Birth of Zaal:

Sam had no child, and his heart grieved at this. There was a beautiful woman living in his private quarters; her cheeks were like rose petals, her hair like musk. Her face as splendid as the sun, and Sam had hopes that she would bear him a child. And this happened; after some time she gave birth to a beautiful boy, whose radiance lit the world, but although his face was as bright as the sun, his hair was completely white. Given how the child looked, sam was not told of his birth for a week; the women of his household wept over the boy, and no one dared tell Sam that this beautiful woman had given birth to a son who was an old man. His body is like pure silver, his face like paradise, and you will find no ugly spot on him.

Sam descended from his throne and went into the women’s quarters. When he saw his son’s white hair he despaired of the world, and lifting his face to the heavens, he complained bitterly. “O God, who is above all failings and faults, whatever you command is good. If I have committed a grave sin, if I have followed the ways of Ahriman, I repent and pray that God will grant me forgiveness. What shall I say about this ill-omened child when men ask about his black body, and his hair as white as jasmine? Shall I say he is a demon’s child? He is like a leopard, whose skin is of two colors.” He gave orders that the child be taken far away, to the place where the Simorgh has her home. They took the boy and laid him down in the mountains, then returned to the court. The days ended, and the champion’s innocent son had no knowledge of white or black; his father had cast all kindness from his heart and acted evilly toward his unweaned child.

Simorq and Zaal:

The Simorgh flew down from the clouds, stretched out her claws and clutched him, lifting him up from the hot stones on which he lay. She flew with him back to her nest in the Alborz mountains, where she intended to take him to her chicks, thinking they could feed off him and pay no attention to his cries. But God had other plans, so that when the Simorgh and her chicks looked at the little child weeping bitter tears, something wonderful to relate happened: they took pity on him, staring in astonishment at his lovely face. She sought out the most delicate morsels of the chase for the boy, touching them to his lips, and in this way many days passed and the child grew into a fine young man. Men with caravans passing through the mountains would catch sight of this noble youth, whose body was like a cypress tree, whose chest was like a mountain of silver, and whose waist was as slim as a reed. Rumors of him spread through the world, since neither good nor evil ever remains hidden, and news of this glorious youth reached Sam, the son of Nariman.

Return of Zaal:           

His chest and arms were like a lion’s, his face like the sun, his heart was a champion’s, and his arm was that of a swordsman. His eyebrows were pitch black, his lips like coral, and his cheeks the color of blood. Sam’s heart felt the happiness of paradise, and he called down blessings on his son. He draped the boy’s body in a champion’s cloak, and they set off down the mountain. When they reached its base, Sam had a horse and royal clothes brought for his son; the army ranged itself before Sam, their hearts filled with happiness, and they set off on the return journey, preceded by elephants bearing drummers. The air filled with dust as they traveled, and the blare of trumpets, the din of drums, the clash of Indian cymbals, and the cavalry’s cries accompanied them as they joyfully entered the city.

Roudabeh and Zaal:

The king there was Mehrab, a shrewd, wealthy man, who was fortunate in his dealings. He was as tall and elegant as a cypress tree, his face was as fresh as the spring time, and his gate was like a pheasant’s. When he heard of Zal’s approach, he left Kabol at dawn, taking treasure, richly caparisoned horses, slaves, and various other kinds of wealth such as gold coins, rubies, musk, ambergris, brocades woven with gold, silks, and samites, a crown encrusted with royal jewels, and a golden torque set with emeralds. One of the courtiers spoke:

“In purdah, and unseen by anyone,

He has a daughter lovelier than the sun.

Lashes like ravens' wings protect a pair

Of eyes like wild narcissi hidden there;

If you would seek the moon, it is her face;

If you seek musk, her hair’s its hiding place.

She is a paradise, arrayed in splendor,

Glorious, graceful, elegantly slender.”


Zal’s heart began to seethe, and all peace and good sense departed from him.

Sindokht said to her husband, “May evil never harm you; open your lovely lips and tell us where have you been today. Tell us what kind of person Sam’s son is, this visitor who has an old man’s hair. Does he belong on a throne, or in that nest where he was raised?” Mehrab replied, “My silver cypress, no hero in the world is worthy to follow in Zal’s footsteps:

Possessed of mammoth strength, a lion’s guile,

His arms are mighty as the flooding Nile,

He scatters gold when he’s in court, and when

He’s on the battlefield, the heads of men.

He has one fault—which after all’s so slight

No one remarks on it—his hair is white.”

When Rudabeh heard their words, her heart beat fast, like a fire fanned by the wind. “I’m in love, and my love is like a wave of the sea that’s cresting up towards heaven. My bright heart is filled with thoughts of Sam’s son, and even when I sleep he never leaves me. The place in my heart where I should feel shame is filled instead with love, and day and night I think of his face. I don’t want the Chinese emperor, nor the king of the West, nor the king of Persia, Sam’s son, Zal, is the man I want.


Rudabeh went onto the roof and stood there like a cypress tree topped by the full moon. When she saw Zal in the distance, she called out to him, “ welcome, bold young man. God’s blessings be upon you, and may you tread on the heavens.”

Hearing his words, she loosened her hair, which cascaded down, tumbling like snakes, loop upon loop. He took a lariat from his page, looped it, and hurled it upwards without saying another word. As he stepped onto the roof Rudabeh made her obeisance before him, then grasped his hands in hers.

From moment then to moment their desire

Gained strength, and wisdom fled before love’s fire;

Passion engulfed them, and these lovers lay

Entwined together till the break of day.


English text taken from Shahnameh: The Persian Book Of Kings, by Abolqasem Ferdowsi, translated by Dick Davis, courtesy of Mage Publishers, www.mage.com .

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