Shah Nameh/Mirtás-Tází, and His Son Zohák
|←Jemshíd||Shah Nameh by , translated by James A. Atkinson
Mirtás-Tází, and His Son Zohák
|The Story of Jemshíd Resumed→|
The old historians relate that Mirtás was the name of a king of the Arabs; and that he had a thousand animals which gave milk, and the milk of these animals he always distributed in charity among the poor. God was pleased with his goodness, and accordingly increased his favor upon him.
Goats, sheep, and camels, yielded up their store
Of balmy milk, with which the generous king
Nourished the indigent and helpless poor.
Mirtás had a son called Zohák, who possessed ten thousand Arab horses, or Tazís, upon which account he was surnamed Bíwurasp; biwur meaning ten thousand, and asp a horse. One day Iblís, the Evil Spirit, appeared to Zohák in the disguise of a good and virtuous man, and conversed with him in the most agreeable manner.
Pleased with his eloquence, the youth
Suspected not the speaker's truth;
But praised the sweet impassioned strain,
And asked him to discourse again.
Iblís replied, that he was master of still sweeter converse, but he could not address it to him, unless he first entered into a solemn compact, and engaged never on any pretence to divulge his secret.
Zohák in perfect innocence of heart
Assented to the oath, and bound himself
Never to tell the secret; all he wished
Was still to hear the good man's honey words.
But as soon as the oath was taken, Iblís said to him: "Thy father has become old and worthless, and thou art young, and wise, and valiant. Let him no longer stand in thy way, but kill him; the robes of sovereignty are ready, and better adapted for thee."
The youth in agony of mind,
Heard what the stranger now designed;
Could crime like this be understood!
The shedding of a parent's blood!
Iblís would no excuses hear--
The oath was sworn--his death was near.
"For if thou think'st to pass it by,
The peril's thine, and thou must die!"
Zohák was terrified and subdued by this warning, and asked Iblís in what manner he proposed to sacrifice his father. Iblís replied, that he would dig a pit on the path-way which led to Mirtás-Tázi's house of prayer. Accordingly he secretly made a deep well upon the spot most convenient for the purpose, and covered it over with grass. At night, as the king was going, as usual, to the house of prayer, he fell into the pit, and his legs and arms being broken by the fall, he shortly expired. O righteous Heaven! that father too, whose tenderness would not suffer even the winds to blow upon his son too roughly--and that son, by the temptation of Iblís, to bring such a father to a miserable end!
Thus urged to crime, through cruel treachery,
Zohák usurped his pious father's throne.
When Iblís found that he had got Zohák completely in his power, he told him that, if he followed his counsel and advice implicitly, he would become the greatest monarch of the age, the sovereign of the seven climes, signifying the whole world. Zohák agreed to every thing, and Iblís continued to bestow upon him the most devoted attention and flattery for the purpose of moulding him entirely to his will. To such an extreme degree had his authority attained, that he became the sole director even in the royal kitchen, and prepared for Zohák the most delicious and savory food imaginable; for in those days bread and fruit only were the usual articles of food. Iblís himself was the original inventor of the cooking art. Zohák was delighted with the dishes, made from every variety of bird and four-footed animal. Every day something new and rare was brought to his table, and every day Iblís increased in favor. But an egg was to him the most delicate of all! "What can there be superior to this?" said he. "To-morrow," replied Iblís, "thou shalt have something better, and of a far superior kind."
Next day he brought delicious fare, and dressed
In manner exquisite to please the eye,
As well as taste; partridge and pheasant rich,
A banquet for a prince. Zohák beheld
Delighted the repast, and eagerly
Relished its flavor; then in gratitude,
And admiration of the matchless art
Which thus had ministered to his appetite,
He cried:--"For this, whatever thou desirest,
And I can give, is thine." Iblís was glad,
And, little anxious, had but one request--
One unimportant wish--it was to kiss
The monarch's naked shoulder--a mere whim.
And promptly did Zohák comply, for he
Was unsuspicious still, and stripped himself,
Ready to gratify that simple wish.
Iblís then kissed the part with fiendish glee,
And vanished in an instant.
From the touch
Sprang two black serpents! Then a tumult rose
Among the people, searching for Iblís
Through all the palace, but they sought in vain.
To young and old it was a marvellous thing;
The serpents writhed about as seeking food,
And learned men to see the wonder came,
And sage magicians tried to charm away
That dreadful evil, but no cure was found.
Some time afterwards Iblís returned to Zohák, but in the shape of a physician, and told him that it was according to his own horoscope that he suffered in this manner--it was, in short, his destiny--and that the serpents would continue connected with him throughout his life, involving him in perpetual misery. Zohák sunk into despair, upon the assurance of there being no remedy for him, but Iblís again roused him by saying, that if the serpents were fed daily with human brains, which would probably kill them, his life might be prolonged, and made easy.
If life has any charm for thee,
The brain of man their food must be!
With the adoption of this deceitful stratagem, Iblís was highly pleased, and congratulated himself upon the success of his wicked exertions, thinking that in this manner a great portion of the human race would be destroyed. He was not aware that his craft and cunning had no influence in the house of God; and that the descendants of Adam are continually increasing.
When the people of Irán and Túrán heard that Zohák kept near him two devouring serpents, alarm and terror spread everywhere, and so universal was the dread produced by this intelligence, that the nobles of Persia were induced to abandon their allegiance to Jemshíd, and, turning through fear to Zohák, confederated with the Arab troops against their own country. Jemshíd continued for some time to resist their efforts, but was at last defeated, and became a wanderer on the face of the earth.
To him existence was a burden now,
The world a desert--for Zohák had gained
The imperial crown, and from all acts and deeds
Of royal import, razed out the very name
Of Jemshíd hateful in the tyrant's eyes.