Rostam's Seven Labours

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The third feat: Rostam kills a dragon. 17th-century Persian manuscript.

The Seven Labors of Rostam or Haft-Khan-e-Rostam (Persian: هفت خوان رستم) are a series of acts carried out by the greatest of the Iranian heroes, Rostam, also romanized as Rustam. The story of Haftkhan was retold by Ferdowsi in his epic poem, Shahnama. In his labors, Rostam was often accompanied only by his horse, Rakhsh. In two of his labors, he was also accompanied by a champion, Olad.

The Haft Khan[edit]

According to the traditional narrative, the story starts when Kai Kaus's expedition to Mazandaran fails, and the army are captured by the Divs. Rostam engages to liberate them, and proceeds by the labors. The traditional order of the labors is:

  • First stage: Rostam goes to sleep among the reeds. In a short space, a fierce lion appears, and attacks his horse Rakhsh with violence; but Rakhsh very speedily with his teeth and heels tries to kill the lion. Rostam, awakened by the confusion, and seeing the dead lion and the wounded Rakhsh before him, heals his favorite companion. Then, he remounts Rakhsh, and proceeds on his journey towards Mazanderan
  • Second stage: Rostam enters a desert, in which no water is to be found. Both horse and rider become oppressed with thirst and therefore, Rostam prays to God. Under the influence of a raging sun, Rostam sees a sheep pass by, which he hails as the harbinger of good. Rising up and grasping his sword in his hand, he follows the animal, and comes to a fountain of water, where he devoutly returns thanks to God for the blessing which had preserved his existence.
  • Third stage: At midnight a monstrous dragon serpent issues from the forest; Rakhsh retires towards his master, and neighs and beats the ground so furiously, that Rostam is awakened. Looking round on every side, however, he sees nothing as the dragon had vanished, and he goes to sleep again. The dragon again appears, and the faithful horse tries to rouse his sleeping master. Rostam again is awakened,and is again angry; but fortunately at this moment sufficient light is providentially given for him to see the prodigious cause of alarm. Rostam succeeds to slay the dragon.
  • Fourth stage: Rostem having resumed the saddle, continues his journey through an enchanted territory, and in the evening comes to a beautifully green spot, refreshed by flowing rivulets, where he finds, to his surprise, a ready roasted deer, and some bread and salt. He sits down near the enchanted provisions, which vanished at the sound of his voice, and presently a tambourine meets his eyes, and a flask of wine. Taking up the instrument, he plays upon it, and chants a ditty about his own wanderings, and the exploits which he most loves. The song happens to reach the ears of a sorceress, who, arrayed in all the charms of beauty, suddenly approaches him, and sits down by his side. The champion put up a prayer of gratitude for having been supplied with food and wine, and music, in the desert of Mazanderan, and not knowing that the enchantress was a demon in disguise, he places in her hands a cup of wine in the name of God; but at the mention of the Creator, the enchanted form is converted into a black fiend. Seeing this, Rostem throws his lasso, and secures the demon; and, drawing his sword, at once cut the body in two equal parts.
  • Fifth stage: Rostam conquers the Mazandarani champion Olad, who describes the caves of the demons, and kills Arzang Div, the demon chief in Mazandaran.
  • Sixth stage: Rostam enters the city of Mazanderan, and releases Kai Kaus, though still blind by the sorcery of the demons.
  • Seventh stage: Rostam overthrows and kills Div-e-Sepid, the White Demon. The blood of the White Demon's heart restores Kai Kavus's sight.

Rostam also kills the magician king of Mazandaran and returns to Estakhr accompanied by the Shah.

Sources and references[edit]

  • Abolqasem Ferdowsi, Dick Davis trans. (2006), Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings ISBN 0-670-03485-1, modern English translation (abridged), current standard
  • Warner, Arthur and Edmond Warner, (translators) The Shahnama of Firdausi, 9 vols. (London: Keegan Paul, 1905-1925) (complete English verse translation)
  • Shirzad Aghaee, Nam-e kasan va ja'i-ha dar Shahnama-ye Ferdousi(Personalities and Places in the Shahnama of Ferdousi, Nyköping, Sweden, 1993. (ISBN 91-630-1959-0)
  • Jalal Khāleghi Motlagh, Editor, The Shahnameh, to be published in 8 volumes (ca. 500 pages each), consisting of six volumes of text and two volumes of explanatory notes. See: Center for Iranian Studies, Columbia University.