Abolqasem Ferdowsi’s In the Dragon’s Claws: The Story of Rostam & Esfandiyar from the Persian Book of Kings, is a story that comes from the Shahnameh, a book containing many different narratives detailing Iranian history and mythology. The story In the Dragon’s Claws presents two heroes of Iran, Rostam and Esfandiyar, who are victims of fate. The story traces the power struggle between Rostam and Esfandiyar, as well as the power struggle between Esfandiyar and his father Goshtasp, the Shah of Iran.
While many themes are at work in this story, perhaps the most important theme observed is the intervention of fate and the role of the divine in the lives of the characters. The Iranians believed that “God prefers Iran to other nations and sustains it through the institution of the shah” (12). They believe that the divine has ultimate control over everyone, and every event that occurs is fated to happen from the divine. Moreover, the Iranians believe that whoever is in power has been given divine authority.
The role of the divine and the course of fate play a crucial role in the story of Rostam and Esfandiyar, ultimately leading to the untimely death of Esfandiyar. The Iranians strongly believe that the divine play a crucial role in their everyday interactions. The universe of the Shahnameh is ruled by one god, Yazdan. According to the myth, Yazdan appointed a ruler, or shah, who was able to transform the people from “undifferentiated species” to a fully functioning society (11). This began the belief that the Shah has the approval, and therefore some of the authority, of the divine.
While occasionally the shahs who are in power are good, prosperous rulers, In the Dragon’s Claws describes a time when an unwise shah rules. Goshtasp, Esfandiyar’s father, is the shah of Iran during the story. Goshtasp is greedy and prideful, he is not considerate of other people’s needs. Goshtasp is fearful that Esfandiyar covets his throne, so he chooses to send Esfandiyar to complete the impossible task of confronting the war hero Rostam in attempts to humble him. Although Esfandiyar does not find any fault in Rostam, he must obey the shah because any “challenges to royal authority invariably lead to the challenger’s death” (16).
Esfandiyar does not want to be judged harshly on Judgment Day by Yazdan, so he chooses to obey the shahs command. Rostam and Esfandiyar both show their devout belief in the divine by the words they speak when they first meet each other. Upon meeting each other, both of the warriors thank the “Lord of All” that they are guided safely to each other (60, 61). Esfandiyar displays his faithfulness to Yazdan time and again throughout the story, saying he cannot disobey the shah’s wishes, or else he will “surely face the judgment of [Yazdan)” (66).
The young prince continuously pledges his allegiance to Goshtasp, even though he does not want to challenge Rostam. Esfandiyar also believes that Yazdan is present with him in battle, stating “in war my one companion is Yazdan. And fortune smiles on everything I do” (97). The heroes of this tale are very focused on the supernatural and the authority they hold in their lives. They continually question how their actions will affect the way Yazdan views them and what this means for them after they die. This invested belief in the divine and an afterlife gives the reader a glimpse into the religious views of the Iranian society.
The people of the society are reliant upon the God choose their leader, and they willing hope that whomever is in power has the divine decree of Yazdan. This belief can lead citizens to blindly trust a ruler simply because they believe he has the approval of the God. If the ruler, however is corrupt or foolish, it can be harmful to the society. This is the case in the story of Rostam and Esfandiyar. Goshtasp is an unfit ruler who will do anything to keep the throne, including send his son off to die.
Furthermore, the Iranians relationship with the divine governs their everyday nteractions. Because of his wrongdoings, Goshtasp must “face the Lord of All on Judgment Day” (131). The Iranians believe that they will all be judged by God for their wrongdoings throughout their lives. This belief greatly influences how they conduct their daily life. The presence of a divine being in the lives of Iranians impacts how they act, as religion has a major influence on how one views them self and their place in society. The concept of fate plays a major role in how the characters view the control they have over their own lives.
Throughout the book, the struggle of fate versus free will continuously appears. In the introduction, the translator reminds the reader that “fate… is as capricious as it is implacable” (16). The characters believe that fate rules their lives; they are merely pawns in the grand scheme of fate and destiny. Initially, Goshtasp asks his counselor to tell him Esfandiyar’s fate. Goshtasp’s counselor tells him that “[Esfandiyar’s] fate awaits him in Zabolestan” (33). Goshtasp is so desperate to keep his throne that he willingly sends Esfandiyar to Zabolestan, to his death.
Goshtasp acknowledges that “No one can safely pass that fateful wheel. Who has by wisdom or by manliness escaped the knife-sharp claws of that celestial dragon? What has to be will be” (33). The Iranians believe that their fate is set in stone, there is nothing they can do to change their destiny. Therefore, even if Goshtasp did not send Esfandiyar to Zabolestan, he still would have died there at the hand of Rostam. Continuously throughout the book, the idea of fate is mentioned. After Rostam is subdued by Esfandiyar in their first battle, he returns home to see his father in agony over his defeat.
Rostam tells his father that there is no use in grieving what has happen because “this comes from heaven and is what’s meant to be” (108). Rostam does not question why bad things have happened to him, he simply accepts these events as a part of his destiny and moves forward. Rostam acknowledges that he does not have any control over the events that transpire in his life, they are all simply subject to the whims of fate. This belief is transferable to the Iranian society in which the story comes from. The people believe that their life is dictated by fate, and that they have little to no say in what happens to them.
After Rostam killed Esfandiyar, he was filled with remorse because of his actions, for he knew he had just slain the young prince so respected by many people in Iran. Rostam knew that this grief and shame would await him because he was told that “whoever sheds Esfandiyar’s blood will be destroyed himself by fate” (112). Rostam is a renowned hero and a brave warrior, however, because he killed Esfandiyar, his name is now shamed and he must suffer the blame. Rostam accepts his role in Esfandiyar’s death, stating that he “was the agent of the tamarisk” (123).
Rostam was a puppet used by fate to bring about Esfandiyar’s end, and he is now destined to a lifetime of sorrow for his role. The idea that one’s life is solely controlled by fate can cause people to be more accepting of the events that transpire about them. It helps people answer questions that they may have about how or why things happen. The Iranians believe that they are subjects of fate. The belief that nothing relies on free will of the people can sometimes lead to feelings of helplessness. They believe that everything that happens is due to destiny, and that they have no control over their own lives.
The role of fate plays a big part in both In the Dragon’s Claws as well as in many societies throughout the world. The conflict between fate and free will is a very common struggle that is seen throughout the book. The concepts of fate and religion are two very closely related topics. One might look to the divine to discover their role in the world, as well as to determine their fate for after their death. Often times, the more adamantly one believes in the divine, the more likely they are to believe that their destiny is completely out of their own control.
In the Dragon’s Claws is a story taken from the Shahnameh, the Persian Book of Kings. It is written by Abolqasem Ferdowsi. Ferdowsi is not the writer of these stories, he simply took upon the task of combining the many different stories and myths about Iranian history into one cohesive book, the Book of Kings. The stories that fill this book have been passed on from generation to generation, often without a written record of the stories. The stories written in the book may not accurately represent what actually happened in the events.
Because the stories have been passed on through generations, they may have been slightly changed as they were retold. While the Shahnameh was written during Ferdowsi’s lifetime (AD 932-1025), some of the stories in it were told in the sixth century BC (9). Because there was a large time span between when the stories occurred and when they were written, this may account for any of the discrepancies that may appear. It is difficult, however, to test the validity of the myths that are mentioned in the Shahnameh. Despite this, Ferdowsi does a good job of presenting the stories told without adding any extra information or bias into the stories.