The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
(The Epic of Kings)
TALES OF ANCIENT IRAN
The mausoleum of Master Ferdowsi in Tus
Master Abolqasem Mansour Ferdowsi (circa CE 940 -1020), Iranian eoic-poet known as the Homer of Iran, born near Tus in the province of Khorasan. He was married at the age of 28 and some eight years later began the work for which he is most famous, the great epic poem ShÂHNÂmeh (The Book of Kings).
The work is based on a poem by the Iranian poet Daqiqi (died about 980). Ferdowsi spent 35 years writing this epic and completed it in 1010, when he was about 70 years old. The poem contains 60,000 rhyming couplets, making it more than seven times the length of Homer's Iliad.
It deals first with the legendary Iranian kings: Q-mars, Hushang, Tahmuress, and the most famous of the group, Jamshid, who reigned for 500 years during the golden age of the earth. Following this happy period came the evil rule of the Arab Dhahhák, or Zohak (Adzdi-dahaka in Avestan), who was tempted by Ahriman (devil), his own ancestor. As a result, Dahhák fell into sin, becoming more and more evil until Kavah, a smith, rebelled and established his leather apron as the banner of revolt. Finally, the tyrant was bound and confined beneath Mount Damavand on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Soon after this point in the poem an episode of considerable beauty is inserted; it recounts the loves of Zal, of the royal line of Iran, and Rudabeh, the daughter of Mehrab the king of Kabul. Their union resulted in the birth of the most romantic of all the heroes of the Shahnameh, Rustam, who occupies a position in Iranian legend somewhat analogous to that of Hercules in Greek and Latin literature.
The epic progresses through Iranian legend to historic times, tracing the reigns of the Sasanian Emperors down to the Muslim conquest and the death of Yazdegerd III in 651. Thus, the work constitutes a valuable source for the early history of Iran, which is necessary to supplement the accounts given in the old Persian cuneiform inscriptions and the Avesta. In addition to his poetic incentive, Ferdowsi had a distinctly patriotic motive in writing the Shahnameh. He plainly desired to keep alive in the hearts of his people the faith of their ancestors and the glories of their deeds so that the Iranian would not become mere puppets under Arab domination.
The epic contains an introductory eulogy of Soltan Mahmud of Ghaznavdì, to whom the work is dedicated. Ferdowsi went to Mahmud's court to present his work as a tribute and was awarded the sum of 20,000 dihrams. The disappointed poet took his revenge by writing a bitter satire on Mahmud, which he sent to the soltan as a substitute for his former eulogy.
Ferdowsi then fled to Herat in east of Iran (today in Afghanistan), and from there to Tabarestan, where the reigning prince protected him. He later settled in Baghdad where he composed an epic of 9000 couplets, Yusof and Zoleikha. The work is an Arabic version of the biblical story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife, a favourite theme of Oriental poets.
In his old age Ferdowsi retired to his native town near Tus, where, according to legend, he received Mahmud'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.
Stories of Shâhnâmeh (The Book of Kings)
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