Ferdowsis Shahnameh: The Epic of the Conquerors at the Time of their Defeat
A paper presented by Hamid Dabashi, Columbia University. Part of the conference The Shahnameh: Iran's National Epic.
The Shahnameh, Iran’s national epic, was composed from a prose literary archetype in the 10th century CE by Iran’s national poet, Ferdowsi (c. 940 – 1020 CE), whom many Iranians consider to be the father of their language. It exists in more than a thousand complete and fragmentary manuscripts, some of which are beautifully illustrated by excellent specimens of classical Persian art. It is some 50,000 distiches (100,000 lines) long, which makes it nearly twice the size of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined. The Shahnameh as Iran’s national epic is central to Iranians’ sense of cultural identity. It is the text that defines who is culturally Iranian regardless of that person’s citizenship, language, or religion. In addition to Iranians who live in Persia proper, many Tajiks, Kurds, Beluchis, and others relate to the narrative of the Shahnameh as their “ethnic history.” For this reason, its influence and importance extends beyond the borders of Iran and the limits of Persian literature.