Shah Nameh/Húmaí and the Birth of Dáráb

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Shah Nameh by Hakīm Abol-Qāsem Firdawsī Ṭūsī, translated by James A. Atkinson
Húmaí and the Birth of Dáráb


Wisdom and generosity were said to have marked the government of Húmaí. In justice and beneficence she was unequalled. No misfortune happened in her days: even the poor and the needy became rich. She gave birth to a son, whom she entrusted to a nurse to be brought up secretly, and declared publicly that it had died the same day it was born. At this event the people rejoiced, for they were happy under the administration of Húmaí. Upon the boy attaining his seventh month, however, the queen sent for him, and wrapping him up in rich garments, put him in a box, and when she had fastened down the cover, gave it to two confidential servants, in the middle of the night, to be flung into the Euphrates. "For," thought she, "if he be found in the city, there will be an end to my authority, and the crown will be placed upon his head; wiser, therefore, will it be for me to cast him into the river; and if it please God to preserve him, he may be nurtured, and brought up in another country." Accordingly in the darkness of night, the box was thrown into the Euphrates, and it floated rapidly down the stream for some time without being observed.

  Amidst the waters, in that little ark
  Was launched the future monarch. But, vain mortal!
  How bootless are thy most ingenious schemes,
  Thy wisest projects! Such were thine, Húmaí!
  Presumptuous as thou wert to think success
  Would crown that deed unnatural and unjust.
  But human passions, human expectations
  Are happily controlled by righteous Heaven.

In the morning the ark was noticed by a washerman; who, curious to know what it contained, drew it to the shore, and opened the lid. Within the box he then saw splendid silk-embroidered scarfs and costly raiment, and upon them a lovely infant asleep. He immediately took up the child, and carried it to his wife, saying: "It was but yesterday that our own infant died, and now the Almighty has sent thee another in its place." The woman looked at the child with affection, and taking it in her arms fed it with her own milk. In the box they also found jewels and rubies, and they congratulated themselves upon being at length blessed by Providence with wealth, and a boy at the same time. They called him Dáráb, and the child soon began to speak in the language of his foster-parents. The washerman and his wife, for fear that the boy and the wealth might be discovered, thought it safest to quit their home, and sojourn in another country. When Dáráb grew up, he was more skilful and accomplished, and more expert at wrestling than other boys of a greater age. But whenever the washerman told him to assist in washing clothes, he always ran away, and would not stoop to the drudgery. This untoward behavior grieved the washerman exceedingly, and he lamented that God had given him so useless a son, not knowing that he was destined to be the sovereign of all the world.

  How little thought he, whilst the task he prest,
  A purer spirit warmed the stripling's breast,
  Whose opening soul, by kingly pride inspired,
  Disdained the toil a menial slave required;
  The royal branch on high its foliage flung,
  And showed the lofty stem from which it sprung.

Dáráb was now sent to school, and he soon excelled his master, who continually said to the washerman: "Thy son is of wonderful capacity, acute and intelligent beyond his years, of an enlarged understanding, and will be at least the minister of a king." Dáráb requested to have another master, and also a fine horse of Irák, that he might acquire the science and accomplishments of a warrior; but the washerman replied that he was too poor to comply with his wishes, which threw the youth into despair, so that he did not touch a morsel of food for two days together. His foster-mother, deeply affected by his disappointment, and naturally anxious to gratify his desires, gave an article of value to the washerman, that he might sell it, and with the money purchase the horse required. The horse obtained, he was daily instructed in the art of using the bow, the javelin, and the sword, and in every exercise becoming a young gentleman and a warrior. So devouringly did he persevere in his studies, and in his exertions to excel, that he never remained a moment unoccupied at home or abroad. The development of his talents and genius suggested to him an inquiry who he was, and how he came into the house of a washerman; and his foster-mother, in compliance with his entreaties, described to him the manner in which he was found. He had long been miserable at the thoughts of being the son of a washerman, but now he rejoiced, and looked upon himself as the son of some person of consideration. He asked her if she had anything that was taken out of the box, and she replied: "Two valuable rubies remain." The youth requested them to be brought to him; one he bound round his arm, and the other he sold to pay the expenses of travelling and change of place.

At that time, it is said, the king of Rúm had sent an army into the country of Irán. Upon receiving this information, Húmaí told her general, named Rishnawád, to collect a force corresponding with the emergency; and he issued a proclamation, inviting all young men desirous of military glory to flock to his standard. Dáráb heard this proclamation with delight, and among others hastened to Rishnawád, who presented the young warriors as they arrived successively to Húmaí. The queen steadfastly marked the majestic form and features of Dáráb, and said in her heart: "The youth who bears this dignified and royal aspect, appears to be a Kaiánian by birth;" and as she spoke, the instinctive feeling of a mother seemed to agitate her bosom.

  The queen beheld his form and face,
  The scion of a princely race;
  And natural instinct seemed to move
  Her heart, which spoke a mother's love;
  She gazed, but like the lightning's ray,
  That sudden thrill soon passed away.

The army was now in motion. After the first march, a tremendous wind and heavy rain came on, and all the soldiers were under tents, excepting Dáráb, who had none, and was obliged to take shelter from the inclemency of the weather beneath an archway, where he laid himself down, and fell asleep. Suddenly a supernatural voice was heard, saying:--

  "Arch! stand firm, and from thy wall
  Let no ruined fragment fall!
  He who sleeps beneath is one
  Destined to a royal throne.
  Arch! a monarch claims thy care,
  The king of Persia slumbers there!"

The voice was heard by every one near, and Rishnawád having also heard it, inquired of his people from whence it came. As he spoke, the voice repeated its caution:--

  "Arch! stand firm, and from thy wall
  Let no ruined fragment fall!
  Bahman's son is in thy keeping;
  He beneath thy roof is sleeping.
  Though the winds are loudly roaring,
  And the rain in torrents pouring,
  Arch! stand firm, and from thy wall
  Let no loosened fragment fall."

Again Rishnawád sent other persons to ascertain from whence the voice proceeded; and they returned, saying, that it was not of the earth, but from Heaven. Again the caution sounded in his ears:--

  "Arch! stand firm, and from thy wall
  Let no loosened fragment fall."

And his amazement increased. He now sent a person under the archway to see if any one was there, when the youth was discovered in deep sleep upon the ground, and the arch above him rent and broken in many parts. Rishnawád being apprised of this circumstance, desired that he might be awakened and brought to him. The moment he was removed, the whole of the arch fell down with a dreadful crash, and this wonderful escape was also communicated to the leader of the army, who by a strict and particular enquiry soon became acquainted with all the occurrences of the stranger's life. Rishnawád also summoned before him the washerman and his wife, and they corroborated the story he had been told. Indeed he himself recognized the ruby on Dáráb's arm, which convinced him that he was the son of Bahman, whom Húmaí caused to be thrown into the Euphrates. Thus satisfied of his identity, he treated him with great honor, placed him on his right hand, and appointed him to a high command in the army. Soon afterwards an engagement took place with the Rúmís, and Dáráb in the advanced guard performed prodigies of valor. The battle lasted all day, and in the evening Rishnawád bestowed upon him the praise which he merited. Next day the army was again prepared for battle, when Dáráb proposed that the leader should remain quiet, whilst he with a chosen band of soldiers attacked the whole force of the enemy. The proposal being agreed to, he advanced with fearless impetuosity to the contest.

  With loosened rein he rushed along the field,
  And through opposing numbers hewed his path,
  Then pierced the Kulub-gah, the centre-host,
  Where many a warrior brave, renowned in arms,
  Fell by his sword. Like sheep before a wolf
  The harassed Rúmís fled; for none had power
  To cope with his strong arm. His wondrous might
  Alone, subdued the legions right and left;
  And when, unwearied, he had fought his way
  To where great Kaísar stood, night came, and darkness,
  Shielding the trembling emperor of Rúm,
  Snatched the expected triumph from his hands.

Rishnawád was so filled with admiration at his splendid prowess, that he now offered him the most magnificent presents; but when they were exposed to his view, a suit of armor was the only thing he would accept.

The Rúmís were entirely disheartened by his valor, and they said: "We understood that the sovereign of Persia was only a woman, and that the conquest of the empire would be no difficult task; but this woman seems to be more fortunate than a warrior-king. Even her general remains inactive with the great body of his army; and a youth, with a small force, is sufficient to subdue the legions of Rúm; we had, therefore, better return to our own country." The principal warriors entertained the same sentiments, and suggested to Kaísar the necessity of retiring from the field; but the king opposed this measure, thinking it cowardly and disgraceful, and said:--

  "To-morrow we renew the fight,
  To-morrow we shall try our might;
  To-morrow, with the smiles of Heaven,
  To us the victory will be given."

Accordingly on the following day the armies met again, and after a sanguinary struggle, the Persians were again triumphant. Kaísar now despaired of success, sent a messenger to Rishnawád, in which he acknowledged the aggressions he had committed, and offered to pay him whatever tribute he might require. Rishnawád readily settled the terms of the peace; and the emperor was permitted to return to his own dominions.

After this event Rishnawád sent to Húmaí intelligence of the victories he had gained, and of the surprising valor of Dáráb, transmitting to her the ruby as an evidence of his birth. Húmaí was at once convinced that he was her son, for she well remembered the day on which he was enrolled as one of her soldiers, when her heart throbbed with instinctive affection at the sight of him; and though she had unfortunately failed to question him then, she now rejoiced that he was so near being restored to her. She immediately proceeded to the Atish-gadeh, or the Fire-altar, and made an offering on the occasion; and ordering a great fire to be lighted, gave immense sums away in charity to the poor. Having called Dáráb to her presence, she went with a splendid retinue to meet him at the distance of one journey from the city; and as soon as he approached, she pressed him to her bosom, and kissed his head and eyes with the fondest affection of a mother. Upon the first day of happy omen, she relinquished in his favor the crown and the throne, after having herself reigned thirty-two years.