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In Persian mythology the Simurgh, or Simorgh, was the name given to a benevolent, mythical avian creature which today can be found in all periods of Greater Iranian art and literature as well as the iconography of medieval Armenia, Byzantium and other regions that were within the sphere of Iranian cultural influence. In Iranian art the Simurgh is depicted as a winged creature in the shape of a bird, gigantic enough to carry off an elephant and even a whale. It usually appears in the form of a peacock with copper colored feathers, the head of a dog and the claws of a lion; however it is sometimes depicted with a more human face.

Almost also depicted as female, Iranian legend considers the Simurgh so old that it has seen the destruction of the world three times over and has learned so much in its long life that it is thought to possess the knowledge of all the ages. In one legend the Simurgh was said to live 1700 years before plunging itself into flames, similar to the legend of the phoenix. The Simurgh was said to purify the land and waters and bestow fertility, it represented the union between earth and sky, serving as mediator between the two.

The Simurgh is thought to have originally roosted in Gaokerena, the Tree of Life, which stood in the middle of the world sea, Vounukhasa. The tree was said to house the seeds of all plant life on earth and when the Simorgh took flight from its branches its leaves shook causing the seeds of these plant to fall out. These seeds were then said to have floated around the world on the winds of Vayu-Vata and the rains of Tishtrya, eventually taking root to become the many forms of plant life we know today.

The mythical Simurgh made one of its most famous appearances in Ferdowo’s epic Shahname, the Book of Kings, where its involvement with Prince Zal was described. According to Shahname, Prince Zal, the son of mythical Persian hero Saam, was born as an albino. When Saam first laid eyes upon his son he thought the child a spawn of devils and abandoned the infant on the mountain Alborz. The cries of the child carried to the ears of the Simurgh, who lived on the mountain’s peak, the mighty bird then retrieved the child and raised him as her own.

Zal was taught much wisdom from the all knowing Simurgh, but the time soon came when the young Zal would grow into a man and wish to rejoin the human race. Though Simurgh was deeply saddened by the departure of Zal she gifted him with a single golden feather which he was to burn if he ever needed her assistance. Upon returning to his kingdom, Zal fell in love and married the beautiful Rudaba. When it came time for their first child to be born Rudaba’s labor was prolonged and terrible, Zal was convinced that his wife would die in labor, as she neared death Zal decided to summon Simurgh. Simurgh appeared upon the burning of the golden feather and instructed Zal how to perform a cesarean section, thus saving Rudaba’s life and the life of their son, who became one of the greatest Persian heroes, Rostam.

Researchers today have suggested that the legend of the Simurgh may have been based on sightings of a species of large bird which at one time may have ruled the skies over the Middle East, though it is unclear just what bird may have been the original platform for the Simurgh. With the considerable amount of time that has passed since the legend of the Simurgh began it is almost impossible to determine just where this tale took flight. Was it based on actual sightings of giant birds or perhaps it was just the product of the imagination of a gifted story teller, we may never know.

The Evidence
There is currently no known physical evidence to support the existence of the Simurgh.

The Sightings
No documented sightings of the Simurgh could be found at this time.

The Stats – (Where applicable)

• Classification: Avian
• Size: Unknown
• Weight: Unknown
• Diet: Unknown
• Location: Persian Empire, today known as the Middle East
• Movement: Flight
• Environment: Unknown