Ferdowsi and his Epic Shahnameh

December 24, 2008

ferdowsi Ferdowsi and his Epic Shahnameh, (the epic of Kings), was composed in the 10th century by Ferdowsi, a Persian poet who is the crown jewel of the Persian literature and is cherished by all Iranians and Persian speaking societies. The Shahnameh is one of the definite classic literatures of the world in which Ferdowsi tells hero’s tales of ancient Persia. It is the history of Iran’s glorious past, preserved in all time in majestic verse.

Written about 1,000 years ago, this work is as intelligible to the average, modern Iranian as the King James version of the Bible is to a modern English-speaker. The contents and the poet’s style in describing the events takes the reader back to the ancient times and makes them feel the events with every fiber in their bodies.

Master Abolghasem Mansour Ferdowsi Toosi (CE 940-1020), was born near Tus a province of Khorasan and grew to be called the Homer of Persia. He got married at the age of 28 and some 8 years later began his famous work which took 35 years to be completed. The poem contains 60,000 rhyming couplets, making it more than seven times the length of Homer’s Iliad. Unlike Homer who was a poor blind man, Ferdowsi was a well-educated, intellectual member of a rather wealthy social class. Hence, his poetry was popular among those with higher education, and reading and understanding his book has never been an easy task for the ordinary people. Alike Homer though, Ferdowsi’s epics are an icon to national identity.An important feature of Ferdowsi’s work is that during the period that Arabic language was known as the main language of science and literature, he used only Persian, (Pahlavi), in his masterpiece and claimed that “Persian language is revived by this work”.

Another famous work of Ferdowsi is Yousof and Zoleikha, an epic of 9000 couplets, which is an Arabic version of the bibilical story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife.

In his old age Ferdowsi retired to his native town near Tus, where, according to legend, he received Mahmoud’s forgiveness just before his death. The Shahnameh is perhaps best known to English readers through Rostam and Sohrab, a poem by the English poet Matthew Arnold, which is based on the Persian epic.

Today there is a park named after him, “Bagh-e-Ferdowsi”, which occupies about 30 hectares in the steep foothills of the Alborz mountains in Iran.

Category: Persian Culture

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