Shah Nameh/Kai-Kobád


Kai-kobád having been raised to the throne at a council of the warriors, and advised to oppose the progress of Afrásiyáb, immediately assembled his army. Mihráb, the ruler of Kábul, was appointed to one wing, and Gustahem to the other--the centre was given to Kárun and Kishwád, and Rustem was placed in front, Zál with Kai-kobád remaining in the rear. The glorious standard of Kavah streamed upon the breeze.

On the other side, Afrásiyáb prepared for battle, assisted by his heroes Akbás, Wísah, Shimasás, and Gersíwaz; and so great was the clamor and confusion which proceeded from both armies, that earth and sky seemed blended together.[1] The clattering of hoofs, the shrill roar of trumpets, the rattle of brazen drums, and the vivid glittering of spear and shield, produced indescribable tumult and splendor.

Kárun was the first in action, and he brought many a hero to the ground. He singled out Shimasás; and after a desperate struggle, laid him breathless on the field. Rustem, stimulated by these exploits, requested his father, Zál, to point out Afrásiyáb, that he might encounter him; but Zál endeavored to dissuade him from so hopeless an effort, saying,

  "My son, be wise, and peril not thyself;
  Black is his banner, and his cuirass black--
  His limbs are cased in iron--on his head
  He wears an iron helm--and high before him
  Floats the black ensign; equal in his might
  To ten strong men, he never in one place
  Remains, but everywhere displays his power.
  The crocodile has in the rolling stream
  No safety; and a mountain, formed of steel,
  Even at the mention of Afrásiyáb,
  Melts into water. Then, beware of him."
  Rustem replied:--"Be not alarmed for me--
  My heart, my arm, my dagger, are my castle,
  And Heaven befriends me--let him but appear,
  Dragon or Demon, and the field is mine."

Then Rustem valiantly urged Rakush towards the Túránian army, and called out aloud. As soon as Afrásiyáb beheld him, he inquired who he could be, and he was told, "This is Rustem, the son of Zál. Seest thou not in his hand the battle-axe of Sám? The youth has come in search of renown." When the combatants closed, they struggled for some time together, and at length Rustem seized the girdle-belt of his antagonist, and threw him from his saddle. He wished to drag the captive as a trophy to Kai-kobád, that his first great victory might be remembered, but unfortunately the belt gave way, and Afrásiyáb fell on the ground. Immediately the fallen chief was surrounded and rescued by his own warriors, but not before Rustem had snatched off his crown, and carried it away with the broken girdle which was left in his hand. And now a general engagement took place. Rustem being reinforced by the advance of the king, with Zál and Mihráb at his side--

  Both armies seemed so closely waging war,
  Thou wouldst have said, that they were mixed together.
  The earth shook with the tramping of the steeds,
  Rattled the drums; loud clamours from the troops
  Echoed around, and from the iron grasp
  Of warriors, many a life was spent in air.
  With his huge mace, cow-headed, Rustem dyed
  The ground with crimson--and wherever seen,
  Urging impatiently his fiery horse,
  Heads severed fell like withered leaves in autumn.
  If, brandishing his sword, he struck the head,
  Horseman and steed were downward cleft in twain--
  And if his side-long blow was on the loins,
  The sword passed through, as easily as the blade
  Slices a cucumber. The blood of heroes
  Deluged the plain. On that tremendous day,
  With sword and dagger, battle-axe and noose,[2]
  He cut, and tore, and broke, and bound the brave,
  Slaying and making captive. At one swoop
  More than a thousand fell by his own hand.

Zál beheld his son with amazement and delight. The Túránians left the fire-worshippers in possession of the field, and retreated towards the Jihún with precipitation, not a sound of drum or trumpet denoting their track. After halting three days in a state of deep dejection and misery, they continued their retreat along the banks of the Jihún. The Persian army, upon the flight of the enemy, fell back with their prisoners of war, and Rustem was received by the king with distinguished honor. When Afrásiyáb returned to his father, he communicated to him, with a heavy heart, the misfortunes of the battle, and the power that had been arrayed against him, dwelling with wonder and admiration on the stupendous valor of Rustem.

                    Seeing my sable banner,
  He to the fight came like a crocodile,
  Thou wouldst have said his breath scorched up the plain;
  He seized my girdle with such mighty force
  As if he would have torn my joints asunder;
  And raised me from my saddle--that I seemed
  An insect in his grasp--but presently
  The golden girdle broke, and down I fell
  Ingloriously upon the dusty ground;
  But I was rescued by my warrior train!
  Thou knowest my valour, how my nerves are strung,
  And may conceive the wondrous strength, which thus
  Sunk me to nothing. Iron is his frame,
  And marvellous his power; peace, peace, alone
  Can save us and our country from destruction.

Poshang, considering the luckless state of affairs, and the loss of so many valiant warriors, thought it prudent to acquiesce in the wishes of Afrásiyáb, and sue for peace. To this end Wísah was intrusted with magnificent presents, and the overtures which in substance ran thus: "Minúchihr was revenged upon Túr and Sílim for the death of Irij. Afrásiyáb again has revenged their death upon Nauder, the son of Minúchihr, and now Rustem has conquered Afrásiyáb. But why should we any longer keep the world in confusion--Why should we not be satisfied with what Feridún, in his wisdom, decreed? Continue in the empire which he appropriated to Irij, and let the Jihún be the boundary between us, for are we not connected by blood, and of one family? Let our kingdoms be gladdened with the blessings of peace."

When these proposals of peace reached Kai-kobád, the following answer was returned:

  "Well dost thou know that I was not the first
  To wage this war. From Túr, thy ancestor,
  The strife began. Bethink thee how he slew
  The gentle Irij--his own brother;--how,
  In these our days, thy son, Afrásiyáb,
  Crossing the Jihún, with a numerous force
  Invaded Persia--think how Nauder died!
  Not in the field of battle, like a hero,
  But murdered by thy son--who, ever cruel,
  Afterwards stabbed his brother, young Aghríras,
  So deeply mourned by thee. Yet do I thirst not
  For vengeance, or for strife. I yield the realm
  Beyond the Jihún--let that river be
  The boundary between us; but thy son,
  Afrásiyáb, must take his solemn oath
  Never to cross that limit, or disturb
  The Persian throne again; thus pledged, I grant
  The peace solicited."

The messenger without delay conveyed this welcome intelligence to Poshang, and the Túránian army was in consequence immediately withdrawn within the prescribed line of division, Rustem, however, expostulated with the king against making peace at a time the most advantageous for war, and especially when he had just commenced his victorious career; but Kai-kobád thought differently, and considered nothing equal to justice and tranquillity. Peace was accordingly concluded, and upon Rustem and Zál he conferred the highest honors, and his other warriors engaged in the late conflict also experienced the effects of his bounty and gratitude in an eminent degree.

Kai-kobád then moved towards Persia, and establishing his throne at Istakhar,[3] he administered the affairs of his government with admirable benevolence and clemency, and with unceasing solicitude for the welfare of his subjects. In his eyes every one had an equal claim to consideration and justice. The strong had no power to oppress the weak. After he had continued ten years at Istakhar, building towns and cities, and diffusing improvement and happiness over the land, he removed his throne into Irán. His reign lasted one hundred years, which were passed in the continued exercise of the most princely virtues, and the most munificent liberality. He had four sons: Kai-káús, Arish, Poshín and Aramín; and when the period of his dissolution drew nigh, he solemnly enjoined the eldest, whom he appointed his successor, to pursue steadily the path of integrity and justice, and to be kind and merciful in the administration of the empire left to his charge.

notes (from the original)Edit

  1. The numerical strength of the Persian and Túránian forces appears prodigious on all occasions, but nothing when compared with the army under Xerxes at Thermopylae, which, with the numerous retinue of servants, eunuchs, and women that attended it, is said to have amounted to no less than 5,283,220 souls.
  2. Herodotus speaks of a people confederated with the army of Xerxes, who employed the noose. "Their principal dependence in action is upon cords made of twisted leather, which they use in this manner: when they engage an enemy, they throw out these cords, having a noose at the extremity; if they entangle in them either horse or man, they without difficulty put them to death."--Beloe's transl. Polymnia, Sec. 85.
  3. Istakhar, also called Persepolis, and Chehel-minar, or the Forty Pillars. This city was said to have been laid in ruins by Alexander after the conquest of Darius.