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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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