The sleep of Rustam

The story is told in the following manner:

“The great warrior Rustam and his faithful red horse Rakhsh were on a long journey to rescue a king held captive by a demon in a distant country. They stopped to rest in a dangerous forest not realizing that they had camped near a lion’s lair. Later, after Rustam had fallen asleep, the lion appeared and attacked Rakhsh. The horse and the lion struggled fiercely together, until Rakhsh managed to trample his attacker to death.” (1)

The picture of Rustam asleep is only part of a miniature painting by an artist known as Sultan Muhammed who lived in Persia in the early 1500’s. Sultan Muhammed took some artistic license because in the original story, the forest was actually a meadow. The painting, already very vibrant with different shades of green for the grass and yellow for the flowers, is made even more colorful by the orange striped Jajim. A Jajim is a thick cloth or carpet, which is woven with fine threads of mainly wool. The tiger stripes that Rustam wears and the big cat headdress are typical of how Rustam is portrayed in art.

By far, the most famous and popular story of Rustam (whose full name is Rustam Kovian) in the Shahnama, is the one in which he kills an opponent unaware that he is his long lost son, Sohrab. It is only after the son is fatally wounded, that the two realize each other’s identity.

The poem, Sohrab and Rustam, which was written in by Matthew Arnold, describes the poignant last moments that father and son share. Sohrab says to Rustam:

…“Come, sit beside me on this sand, and take

My head betwixt thy hands, and kiss my cheeks,

And wash them with thy tears, and say, ‘My son!”

Quick! quick! for numbered are my sands of life,

And swift; for like the lightning to this field

I came, and like the wind I go away —

Sudden, and swift, and like a passing wind.

But it was writ in heaven that this should be.”

…So said he: and his voice released the heart

Of Rustum, and his tears broke forth; he cast

His arms round his son’s neck, and wept aloud,

And kissed him.

The Book of Kings was written as a poem (to give you an idea of its scope, it has 50 thousand couplets) by one of Persia’s most revered poets, Hakīm Abul-Qāsim Firdawsī Tūsī, who lived from 935 to 1020. Persian literature such as Firdawsī’s inspired artists to illustrate these classics. In particular it gave rise to the miniature art form, which has been described as “visual poetry, “which” takes advantage of blending shapes and words on the canvas”(2). Many schools of miniature art emerged in Persia, including the Tabriz school to which Sultan Muhammed belonged.


(1)$+with+all_unique_id_index+is+$=OBJ2214&submit-button=summary (March 1, 2007)

(March 7, 2007)
(February 28, 2007)
(March 1 2007)

Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran
By E.S. Drower Clarendon Press, Oxford,1937
(Reprint Leiden:E.J. Brill 1962) pages 369-385 (March 1 2007)
(March 1 2007)

(March 1 2007) (March
1 2007) (March 7, 2007) Sohrab and Rustam, by Matthew Arnold,
January 7 2002, The Iranian