The Story of Zahhak
Translated by Rebecca Cann
The story of Zahhak originates in the Avesta. But in the tenth century AD, the famous Iranian poet, Ferdowsi
retold this story in his famous book named Shahnameh (Book of Kings).
Here is the summary of Ferdowsi’s story with illustrations by Pary Shahsamandi:
Many years ago, there lived an Arab ruler names Mardash who had a son with the name of Zahhak.
Zahhak was a really nice person until Ahriman, the Evil Spirit, persuaded him to kill his father.
After Mardash’s death, Zahhak became ruler. Ahriman once again appeared to him as a cook and
made delicious meals for him. Zahhak asked Ahriman what he wants as his prize for the wonderful meals
he had prepared. Ahriman just asked Zahhak to kiss his shoulders. After Ahriman kissed Zahhak’s shoulders,
he disappeard. But suddenly two vicious black snakes grew from Zahhak’s shoulders.
So Zahhak started killing young men and feeding their brains to the evil
snakes. Meanwhile, he decided to wage a war against Jamshid,
the ruler of the world. Zahhak gathered a huge army and defeated
Jamahid in a fierce battle. After killing Jamshid, Zahhak became
the ruler of the world and took Jamshid’s daughters,
Arnavaz and Shahrnavaz as his slaves.
Zahhak’s tyranny lasted for many years until one day he saw a horrible dream.
He called the dream-readers who told him someone named Feryadoun will eventually defeat him.
Zahhak got frightened and searched for Feryadoun everywhere until he was told that Feryadoun was just
a boy living in the Alborz Mountains. Zahhak made several attempts to find Feryadoun but couldn’t find him anywhere.
Years passed and one day a blacksmith named Kaveh came to Zahhak’s court. Kaveh told Zahhak that he had eighteen
sons and all but one had been given to the snakes. Zahhak forgave Kaveh’s last son but asked Kaveh to sign
an agreement telling everyone how righteous and forgiving he was.
Many people followed Kaveh to the Alborz Mountains to help him
find Feryadoun. After much searching, they found the young Feryadoun
who agreed to destroy Zahhak. In a battle, Feryadoun captured Zahhak
and imprisoned him in a cave in Mount Damavand.
He then freed Jamshid’s two daughters and brought freedom and happiness to Iran.