Shah Nameh/Gushtásp, and the Faith of Zerdusht

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Shah Nameh by Hakīm Abol-Qāsem Firdawsī Ṭūsī, translated by James A. Atkinson
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;
  The 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.

  Approaching, each a prayer addrest
  To Heaven, and thundering forward prest;
  Thick showers of arrows gloomed the sky,
  The battle-storm raged long and high;
  Above, black clouds their darkness spread,
  Below, the earth with blood was red.

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.

  The gallant youth the summons hears,
  And midst the royal court appears,
    Close by his father's side,
  The mace, cow-headed, in his hand;
  His air and glance express command,
    And military pride.

  Gushtásp beholds with heart elate.
  The conqueror so young, so great,
    And places round his brows the crown,
  The promised crown, the high reward,
  Proud token of a mighty king's regard,
    Conferred upon his own.

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.

  Where'er he went he was received
  With welcome, all the world believed,
  And all with grateful feelings took
  The Holy Zendavesta-book,
  Proud their new worship to declare,
  The worship of Isfendiyár.

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.