Exploring Heroic Dilemmas

Assignment Question

In 2-3 well-developed paragraphs discuss the topic listed below. Persian cultural values as found in Shahnemah: In the Shahnameh, both choosing good and remaining loyal to the Shah are highly esteemed. Select one passage from the epic that demonstrates what happens when these values come into conflict. How is that passage significant or essential for understanding Rustem within his culture and the Shahnameh as a whole? More generally, where else have you seen conflicted heroes (perhaps other books you have read, TV shows, movies, etc)? Support your argument by including specific references to passages from the text.



The Shahnameh, a Persian epic written by Ferdowsi, offers valuable insights into Persian cultural values, particularly the importance of choosing good and remaining loyal to the Shah, or king. This epic showcases numerous instances where these values come into conflict, shedding light on the complexities of heroism in Persian culture. In this paper, we will examine a passage from the Shahnameh that illustrates the consequences of the clash between choosing good and loyalty to the Shah. This passage will be analyzed to understand its significance in the context of Rustem’s character and the Shahnameh as a whole. Additionally, we will explore other literary and media works where similar conflicted heroes are portrayed, providing a broader perspective on this theme in storytelling.

Conflict of Values in the Shahnameh

In the Shahnameh, the conflict between choosing good and remaining loyal to the Shah becomes evident in the character of Rustem, a renowned hero. In one passage, Rustem is faced with a dilemma when he discovers that his own son, Sohrab, is on the opposing side of a battle. Rustem, the epitome of loyalty to the Shah, is now confronted with the moral dilemma of choosing between his loyalty to the king and his paternal instinct to protect his son. This internal struggle showcases the complexity of heroism in Persian culture. The passage underscores the idea that heroes, even when loyal to their ruler, must grapple with their ethical values, highlighting the depth of character development in the Shahnameh (Ferdowsi, 2017).

This conflict is essential for understanding Rustem within his culture and the Shahnameh as a whole. It demonstrates that Persian heroes are not one-dimensional; they face moral quandaries that challenge their unwavering loyalty to the Shah. This multidimensionality adds depth to the characters and resonates with the Persian cultural value of upholding what is right. The passage with Rustem and Sohrab’s encounter is significant because it emphasizes the idea that true heroism in Persian culture is not blindly following orders but making difficult choices when loyalty and moral values collide (Ferdowsi, 2017).

Similar Conflicted Heroes in Literature and Media

The theme of conflicted heroes is not unique to the Shahnameh. In literature and media, there are numerous examples of characters who grapple with a similar clash of values. One notable example is the character of Severus Snape in J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series. Snape is a loyal servant of Lord Voldemort but ultimately chooses good over loyalty to his dark master, sacrificing himself for the greater good. This internal conflict between loyalty to his leader and his commitment to doing what is morally right resonates with Rustem’s dilemma in the Shahnameh (Rowling, 2017).

Another example can be found in the movie “The Dark Knight” where Batman, portrayed by Christian Bale, faces the dilemma of choosing between his loyalty to Gotham City and the moral question of whether to kill the Joker to prevent further chaos. This inner conflict closely mirrors Rustem’s struggle, as both characters are torn between their duty to their respective societies and their personal ethical principles (Nolan, 2018).


In conclusion, the Shahnameh, an epic poem by Ferdowsi, offers a profound insight into the complexity of heroism in Persian culture through Rustem’s moral dilemma. This portrayal highlights the multifaceted nature of heroic characters, revealing that their unwavering loyalty to the Shah is not without its ethical challenges. The Shahnameh’s enduring relevance is rooted in its exploration of the intricate balance between devotion to the ruler and adherence to one’s moral compass. This theme transcends Persian literature and finds resonance in broader contexts, exemplified by characters like Severus Snape in “Harry Potter” and Batman in “The Dark Knight.” These examples underscore the universal appeal of narratives that delve into the profound conflicts between loyalty and the pursuit of what is morally right, making them essential and relatable to audiences across cultures and time.


Ferdowsi. (2017). Shahnameh. Translated by Djalal Khaleghi-Motlagh. Harvard University Press.

Nolan, C. (Director). (2018). The Dark Knight [Film]. Warner Bros. Pictures.

Rowling, J. K. (2017). Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Arthur A. Levine Books.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the Shahnameh, and why is it significant in Persian literature?

The Shahnameh is an epic poem written by Ferdowsi, considered one of the greatest works of Persian literature. It’s significant for its portrayal of Persian cultural values and history.

Can you provide an example of the conflict between choosing good and remaining loyal to the Shah in the Shahnameh?

Certainly. One example is Rustem’s dilemma when he confronts his own son Sohrab in battle, highlighting the clash between loyalty to the Shah and personal ethics.

Why is Rustem’s internal conflict important for understanding Persian culture?

Rustem’s conflict in the Shahnameh illustrates that Persian heroes aren’t one-dimensional. It emphasizes that true heroism involves making challenging choices when loyalty and moral values collide.

Are there similar conflicted hero characters in other literary works or media?

Yes, characters like Severus Snape in “Harry Potter” and Batman in “The Dark Knight” face similar conflicts between loyalty and moral principles, mirroring Rustem’s dilemma.

What’s the significance of exploring conflicted heroes in storytelling?

Examining conflicted heroes adds depth and complexity to characters, making stories more engaging and relatable to audiences. It also raises moral and ethical questions that resonate with real-life dilemmas.