Cover image for In the dragon's claws : the story of Rostam & Esfandiyar, from the Persian Book of kings by Abolqasem Ferdowsi
In the dragon's claws : the story of Rostam & Esfandiyar, from the Persian Book of kings by Abolqasem Ferdowsi
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Rustam va Isfandiyār. English
First edition.
Publication Information:
Washington, DC : Mage Publishers, [1999]

Physical Description:
141 pages : genealogical tables ; 22 cm
Added Author:

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PK6456.A12 R82 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Iran's national epic, the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, has traditionally been regarded by both Persians and Westerners as a poem celebrating the central role of minarchy in Persian history, In this groundbreaking book, Dick Davis argues that the poem is far more than a patriotic chronicle of kingly deeds. Rather, it is a subtle and highly ambiguous discussion of authority, and far from being a celebration of monarchy, its most famous episodes and heroes amount to a radical critique of the institution. Davis demonstrates that the public world of kingly authority is shadowed in the poem by a series of tragic father-son relationships, and that in both the royal and familial spheres, authority figures are invariably presented as morally inferior to those whom they govern. The Shahnameh's complex aesthetic structure and its tragic resolution of problems of authority and hierarchy make it an artistic artifact able to take its rightful place beside the major masterpieces of world literature.


The story of Rostam and Esfandiyar is one of the most moving tragedies in Ferdowsis epic Shahnameh. In this story, Esfandiyar, the designated heir to the throne of Iran, has just returned in triumph from his campaign against the shah of Turan. He has slain Arjasp, Irans greatest enemy, captured his family and treasury, and liberated his own sisters from their captivity. He expects that his father, Goshtasp, will now abdicate the throne of Iran in his favor, as he had sworn to. Goshtasp, however, is not yet ready to honor his promise. Instead he sets his son yet another task as a condition of his abdication. He must bring Irans greatest hero, Rostam, back to the court in chains. For Rostam has neither come to court to honor Goshtasp nor sent him a letter declaring loyalty. Esfandiyar recognizes this task as simply a way to put his own life at risk, and says as much. Yet he cannot refuse his fathers command. The story of Rostam and Esfandiyar displays a surprisingly modern skepticism about the values typically associated with Ferdowsis epic. It expresses a profound ambivalence about the demands of heroism, and is sharply critical of a monarch who exploits the courage and loyalty of his heroes to further his own selfish ends.

Author Notes

Dick Davis is an Englishman who has lived for most of his adult life outside his own country - in Greece, Italy, Iran and the United States. He is currently a professor of Persian at Ohio State University in Columbus.

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

The greatest hero in the Persian national epic, the Shahnameh (Book of Kings), is Rostam, a warrior who lived more than 500 years, dying then only because he killed Esfandiyar, son of Iran's shahanshah, Goshtasp. That killing climaxes the story Clinton translates so well that reading it is a fascinating pleasure, not a multicultural obligation. Goshtasp charges Esfandiyar to drag Rostam before him in chains. He knows Rostam will kill Esfandiyar rather than be so humiliated, but that will get Esfandiyar, who wants Goshtasp to turn the throne over to him as promised, out of his hair. When Esfandiyar encounters Rostam, they first strive to resolve the conundrum of avoiding dishonor while obeying Goshtasp. It can't be done; they fight, and Esfandiyar dies. Everyone sees through Goshtasp's machinations, but retaliation is unthinkable under Iran's demitheocracy, in which the shahanshah's orders are equivalent to divine decrees. More Arthurian than Homeric, this is a fateful story of armored knights puzzling over ethics, though the ethics of a society that values order more highly than justice. --Ray Olson