Zal and the Simurgh

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