Rustom is a very popular legendary character in Iran and his stories are often narrated to young and old Iranians alike. This paper explores one such popular story and lists some of its contemporarily held interpretations.
Rustom is the ultra-masculine, valiant, righteous and chivalrous Iranian mythical hero immortalized by the poet Ferdowsi in the Iranian national epic Shahnameh or ‘The Epic of Kings’ which describes a quasi-mythical and historical (pre-seventh century) description of the Persian Empire. This story celebrates his journey, called ‘Rustom’s seven Labours’, to rescue his sovereign Key Kavus, held captive by the antagonist, the White Demon.
The White Demon or Div-e-Sepid of Mazandaran, Iran is a huge demon, possessing great physical strength and is a powerful sorcerer and a skilled necromantic. He lives in a dark cave, held to be ‘as dark as the mouth of hell’. (Rostam kills the White Demon, n.d.)
The temerarious King Key Kavus and his champions have been held under custody by the White Demon after their expedition to Mazandaran misfires. Rustom undergoes as many as six trials before the seventh, of killing the demon, on his way to
Mazandaran to rescue them, which were as follows:
During the sixth trial, Rustom has arrived to the prison where the King and other Iranians are housed; and Key Kavus tells him that they have been made blind by the White Demon whose blood alone can restore their sights. The seventh and final hurdle thus is that of combating the White Demon himself.
Rustom sets on to face the demon and receives guidance from Olad in locating the demon’s lair. Once they reach the cave, he ties Olad outside and fearlessly yet carefully, with his club, enters and finds the demon tormenting a man in there. He finds the demon’s huge body to be grotesque, pale and pasty like a ghoul. He then pitches in from behind, hitting the floor with a tremendous impact. The man sneaks out of the battle about to begin, for his life. The furious demon is then challenged by Rustom for a one-against-one fight. The two engage in an epic, bloody war in which Rustom emerges victorious.
Rustom cuts out the devil’s liver, brings it to the Iranians and restores their eyesights by applying the blood to their eyes.
The Shahnameh being a literary piece has different interpretations for its principle characters and gist. The most prominent ones are Noldeke’s where he likens the white demon to be a survival of an ancient white deity; and the counterview of Omidsalar (2001) in which it is suggested that the demon is the representative of Rustom’s own father Zal. Some consider him to be a northern prince or even an allegory of a white nation.
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