth us to hasten, and not tarry till the teeth of this young lion be sharpened, and he be waxed tall and strong."
Then they made ready their armies, and the number of their men was past the counting. Helmet was joined to helmet, and spear to spear, and jewels, baggage, and elephants without number went with them, and you would have said it was a host that none could understand. And they marched from Turan into Iran, and the two Kings rode before them, their hearts filled with hate. But the star of these evil ones was sinking. For Feridoun, when he learned that an army had crossed the Jihun, called unto him Minuchihr his son, and bade him place himself at the head of the warriors. And the host of the Shah was mighty to behold, great and strong, and it covered the land like unto a cloud of locusts. And they marched from Temmische unto the desert, and Minuchihr commanded them with might. And on his right rode Karun the Avenger, and on his left Saum, the son of Neriman, and above their heads waved the flag of Kaweh, and their armour glistened in the sun. Like as a lion breaketh forth from the jungle to seize upon his prey, so did this army rush forth to avenge the death of Irij. And the head of Minuchihr rose above the rest like to the moon or the sun when it shineth above the mountains. And he exhorted them in words of fire that they rest not, neither weary, until they should have broken the power of these sons of Ahriman.
Now Tur and Silim, when they saw that the Iranians were come out against them, set in order their army. And when the day had torn asunder the folds of night, the two armies met in battle, and the fight waged strong until the setting of the sun. And the earth was a sea of blood, and the feet of the elephants were like to pillars of coral. And when the sun was sunk to his rest, Tur and Silim consulted how they might seize upon Minuchihr by fraud, for they saw that his arm was strong and his courage undaunted. So Tur set forth at the head of a small band to surprise him in his tents. But Minuchihr was aware of his evil plans, and sprang upon him. And when Tur would have fled Minuchihr followed after him and struck a lance into his back. And when he had killed him he cut his head from his trunk, and the body did he give unto the wild beasts, but the head he sent to Feridoun. And he wrote to him and sent him greeting, and told him all that was come about, and how he should neither rest nor tarry until the death of Irij be avenged.
Now Silim, when he learned the fate of his brother, was sore afraid, and cast about him for an ally. And there came unto him Kakoui, of the seed of Zohak. But Minuchihr wrestled with him for a morning's space and overcame him also, though the Deev was strong and powerful in fight. Then Silim was cast down yet more, and he sought to hide him by the sea-shore. But Minuchihr cut off his path and overtook him, and with his own hand he slew him, and cut his head from his trunk. And he raised the head upon his lance. And when the army of Silim saw this they fled into the hills, and vanished like cattle whom the snow hath driven from their pasture. Then they took counsel and chose out a man from among their midst, one that was prudent and gentle of speech. And they bade him go before the Shah and say-
"Have mercy upon us, O Shah, for neither hate nor vengeance drove us forth against thee, but only this, that we obeyed the wills of our lords. But we ourselves are peaceful men, tillers of the earth and keepers of cattle, and we pray thee that thou let us return in safety whence we are come. And we acknowledge thee our Shah, and we pray thee make thy servants acquainted with thy desires."
When Minuchihr had heard these words he spake and said-
"My desire is not after these men, neither is my longing after blood but mercy. Let every man lay down his arms and go his ways, and let peace be in the land, and joy wait upon your feet."
When the men heard this they praised the Shah, and called down blessings upon his head. And they came before him, every man bearing his armour and the weapons of battle. And they laid them at his feet, and of weapons there was reared a mighty mountain, and the blue steel glistened in the sun. Then Minuchihr dismissed them graciously. And when the army was dispersed he sent a messenger unto Feridoun bearing the head of Silim and a writing. And when he had ordered all things he set out at the head of his warriors unto the city of Feridoun. And his grandsire came forth to meet him, and there came with him many elephants swathed in gold, and warriors arrayed in rich attire, and a large multitude clad in garments of bright hue. And flags waved above them, and trumpets brayed, and cymbals clashed, and sounds of rejoicing filled the air. But when Minuchihr saw that his grandsire came towards him, he got from his horse and ran to meet him, and fell at his feet and craved his blessing. And Feridoun blessed Minuchihr and raised him from the dust. And he bade him sit again upon his horse and took his hand, and they entered the city in triumph. And when they were come to the King's house, Feridoun seated Minuchihr upon a throne of gold. Then he called unto him Saum, the son of Neriman, and said-
"I pray thee bring up this youth and nourish him for the kingdom, and aid him with thy might and mind."
And he took the hand of Minuchihr and put it into that of Saum, and said-
"Thanks be unto God the merciful, who hath listened unto my voice, and granted the desires of His servant. For now shall I go hence, and the world will I cumber no more."
Then when he had given gifts unto his servants he withdrew into solitude, and gazed without cease upon the heads of his sons, neither refrained he from bewailing their evil fate, and the sorrow they had brought upon him. And daily he grew fainter, and at last the light of his life expired, and Feridoun vanished from the earth, but his name remained behind him. And Minuchihr mourned for his grandsire with weeping and lamentation, and raised above him a stately tomb. But when the seven days of mourning were ended, he put upon his head the crown of the Kaianides, and girt his loins with a red sash of might. And the nation called him Shah, and he was beloved in the land.