Legends of Old Testament Characters/Chapter 19

XIX.

CERTAIN DESCENDANTS OF HAM.

WE shall follow certain Mussulman traditions for what follows. Ad, son of Amalek, therefore grandson of Ham, established himself in Arabia, where he became chief of the tribe of the Adites. He fell into idolatry. He had two sons named Schedad and Schedéd, who reigned over numerous subjects—one for two hundred and fifty, the other for three hundred years. They built a superb city, where houses were of sumptuous magnificence; the like of this city was never seen before, nor will be seen again. This city vanished when the tribe of the Adites was exterminated; as we shall relate when we give the legends attaching to Heber. The commentators of the Koran tell marvels of this wondrous city.

Under the Khalifate of Moawiyah, first of the Ommiades, an Arab of the desert, named Kolabah, going in quest of his camel in the plain of Aden, lighted on the gate of a beautiful city. He went in, but, being filled with fear, he did not remain there more time than sufficed for him to collect some of the stones of the street, and then he returned.

His neighbours, to whom he relates his adventure, repeated it to the Khalif, who ordered Kolabah to be brought before him. The Arab related frankly what he had seen, but Moawiyah would not give credence to the marvellous tale, till he had consulted his learned men, and especially the illustrious Al-Akhbar, who assured him that the story of the poor Arab was worthy of all trust, for the city he had seen was none other than that built by Schedad, son of Ad, in the land of the Adites in which Aden is situated; and that, as the pride of this prince knew no bounds, God had sent His angel to destroy all the inhabitants, and conceal their splendid city from the eyes of men, to be revealed only at intervals, that the memory of God's judgment might not fade out of men's minds.

Schedad had a son named Dhohak, of whom strange tales are told. He knew magic, and gained the sovereignty over the entire universe; and he kept his subjects in terror by excessive cruelty. In the Caherman-Nâmeh it is related that the Devil, satisfied with his proceedings, offered him his services gratuitously, and they were cheerfully accepted. The ferocity of the tyrant increased, he skinned men alive, impaled and crucified them on the slightest charges.

After having served him five years, the Evil One thus addressed him: "Sire! for many years I have been thy faithful attendant, neither have I received of thee any recompense. Now I beseech of thee one favour—that I may kiss thy shoulders."

This favour was readily granted. Dhohak himself plucked off his mantle to facilitate the kiss.

But no sooner had the Devil applied his lips to the two shoulders of the tyrant, than two serpents, which could not be plucked off, fastened there and began to gnaw his flesh.

Tabari says that the king bore on his shoulders two frightful ulcers or cancers, resembling serpents' heads, sent him by God as a punishment for his crimes. These cancers caused him such acute agony, that he shrieked night and day. No one was able to provide a remedy or to abate the torment.

One night when he was asleep, some one appeared to him in a dream, and said, "If you desire your ulcers to give less pain, apply to them human brains."

Next day, Dhohak awoke and ordered two men to be brought before him; he slew them, cut open their skulls, extracted the brains and applied them to his cancers. The relief was instantaneous, and Dhohak felt, for the first time for many days, some hours of repose.

After this, every day two men were killed to form poultices for his ulcers. During the two hundred latter years of the life of Dhohak, the prisons were emptied to satisfy his requirement for fresh brains; and when no more criminals could be procured, it was made a tribute for his kingdom to render to him two men, each day, to be immolated to soothe his pain.

Now there was at Ispahan a blacksmith, named Kaveh, who had two beautiful sons, whom he loved more dearly than his own life. One day they were seized, carried before the king, and his shoulders were poulticed with their brains.

Kaveh was at work at his anvil when the news of the slaying of his sons reached him. He deserted his anvil; and uttering a piercing: cry, he rushed into the streets, with his leathern apron before him, bitterly lamenting his loss, and calling for vengeance on the monarch. The people crowded about him, they plucked off his leather apron, and converted it into a standard.

The crowd gathered as it advanced. From every street men flowed to join the army, and shortly the blacksmith found himself at the head of a hundred thousand men.

They marched to Demavend, where was the palace of the tyrant. And Kaveh, before attacking it, thus addressed his soldiers, "I am not one to lead you against a king; you need a king to make war against a king."

"Well," said his followers, "we elect you to be our king."

"I am but a simple blacksmith, and am not fit to rule," answered Kaveh, "but there is a royal prince named Afridoun, the son of Djemschid, who has fled from the cruelty of Dhohak: choose him."

They agreed. The prince was found and invested with the sovereignty; then a battle was fought, and Dhohak's army was routed, and the tyrant was slain.

When Afridoun mounted the throne, he named Kaveh governor of Ispahan. And when Kaveh was dead, the king asked his children to give him their father's leathern apron. Then, having obtained it, he placed it among his treasures, and whenever he went to battle he attached the smith's apron to a tall staff, and marched under that banner against his enemies.

In after years, this leathern apron was studded with precious stones, till Omar, despising it, ordered the old piece of leather to be burnt; but Yezdeguerd had already robbed it of its gems.[1]

Afridoun exercised the sovereignty during two hundred years. He was the first to study astronomy, and he founded the science of medicine. He was the first king to ride on an elephant. He had three sons, Tur, Salm, and Irad. He loved the third son, Irad, more than the two elder, and he gave him the sovereignty over Irad, Mosul, Koufa, and Bagdad.

After the death of Afridoun, Tur and Salm marched against Irad, defeated him and killed him, saying: "Our father has divided his inheritance unjustly. He has given to Irad the best portion, the centre of the world; as for us, we are cast out to its extremities."

On the death of Tur and Salm, the crown left this family, and passed to a king named Cush, who was of the sons of Ham, the son of Noah. Cush reigned forty years. After him Canaan ascended the throne. Cush and Canaan worshipped idols. It is said that Nimrod was the son of Canaan. When Canaan died, Nimrod succeeded him. Nimrod had a vizir named Azar (Terah), son of Nahor, son of Sarough (Serug), who was sixth in generation from Noah. This Azar was the father of Abraham, the friend of God.

From the time of the Deluge to the time of Abraham was three thousand years. During that period, there was no prophet save Hud (Eber), who was sent to the Adites, and Saleh, who was sent to the Thamudites.

We shall relate the history of Hud and of Saleh, and then return to that of Nimrod.[2]

  1. Tabari, i. c. xlii. xliii.
  2. Tabari, i. c. xliii.