An Islamic source for the story of Rapunzel
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Rudaba and Zal

Rudaba lets down her hair
Rudaba lets down her hair

Rudaba - her name means "The River Water Girl" - was a character in the Persian epic Shahmaneh, written by the poet Ferdowsi about 1000 AD, at the height of Central Asian power (But the story must be much older than that). In the story, Rudaba's the daughter of the governor of Kabul, a Babylonian, and her family is fighting with the family of the Mubeds, led by another powerful ruler, Sam. Sam's son Zal hears a description of the lovely Rudaba and falls in love with her, but his father is against the marriage.

One night, Zal came right up to the tower where Rudaba was, and she let down her long hair for Zal to climb like a rope. Zal came up to her, and they talked all night and were more in love than ever.

Zal comes to Rudaba on horseback
Another version of the scene (1300s AD, Iran)

Zal wrote to his father and reminded Sam that he had promised to give him whatever he wanted. Sam consulted astrologers, and the astrologers said that if Zal and Rudaba married, their son would be the conqueror of the world. Encouraged by this news, Sam said they could get married after all, and sure enough, their son was Rustem - but that's another story.

Rudaba's story is very similar to the tragic Greek story of Hero and Leander, and it may be a retelling of the story of Hero and Leander for a Central Asian audience that didn't swim.

two woman and a man in an islamic house
Rudaba's father finds out
(Grand Mongol Shahnameh, Iran, 1330s AD)

Other versions of this swimming story from Southeast Asia have a happy ending, like Rudaba's version, so this may be based on the Southeast Asian version rather than on the Greek version - though Hero, like Rudaba, was trapped in a tower. If Rudaba's story was originally a swimming story, that would explain why her name means "River Water Girl".

Learn by doing: compare this story to Romeo and Juliet
Rustem's story
Hero and Leander
The Shahnameh
Islamic Literature
Medieval Iran

Bibliography and further reading about the Shahnameh:

Medieval Islam home

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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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  • Carr, K.E. . Study Guides, . Web. 27 April, 2017