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Literature / The Shahnameh

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But all this world is like a tale we hear —
Men's evil, and their glory, disappear.

The Shahnameh is a 50,000 verse epic poem written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi, started in 977 and finished in 1010. Its name translates as Book of Kings, and that's basically what it is: A recounting of the Persian kings from the creation of the world to the Arab conquest. Most of these kings are mythical, though. The closer the narrative gets to the time of Ferdowsi's writing, the more historically accurate it becomes.

Ferdowsi made a point of writing his poem in Persian when most literature at the time was in Arabic. He also refused to adapt the pre-Islamic legends to accommodate Muslim beliefs. The popularity of The Shahnameh pretty much revived the Persian language, and it continues to be revered as a classic of Persian literature.

The Shahnameh is Older Than Print, having been written a few centuries before the printing press. However, since a good chunk of it comes from Sassanid-period historiographies (224-651 CE), many episodes of the work are probably Older Than Feudalism, at least in outline.


This work provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Numerous examples and almost always the father:
    • Sahm Abandons his infant son Zal in the mountains because Zal was born with platinum white hair.
    • Goshtasb Tries to get his son Esfandiar killed so he can remain king.
    • Siavash's (unnamed) mother had run away from home because her father was a violent drunk, before marrying Key Kavous.
    • Afrasiab disowns his daughter Manijeh when he finds out she'd been fooling around with Bijan.
  • The Ace: Rostam obviously. Esfandiar and many other heroes qualify as well, but especially Siavash who is at the same time strong, brave, athletic, virtuous, humble, considerate, intelligent, patriotic, charming, and on top of all that incredibly handsome.
  • Achilles' Heel: Esfandiyar bathed in a pool of invincibility, except he closed his eyelids, leaving him vulnerable to Eye Scream. The Persian expression for 'Achilles Heel' is literally "Esfandiar's eye".
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  • Action Girl: Gordafarid, who manages to stalemate Sohrab.
  • Albinos Are Freaks: Zal is born an albino. His father abandons him on the mountainside, but the Simurgh, a wise and kindhearted (and semi-divine) bird finds him and raises him as his own. Zal eventually leaves the Simurgh to find his place in the human world and to find his father.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The Divs, Ahriman's monstrous servants.
  • And This Is for...: Two examples involving Rostam:
    • Rostam cuts queen Soodabeh in half, for her role in Siavash leaving Iran for Turan and his eventual death.
    • Rostam impales his half-brother Shoqad to the tree he's hiding behind with an arrow for essentially killing Rostam himself! That's right, Rostam is so badass he avenges his own death right before he dies!
  • And Your Little Dog, Too!: After Zahhak finds out where the Chosen One Freydun is hidden, he has his Mooks kill the cow that nursed him and all the other animals in the area.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Not as common as you might think in an epic about kings, in the second part of the book there clearly is a difference between warriors and kings. Siavash is the crown prince but never shows any interest in the throne as he is more suited for the Heroic lifestyle. The kings often lead their military campaigns but very few are actually mentioned on battlefields. But there are some examples:
    • Freydun, the hero who rids the world of the tyrant Zahhak is crowned after the revolution and rules justly for years
    • Esfandyar is the crown prince of Iran who actually wants to be king. He's also the invincible badass who even Rostam can't kill while sticking to his code of honor.
    • Bahram Gur (real-life emperor of Iran from 420 to 438). Like in tradition, he is depicted as the greatest archer of his time, a true master of the art of falconry, and an insanely good military commander.
  • Badass Normal: Most of the characters are royalty, local rulers or war heroes, but a few of the most badass ones are just normal people whose normal lives have been ruined.
    • Kaveh is a 70 something-year-old blacksmith. He and his wife had 12 sons and they had to stand by and watch as 11 of them were taken to the palace to have their brains fed to Zahhak's snakes. When Karen, their 12th son (who at the time was 5 years old is taken Kaveh just can't take it anymore and goes to the palace in an unstoppable rage, screams insults to Zahhak so loudly he draws a crowd to the gate and keeps boasting until Zahhak has no choice but to let him in. Coincidentally, this is the day Zahhak has invited all of the richest and most powerful and influential people in the world to have them pledge allegiances to his cause, and for the sake of keeping up appearances sets the child free. Zahhak then asks Kaveh to sign the contract as a representative of the common folk. Kaveh, upon reading it, delivers a brutal "The Reason You Suck" Speech to all of the powerful people who have signed it and tears it in half, then grabs his child and storms out. Everybody sees, and the people start a riot. Kaveh takes off his leather smith's apron and waves it around on a spear as a flag and the people rally behind him. He leads the people to Mount Damavand and talks Freydun into becoming their leader.
    • Freydun's mother Faranak also qualifies. She has royal ancestry but she lives a normal life in the city of Varena until her life is turned around when her infant son gets a massive target painted on his back because of a mad King's Prophetic Dream. She refuses to give up even after they kill her husband. She spends most of her time hiding Freydun in places with different caretakers to ensure his safety and has a crucial role as his chief advisor when he starts leading the revolution.
  • Bad Boss: Afrasiab decapitates his soldiers who won't fight against Key Khosrow with a dagger when it's become evident that the Persians Roaring Rampage of Revenge is unstoppable. The Turanians Mostly know that Key Khosrow is a just king and he's only after Afrasiab and those directly responsible for Siavash's death.
  • Badass Boast: Appropriately for an epic, the Shahnameh is full of these. See the quotes page for specific examples.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Sohrab and Gordafarid.
  • Big Bad: The most famous examples would be:
    • Zahhak, a tyrant with two snakes growing out his shoulders to which he must feed human brains.
    • The White Div, a cave-dwelling demon who rules Mazandaran.
    • Afrasiab and his brother Garsivaz who commit many atrocities including the execution of Siavash, which sends Rostam and the Persians on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Bigger Bad: Ahriman, the source and representation of all evil.
  • Blatant Lies: Years after killing their brother Iraj, Salm and Tur send a message to their father Freydun, claiming that they're both ever so sorry for the whole fratricide thing, and ask that Iraj's grandson Manuchehr be sent to them so they can properly express their contrition. Freydun, not being an idiot, doesn't take the bait, and responds with a pointed "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
  • Blood Knight: Ashkbus the Koshani. He isn't even from Turan, the only reason he is fighting with them is his thirst for blood. Rostam actually describes him as a "Bihode mard e parkhash juy" which is Persian for "man who pointlessly seeks violence"
  • Blood Magic: After hearing his doom prophecy Zahhak performed a ritual where he killed enough people to fill a pool with their blood and bathed in it. You know, just in case people didn't already know he was a psycho.
  • Body Horror: The devil, disguised as a young cook, asks Zahhak permission to kiss him on the shoulders and when Zahhak grants the request, the disguised devil vanishes and from Zahhak's shoulders grow two hideous snakes. They try cutting the snakes off but they just grow back and would only leave Zahhak alone if they are fed the brain of young men. Eventually, when Freydun defeats Zahhak, he decides the most fitting punishment for Zahhak is to lock him up in a cave in mount Damavand and let the snakes do the rest.
  • Brain Food: What Zahhak's cursed shoulder snakes do, requiring sacrifices to prevent them from eating his.
  • Cain and Abel: The person who is finally able to bring down Rostam is none other than his younger half-brother Shoqad.
  • Carry a Big Stick: While he is a master at wrestling, sword fighting, and archery, Rostam prefers to carry around his mace.
  • Cool Horse: Quite a few, here are the most important ones:
    • Rakhsh, the only horse strong enough to carry Rostam and his mace at the same time. He accompanies Rostam on all of his journeys and through all of his battles, and they eventually die in each other's arms.
    • Siavash's horse Shabrang Behzad also qualifies. Siavash's name literally means "rider of the black horse" and Shabrang means "the color of the night"
    • Shabdiz, the noble steed of Shah Khosrow Parviz (real-life horse of the real-life Shah) has a whole lot of personality for a horse. So does Bucephalus, the horse only Alexander the Great could (and was crazy enough to try and) tame
  • Cool vs. Awesome: Rostam vs. Esfandyar. Easily the most badass character in the entire epic versus the invincible prince
  • The Corrupter: Ahriman, in spades.
  • Chosen One: Freydun. Destined to rid the world of Zahhak.
  • Crushing Handshake: Esfandyar gives one to Rostam. Rostam does not flinch but his hand is so badly crushed it bleeds! It does nothing to intimidate Rostam though.
  • Curse: Whoever kills Esfandiyār is cursed to die and suffer in this life and the next. Fortunately for Rostem it can take into account Uriah Gambits.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: On his fifth Labor to save the Persian king and army, Rostam fights multiple Mazandarani warriors and captures their leader, Oolad. He makes Oolad his guide in Mazandaran and gets information about the White Demon from him. Oolad comes to admire and respect Rostam and Rostam in turn warms up to his captive for his help and promises him Mazandaran. When it is all over Rostam keeps his promise and makes Key Kavous appoint Oolad as the ruler of Mazandaran
  • The Determinator: Esfandyar's Seven Labors are practically the most intense and dangerous things there are to do in the empire but he powers through them all. Then he is ordered to capture Afrasiab's castle Ruyin Dej (its name means impregnable fortress), which he does.
  • The Dreaded: Zahhak and Afrasiab are this to the Persians. Zahhak is an abomination in appearance and deed and Afrasiab's name literally means the 'the terrifying one'.
    • Sahm is this to the Turanians. As soon as Sahm dies Afrasiab suggests invading Iran because he was the only thing holding them back. Fortunately by the time they attack Rostam has matured and replaced his grandfather as the dreaded.
    • Rostam is so dreaded among the enemy that when he finally meets an opponent he thinks can beat him, Rostam keeps his identity secret so that if he dies the Turanians will still have something to be afraid of.
    • Rostam is this to foe AND friend! Bahman knows his father Esfandiar can rip through chains as if they were threads, kill wild animals and a dragon, that he has never lost a fight ever and is literally invincible, meaning weapons have little to no effect on him. Despite all this Bahman STILL fears for his father's life in his battle against Rostam and tries to assassinate Rostam before he fights Esfandiar.
  • Evil Uncle: Salm and Tur are evil great-uncles, who murder their brother Iraj and try later to do the same thing to Iraj's grandson.
  • Evil Vizier: Jamasp, who serves king Goshtasp, conspires with him to get his son Esfandiar out of the picture so he can remain king. In Zoroastrian texts, he is a good guy though.
  • False Rape Accusation: Sudabeh accuses her stepson Siavash of sexual assault.
  • Fatal Flaw:
    • From a modern psychological standpoint, it could be said that big egos and endless need for praise are what ruined everything for both Jamshid and Zahhak. Jamshid declared himself a god and demanded worship from the people which ended badly for literally everyone and Zahhak was such an easy target for the devil because he wanted to sit on a throne and be worshipped, so much that he killed his own father because his friend had told him that he was worthy of rule. Zahhak gets his infamous shoulder-snakes because he just doesn't get how fake the chef is with his compliments and his flattering request to kiss him on the shoulders as a reward.
    • Esfandyar's obsession with becoming king is how he's manipulated into fighting his tutor Rostam, even though he knows it's the wrong thing to do. Going up against Rostam is as fatal as it gets.
    • Also, Sohrab's Hot Bloodedness gets him killed.
  • Femme Fatale: Sudabeh is the very attractive wife of Key Kavous who tries to seduce her stepson, Siavash. When Siavash turns her down twice, she claims Siavash sexually assaulted her. Even though the evidence is against her, she uses the aborted deformed babies of a witch to cast doubt on Siavash, who finally proves his innocence by riding through a huge fire and coming out unharmed. Even then she tries to frame Zal for losing the babies which doesn't work and Key Kavous sentences her to be hanged. Siavash knows his father will soon regret having her killed and will hold Siavash in contempt for her death, so he asks for Sudabeh to be pardoned. And despite all that she's done, she bewitches her husband once again and starts poisoning his mind against Siavash. When Afrasiab wages war on Iran, Siavash volunteers to go to battle to get away from Sudabeh and her schemes and this ultimately leads to his tragic death.
  • Flanderization: Meta only. Most people's minds immediately go to Rostam when hearing "Shahnameh" while there's a whole lot more to the epic.
  • Foregone Conclusion: At Least for Persian readers. One of Ferdowsi's main sources for his material was oral traditions. The stories were passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years (hence the hyperbole), so when people read the Shahnameh for the first time, they already had a pretty good idea how the stories were going to end. Ferdowsi was aware of this and has no qualms about spoilers.
    • Even today most Iranian children know the more famous stories before they're old enough to read the book.
  • Founder of the Kingdom: Keyumars, the first king to rise among humanity, and the first Shah of Iran.
  • Genius Bruiser: Rostam, Siavash, Esfandiar, and many other heroes are not only strong fighters and good tacticians, but they're also quite eloquent, witty, and knowledgeable. Rostam is mentioned to have played the tambour and he could sing.
  • God Is Good: The Zoroastrian creator god Ohrmazd and his angels care deeply about the world, and aid the righteous heroes in their struggles.
  • God of Evil: Ahriman. His name is derived from the Avestan "Angra Mainyu", which means "destructive spirit".
  • Good vs. Good: Rostam versus Esfandyar. They are stuck in a fight to the death because Esfandyar's father, the Shahanshah (Emperor) is running a Batman Gambit on Rostam as a part of his Uriah Gambit on Esfandyar.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Shoqad is this toward his half brother Rostam whom he thinks Zal favors because Zal sends Shoqad away at a young age to Kabol and generally keeps him away from the rest of the family and Iran. In reality, Zal loves Shoqad very much, but when Shoqad was born it was foretold that he would bring about the end of Zal's legacy and a great loss to Iran. Ironically this perceived favoritism and abandonment coupled with Rostam's achievements and standing is what fuels Shoqad's deep hatred and jealousy.
  • Healing Potion: Key Kavous is in possession of this but refuses to share it with Rostam when he sends Giv to get it for the mortally wounded Sohrab. Key Kavous's paranoia sets in and he fears that if Sohrab is healed he will go through with his oath to kill Kavous and usurp his throne and now that Rostam knows Sohrab is his son they will join forces! Granted this was actually Sohrab's intent, Key Kavous should have known that Rostam was too loyal to ever let it happen, especially after all Rostam had done for Kavous.
  • Hijacked By Mohammad: Deliberately averted for the most part. Ferdowsi himself was still technically a Muslim living and hoping to publish his work in a Muslim state, but he was also a complete and total patriot working to preserve ancient Iranian wisdom which at that point, thanks to 300+ years of Islamic rule had already been hijacked to some degree.
    • The conception of Sohrab is somewhat weird. Rostam has been hunting for sport all day and decides to rest his weary head in the nearby castle of Semnegan. The Castellan's daughter, Tahmina decides to check the famous hero out, and even though Rostam is hammered its love at first sight for both of them. They elope the first chance they get, and then Rostam leaves. For ten years he never bothers telling any of his buddies or his King that he has a wife in a castle that is now behind enemy lines and that they were wondering if they had conceived a child together. In pre-Islamic Iran, the taboo against adultery was nowhere near as serious as the tradition of "Khoyduda" which dictated that the Bride and Groom must have known each other for at least two years before marriage. It really seems like the whole marriage thing was a late addition to the story
    • If you wanna get really nitpicky, In the Shahnameh the names "Ahriman" and "Eblis" are used interchangeably while the Zoroastrian God of Evil and the Abrahamic corrupter are drastically different.
      • However, the name "Eblis" is only used in Zahhak's backstory, which takes place in an Arab vassal kingdom of the Persian Empire. He may have just been trying to get more authentic with the Arab theme.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Ferdowsi believed he was simply putting history to verse. The second part of the book (the epics) is based on characters that might have existed in real life, though everything has been exaggerated to extremes (mostly to make a point). The third part of the book (starting at the birth of Alexander the Great) is nothing but exaggerated history. It's very unlikely that Alexander the Great killed a dragon in real life or that Bahram V won his throne back from a usurper by winning a lion taming match. Purandokht ruled for less than two years in real life but Ferdowsi, who had a thing for strong independent women depicts her as one of the most badass rulers ever.
  • Honor Before Reason: Many characters are praised for this, most famously Rostam who fights Esfandyar to the death simply because he doesn't want to be seen in chains and wakes up a sleeping Div so he can fight him fair and square.
  • Hot-Blooded: Sohrab fits the trope. He angrily smacks down a captured Persian when he (rightfully) suspects the soldier is giving him false information, then he rides alone to the Persian army, demands single combat, and vows to hang their king.
  • Hot Witch: On his fourth Labor, Rostam comes across a witch disguised as a beautiful woman who entices him with food and wine. Just as he's about to put the food in his mouth though Rostam gives thanks to Mithra. Upon hearing god's name the witch instantly revert to her true form.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Rostem is this to Kay Kavus, who keeps on getting the kingdom of Iran into problems and needing the ever-more reluctant Rostam to bail him out.
  • Hypocrite: When he was a prince, Goshtasb is anxious to become king and gives his father Lohrasb who (rightfully) believes he is not ready a hard time for it, going so far as abandoning Iran and going abroad for years in protest. When he finally gets what he wants and has been king for many years and prince Esfandyar's turn to rule is overdue, Goshtasb makes false promises to him, locks him up, sends him on suicide missions and finally resorts to a Uriah Gambit to remain king.
  • I Am X, Son of Y: On his third Labor, Rostam encounters a murderous talking dragon. When the Dragon asks Rostam's name so he knows who he's about to kill, Rostam proudly gives him not only his own name but also his father Zal, grandfather Sahm, and great grandfather Nariman's names.
  • It's All About Me: Goshtasp is willing to send his son Esfandyar to his death to stay king. Unfortunately, the prince takes after his father in this regard. Esfandyar is willing to dishonor Rostam to become king, even after all Rostam has done for Iran. Esfandiar is decidedly the more honorable of the two though.
  • It's All My Fault: Rostam feels this way about Sohrab's death — he is somewhat right. Losing his son like that is why he's so attached to Siavash and why he goes on a rampage when he is killed.
  • It's Personal: Rostam has gone to war against the Turanians on many occasions, simply as a patriotic Persian defending his country. But when the Turanians kill the innocent Siavash (Rostam's surrogate son) he goes to war for the sole purpose of killing everyone responsible. The same can be said about king Key Khosro who was Siavash's son and the Persians in general.
  • Kick Them While They Are Down: More like 'stab' them while they are down... Sohrab pins Rostam to the ground in their first wrestling match and takes out his dagger. Rostam tells him that the Persian custom is to kill one’s opponent the second time he is defeated. Sohrab accepts due to the affection he feels for the man, his naiveté and his code of honor. In the next fight, Rostam gains the upper hand and does not hesitate to stab Sohrab in the side. Although he does this to save Iran, this the only instance in which Rostam resorts to trickery to win a fight.
  • Love Potion: Non-literal. Zahhak uses mind control magic on Arnavaz and Shahrnaz and rapes them.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: When confronted with a terrible dragon (really Freydun in disguise) the son of Freydun who would later be named Salm wasted no time in retreating. Unusually for this kind of story, this isn't portrayed as an act of cowardice: Freydun outright says that anybody who charges blindly against monsters is foolhardy rather than courageous. At the same time, Tur is praised for his bravery in the face of the dragon, but Iraj is most highly regarded for warning the dragon away, thus demonstrating both prudence and courage.
  • Manly Tears: Happens a lot considering it's an emotionally packed story featuring a whole bunch of insanely manly warriors. Most prominent would be Rostam, the manliest character in the entire book, bitterly crying when he realizes he's just killed his own son.
    • Bijan cries as he is led to the gallow to be hanged by the Turanians, but not because he's about to die... he cries because he was tricked into giving up his weapon and captured under the pretense of a parley, and he's worried that because his body is unharmed people will say he surrendered without a fight and he would bring shame to his family!
    • Goodarz kills his long time rival and Turanian counterpart Piran, then sheds tears for him out of respect. Piran had been a decent and compassionate adversary. He had also previously saved Goodarz's grandson Bijan from hanging at the hands of Afrasiab's men.
  • Meaningful Name: Pretty much everyone, some meanings are somewhat more obvious to a Persian speaker while some are not.
    • Rostam: Tall and powerful
    • Zal: White Hair
    • Sohrab: Rosy complexion
    • Siavash: (Rider of the) Black stallion
    • Afrasiab: The terrifying one
    • Kioomars: The mortal
    • Siamak: Black hair
    • Hooshang: (builder of) Good houses
    • Rudaba: Of the river water
    • Esfandyar/Spandyar: Friend of the Sacred
    • Zahhak: The man who laughs
    • Arnavaz: Good speaker
  • The Mentor:
    • Simorq for Zal: The giant mythical bird, Simorq finds the baby Zal abandoned in mountains and raises him. When they part ways he gives Zal three of his feathers and tells Zal to summon him by burning a feather in times when he's in desperate need of help.
    • Piran is this to Afrasiab. His wisdom and compassion saves many good people from Afrasiab's wrath, including Bijan and Manijeh.
    • Rostam is this to Siavash, Esfandiar, and later Bahman. He especially has a soft spot for Siavash, seeing him as a surrogate for his own son whom he never really got to know.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: The Simurgh is a bird with the head of a dog and the claws of a lion.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: This is Rostam's reaction when he realizes he's killed his son Sohrab.
    • also the reaction of the whole world after Zahhak's revolution. Jamshid was arrogant enough to claim to be a god, but he never oppressed his people, and arts and sciences were flourishing under his patronage. The leader of the revolution who quickly crowned himself as the new Shahanshah turned out to be a rapist, completely incapable of love, and the host of two snakes which had to be fed human brains every day.
  • Nerves of Steel: Rostam displays this on multiple occasions including:
    • He goes to battle against the mounted and heavily armed Ashkboos with only a bow and two arrows. He shoots down Ashboos's horse with one arrow. The thoroughly rattled Ashkboos fires a barrage of arrows at Rostam who doesn't even move. Then Rostam shoots his only remaining arrow with dead accuracy.
    • When Esfandyar arrives to arrest Rostam they shake hands and Esfandyar squeezes Rostam's hand so hard the veins under his nails pop and start to bleed. Not only does this not faze Rostam, but he also delivers some good-humored badass boasts and goes home to prepare for battle.
    • When he sneaks into the Div-e Sepid's cave, he finds the demon sleeping. Instead of taking the opportunity to slay the monster in his sleep, he lets out a battle cry and fights him only when he's fully awake.
    • Bahman fearing for his father Esfandiar's life in his battle against Rostam tries to assassinate him by hurling a boulder from a hill to crush Rostam. The hunting party accompanying Rostam drop what they're carrying and dive out of the way. Rostam simply kicks the rolling rock away from him!
  • Obviously Evil: The wicked king Zahhak. He has a snake growing from each shoulder! Oh, and he feeds them human brains.
  • One-Man Army: Rostam singlehandedly conquered the land of Mazandaran where Key Kavous fails to do so with an army and frees the captured king and Persians.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Through a combination of accidents, deception, and well-intentioned mistakes, Rostem ends up killing Sohrab, an outcome neither of them wanted.
  • Rated M for Manly: This is a book full of tough warriors battling each other, wild beasts and mythical creatures.
    • Optimized in Rostam, a towering muscular man with a long beard, who wears tiger skin under his armor plates, and (according to tradition, not the Shahnameh) the skull of a Div he killed as his helmet while riding a huge horse and carrying a mace shaped like a bulls head.
  • Real Men Love Ohrmazd: Esfandyar was raised by Zoroaster himself, but the other heroes aren't that much less pious. Jamshid fell from grace simply because he declared himself God (to be fair, he had a ridiculously long lifespan and his wife had invented wine)
  • Reign of Terror: Zahhak's rule, which lasted 1000 years.
  • Required Secondary Powers: Rostem actually had to pray to make his legs weaker so he wouldn't dig himself in the ground up to his waist with every step.
  • Rescue Arc: Rostam does his fair share of rescuing. The Seven Labors of Rostam is the most famous example wherein he saves the imprisoned Key Kavous and Persian army from the demons of Mazandaran.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Rostam will not rest until EVERYONE responsible for Siavash's execution is dead, even his own king's wife.
  • Samus Is a Girl: When Sepid Dejh’s (the white fortress) champion Hojhir challenges Sohrab to single combat, is beaten and taken prisoner, the fortresses chief, Gazhdahm and his daughter Gordafarid realize that the fort will eventually fall. Gazhdahm sends a messenger to Key Kavus, the Shah of Persia through a secret passage and starts to evacuate the city through it, while Gordafarid wears armor, hides her hair under a helmet and challenges Sohrab to buy time. A fierce and long clash ensues and the fight gets closer and closer, culminating in hand to hand combat on horseback. Finally, in the heat of battle, Sohrab tears the helmet from Gordafarid’s head and is astonished to realize he’d been fighting a beautiful girl.
  • Saving the World with Art: Talhand and Gav, two half-brothers, vie for the throne of Hind, but Talhand dies in battle against a mutual enemy without a wound. Their mother suspects that Gav killed him and threatens to start a civil war. But then the sages of the court invent the game of Chess and use the piece movements to reenact the battle, ending with the King capturing several pieces and then ultimately being checkmated, thus representing how the half-brother died of battle fatigue. In the end, the mother was appeased and the game of Chess averted civil war.
    • In a Meta example, the Shahnameh essentially saved the entire Iranian culture from being completely subsumed by Arab traditions. Ferdowsi made it cool to write in Persian again.
  • Scaled Up: King Faridun turns into a dragon. Notably, this isn't for fighting; it's to test his sons, and the son who he believes is worthy is the one who doesn't attack the dragon right away and talks to him instead.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can:
    • Tahmureth is nicknamed the Divband (meaning captor of Divs) because, well, he imprisoned Divs. The Divs are later freed by Zahhak, and they wreak havoc on humanity for centuries.
    • Zahhak himself is never killed, just imprisoned inside the Damavand Volcano. In the Avesta, it is mentioned that he will be freed and eventually defeated for good.
  • Take That!: The fact that Ferdowsi wrote in Persian instead of Arabic and that some of the villains in the tale (including the aforementioned brain-eating Zahhak) come from Arabia might suggest Ferdowsi was a little peeved about the Arabs conquering his country.
    • Then there's the other main villain, Afrasiyab the Turanian/Turk. The Turks had by this point overrun large parts of Persia and had been enemies of the Persians since before Islam. Afrasiyab gets subjected to a near-endless Humiliation Conga all through the story of Rustam. This lead to trouble for Ferdowsi when he was taken prisoner by the ferocious warlord Mahmud of Ghazna, who was Turkish.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Some of the most impressive verbal smackdowns in literature. Any villainous character will be called out and condemned for their crimes, in detail.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: The uprising against Jamshid is brutal, mainly because Zahhak is hijacking it. After capturing Jamshid, Zahhak saws him in half.
    • The revolution against Zahhak isn't exactly civilized either. At some point, arrows and spears rain down from rooftops. Civilian rooftops.
    • Rostam and Zal's campaign to put Kay Cobad on the throne averts this.
  • Tragic Mistake: Being an epic, there are many examples. Some of the more famous ones are:
    • Sohrab's naivete causes him to keep his identity and the armband that Rostam had given to his wife (Sohrab's mother) specifically so that he would be able to identify his child, hidden. This eventually leads father and son to unknowingly face each other in battle with tragic consequences.
    • Rostam is cautious and untrusting to a fault when it comes to fighting the Turanian champion who unknown to him is his son. Considering Sohrab's immense strength and fighting prowess and considering his own age, Rostam denies his true identity even when Sohrab repeatedly asks him if he is indeed Rostam because Rostam fears that he might lose and the Turanians would be unstoppable if they no longer feared the threat of Persia’s greatest warrior. Lying mortally wounded in Rostam's arms Sohrab tells his father, "I gave you every hint there was, your love did not budge an inch"
  • Undying Loyalty: When Manijeh's father, Afrasiab learns of her relationship with the Persian warrior Bijan, she is degraded, roughed up, kicked out of her home and all her possessions are confiscated. The princess goes door to door each day begging for food so she can keep Bijan, who's chained at the bottom of a hole sealed by a giant boulder alive.
    • No matter how much trouble and grief Key Kavous causes Rostam, including not helping him save Sohrab, Rostam is always loyal to his king even though he could easily abandon or even overthrow Key Kavous.
    • Rostam and the Persian champions toward Persia. This is the most important theme of the whole book and applies to the author Ferdowsi too.
  • The Uriah Gambit: Esfandyar's entire adult life is just a series of impossible missions his father assigns to him to get him killed. During his seven labors, he faces two giant man-eating wolves, two giant man-eating lions, a dragon, a witch, two baby Simorqs (a devastating fight not only because the enormous mother bird shows up, Simorqs are sacred and The Paladin Esfandyar really doesn't want to hurt them), survives a three-day-long storm and crosses a Thirsty Desert. Goshtasp then orders him to capture Afrasyab's castle Ruyin Dej (the name literally means impregnable fortress), which he does. Then, the desperate Goshtasp orders him to bring Rostam to him in chains, almost starting a civil war. Esfandyar is finally killed by Rostam but on his last breath he tells Rostam not to worry about the Curse as his death can be blamed only on his father.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Zahhak was a guileless and well-meaning prince before Ahriman corrupted him.
    • Salm and Tur were also decent people before their jealousy of Iraj got the better of them.
  • Wham Episode: Happens every once in a while
    • The first (and possibly most intense) would be Jamshid's fall from grace and Zahhak's revolution
    • Iraj's murder (at the hands of his brothers no less) is a pretty tragic end to the happy streak that began with Freydun's coronation.
    • Rostam vs. Esfandyar. A Civil War arc right after a series of very patriotic stories that pits two old friends against each other while the obvious villain is sitting comfortably in his palace. Esfandyar's son tries to sneak into Rostam's camp and drop a boulder on him but gets himself killed, making it personal and Rostam has to use magic to heal himself and a poisoned arrow to stand a chance against the invincible prince. Before the final fight, Rostam is rehearsing his "we don't have to fight speech" with teary eyes but can't bring himself to spit it out because they're both in way too deep to stop at that point.
    • Ferdowsi himself titled Sohrab's story the "Gham Nameh" (meaning "The Chapter of Sorrows"). It starts with Rostam falling in love with and immediately (and secretly) getting married to Tahmineh. Then the happy couple have to split up. Then Afrasiab's army takes over Tahmineh's castle. Sohrab is born and raised, showing immense talent in the art of war, so much that anyone who sees him believes him to be Rostam's equal. Afrasiab manipulates Sohrab into leading the Turanian army into Iran and after a series of complicated conspiracies Rostam ends up killing his own son.
    • Siavash's death is so brutal that in Real Life, people in the city of Shiraz mourn its anniversary every year.
    • Khosrow and Shireen is described by many as the most beautiful Love Story in Persian literature (Nizami's telling of the story, not Ferdowsi's but still). It is also one of the craziest Tear Jerkers in the entire book.
  • World's Best Warrior: Rostam is a One-Man Army/Genius Bruiser who regularly kills wild beasts, monsters, multiple foes, and seemingly unbeatable challenges and ALWAYS comes out on top.
  • Worm in an Apple: The tale of Haftvad starts with Haftvad's one daughter, who takes a break from spinning to eat an apple. Inside, she finds a small worm (interpreted but not identified as a silkworm) which she keeps with her the rest of the day. From that day on, she spins more and finer thread than ever before, making her family rich and powerful. The worm is well taken care of and becomes huge. Eventually, Haftvad draws the attention of Ardashir I, the future Sasanian emperor, who wants to break his power. He succeeds by pretending to be a travelling merchant and killing the worm by feeding it molten lead.

Such is the passing that you must leave,
All men must die, and it is vain to grieve.

Alternative Title(s): Shahnameh


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