|"His only companion was a turtledove." Florczak. R.|
Once upon a time, in Persia, in the time when it was “a land of princes and poets” lived a girl named Settareh. She had been given this name, which meant “Star” because of the configuration of the stars at her birth. The child was born with a star-shaped mark on her left cheek. The little one had “scarcely opened her eyes to see or her mouth to cry” when her mother was taken by death. The infant was fed but not nurtured. She grew up lonely, and, as soon as she was old enough to walk, was left to fend for herself. The years passed, and despite being forced to live on scraps, she grew to be a lovely maiden. Even clothed in the castoffs of her stepsisters and aunts, her beauty shone through. “The brows above her dark eyes arched as gracefully as the path of an arrow, and her long black hair gleamed like polished ebony.” This made her stepsisters mad with envy. They mocked her for her birthmark, telling her to stop playing in the mud. Settareh scrubbed then, as hard as she might, but the mark remained. There came a day that the girl’s father came to visit the quarters of the women. The occasion was No Ruz, the Persian New Year. Father came to announce that Prince Merhdad was celebrating with a feast. All the women of the house were invited, and so must have new clothes. Father gave a gold coin to each, including to Settareh. Now “each girl and woman, no matter her age, covered her head with a cloak so that no stranger might look on her face. Then, like a flock of blackbirds,” the womenfolk flocked to market. There, donkeys and goats added to the cacophony of sounds. Street sellers called out their wares and many voices jabbered at once. The smells of cinnamon and ginger filled the air, and travelers from Red Sea and China displayed their finely woven rugs. The scent of roasting almonds filled the air. Settrareh followed her nose to the source, and traded part of her gold coin for a paper twist of hot spiced nuts. The small silver coins of her change would be enough —she thought—to buy cloth for the New Year. She walked on, and that’s when she saw an old woman, shivering with hunger. The lady’s robe was tattered and her eyes without hope. Settareh felt the coins in her hand...she did not need cloth as badly as the old one needed food. Swiftly, she put most of her coins into the old woman’s hands. “ Good fortune come to you!” was the grateful response. Well, thought Settareh to herself, she might still be able to buy a bit of cloth for a pretty new sash. But the very next stall held something that held her eyes. A jug, of such a color blue as to pierce Settareh’s very heart with beauty. She had to have it! The merchant was a kind man. He could see the effect that the blue color had on this girl, and so he sold her the jug for her remaining coins. How Settareh’s sister’s laughed when they saw how she had squandered he money! The fool of a girl was the only female in the house who would not have a stitch of new clothing for No Ruz. And the holiday was only eight days away. “Already the snow that iced the Alburz Mountains was melting” in the sunshine of the coming spring. Settareh sat and listened to the turtledoves calling in the pomegranate trees. She stroked her blue jug, and said aloud, “I wish you were filled with jasmine blossoms.” Suddenly, the air filled with their scent. The jug was magic! She could feel the jug’s vibrations in her fingertips. Now she asked the jug for something to eat. At once, sweet figs and apricots appeared before her. When she said she was cold, “a warm shawl of the softest goat hair” snuggled over her. A pari, a kind of fairy, was in the jar! When the girl confided her loneliness to it, the turtledove flew down to keep her company. At length, the eve of No Ruz came. Alone at home, after her stepmother and stepsisters, aunts and cousins and grandmothers had all left for the palace, Settareh drew out her jug. She politely asked for No Ruz clothing, and “ the jug in her hands grew warm and began to jiggle. “ Suddenly a “ dark red silk dress, the color of pomegranate seeds, was spread before her. Beside it lay a golden pendant to hang about her neck, and turquoise bracelets to wear on her her wrists.” For her feet, “ two small diamond studded anklets to sparkle at her ankles.” Now she slipped into the new garb, thanked the sari, and said, “ I am ready to go.” At once, she was outside of the palace. As she gracefully dashed up the marble stairway, she noticed a man. He “stared boldly back at her, smiled, and stroked his beard.” Settareh ran on, and came to the feasting room. She kept her head turned so that no one, not even her stepsisters Nahid and Leila would recognize her. The sound of zithers and lutes reverberated as platters of “roast lamb and whitefish, spiced cucumbers, sweet oranges and tart rhubarb” were passed along the table. There were even goblets of fresh snow, brought down from high on the mountain. Time flew, and Settareh knew she had tarried too long. Her stepmother would beat her if Settareh were not home before she got there. She ran through the streets so quickly that she did not notice when one of her anklet’s tinkled into the gutter. A moment later, it was washed into the canal along the streets. At home, the girl quickly put on her greasy old dress. But the diamond anklet was washed along on the current, until it lay in the shallows. Here it sparkled in the sunshine. So brilliantly did it shine that it seemed the sun blazed from the river bed itself. That morning a horse, owned by Prince Merhdad himself and brought to drink at the river, whinnied and neighed, stamping and refusing to drink. The stable boy could not force it to, but came to see what troubled it. That’s when he saw the bangle! Quickly, he dived for it and brought it up, giving it over to the horse master. He, in turn, gave it over to the prince. Now Merhdad was intrigued. He determined that he must find the girl who wore the anklet. But when he told his mother of these thoughts, she said, “ How can a man look for a maiden!” The lady announced that she herself would seek this girl. She began a door to door search, commanding each young woman in residence to try on the jeweled anklet. None could slip it on, not even the slimmest. Finally the prince’s mother arrived at Settareh’s house. Here Nahid and Leila stepped forward confidently. They had “ cleverly oiled their feet” but still, the anklet would not go on. That is when Settareh stepped forward, dressed in her lush red and turquoise. “ Please allow me, Exalted One.” she said courteously to the royal mother. And the anklet slipped right on! And Settareh lifted her skirt then, and showed its mate! So the prince’s mother said, “ Come, the prince awaits you at the palace.’ So Settareh begged for a moment to fetch her things. She ran to grab the jug, but Leila was following, and forced her to reveal its secret. Once at the palace, the prince’s mother “ gave Settareh a mirror sot that she might gaze on the prince’s face without the embarrassment of facing him “ directly. It was the man who had smile at her on No Ruz. He was the prince! He beamed now at his pretty bride, telling her that the star mark on her cheek had been foretold by his astrologer. As custom required, a celebration lasting thirty nine days commenced. On the fortieth day, the marriage would take place. But Nahid and Leila were jealous. Now they had thirty nine days to plot revenge on their fortunate sister! So the girls arranged that one would district Settareh, while the other snatched the sari’s jug. They begged the genie to help them kill their arrogant sister: the jug became boiling hot and shattered. Now those wicked girls gathered the razor sharp splinters of it. Knowing that the color was Settareh’s favorite, they came to her and insisted on styling her hair. “First, they washed it in scented rose water and then they brushed it until it shone.” Then they told her that as a married woman, she must keep her hair pinned up, and so they each pushed a lovely blue pin into Settareh’s glossy plaits. “Ouch!” she cried as they stabbed her, once, twice, three times, four times, five times. On the sixth jab, the girl vanished. She had been transformed into a “small gray turtledove” which gave its mournful call and flew away. When Prince Merhdad sought his bride, she was nowhere to be found. “ Settareh has flown, but we are here. Why not choose one of us?” suggested Leila. The prince was sickened by the suggestion, and took to his chamber. He would see no one, and took not a bite of the tempting dishes sent to his room. But he did have one companion. A little gray turtledove alighted on his window sill each day. One day, he tentatively stroked the little bird with his fingers. He felt something sharp under the soft feathers. Gently he pulled the tip, and a blue shard of glass came forth. Mystified, he felt all over the bird’s little body, Five more pins did he draw from the quivering chest, and with the last one, the bird transformed into his missing wife! Now the wedding vows were exchanged and the celebration began anew. The bride and groom “sat on a gilded couch as one thousand matched pearls were showered over them.” As for Nahid and Leila, their evil hearts festered with jealousy, and “they were so filled with rage that their hearts simply burst.” But Settareh and Merhdad were “just at the beginning of happiness.”
From The Persian Cinderella, Climo S. (1999) HarperCollins.
Notes: This story follows the very common pattern of the stepsisters killing or getting rid of the Cinderella girl. (See Ashpet, from the USA, The Silver Saucer and the Transparent Apple, from Russia, The Gift of the Crocodile, from the Spice Islands.
Montessori Connection Ages 6-12: Geography/Location/Political Map
1. Read this story and see if you can find Persia on a world map.
2. You probably cannot find it. Why? Did the country transform into a turtledove?
3. Learn that the name of the country was changed. It is called Iran now.
4. Learn about Iran: Ancient Iran (Culture of Iran Youth Series, 1), or DK Eyewitness Books: Mesopotamia or Amoo Norooz and Other Persian Folk Stories
5. Learn about Persian New Year, Nowruz:Happy Nowruz: Cooking with Children to Celebrate the Persian New Year, or Leila's Nowruz Adventure: Activity and Coloring Book, or Celebrating Norouz (Persian New Year).