"his favourite story"

Rostam and Sohrab – a summary

It begins: “Give ear unto the combat of Sohrab against Rostam, though it be a tale replete with tears.”  The theft of his horse, Raksh, takes the famous warrior Rostam to the city ruled by the King of Samengan. While he is waiting for searchers to find his horse, Rostam stays in the palace.  During the night, a beautiful young woman comes to him. She is the king's daughter, Tamineh, awed by his reputation as a warrior. They fall in love.

Despite his love for Tamineh, Rostam is keen to be off when his horse is returned to him. But before he goes, he gives her an “onyx that was known unto all the world", telling her that if she has a son, she should “fasten it upon his arm”.

Sohrab is born, “a babe whose mouth was filled with smiles” and grows to great height and strength. On hearing about his father, Sohrab determines that he will “go forth with an army of brave Turks” and lead them against Afrasiyab, the ruler of Turan and an enemy of his father. He chooses a “foal sprung from Rakhsh, the swift of foot”.

Meanwhile, the evil ruler Afrasiyab hears of this and determines to trick Sohrab, commanding his generals to gather an army and join the ranks of Sohrab. Rostam must not hear of this, he orders, then one of them will kill the other.

Rostam and Sohrab
Public DomainRostam and Sohrab
Sohrab leads his army into the land of Iran spreading “fire and dismay”. However, once he reaches the White Castle, he is challenged by Gurdafrid, dressed as a man, who defeats him. He removes her helmet, “And lo! when he had done so, there rolled forth from the helmet coils of dusky hue.” Confounded, Sohrab cries: "If the daughters of Iran are like to thee, and go forth unto battle, none can stand against this land." He determines to snare her, but she escapes and, inviting him into the castle to conclude a peace, slams the door in his face. She then sends a letter to the Shah, asking for his aid.

When Sohrab attacks the castle again, he finds it empty, not knowing that they had fled by “a passage that was hidden under the earth”. By now, “his heart yearned after her in love”.

Rostam arrives with his army and, dressed as a Turk, gets a good look at the young man whose courage is renowned. It does not occur to him that this is his son, whom he believes is too young for battle. This is the last chance for the father to reveal himself but, although Sohrab begs to know if he is Rostam, he does not.

After a long struggle, Sohrab is finally defeated. As he lies on the ground dying, he asks that Rostam be told how his son had perished “in the quest after his face."  Rostam is “shaken with dismay. And there broke from his heart a groan as of one whose heart was racked with anguish.” Sohrab whose “misery was boundless” chided his father for not telling him who he was. “Yet open, I beseech thee, mine armour, and regard the jewel upon mine arm. For it is an onyx given unto me by my father, as a token whereby he should know me."Sohrab begs his father to prevent the Shah from falling on the men of Turan.  “I desire not that they should perish when I can defend them no longer. As for me, I came like the thunder and I vanish like the wind, but perchance it is given unto us to meet again above."

Quotes from the story by Hakim Abol Qasem Ferdowsi Tousi

Translated by: Helen Zimmern 

The full story