The King of Hamaveran and His Daughter Sudabeh (Shahnameh Readalong 14)

Join Tessa Gratton and me as we read the Shahnameh by Abolqasem Ferdowsi. We’re using the Dick Davis translation (Penguin Classics).

SORRY FOR THE DELAY. This was supposed to be up last week (May 13) but my laptop broke while I was traveling so I was unable to post. It’s all fixed now!

Today’s portion: The King of Hamaveran and His Daughter Sudabeh


Synopsis: “In which King Kavus gets married, is captured (again) because of his own lack of wisdom, Rostam recues him (again), Afrasyab makes a surprise guest appearance.”

Sudabeh, Kavus’s bride:


TG: I was fascinated here by the descriptions of the queen Sudabeh. “Her tongue is like a dagger lodged between/ Lips sweet as sugar cane” would not be a loving compliment in most of Western literary history! She’s got her own personal wealth, thinks for herself, and clearly understands the ways of politics and war. Her father did not want to give her up, but asked her opinion, then listened to it. She’s definitely more wise than Kavus, especially when she says “Since we have no choice, it is better not to grieve at this.”

Of course, Kavus proves true to form when he flat out refuses to believe his lovely, smart wife, and against her recommendation walks into the trap her father has sent.

I was pretty excited to see the return of Afrasyab, since I continue to enjoy how this book weaves storylines together and returns to old threads I’ve forgotten or dismissed as over. Of course Afrasyab presses this opportunity, and rightly so: let’s be honest. Kavus is the worst king we’ve seen who wasn’t possessed by shoulder-snakes.

I loved the logic Afrasyab used against Kavus: “If Iran is your country as you claim, why did you long to conquer Mazanderan?” And he brings up his own ancestry via Feraydun as proof of his right to Iran.

But of course, Rostam, the horse-abuser, is on Kavus’s side, so Kavus wins despite being so easily manipulated by demons, arrogance, and lies. I can’t wait for him to die, and hope his heir gets everything from Sudabeh, not Kavus.

Although, these several chapters of Kavus being aggravating were entirely worth it for the flying machine he builds at the end of this section. I mean. I love it so much.


KE:  The continuing emphasis on women controlling their own wealth fascinates me. As I have said before and will doubtless say again, I am reminded of how stereotypes harm people’s ability to grasp the exceptional variety and complexity of history and in particular how erroneous a conception many people have (in the USA, anyway) of the lives of women in the past and in non-Western cultures. Here, even in a history that mostly sidelines women (with a few notable exceptions), the writer has more than once used this detail as a descriptor of a female character. Why it is a detail that matters I do not know–is it a reflection of her rank? something else? What I do know is that I lack the knowledge of the cultural context so all I can do is observe and keep an open mind. And, of course, be delighted to find it here once again, especially conjoined with a reference to Sudabeh’s apparent willingness to speak her mind and not hold back. Not to mention to defy her father’s wishes, although her motives are never explored. Kavus is clearly a fortunate man.

I almost miss Zahhak and his shoulder snakes. At least he had a goal rather than stumbling repeatedly back into the good graces of the world after one grandiose and short sighted mistake after the next. I find Kavus a fascinating character study, in a way, precisely because he seems to me to be have the privilege to be continually forgiven his egregious mistakes that cause unquantifiable death and destruction.

And what a target he is for demons! The flying machine is pretty wonderful, not least the predictable results of his hubris (or Persian equivalent). What Rudabeh sees in him I have no idea, but the story that lies between the lines feels like fanfiction just waiting to be written, and perhaps there is a story telling tradition that includes more about her. I honestly do not know.


Next week: The Tale of Sohrab.

The fear this one will be very very sad.

Previously: Introduction, The First Kings, The Demon King Zahhak, Feraydun and His Three Sons, The Story of Iraj, The Vengeance of Manuchehr, Sam & The Simorgh, The Tale of Zal and Rudabeh, Rostam, the Son of Zal-Dastan, The Beginning of the War Between Iran and Turan, Rostam and His Horse Rakhsh, Rostam and Kay Qobad, Kay Kavus’s War Against the Demons of Manzanderan, The Seven Trials of Rostam

2 thoughts on “The King of Hamaveran and His Daughter Sudabeh (Shahnameh Readalong 14)

  1. “let’s be honest. Kavus is the worst king we’ve seen who wasn’t possessed by shoulder-snakes.”

    It’s not like I wasn’t already enjoying this readalong but I never knew how much my life needed that statement in it. It’s made my whole month! So much funny! 🙂

    “Once Again King Kavus is Rescued” – feels like that subtitle pretty much sums up the totality of Kavus’ character. (Or, even, “he waited forlornly in the thicket.”)

    Hard not to love everything about Sudebah but there’s no denying she reminded me of meeting someone new, totally digging them, having so much fun, sharing hobbies, etc and then meeting their partner WHO IS THE WORST and you can never quite see them the same again.

    I know it was demon inspired and so I shouldn’t like it but I feel like the flying machine is the only interesting thing Kavus has done (I’m not counting Sudebah since I don’t think he can take credit for marrying her). I could be mis-remembering this but is that demon the only one to mention farr in regards to Kavus? I’m still really surprised that we’ve had so many words devoted to his continual mistakes but no mention of what seems so very unfarrlike.

  2. THat’s a good point — I think the demon IS the only one to mention Kavus’s farr.

    As for Sudabeh, I peeked ahead and I believe we are about to see her in a less pleasant light very soon. 🙁

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