Completed around 1010 A.D., after about thirty years of work, Hakim Abul-Qasim Mansur (known as Ferdowsi [or Firdausi] Tusi) (935-941 – 1020-1026) wrote a history of the shahs (kings) of ancient Persia in a famous work known as the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi. It tells the story of the Iranians, combining myth and orally transmitted legend, with religious and historic material. Written in classical Persian, it is an important Persian literary and linguistic treasure, the national epic, and of value to those studying ancient Persia. It doesn’t attempt to be what we westerners today consider objectively historical, but shows cultural values and offers ethical advice and models for conduct.
Ferdowsi wrote about the history of Persia and the ancient kings of Persia until the 7th century Arab conquest as an epic, in verse. It is often compared with the works attributed to Homer, the Epic of Gilgamesh, or the Ramayana. It is described as the longest epic written by one writer, although one should note that Firdowsi started it making extensive use of the unfinished (perhaps 1000 verses) history of Zoroastrian history and belief, written by Abu Mansur Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Daqiqi Balkhi (935 or 942 – 980). He also based his work on another Shahnameh, the Khvatay-Namak, which was based on material gathered by Zoroastrian priests. Supposedly, Ferdowsi was inspired to make the epic as long as possible — it was 50,000 (or 60,000) couplets — because he had been promised a gold piece for every couplet, which he never collected.
Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh (Zoroastrian Heritage), by K. E. Eduljee.
Leoni, Francesca. “The Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/shnm/hd_shnm.htm (June 2008)
Abolqasem Ferdowsi: The Poet Who Rescued Iran, by Steve Inskeep. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=100397309
Iran Bashiri (three of whose classes I’ve taken) explains the characters of the Shahnameh: http://www.iranchamber.com/literature/shahnameh/characters_ferdowsi_shahname.php
Images from manuscripts: https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/thousand-years-of-the-persian-book/epic-of-shahnameh.html
Read the Shahnameh at http://classics.mit.edu/Ferdowsi/kings.html
Also see: Shahnama Project
Image credit: Ferdowsi and the three Ghaznavid court poets http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00routesdata/1000_1099/ghaznavids/firdausi/firdausi.html
Folio from the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp. PD courtesy of Wikipedia.