Translated by: Thamar E. Gindin
When Homai took the throne as the queen,
She was kind and victorious – supreme!
But when she had a son, the true heir to the crown,
He was sent on the river, unseen.
But the child in the chest did not drown,
Found by washers who yearned for a son.
They have named him Darab, and they raised him with love.
He grew up and protected Iran.
King Bahman, son of Esfandyar, had a son and a daughter. The son’s name was Sasan, and the daughter’s name was Homai. Homai was so smart and beautiful, and endowed with so many talents, that anyone who set eye on her was immediately filled with love and happiness. Bahman loved Homai more than he loved her brother.
When the king fell ill and felt his days were numbered, he called the kingdom’s nobles to his deathbed, and ordered that Homai will inherit the throne, and when the child in her womb is born, he should inherit the crown and the throne and become Shahanshah, King of Kings.
The king’s will infuriated Sasan, and he left the kingdom in anger.
After King Bahman passed away, his daughter Homai assumed the throne until her pregnancy concluded. When Homai bore a son, she was to pass the kingship to him. But Homai was an extraordinary queen. She equipped her warriors with the best of weapons, and was a just, generous and kind ruler to her subjects. Iran flourished, and Homai felt her job was not yet complete. She also loved being a ruler and commander, and she did not wish to give it up. She therefore secretly gave the boy to a wet nurse, and whenever asked, she said the baby was stillborn.
When the baby was eight months old, Homai ordered a carpenter to build a wooden chest from a special tree growing in the mountains. She lined the interior with silk and plastered the exterior with tar and pitch. On this soft, comfortable bed she laid the baby. She tied rubies around his arm, and around him she spread countless gems and golden coins. She covered him with a soft silk blanket to keep him warm, and lulled him to sleep. In the dead of night, when the baby was fast asleep, Homai closed the chest lid and put it on the waters of the Eupherates. The chest sailed like a ship, watched and followed by two loyal, confidential servants, running along the river to see where it would stop, who would find it, and what would happen to it.
Further down the river, there was a little house, and in it lived a washer and his wife. A baby boy had lately been born to that couple, but he died. They were agony-stricken and spent their days crying.
On that day, at the break of dawn, the washer went out to bring water from the river, as he did every morning. He saw a chest floating on the river and stopping at a stone that served the washers for rubbing clothes. He pulled the chest from the water and opened it, and his eyes widened with amazement as he saw the sleeping baby. He remained puzzled for a few seconds, but quickly came back to his senses, took the chest home, and brought it to his wife.
When the chest-watchers saw the washer pick up the chest, they went back to the capital and related to the queen all that had happened.
In the meantime, the washer brought the chest home, along with some moist clothes. His wife was angry: “How should we return moist clothes to our customers? Who would pay you for such job? How should we earn our bread?” The washer said: “We don’t need work wages any more. I have brought you a diamond with an abundance of other precious gems. He will lighten up your life and give us joy as well as peace of mind and a good livelihood.”
He opened the chest lid. The woman saw a sleeping baby, peaceful and beautiful like the full moon, radiant with royal glory; pearls around his head, onyx, emerald and jasper stones at his feet, dinars on his left, sapphire and ruby gems on his right. Her heart overflowed with love and happiness. She immediately took the baby in her arms and began nursing him.
After three days, the time came to give the baby a name. As “water” in Persian is āb, they named the boy Dārāb, because they drew him out of the water.
After a while, the washerwoman said to her husband: “For years, our fate here has been bad, and everyone knows us as poor, hardscrabble washers. Our luck has changed; now let us change our place too, and move to a city where no one knows us.” They moved with their son Darab to another city, six leagues away. With some of the gems and gold they bought a spacious house with lands and gardens, and lived a life of joy and abundance. The woman said to her husband: “Now that we are rich, you can rest. You need not go out searching for work.” But the man loved his job. He said to his wife: “Every job is a respectable job.” He continued to wash clothes and provide his family’s livelihood, and his wife continued to raise the child, educate and nourish him.
Darab grew up to be a beautiful, impressive lad. It was obvious that he was not a regular child. Robust in build and radiant with royal glory, he beat all his peers at wrestling. One day his father summoned him and said: “You need not look far for a profession. Let me teach you how to rub clothes against a rock to clean them.” But Darab would stealthily make himself a bow and arrow from twigs he found and flexible rope, and set out to hunt birds.
His father did not like his pastimes, but Darab did not want to become a washer at all. He asked his father to find him tutors to teach him the Sacred Books and the arts. Darab learned to read and write and was exceptionally talented in horse riding, archery, battle and other arts.
A few years later, Darab, now a young man of outstanding beauty, tall and talented, came to his father and said: “Father, I am allegedly your son, yet we are nothing alike. Pray tell me: who am I and what is my heritage?”
His father replied: “He who would like to learn about his father, his secret lies with his mother”.
Darab went to his mother, drew his sword from its sheath, and said: “I am asking you, and I demand an honest answer: who am I?”
The mother, scared, told him his story as it was. “You were a healthy, beautiful baby, but we know nothing of your birth. Your father went one day down to the river to fetch water for laundry, and found you floating on the river inside a chest, on a bed of silk, surrounded by precious stones and gold coins, and rubies tied to your arm – the same rubies you have been wearing all your life.”
Darab asked: “Has anything survived of this treasure?”
“Yes,” replied the mother. She gave Darab the dinars left from the treasure. With them he bought a horse and weapons, and went to serve with the margrave (border keeper) of his country. The margrave liked Darab and appreciated his skills, and promoted him to a top position.
And then the Romans attacked Iran, at this very same border point. The margrave was killed in battle and his deputy sent to inform Queen Homai. The queen appointed Rashnavad, the chief commander of her army, to gather troops and set out for the Roman frontier. And as many soldiers were gathered together around Rashnavad, Darab joined him too.
Before setting out to battle with Rome, Queen Homai herself arrived to visit her soldiers. The soldiers passed before her, one by one, and when it was Darab’s turn to go before her, Homai’s breath was taken away at the sight of him: his regal stature and posture, his perfect limbs and strong build, his royal glory and majestic appearance. Suddenly, uncontrollably and unintentionally, her breasts started to drip milk. She asked: “Where is this cavalier from? He is obviously a perfect hero, so tall, robust and radiant with glory. He must be of royal heritage! But his weapon does not suit his rank and skill.” She asked Rashnavad to equip him with the best of arms.
She continued to pass among her warriors and get acquainted with each and every one of them, taking care of all their needs. She chose a day when the planets were aligned in favor of Iran, and commanded Rashnavad to attack Rome on that day.
One day, while they were still on their way to Rome, clouds gathered and heavy rain began to fall. Deafening thunders rolled in the heavens, and blinding bolts of lightning pierced the sky. All the soldiers rushed to pitch tents in the flatland and find shelter from the storm. Darab, who was riding alone, had no tent to run to. He found some deserted ruins, and there, under a dilapidated piece of roof, he lay to sleep on the bare, dry ground.
Rashnavad was patrolling among his soldiers, to see how they were. Suddenly, from one of the ruins nearby, he heard a voice singing:
Shaky roof, oh, please listen and hear:
Save the king of Iran, who came here!
You’re his shelter, his sky; keep him safe, keep him dry
For the night, until morning appear.
Rashnavad thought: “Are those words that I’m hearing in the blowing wind and the rolling thunders?” And as he was wondering, he heard the song again:
Crumbling roof, keep the son of Bahman,
Mighty king, lawful Shah of Iran,
Guard him all through the night, and make sure he’s all right
Until morning, until rising sun.
This time Rashnavad was sure the song was coming from the ruin, and wondered how, as he did not see anyone there.
Hear me, rickety roof, if you can,
Keep our glorious king from the rain!
Keep your strength, do not fall; he’s the king of us all:
Bahman’s son, may he come back and reign!
As the song has repeated thrice, Rashnavad decided to send a messenger to see who is singing inside the ruin. The messenger found a soaking wet horse, and a soldier lying on dry ground under a rickety roof.
He sent to inform Rashnavad, who sent to bring Darab before him. As soon as Darab came out from under the roof and mounted his horse, the roof collapsed with a loud noise, and everyone was filled with wonder and amazement, kindled fire perfumed with incense, and thanked the great god, Ahura Mazda.
Rashnavad asked Darab for his name and lineage, but Darab only knew what he has heard from his washer parents: “My father went one day down to the river to fetch water for laundry, and found me floating on the river inside a wooden chest, on a bed of silk, surrounded by precious stones and gold coins, and a chain of rubies tied to my arm. Behold, I am wearing it to this day. It is the only thing I have left from my previous identity.”
Rashnavad gave Darab beautiful garments, musical instruments and weapons, and as the rain ceased and the day dawned, everyone set out again to the battlefield, with renewed energy.
In the battlefield, Darab demonstrated his skill in the martial arts. He caused the Roman army many losses and scattered their forces, disconnecting them from each other. Thanks to his valor, Iran won the war and the Romans fled, defeated.
The Roman emperor sent a messenger to the Iranian camp to ask for peace. He agreed to accept Iranian rule and pay tribute to the queen. Rashnavad returned to Iran glorious and victorious, heavy with Roman riches captured in battle.
On the way back, they camped again near the ruin. Rashnavad summonned the washer and his wife and asked them about Darab’s lineage. They told him the story as it was: “We were but poor washers who had lost their son recently,” said the father. “One day I went one down to the river to fetch water for laundry, and found a baby floating on the river inside a chest, on a bed of silk, surrounded by precious stones and gold coins, and rubies tied to his arm. I immediately brought him home to my wife, and we adopted him as our son. We have raised him with love and happiness, but we do not know anything about his lineage. From an early age we tried to teach him our trade, but he was drawn only to pastimes worthy of kings and warriors.”
Rashnavad wrote to Homai to tell her about the army’s victory. He prasied Darab’s valor and mentioned that it was only thanks to his bravery and skill that Iran prevailed and conquered Rome. He also described in great detail the song he had heard from the empty ruin, the roof that collapsed immediately as Darab came out from under it, and the story told by the washer and his wife.
When the letter reached Homai, she remembered what her servants had told her about the washer who drew the chest out of the water, and realized that Darab, the young man she saw when visiting her soldiers, is her long-lost son. The rubies on his arms confirmed this beyond all doubt.
Homai summoned Darab and asked his forgiveness for her past deeds. She then gathered all the nobles of the kingdom, told them the story and crowned Darab king. She remained by his side, advising and counseling him how to be a good leader for their people.
As Darab assumed the throne, Homai’s reign of thirty two years came to an end.
As Darab sat on the throne, he told the nobles of the kingdom, the magi – the religious priests, and all the renowned heroes: “I did not attain kingship through pain and efforts. This turn of fate is no doubt the deed of the great god. Therefore, I will always be grateful to god, and treat my subjects with justice and equality.” He summoned the washer and his wife, his adoptive parents, and bestowed abundant precious gifts upon them.
After fighting on other frontiers, Darab went back to fight Rome. The emperor himself set out towards him, and a battle broke out between the two armies. The Romans were defeated. This time, too, the emperor sought peace. Darab’s councelors advised him to agree to the emperor’s request and make peace with Rome, on the condition that Rome pay tribute to Iran and the emperor give Darab his daughter, Nahid, for a wife. The emperor agreed to pay one hundred thousand golden eggs a year as tribute to Iran and send his daughter Nahid as a bride to Darab, with a caravan of camels loaded with gold, silver, and royal garments.
One night, Darab slept next to Nahid, and foul smell came out of her mouth. He turned his face to the other side, and in the morning called the doctors. They gave her an herb named Eskandar to drive the bad breath out. But the memory of the foul smell did not leave Darab.
Darab sent Nahid back to her father, Filqus, the Roman emperor. Darab did not know that Nahid was pregnant at the time. The baby was born nine months later; his mother named him Eskandar, after the breath-freshening herb.
On that same night, a white foal was born in the emperor’s stables. Filqus deemed the birth of the foal a good omen. He adopted Eskandar as his son, so the Romans would not say that his pregnant daughter was sent back to him from Iran.
Eskandar grew up as the son of the Roman emperor, and became a handsome, robust and talented young man.
Darab took another wife, who bore him a son named Dara.
After twelve years of kingship, Darab fell ill and passed away, and Dara inhe–rited his throne. Years later, Eskandar came back from Macedonia to Iran, conquered it and put an end to the great Persian Empire.
*”Darab on the River” is the first translation from Hebrew to English of a book about Iranian Mythology.
Want to listen to audio editions?
Purchase a subscription and enjoy unlimited access to all features.
By subscribing you contribute and support authors, translators and editors.