Kings 16 Isfendiyar

HomeIranPoetryFerdowsi Epic of Kings - Zimmern

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


Lohurasp reigned in wisdom upon the crystal throne, and Iran was as wax
under his hands. And men were content under his sway, save only Gushtasp,
his son, who was rebellious of spirit. And Gushtasp was angered because
his father would not abandon unto him the sovereignty. Wherefore, when
he beheld that his pleading was vain, he stole away from Iran and sought
out the land of Roum, and the city that Silim his forefather had builded.
And he did great deeds of prowess in the land, so that the King gave unto
him his daughter to wife.
Now Lohurasp, when he learned of the mighty deeds done of his son,
strove to win him back unto himself. So he sent forth messengers bearing
words of greeting and entreated of Gushtasp that he would return unto the
courts of his father. And he sware unto him that if he would listen unto
his voice, he would abandon unto him the throne. So Gushtasp listened to
the voice of his father, and he returned him unto Iran. And Lohurasp stepped
down from off the throne of the Kaianides and gave place unto Gushtasp,
his son. And one hundred and twenty years had he reigned in equity, and
now that it was done he hid himself within the temples of Balkh, that he
might live in the sight of God, and make him ready to meet his end. And
Gushtasp, his son, ruled the land worthily, and he administered justice
in such wise that sheep could drink at the same brook as the
Now when he had sat some while upon the throne, there appeared
in the land Zerdusht, the prophet of the Most High. And he came before
the Shah and taught him, and he went out in all the land and gave unto
the people a new faith. And he purged Iran of the might of Ahriman. He
reared throughout the realm a tree of goodly foliage, and men rested beneath
its branches. And whosoever ate of the leaves thereof was learned in all
that regardeth the life to come, but whosoever ate of the branches was
perfect in wisdom and faith. And Zerdusht gave unto men the Zendavesta,
and he bade them obey its precepts if they would attain everlasting
But tidings concerning Zerdusht were come even unto Arjasp, who
sat upon the throne of Afrasiyab, and he said within himself, "This thing
is vile." So he refused ear unto the faith, and he sent a writing unto
Gushtasp, wherein he bade him return unto the creed of his fathers. And
he said-
"If thou turn thee not, make thee ready for combat; for verily
I say unto thee, that unless thou cast out Zerdusht, this man of guile,
I will overthrow thy kingdom and seat me upon thy throne."
When Gushtasp heard the haughty words that Arjasp had spoken, he
marvelled within himself. Then he called before him a scribe, and sent
back answer unto Arjasp. And he said that he would deliver up unto the
sword whosoever swerved from the paths of Zerdusht, and whosoever would
not choose them, him also would he destroy. And he bade him, therefore,
get ready to meet Iran in battle. Then when he had sent this writing, Gushtasp
got together his hosts and mustered them, and he beheld that they outnumbered
the grass upon the fields. And the dust that uprose from their feet darkened
the sky, and the neighing of their horses and the clashing of their armour
were heard above the music of the cymbals. And the banners pierced the
clouds like to trees that grow upon a mountain. And Gushtasp gave the command
of this host unto Isfendiyar, his son. And Isfendiyar was a hero of renown,
and his tongue was a bright sword, and his heart was bounteous as the ocean,
and his hands were like the clouds when rain falls to gladden the earth.
And he took the lead of the army, and he led it forth into
Now when the men of Turan and of Iran met in conflict, a great
battle was waged between them, and for the space of twice seven days they
did not cease from combat, neither did any of the heroes close their eyes
in slumber. And their rage was hot one against another, but in the end
the might of Iran overcame, and Arjasp fled before the face of
Then Isfendiyar returned him unto Iran, and presented himself before
his father, and demanded a blessing at his hands. But Gushtasp
"The time is not yet come when thou shouldest mount the
So he sent him forth yet again that he might turn all the lands unto
the faith of Zerdusht. And Isfendiyar did as Gushtasp
Now while he was gone forth there came before the Shah one Gurjam,
who was of evil mind and foe unto Isfendiyar. And he spake ill of Isfendiyar
unto his father, and he said unto Gushtasp that his son strove to wrest
from him the sovereignty. And Gushtasp, when he learned it, was wroth,
and he sent forth messengers that they should search out Isfendiyar, and
bring him before the Shah in the assembly of the nobles. And when Isfendiyar
was come, Gushtasp spake not unto him in greeting, but he turned him to
his nobles, and he recounted unto them a parable. Then he told unto them
of a son who sought to put to death his father, and he asked of them what
punishment this father should mete out unto his child. And the nobles cried
with one accord-
"This thing which thou relatest unto us, it is not right, and if
there be a son so evil, let him be put into chains and cast in
Then Gushtasp said, "Let Isfendiyar be put into
And Isfendiyar opened his mouth in vain before his father, for Gushtasp
would not listen unto his voice. So they cast him out into a dungeon, and
chains of weight were hung upon him, and the daylight came not nigh unto
him, neither did joy enter into his heart. And he languished many years,
and the heart of the Shah was not softened towards him.
Now when Arjasp learned that the might of Isfendiyar was fettered,
and that Gushtasp was given over to pleasures, he gathered together an
army to fall into Iran and avenge the defeat that was come upon his hosts.
So he fell upon Balkh before any were aware of it and he put to death Lohurasp
the Shah and he made captive the daughters of Gushtasp. And Arjasp threw
fire into the temples of Zerdusht and did much destruction unto the city
and it was some while ere Gushtasp learned that which he had done. But
when he had news thereof he was dismayed, and he called together his army
and put himself at their head. But the Turanians were mightier than he,
and they routed him utterly, and Gushtasp fled before their face. Then
the Shah called together his nobles, and consulted with them how he should
act in these sore straits. And one among them who was wise above the rest
"I counsel thee that thou release Isfendiyar, thy son, and that
thou give to him the command, for he alone can deliver the
And Gushtasp said, "I will do as thou sayest, and if Isfendiyar
shall deliver us from this foe, I will abandon unto him the throne and
the crown."
Then he sent messengers unto Isfendiyar that they should unbind
his chains. But Isfendiyar, when they came before him, closed ear unto
their voice. And he said-
"My father hath kept me in bondage until he hath need of me. Why
therefore should I weary me in his cause? I will not go unto his
Then the men reasoned with him, and they told unto him how it had
been revealed unto Gushtasp that the words spoken of Gurjam were false,
and that he had sworn that he would deliver this man of false words unto
the vengeance of his son. But Isfendiyar was deaf yet again to their voice.
Then one spake and said-
"Thou knowest not that thy brother is in bondage unto Arjasp. Surely
it behoveth thee to deliver him."
When Isfendiyar heard these words he sprang unto his feet, and
he commanded that the chains be struck from off his limbs. And because
the men were slow, he was angered, and shook himself mightily, so that
the fetters fell down at his feet. Then he made haste to go before his
father. And peace was made between them on that day, and Gushtasp sware
a great oath that he would give the throne unto Isfendiyar when he should
return unto him victorious.
So Isfendiyar went out against the foes of Iran, and he mowed them
down with the sword and he caused arrows to rain upon them like hail in
spring, and the sun was darkened by the flight of the weapons. And he brake
the power of Arjasp, King of Turan, and he drove him out from the borders
of the realm. And when it was done, and the men of Iran had prevailed over
the men of Turan, Isfendiyar presented himself before his father and craved
of him the fulfilment of his promises. But Gushtasp, when he beheld that
all was well once more, repented him of his resolve, for he desired not
to give the throne unto his son. So he pondered in his spirit what he should
say in his excuse, and he was ashamed in his soul. But his mouth revealed
not the thoughts of his heart, and he spake angrily unto his son, and he
"I marvel that thou comest before me with this demand; for while
thy sisters languish in the bondage of Arjasp, it beseemeth us not to hold
this war as ended, lest men mock us with their tongues. And it hath been
told unto me that they are hidden in the brazen fortress, and that Arjasp
and all his men are gone in behind its walls. I charge thee, therefore,
overthrow the castle and deliver thy sisters who pine. And I swear unto
thee, when thou hast done it, I will abandon unto thee the throne, and
thy name shall be exalted in the land."
Then Isfendiyar said, "I am the servant of the Shah, let him command
his slave what he shall do."
And Gushtasp said, "Go forth."
Then Isfendiyar answered, "I go, but the road is not known unto
And Gushtasp said, "A Mubid hath revealed it unto me. Three roads
lead unto the fortress of brass, and the one requireth three months to
traverse, but it is safe, and much pasture is found on its path. And the
second demandeth but two moons, yet it is a desert void of herbs. And the
third asketh but seven days, but it is fraught with
Then Isfendiyar said, "No man can die before his time is come.
It behoveth a man of valour to choose ever the shortest
Now the Mubids and the nobles who knew the dangers that were hidden
in this path sought to deter him, but Isfendiyar would not listen to their
voice. So he set forth with his army, and they marched until they came
to the spot where the roads divided. Now it needed seven stages to reach
the fortress of Arjasp, and at each stage there lurked a danger, and never
yet had any man overcome them or passed beneath its walls. But Isfendiyar
would not give ear to fear, and he set forth upon the road, and each day
he overcame a danger, and each danger was greater than the last. And on
the first day he slew two raging wolves, and on the second he laid low
two evil Deevs that were clothed as lions, and on the third he overcame
a dragon whose breath was poison. And on the fourth day Isfendiyar slew
a great magician who would have lured him into the paths of evil, and on
the fifth he slew a mighty bird whom no man had ever struck down. And weariness
was not known of Isfendiyar, neither could he rest from his labours, for
there was no camping-place in his road of danger. And on the sixth day
he was nigh to have perished with his army in a deep snow that fell upon
him through the might of the Deevs. But he prayed unto God in his distress,
and by the favour of Heaven the snow vanished from under his feet. Then
on the seventh day he came nigh to perish in a flood of waters but Isfendiyar
overcame them also, and stood before the castle of Arjasp. Now when he
beheld it, his heart failed within him, for he saw that it was compassed
by a wall of brass, and the thickness thereof was such that four horsemen
could ride thereon abreast. So he sighed and said-
"This place cannot be taken, my pains have been in
Yet he pondered in his spirit how it might be done, and he knew that
only wile could avail. Wherefore he disguised himself in the garb of a
merchant, and chose forth from his army a hundred camels, and he loaded
them with brocades of Roum and much treasure. A hundred and sixty stalwart
warriors too did he choose forth, and he seated them in chests, and the
chests he bound upon the backs of the camels. And when the caravan was
ready he marched at its head unto the doors of the fortress.
Now when he was come thither, he craved permission of Arjasp that
he might enter and sell unto them that dwelt therein. And Arjasp granted
his request, and gave unto him houseroom, and bade him barter his wares
in safety. Then Isfendiyar spread forth his goods and unloaded the treasures
of the camels, but the chests wherein were hidden the warriors did he keep
from the eyes of men. And after he had sojourned a while in the castle
he beheld his sisters, and he saw that they were held as slaves, and his
heart went out towards them. So he spake to them tenderly, and they knew
his voice, and that help was come out to them, but they held their peace
and made no sign. And Isfendiyar, when he saw that he was trusted of Arjasp,
came before him and asked of him a boon. And Arjasp said that he would
grant it. Then Isfendiyar said-
"Suffer that ere I go hence I may feast thee and thy nobles, that
I may show my gratitude."
And it was done as Isfendiyar desired, and he made a great feast
and troubled the heads of the nobles with wine. And when their heads were
heavy and the moon was seated upon her silver throne, Isfendiyar arose
and let forth his warriors from the chests. Then he fell upon the nobles
and slew them, and they weltered in their blood. And with his own hand
Isfendiyar struck down Arjasp, and he hung up his sons upon high gallows.
Then he made signals unto his army that they should come forth to aid him,
for there were yet many men hidden in the fort, and Isfendiyar had but
a handful wherewith to withstand them. And they did as he desired, and
there was a great slaughter within the brazen fort, but Isfendiyar bare
off the victory. Then he took with him his sisters and much booty, and
made haste to return unto Iran, and come into the presence of Gushtasp,
his father. And the Shah rejoiced in his sight, and he made a great feast,
and gave gifts richly unto all his servants. And the mouths of men overflowed
with the doughty deeds done of Isfendiyar, and there was gladness throughout
the land.