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Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings by [Ferdowsi, Abolqasem]
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Length: 930 pages Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled Page Flip: Enabled
Language: English
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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.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 11850 KB
  • Print Length: 930 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0143104934
  • Publisher: Viking (2 March 2006)
  • Sold by: Penguin US
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001RTC0Y2
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Screen Reader: Supported
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #323,769 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program) 4.2 out of 5 stars 66 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Step Into A Lost World Of Fantasy And Wisdom 25 August 2013
By Vimala Nowlis - Published on
Verified Purchase
Instead of translating the poetic original, the translator, Mr. Dick Davis, wisely chose to use the storytellers' version and only sprinkling occasional poetry for emphasis and flavor. It makes for easy reading for foreigners but still conveyed the essence of Persian culture. To complement the popular verse version, he used popular art of the market place as illustrations instead of the highly refined style of the elite. However, I do miss the elegance of miniature paintings and the beauty of courtly illustrations.

I have always wondered why Shahnameh is considered by the Persians/Iranians as their national epic even though the mythical period took place in Central Asia and Afghanistan with no mention of the traditional Persian origin or the Achaemenids until Alexander showed up. Mr. Dick Davis explained that the poet Ferdowsi was writing for the Samanid shah who ruled only in eastern Iran. Besides, the Samanids claimed descent from a Parthian general who started his career in Khorasan and Tranoxiana and later even briefly claiming the Sassanid throne. As the epic was an assertion of national identity, it ended at the end of the Sassanid dynasty when the Arab conquest incorporated Persia into Dal al Islam.

Since this is the Book of Kings, it began with the first king. The early mythical kings were the ones who taught the people the necessary skills for the development of civilization. Following the Zoroastrian tradition and Islamic belief, the conflict of good and evil started early and remained front and center. But right and wrong were drawn along the tribal lines as one could always justify his action by claiming the enemy was a demon. And a man's worth was measured by his strength and valor. To this day, strong men and wrestling champions are still highly esteemed in Central Asia. As the world was still small, everything to the west was Rome, everything to the east was China, everything to the south was India, and there were only demons in the north. The quarrels of the feuding princes explained the historical hostilities between the Iranians of Persia, the Turks from Transoxania, and the Greeks of the West. Since angels and demons and magical creatures lived among men, it's not surprising that some men lived hundreds of years. That's one of the reasons why the great Rostam was able to accomplish so many fantastic heroic feats. There were even some love stories and one had hints of Rapunzel and the Firebird. While the heroic house rose in Sistan, the royal house degenerated into chaos. Right and wrong were perverted and vengeance became the main theme as China and India were drawn in.

To transition from myth to legend, Ferdowsi borrowed the ancient Akkadian story of Sargon the Great for Darab and had him rescued from the Euphrates. Of course Darab turned out to be the secret heir to the Persia royal house. After defeating the Greeks, Darab had an unacknowledged son by the daughter of the Greek king Filqus. This son just happened to be Sekandar. After abandoning the Greek princess and her son, Darab went home to civilization and had a legitimate son Dara by a proper wife. Because Sekandar the Greek was now the first born son of Darab, his conquest of Persian, though still a disaster, was no longer shameful to the proud Persians. Thus, Persia's national pride was restored. But, strangely, the Greeks were already Christians and Sekandar's title was Caesar. After he made a pilgrimage to Abraham's house in Mecca, he visited the queen of Andalusia and the emperor of China. He then travelled the world and had many fantastic adventures reminiscent of Sinbad's voyages. Creative license indeed!

Legend finally yielded to history and five generations in the story covered five hundred years in history thus conveniently skipped over the Greek Seleucid dynasty and the Parthian Arsacid dynasty and jumped right into the Persian Sassanid dynasty. To legitimize his rule, Ardeshir claimed descent from the Achaemenids. Here, he was transformed into a descendant of the Kayanids for the same reason. This being such a long epic, some stories began to repeat themselves. As Sassanid was a Zoroastrian dynasty, astrologers predicted everyone's fate and the chief priest functioned as chief advisor. In an increasingly centralized society where the kings held absolute power, the degree of violence and brutality also increased. However, right and wrong were still subjective. When a Persian king committed horrendous atrocities against his enemies, he was hailed as a great just king. But when he did the same to the Iranians, he was cursed as an evil unjust king. Bahram Gur became the idealized king on whom was hung the dreams and fantasies of the lost golden age. Somehow, the emperor of China had become the lord of Turan and the people of Central Asia became known as Chinese Turks. Then Khosrow Parviz and Shirin's love story was elaborated by later poets into one of the most beautiful love stories in Persian literature. As no empire can be conquered without it being corrupt from within first, the fall of the Sassanids, in my opinion, was due more from the chaos and splintering after the death of Khosrow Parviz than from the Arabs' religious zeal. As Shahnameh keeps telling us, fortunes change as the heaven turns and nothing lasts forever in this fleeting world.

Unfortunately, by the time Ferdowsi finished his epic, the Samanids had been replaced by the Ghaznavid Turks, the bad guys in his Shahnameh. Poor Ferdowsi had to find refuge in the home of a Sassanid descendant. Fortunately, Persians/Iranians, seeking their pre-Islamic heritage, took up the tales and kept them alive. As the saying goes, "Why let the facts ruin a good fiction?" In a world of oppression, larger than life heroes and bigger than reality fantasies are what people need to brighten their dreary days and give them hope. That's why the stories of Shahnameh have become immortal.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful compilation of Persian legends and the back-stabbing that princes do 3 February 2015
By James Kenney - Published on
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Go out and buy this book now! It is a wonderful compilation of Persian legends and the back-stabbing that princes do to those who support them "too much"! Comparable is some ways to The Golden Bough combined with Arabian Nights, the stories related in this superb book are totally unknown by Western readers, which makes them delightful, if occasionally gruesome. Davis' translation is a master work, somehow infusing prose with the kind of poetry myths require. A window into the soul of Persia, perhaps especially relevant now.
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterpiece 15 October 2016
By Dan Orbach - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The epic is greater than life - and the translator combines rare expertise with beautiful poetic language, and thus conveys some of the heroic spirit of the original. The choice to translate from the nakl version, which is partly prose, can be debated, but it's certainly legitimate. And the result is amazing. If you're interested in myths, legends, Persian culture or even if you want to understand an important edifice in modern Iranian culture, read this book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not complete, but good. 24 November 2015
By Sarosh Afzal - Published on
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It's a good rendition, BUT, this of course an abridged attempt at Shanameh. I have 3 different copies of Shahnameh, and all of them have things the others don't so if I want to actually enjoy them properly I have to simultaneously read all three, which is kind of cumbersome. There are a few major things missing from the chapters in this book, but other than that it's very good.
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read as far as you can cope up with its slow pace. 3 December 2016
By Ash Qureshi - Published on
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Here’s some advice to add up some pace
No need to read the description of every race
Contains repetition I totally agree
Translated well by Davis ‘n it’s worth a read
Description of evil will look like the same
For good characters you’ll see no change
So focus on events but not on every word
Enjoy ‘n read like the way you just heard