Bertold Brecht was wrong when, in Life of Galileowrote “unfortunate the land that needs heroesIn fact, we need heroes a great deal. They represent a model to follow. heroes, such as Rostam, the legendary Iranian figure of whom The Hippocampus has published part of his epos (Rostam’s Seven Trialsby Hamid Rahmanian and Simon Arizpe).
“Once upon a time there was a king…”. Rostam’s story begins like all fairy tales. Once upon a time. But it’s still there. The ruler loses his mind and wants to conquer a kingdom protected by the Great White Demon, practically unbeatable. Losing the god of reason is a constant in epic poems. The same happens to Orlando, who is only saved by Astolfo, who will have to go to the moon to recover him. Losing your mind means you no longer see reality and, consequently, take rash actions that backfire on you. And the hubris Greek gods. And the same happens to King Kavus, who orders his soldiers to leave, to fight and conquer the realm. But it’s a defeat. The 1,200 men are routed and the king repents “instantly of his stupidity”. He sends a secret letter, “full of contrition”, and asks for help from Zal, “the wise man”, who begs his son Rostam to intervene. “Massive as a giant and strong as ten elephants”.
“The young warrior accepted the challenge”. It is at this point that Rostam becomes a hero. He could stall. He could tell that battle wasn’t for him. That was too dangerous. Instead he accepts. And it is at this point that the seven trials of him begin, which recall the labors of Hercules. He meets a lion, but Rakhsh protects him, killing him. Then it’s time for heat and a fierce dragon. Then the witches arrive and he is attacked by a gang of armed men. Finally the fight against the Blue Demon and the battle to conquer the kingdom of Mazandaran.
“It was foretold from the stars that a great hero would be born and that he would be the savior and defender of Iran. Rostam lived five hundred years. Together with his faithful steed Rakhsh, he fought against enemies and demons, advised insane kings and rebellious knights and, occasionally, he found love and kindness in the most unexpected circumstances.” These are the characteristics of the hero: his strength, both physical and mental, which allows him to defeat his opponents; wisdom, which is the ability to discern right from wrong and act accordingly; and finally, the possibility of welcoming love and kindness. Blessed is the land that Rostam has. He blessed the land that has heroes.