Rudaba and Zal in the Shahnameh

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Rudaba lets down her hair

Rudaba lets down her hair

Rudaba’s name means “The River Water Girl”. She 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. 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, what? Their families are fighting. So his father is against the marriage. And her father locks her up in a tower.

One night, Zal came right up to the tower where Rudaba was. 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.

Another version of the scene (1300s AD, Iran)

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 the hero Rustem – but that’s another story.

Rudaba’s story is very similar to the tragic Greek story of Hero and Leander. It may be a retelling of the story of Hero and Leander for a Central Asian audience that didn’t swim. But also, this version has a happy ending.

Rudaba's father finds out (Grand Mongol Shahnameh, Iran, 1330s AD)

Rudaba’s father finds out (Grand Mongol Shahnameh, Iran, 1330s AD)

Other versions of this swimming story from Southeast Asia also have a happy ending, like Rudaba’s version. So this may be based on the Southeast Asian version rather than on the Greek version. But Hero, like Rudaba, was trapped in a tower, so it’s clearly related to the Greek story. If Rudaba’s story was originally a swimming story, that would explain why her name means “River Water Girl”. Anyway, Rudaba’s the origin of our story about Rapunzel, which also has a happy ending.

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
Quatr.us home

By |2017-07-25T22:24:21+00:00July 25th, 2017|Islam, Literature|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Rudaba and Zal in the Shahnameh. Quatr.us Study Guides, July 25, 2017. Web. November 16, 2018.

About the Author:

Dr. 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, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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