The Heroine Ancient Iran Wanted
The mythology of ancient Iran comes across, to some extent, like (really) old-school superhero movies. Each of the characters has solo adventures, but when the country is endangered, they all band together to break out the industrial-size cans of whoop ass. A mainstay of these o.g. Iranian Avengers was Banu Goshasp: accomplished butt-kicker and daughter of team leader Rostam.
But unlike most female superheroes, Banu Goshasp got her own movies. Plenty of them.
The cycle of stories which feature Banu Goshasp1 “Banu” is just an honorific title, like “Lady.” Not strictly necessary, but you almost never see her name written without it. are collectively known as the Sistani Cycle, and revolve around the heroes of the Sistan region. The most famous piece of literature featuring them is the Shahnameh2 “The Book of Kings,” which, at 60,000 verses, is the longest epic poem ever written by a single person. It’s the national epic of Iran, and covers far more than just the Sistani heroes. But the Sistani part, which takes up a majority of the whole, is all we’re focusing on., which, in most versions, doesn’t actually feature Banu Goshasp. She does, however, show up in a ton of other texts, primarily her own 900-verse epic poem, the Banugoshaspnameh. Which is pretty great.
Banu Goshasp’s first big adventure was one of rebellion. Although her father Rostam strictly warned her not to go into the neighboring kingdom to hunt, she and her brother Faramarz, being teenagers who knew better than everyone else, went anyway. In response, Rostam: disguised himself as an itinerant wanderer; threatened to beat them up and sell them into slavery; and started wrasslin’ with them.
Rostam had some unorthodox ideas about parenting.
After Rostam narrowly beat each of them one-on-one, Banu Goshasp said “fuck it, I ain’t gonna be a slave,” and started going at her father with a sword. After a couple rounds of stabbing, she realized she was actually cutting up her dad and stopped short of killing him. (he, being the Superman to the Sistani heroes’ Justice League, was fine)
In the second of her adventures, Banu Goshasp was adventuring about when a prince from a neighboring country fell in love with her. Soon thereafter he left, but a Turkish warrior, figuring that she’s probably pretty awesome if a prince fell for her, decided the thing to do was to abduct her.
She then cut him in half. The end.
A Turkish warrior decided to abduct her. She cut him in half. The end.
Her longest story revolved around the man she did finally marry. This was an arranged marriage, set up after her dad heard that there was a banquet of drunk guys nearby who all wanted to marry her. Figuring that a frat row’s worth of alcoholics was a fine place for matchmaking, unconventional father Rostam went forth to present them with a challenge. He laid out a big carpet and had all 400 of the fine upstanding young drunks sit on it. He then shook the carpet vigorously, and only one lush was able to stay on: the mighty hero Giv, who was now to be her husband.
Giv, however, was no match for Banu Goshasp – at least if she had anything to say about it. Come their wedding night, she beat him up, bound him with rope, and stuffed him in a closet. When he eventually wriggled free, Giv had to get Rostam to intervene in order to prevent her from stuffing him into the closet again. She relented and they had a pretty decent marriage afterwards, or so the story goes.
On their wedding night, she beat up her husband, bound him in rope, and stuffed him in a closet.
- She once rescued a fairy king from the king of all djinns (who had himself transformed into a fierce lion). In the end, she killed said djinn king, which I didn’t even think was possible.
- She went on adventures in India, where she fought and killed demons alongside her brother, Faramarz.
- She embroidered her own portrait, which was reproduced and spread over the world, letting everyone know how gorgeous she was. Not a shy woman, Banu Goshasp.
- In a war with one of the toughest opponents in the entire myth cycle (the guy actually ends up killing Faramarz), she defeated an endless stream of warriors, humiliating them in the process. After a particularly nasty warrior insulted her for being a woman, she informed him she that was going to: shave off his beard; kill him; chop him up; and feed him to dogs. Not necessarily in that order, either. She carried through on around half of said threats.
Sadly, none of her adventures have been directly translated into English, and as of this writing, only summaries exist for her various exploits.
|↑1||“Banu” is just an honorific title, like “Lady.” Not strictly necessary, but you almost never see her name written without it.|
|↑2||“The Book of Kings,” which, at 60,000 verses, is the longest epic poem ever written by a single person. It’s the national epic of Iran, and covers far more than just the Sistani heroes. But the Sistani part, which takes up a majority of the whole, is all we’re focusing on.|
I had a ton of fun making this one! I put a lot of callbacks to her various adventures in her room.
- Chief among them is her awesome self-embroidery on the right wall. I figure if she was going to depict herself, it’d be on top of a mountain of corpses, with sparkles and rainbows. Because that’s just doing it right.
- Her closet, to the right of that, has no clothes in it, just armor and weaponry.
- Mounted on the wall above her bed are the heads of a demon and the transformed djinn king. I like the idea that it’s the first thing she sees in the morning.
- There’s a sword underneath her pillow, because of course there is.
Here’s her embroidery in greater detail:
Also: this is the fiftieth illustration I’ve put online! Woo, milestone!
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Next Time on Rejected Princesses
Setting fire to your Viking suitors: fun, but bound to earn you an unflattering nickname.