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from “Kayumars”

Kayu­mars, whose king­dom stretched
across the wide world, who wore
the world’s first crown and called his throne
the seat of law, set­ting it high
in the moun­tains, where his for­tunes soared as well,
who clothed him­self in ani­mal skins,
an exam­ple for his peo­ple to follow,
and taught them the trees’ fruit was food—
this Kayu­mars reigned for three decades,
a shin­ing sun spread­ing peace,
a glow­ing moon, full and tranquil,
ris­ing high above a slen­der cypress.
All crea­tures, wild and tame, came
from each of the world’s cor­ners, seeking
refuge in his realm, rever­ing him,
and in their rev­er­ence nur­tur­ing his splendor,
bask­ing in the roy­al farr. This
is where in time religion’s rise began.

from “Hushang”

One day, as Hushang made his way
with some com­pan­ions towards the mountains,
a long black snake with blood-filled bowls
for eyes and sun-dark­en­ing smoke
for breath charged at the monarch’s party.
The king took the creature’s measure,
hurled a rock with a hero’s strength,
but the mon­ster dodged Hushang’s attack,
and the stone broke open on a boulder,
send­ing sparks into the air.
The fiend escaped, but fire had been found
in that rock’s heart, and Hushang
thanked God for grant­i­ng such a gift.
The flames he lit that night blazed
moun­tain-high, and he made this proclamation:
“Fire is divine; the wise will wor­ship it.”
Then he and his peo­ple cir­cled those flames,
feast­ing and drink­ing wine, and the king named
their cel­e­bra­tion Sadeh.

from “Tahmures”

Gird­ed with God’s glo­ry, his mace
raised to his shoul­der and ready to strike,
he braced for bat­tle. The Black Demon
led his force of demons and sorcerers
to the fray, their voic­es thun­der­ing their approach,
but the war did not last long.
Cast­ing spells, Tah­mures subdued
most of his enemy’s troops. The rest
he felled with his mace, drag­ging them, chained,
through the dust. They plead­ed to live, promising
knowl­edge no one else possessed.
Tah­mures agreed. After he freed them,
they taught him to write, a gift he gave us.
Not just one, but thir­ty scripts:
Pahlavi and Per­sian, Ara­bic and Soghdian;
the West­ern way of writ­ing, and Chi­nese as well.
They taught Tah­mures to shape each letter
and pro­nounce the sound it stood for,
and this new and prof­itable knowledge
lit a light in him like the sun.

from “Jamshid”

For three centuries,
Jamshid ruled in peace. His people
knew nei­ther death nor hard­ship; the demons
stood ready to serve, and all who heard
the king’s com­mand obeyed it. The land,
filled with music, flour­ished. Jamshid,
how­ev­er, gave him­self to vanity.
See­ing he had no peer in the world,
he for­got the grat­i­tude that is God’s due
and called the nobles of his court before him,
mak­ing this fate­ful proclamation:
“From this day for­ward, I know no lord
but me: my word brought beauty
and skilled men to adorn the earth!
My word! Sun­shine and sleep, security
and com­fort, the clothes you wear, your food—
all came to you through me!
Who else end­ed death’s desolation
and with med­i­cine van­ished ill­ness from your lives?
With­out me, nei­ther mind nor soul
would inhab­it your bod­ies. So who besides me
can claim, unchal­lenged, the crown and its power?
You under­stand this now. So now,
who else can you call Cre­ator but me?!”

The elders bowed their heads and held
their tongues, silenced by what he’d said.
When the last sound left his mouth,
the farr left him and his realm fell
into dis­cord. A sen­si­ble, pious man
once said, “A king must make himself
God’s slave. Ingrat­i­tude towards God
will fill your heart with innu­mer­able fears.”
Jamshid’s men desert­ed; his destiny
dark­ened, and his light dis­ap­peared from the world.

from “Zahhak”

At dawn, the dev­il rose
beneath a blue dome
lit by morning’s glow­ing topaz.
He cooked for the king a feast of partridge
and white pheas­ant and his mind filled
with hope as he hur­ried it to Zahhak’s presence;
and when that wit­less Arab ruler reached
to take his por­tion from the tray, he gave
his sense­less head into Eblis’ hands.
On the third day, the dev­il fed him
chick­en and lamb; on the fourth,
a sad­dle of veal sim­mered in saffron
and rose water, aged wine
and clar­i­fied musk, and after Zah­hak had eaten,
he stood in such awe of the skill
his chef pos­sessed that he said, “Con­sid­er
what you want the most, then ask for it.
You are a wor­thy friend.” The fiend replied,
“May your majesty live forever!
Devo­tion for you overflows
my heart, and your eyes shine light
that sus­tains my soul! A small thing
I don’t deserve I’ll dare to ask.
Let the king com­mand me to kiss his shoulders
and caress them with my eyes and face.”

Zah­hak, who sus­pect­ed noth­ing, said,
“May your good name grow more grand.”
Then the king ordered the cook to kiss him
as a best friend would, which Eblis did,
then vanished—a mar­vel no man
in all the world had ever seen—
and two black ser­pents sprung
from Zahhak’s shoul­ders. Zah­hak panicked,
but noth­ing he knew to do removed them.
Final­ly, he sliced them off, then watched,
help­less, as they grew back, like new branches
sprout­ing. The court physi­cians crowded
Zah­hak, fill­ing the hall with wisdom
and advice, and cures to try, but all cures
failed. Then Eblis entered again,
dis­guised this time as a doctor.
He bowed low before the throne,
deliv­er­ing this diag­no­sis, “Des­tiny
gave you to this fate. Change nothing!
The snakes stand where they stand. Instead
of cut­ting them off, offer them food.
Win their favor! Feed them, however,
only human brains. Bring them
noth­ing else. Such nourishment
will end their lives.” Zah­hak listened,
des­per­ate, and did what the “doc­tor” told him.

Thus Eblis expect­ed to emp­ty the earth.

from “Kaveh”

Just then, a man demand­ing justice
marched into the palace. The princes made a place
for him to sit. “At whose hands,”
the ser­pent king asked, “have you suffered
so much that you dare to seek me out?”

Stunned to be hear­ing the king himself,
hit­ting his head with his fists, the man
called out, “I am Kaveh! I have come
to protest injus­tice thrust to the hilt
like a knife, your high­ness, many times
into my heart. If what I’ve heard here
is true, if you pur­sue only justice,
grant me relief from this great grief
root­ed in my soul. Show the righteousness
you claim as yours, and raise your good name
to the heav­ens! The hurt blackening
my days, your majesty, comes mostly
from you! You say you will not stand
for the small­est offense com­mit­ted against me,
but you nev­er hes­i­tate to harm my sons.
Of my eigh­teen young ones only one
is left. Allow him to live, I beg you.
Keep my soul, my king, from the cruel
and end­less tor­ture I would endure
if you feed your ser­pents his flesh. Tell me,
what have I done to deserve his death?!

And if I’m inno­cent, don’t build my guilt
from false accu­sa­tions. This mis­for­tune fills
my mind with mis­ery, mur­ders the hope
chil­dren should be when you reach old age!
Injus­tice has a mid­dle and a limit,
and so it has log­ic. Charge me, and judge me,
if you have charges to bring, or don’t butch­er my child!

I’m a sim­ple black­smith, innocent
of any wrong against you, yet you,
breath­ing fire, burn my life!
A drag­on-king is still a king,
oblig­ed to pro­vide jus­tice. Sire,
your king­dom stretch­es across the sev­en climes.
Why should this fate fall here to me?
Explain your­self! Plead your case
before us now. Bring some sense
to why my son, from among
all your sub­jects, must sat­is­fy those serpents
with his brains. Sub­mit your words to the world
and let the world judge your worth!”

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