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IRANIAN PERSONAL NAMES

ESFANDÎÂR

Kayanian prince of Iranian legendary history and hero of Zoroastrian holy wars


 

By: Professor Ehsan Yarshater

 

Esfandiar, son of Goštâsp (Av. Vîštâspa-, Mid. Pers. Wištâsp), Kayanian prince of Iranian legendary history and hero of Zoroastrian holy wars, best known for his tragic combat with Rostam, the mightiest warrior of Iranian national epic. Esfandîâr's name in Avestan is Spəntô’âta- (Yt. 13.103, Vištâsp yašt 25; cf. Av. adj. spəntô-dâta- "created/given by the holy," AirWb, cols. 1619-22; on spənta- see also Gnoli). The Median form *Spandadâta-, which must have been current in Old Persian, may be inferred from Sphendada‚tes, the name of the magus who assumed kingship after the murder of Cyrus' son Tanyoxarkes (Smerdis/Bardiya, q.v.) and the death of Cambyses (q.v.; Ctesias, Persica 2.10). The Middle Persian form may be read Spandadât or Spandyât (d and y having the same sign in cursive Pahlavi script), reflected in Arabic Esfandîâdh (Dînavarî, ed. Guirgass, p. 28; Tha´âlebî, Ghorar, p. 256) and Esfandîâr (Tabarî, I, p. 677; Tha´âlebî, Ghorar, p. 256 n. 3). Two forms occur in Armenian: Spandarat (the earlier) and Spandiyat (in the Sasanian period; see Adonts, pp. 341, 508-9, 511-12; Hübschmann, Armenische Grammatik, nos. 170-71; Justi, Namenbuch, p. 307; Markwart, 1931, pp. 86-88).

 

The Sources
Esfandiyar Statue in Ramsar.jpg (722282 bytes)

  (Click to enlarge)

 

The earliest source is the Avesta (AirWb., col. 1622), where Esfandîâr is described as taxma- (Pers. tahm) "mighty, doughty." Ayâdgâr î Zarêrân (q.v.) apparently a Parthian work that survives in a Middle Persian recension, treats the first invasion of Arjâsp (q.v.), king of the Xyôn (or Hyôn; Av. Hyaona- "Chionites?" q.v.; Markwart, Êrânšahr, pp. 50-52; Jackson, pp. 104, 221), a hostile tribe that adhered to the pre-Zoroastrian pagan religion; the bravery and martyrdom of Esfandîâr's paternal uncle Zarêr; the prowess and gallantry of the latter's young son Bastwar, who kills the villainous Bîdarafš (q.v.); and Esfandîâr, who leads the army after Zarêr's death and defeats the Xyôn. Although the war is a religious one, the tone and rhetoric of Ayâdgâr are epic, rather than religious.

Other references to Esfandîâr in early Middle Persian works are meager. One of the earliest is in Draxt î asûrîg (q.v.; 41), where Rôdstahm (Rostam) and Spandadât are mentioned. In the Bundahišn Esfandîâr is named in the genealogy of the second Kayanian cycle (TD2, p. 232; tr. Anklesaria, p. 297). In the Dênkard he is identified as the father of Bahman (q.v.) and one of the first at Goštâsp's court in Balkh to spread the Zoroastrian faith (5.2.12; cf. Š, pp. x, 67-68, where Spandadât and Zarêr undertake to spread the Zoroastrian faith as far as Rûm and India; cf. also Zoroaster's reference to Esfandîâr, Dênkard 7.4.70). The lost Avestan Vištâsp sâst (summary in Dênkard 8.2; cf. Mole‚, 1963, p. 394), on the conversion of Goštâsp, must have included the legend of Esfandîâr's conversion as well. In the Pahlavi translation of Vištâsp yašt (a late yašt in somewhat flawed Avestan) Esfandîâr is mentioned as the example par excellence of a warrior (Mole‚, 1963, pp. 377-78).

The major Persian source for legends about Esfandîâr is Ferdowsî's Š (Khaleghi ed., V, pp. 76-438), which includes the 1,015 lines (according to Khaleghi ed., pp. 76-174; cf. 1009 lines in Moscow ed. VI, pp. 66-135) by Daqîqî (q.v.) incorporated at the beginning; these lines constitute an expanded version of the material in Ayâdgâr. Ferdowsî's own text begins as Arjâsp sends his son Kohram to reconnoiter in Iran and ends with the return of Esfandîâr's son Bahman to Goštâsp's court after a period of tutorage under Rostam (all references to Šâh-nâma are to Khaleghi ed. V, unless noted otherwise).

A Persian Zoroastrian work, the versified Zarâtošt-nâma by Zardošt Bahrâm Pa‘dû (or Kay Kâvûs son of Kay Khosrow) in the 13th century or perhaps earlier (Âmûzgâr and Tafazzolî, p. 32) is a "life of Zoroaster," with elaboration of his miracles. It appears to have been based on legends in the Sasanian Avesta and its commentaries. A 19th-century Pahlavi work, Wizirkard î dênîg, falsely claimed to have been written by Zoroaster's cousin and disciple Maidiyoma, contains reports involving Esfandîâr that are also alluded to in earlier Pahlavi works (see above).

Of the Arabic histories the version in Tha´âlebî's Ghorar (pp. 262-372) closely parallels that in the Š and must have been based on the same source; it provides the longest and best-organized account of Esfandîâr's career. There are, however, minor differences (see Zotenberg's introduction to Ghorar, pp. xxxi-xxxii). Although Tabarî's account of Goštâsp's (Beštâsb's) reign (I, pp. 645 ff.) is a confused mixture of biblical, Babylonian, and Persian traditions, presumably concocted by the early translators of Xwadây-nâmags into Arabic (or to some extent by Judeo-Christian sources in pre-Islamic times) to harmonize Iranian and Semitic strands, the relatively short report on Esfandîâr (I, pp. 676-81; cf. Ebn al-Athîr, I, p. 273) conforms in essentials to the versions of Ferdowsî and Tha´âlebî (for minor differences, see Christensen, pp. 120 ff.). Bal´amî (ed. Bahâr, pp. 660-68) offered practically nothing more than is found in Tabarî's work.

Abû Hanîfa Dînavarî (ed. Guirgass, pp. 27-28) recorded a somewhat different account of events involving Esfandîâr, which was followed by the anonymous author of Nehâyat al-erab (Browne, esp. pp. 206-11), a work that Theodor Nöldeke (Geschicte der Perser, pp. 475-76) considered bogus (Schwidelhaft) and Edward G. Browne regretted having spent much time on (p. 258).

Nöldeke (Nationalepos, sec. 1) believed it possible that at the time the Avesta was being composed a cycle of Kayanian legends, possibly even in written form, was circulating in priestly circles. As the Avesta was not committed to writing before the 4th century C.E. (see AVESTA), however, only a sequential oral account, transmitted by reciters or minstrels, could have been available. Some myths and legends that were adumbrated in the Avesta were elaborated in Sasanian books that no longer survive, including the Xwadây-nâmag, a Middle Persian precursor of the Š. Several books appear to have contained legends of Esfandîâr. Among "the books that the Persians had written on the authentic life stories and legends of their kings" Ebn al-Nadîm (ed. Tajaddod, p. 364) mentioned first the Book of Rostam and Esfandîâr, translated into Arabic by Jabala b. Sâlem. Mas´ûdî (Morûj, ed. Pellat, I, sec. 480) reported Esfandîâr's exploits were recorded in a book entitled Baykâr (i.e., paykâr "war, battle"), translated into Arabic by Ebn al-Moqaffa´ (q.v.); in his Tanbîh (p. 94) Mas´ûdî noted that the book dealt with the wars between Iran and Turan (cf. Markwart, 1895, p. 639). He also mentioned (Morûj, ed. Pellat, I, sec. 541) a Persian book called Sakîsarân, which included an account of Esfandîâr b. Bestâsf, his death at the hand of Rostam, and the slaying of Rostam by Bahman b. Esfandîâr. According to Mas´ûdî, the Persians set great store by this book, as it contained information on their ancestors and kings; it had been translated into Arabic from Middle Persian (al-fârsîya al-ûlâ). If the title is correctly understood to mean "Heads of the Sakas (i.e., Seistanis; see Christensen, p. 143)," the focus of the book must have been on the house of Zâl and Rostam and their exploits.

It is to be noted that in the Avesta and other Zoroastrian writings Esfandîâr is by no means as prominent as in the Šâh-nâma.

 

Esfandîâr's life and career

Parents and relatives

According to sources, Esfandîâr was the eldest son and crown prince of Goštâsp and a grandson of Lohrâsp; he thus belonged to the second cycle of the Kayanian dynasty (Yarshater, pp. 465 ff.). In the Avesta (Yts. 9.26, 15.35, etc.) his mother is named as Hutaosâ- (Hutôs in Pahlavi commentary on Y. 53.5 and Ayâdgâr, p. 68; KhotÂûs in Tabarî, I, p. 678; HûtÂos in Bal´amî, ed. Bahâr, p. 662) from the house of Nowdhar (Av. Naotara-; AirWb., col. 1822). In Ayâdgâr Goštâsp speaks of "Hutôs, my sister and wife, from whom the thirty sons have been born." Daqîqî, however, gave the name of Esfandîâr's mother as Nâhîd, daughter of a caesar (qaysar), "whom king [Goštâsp] calls Katâyûn" (Š, p. 78). Ferdowsî and Tha´âlebî knew her only by the latter name. According to them, she was a daughter of the king of Rûm (a designation for Byzantium, Greece, or Rome) and married Goštâsp while he was in exile in the "land of Caesar," having left his father's court in protest (cf. Nöldeke, Nationalepos, sec. 4 n. 2, who suggests that Katâyûn may shield the name of Kômetô or Kômêtô, sister of Justinian's wife, Theodora). The whole sequence appears to have been transposed from a legend of Zariadres, presumably Goštâsp's brother Zarêr, preserved by Athenaeus (13.35) on the authority of Chares of Mytilene (Jacoby, Fragmente IIB, pp. 600-601 no. 125 frag. 5; Christensen, p. 117; Boyce, pp. 463-65).

The number of Esfandîâr's brothers is somewhat confused in the sources. In Ayâdgâr (p. 49) the sage Jâmâsp, Goštâsp's vizier and counselor, predicts that twenty-three (p. 64: twenty-two) sons and brothers of the king will fall in battle. According to the Š (pp. 188, 199), Goštâsp has thirty-eight sons who fall in Arjâsp's second invasion, and Esfandîâr vows to avenge them; in another place (p. 150), however, Jâmâsp informs him that five of his thirty-eight brothers have survived the battle (a manuscript variant confirms the earlier statement; cf. Ayâdgâr, p. 64, where Monchi-Zadeh suggests amendment of thirty-eight to twenty-eight).

The most important of Esfandîâr's brothers is the noble and saintly Pašôtan (q.v.; Av. Pəšôtanû), one of the Zoroastrian immortals and a helper of the future savior (saôšyant). In the Š (V, index) he is Esfandîâr's counselor and supporter, as well as commander of his army, accompanying him on the expeditions against both Arjâsp and Rostam; his voice is one of reason, piety, and justice. The favorite brother of Esfandîâr is his sibling (Š, p. 78) Faršêdvard (q.v.; less frequently Faršâvard; Š, pp. 78, 144; Av. Fraš.ha…m.varəta-, AirWb, col. 1010; Mid. Pers. Frašâward, Ayâdgâr, p. 64 nos. 48, 59, 64; cf. Tha´âlebî, Ghorar, Introd., p. xxx). Another pious brother, Frašô.kara-, is mentioned in Yašt 13.102 but not in the Š. Daqîqî names at least two other brothers, Ardašîr and Šêdasp; and apparently two more: OÚrmazd or Šêr-OÚrmazd and Nêvdâr or Nêvzâr or some other variant (manuscripts vary; see Š, pp. 109, 111, 122), all of whom fall in the first holy war against Arjâsp (cf. Tha´âlebî, Ghorar, pp. 271-72, who gives Ardašîr, Râm-Ardašîr, Šêdasp, and Fîvandâdh as the names of the brothers). None of these figures is mentioned in the Avesta, Ayâdgâr, or Bundahišn. Daqîqî also mentioned (Š, p. 135) five brothers of Esfandîâr without naming them; all take their places in his battle to avenge his uncle Zarêr. Darmesteter (1883, II, p. 206), Justi (Namenbuch, p. 495), and Jackson (p. 70 n. 5) considered the dozen pious Zoroastrians, beginning with Fraš.ha…m.varəta (most of the names begin with âtar- "fire") to be Goštâsp's sons, a plausible proposition but difficult to prove (for a contrary view, see Pûrdâwûd, I, p. xxx).

Two sisters of Esfandîâr are mentioned in the Š: Homây and Behâfarîd (pp. 185, 195; cf. Khomânî and Bâdhâfrah in Tabarî, I, p. 678). Goštâsp promises Homây in marriage to whoever repels Arjâsp's first invasion, and she is thus given to Esfandîâr. Both women are seized during Arjâsp's second invasion and carried away to De‘-e Rûyîn (q.v); both also play a role in the drama of Esfandîâr's life and death. As Khaleghi-Motlagh pointed out (personal communication) most probably Behâfarîd, too, whom Esfandîâr rescued from captivity (see below) was also his wife, but Ferdowsî in deference to Muslim sensivity muted the report, implying it, however, where he describes the mourning at court for the prince by equating his sisters with his wives (pûšîdarûyân-e û "his face-covered ones"; p. 428).

No mention can be found in the Š of the mother of Esfandîâr's children. Tabarî (I, p. 688) identified Bahman's mother as Estûrîâ, i.e., Esther (q.v.; cf. Estûr in Mojmal, ed. Bahâr, p. 30; Spiegel, 1891, p. 238), obviously the result of mixing Persian and biblical traditions, and identifying Bahman (q.v.; also called Kay Ardašîr in the sources) with the Achaemenid Artaxerxes I (q.v.).

According to Daqîqî, Esfandîâr had four sons: Bahman, Mehrnûš, Tûš (or Âdharafrûznûš), and Nûšâdhar (or Âdharnûš; see Š, pp. 161 and 199 for variants). None of them is mentioned in the Avesta. In the Bundahišn (p. 232, tr. p. 297) Adur-tirs and Mihr-tirs are named as sons of Esfandîâr; perhaps they are to be equated with Nûšâdhar and Mehrnûš. Nûšâdhar is the most distinguished. He takes part in both the war against Arjâsp and the expedition to Seistan, kills the Seistani fighter Alvây, and is killed in turn by Rostam's brother Zavâra.

 

Champion of the faith

Although Esfandîâr is best known from secular literature for his battle with Rostam, in Zoroastrian writings he is depicted as one of the first converts to the faith and, together with Zarêr, its most zealous champion. In the Avesta Esfandîâr figures among the defenders of the faith whose sacred souls or fravašîs are praised (Yt. 13.103). He is also involved in several of the prophet's miracles. When Goštâsp's matchless horse is afflicted by an ailment that makes its legs disappear into its belly he appeals to Zoroaster to heal it (Dênkard 9.22.2; Mole‚, 1967, p. 186 n. 70); the prophet makes several conditions, one of them being that Esfandîâr should become a champion of the faith (Dênkard 7.4.70; Mole‚, 1967, p. 110). This legend is elaborated in Bahrâm Pa‘dû's Zarâtošt-nâma (vv. 942 ff.; Wizirkard î dênîg, p. 18; Mole‚, 1967, p. 132; cf. Šahrastânî, I, pp. 285-89, who refers to the miracle citing Jayhânî, but not naming Esfandîâr; tr. Torka, pp. 186-88). In another miracle the prophet places the fire of Burzên-Mihr in the hands of Goštâsp, Jâmâsp, and Esfandîâr without burning them. Elsewhere Goštâsp asks Zoroaster for four boons, but the prophet only agrees to give them to four different persons. As a result, Goštâsp gains knowledge of his place in mînû or the world beyond; Jâmâsp is rendered cognizant of all past, present, and future events; Pašôtan becomes immortal; and Esfandîâr is made invulnerable, rûyîn-tan (lit., "brazen body"), "so that no sharp knives (kârd) could hurt his body" (Zarâtošt-nâma, vv. 1162 ff.; Wizirkard î dênîg, p. 19).Esfandîâr's career. The summary version given here is according to the Šâh-nâma, with additional details from other sources.

When Zarêr and many other Iranian warriors are killed during Arjâsp's first invasion and Goštâsp finds his army in dire straits, he swears a solemn oath to relinquish the throne to his son Esfandîâr, as his own father had done before him, if his son can defeat and repel the enemy (p. 134). When Esfandîâr achieves his great triumph, however, Goštâsp gives him Homây in marriage and honors him in every way, but stops short of yielding the crown; instead he sends him on further expeditions to conquer and pacify distant lands and to spread the new faith, a mission that Esfandîâr carries out successfully. At this point a relative of the king, Korazm (Jorazm in Tabarî, I, p. 677, apparently Av. Kavârasman-, Yt. 13.103; AirWb., col. 443, an early believer), accuses Esfandîâr of planning to seize the kingdom and depose the king. Esfandîâr is publicly rebuked, then seized, chained, and imprisoned in the mountain fortress De‘-e Gonbadân (q.v.; Šabdez or Gerd-[Kard-?)kûh in Bondârî, I, p. 235; in a prison for women in Tabarî, I, p. 677; in the fortress of EstÂakhr in Ebn al-Balkhî, p. 51).

Arjâsp hears of these events and of Goštâsp's departure for Seistan (Tabarî, I, pp. 677-78: Kermân and Seistan, leaving his harem and treasury in the charge of his wife KhotÂûs; Kûh-e nefešt in Fârs in Ebn al-Balkhî, p. 51) to convert the people of Zâvolestân, leaving Balkh defenseless. Daqîqî's verses end here, and those of Ferdowsî begin (p. 175). Arjâsp invades Balkh; kills the aged Lohrâsp, who has retired to the Âdharnûš temple; burns down the temple; kills many priests; and carries off Homây and Behâfarîd (pp. 184 f.). He also captures derafš-e kâbîân, the Iranian royal flag (Tabarî, I, p. 678). When Goštâsp returns to confront the enemy he is utterly defeated, and thirty-eight of his sons are slain (pp. 188; see above). He retreats to a mountain, where he is besieged. He sends Jâmâsp to appeal for help to Esfandîâr, who at first refuses but eventually is moved when he hears of the mortal wounds received by his brother Faršêdvard to lead the Iranian army against Arjâsp. He visits Faršêdvard in his agonies, buries him, and vows, if victorious, to forget past injuries from his father. The remorseful Goštâsp again solemnly promises him the throne if he wins the war. In the ensuing battle Esfandîâr performs extraordinary feats of valor and strength, killing a large number of the Xyôn and avenging the blood of his grandfather. Arjâsp flees, and Esfandîâr captures Gorgsâr, an enemy general, who offers to guide him in Turan in exchange for his life.

 

The seven exploits

Esfandîâr's greatest feat is the capture of the impregnable De‘-e rûyîn, where his two sisters are held captive. The road to the fortress is fraught with dangers and impediments; overcoming them and emerging unscathed constitute Esfandîâr's seven stations or exploits (haft khân, pp. 219-89; see below). They consist of slaying two ferocious wolves, two redoutable lions, a dragon, a sorceress disguised as an enchantress, the fearsome bird Sîmorgh and its two offspring, as well as weathering a terrible three-day blizzard and crossing a wide expanse of water ("the Kâsrûdh, the Mehrrûdh, and another of their mighty rivers" in Tabarî, I, p. 680; for identifications, see Spiegel, 1871-78, I, pp. 627 ff.; Markwart, 1938, pp. 5, 97 ff., 113; for an analysis and interpretation of the seven exploits, see Maguire 1973, 1974; Omîdsâlâr, pp. 267-81). The fortress is taken through a combination of courage and trickery. Esfandîâr poses as a merchant, deceives Arjâsp with gifts, then attacks and kills him in his private quarters. At his signal the Iranian troops, led by Pašôtan, attack the Turanian army, which is utterly destroyed when Esfandîâr joins the battle. The commanders of the defeated army, Kohram and And(ar)îmân (Av. Vandarəmainiš-), Arjâsp's two brothers, are seized and hanged before the fortress (p. 280, vv. 741 f.), which is then burned to the ground. The sisters are freed and Arjâsp's mother, two sisters, and two daughters taken captive. The whole land of Turan suffers the wrath of Esfandîâr.

 

The combat with Rostam

The most dramatic event in Esfandîâr's heroic career is his combat with Rostam, one of the longest episodes and literary highlights of the Š (pp. 293-438; Moscow ed., VI, pp. 216-321). Upon his victorious return from Turan he expects the fulfillment of his father's promises, but again Goštâsp hedges. Although he knows according to Jâmâsp's prediction that his son's death is to be at the hand of Rostam, he charges Esfandîâr with a last ordeal before he will yield the throne: to go to Seistan and bring in chains the mighty Rostam whom he accuses of arrogance and of not having paid his respects to the court. Esfandîâr protests, reminding the king of Rostam's renown, his old age, and his outstanding services to the dynasty but to no avail. In the end Esfandîâr, driven by pride, ambition, and desire for power, sets out, with his brother Pašôtan and his sons Bahman, Âdharnûš, and Mehrnûš, at the head of a body of troops for Seistan, Rostam's country, flouting the anguished and tearful advice of his mother and even denouncing her for opposing his decision.

In Seistan Esfandîâr sends the young Bahman to Rostam with a conciliatory message tinged with threat, telling him of the king's order, asking him to submit to being bound and taken to court, and promising to intervene with the king to keep him from harm. Rostam admonishes the young prince not to demand the impossible. He invites Esfandîâr to eat at his table, after which he will willingly accompany him to court and seek to satisfy the king. In the two ensuing encounters between the warriors each stands his respective ground, Esfandîâr declining Rostam's invitation and insisting that he cannot disobey the king, Rostam claiming that honor forbids him to accede. Although Rostam makes every possible concession to Esfandîâr, short of letting himself be chained, the haughty and inflexible prince refuses to be softened even by Pašôtan's repeated pleas; his insistence on the dictates of the faith and the inviolability of the king's command brings matters to a head. The young hero and the old champion engage in single combat. In the meantime Rostam's brother Zavâra and his son Farâmarz attack Esfandîâr's camp, killing Âdharnûš and Mehrnûš. Even though Rostam apologizes and offers to deliver the culprits to Esfandîâr's sword, the combat between the two rages on. At the end of the day the invulnerable Esfandîâr proves superior with his piercing arrows. Rostam, exhausted, wounded, and desperate, takes refuge on a hill; he replies to Esfandîâr's taunting demands for surrender with a request for a respite so that he can dress his wounds overnight; he promises to accede to Esfandîâr's wishes in the morning. At home the despondent Rostam uncharacteristically considers flight, but then his father, Zâl, puts in the fire a feather given to him by the miraculous bird Sîmorgh the bird, whose mate has been killed by Esfandîâr in the course of his seven exploits, descends from the sky. It heals Rostam's wounds with its feathers and instructs him to make an arrow from the branches of a tamarisk (gaz) tree and aim it at Esfandîâr's eyes. It also reveals to Rostam a secret of destiny: Whoever sheds Esfandîâr's blood will suffer in both this world and the next. On the following day Rostam passionately renews his plea, offering to give Esfandîâr all his and his ancestors' treasures, to place his men at his disposal, and to go with him in obedience to court and accept the verdict of his sovereign, but Esfandîâr's arrogant insistence on putting him in chains, leaves Rostam no choice but to follow Sîmorgh's instructions; Esfandîâr falls to the ground mortally wounded.

Pašôtan and Bahman hasten to his side. Rostam, profoundly grieved, confesses to Zâl's artifice. In his agonies Esfandîâr comforts his relatives, blames fate for his death, and entrusts Pašôtan with a chiding message to his father. The education of Bahman he places in the hands of Rostam. When Esfandîâr's coffin reaches the court Goštâsp is blamed by all for his death, especially by Katâyûn, Homây, Behâfarîd, and most eloquently by Pašôtan (pp. 426-31). Elaborate mourning follows.

Bahman stays with Rostam, who teaches him princely arts. After some time Rostam writes a soothing letter to Goštâsp and receives a warm response from the monarch, who recalls Bahman to court. Soon after, Rostam is treacherously killed by his half-brother Šaghâd. Once on the throne, however, Bahman seeks vengeance for his slain father, attacks Zâvolestân, kills Farâmarz, imprisons the aged Zâl in a cage, and pillages his realm (see BAHMAN ii. on the various traditions regarding his vengeance).

A somewhat different tradition was recorded by Dînavarî (ed. Guirgass, pp. 27-28; cf. Browne, pp. 206 ff.). When Rostam, Goštâsp's vassal (´âmel) in Seistan and Khorasan, hears of Goštâsp's conversion to Zoroastrianism he flies into a rage, gathers the people of Seistan, and calls for the deposition of the king; the people rebel against the king. Goštâsp calls on Esfandîâr to kill Rostam. The prince selects 12,000 brave men from his father's army and marches against Rostam, who advances to meet him at a location between Seistan and Khorasan (Qûmes, according to Nehâyat). Esfandîâr proposes that, instead of battle, they spare their armies and meet in single combat; the army of the defeated warrior will then obey the other. Rostam agrees, they fight, and Esfandîâr is killed. When the news reaches Goštâsp he becomes ill and dies of grief, leaving the throne to his grandson Bahman. Obviously different traditions as to the cause of the war between Rostam and Esfandîâr existed. Religious antagonism as a result of Goštâsp's conversion is related also by the anonymous author of the Târîkh-e Sîstân (pp. 33-34).

Šehâb-al-Dîn Sohravardî (d. 1191) in his mystical treatise "The Red Intellect" (´Aql-e sorkh, pp. 232-34), where he gave his interpretation of Sîmorgh, offered a different version of the Sîmorgh and Zâl as the schemers of Esfandîâr's death: Zâl who knew that anyone who looked at the reflection of Sîmorgh in a mirror or a similar surface will be dazed, had Rostam's armor and helmet polished and pass them before the bird. In the battlefield next day, being dazzled, the young hero thinks he has been wounded in the eyes and falls to his death.

Mas´ûdî (Morûj, ed. Pellat, I, sec. 479) credited Esfandîâr with having erected a lofty fortress with a connecting bridge over a gorge in Qabq (or Qabkh, i.e., the Caucasus; see Markwart, 1930, pp. 26 ff.), in order to bar the passage of the Alans (cf. Mojmal, ed. Bahâr, p. 51, where this enterprise is attributed to Goštâsp). Hamza Esfahânî (p. 37) attributed to Esfandîâr the construction of a barrier against the Turks 20 farsakhs from Samarkand.

Zahîrî Samarqandî in his Aghrâz al-sîâsa, a "mirror for princes" which features the wise sayings in Arabic of a number of figures, mostly rulers, and the author's comments on and elaborations of these sayings in florid Persian, attributes three philosophical dicta to Esfandîâr (pp. 85-89), apparently born of the author's imagination.

Bahrâm b. Farhâd, a follower of Âdhar Kayvân devotes a long chapter in his Š, a rambling philosophizing work belonging to the ešrâqî or illuminationist school of Zoroastrianism (see EIr III, p. 186b), devotes a long chapter to Esfandîâr (pp. 461-523). It consists mostly of fanciful accounts and imagined stories in which the traditional lines of the prince's biography are barely discernible; the author makes of Esfandîâr an ascetic given to Sufic mystical musings all couched in Islamic illuminationist terms, with Arabic quotations even from the Koran, and Hadith to idolize a hero who would not harm a fly, but would further the good religion by his example, his many miracles, and his knowledge of the past, present and future; whom Zoroaster rendered invulnerable by his blessing and appointed him the executor of his will (wasîy, p. 462). The author often offers fantastic justifications of the events of Esfandîâr's career not found in traditional sources; his encounter with Rostam, however, follows Ferdowsî's scheme, although in a much inflated form. (The writer is grateful to Jalal Khaleghi-Motlagh for drawing his attention to this source; see Mojtabâ`î in DBE I, p. 252 on Šârestân and its author)

 

Popular versions

The legend of Esfandîâr, particularly his seven exploits and his contest with Rostam, has enjoyed great popularity since ancient times (cf. Mas´ûdî, Morûj, ed. Pellat, I, secs. 480, 267 sec. 541; Nöldeke, Nationalepos, sec. 6). The 8th-century biographer of the prophet of Islam, Ebn Eshâq, reported (I, pp. 195, 239) that Nazr b. Hâreth "was one of the devils of Qorayš and one of those who would harm the Apostle of God. He had visited Hîra and there had learned the accounts of the Persian kings and those of Rostam and Esfandîâr and, when Mohammad preached, Nazr would stand up and tell the audience that he was a better recounter than Mohammad, and he would tell them the stories of Persian kings and of Rostam and Esfandîâr and call Mohammad's object lessons 'yarns of the ancients'" (asâtÂîr al-awwalîn). Ebn al-Balkhî (p. 52) actually dispensed with the details in his account of the story because they were so well known. One of the earliest Sasanian novels that were translated into Arabic was "the Rostam and Esfandîâr" by Jabala b. Sâlem (Ebn al-Nadîm, ed. Tajaddod, p. 364).

Such popular stories did not cease to circulate orally even after they were recorded in writing. Nor did elaboration and change by professional storytellers and others cease after Ferdowsî had fixed the version that had reached him. Abu'l-Qâsem Enjavî recorded a number of modern popular stories about Esfandîâr in Mardom o Ferdowsî and Mardom o Šâh-nâma (most of them extracted and summarized in Omîdsâlâr, pp. 258 ff.). In several Rostam does not kill Esfandîâr with a magic arrow but by striking him with an aromatic orange made of gold or other metals (Enjavî, 1976, pp. 211-13; idem, 1975, p. 25). In another folk version (Omîdsâlâr, p. 259) Rostam strikes the prince with a golden stool.

 

Origins and development of the legend

Although presented in coherent form by Ferdowsî and Tha´âlebî, the story of Esfandîâr is in fact a combination of different elements, many of them floating motifs common to the folklore and the myth making of many nations. Some are repeated in different contexts in the Š itself, for example, the hero's disguise as a merchant in order to gain entrance to an impregnable castle, such as Rostam's conquest of the fortress on Mount Sepand (Š, ed. Aliev and Osmanov, I, pp. 263-68; ed. Khaleghi, I, pp. 277-80), Ardašîr Bâbakân's entrance into Haftvâd's fortress (Š, Moscow ed., VII, pp. 144 ff.), and Alexander's entering Dârâ's camp incognito in order to gather intelligence (e.g., Tha´âlebî, Ghorar, p. 522). The seven exploits on the way to a rescue are a popular theme in Persian tales (e.g., Rostam's seven exploits en route to rescuing Kay Kâvûs and his companions; Š, ed. Khaleghi, II, pp. 21-43). The sorceress posing as an enchantress and the vulnerable spot of an otherwise invincible hero are universal motifs (cf. Achilles' heel in the Iliad and the spot on Siegfried's shoulder in the Germanic myth). Motifs related to the Esfandîâr legends can be found conveniently in the Index of Stith Thompson and that of Tom Peete Cross, the latter cross-referenced to Thompson's work (the author is grateful to Mahmûd Omîdsâlâr for references to Cross's index and for checking Thompson's index). The Thompson index numbers of some of the motifs in the seven exploits are as follows: killing ferocious wolves B16.2.4; killing mighty lions B16.2.3; the magic arrow D1092; killing the dragon B11.2.11, F912; entering the enemy camp or fortress in disguise D641.2, *K1810 ff. (cf. K2357.2); and rescuing ladies K1941. Motifs related to the combat with Rostam include the omen of the camel kneeling at the crossroads and refusing to move (Š, p. 309) B521, B140; mythical birds B30-31; the hero's invulnerability D1381.3.2*, D1840, D1846.5 (cf. D1846; Omîdsâlâr, pp. 267 ff.); the vulnerable spot Z310-11.1*; the special arrow Z312; prophecy M341.2.19*, M341.3.

Once the legend of Esfandîâr, as retold in the Š, is stripped of folk motifs, little remains. All that is relatively certain to have been part of the original core narrative is that he was a son of Goštâsp, an early believer in Zoroaster, and a "holy and gallant" defender of the Zoroastrian faith (Yt. 13.102). He early became the focus of miraculous legends. That the story of his combat with Rostam is of Saka origin is confirmed by the absence of Rostam and Zâl from the Avesta; sympathy for the old hero rather than the young prince; favorable presentation of Sîmorgh the callowness of Bahman and his being educated by Rostam but proving ungrateful; and Goštâsp's role as villain of the story.

The Saka stories featuring the house of Zâl appear to have been combined, in the course of time, with the Kayanian legends of the Avestan people, most probably gradually in the long period between Alexander and the Sasanians, assisted by the spread of Zoroastrian religion among the Sakas (cf. Boyce, pp. 475-76). We must assume that when Seistan was converted to Zoroastrianism its legends were gradually grafted onto Avestan traditions, which already incorporated pre-Zoroastrian Kayanian legends. These two traditions were not always in harmony, and the combination has left some rough edges; a glaring instance is the dual personality of Goštâsp, represented as both the protector of the good religion (Avestan tradition) and a devious ruler who reneges on his word and loses his son in battle against the hero of Seistan (Seistanian tradition). Anomalies in the rather disjointed career of Rostam such as the span of his life and his inconsequential rule in Turan (ed. Khaleghi, II, pp. 405-12), and the uncertainty of Garšâsp's status are others (cf. Maguire, 1974, p. 140; and Davidson, 1994, pp. 76 ff). Esfandîâr's expedition to Seistan, like Rostam's lineage through Rôdâba to Dahâk (Z˜ahhâk) may be regarded as vestiges of an early conflict between the Sakas and the people represented by the Kayanians (cf. Hansen, pp. 69-70, who rightly distinguishes two major strands or traditions, one "royal [i.e., Kayanian]" and the other "Seistanian," which fell together in the Š, with Ferdowsî favoring "with all his heart" the latter, which dominates the heroic section; and Davidson, pp. 75 ff, 91, 94, 117, 160, who argues that Esfandîâr and Rostam legends do not derive from different sources or poetic modes, but represent two traditions organically linked together: that of "book of kings" and that of "epic of heroes," a dichotomy that find instances, according to Millman Parry and Albert Lord [apud Davidson], in other epics based on oral transmission). One should be mindful that combining the Kayanian and Seistanian strands must have taken place long before Ferdowsî.

The similarity between Rostam's seven exploits on the road to Mâzandarân (Š, ed. Khaleghi, II, pp. 21-43) and those of Esfandîâr has raised the question: Which is an imitation of the other? (For a comparison of the two haft khâns, see Safâ, p. 556; Maguire, 1973, pp. 158-70; 1974, pp. 140-47; and Davidson, 1994, pp. 158-66.). Spiegel argued that Esfandîâr's exploits were fabricated by Zoroastrian priests who wanted to show their crusading prince superior to Rostam (1871-78, I, pp. 719, 722; idem, 1874, p. 126; idem, 1891, p. 201; cf. Mole‚, 1951, p. 133, who believed Rostam's to be original). Nöldeke (Nationalepos, secs. 10, 30), on the other hand, thought that Zâl and Rostam were probably not known to the authors of the Avesta and pointed out that Rostam's haft khân were not reported by Arab historians, even Tha´âlebî; he argued that they must therefore have been modeled partly on Esfandîâr's exploits and partly on the legend of Rostam's rescue of Kâvûs from Hemyar (Hâmâvarân), which could not predate the conquest of the Yemen by Khosrow I in about 575. Hansen (pp. 149-50) showed with some plausibility that Tha´âlebî was aware of the Mâzandarân expedition, but summarized this and the Hâmâvaran expedition into one, and therefore Rostam's seven exploits cannot be regarded as derivative on that ground. It appears that the popular motifs that constitute the seven exploits were attached to the careers of both heroes by minstrels and story tellers. Further, the mention of Hemyar does not necessarily indicate a late date for the substance of the story; as Arabia became better known to Persians in the Sasanian period, a dry region of Central Asia was replaced by a desert region, the Yemen, in that land, in the same way that Zahhâk was relegated to the Arabia.

Whereas in the priestly tradition Goštâsp and Zarêr are the outstanding champions of the Zoroastrian faith against Arjâsp and the pagan Xyôn, in the epic literature represented by the Š Esfandîâr has been elevated to the preeminent role (cf. Coyajee, 1939, pp. 235 ff.; Safâ, pp. 594-99). This shift conforms to a general tendency in heroic epics to concentrate heroic deeds on a single warrior. It is a mark of the high esteem in which Esfandîâr was held in popular and priestly imagination that both Parthian and Sasanian dynasties claimed descent from him and Goštâsp (Bundahišn, p. 232; tr. Anklesaria, p. 297; Tha´âlebî, Ghorar, p. 474; Tabarî, I, pp. 708-9, 813-14; Dînavarî, ed. Guirgass, p. 44; Mas´ûdî, Morûj, ed. Pellat, I, sec. 576; see ARSACIDS i).

Coyajee suggested (1929, pp. 14-17, 66) a similarity between Sîmorgh's intervention and Rostam's recourse to a gaz arrow, on one hand, and Chinese myths about miraculous trees, particularly cassia, and a wonderful crane on the shores of China Sea, on the other—a rather far-fetched conjecture. He also drew attention (1939, pp. 223-32) to the fact that most of the exploits of Goštâsp and Zarêr in the Avesta and the Pahlavi books were transferred to Esfandîâr in the Š. He drew a number of parallels between Esfandîâr and Achilles (initial reluctance to engage in warfare with the enemy because of a grudge against an unjust king, being spurred to join the fray by the death of a dear one, invulnerability except in one spot, etc.; 1939, pp. 235-50). Mehrdâd Bahâr elaborated on these resemblances and noted the similarities between Goštâsp and Agamemnon, Rostam and Hector. Whereas Coyajee took these resemblances to result from a common Indo-European heritage, Bahâr argued less convincingly (1973, pp. lvii ff.; idem, 1994, pp. 47-54, 97 ff., 110, 113) that the combat of Rostam and Esfandîâr was modeled on the battle between Hector and Achilles and was a product of eastern Iran around the first century C.E., when the mixed Iranian, Greek, and Buddhist cultures experienced a floruit under the Kushans, largely free of Zoroastrian bias; it was there that Saka legends were combined with those of pre-Zoroastrian Avestan people in a saga in which legends of the house of Zâl and Rostam predominated. Bahâr's hypothesis regarding eastern Iran, where the legend took shape seems reasonable, reflecting the cultural creativity of this region, as seen also in the Persian literary and artistic renaissance in the early Islamic period emerging from Khorasan and Transoxania. Our knowledge of Kushanian life and culture, however, is too meager to warrant certainty.

Several scholars have advanced theories assuming mythological, rather than historical or legendary, origins for the Lohraspian line of the Kayanians. One of the reasons is that Aurvat.aspa- (i.e., Lohrâsp "[he who has] speedy horses") was an epithet of the sun (AirWb., col. 200). Another is the resemblance between the story of Goštâsp and Katâyûn and Athenaeus' romantic tale (13.35) about Zariadres, son of Aphrodite and Adonis and younger brother of Hystaspes (i.e., Vîštâspa), and his beloved, Odatis. In fact, this story is generally believed to have been later transposed to royal couple. These scholars concluded that Vîštâspa was originally conceived as divine, a child of the sun god (Spiegel, 1891, pp. 196-98, idem, 1898, pp. 192-93), of Apa…m Napât (q.v.) and Anâhitâ (Darmesteter, 1892-93, III, pp. lxxx-lxxxiii), or of Drvâspâ and Anâhitâ in a Median version or of Aurvat-aspa, the sun, in a Drangian version (Herzfeld, pp. 170-80; for a summary and critique of these views, see Boyce, pp. 464-66). Josef Markwart suggested (1931, pp. 87-88) a cult of Esfandîâr in the west, basing his theory chiefly on the identification in a late source (Moses Kabankatoudc´i apud von Stackelberg, p. 623 n. 5; for other sources, see Boyce, p. 473 n. 4) of the Khazar god T´angri Khân with a figure "whom the Persians call Aspandêat."

The name Esfandîâr may have been introduced in Armenia by the Medes or Achaemenids, and his legend must have been known to the Armenians under the Arsacids and later during the Sasanian period. The name occurs in the genealogy of the Bagratids, and "his legend developed a strong local connection with Mount Sabalân" (Boyce, p. 473 n. 4).

The legend was not immune to the influence of subsequent events. Nöldeke (Nationalepos, sec. 9) considered the first invasion of Arjâsp and Goštâsp's defeat a possible reflection of the defeat of the Sasanian king Pêrôz by the Hephthalites in 484, his disappearance in the land of the enemy, and the devastation that ensued. Notions and conditions of historical periods, especially late Sasanian times, may be seen mirrored in Daqîqî and Ferdowsî calling the people of Arjâsp alternatively Turanian, Turk, Chinese, and Turks of China (Torkân-e Chîn); and the king of Xyôn setting out from Khollakh in western Turkestan (Š, Moscow, VI, p. 138) and his supposed arrival in EstÂakhr in Pârs after taking Balkh according to Bal´amî (ed. Bahâr, p. 664).

 

Recent Studies

As a chief episode of the Persian saga and a masterpiece of Ferdowsî's, "Rostam and Esfandîâr" has been frequently discussed and commented upon by scholars, essayists and literary critics. Some of these I have already referred to; of the more recent works, one may mention Šâhrokh Meskûb's "Introduction to Rostam and Esfandîâr" (Moqaddema-î bar Rostam o Esfandîâr), which reviews the career of Esfandîâr with comments on the mythological, psychological, social, and moral aspects of the legend; Mohammad-´Alî Eslâmî Nodûšan, analyzes the Š episode in an essay in "The Life and Death of Heroes in the Š" (Zendagî o marg-e pahlavânân dar Šâh-nâma, pp. 352-85), adding comparative parallels from other myths and legends in his "Legend of Legends" (Dâstân-e dâstânhâ) that treats the Rostam and Esfandîâr episode. Mostafâ Rahîmî in his "Tragedy of Power in the Š" (Terâ‘edî-e qodrat dar Šâh-nâma, pp. 140-209), studies the legend as an illustration of the most powerful motivation of human conduct, the thirst for power and its corrupting influence. ´Alî-Akbar Sa´îdî Sîrjânî in his "Poor Esfandîâr" (Bîchâra Esfandîâr) makes the legend a mirror of human motives and food for his biting satire of those who wield power without moral restraint, showing the pitfalls of yielding to greed, pride, or unbridled ambition, while imparting topical flavor to the narrative through his running commentary. The late Mohammad-Ja´far Mahjûb recorded the Š story of Rostam and Esfandîâr with explanatory comments in an album of eight audio cassetes, each of one hour duration (Persian Books on Tape, 1994).

Richard Davis in his Epic and Sedition devoted to an analysis of the Š and the art of Ferdowsî, studies the story of Rostam and Esfandîâr (pp. 128-66) as a supreme example of the motif that he sees running through the three most effective and highly admired episodes of the Persian epic (the other two being those of Sîâvoš and Sohrâb), that is, the oppression of the younger generation by the older (Esfandîâr by Goštâsp, for instance). In Esfandîâr's legend the motif is amplified, according to Davis, by the presence of another Š motif, that of king-subject or king-champion relationship, which requires the winning of the hierarchically superior. Davidson (1990) focuses on Esfandîâr in the Seven station haft khân as an example of Iranian heroes' fondness of fighting and feasting (razm o bazm) as is the case with Greek heroes, notably Achilles in the Iliad. She draws (1994, pp. 159-67) a contrast between Esfandîâr as a royal figure and Rostam as only a champion, and sees the especial features of each of haft khân resulting from this difference.

(For a survey of earlier Š studies, see Shahbazi, pp. 8-18; for other figures named Esfandîâr/d, see Justi, Namenbuch, pp. 308-9; cf. Tabarî, I, pp. 2650, 2660-61.)

Bibliography 

(for cited works not given in detail, see "Short References"):

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