Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings
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Among the great works of world literature, perhaps one of the least familiar to English readers is the Shahnameh: ThePersian Book of Kings, the national epic of Persia. This prodigious narrative, composed by the poet Ferdowsi between the years 980 and 1010, tells the story of pre- Islamic Iran, beginning in the mythic time of Creation and continuing forward to the Arab invasion in the seventh century.
As a window on the world, Shahnameh belongs in the company of such literary masterpieces as Dante’s Divine Comedy, the plays of Shakespeare, the epics of Homer— classics whose reach and range bring whole cultures into view. In its pages are unforgettable moments of national triumph and failure, human courage and cruelty, blissful love and bitter grief.
In tracing the roots of Iran, Shahnameh initially draws on the depths of legend and then carries its story into historical times, when ancient Persia was swept into an expanding Islamic empire. Now Dick Davis, the greatest modern translator of Persian poetry, has revisited that poem, turning the finest stories of Ferdowsi’s original into an elegant combination of prose and verse. For the first time in English, in the most complete form possible, readers can experience Shahnameh in the same way that Iranian storytellers have lovingly conveyed it in Persian for the past thousand years.
and give away whatever remains once this is achieved; don’t let one day’s grief into your heart. God has provided for you, and in the same way He will provide for your son, the sapling who has sprung from your root. Can you not see that His treasury is full, and that He has arrayed the world in beauty? God is not sparing with his gifts, and you will find no greater generosity than His; do not despair! FORUD, THE SON OF SEYAVASH When a great warrior embarks on war he should not trust his
I see no enemy in all the world, neither open nor secret, who does not shudder at the mention of your name: shudder I say, he gives up his soul there and then. No one in all the world is your equal, unless it be that foolish son of Zal. His valor lifts him above the skies, and he thinks of himself as no king’s subject. He was a slave before Kavus, and he lived by the grace of Khosrow; but about me, Goshtasp, he says, ‘His crown is new, mine is ancient; no man anywhere is my equal in battle, not
audience, but Mazdak said, “This hall is too small to accommodate such a large number, it would be better if the king went out onto the plain.” The king gave orders that his throne be taken from the palace to the plain. A hundred thousand of Mazdak’s followers were gathered there, and they came confidently before the king. Mazdak said to the king, “Your majesty, you are above all wisdom, but you should know that your son Kesra is not of our faith, and who has the right to oppose us? He must
next to the king, to show the way when battle was joined. As the horsemen attacked from both sides, the warlike elephants were there on the left; infantry went ahead of the horsemen, to watch for ways forward. When Bozorjmehr set out the army’s ranks, the whole assembly was astonished. The Indian envoy was dumbfounded and dispirited. This man of magic was bewildered, and he brooded in his heart on what he had seen: “This man has never been in India, nor Has he so much as seen the game
life. Take the keys from my treasurer, and choose whatever you wish.” Wise Borzui went to the treasury, but he gave the treasurer little enough to do. There were gold and jewels to right and left, but he wanted no more than a suit of royal clothes. He clothed himself in fine fabrics and quickly made his way back to Kesra’s court. As he bowed before the throne the king said to him, “You have been through so much, so why did you leave my treasury without taking either money or jewels? A man who has