A banker by profession, Salim Ansar has a passion for history and historic books. His personal library already boasts a treasure trove of over 7,000 rare and unique books. Every week, we shall take a leaf from one such book and treat you to a little taste of history. BOOK NAME: The Shahnameh of Ferdowsi AUTHOR: James Atkinson PUBLISHER: George Routledge & Sons - London DATE OF PUBLICATION: 1832 The following excerpt has been taken from Pages: 93 — 99 This piece is dedicated to my mother Ayesha Ansar on her 5th death anniversary. Favourite bed time story which my mother use to tell me was that of ‘Rustam & Sohrab from Shahnameh’. Ammi, I don’t want your memories I want you. I am sure, you are in heaven and happy. Miss you a lot. May your soul rest in peace! Ameen. — Salim Ansar
“The Shahnameh is largely Ferdowsi’s effort to preserve the memory of Persia’s golden days and transmit it to future generations so that they too can learn from the past and try to build a better future. The Persian language as it is spoken today is a living language and has been in usage for over a millennium. So although the Shahnameh was completed in March 1010, it is still read by Persian speakers throughout the world in its original textual form. “This makes it unique from other epics which were written in languages that are now considered to be ‘dead’. Because Persian is still a living language, the Shahnameh has played a tremendous role in shaping the identity of its readers across the erstwhile Persian empire which includes modern-day Iran, Tajikistan and the newly-minted republics of Central Asia. “Besides writing a book of epic proportions, Ferdowsi went to great lengths to incorporate in it many universal virtuous and moral concepts that are sustained by Persian poetry down the ages. He labored for 30 years to combine history, legends, fighting, feasting, hunting and politics in his stories. “However the singular message that he strives to convey is the idea that the history of Iran is a complete and absolute whole: it started with Gayomard, the first man on earth and ended with his 50th scion and successor Yazdegerd III. Thereby his narrative spans an overwhelming 6,000 years of ancient Iranian history and culture. “What was of utmost importance to Ferdowsi it seems was to prevent this history from losing its connection with future Iranian generations. Scholars who have studies him and his epic narrative unanimously agree that he has succeeded in preserving the very soul of Iran. “The epic work was commissioned by the then ruler of Tus, Mehmud of Ghazna against a promised reward of one gold coin for every verse. However, when Mehmud did not keep his promise, Ferdowsi wrote a long poem, Hajv, full of vitriolic against the ruler, which is also among Persian classics. Rustem and Sohrab “When all was still in the camps, Kai Kaoos sent for Rustem to question him concerning the strange skill and power of his young adversary. And he was much moved when Rustem frankly said, ‘I have met none like him, for he seems to be made of iron. With sword and arrow and club have I fought him and yet he is till unhurt. In skill as a warrior he is my superior and Heaven only knows what will be the result of tomorrow’s fight’. “Sohrab, meantime, had sought the tent of Peran-Wisa, to whom he said with anxious look. ‘This old man has the strength and appearance of Rustem. God forbid that he should prove my father!’ but the counselor, whose aged eyes were dim, said: ‘I have often seen Rustem and I am persuaded that this champion is not he, though he is very like him’. “So Sohrab’s mind was at peace. Yet again when the morning dawned and the two mean faced each other upon the level plain, the heart of Sohrab was strangely full of affection for his opponent and he would willingly have stayed his hand. But Rustem, grimly desirous of avenging his previous lack of success, quickly opened the combat, with a blow from his mighty club delivered with such terrific might, that as Sohrab leaped lightly aside once more, it fell with a force that brought the hero to his knees, with fingers clutching the sand to save himself from complete discomfiture. Now was the moment for Sohrab to draw his sword and pierce the hero, as he knelt dizzy and choked with sand; but he stood smiling. But while he was speaking, Rustem had risen erect, trembling with rage, his giant form covered with dust, his chest heaving, his lips foaming.
“Then Sohrab finding all his hopes were in vain, prepared again for the contest. In grim earnest the two men tugged and strained together like lions, while the red blood and sweat flowed down upon the sand. At length young Sohrab with a mighty effort raised the champion in his arms and dashed him backward upon the sandy plain. Then he sat upon the mighty frame and drawing his dagger, prepared to cut off the head of his vanquished foe. But Rustem said: ‘Dost thou not know that by the custom of this country, when a champion is thrown for the first time his head is not severed from the body but only after the second fall?’
“Then Sohrab was glad in his heart at the excuse and sheathing his dagger, he allowed his enemy to rise and both men went in silence to their tents. When Peran-Wisa heard what had passed, he bewailed the conduct of Sohrab. ‘Thou hast ensnared the lion and then set him at liberty only to devour thee,’ said he. But Sohrab replied: ‘Twice hath he been within my power and the third time I shall surely slay him, for he is evidently my inferior in skill and strength.’
“The third morning dawned and with strength renewed, the heroes faced each other for the last time. Bright sunshine blazed upon the plain but as the deadly conflict recommenced, the sun was darkened over the spot where they were fighting and as if in sorrow for the tragic strife, a wind arose and ‘moaning swept the plain’. Yet where the hosts were drawn up on either side it was still broad sunshine; only where those two swayed and grappled was there gloom and darkness.
“First Rustem aimed a thrust with his spear which pierced the shield of Sohrab nearly through; but meantime Sohrab with a stroke of his sword, sheared away the blood-red plume from his adversary’s helmet. And ever the gloom grew darker, thunder pealed and lightning cleft the sky; Oxus alone pursued indifferent his wonted course.
“Then Rakush, who all this while had stood near his master, gave utterance to a dreadful cry, like the roar of ‘some pained desert lion’ and all the troops heard it and quaked with fear. Again Sohrab struck and this time his blade shivered into pieces on the iron helmet, leaving the hilt only in his hand. Then Rustem raised his giant frame: his fierce eyes glared and shaking his spear on high, he shouted his dread battle-cry: ‘Rustem!’ At that word Sohrab staggered aghast and stood bewildered. His covering shield drooped in his nerveless grasp and are he could regain the power of resistance the spear of Rustem had found fatal entrance to his side.
“Then Rustem bitterly spake ‘So thou didst think to slay a Persian lord this day and that great Rustem would come down to fight with thee! See, thou art slain and by an unknown man!’ but the youth gasped fiercely out: ‘Thou art unknown, ‘this true, but ‘tis not thou who hast slain me. Rustem hath dealt my death blow, for that name unnerved my arm-that and something in thyself which troubled my heart and made my shield to fall. But hear thou this, thou mighty unknown man:
“The mighty Rustem shall avenge my death!
“My father, whom I seek through all the world,
“He shall avenge my death and punish thee!’
And Rustem unbelieving said:
“What prate is this of fathers and revenge?
“The mighty Rustem never had a son.’
“But Sohrab answered with choking voice, ‘Ah yes, he had and that lost son am I and one day when this news reaches the home of Rustem, where he sits afar, he will arise and seek vengeance for an only son. Deeply will he grieve, but most I pity her, my mother Tamineh, who, in her distant home, never more will see her Sohrab return from the warriors, camp.’ Then Rustem pondered these words, for they brought to his mind the scenes of other days, his dark-eyed wife and their pleasant life ‘in that long distant summer-time.’ There at his feet lay dying upon the sand a youth, of just the age that his own son might have been, and the sight suffused his eyes with tears: ‘Oh Sohrab’ he murmured, ‘though indeed art such a son as Rustem would have loved. But thy words bear not the mark of truth, for know that Rustem never had a son.
“One child he had-
“But one-a girl; who with her mother now
“Plies some light female task, nor dreams of us’.
“Then Sohrab, his strength ebbing fast, raised up his arm and cried, ‘Behold this onyx, given by Rustem to my mother, that she might bind it on her babe.’ Then Rustem looked and saw the onyx stone, on which was cut that bird of wonder which had reared Zal in earlier days and the sight struck with cold horror at his heart. He stood for some moments and then grief found utterance! ‘O Boy-thy father!’ His voice choked there and falling down by Sohrab’s side he lay awhile as one dead. But ere long Sohrab roused him with loving words and when the champion realized afresh his awful deed and grasped his sword with intent to slay himself by the side of his son, he prevented him.
“Then Rustem clasped him to his heart with many tears and the opposing hosts looked with awe upon the unwonted sight. And Rakush came close to them with head bowed to the ground and mane sweeping the sand and big tears of compassion fell from his soft dark eyes. Sohrab stroked the famous horse whose name he knew so well and pitying his father’s overwhelming grief tried to comfort him saying: ‘Death comes to all men; why, then, this grief?’ He then implored his father to send away the forces without the horrors of a battle and to carry him to his own place, the home of white-haired Zal, and there to raise over him a tomb of which men might say:
“‘Sohrab, the mighty Rustem’s son, lies there,
Whom his great father did in ignorance kill.’
But Rustem wept sore, saying: ‘How shall I live without thee, O my son-if only I might die in thy stead.
“But now in blood and battles was my youth,
“And full of blood and battles in my age;
“And I shall never end this life of blood.’
“But Sohrab answered very slowly and solemnly: Thou shalt have peace in the day when thou shalt sail in a high-mastered ship,
“Returning home over the salt blue sea
“From laying thy dear master in his grave.’
“And so he died and the bereaved father covered his face with his horseman’s cloak and sat motionless by his side.
“So, on the bloody sand, Sohrab lay dead;
“And the great Rustem drew his horseman’s cloak
“Down o’er his face, and state by his dead son.”
---A banker by profession, Salim Ansar has a passion for history and historic books. His personal library already boasts a treasure trove of over 7,000 rare and unique books. --- ...