The Myth of Isfendiyár, from The Shahnameh

From The Shahnameh (c. 1000 AD)

By  Hakīm Abol-Qāsem Firdawsī Ṭūsī (Ferdosi)

Translation (1832) by James Atkinson



[The Myth of Isfendiyár/Esfandyar]


“Gushtásp, and the Faith of Zerdusht”


I’ve said preceding sovereigns worshipped God,

By whom their crowns were given to protect

The people from oppressors; Him they served,

Acknowledging His goodness–for to Him,

The pure, unchangeable, the Holy One!

They owed their greatness and their earthly power.

But after times produced idolatry,

And Pagan faith, and then His name was lost

In adoration of created things.

Gushtásp had by his wife Kitabún, the daughter of the king of Rúm, two sons named Isfendiyár and Bashútan, who were remarkable for their piety and devotion to the Almighty. Being the great king, all the minor sovereigns paid him tribute, excepting Arjásp, the ruler of Chín and Má-chín, whose army consisted of Díws, and Peris, and men; for considering him of superior importance, he sent him yearly the usual tributary present. In those days lived Zerdusht, the Guber, who was highly accomplished in the knowledge of divine things; and having waited upon Gushtásp, the king became greatly pleased with his learning and piety, and took him into his confidence. The philosopher explained to him the doctrines of the fire-worshippers, and by his art he reared a tree before the house of Gushtásp, beautiful in its foliage and branches, and whoever ate of the leaves of that tree became learned and accomplished in the mysteries of the future world, and those who ate of the fruit thereof became perfect in wisdom and holiness.

In consequence of the illness of Lohurásp, who was nearly at the point of death, Zerdusht went to Balkh for the purpose of administering relief to him, and he happily succeeded in restoring him to health. On his return he was received with additional favor by Gushtásp, who immediately afterwards became his disciple. Zerdusht then told him that he was the prophet of God, and promised to show him miracles. He said he had been to heaven and to hell. He could send anyone, by prayer, to heaven; and whomsoever he was angry with he could send to hell. He had seen the seven mansions of the celestial regions, and the thrones of sapphires, and all the secrets of heaven were made known to him by his attendant angel. He said that the sacred book, called Zendavesta, descended from above expressly for him, and that if Gushtásp followed the precepts in that blessed volume, he would attain celestial felicity. Gushtásp readily became a convert to his principles, forsaking the pure adoration of God for the religion of the fire-worshippers.

The philosopher further said that he had prepared a ladder, by which he had ascended into heaven and had seen the Almighty. This made the disciple still more obedient to Zerdusht. One day he asked Gushtásp why he condescended to pay tribute to Arjásp; “God is on thy side,” said he, “and if thou desirest an extension of territory, the whole country of Chin may be easily conquered.” Gushtásp felt ashamed at this reproof, and to restore his character, sent a dispatch to Arjásp, in which he said, “Former kings who paid thee tribute did so from terror only, but now the empire is mine; and it is my will, and I have the power, to resist the payment of it in future.” This letter gave great offence to Arjásp; who at once suspected that the fire-worshipper, Zerdusht, had poisoned his mind, and seduced him from his pure and ancient religion, and was attempting to circumvent and lead him to his ruin. He answered him thus: “It is well known that thou hast now forsaken the right path, and involved thyself in darkness. Thou hast chosen a guide possessed of the attributes of Iblís, who with the art of a magician has seduced thee from the worship of the true God, from that God who gave thee thy kingdom and thy grandeur. Thy father feared God, and became a holy Dírvesh, whilst thou hast lost thy way in wickedness and impiety. It will therefore be a meritorious action in me to vindicate the true worship and oppose thy blasphemous career with all my demons. In a month or two I will enter thy kingdom with fire and sword, and destroy thy authority and thee. I would give thee good advice; do not be influenced by a wicked counsellor, but return to thy former religious practices. Weigh well, therefore, what I say.” Arjásp sent this letter by two of his demons, familiar with sorcery; and when it was delivered into the hands of Gushtásp, a council was held to consider its contents, to which Zerdusht was immediately summoned. Jamásp, the minister, said that the subject required deep thought, and great prudence was necessary in framing a reply; but Zerdusht observed, that the only reply was obvious–nothing but war could be thought of. At this moment Isfendiyár gallantly offered to lead the army, but Zarír, his uncle, objected to him on account of his extreme youth, and proposed to take the command himself, which Gushtásp agreed to, and the two demon-envoys were dismissed. The answer was briefly as follows:–

“Thy boast is that thou wilt in two short months

Ravage my country, scathe with fire and sword

The empire of Irán; but on thyself

Heap not destruction; pause before thy pride

Hurries thee to thy ruin. I will open

The countless treasures of the realm; my warriors,

A thousand thousand, armed with shining steel,

Shall overrun thy kingdom; I myself

Will crush that head of thine beneath my feet.”

The result of these menaces was the immediate prosecution of the war, and no time was lost by Arjásp in hastening into Irán.

Plunder and devastation marked his course,

The villages were all involved in flames,

Palace of pride, low cot, and lofty tower;

he trees dug up, and root and branch destroyed.

Gushtásp then hastened to repel his foes;

But to his legions they seemed wild and strange,

And terrible in aspect, and no light

Could struggle through the gloom they had diffused,

To hide their progress.

Zerdusht said to Gushtásp, “Ask thy vizir, Jamásp, what is written in thy horoscope, that he may relate to thee the dispensations of heaven.” Jamásp, in reply to the inquiry, took the king aside and whispered softly to him: “A great number of thy brethren, thy relations, and warriors will be slain in the conflict, but in the end thou wilt be victorious.” Gushtásp deeply lamented the coming event, which involved the destruction of his kinsmen, but did not shrink from the battle, for he exulted in the anticipation of obtaining the victory. The contest was begun with indescribable eagerness and impetuosity.


Ardshír, the son of Lohurásp, and descended from Kai-káús, was one of the first to engage; he killed many, and was at last killed himself. After him, his brother Shydasp was killed. Then Bishú, the son of Jamásp, urged on his steed, and with consummate bravery destroyed a great number of warriors. Zarír, equally bold and intrepid, also rushed amidst the host, and whether demons or men opposed him, they were all laid lifeless on the field. He then rode up towards Arjásp, scattered the ranks, and penetrated the headquarters, which put the king into great alarm: for he exclaimed:–“What, have ye no courage, no shame! whoever kills Zarír shall have a magnificent reward.” Bai-derafsh, one of the demons, animated by this offer, came forward, and with remorseless fury attacked Zarír. The onset was irresistible, and the young prince was soon overthrown and bathed in his own blood. The news of the unfortunate catastrophe deeply affected Gushtásp, who cried, in great grief: “Is there no one to take vengeance for this?” when Isfendiyár presented himself, kissed the ground before his father, and anxiously asked permission to engage the demon. Gushtásp assented, and told him that if he killed the demon and defeated the enemy, he would surrender to him his crown and throne.

“When we from this destructive field return,

Isfendiyár, my son, shall wear the crown,

And be the glorious leader of my armies.”

Saying this, he dismounted from his famous black horse, called Behzád, the gift of Kai-khosráu, and presented it to Isfendiyár. The greatest clamor and lamentation had arisen among the Persian army, for they thought that Bai-derafsh had committed such dreadful slaughter, the moment of utter defeat was at hand, when Isfendiyár galloped forward, mounted on Behzád, and turned the fortunes of the day. He saw the demon with the mail of Zarír on his breast, foaming at the mouth with rage, and called aloud to him, “Stand, thou murderer!” The stern voice, the valor, and majesty of Isfendiyár, made the demon tremble, but he immediately discharged a blow with his dagger at his new opponent, who however seized the weapon with his left hand, and with his right plunged a spear into the monster’s breast, and drove it through his body. Isfendiyár then cut off his head, remounted his horse, and that instant was by the side of Bishú, the son of the vizir, into whose charge he gave the severed head of Bai-derafsh, and the armor of Zarír. Bishú now attired himself in his father’s mail, and fastening the head on his horse, declared that he would take his post close by Isfendiyár, whatever might betide. Firshaid, another Iránian warrior, came to the spot at the same moment, and expressed the same resolution, so that all three, thus accidentally met, determined to encounter Arjásp and capture him. Isfendiyár led the way, and the other two followed. Arjásp, seeing that he was singled out by three warriors, and that the enemy’s force was also advancing to the attack in great numbers, gave up the struggle, and was the first to retreat. His troops soon threw away their arms and begged for quarter, and many of them were taken prisoners by the Iránians. Gushtásp now approached the dead body of Zarír, and lamenting deeply over his unhappy fate, placed him in a coffin, and built over him a lofty monument, around which lights were ever afterwards kept burning, night and day; and he also taught the people the worship of fire, and was anxious to establish everywhere the religion of Zerdusht.

Jamásp appointed officers to ascertain the number of killed in the battle. Of Iránians there were thirty thousand, among whom were eight hundred chiefs; and the enemy’s loss amounted to nine hundred thousand, and also eleven hundred and sixty-three chiefs. Gushtásp rejoiced at the glorious result, and ordered the drums to be sounded to celebrate the victory, and he increased his favor upon Zerdusht, who originated the war, and told him to call his triumphant son, Isfendiyár, near him.


After Gushtásp had crowned his son as his successor, he told him that he must not now waste his time in peace and private gratification, but proceed to the conquest of other countries. Zerdusht was also deeply interested in his further operations, and recommended him to subdue kingdoms for the purpose of diffusing everywhere the new religion, that the whole world might be enlightened and edified. Isfendiyár instantly complied, and the first kingdom he invaded was Rúm. The sovereign of that country having no power nor means to resist the incursions of the enemy, readily adopted the faith of Zerdusht, and accepted the sacred book named Zendavesta, as his spiritual instructor. Isfendiyár afterwards invaded Hindústán and Arabia, and several other countries, and successfully established the religion of the fire-worshippers in them all.


The young conqueror communicated by letters to his father the success with which he had disseminated the religion of Zerdusht, and requested to know what other enterprises required his aid. Gushtásp rejoiced exceedingly, and commanded a grand banquet to be prepared. It happened that Gurzam a warrior, was particularly befriended by the king, but retaining secretly in his heart a bitter enmity to Isfendiyár, now took an opportunity to gratify his malice, and privately told Gushtásp that he had heard something highly atrocious in the disposition of the prince. Gushtásp was anxious to know what it was; and he said, “Isfendiyár has subdued almost every country in the world: he is a dangerous person at the head of an immense army, and at this very moment meditates taking Balkh, and making even thee his prisoner!

“Thou know’st not that thy son Isfendiyár

Is hated by the army. It is said

Ambition fires his brain, and to secure

The empire to himself, his wicked aim

Is to rebel against his generous father.

This is the sum of my intelligence;

But thou’rt the king, I speak but what I hear.”

These malicious accusations by Gurzam insidiously made, produced great vexation in the mind of Gushtásp. The banquet went on, and for three days he drank wine incessantly, without sleep or rest because his sorrow was extreme. On the fourth day he said to his minister: “Go with this letter to Isfendiyár, and accompany him hither to me.” Jamásp, the minister, went accordingly on the mission, and when he arrived, the prince said to him, “I have dreamt that my father is angry with me.”–“Then thy dream is true,” replied Jamásp, “thy father is indeed angry with thee.”–“What crime, what fault have I committed?

“Is it because I have with ceaseless toil

Spread wide the Zendavesta, and converted

Whole kingdoms to that faith? Is it because

For him I conquered those far-distant kingdoms,

With this good sword of mine? Why clouds his brow

Upon his son–some demon must have changed

His temper, once affectionate and kind,

Calling me to him thus in anger! Thou

Hast ever been my friend, my valued friend

Say, must I go? Thy counsel I require.”


“The son does wrong who disobeys his father,

Despising his command,” Jamásp replied.


“Yet,” said Isfendiyár, “why should I go?

He is in wrath, it cannot be for good.”


“Know’st thou not that a father’s wrath is kindness?

The anger of a father to his child

Is far more precious than the love and fondness

Felt by that child for him. ‘Tis good to go,

Whatever the result, he is the king,

And more–he is thy father!”

Isfendiyár immediately consented, and appointed Bahman, his eldest son, to fill his place in the army during his absence. He had four sons: the name of the second was Mihrbús; of the third, Avir; and of the fourth, Núsháhder; and these three he took along with him on his journey.

Before he had arrived at Balkh, Gushtásp had concerted measures to secure him as a prisoner, with an appearance of justice and impartiality. On his arrival, he waited on the king respectfully, and was thus received: “Thou hast become the great king! Thou hast conquered many countries, but why am I unworthy in thy sight? Thy ambition is indeed excessive.” Isfendiyár replied: “However great I may be, I am still thy servant, and wholly at thy command.” Upon hearing this, Gushtásp turned towards his courtiers, and said, “What ought to be done with that son, who in the lifetime of his father usurps his authority, and even attempts to eclipse him in grandeur? What! I ask, should be done with such a son!”

“Such a son should either be

Broken on the felon tree,

Or in prison bound with chains,

Whilst his wicked life remains,

Else thyself, this kingdom, all

Will be ruined by his thrall!”

To this heavy denunciation Isfendiyár replied: “I have received all my honors from the king, by whom I am appointed to succeed to the throne; but at his pleasure I willingly resign them.” However, concession and remonstrance were equally fruitless, and he was straightway ordered to be confined in the tower-prison of the fort situated on the adjacent mountain, and secured with chains.

Dreadful the sentence: all who saw him wept;

And sternly they conveyed him to the tower,

Where to four columns, deeply fixed in earth,

And reaching to the skies, of iron formed,

They bound him; merciless they were to him

Who had given splendour to a mighty throne.

Mournful vicissitude! Thus pain and pleasure

Successive charm and tear the heart of man;

And many a day in that drear solitude,

He lingered, shedding tears of blood, till times

Of happier omen dawned upon his fortunes.

Having thus made Isfendiyár secure in the mountain-prison, and being entirely at ease about the internal safety of the empire, Gushtásp was anxious to pay a visit to Zál and Rustem at Sístán, and to convert them to the religion of Zerdusht. On his approach to Sístán he was met and respectfully welcomed by Rustem. who afterwards in open assembly received the Zendavesta and adopted the new faith, which he propagated throughout his own territory; but, according to common report it was fear of Gushtásp alone which induced him to pursue this course. Gushtásp remained two years his guest, enjoying all kinds of recreation, and particularly the sports of the field and the forests.

When Bahman, the son of Isfendiyár, heard of the imprisonment of his father, he, in grief and alarm, abandoned his trust, dismissed the army, and proceeded to Balkh, where he joined his two brothers, and wept over the fate of their unhappy father.

In the meantime the news of the confinement of Isfendiyár, and the absence of Gushtásp at Sístán, and the unprotected state of Balkh, stimulated Arjásp to a further effort, and he despatched his son Kahram with a large army towards the capital of the enemy, to carry into effect his purpose of revenge. Lohurásp was still in religious retirement at Balkh. The people were under great apprehension, and being without a leader, anxiously solicited the old king to command them, but he said that he had abandoned all earthly concerns, and had devoted himself to God, and therefore could not comply with their entreaties. But they would hear no denial, and, as it were, tore him from his place of refuge and prayer. There were assembled only about one thousand horsemen, and with these he advanced to battle; but what were they compared to the hundred thousand whom they met, and by whom they were soon surrounded. Their bravery was useless. They were at once overpowered and defeated, and Lohurásp himself was unfortunately among the slain.

Upon the achievement of his victory, Kahram entered Balkh in triumph, made the people prisoners, and destroyed all the places of worship belonging to the Gubers. He also killed the keeper of the altar, and burnt the Zendavesta, which contained the formulary of their doctrines and belief.

One of the women of Gushtásp’s household happened to elude the grasp of the invader, and hastened to Sístán to inform the king of the disaster that had occurred. “Thy father is killed, the city is taken, and thy women and daughters in the power of the conqueror.” Gushtásp received the news with consternation, and prepared with the utmost expedition for his departure. He invited Rustem to accompany him, but the champion excused himself at the time, and afterwards declined altogether on the plea of sickness. Before he had yet arrived at Balkh, Kahram hearing of his approach, went out to meet him with his whole army, and was joined on the same day by Arjásp and his demon-legions.

Great was the uproar, loud the brazen drums

And trumpets rung, the earth shook, and seemed rent

By that tremendous conflict, javelins flew

Like hail on every side, and the warm blood

Streamed from the wounded and the dying men.

The claim of kindred did not check the arm

Lifted in battle–mercy there was none,

For all resigned themselves to chance or fate,

Or what the ruling Heavens might decree.

At last the battle terminated in the defeat of Gushtásp, who was pursued till he was obliged to take refuge in a mountain-fort. He again consulted Jamásp to know what the stars foretold, and Jamásp replied that he would recover from the defeat through the exertions of Isfendiyár alone. Pleased with this interpretation, he on that very day sent Jamásp to the prison with a letter to Isfendiyár, in which he hoped to be pardoned for the cruelty he had been guilty of towards him, in consequence, he said, of being deceived by the arts and treachery of those who were only anxious to effect his ruin. He declared too that he would put those enemies to death in his presence, and replace the royal crown upon his head. At the same time he confined in chains Gurzam, the wretch who first practised upon his feelings. Jamásp rode immediately to the prison, and delivering the letter, urged the prince to comply with his father’s entreaties, but Isfendiyár was incredulous and not so easily to be moved.

“Has he not at heart disdained me?

Has he not in prison chained me?

Am I not his son, that he

Treats me ignominiously?


“Why should Gurzam’s scorn and hate

Rouse a loving father’s wrath?

Why should he, the foul ingrate,

Cast destruction in my path?”

Jamásp, however, persevered in his anxious solicitations, describing to him how many of his brethren and kindred had fallen, and also the perilous situation of his own father if he refused his assistance. By a thousand various efforts he at length effected his purpose, and the blacksmith was called to take off his chains; but in removing them, the anguish of the wounds they had inflicted was so great that Isfendiyár fainted away. Upon his recovery he was escorted to the presence of his father, who received him with open arms, and the strongest expressions of delight. He begged to be forgiven for his unnatural conduct to him, again resigned to him the throne of the empire, and appointed him to the command of the imperial armies. He then directed Gurzam, upon whose malicious counsel he had acted, to be brought before him, and the wicked minister was punished with death on the spot, and in the presence of the injured prince.

Wretch! more relentless even than wolf or pard,

Thou hast at length received thy just reward!

When Arjásp heard that Isfendiyár had been reconciled to his father, and was approaching at the head of an immense army, he was affected with the deepest concern, and forthwith sent his son Kahram to endeavor to resist the progress of the enemy. At the same time Kurugsar, a gladiator of the demon race, requested that he might be allowed to oppose Isfendiyár; and permission being granted, he was the very first on the field, where instantly wielding his bow, he shot an arrow at Isfendiyár, which pierced through the mail, but fortunately for him did no serious harm. The prince drew his sword with the intention of attacking him, but seeing him furious with rage, and being doubtful of the issue, thought it more prudent and safe to try his success with the noose. Accordingly he took the kamund from his saddle-strap, and dexterously flung it round the neck of his arrogant foe, who was pulled headlong from his horse: and, as soon as his arms were bound behind his back, dragged a prisoner in front of the Persian ranks. Isfendiyár then returned to the battle, attacked a body of the enemy’s auxiliaries, killed a hundred and sixty of their warriors, and made the division of which Kahram was the leader fly in all directions. His next feat was to attack another force, which had confederated against him.

With slackened rein he galloped o’er the field;

Blood gushed from every stroke of his sharp sword,

And reddened all the plain; a hundred warriors

Eighty and five, in treasure rich and mail,

Sunk underneath him, such his mighty power.

His remaining object was to assail the centre, where Arjásp himself was stationed; and thither he rapidly hastened. Arjásp, angry and alarmed at this success, cried out, “What! is one man allowed to scathe all my ranks, cannot my whole army put an end to his dreadful career?” The soldiers replied, “No! he has a body of brass, and the vigor of an elephant: our swords make no impression upon him, whilst with his sword he can cut the body of a warrior, cased in mail, in two, with the greatest ease. Against such a foe, what can we do?” Isfendiyár rushed on; and after an overwhelming attack, Arjásp was compelled to quit his ground and effect his escape. The Iránian troops were then ordered to pursue the fugitives, and in revenge for the death of Lohurásp, not to leave a man alive. The carnage was in consequence terrible, and the remaining Túránians were in such despair that they flung themselves from their exhausted horses, and placing straw in their mouths to show the extremity of their misfortune, called aloud for quarter. Isfendiyár was moved at last to compassion, and put an end to the fight; and when he came before Gushtásp, the mail on his body, from the number of arrows sticking in it, looked like a field of reeds; about a thousand arrows were taken out of its folds. Gushtásp kissed his head and face, and blessed him, and prepared a grand banquet, and the city of Balkh resounded with rejoicings on account of the great victory.

Many days had not elapsed before a further enterprise was to be undertaken. The sisters of Isfendiyár were still in confinement, and required to be released. The prince readily complied with the wishes of Gushtásp, who now repeated to him his desire to relinquish the cares of sovereignty, and place the reins of government in his hands, that he might devote himself entirely to the service of God.

“To thee I yield the crown and throne,

Fit to be held by thee alone;

From worldly care and trouble free,

A hermit’s cell is enough for me,”

But Isfendiyár replied, that he had no desire to be possessed of the power; he rather wished for the prosperity of the king, and no change.

“O, may thy life be long and blessed,

And ever by the good caressed;

For ’tis my duty still to be

Devoted faithfully to thee!

I want no throne, nor diadem;

My soul has no delight in them.

I only seek to give thee joy,

And gloriously my sword employ.

I thirst for vengeance on Arjásp:

To crush him in my iron grasp,

That from his thrall I may restore

My sisters to their home again,

Who now their heavy fate deplore,

And toiling drag a slavish chain.”

“Then go!” the smiling monarch said,

Invoking blessings on his head,

“And may kind Heaven thy refuge be,

And lead thee on to victory.”

Isfendiyár now told his father that his prisoner Kurugsar was continually requesting him to represent his condition in the royal ear, saying, “Of what use will it be to put me to death? No benefit can arise from such a punishment. Spare my life, and you will see how largely I am able to contribute to your assistance.” Gushtásp expressed his willingness to be merciful, but demanded a guarantee on oath from the petitioner that he would heart and soul be true and faithful to his benefactor. The oath was sworn, after which his bonds were taken from his hands and feet, and he was set at liberty. The king then called him, and pressed him with goblets of wine, which made him merry. “I have pardoned thee,” said Gushtásp, “at the special entreaty of Isfendiyár–be grateful to him, and be attentive to his commands.” After that, Isfendiyár took and conveyed him to his own house, that he might have an opportunity of experiencing and proving the promised fidelity of his new ally.



“The Heft-Khan of Isfendiyár”


Rustem had seven great labours, wondrous power

Nerved his strong arm in danger’s needful hour;

And now Firdusi’s legend-strains declare

The seven great labours of Isfendiyár.

The prince, who had determined to undertake the new expedition, and appeared confident of success, now addressed himself to Kurugsar, and said, “If I conquer the kingdom of Arjásp, and restore my sisters to liberty, thou shalt have for thyself any principality thou may’st choose within the boundaries of Irán and Túrán, and thy name shall be exalted; but beware of treachery or fraud, for falsehood shall certainly be punished with death.” To this Kurugsar replied, “I have already sworn a solemn oath to the king, and at thy intercession he has spared my life–why then should I depart from the truth, and betray my benefactor?”

“Then tell me the road to the brazen fortress, and how far it is distant from this place?” said Isfendiyár.

“There are three different routes,” replied Kurugsar. “One will occupy three months; it leads through a beautiful country, adorned with cities, and gardens, and pastures, and is pleasant to the traveller. The second is less attractive, the prospects less agreeable, and will only employ two months; the third, however, may be accomplished in seven days, and is thence called the Heft-khan, or seven stages; but at every stage some monster, or terrible difficulty, must be overcome. No monarch, even supported by a large army, has ever yet ventured to proceed by this route; and if it is ever attempted, the whole party will be assuredly lost.

“Nor strength, nor juggling, nor the sorcerer’s art

Can help him safely through that awful path,

Beset with wolves and dragons, wild and fierce,

From whom the fleetest have no power to fly.

There an enchantress, doubly armed with spells,

The most accomplished of that magic brood.

Spreads wide her snares to charm and to destroy,

And ills of every shape, and horrid aspect,

Cross the tired traveller at every step.”

At this description of the terrors of the Heft-khan, Isfendiyár became thoughtful for awhile, and then, resigning himself to the providence of God, resolved to take the shortest route. “No man can die before his time,” said he; “heaven is my protector, and I will fearlessly encounter every difficulty on the road.” “It is full of perils,” replied Kurugsar, and endeavored to dissuade him from the enterprise. “But with the blessing of God,” rejoined Isfendiyár, “it will be easy.” The prince then ordered a sumptuous banquet to be served, at which he gave Kurugsar abundant draughts of wine, and even in a state of intoxication the demon-guide still warned him against his proposed journey. “Go by the route which takes two months,” said he, “for that will be convenient and safe;” but Isfendiyár replied:–“I neither fear the difficulties of the route, nor the perils thou hast described.”

And though destruction spoke in every word,

Enough to terrify the stoutest heart,

Still he adhered to what he first resolved.

“Thou wilt attend me,” said the dauntless prince;

And thus Kurugsar, without a pause, replied:

“Undoubtedly, if by the two months’ way,

And do thee ample service; but if this

Heft-khan be thy election; if thy choice

Be fixed on that which leads to certain death,

My presence must be useless. Can I go

Where bird has never dared to wing its flight?”

Isfendiyár, upon hearing these words, began to suspect the fidelity of Kurugsar, and thought it safe to bind him in chains. The next day as he was going to take leave of his father, Kurugsar called out to him, and said: “After my promises of allegiance, and my solemn oath, why am I thus kept in chains?” “Not out of anger assuredly; but out of compassion and kindness, in order that I may take thee along with me on the enterprise of the Heft-khan; for wert thou not bound, thy faint heart might induce thee to run away.

“Safe thou art when bound in chains,

Fettered foot can never fly.

Whilst thy body here remains,

We may on thy faith rely.

Terror will in vain assail thee;

For these bonds shall never fail thee.

Guarded by a potent charm,

They will keep thee free from harm.”

Isfendiyár having received the parting benediction of Gushtásp, was supplied with a force consisting of twelve thousand chosen horsemen, and abundance of treasure, to enable him to proceed on his enterprise, and conquer the kingdom of Arjásp.


First Stage

Isfendiyár placed Kurugsar in bonds among his retinue, and took with him his brother Bashútan. But the demon-guide complained that he was unable to walk, and in consequence he was mounted on a horse, still bound, and the bridle given into the hands of one of the warriors. In this manner they proceeded, directed from time to time by Kurugsar, till they arrived at the uttermost limits of the kingdom, and entered a desert wilderness. Isfendiyár now asked what they would meet with, and the guide answered, “Two monstrous wolves are in this quarter, as large as elephants, and whose teeth are of immense length.” The prince told his people, that as soon as they saw the wolves, they must at once attack them with arrows. The day passed away, and in the evening they came to a forest and a murmuring stream, when suddenly the two enormous wolves appeared, and rushed towards the legions of Isfendiyár. The people seeing them advance, poured upon them a shower of arrows. Several, however, were wounded, but the wolves were much exhausted by the arrows which had penetrated their bodies. At this moment Bashútan attacked one of them, and Isfendiyár the other; and so vigorous was their charge, that both the monsters were soon laid lifeless in the dust. After this signal overthrow, Isfendiyár turned to Kurugsar, and exclaimed: “Thus, through the favor of Heaven, the first obstacle has been easily extinguished!” The guide regarded him with amazement, and said:–“I am indeed astonished at the intrepidity and valor that has been displayed.”

Seeing the bravery of Isfendiyár,

Amazement filled the soul of Kurugsar.

The warriors and the party now dismounted, and regaled themselves with feasting and wine. They then reposed till the following morning.


Second Stage

Proceeding on the second journey, Isfendiyár inquired what might now be expected to oppose their progress, and Kurugsar replied: “This stage is infested by lions.” “Then,” rejoined Isfendiyár, “thou shalt see with what facility I can destroy them.” At about the close of the day they met with a lion and a lioness. Bashútan said: “Take one and I will engage the other.” But Isfendiyár observed, that the animals seemed very wild and ferocious, and he preferred attacking them both himself, that his brother might not be exposed to any harm. He first sallied forth against the lion, and with one mighty stroke put an end to his life. He then approached the lioness, which pounced upon him with great fury, but was soon compelled to desist, and the prince, rapidly wielding his sword, in a moment cut off her head. Having thus successfully accomplished the second day’s task, he alighted from his horse, and refreshments being spread out, the warriors and the troops enjoyed themselves with great satisfaction, exhilarated by plenteous draughts of ruby wine. Again Isfendiyár addressed Kurugsar, and said: “Thou seest with what facility all opposition is removed, when I am assisted by the favor of Heaven!” “But there are other and more terrible difficulties to surmount, and amazing as thy achievements certainly have been, thou wilt have still greater exertions to make before thy enterprise is complete.” “What is the next evil I have to subdue?” “An enormous dragon,

“With power to fascinate, and from the deep

To lure the finny tribe, his daily food.

Fire sparkles round him; his stupendous bulk

Looks like a mountain. When incensed, his roar

Makes the surrounding country shake with fear.

White poison-foam drops from his hideous jaws,

Which yawning wide, display a dismal gulf,

The grave of many a hapless being, lost

Wandering amidst that trackless wilderness.”

Kurugsar described or magnified the ferocity of the animal in such a way, that Isfendiyár thought it necessary to be cautious, and with that view he ordered a curious apparatus to be constructed on wheels, something like a carriage, to which he fastened a large quantity of pointed instruments, and harnessed horses to it to drag it on the road. He then tried its motion, and found it admirably calculated for his purpose. The people were astonished at the ingenuity of the invention, and lauded him to the skies.


Third Stage

Away went the prince, and having travelled a considerable distance, Kurugsar suddenly exclaimed: “I now begin to smell the stench of the dragon.” Hearing this, Isfendiyár dismounted, ascended the machine, and shutting the door fast, took his seat and drove off. Bashútan and all the warriors upon witnessing this extraordinary act, began to weep and lament, thinking that he was hurrying himself to certain destruction, and begged that for his own sake, as well as theirs, he would come out of the machine. But he replied: “Peace, peace! what know ye of the matter;” and as the warlike apparatus was so excellently contrived, that he could direct the movements of the horses himself, he drove on with increased velocity, till he arrived in the vicinity of the monster.

The dragon from a distance heard

The rumbling of the wain,

And snuffing every breeze that stirred

Across the neighbouring plain,


Smelt something human in his power,

A welcome scent to him;

For he was eager to devour

Hot reeking blood, or limb.


And darkness now is spread around,

No pathway can be traced;

The fiery horses plunge and bound

Amid the dismal waste.


And now the dragon stretches far

His cavern throat, and soon

Licks in the horses and the car,

And tries to gulp them down.


But sword and javelin, sharp and keen,

Wound deep each sinewy jaw;

Midway, remains the huge machine,

And chokes the monster’s maw.


In agony he breathes, a dire

Convulsion fires his blood,

And struggling, ready to expire,

Ejects a poison-flood!


And then disgorges wain and steeds,

And swords and javelins bright;

Then, as the dreadful dragon bleeds,

Up starts the warrior-knight,

And from his place of ambush leaps,

And, brandishing his blade,

The weapon in the brain he steeps,

And splits the monster’s head.


But the foul venom issuing thence,

Is so o’erpowering found,

Isfendiyár, deprived of sense,

Falls staggering to the ground!

Upon seeing this result, and his brother in so deplorable a situation, Bashútan and the troops also were in great alarm, apprehending the most fatal consequences. They sprinkled rose-water over his face, and administered other remedies, so that after some time he recovered; then he bathed, purifying himself from the filth of the monster, and poured out prayers of thankfulness to the merciful Creator for the protection and victory he had given him. But it was matter of great grief to Kurugsar that Isfendiyár had succeeded in his exploit, because under present circumstances, he would have to follow him in the remaining arduous enterprises; whereas, if the prince had been slain, his obligations would have ceased forever.

“What may be expected to-morrow?” inquired Isfendiyár. “To-morrow,” replied the demon-guide, “thou wilt meet with an enchantress, who can convert the stormy sea into dry land, and the dry land again into the ocean. She is attended by a gigantic ghoul, or apparition.” “Then thou shalt see how easily this enchantress and her mysterious attendant can be vanquished.”


Fourth Stage

On the fourth day Isfendiyár and his companions proceeded on the destined journey, and coming to a pleasant meadow, watered by a transparent rivulet, the party alighted, and they all refreshed themselves heartily with various kinds of food and wine. In a short space of time the enchantress appeared, most beautiful in feature and elegant in attire, and approaching our hero with a sad but fascinating expression of countenance, said to him (the ghoul, her pretended paramour, being at a little distance):–

“I am a poor unhappy thing,

The daughter of a distant king.

This monster with deceit and fraud,

By a fond parent’s power unawed,

Seduced me from my royal home,

Through wood and desert wild to roam;

And surely Heaven has brought thee now

To cheer my heart, and smooth my brow,

And free me from his loathed embrace,

And bear me to a fitter place,

Where, in thy circling arms more softly prest,

I may at last be truly loved, and blest.”

Isfendiyár immediately called her to him, and requested her to sit down. The enchantress readily complied, anticipating a successful issue to her artful stratagems; but the intended victim of her sorcery was too cunning to be imposed upon. He soon perceived what she was, and forthwith cast his kamund over her, and in spite of all her entreaties, bound her too fast to escape. In this extremity, she successively assumed the shape of a cat, a wolf, and a decrepit old man: and so perfect were her transformations, that any other person would have been deceived, but Isfendiyár detected her in every variety of appearance; and, vexed by her continual attempts to cheat him, at last took out his sword and cut her in pieces. As soon as this was done, a thick dark cloud of dust and vapor arose, and when it subsided, a black apparition of a demon burst upon his sight, with flames issuing from its mouth. Determined to destroy this fresh antagonist, he rushed forward, sword in hand, and though the flames, in the attack, burnt his cloth-armor and dress, he succeeded in cutting off the threatening monster’s head. “Now,” said he to Kurugsar, “thou hast seen that with the favor of Heaven, both enchantress and ghoul are exterminated, as well as the wolves, the lions, and the dragon.” “Very well,” replied Kurugsar, “thou hast achieved this prodigious labor, but to-morrow will be a heavy day, and thou canst hardly escape with life. To-morrow thou wilt be opposed by the Símúrgh, whose nest is situated upon a lofty mountain. She has two young ones, each the size of an elephant, which she conveys in her beak and claws from place to place.” “Be under no alarm,” said Isfendiyár, “God will make the labor easy.”


Fifth Stage

On the fifth day, Isfendiyár resumed his journey, travelling with his little army over desert, plain, mountain, and wilderness, until he reached the neighborhood of the Símúrgh. He then adopted the same stratagem which he had employed before, and the machine supplied with swords and spears, and drawn by horses, was soon in readiness for the new adventure. The Símúrgh, seeing with surprise an immense vehicle, drawn by two horses, approach at a furious rate, and followed by a large company of horsemen, descended from the mountain, and endeavored to take up the whole apparatus in her claws to carry it away to her own nest; but her claws were lacerated by the sharp weapons, and she was then obliged to try her beak. Both beak and claws were injured in the effort, and the animal became extremely weakened by the loss of blood. Isfendiyár seizing the happy moment, sprang out of the carriage, and with his trenchant sword divided the Símúrgh in two parts; and the young ones, after witnessing the death of their parent, precipitately fled from the fatal scene. When Bashútan, with the army, came to the spot, they were amazed at the prodigious size of the Símúrgh, and the valor by which it had been subdued. Kurugsar turned pale with astonishment and sorrow. “What will be our next adventure?” said Isfendiyár to him. “To-morrow more pressing ills will surround thee. Heavy snow will fall, and there will be a violent tempest of wind, and it will be wonderful if even one man of thy legions remains alive. That will not be like fighting against lions, a dragon, or the Símúrgh, but against the elements, against the Almighty, which never can be successful. Thou hadst better therefore, return unhurt.” The people on hearing this warning were alarmed, and proposed to go back; “for if the advice of Kurugsar is not taken, we shall all perish like the companions of Kai-khosráu, and lie buried under drifts of snow.

“Let us return then, whilst we may;

Why should we throw our lives away?”

But Isfendiyár replied that he had already overcome five of the perils of the road, and had no fear about the remaining two. The people, however, were still discontented, and still murmured aloud; upon which the prince said, “Return then, and I will go alone.

“I never can require the aid

Of men so easily dismayed.”

Finding their leader immovable, the people now changed their tone, and expressed their devotion to his cause; declaring that whilst life remained, they would never forsake him, no never.


Sixth Stage

On the following morning, the sixth, Isfendiyár continued his labors, and hurried on with great speed. Towards evening he arrived on the skirts of a mountain, where there was a running stream, and upon that spot, he pitched his tents.

Presently from the mountain there rushed down

A furious storm of wind, then heavy showers

Of snow fell, covering all the earth with whiteness,

And making desolate the prospect round.

Keen blew the blast, and pinching was the cold;

And to escape the elemental wrath,

Leader and soldier, in the caverned rock

Scooped out by mouldering time, took shelter, there

Continuing three long days. Three lingering days

Still fell the snow, and still the tempest raged,

And man and beast grew faint for want of food.

Isfendiyár and his warriors, with heads exposed, now prostrated themselves in solemn prayer to the Almighty, and implored his favor and protection from the calamity which had befallen them. Happily their prayers were heard, Heaven was compassionate, and in a short space the snow and the mighty wind entirely ceased. By this fortunate interference of Providence, the army was enabled to quit the caves of the mountain; and then Isfendiyár again addressed Kurugsar triumphantly: “Thus the sixth labor is accomplished. What have we now to fear?” The demon-guide answered him and said: “From hence to the Brazen Fortress it is forty farsangs. That fortress is the residence of Arjásp; but the road is full of peril. For three farsangs the sand on the ground is as hot as fire, and there is no water to be found during the whole journey.” This information made a serious impression upon the mind of Isfendiyár; who said to him sternly: “If I find thee guilty of falsehood, I will assuredly put thee to death.” Kurugsar replied: “What! after six trials? Thou hast no reason to question my veracity. I shall never depart from the truth, and my advice is, that thou hadst better return; for the seventh stage is not to be ventured upon by human strength.

“Along those plains of burning sand

No bird can move, nor ant, nor fly;

No water slakes the fiery land,

Intensely glows the flaming sky.

No tiger fierce, nor lion ever

Could breathe that pestilential air;

Even the unsparing vulture never

Ventures on blood-stained pinions there.

“At the distance of three farsangs beyond this inaccessible belt of scorching country lies the Brazen Fortress, to which there is no visible path; and if an army of a hundred thousand strong were to attempt its reduction, there would not be the least chance of success.”


Seventh Stage

When Isfendiyár heard these things, enough to alarm the bravest heart, he turned towards his people to ascertain their determination; when they unanimously repeated their readiness to sacrifice their lives in his service, and to follow wherever he might be disposed to lead the way. He then put Kurugsar in chains again, and prosecuted his journey, until he reached the place said to be covered with burning sand. Arrived on the spot, he observed to the demon-guide: “Thou hast described the sand as hot, but it is not so.” “True; and it is on account of the heavy showers of snow that have fallen and cooled the ground, a proof that thou art under the protection of the Almighty.” Isfendiyár smiled, and said: “Thou art all insincerity and deception, thus to play upon my feelings with false or imaginary terrors.” Saying this he urged his soldiers to pass rapidly on, so as to leave the sand behind them, and they presently came to a great river. Isfendiyár was now angry with Kurugsar, and said: “Thou hast declared that for the space of forty farsangs there was no water, every drop being everywhere dried up by the burning heat of the sun, and here we find water! Why didst thou also idly fill the minds of my soldiers with groundless fears?” Kurugsar replied: “I will confess the truth. Did I not swear a solemn oath to be faithful, and yet I was still doubted, and still confined in irons, though the experience of six days of trial had proved the correctness of my information and advice. For this reason I was disappointed and displeased; and I must confess that I did, therefore, exaggerate the dangers of the last day, in the hope too of inducing thee to return and release me from my bonds.

“For what have I received from thee,

But scorn, and chains, and slavery.”

Isfendiyár now struck off the irons from the hands and feet of his demon-guide and treated him with favor and kindness, repeating to him his promise to reward him at the close of his victorious career with the government of a kingdom. Kurugsar was grateful for this change of conduct to him, and again acknowledging the deception he had been guilty of, hoped for pardon, engaging at the same time to take the party in safety across the great river which had impeded their progress. This was accordingly done, and the Brazen Fortress was now at no great distance. At the close of the day they were only one farsang from the towers, but Isfendiyár preferred resting till the next morning. “What is thy counsel now?” said he to his guide. “What sort of a fortress is this which fame describes in such dreadful colors?” “It is stronger than imagination can conceive, and impregnable.”–“Then how shall I get to Arjásp?

“How shall I cleave the oppressor’s form asunder,

The murderer of my grandsire, Lohurásp?

The bravest heroes of Túrán shall fall

Under my conquering sword; their wives and children

Led captive to Irán; and desolation

Scathe the whole realm beneath the tyrant’s sway.”

But these words only roused and exasperated the feelings of Kurugsar, who bitterly replied:–

“Then may calamity be thy reward,

Thy stars malignant, and thy life all sorrow;

And may’st thou perish, weltering in thy blood,

And the bare desert be thy lonely grave

For that inhuman thought, that cruel menace.”

Isfendiyár, upon hearing this unexpected language, became furious with indignation, and instantly punished the offender on the spot; with one stroke of his sword he cleft Kurugsar in twain.


When the clouds of night had darkened the sky, Isfendiyár, with a number of his warriors, proceeded towards the Brazen Fortress, and secretly explored it on every side. He found it constructed entirely of iron and brass; and, notwithstanding a strict examination at every point, discovered no accessible part for attack. It was three farsangs high, and forty wide; and such a place as was never before beheld by man.



“Capture of the Brazen Fortress and Death of Arjásp”


Isfendiyár returned from reconnoitring the fortress with acute feelings of sorrow and despair. He was at last convinced that Kurugsar had spoken the truth; for there seemed to be no chance whatever of taking the place by any stratagem he could invent. Revolving the enterprise seriously in his mind, he now began to repent of his folly, and the overweening confidence which had led him to undertake the journey. Returning thus to his tent in a melancholy mood, he saw a Fakír sitting down on the road, and him he anxiously accosted. “What may be the number of the garrison in this fort?” “There are a hundred thousand veteran warriors in the service of Arjásp in the fort, with abundance of supplies of every kind, and streams of pure water, so that nothing is wanted to foil an enemy.” This was very unwelcome intelligence to Isfendiyár, who now assembled his officers to consider what was best to be done. They all agreed that the reduction of the fortress was utterly impracticable, and that the safest course for him would be to return. But he could not bring himself to acquiesce in this measure, saying: “God is almighty, and beneficent, and with him is the victory.” He then reflected deeply and long, and finally determined upon entering the fort disguised as a merchant. Having first settled the mode of proceeding, he put Bashútan in temporary charge of the army, saying:–

“This Brazen Fortress scorns all feats of arms,

Nor sword nor spear, nor battle-axe, can here

Be wielded to advantage; stratagem

Must be employed, or we shall never gain

Possession of its wide-extended walls,

Placing my confidence in God alone

I go with rich and curious wares for sale,

To take the credulous people by surprise,

Under the semblance of a peaceful merchant.”

Isfendiyár then directed a hundred dromedaries to be collected, and when they were brought to him he disposed of them in the following manner. He loaded ten with embroidered cloths, five with rubies and sapphires, and five more with pearls and other precious jewels. Upon each of the remaining eighty he placed two chests, and in each chest a warrior was secreted, making in all one hundred and sixty; and one hundred more were disposed as camel-drivers and servants. Thus the whole force, consisting of a hundred dromedaries and two hundred and sixty warriors, set off towards the Brazen Fortress, Isfendiyár having first intimated to his brother Bashútan to march with his army direct to the gates of the fort, as soon as he saw a column of flame and smoke ascend from the interior. On the way they gave out that they were merchants come with valuable goods from Persia, and hoped for custom. The tidings of travellers having arrived with rubies and gold-embroidered garments for sale, soon reached the ears of Arjásp, the king, who immediately gave them permission to enter the fort. When Isfendiyár, the reputed master of the caravan, had got within the walls, he said that he had brought rich presents for the king, and requested to be introduced to him in person. He was accordingly allowed to take the presents himself, was received with distinguished attention, and having stated his name to be Kherád, was invited to go to the royal palace, whenever, and as often as, he might please. At one of the interviews the king asked him, as he had come from Persia, if he knew whether the report was true or not that Kurugsar had been put to death, and what Gushtásp and Isfendiyár were engaged upon. The hero in disguise replied that it was five months since he left Persia; but he had heard on the road from many persons that Isfendiyár intended proceeding by the way of the Heft-khan with a vast army, towards the Brazen Fortress. At these words Arjásp smiled in derision, and said: “Ah! ah! by that way even the winged tribe are afraid to venture; and if Isfendiyár had a thousand lives, he would lose them all in any attempt to accomplish that journey.” After this interview Isfendiyár daily continued to attend to the sale of his merchandise, and soon found that his sisters were employed in the degrading office of drawing and carrying water for the kitchen of Arjásp. When they heard that a caravan had arrived from Irán, they went to Isfendiyár (who recognized them at a distance, but hid his face that they might not know him), to inquire what tidings he had brought about their father and brother. Alarmed at the hazard of discovery, he replied that he knew nothing, and desired them to depart; but they remained, and said: “On thy return to Irán, at least, let it be known that here we are, two daughters of Gushtásp, reduced to the basest servitude, and neither father nor brother takes compassion upon our distresses.

“Whilst with bare head, and naked feet, we toil,

They pass their time in peace and happiness,

Regardless of the misery we endure.”

Isfendiyár again, in assumed anger, told them to depart, saying: “Talk not to me of Gushtásp and Isfendiyár–what have I to do with them?” At that moment the sound of his voice was recognized by the elder sister, who, in a transport of joy, instantly communicated her discovery to the younger; but they kept the secret till night, and then they returned to commune with their brother. Isfendiyár finding that he was known, acknowledged himself, and informed them that he had undertaken to restore them to liberty, and that he was now engaged in the enterprise, opposing every obstacle in his way; but it was necessary that they should continue their usual labor at the wells, till a fitting opportunity occurred.

For the purpose of accelerating the moment of release, Isfendiyár represented to the king that at a period of great adversity, he had made a vow that he would give a splendid banquet if ever Heaven again smiled upon him, and as he then was in the way to prosperity, and wished to fulfil his vow, he hoped that his majesty would honor him with his presence on the occasion. The king accepted the invitation with satisfaction, and said: “To-morrow I will be thy guest, at thy own house, and with all my warriors and soldiers.” But this did not suit the scheme of the pretended merchant, who apologized on account of his house being too small, and proposed that the feast should be held upon the loftiest part of the fortress, where spacious tents and pavilions might be erected for the purpose, and a large fire lighted to give splendor to the scene. The king assented, and every requisite preparation being made, all the royal and warrior guests assembled in the morning, and eagerly partook of the rich viands set before them. They all drank wine with such relish and delight, that they soon became intoxicated, and Kherád seizing the opportunity, ordered the logs of wood which had been collected, to be set on fire, and rapidly the smoke and flame sprung up, and ascended to the sky. Bashútan saw the looked-for sign, and hastened with two thousand horsemen to the gates of the fortress, where he slew every one that he met, calling himself Isfendiyár. Arjásp had enjoyed the banquet exceedingly; the music gave him infinite pleasure, and the wine had intoxicated him; but in the midst of his hilarity and merriment, he was told that Isfendiyár had reached the gates, and entered the fort, killing immense numbers of his people. This terrible intelligence roused him and quitting the festive board of Kherád, he ordered his son Kahram, with fifty thousand horsemen, to repel the invader. He also ordered forty thousand horsemen to protect different parts of the walls, and ten thousand to remain as his own personal guard. Kahram accordingly issued forth without delay, and soon engaged in battle with the force under Bashútan.

When night came, Isfendiyár opened the lids of the chests, and let out the hundred and sixty warriors, whom he supplied with swords and spears, and armor, and also the hundred who were disguised as camel-drivers and servants.


The sisters of Isfendiyár now arrived, and pointed out to him the chamber of Arjásp, to which place he immediately repaired, and roused up the king, who was almost insensible with the fumes of wine. Arjásp, however, sprang upon his feet,

And grappled stoutly with Isfendiyár,

And desperate was the conflict: head and loins

Alternately received deep gaping wounds

From sword and dagger. Wearied out at length,

Arjásp shrunk back, when with one mighty blow,

Isfendiyár, exulting in his power,

Cleft him asunder.

Two of the wives, two daughters, and one sister of Arjásp fell immediately into the hands of the conqueror, who delivered them into the custody of his son, to be conveyed home. He then quitted the palace, and turning his steps towards the gates of the fortress, slew a great number of the enemy.

Kahram, in the meantime, had been fiercely engaged with Bashútan, and was extremely reduced. At the very moment too of his discomfiture, he heard the watchmen call out aloud that Arjásp had been slain by Kherád. Confounded and alarmed by these tidings, he approached the fort, where he heard the confirmation of his misfortune from every mouth, and also that the garrison had been put to the sword. Leading on the remainder of his troops he now came in contact with Isfendiyár and his two hundred and sixty warriors, and a sharp engagement ensued; but the coming up of Bashútan’s force on his rear, placed him in such a predicament on every side, that defeat and destruction were almost inevitable. In short, Kahram was left with only a few of his soldiers near him, when Isfendiyár, observing his situation, challenged him to personal combat, and the challenge was accepted.

So closely did the eager warriors close,

They seemed together joined, and but one man.

At last Isfendiyár seized Kahram’s girth,

And flung him to the ground, and bound his hands;

And as a leaf is severed from its stalk,

So he the head cleft from its quivering trunk;

Thus one blow wins, and takes away a throne,

In battle heads are trodden under hoofs,

Crowns under heads.

After the death of Kahram, Isfendiyár issued a proclamation, offering full pardon to all who would unite under his banners. They had no king.

The country had no throne, no crown. Alas!

What is the world without a governor,

What, but a headless trunk? A thing more worthless

Than the vile dust upon the common road.

What could the people do in their despair?

They were obedient, and Isfendiyár

Encouraged them with kind and gentle words,

Fitting a generous and a prudent master.

Having first written to his father an account of the great victory which he had gained, he occupied himself in reducing all the surrounding provinces and their inhabitants to subjection. Those people who continued hostile to him he deemed it necessary to put to death. He took all the women of Arjásp into his own service, and their daughters he presented to his own sons.


When Gushtásp received information of this mighty conquest, he sent orders to Isfendiyár to continue in the government of the new empire; but the prince replied that he had settled the country, and was anxious to see his father. This request being permitted, he was desired to bring away all the immense booty, and return by the road of the Heft-khan. Arriving at the place where he was overtaken by the dreadful winter-storm, he again found all the property he had lost under the drifts of snow; and when he had accomplished his journey, he was received with the warmest welcome and congratulations, on account of his extraordinary successes. A royal feast was prepared, and the king filled his son’s goblet with wine so repeatedly, and drank himself so frequently, and with such zest, that both of them at length became intoxicated. Gushtásp then asked Isfendiyár to describe to him the particulars of his expedition by the road of the Heft-khan; for though he had heard the story from others, he wished to have it from his own mouth. But Isfendiyár replied: “We have both drank too much wine, and nothing good can proceed from a drunken man; I will recite my adventures to-morrow, when my head is clear.” The next day Gushtásp, seated upon his throne, and Isfendiyár placed before him on a golden chair, again asked for the prince’s description of his triumphant progress by the Heft-khan, and according to his wish every incident that merited notice was faithfully detailed to him. The king expressed great pleasure at the conclusion; but envy and suspicion lurked in his breast, and writhing internally like a serpent, he still delayed fulfilling his promise to invest Isfendiyár, upon the overthrow of Arjásp, with the sovereignty of Irán.

The prince could not fail to observe the changed disposition of his father, and privately went to Kitabún, his mother, to whom he related the solemn promise and engagement of Gushtásp, and requested her to go to him, and say: “Thou hast given thy royal word to Isfendiyár, that when he had conquered and slain Arjásp, and restored his own sisters to liberty, thou wouldst place upon his head the crown of Irán; faith and honor are indispensable in princes, they are inculcated by religion, and yet thou hast failed to make good thy word.” But the mother had more prudence, and said: “Let me give thee timely counsel, and breathe not a syllable to any one on the subject. God forbid that thou shouldst again be thrown into prison, and confined in chains. Recollect thine is the succession; the army is in thy favor; thy father is old and infirm. Have a little patience and in the end thou wilt undoubtedly be the King of Persia.


Isfendiyár, however, was not contented with his mother’s counsel, and suspecting that she would communicate to the king what he had said, he one day, as if under the influence of wine, thus addressed his father: “In what way have I failed to accomplish thy wishes? Have I not performed such actions as never were heard of, and never will be performed again, in furtherance of thy glory? I have overthrown thy greatest enemy, and supported thy honor with ceaseless toil and exertion. Is it not then incumbent on thee to fulfil thy promise?” Gushtásp replied: “Do not be impatient–the throne is thine;” but he was deeply irritated at heart on being thus reproached by his own son. When he retired he consulted with Jamásp, and was anxious to know what the stars foretold. The answer was: “He is of exalted fortune, of high destiny; he will overcome all his enemies, and finally obtain the sovereignty of the heft-aklím, or seven climes.” This favorable prophecy aggravated the spleen of the father against the son, and he inquired with bitter and unnatural curiosity: “What will be his death? Look to that.”

“A deadly dart from Rustem’s bow,

Will lay the glorious warrior low.”

These tidings gladdened the heart of Gushtásp, and he said: “If this miscreant had been slain in his expedition to the Brazen Fortress I should not now have been insulted with his claim to my throne.” The king then having resolved upon a scheme of deep dissimulation, ordered a gorgeous banquet, and invited to it all his relations and warriors; and when the guests were assembled he said to Isfendiyár: “The crown and the throne are thine; indeed, who is there so well qualified for imperial sway?” and turning to his warriors, he spoke of him with praise and admiration, and added: “When I was entering upon the war against Arjásp, before I quitted Sístán, I said to Rustem: ‘Lohurásp, my father, is dead, my wife and children made prisoners, wilt thou assist me in punishing the murderer and oppressor?’ but he excused himself, and remained at home, and although I have since been involved in numberless perils, he has not once by inquiry shown himself interested in my behalf; in short, he boasts that Kai-khosráu gave him the principalities of Zábul and Kábul, and Ním-rúz, and that he owes no allegiance to me! It behooves me, therefore, to depute Isfendiyár to go and put him to death, or bring him before me in bonds alive. After that I shall have no enemy to be revenged upon, and I shall retire from the world, and leave to Isfendiyár the crown and the throne of Persia, with confidence and satisfaction.” All the nobles and heroes present approved of the measure, and the king, gratified by their approbation, then turned to Isfendiyár, and said: “I have sworn on the Zendavesta, to relinquish my power, and place it in thy hands, as soon as Rustem is subdued. Take whatever force the important occasion may require, for the whole resources of the empire shall be at thy command,” But Isfendiyár thus replied: “Remember the first time I defeated Arjásp–what was my reward? Through the machinations of Gurzam I was thrown into prison and chained. And what is my reward now that I have slain both Arjásp and his son in battle? Thy solemn promise to me is forgotten, or disregarded. The prince who forgets one promise will forget another, if it be convenient for his purpose.


Gushtásp remained unmoved by this sharp rebuke, though he readily acknowledged its justice. “The crown shall be thine,” said he, “but consider my position. Think, too, what services Zál and Rustem performed for Kai-khosráu, and shall I expect less from my own son, gifted as he is with a form of brass, and the most prodigious valor? Forbid it, Heaven! that any rumor of our difference should get abroad in the world, which would redound to the dishonor of both! Nearly half of Irán is in the possession of Rustem.” “Give me the crown,” said Isfendiyár, “and I will immediately proceed against the Zabúl champion.” “I have given thee both the crown and the throne, take with thee my whole army, and all my treasure.–What wouldst thou have more? He who has conquered the terrific obstacles of the Heft-khan, and has slain Arjásp and subdued his entire kingdom, can have no cause to fear the prowess of Rustem, or any other chief.” Isfendiyár replied that he had no fear of Rustem’s prowess; he was now old, and therefore not equal to himself in strength; still he had no wish to oppose him:–

“For he has been the monitor and friend

Of our Kaiánian ancestors; his care

Enriched their minds, and taught them to be brave;

And he was ever faithful to their cause.

Besides,” said he, “thou wert the honoured guest

Of Rustem two long years; and at Sístán

Enjoyed his hospitality and friendship,

His festive, social board; and canst thou now,

Forgetting that delightful intercourse,

Become his bitterest foe?”


Gushtásp replied:–

“Tis true he may have served my ancestors;

But what is that to me? His spirit is proud,

And he refused to yield me needful aid

When danger pressed; that is enough, and thou

Canst not divert me from my settled purpose.

Therefore, if thy aim be still

To rule, thy father’s wish fulfil;

Quickly trace the distant road;

Quick invade the chiefs abode;

Bind his feet, and bind his hands

In a captive’s galling bands;

Bring him here, that all may know

Thou hast quelled the mighty foe.”

But Isfendiyár was still reluctant, and implored him to relinquish his design.


Again Gushtásp spoke, and said: “There is no necessity for any further delay. Thou art appointed my successor, and the crown and the throne are thine; thou hast therefore only to march to the scene of action, and accomplish the object of the war.” Hearing this, Isfendiyár sullenly retired to his own house, and Gushtásp, perceiving that he was in an angry mood, requested Jamásp (his minister) to ascertain the state of his mind, and whether he intended to proceed to Sístán or not. Jamásp immediately went, and Isfendiyár asked him, as his friend, what he would advise. “The commands of a father,” he replied, “must be obeyed.” There was now no remedy, and the king being informed that the prince consented to undertake the expedition, no further discussion took place.

But Kitabún was deeply affected when she heard of these proceedings, and repaired instantly to her son, to represent to him the hopelessness of the enterprise he had engaged to conduct.

“A mother’s counsel is a golden treasure,

Consider well, and listen not to folly.

Rustem, the champion of the world, will never

Suffer himself to be confined in bonds.

Did he not conquer the White Demon, fill

The world with blood, in terrible revenge,

When Saiáwush was by Afrásiyáb

Cruelly slain? O, curses on the throne,

And ruin seize the country, which returns

Evil for good, and spurns its benefactor.

Restrain thy steps, engage not in this war;

It cannot do thee honour. Hear my voice!

For Rustem still can conquer all the world.”

Hear the safe counsel of thy anxious mother!

Thus spoke Kitabún, shedding ceaseless tears;


And thus Isfendiyár: “I fear not Rustem;

I fear not his prodigious power and skill;

But never can I on so great a hero

Place ignominious bonds; it must not be.

Yet, mother dear, my faithful word is pledged;

My word Jamásp has taken to the king,

And I must follow where my fortune leads.”

The next morning Isfendiyár took leave of the king, and with a vast army, and immense treasure, commenced his march towards Sístán. It happened that one of the camels in advance laid down, and though beaten severely, could not be made to get up on its legs. Isfendiyár, seeing the obstinacy of the animal, ordered it to be killed, and passed on. The people, however, interpreted the accident as a bad omen, and wished him not to proceed; but he could not attend to their suggestions, as he thought the king would look upon it as a mere pretence, and therefore continued his journey.

When he approached Sístán, he sent Bahman, his eldest son, to Rustem, with a flattering message, to induce the champion to honor him with an istakbál, or deputation to receive him. Upon Bahman’s arrival, however, he hesitated and delayed, being reluctant to give a direct answer; but Zál interposed, saying: “Why not immediately wait upon the prince?–have we not always been devoted to the Kaiánian dynasty?–Go and bring him hither, that we may tender him our allegiance, and entertain him at our mansion as becomes his illustrious birth,” Accordingly Rustem went out to welcome Isfendiyár, and alighting from Rakush, proceeded respectfully on foot to embrace him. He then invited him to his house, but Isfendiyár said: “So strict are my father’s commands, that after having seen thee, I am not permitted to delay my departure.” Rustem, however, pressed him to remain with him, but all in vain. On the contrary the prince artfully conducted him to his own quarters, where he addressed him thus: “If thou wilt allow me to bind thee, hand and foot, in chains, I will convey thee to the king my father, whose humor it is to see thee once in fetters, and then to release thee!” Rustem was silent. Again Isfendiyár said: “If thou art not disposed to comply with this demand, go thy ways,” Rustem replied: “First be my guest, as thy father once was, and after that I will conform to thy will.” Again the prince said: “My father visited thee under other circumstances; I have come for a different purpose. If I eat thy bread and salt, and after that thou shouldst refuse thy acquiescence, I must have recourse to force. But if I become thy guest, how can I in honor fight with thee? and if I do not take thee bound into my father’s presence, according to his command, what answer shall I give to him?” “For the same reason,” said Rustem; “how can I eat thy bread and salt?” Isfendiyár then replied: “Thou needest not eat my bread and salt, but only drink wine.–Bring thy own pure ruby.” To this Rustem agreed, and they drank, each his own wine, together.

In a short space Rustem observed that he wished to consult his father Zál; and being allowed to depart, he, on his return home, described in strong terms of admiration the personal appearance and mental qualities of Isfendiyár.


Bashútan in the meanwhile observed to his brother, with some degree of dissatisfaction, that his enemy had come into his power, on his own feet too, but had been strangely permitted to go away again. To this gentle reproof Isfendiyár confidently replied, “If he does fail to return, I will go and secure him in bonds, even in his own house,”–“Ah!” said Bashútan, “that might be done by gentleness, but not by force, for the descendant of Sám, the champion of the world, is not to be subdued so easily.” These words had a powerful effect upon the mind of Isfendiyár, and he became apprehensive that Rustem would not return; but whilst he was still murmuring at his own want of vigilance, the champion appeared, and at this second interview repeated his desire that the prince would become his guest. “I am sent here by my father, who relies upon thy accepting his proffered hospitality.”–“That may be,” said Isfendiyár, “but I am at my utmost limit, I cannot go farther. From this place, therefore, thou hadst better prepare to accompany me to Irán.” Here Rustem paused, and at length artfully began to enumerate his various achievements, and to blazon his own name.

“I fettered fast the emperor of Chin,

And broke the enchantment of the Seven Khans;

I stood the guardian of the Persian kings,

Their shield in danger. I have cleared the world

Of all their foes, enduring pain and toil

Incalculable. Such exploits for thee

Will I achieve, such sufferings will I bear,

And hence we offer thee a social welcome.

But let not dark suspicion cloud thy mind,

Nor think thyself exalted as the heavens,

Because I thus invite thee to our home.”

Isfendiyár felt so indignant and irritated by this apparent boasting and self-sufficiency of Rustem, that his first impulse was to cast a dagger at him; but he kept down his wrath, and satisfied himself with giving him a scornful glance, and telling him to take a seat on his left hand. But Rustem resented this affront, saying that he never yet had sat down on the left of any king, and placed himself, without permission, on the right hand of Isfendiyár. The unfavorable impression on the prince’s mind was increased by this independent conduct, and he was provoked to say to him, “Rustem! I have heard that Zál, thy father, was of demon extraction, and that Sám cast him into the desert because of his disgusting and abominable appearance; that even the hungry Símúrgh, on the same account, forebore to feed upon him, but conveyed him to her nest among her own young ones, who, pitying his wretched condition, supplied him with part of the carrion they were accustomed to devour. Naked and filthy, he is thus said to have subsisted on garbage, till Sám was induced to commiserate his wretchedness, and take him to Sástán, where, by the indulgence of his family and royal bounty, he was instructed in human manners and human science.” This was a reproach and an insult too biting for Rustem to bear with any degree of patience, and frowning with strong indignation, he said, “Thy father knows, and thy grandfather well knew that Zál was the son of Sám, and Sám of Narímán, and that Narímán was descended from Húsheng. Thou and I, therefore, have the same origin. Besides, on my mother’s side, I am descended from Zohák, so that by both parents I am of a race of princes. Knowest thou not that the Iránian empire was for some time in my hands, and that I refused to retain it, though urged by the nobles and the army to exercise the functions of royalty? It was my sense of justice, and attachment to the Kais and to thy family, which have enabled thee to possess thy present dignity and command. It is through my fidelity and zeal that thou art now in a situation to reproach me. Thou hast slain one king, Arjásp, how many kings have I slain? Did I not conquer Afrásiyáb, the greatest and bravest king that ever ruled over Túrán? And did I not also subdue the king of Hámáverán, and the Khakán of Chín? Káús, thy own ancestor, I released from the demons of Mázinderán. I slew the White Demon, and the tremendous giant, Akwán Díw. Can thy insignificant exploits be compared with mine? Never!” Rustem’s vehemence, and the disdainful tone of his voice, exasperated still more the feelings of Isfendiyár, who however recollected that he was under his roof, otherwise he would have avenged himself instantly on the spot. Restraining his anger, he then said softly to him, “Wherefore dost thou raise thy voice so high? For though thy head be exalted to the skies, thou wert, and still art, but a dependent on the Kais. And was thy Heft-khan equal in terrible danger to mine? Was the capture of Mázinderán equal in valorous exertion to the capture of the Brazen Fortress? And did I not, by the power of my sword, diffuse throughout the world the blessings of my own religion, the faith of the fire-worshipper, which was derived from Heaven itself? Thou hast performed the duties of a warrior and a servant, whilst I have performed the holy functions of a sovereign and a prophet!” Rustem, in reply, said:–

“In thy Heft-khan thou hadst twelve thousand men

Completely armed, with ample stores and treasure,

Whilst Rakush and my sword, my conquering sword,

Were all the aid I had, and all I sought,

In that prodigious enterprise of mine.

Two sisters thou released–no arduous task,

Whilst I recovered from the demon’s grasp

The mighty Káús, and the monsters slew,

Roaring like thunder in their dismal caves.


“This great exploit my single arm achieved;

And when Kai-khosráu gave the regal crown

To Lohurásp, the warriors were incensed,

And deemed Fríburz, Káús’s valiant son,

Fittest by birth to rule. My sire and I

Espoused the cause of Lohurásp; else he

Had never sat upon the throne, nor thou

Been here to treat with scorn thy benefactor.

And now Gushtásp, with foul ingratitude,

Would bind me hand and foot! But who on earth

Can do that office? I am not accustomed

To hear harsh terms, and cannot brook their sting,

Therefore desist. Once in Káús’s court,

When I was moved to anger, I poured out

Upon him words of bitterest scorn and rage,

And though surrounded by a thousand chiefs,

Not one attempted to repress my fury,

Not one, but all stood silent and amazed.”


“Smooth that indignant brow,” the prince replied

“And measure not my courage nor my strength

With that of Káús; had he nerve like mine?

Thou might’st have kept the timorous king in awe,

But I am come myself to fetter thee!”

So saying, he the hand of Rustem grasped,

And wrung it so intensely, that the champion

Felt inwardly surprised, but careless said,

“The time is not yet come for us to try

Our power in battle.” Then Isfendiyár

Dropped Rustem’s hand, and spoke, “To-day let wine

Inspire our hearts, and on the field to-morrow

Be ours the strife, with battle-axe and sword,

And my first aim shall be to bind thee fast,

And show thee to my troops, Rustem in fetters!”


At this the champion smiled, and thus exclaimed,

“Where hast thou seen the deeds of warriors brave?

Where hast thou heard the clash of mace and sword

Wielded by men of valour? I to-morrow

Will take thee in my arms, and straight convey thee

To Zál, and place thee on the ivory throne,

And on thy head a crown of gold shall glitter.

The treasury I will open, and our troops

Shall fight for thee, and I will gird my loins

As they were girt for thy bold ancestors;

And when thou art the chosen king, and I

Thy warrior-chief, the world will be thy own;

No other sovereign need attempt to reign.”

“So much time has been spent in vain boasting, and extravagant self-praise,” rejoined Isfendiyár, “that the day is nearly done, and I am hungry; let us therefore take some refreshment together.” Rustem’s appetite being equally keen, the board was spread, and every dish that was brought to him he emptied at once, as if at one swallow; then he threw aside the goblets, and called for the large flagon that he might drink his fill without stint. When he had finished several dishes and as many flagons of wine, he paused, and Isfendiyár and the assembled chiefs were astonished at the quantity he had devoured. He now prepared to depart, and the prince said to him, “Go and consult with thy father: if thou art contented to be bound, well; if not, thou wilt have cause to repent, for I will assuredly attend to the commands of Gushtásp.”–“Do thou also consult with thy brethren and friends,” replied Rustem, “whether thou wilt be our guest to-morrow, or not; if not, come to this place before sunrise, that we may decide our differences in battle.” Isfendiyár said, “My most anxious desire, my wish to heaven, is to meet thee, for I shall have no difficulty in binding thee hand and foot. I would indeed willingly convey thee without fetters to my father, but if I did so, he would say that I was unable to put thee in bonds, and that would disgrace my name.” Rustem observed that the immense number of men and demons he had contended against was as nothing in the balance of his mind compared with the painful subject of his present thoughts and fears. He was ready to engage, but afraid of meriting a bad name.

“If in the battle thou art slain by me,

Will not my cheek turn pale among the princes

Of the Kaiánian race, having cut off

A lovely branch of that illustrious tree?

Will not reproaches hang upon my name

When I am dead, and shall I not be cursed

For perpetrating such a horrid deed?

Thy father, too, is old, and near his end,

And thou upon the eve of being crowned;

And in thy heart thou knowest that I proffered,

And proffer my allegiance and devotion,

And would avoid the conflict. Sure, thy father

Is practising some trick, some foul deception,

To urge thee on to an untimely death,

To rid himself of some unnatural fear,

He stoops to an unnatural, treacherous act,

For I have ever been the firm support

Of crown and throne, and perfectly he knows

No mortal ever conquered me in battle,

None ever from my sword escaped his life.”


Then spoke Isfendiyár: “Thou wouldst be generous

And bear a spotless name, and tarnish mine;

But I am not to be deceived by thee:

In fetters thou must go!” Rustem replied:

“Banish that idle fancy from thy brain;

Dream not of things impossible, for death

Is busy with thee; pause, or thou wilt die.”

“No more!” exclaimed the prince, “no more of this.

Nor seek to frighten me with threatening words;

Go, and to-morrow bring with thee thy friends,

Thy father and thy brother, to behold

With their own eyes thy downfall, and lament

In sorrow over thy impending fate.”

“So let it be,” said Rustem, and at once

Mounted his noble horse, and hastened home.

The champion immediately requested his father’s permission to go and fight Isfendiyár the following day, but the old man recommended reconciliation and peace. “That cannot be,” said Rustem, “for he has reviled thee so severely, and heaped upon me so many indignities, that my patience is exhausted, and the contest unavoidable.” In the morning Zál, weeping bitterly, tied on Rustem’s armor himself, and in an agony of grief, said: “If thou shouldst kill Isfendiyár, thy name will be rendered infamous throughout the world; and if thou shouldst be killed, Sístán will be prostrate in the dust, and extinguished forever! My heart shudders at the thoughts of this battle, but there is no remedy.” Rustem said to him:–“Put thy trust in God, and be not sorrowful, for when I grasp my sword the head of the enemy is lost; but my desire is to take Isfendiyár alive, and not to kill him. I would serve him, and not sever his head from his body.” Zál was pleased with this determination, and rejoiced that there was a promise of a happy issue to the engagement.

In the morning Rustem arrayed himself in his war-attire, helmet and breast-plate, and mounted Rakush, also armed in his bargustuwan. His troops, too, were all assembled, and Zál appointed Zúára to take charge of them, and be careful of his brother on all occasions where assistance might be necessary. The old man then prostrated himself in prayer, and said, “O God, turn from us all affliction, and vouchsafe to us a prosperous day.” Rustem being prepared for the struggle, directed Zúára to wait with the troops at a distance, whilst he went alone to meet Isfendiyár. When Bashútan first saw him, he thought he was coming to offer terms of peace, and said to Isfendiyár, “He is coming alone, and it is better that he should go to thy father of his own accord, than in bonds.”–“But,” replied Isfendiyár, “he is coming completely equipped in mail–quick, bring me my arms.”–“Alas!” rejoined Bashútan, “thy brain is wild, and thou art resolved upon fighting. This impetuous spirit will break my heart.” But Isfendiyár took no notice of the gentle rebuke. Presently he saw Rustem ascend a high place, and heard his summons to single combat. He then told his brother to keep at a distance with the army, and not to interfere till aid was positively required. Insisting rigidly on these instructions, he mounted his night-black charger, and hastened towards Rustem, who now proposed to him that they should wait awhile, and that in the meantime the two armies might be put in motion against each other. “Though,” said he, “my men of Zábul are few, and thou hast a numerous host.”

“This is a strange request,” replied the prince,

“But thou art all deceit and artifice;

Mark thy position, lofty and commanding,

And mine, beneath thee–in a spreading vale.

Now, Heaven forbid that I, in reckless mood,

Should give my valiant legions to destruction,

And look unpitying on! No, I advance,

Whoever may oppose me; and if thou

Requirest aid, select thy friend, and come,

For I need none, save God, in battle–none.”

And Rustem said the same, for he required

No human refuge, no support but Heaven.

The battle rose, and numerous javelins whizzed

Along the air, and helm and mail were bruised;

Spear fractured spear, and then with shining swords

The strife went on, till, trenched with many a wound,

They, too, snapped short. The battle-axe was next

Wielded, in furious wrath; each bending forward

Struck brain-bewildering blows; each tried in vain

To hurl the other from his fiery horse.

Wearied, at length, they stood apart to breathe

Their charges panting from excessive toil,

Covered with foam and blood, and the strong armor,

Of steed and rider rent. The combatants

Thus paused, in mutual consternation lost.

In the meantime Zúára, impatient at this delay, advanced towards the Iránians, and reproached them for their cowardice so severely, that Núsháwer, the younger son of Isfendiyár, felt ashamed, and immediately challenged the bravest of the enemy to fight. Alwaí, one of Rustem’s followers, came boldly forward, but his efforts only terminated in his discomfiture and death. After him came Zúára himself:–

Who galloped to the charge incensed, and, high

Lifting his iron mace, upon the head

Of bold Núsháwer struck a furious blow,

Which drove him from his steed a lifeless corse.

Seeing their gallant leader thus overthrown,

The troops in terror fled, and in their flight

Thousands were slain, among them brave Mehrnús,

Another kinsman of Isfendiyár.

Bahman, observing the defeat and confusion of the Iránians, went immediately to his father, and told him that two of his own family were killed by the warriors of Zábul, who had also attacked him and put his troops to the rout with great slaughter. Isfendiyár was extremely irritated at this intelligence, and called aloud to Rustem: “Is treachery like this becoming in a warrior?” The champion being deeply concerned, shook like a branch, and swore by the head and life of the king, by the sun, and his own conquering sword, that he was ignorant of the event, and innocent of what had been done. To prove what he said, he offered to bind in fetters his brother Zúára, who must have authorized the movement; and also to secure Ferámurz, who slew Mehrnús, and deliver them over to Gushtásp, the fire-worshipper. “Nay,” said he, “I will deliver over to thee my whole family, as well as my brother and son, and thou mayest sacrifice them all as a punishment for having commenced the fight without permission.” Isfendiyár replied: “Of what use would it be to sacrifice thy brother and thy son? Would that restore my own to me? No. Instead of them, I will put thee to death, therefore come on!” Accordingly both simultaneously bent their bows, and shot their arrows with the utmost rapidity; but whilst Rustem’s made no impression, those of Isfendiyár’s produced great effect on the champion and his horse. So severely was Rakush wounded, that Rustem, when he perceived how much his favorite horse was exhausted, dismounted, and continued to impel his arrows against the enemy from behind his shield. But Rakush brooked not the dreadful storm, and galloped off unconscious that his master himself was in as bad a plight. When Zúára saw the noble animal, riderless, crossing the plain, he gasped for breath, and in an agony of grief hurried to the fatal spot, where he found Rustem desperately hurt, and the blood flowing copiously from every wound. The champion observed, that though he was himself bleeding so much, not one drop of blood appeared to have issued from the veins of his antagonist. He was very weak, but succeeded in dragging himself up to his former position, when Isfendiyár, smiling to see them thus, exclaimed:–

“Is this the valiant Rustem, the renowned,

Quitting the field of battle? Where is now

The raging tiger, the victorious chief?

Was it from thee the Demons shrunk in terror,

And did thy burning sword sear out their hearts?

What has become of all thy valour now?

Where is thy matchless mace, and why art thou,

The roaring lion, turned into a fox,

An animal of slyness, not of courage,

Losing thy noble character and name?”

Zúára, when he came to Rustem, alighted and resigned his horse to his brother; and placing an arrow on his bow-string, wished himself to engage Isfendiyár, who was ready to fight him, but Rustem cried, “No, I have not yet done with thee.” Isfendiyár replied: “I know thee well, and all thy dissimulation, but nothing yet is accomplished. Come and consent to be fettered, or I must compel thee.” Rustem, however, was not to be overcome, and he said: “If I were really subdued by thee, I might agree to be bound like a vanquished slave; but the day is now closing, to-morrow we will resume the fight!” Isfendiyár acquiesced, and they separated, Rustem going to his own tent, and the prince remaining on the field. There he affectionately embraced the severed heads of his kinsmen, placed them himself on a bier, and sent them to his father, the king, with a letter in which he said, “Thy commands must be obeyed, and such is the result of to-day; Heaven only knows what may befall to-morrow.” Then he spoke privately to Bashútan: “This Rustem is not human, he is formed of rock and iron, neither sword nor javelin has done him mortal harm; but the arrows went deep into his body, and it will indeed be wonderful if he lives throughout the night. I know not what to think of to-morrow, or how I shall be able to overcome him.”

When Rustem arrived at his quarters, Zál soon discovered that he had received many wounds, which occasioned great affliction in his family, and he said: “Alas! that in my old age such a misfortune should have befallen us, and that with my own eyes I should see these gaping wounds!” He then rubbed Rustem’s feet, and applied healing balm to the wounds, and bound them up with the skill and care of a physician. Rustem said to his father: “I never met with a foe, warrior or demon, of such amazing strength and bravery as this! He seems to have a brazen body, for my arrows, which I can drive through an anvil, cannot penetrate his chest. If I had applied the power which I have exerted to a mountain, the mountain would have moved from its base, but he sat firmly upon his saddle and scorned my efforts. I thank God that it is night, and that I have escaped from his grasp. To-morrow I cannot fight, and my secret wish is to retire unseen from the struggle, that no trace of me may be discovered.”–“In that case,” replied Zál, “the victor will come and take me and all my family into bondage. But let us not despair. Did not the Símúrgh promise that whenever I might be overcome by adversity, if I burned one of her feathers, she would instantly appear? Shall we not then solicit assistance in this awful extremity?” So saying, Zál went up to a high place, and burnt the feather in a censer, and in a short time the Símúrgh stood before him. After due praise and acknowledgment, he explained his wants. “But,” said he, “may the misfortune we endure be far from him who has brought it upon us. My son Rustem is wounded almost unto death, and I am so helpless that I can do him no good.” He then brought forward Rakush, pierced by numerous arrows; upon which the wonderful Bird said to him, “Be under no alarm on that account, for I will soon cure him;” and she immediately plucked out the rankling weapons with her beak, and the wounds, on passing a feather over them, were quickly healed.

To Rustem now she turns, and soothes his grief,

And drawing forth the arrows, sucks the blood

From out the wounds, which at her bidding close,

And the illustrious champion is restored

To life and power.

Being thus reinvigorated by the magic influence of the Símúrgh, he solicits further aid in the coming strife with Isfendiyár; but the mysterious animal laments that she cannot assist him. “There never appeared in the world,” said she, “so brave and so perfect a hero as Isfendiyár. The favor of Heaven is with him, for in his Heft-khan he, by some artifice, succeeded in killing a Símúrgh, and the further thou art removed from his invincible arm, the greater will be thy safety.” Here Zál interposed and said: “If Rustem retires from the contest, his family will all be enslaved, and I shall equally share their bondage and affliction.” The Símúrgh, hearing these words, fell into deep thought, and remained some time silent. At length she told Rustem to mount Rakush and follow her. Away she went to a far distance; and crossing a great river, arrived at a place covered with reeds, where the Kazú-tree abounded. The Símúrgh then rubbed one of her feathers upon the eyes of Rustem, and directed him to take a branch of the Kazú-tree, and make it straight upon the fire, and form that wand into a forked arrow; after which he was to advance against Isfendiyár, and, placing the arrow on his bow-string, shoot it into the eyes of his enemy. “The arrow will only make him blind,” said the Símúrgh, “but he who spills the blood of Isfendiyár will never be free from calamity during his whole life. The Kazú-tree has also this peculiar quality: an arrow made of it is sure to accomplish its intended errand–it never misses the aim of the archer.” Rustem expressed his boundless gratitude for this information and assistance; and the Símúrgh having transported him back to his tent, and affectionately kissed his face, returned to her own habitation. The champion now prepared the arrow according to the instructions he had received; and when morning dawned, mounted his horse, and hastened to the field. He found Isfendiyár still sleeping, and exclaimed aloud: “Warrior, art thou still slumbering? Rise, and see Rustem before thee!” When the prince heard his stern voice, he started up, and in great anxiety hurried on his armor. He said to Bashútan, “I had uncharitably thought he would have died of his wounds in the night, but this clear and bold voice seems to indicate perfect health–go and see whether his wounds are bound up or not, and whether he is mounted on Rakush or on some other horse.” Rustem perceived Bashútan approach with an inquisitive look, and conjectured that his object was to ascertain the condition of himself and Rakush. He therefore vociferated to him: “I am now wholly free from wounds, and so is my horse, for I possess an elixir which heals the most cruel lacerations of the flesh the moment it is applied; but no such wounds were inflicted upon me, the arrows of Isfendiyár being only like needles sticking in my body.” Bashútan now reported to his brother that Rustem appeared to be more fresh and vigorous than the day before, and, thinking from the spirit and gallantry of his demeanor that he would be victorious in another contest, he strongly recommended a reconciliation.


“The Death of Isfendiyár”

Isfendiyár, blind to the march of fate, treated the suggestion of his brother with scorn, and mounting his horse, was soon in the presence of Rustem, whom he thus hastily addressed: “Yesterday thou wert wounded almost to death by my arrows, and to-day there is no trace of them. How is this?

“But thy father Zál is a sorcerer,

And he by charm and spell

Has cured all the wounds of the warrior,

And now he is safe and well.

For the wounds I gave could never be

Closed up, excepting by sorcery.

Yes, the wounds I gave thee in every part,

Could never be cured but by magic art.”

Rustem replied, “If a thousand arrows were shot at me, they would all drop harmless to the ground, and in the end thou wilt fall by my hands. Therefore, if thou seekest thy own welfare, come at once and be my guest, and I swear by the Almighty, by Zerdusht, and the Zendavesta, by the sun and moon, that I will go with thee, but unfetterd, to thy father, who may do with me what he lists.”–“That is not enough,” replied Isfendiyár, “thou must be fettered.”–“Then do not bind my arms, and take whatever thou wilt from me.”–“And what hast thou to give?”

“A thousand jewels of brilliant hue,

And of unknown price, shall be thine;

A thousand imperial diadems too,

And a thousand damsels divine,

Who with angel-voices will sing and play,

And delight thy senses both night and day;

And my family wealth shall be brought thee, all

That was gathered by Narímán, Sám, and Zál.”

“This is all in vain,” said Isfendiyár. “I may have wandered from the way of Heaven, but I will not disobey the commands of the king. And of what use would thy treasure and property be to me? I must please my father, that he may surrender to me his crown and throne, and I have solemnly sworn to him that I will place thee before him in fetters.” Rustem replied, “And in the hopes of a crown and throne thou wouldst sacrifice thyself!”–“Thou shalt see!” said Isfendiyár, and seized his bow to commence the combat. Rustem did the same, and when he had placed the forked arrow in the bow-string, he imploringly turned up his face towards Heaven, and fervently exclaimed, “O God, thou knowest how anxiously I have wished for a reconciliation, how I have suffered, and that I would now give all my treasures and wealth and go with him to Irán, to avoid this conflict; but my offers are disdained, for he is bent upon consigning me to bondage and disgrace. Thou art the redresser of grievances–direct the flight of this arrow into his eyes, but do not let me be punished for the involuntary deed.” At this moment Isfendiyár shot an arrow with great force at Rustem, who dexterously eluded its point, and then, in return, instantly lodged the charmed weapon in the eyes of his antagonist.

And darkness overspread his sight,

The world to him was hid in night;

The bow dropped from his slackened hand,

And down he sunk upon the sand.

“Yesterday,” said Rustem, “thou discharged at me a hundred and sixty arrows in vain, and now thou art overthrown by one arrow of mine.” Bahman, the son of Isfendiyár, seeing his father bleeding on the ground, uttered loud lamentations, and Bashútan, followed by the Iránian troops, also drew nigh with the deepest sorrow marked on their countenances. The fatal arrow was immediately drawn from the wounded eyes of the prince, and some medicine being first applied to them, they conveyed him mournfully to his own tent.

The conflict having thus terminated, Rustem at the same time returned with his army to where Zál remained in anxious suspense about the result. The old man rejoiced at the issue, but said, “O, my son, thou hast killed thy enemy, but I have learnt from the wise men and astrologers that the slayer of Isfendiyár must soon come to a fatal end. May God protect thee!” Rustem replied, “I am guiltless, his blood is upon his own head.” The next day they both proceeded to visit Isfendiyár, and offer to him their sympathy and condolence, when the wounded prince thus spoke to Rustem: “I do not ascribe my misfortune to thee, but to an all-ruling power. Fate would have it so, and thus it is! I now consign to thy care and guardianship my son Bahman: instruct him in the science of government, the customs of kings, and the rules and stratagems of the warrior, for thou art exceedingly wise and experienced, and perfect in all things,” Rustem readily complied, and said:–

“That duty shall be mine alone,

To seat him firmly on the throne.”

Then Isfendiyár murmured to Bashútan, that the anguish of his wound was wearing him away, and that he had but a short time to live.

“The pace of death is fast and fleet,

And nothing my life can save,

I shall want no robe, but my winding sheet,

No mansion but the grave.

“And tell my father the wish of his heart

Has not been breathed in vain,

The doom he desired when he made me depart,

Has been sealed, and his son is slain!


“And, O! to my mother, in kindliest tone,

The mournful tidings bear,

And soothe her woes for her warrior gone,

For her lost Isfendiyár.”

He now groaned heavily, and his last words were:–

“I die, pursued by unrelenting fate,

The hapless victim of a father’s hate.”

Life having departed, his body was placed upon a bier, and conveyed to Irán, amidst the tears and lamentations of the people.

Rustem now took charge of Bahman, according to the dying request of Isfendiyár, and brought him to Sístán. This was, however, repugnant to the wishes of Zúára, who observed to his brother: “Thou hast slain the father of this youth; do not therefore nurture and instruct the son of thy enemy, for, mark me, in the end he will be avenged.”–“But did not Isfendiyár, with his last breath, consign him to my guardianship? how can I refuse it now? It must be so written and determined in the dispensations of Heaven.”

The arrival of the bier in Persia, at the palace of Gushtásp, produced a melancholy scene of public and domestic affliction. The king took off the covering and wept bitterly, and the mother and sisters exclaimed, “Alas! thy death is not the work of human hands; it is not the work of Rustem, nor of Zál, but of the Símúrgh. Thou hast not lived long enough to be ashamed of a gray beard, nor to witness the maturity and attainments of thy children. Alas! thou art snatched away at a moment of the highest promise, even at the commencement of thy glory.” In the meanwhile the curses and imprecations of the people were poured upon the devoted head of Gushtásp on account of his cruel and unnatural conduct, so that he was obliged to confine himself to his palace till after the interment of Isfendiyár.

Rustem scrupulously fulfilled his engagement, and instructed Bahman in all manly exercises; in the use of bow and javelin, in the management of sword and buckler, and in all the arts and accomplishments of the warrior. He then wrote to Gushtásp, repeating that he was unblamable in the conflict which terminated in the death of his son Isfendiyár, that he had offered him presents and wealth to a vast extent, and moreover was ready to return with him to Irán, to his father; but every overture was rejected. Relentless fate must have hurried him on to a premature death. “I have now,” continued Rustem, “completed the education of Bahman, according to the directions of his father, and await thy further commands.” Gushtásp, after reading this letter, referred to Bashútan, who confirmed the declarations of Rustem, and the treacherous king, willing to ascribe the event to an overruling destiny, readily acquitted Rustem of all guilt in killing Isfendiyár. At the same time he sent for Bahman, and on his arrival from Sístán, was so pleased with him that he without hesitation appointed him to succeed to the throne.

“Methinks I see Isfendiyár again,

Thou hast the form, the very look he bore,

And since thy glorious father is no more,

Long as I live thou must with me remain.”



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World Mythology, Volume 2: Heroic Mythology Copyright © by Jared Aragona is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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