Shah Nameh/Feridún and His Three Sons

Shah Nameh by Hakīm Abol-Qāsem Firdawsī Ṭūsī, translated by James Atkinson
Feridún and His Three Sons


Feridún had three sons. One of them was named Sílim, the other Túr, and the third Irij. When they had grown up, he called before him a learned person named Chundel, and said to him: "Go thou in quest of three daughters, born of the same father and mother, and adorned with every grace and accomplishment, that I may have my three sons married into one family." Chundel departed accordingly, and travelled through many countries in fruitless search, till he came to the King of Yemen, whose name was Sarú, and found that he had three daughters of the character and qualifications required. He therefore delivered Feridún's proposition to him, to which the King of Yemen agreed. Then Feridún sent his three sons to Yemen, and they married the three daughters of the king, who gave them splendid dowries in treasure and jewels. It is related that Feridún afterwards divided his empire among his sons. To Sílim he gave Rúm and Kháwer; to Túr, Túrán;[1] and to Irij, Irán or Persia. The sons then repaired to their respective kingdoms. Persia was a beautiful country, and the garden of spring, full of freshness and perfume; Túrán, on the contrary, was less cultivated, and the scene of perpetual broils and insurrections. The elder brother, Sílim, was therefore discontented with the unfair partition of the empire, and displeased with his father. He sent to Túr, saying: "Our father has given to Irij the most delightful and productive kingdom, and to us, two wild uncultivated regions. I am the eldest son, and I am not satisfied with this distribution--what sayest thou?" When this message was communicated to Túr, he fully concurred in the sentiments expressed by his brother, and determined to unite with him in any undertaking that might promise the accomplishment of their purpose, which was to deprive Irij of his dominions. But he thought it would be most expedient, in the first instance, to make their father acquainted with the dissatisfaction he had produced; "for," he thought to himself, "in a new distribution, he may assign Persia to me." Then he wrote to Sílim, advising that a messenger should be sent at once to Feridún to inform him of their dissatisfaction, and bring back a reply. The same messenger was dispatched by Sílim accordingly on that mission,

  Charged with unfilial language. "Give," he said,
  "This stripling Irij a more humble portion,
  Or we will, from the mountains of Túrán,
  From Rúm, and Chín, bring overwhelming troops,
  Inured to war, and shower disgrace and ruin
  On him and Persia."

When the messenger arrived at the court of Feridún, and had obtained permission to appear in the presence of the king, he kissed the ground respectfully, and by command related the purpose of his journey. Feridún was surprised and displeased, and said, in reply:

  "Have I done wrong, done evil? None, but good.
  I gave ye kingdoms, that was not a crime;
  But if ye fear not me, at least fear God.
  My ebbing life approaches to an end,
  And the possessions of this fleeting world
  Will soon pass from me. I am grown too old
  To have my passions roused by this rebellion;
  All I can do is, with paternal love,
  To counsel peace. Be with your lot contented;
  Seek not unnatural strife, but cherish peace."

After the departure of the messenger Feridún called Irij before him, and said: "Thy two brothers, who are older than thou art, have confederated together and threaten to bring a large army against thee for the purpose of seizing thy kingdom, and putting thee to death. I have received this information from a messenger, who further says, that if I take thy part they will also wage war upon me." And after Irij had declared that in this extremity he was anxious to do whatever his father might advise, Feridún continued: "My son, thou art unable to resist the invasion of even one brother; it will, therefore, be impossible for thee to oppose both. I am now aged and infirm, and my only wish is to pass the remainder of my days in retirement and repose. Better, then, will it be for thee to pursue the path of peace and friendship, and like me throw away all desire for dominion.

 "For if the sword of anger is unsheathed,
  And war comes on, thy head will soon be freed
  From all the cares of government and life.
  There is no cause for thee to quit the world,
  The path of peace and amity is thine."

Irij agreed with his father, and declared that he would willingly sacrifice his throne and diadem rather than go to war with his brothers.

 "Look at the Heavens, how they roll on;
  And look at man, how soon he's gone.
  A breath of wind, and then no more;
  A world like this, should man deplore?"

With these sentiments Irij determined to repair immediately to his brothers, and place his kingdom at their disposal, hoping by this means to merit their favor and affection, and he said:

  "I feel no resentment, I seek not for strife,
  I wish not for thrones and the glories of life;
  What is glory to man?--an illusion, a cheat;
  What did it for Jemshíd, the world at his feet?
  When I go to my brothers their anger may cease,
  Though vengeance were fitter than offers of peace."

Feridún observed to him: "It is well that thy desire is for reconciliation, as thy brothers are preparing for war." He then wrote a letter to his sons, in which he said: "Your younger brother considers your friendship and esteem of more consequence to him than his crown and throne. He has banished from his heart every feeling of resentment against you; do you, in the like manner, cast away hostility from your hearts against him. Be kind to him, for it is incumbent upon the eldest born to be indulgent and affectionate to their younger brothers. Although your consideration for my happiness has passed away, I still wish to please you." As soon as the letter was finished, Irij mounted his horse, and set off on his journey, accompanied by several of his friends, but not in such a manner, and with such an equipment, as might betray his rank or character. When he arrived with his attendants in Turkistán, he found that the armies of his two brothers were ready to march against him. Sílim and Túr, being apprised of the approach of Irij, went out of the city, according to ancient usage, to meet the deputation which was conveying to them their father's letter. Irij was kindly received by them, and accommodated in the royal residence.

It is said that Irij was in person extremely prepossessing, and that when the troops first beheld him, they exclaimed: "He is indeed fit to be a king!" In every place all eyes were fixed upon him, and wherever he moved he was followed and surrounded by the admiring army and crowds of people.

  In numerous groups the soldiers met, and blessed
  The name of Irij, saying in their hearts,
  This is the man to lead an armed host,
  And worthy of the diadem and throne.

The courtiers of the two brothers, alarmed by these demonstrations of attachment to Irij continually before their eyes, represented to Sílim and Túr that the army was disaffected towards them, and that Irij alone was considered deserving of the supreme authority. This intimation exasperated the malignant spirit of the two brothers: for although at first determined to put Irij to death, his youth and prepossessing appearance had in some degree subdued their animosity. They were therefore pleased with the intelligence, because it afforded a new and powerful reason for getting rid of him. "Look at our troops," said Sílim to Túr, "how they assemble in circles together, and betray their admiration of him. I fear they will never march against Persia. Indeed it is not improbable that even the kingdom of Túrán may fall into his hands, since the hearts of our soldiers have become so attached to him.

  "No time is this to deviate from our course,
  We must rush on; our armies plainly show
  Their love for Irij, and if we should fail
  To root up from its place this flourishing tree,
  Our cause is lost for ever."

Again, Sílim said to Túr: "Thou must put Irij to death, and then his kingdom will be thine." Túr readily undertook to commit that crime, and, on the following day, at an interview with Irij, he said to him: "Why didst thou consent to be the ruler of Persia, and fail in showing a proper regard for the interests of thy elder brothers? Whilst our barren kingdoms are constantly in a state of warfare with the Turks, thou art enjoying peace and tranquillity upon the throne of a fruitful country? Must we, thy elder brothers, remain thus under thy commands, and in subordinate stations?

 "Must thou have gold and treasure,
  And thy heart be wrapt in pleasure,
  Whilst we, thy elder born,
  Of our heritage are shorn?
  Must the youngest still be nursed,
  And the elder branches cursed?
  And condemned, by stern command,
  To a wild and sterile land?"

When Irij heard these words from Túr, he immediately replied, saying:

 "I only seek tranquillity and peace;
  I look not on the crown of sovereignty.
  Nor seek a name among the Persian host;
  And though the throne and diadem are mine,
  I here renounce them, satisfied to lead
  A private life. For what hath ever been
  The end of earthly power and pomp, but darkness?
  I seek not to contend against my brothers;
  Why should I grieve their hearts, or give distress
  To any human being? I am young,
  And Heaven forbid that I should prove unkind!"

Notwithstanding, however, these declarations of submission, and repeated assurances of his resolution to resign the monarchy of Persia, Túr would not believe one word. In a moment he sprung up, and furiously seizing the golden chair from which he had just risen, struck a violent blow with it on the head of Irij, calling aloud, "Bind him, bind him!" The youth, struggling on the ground, exclaimed: "O, think of thy father, and pity me! Have compassion on thy own soul! I came for thy protection, therefore do not take my life: if thou dost, my blood will call out for vengeance to the Almighty. I ask only for peace and retirement. Think of my father, and pity me!

  "Wouldst thou, with life endowed, take life away?
  Torture not the poor ant, which drags the grain
  Along the dust; it has a life, and life
  Is sweet and precious. Did the innocent ant
  Offend thee ever? Cruel must he be
  Who would destroy a living thing so harmless!
  And wilt thou, reckless, shed thy brother's blood,
  And agonize the feelings of a father?
  Pause, and avoid the wrath of righteous Heaven!"

But Túr was not to be softened by the supplications of his brother. Without giving any reply, he drew his dagger, and instantly dissevered the head of the youth from his body.

  With musk and ambergris he first embalmed
  The head of Irij, then to his old father
  Dispatched the present with these cruel words:
  "Here is the head of thy beloved son,
  Thy darling favourite, dress it with a crown
  As thou wert wont; and mark the goodly fruit
  Thou hast produced. Adorn thy ivory throne,
  In all its splendour, for this worthy head,
  And place it in full majesty before thee!"

In the meantime, Feridún had prepared a magnificent reception for his son. The period of his return had arrived, and he was in anxious expectation of seeing him, when suddenly he received intelligence that Irij had been put to death by his brothers. The mournful spectacle soon reached his father's house.

  A scream of agony burst from his heart,
  As wildly in his arms he clasped the face
  Of his poor slaughtered son; then down he sank
  Senseless upon the earth. The soldiers round
  Bemoaned the sad catastrophe, and rent
  Their garments in their grief. The souls of all
  Were filled with gloom, their eyes with flowing tears,
  For hope had promised a far different scene;
  A day of heart-felt mirth and joyfulness,
  When Irij to his father's house returned.

After the extreme agitation of Feridún had subsided, he directed all his people to wear black apparel, in honor of the murdered youth, and all his drums and banners to be torn to pieces. They say that subsequent to this dreadful calamity he always wore black clothes. The head of Irij was buried in a favorite garden, where he had been accustomed to hold weekly a rural entertainment. Feridún, in performing the last ceremony, pressed it to his bosom, and with streaming eyes exclaimed:

  "O Heaven, look down upon my murdered boy;
  His severed head before me, but his body
  Torn by those hungry wolves! O grant my prayer,
  That I may see, before I die, the seed
  Of Irij hurl just vengeance on the heads
  Of his assassins; hear, O hear my prayer."
  --Thus he in sorrow for his favourite son
  Obscured the light which might have sparkled still,
  Withering the jasmine flower of happy days;
  So that his pale existence looked like death.

notes (from the original)Edit

  1. Ancient Scythia embraced the whole of Túrán and the northern part of Persia. The Túránians are the Scythians of the Greek Historians, who are said, about the year B.C. 639, to have invaded the kingdom of the Medes. Túrán, which is the ancient name of the country of Turkistán, appears from Des Guignes, to be the source and fountain of all the celebrated Scythian nations, which, under the name of Goths and Vandals, subsequently overran the Roman empire. Irán and Túrán, according to the Oriental historians, comprehended all that is comprised in upper Asia, with the exception of India and China. Every country beyond the pale of the Persian empire was considered barbarous. The great river called by the Arabs and Persians, Jihún or Amú, and by the Greeks and Romans, Oxus, divided these two great countries from each other.