The Shahnameh of Ferdowsi: Reviving the Persian identity and culture ( Archive )

More than a thousand years ago, a Persian poet named Ferdowsi of Tous collected and put into heroic verse the millennium old mythological and epic traditions of Iran. It took him thirty years to write the sixty thousand verses called “The Shahnameh”.

“This monumental tome is one of the most important literary works of Iran and like other great epics, such as Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, Nibelungenlied and Ramayana, it is a record of human’s imaginative consciousness. It is well known worldwide and has been adapted throughout the Near East, Central Asia and India,” said Dr Farzad Ghaemi, an assistant professor of the Department of Persian Language and Literature at Ferdowsi University of Mashhad and a specialist of Shahnameh, epic literature and mythology.

“Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh is a collection of epic stories which are narratively linked and have formed a huge whole, not a whole with independent components, but one that is linked with an integrated longitudinal direction,” he added. “Similar to many other literary works such as Khodaynameh, Shahanameh has various political, religious and historical approaches which make it a type of hagiology,” Ghaemi went on saying.

“Hagiology is not only the narration of historical events, but also a description of ideology, world formation, and the universe. Shahnameh of Ferdowsi has a historical, cultural, literal and civilizational background, an aspect which is lacking in many other international epics. It surpasses at least 500 years of Demythologization of written epics. For this reason, it is more closely related to the intellectual space of civilized human life, which makes it incomparable with many other well-known epics,” he said.

“This great work of art has had a significant contribution to the formation and protection of the Iranian and Shia identities at two levels, namely the textual level among elites and the narrative level among narrators and story tellers. In fact, if we aim to find a couple of keywords for the Iranian discourse in the modern era, one would definitely be Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh,” said Dr. Ghaemi.

“The context found in Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh has the capacity to revive the lost identity of Iranians. In fact, in western literature, many texts are clear imitations from the stories of Shahnameh, which indicates that Shahnameh has had a great potential to influence many literary masterpieces of the world and it therefore deserves to be mentioned as one of the most influential epic works of all time,” he noted.

“Shahnameh has a unique story-telling style. It is, therefore, easier to translate Shahnameh than the poems of Hafiz and Khayyam. This is one of the reasons for the huge influence of Shahnameh on many international literary works,” Ghaemi said.

Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh is a documentary piece of literature which expresses the role of Iranians in forming the human identity. This masterpiece is on the one side a human story and on the other the story of Iran. Also, it portrays the struggle of man with his destiny. The human race has always had a never-ending battle with destiny, history, and his own world, and Shahnameh has been successful in narrating this long-standing battle.

“The stories of Shahnameh narrate the long history of the Iranian nation. It begins with the creation of the world and original myths about the arts of civilization (fire, cooking, metallurgy, social structures, etc.) and ends with the Arab conquest of Persia in the seventh century A.C.E. A mix of mythology and history, the characters of Shahnameh take the readers on heroic adventures filled with superhuman champions, magical creatures, heart-wrenching love stories, and centuries-long battles,” he continued. “Shahnameh is a book without any impact of race, ethnicity, religion and nationality. Many western scholars have conducted valuable studies on different aspects of Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh”.

“Wherever Persian influence has spread, the stories of the Shahnameh have become deeply embedded in that culture, as amply attested by their appearance in such works as The Kite Runner and the love poems of Rumi and Hafez. The sweep and psychological depth of the Shahnameh is nothing less than magnificent as it recounts classic tales like the tragedy of Rostam and Sohrab,” Ghaemi said.

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