Friday, June 19, 2009


Thanks to Min's note, I've been reading about the Iranian protests on Nico Pitney's top notch blog.

I noticed this shot among all the pictures of protesting Persians yesterday. There have been protests in Ferdowsi Square (?) and someone has given Ferdowsi a green armband- the symbolism is great.

Hakīm Abu'l-Qāsim Firdawsī Tūsī, or just Ferdowsi, was a Persian poet from the tenth century who has the honor of having created a foundational text, the Shāhnāma, generally called the Book of Kings in English. A foundational text is one that was central to the founding of a culture- examples would include The Iliad, The Nibelungenlied, The Baghavad Gita, The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Song of Roland. They tend to be looking backwards on past events, centering on men and battles, often with a mythical element. We could also call them national epics.

The Book of Kings was written in pure Persian at a time when Persian was being snuffed out by a deluge of Arabic. The book tells the history of Persia from the creation of the world to the Arab invasions in the seventh century. It is a monumental work of heroes and legends- monumental taken in both senses- the full work runs to 990 chapters. The first 2/3rds takes place before the conquest of Alexander the Great, and the Book is also an invaluable source for information about Zoroastrianism.

I've yet to read the complete text- a full translated version hasn't been published since the 1920s. However, Dick Davis's recent abriged translation is supposed to be excellent, and when I get the chance I'm going to read that to see if it would be suited for a World Civilizations course I'm slowly designing. Michael Dirda's review is here.

You can order the Penguin Classics edition of the Dick Davis translation here.

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