Kings 03 Zal

HomeIranPoetryFerdowsi Epic of Kings - Zimmern

The Epic of Kings
By Ferdowsi
Written 1010 A.C.E.
Translated by Helen Zimmern


Seistan, which is to the south of Iran, was ruled by Saum, the Pehliva,
girt with might and glory, and, but for the grief that he was childless,
his days were happy. Then it came to pass that a son was born unto him,
beautiful of face and limb, who had neither fault nor blemish save that
his hair was like unto that of an aged man. Now the women were afraid to
tell Saum, lest he be wroth when he should learn that his child was thus
set apart from his fellow-men. So the infant had gazed upon the light eight
days ere he knew thereof. Then a woman, brave above the rest, ventured
into his presence. She bowed herself unto the dust and craved of Saum the
boon of speech. And he suffered her, and she spake,
"May the Lord keep and guard thee. May thine enemies be utterly
destroyed. May the days of Saum the hero be happy. For the Almighty hath
accomplished his desire. He hath given to him an heir, a son is born unto
the mighty warrior behind the curtains of his house, a moon-faced boy,
beautiful of face and limb, in whom there is neither fault nor blemish,
save that his hair is like unto that of an aged man. I beseech thee, O
my master, bethink thee that this gift is from God, nor give place in thine
heart to ingratitude."
When Saum had listened to her words he arose and went unto the
house of the women. And he beheld the babe that was beautiful of face and
limb, but whose head was like unto that of an aged man. Then Saum, fearing
the jeers of his enemies, quitted the paths of wisdom. He lifted his head
unto heaven and murmured against the Lord of Destiny, and cried,
"O thou eternally just and good, O source of happiness, incline
thine ear unto me and listen to my voice. If I have sinned, if I have strayed
in the paths of Ahriman, behold my repentance and pardon me. My soul is
ashamed, my heart is angered for reason of this child, for will not the
nobles say this boy presageth evil? They will hold me up to shame, and
what can I reply to their questions? It behoveth me to remove this stain,
that the land of Iran be not accursed."
Thus spake Saum in his anger, railing against fate, and he commanded
his servants to take the child and cast it forth out of the
Now there standeth far from the haunts of men the Mount Alberz,
whose head toucheth the stars, and never had mortal foot been planted upon
its crest. And upon it had the Simurgh, the bird of marvel, builded her
nest. Of ebony and of sandal-wood did she build it, and twined it with
aloes, so that it was like unto a king's house, and the evil sway of Saturn
could not reach thereto. And at the foot of this mount was laid the child
of Saum. Then the Simurgh, when she spied the infant lying upon the ground,
bereft of clothes and wherewithal to nourish it, sucking its fingers for
very hunger, darted to earth and raised him in her talons. And she bare
him unto her nest, that her young might devour him. But when she had brought
him her heart was stirred within her for compassion. Therefore she bade
her young ones spare the babe and treat him like to a brother. Then she
chose out tender flesh to feed her guest, and tended the infant forsaken
of his sire. And thus did the Simurgh, nor ever wearied till that moons
and years had rolled above their heads, and the babe was grown to be a
youth full of strength and beauty. And his renown filled the land, for
neither good nor evil can be hidden for ever. And his fame spread even
unto the ears of Saum, the son of Neriman.
Then it came to pass that Saum dreamed a dream, wherein he beheld
a man riding towards him mounted upon an Arab steed. And the man gave him
tidings of his son, and taunted him, saying-
"O thou who hast offended against every duty, who disownest thy
son because that his hair is white, though thine own resembleth the silver
poplar, and to whom a bird seemeth fit nurse for thine offspring, wilt
thou abjure all kinship with him for ever?"
Now when Saum awoke he remembered his dream, and fear came upon
him for his sin. And he called unto him his Mubids, and questioned them
concerning the stripling of the Mount Alberz, and whether this could be
indeed his son, for surely frosts and heat must long since have destroyed
him. Then the Mubids answered and said-
"Not so, thou most ungrateful unto God, thou more cruel than the
lion, the tiger, and the crocodile, for even savage beasts tend their young,
whilst thou didst reject thine own, because thou heldest the white hair
given unto him by his Creator for a reproach in the sight of men. O faint
of heart, arise and seek thy child, for surely one whom God hath blessed
can never perish. And turn thou unto him and pray that he forgive
When Saum had heard these words he was contrite, and called about
him his army and set forth unto the mountains. And when they were come
unto the mount that is raised up to the Pleiades, Saum beheld the Simurgh
and the nest, and a stripling that was like unto himself walking around
it. And his desire to get unto him was great, but he strove in vain to
scale the crest. Then Saum called upon God in his humility. And God heard
him, and put it into the heart of the Simurgh to look down and behold the
warrior and the army that was with him. And when she had seen Saum she
knew wherefore the chief was come, and she spake and
"O thou who hast shared this nest, I have reared thee and been
to thee a mother, for thy father cast thee out; the hour is come to part
us, and I must give thee again unto thy people. For thy father is Saum
the hero, the Pehliva of the world, greatest among the great, and he is
come hither to seek his son, and splendour awaiteth thee beside
When the youth had heard her words his eyes were filled with tears
and his heart with sorrow, for he had never gazed upon men, though he had
learned their speech. And he said-
"Art thou then weary of me, or am I no longer fit to be thy house-fellow?
See, thy nest is unto me a throne, thy sheltering wings a parent. To thee
I owe all that I am, for thou wast my friend in need."
And the Simurgh answered him saying, "I do not send thee away for
enmity, O my son; nay, I would keep thee beside me for ever, but another
destiny is better for thee. When thou shalt have seen the throne and its
pomp my nest will sink in thine esteem. Go forth, therefore, my son, and
try thy fortune in the world. But that thou mayst remember thy nurse who
shielded thee, and reared thee amid her little ones, that thou mayst remain
under the shadow of her wings, bear with thee this feather from her breast.
And in the day of thy need cast it into the fire, and I will come like
unto a cloud and deliver thee from danger."
Thus she spake, and raised him in her talons and bore him to the
spot where Saum was bowed to the dust in penitence. Now when Saum beheld
his son, whose body was like unto an elephant's for strength and beauty,
he bent low before the Simurgh and covered her with benison. And he cried
out and said-
"O Shah of birds, O bird of God, who confoundest the wicked, mayst
thou be great for ever."
But while he yet spake the Simurgh flew upwards, and the gaze of
Saum was fixed upon his son. And as he looked he saw that he was worthy
of the throne, and that there was neither fault nor blemish in him, save
only his silvery locks. Then his heart rejoiced within him, and he blessed
him, and entreated his forgiveness. And he said-
"O my son, open thine heart unto the meanest of God's servants,
and I swear unto thee, in the presence of Him that made us, that never
again will I harden my heart towards thee, and that I will grant unto thee
all thy desires."
Then he clothed him in rich robes and named him Zal, which being
interpreted meaneth the aged. And he showed him unto the army. And when
they had looked on the youth they saw that he was goodly of visage and
of limb, and they shouted for very joy. Then the host made them ready to
return unto Seistan. And the kettle-drummers rode at their head, mounted
upon mighty elephants whose feet raised a cloud of dust that rose unto
the sky. And the tabors were beat, and the trumpets brayed, and the cymbals
clashed, and sounds of rejoicing filled the land because that Saum had
found his son, and that Zal was a hero among men.
Now the news spread even unto Minuchihr that Saum was returning
from the mountains with great pomp and joy. And when he had heard it he
bade Nuder go forth to meet the Pehliva and bid him bring Zal unto the
court. And when Saum heard the desires of his master he obeyed and came
within his gates. Then he beheld the Shah seated upon the throne of the
Kaianides, bearing his crown upon his head, and on his right hand sat Karun
the Pehliva, and he bade Saum be seated on his left. And the Shah commanded
Saum that he should speak. Then Saum unbosomed himself before the Shah
and spake concerning his son, neither did he hide his evil deed. And Minuchihr
commanded that Zal be brought before him. So the chamberlains brought him
into the presence of the King, and he was clad in robes of splendour, and
the King was amazed at his aspect. And he turned and said unto
"O Pehliva of the world, the Shah enjoineth you have a care of
this noble youth, and guard him for the land of Iran. And teach him forthwith
the arts of war, and the pleasures and customs of the banquet, for how
should one that hath been reared in a nest be familiar with our
Then the Shah bade the Mubids cast Zal's horoscope, and they read
that he would be a brave and prudent knight. Now when he had heard this
the Pehliva was relieved of all his fears, and the Shah rejoiced and covered
Saum with gifts. Arab horses did he give unto him with golden saddles,
Indian swords in scabbards of gold, brocades of Roum, skins of beasts,
and carpets of Ind, and the rubies and pearls were past the numbering.
And slaves poured musk and amber before him. And Minuchihr also granted
to Saum a throne, and a crown and a girdle of gold, and he named him ruler
of all the lands that stretch from the Sea of China to that of Sind, from
Zaboulistan to the Caspian. Then he bade that the Pehliva's horse be led
forth, and sent him away from his presence. And Saum called down blessings
upon the Shah, and turned his face towards home. And his train followed
after him, and the sound of music went before them.
Then when the tidings came to Seistan that the great hero was drawing
nigh, the city decked itself in festive garbs, and every man called down
the blessings of Heaven upon Zal, the son of Saum, and poured gifts at
his feet. And there was joy in all the land for that Saum had taken back
his son.
Now Saum forthwith called about him his Mubids, and bade them instruct
the youth in all the virtues of a king.
And daily Zal increased in wisdom and strength, and his fame filled
the land. And when Saum went forth to fight the battles of the Shah, he
left the kingdom under his hands, and Zal administered it with judgment
and virtue.