Home > Explore + Learn > Arts of the Islamic World > Shahnama: 1000 Years of the Persian Book of Kings > Zal and the Simurgh

Zal and the Simurgh

Zal, the father of the hero Rustam, is born with a "face like paradise, ... but his hair was that of an old man." Born an albino, his snow-white hair is considered an ill omen. His father, Sam, ashamed of the newborn's strange appearance, orders Zal to be left in the mountains where the mythical simurgh makes her home. When the phoenix flies from her nest in search of food for her fledglings, she takes pity on the infant and raises him as her own.

One day, a passing caravan catches sight of the noble youth, "whose body was like a cypress tree, whose chest was like a mountain of silver, and whose waist was as slim as a reed." News of the event reaches Sam, who deeply regrets abandoning his son. Sam and his retinue arrive to find young Zal perched on a mountain peak. At first Zal is reluctant to leave the only home he has ever known, but the magical bird convinces him to go with his father. The phoenix hardens her heart for their parting and gives Zal two of her feathers to burn whenever he needs her help. She urges Zal to "go and see what fate has in store" for him.

detail from Zal is Sighted by a Caravan: the simurgh, a multicolored phoenix, returns with an animal to her nest where her chicks and Zal await

detail from Sam Returns with His Son Zal: a procession of brightly colored figures include Zal on an elephant and a welcoming crowd

Above, top: detail, Zal is Sighted by a Caravan. View full »
Above, bottom: detail, Sam Returns with His Son Zal. View full »

Join us for our reopening celebration on Oct 14 at 5 pm and Oct 15 at 11 am, 2017. We've renovated online, too! Visit our new website.