Rostam is Iran's greatest mythological hero, a Persian Hercules, magnificent in strength and courage. As recounted in the tenth-century "Book of Kings (Shahnameh)" by the poet Ferdowsi, he was a force in ancient Persia for 500 years, undergoing many trials of combat, cunning and endurance. Although Rostam served a series of often-fickle kings, he was an independent thinker, committed to the greater good of Iran. His adventures are some of the most beloved of all Persian narratives and remain deeply resonant in Iranian culture. This book begins with the birth of Rostam's father Zal and ends with Rostam's death. The tales tell of the love between Zal and Rostam's mother, the Kaboli princess Rudabeh; of Rostam's miraculous birth, aided by the magical bird Simorgh; of Rostam's youth and the selection of his trusty horse Rakhsh; of his affair with Princess Tahmineh, the birth of their son Sohrab, and, after Sohrab grows into a mighty warrior himself, the tragic confrontation between father and son.
The tales conclude with Rostam's war against demons, his seven trials, his rescue of Prince Bizhan, and finally his battle, both intellectual and physical, with the ambitious and religiously-driven Prince Esfandyar.
Absolqasem Ferdowsi was born in Khorasan in a village near Tus, in 940 CE. His great epic the Shahnameh, to which he devoted most of his adult life, was originally composed for the Samanid princes of Khorasan, who were the chief instigators of the revival of Persian cultural traditions after the Arab conquest. During Ferdowsi's lifetime, the Samanid dynasty was conquered by the Ghaznavid Turks. Various stories in medieval texts describe the lack of interest shown by the new ruler of Khorasan, Mahmud of Ghazni, in Ferdowsi and his lifework. Ferdowsi is said to have died around 1020 in poverty and embittered by royal neglect, though confident of his and his poem's ultimate fame. Dick Davis is currently professor of Persian at Ohio State University and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. His translations from Persian include The Lion and the Throne, Fathers and Sons, Sunset of Empire: Stories from the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, Vols. I, II, III.