A tribute to Ajam Media Collective’s name and inspiration, this post was written by Ajam’s editors, Alex Shams, Rustin Zarkar, and Beeta Baghoolizadeh. Photographs by Preethi Nallu originally published in Al Akhbar English, republished with author permission.
Epic literature occupies a key role in formulating and maintaining cohesive national and cultural identities– elucidating the spirit and values of a society as well as exploring mythic and historical origins. Works of epic literature are often retroactively embedded with political meaning, particularly after the rise of ethnic nationalisms in the 19th and 20th centuries. For modernizing nationalists, epics served a key role as tools to both create and strengthen ethnic and linguistic unity by highlighting (and almost always, distorting) a shared national history.
The Shahnameh (Book of Kings), completed by Hakim Abul-Qasim Ferdowsi in 1010 CE, is the undisputable national epic poem of the pan-Persian-speaking world. Composed of nearly 50,000 couplets, its narrative covers Creation to the Islamic conquest of Greater Iran (Iran Zamin) in the 7th century. Accentuating this chronicle are the tales of kings and heroes— from legendary champions like Rostam to historical personalities such as Alexander the Great. Cherished by communities in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, the Caucasus, and their respective diasporas, the Shahnameh links these societies to an imagined shared cultural past.
Due to his inclusion of pre-Islamic Iranian mythology, Ferdowsi is often accurately categorized as a pioneer of linguistic and cultural preservation for the Persian-speaking world. However, many rulers of Central Asia and the Iranian Plateau have politicized the Shahnameh by promoting it as a quintessential text that delineates “Persian-ness”— standing as a testament to the perseverance of Persianate culture in the face of Arab and Turkic domination. While there is no doubt that the Shahnameh has helped conserve the rich cultural heritage of the Iranian peoples, nation-states have historically propagated several misconceptions about the Shahnameh unrelated to its content and artistic form. These myths have attained the status of legend among many of the Shahnameh‘s most avid fans, despite their falsehood.
These myths include, but are not limited to:
- The Shahnameh is devoid of any Arabic vocabulary and is the first textual example of a resurgent Persian language.
- Iran’s cultural encounters with the Arab World and Turkic peoples have been confrontational and highly detrimental to the supposed ‘cultural purity’ of the Iranian peoples.
- The Shahnameh is essentially a secular text and indirectly or directly opposes Islam, Islamicate societies, and/or Arabs.
With this overview, we do not intend to lessen the significance of the Shahnameh for the Persian-speaking world. By focusing on Iran and its 20th century national enterprise, we hope to place Ferdowsi and the Shahnameh in their historical contexts, analyzing them as an examples of cross-cultural exchange—not ethno-linguistic exclusion.
Empire, Language, and Literature
When Arab armies swept across the Iranian plateau in the 7th century, the Persian Empire crumbled under the weight of its political and social burdens, swiftly succumbing to the Arab conquerors. Over the course of 200-300 years, the majority of Iranians gradually converted from Zoroastrianism to Islam. The Arab conquest connected previously fragmented regions, and as a result, Arabic emerged as the lingua franca, allowing for greater cultural exchange as armies, thoughts, and ideas moved across the caliphate.
Often, modern scholars position Ferdowsi as the savior of Persian, suggesting that the Arab conquests silenced Persian-speakers until Ferdowsi wrote his magnum opus. This claim, however, dismisses the rich history of Persian poetry prior to the Shahnameh. Abu Abdullah Jafar ibn Muhammad Rudaki of Panjrud, in present-day Tajikistan, for example, lived about a century earlier than Ferdowsi and is credited with writing the first Persian poems in the new script adopted from Arabic.
Additionally, Ferdowsi did not invent the “book of kings” genre and often borrowed from his contemporaries. Abu-Mansur Daqiqi, also from Tus, wrote an earlier shahnameh. Ferdowsi acknowledges and praises Daqiqi in his exordium and used his couplets extensively, including around one thousand lines on Zoroaster. What is special about Ferdowsi’s, then, is not that it retrieved Persian from a linguistic vacuum, but rather that it was a seminal work of Persian, one of the largest of its time.
Structure and Content of the Shahnameh
Several tales of the Shahnameh— such as the tyranny of the Arab King Zahhak, and the long conflict between Iran and Turan— are often misread through a selectively nationalist lens, positioning Iran in opposition to the outside world. This reading places a moral and existential dichotomy between Iranians and non-Iranians. Closer examination, however, reveals that Ahriman was the source of corruption within the Shahnameh, and the frontiers beyond the Iranian plateau were often sought out by the Iranian protagonists, including Siyavash and Sohrab. Beyond glorifying the Iranian people, Ferdowsi also introduces nefarious Iranian characters as well, namely Sudabeh and the incompetent King Kay Kavus.
Nationalist language purists revere the Shahnameh for its strict reliance on Persian vocabulary. Many 20th century scholars, like Orientalist E.G. Browne, argued that Ferdowsi practiced linguistic protectionism— deliberately avoiding the use of Arabic. It contains 706 words of Arabic origin occurring 8,938 times— approximately 9% of the total vocabulary, compared to 30% in 10th century Persian literature. The introduction and conclusion, however, have much higher proportions of Arabic. Based on the variable proportions of Arabic in segments of the Shahnameh, Mohammad Djafar Moinfar argued that subject material and style affected the percentage of loan words, not an inherent aversion to the Arabic language.
In addition to the use of Arabic, the Shahnameh uses many literary tropes also common in Arabic and Turkish court poetry. As a heroic epic dedicated to a king, it contains an exordium that praises divine and temporal authority, revealing both the author’s faith as well as his familiarity with the panegyric tradition. The exordium exalts God, Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni, the Prophet (using the Persian payghambar, as well as the Arabic nabi) and his family (ahl-e bayt). The secular nationalist interpretation of the Shahnameh dismisses these components of the text and speculates that Ferdowsi merely followed a literary formula. By doing so, this interpretation obscures these religious markers for the sake of contemporary political argument. Regardless, the structure of the Shahnameh consists of both Zoroastrian and Islamic attributes, enriched through linguistic diffusion and diverse literary forms.
As the Shahnameh’s literary structure and content reflects synergy rather than antagonism towards multiculturalism, so too does its visual components. Soon after its completion, the Shahnameh was repeatedly commissioned for royal courts in Southwest and Central Asia, supplemented by dozens of detailed illustrations in the Persian miniature style. These images adopted visual motifs and themes originating well beyond the boundaries of Greater Iran, a testament to aesthetic cosmopolitanism.
Following the devastating Mongol Invasions in the 13th century, trade networks were re-established, easing communication and commerce throughout Eurasia. East Asian arts were also diffused along these commercial routes, inspiring Ilkhanid and Timurid-era artists in Tabriz, Herat, and Shiraz. Their illustrations combined traditional Persian painting with appropriated Chinese methods and techniques, as reflected in landscapes, facial features, and clothing.
Furthermore, representations of celebrated Iranian mythological creatures— like the Simorgh— were greatly influenced by Chinese depictions of the dragon and the phoenix (fenghuang). Though these illustrations were produced several centuries after Ferdowsi, they have become indelible components to both the Shahnameh and Iranian visual culture. The importance of miniature design and court commissions lasted dynasty after dynasty until the Qajars, as evidenced by Fat’h ‘Ali Shah’s Shahanshahnameh (Book of the King of Kings) from the early 19th century.
State Nationalism and Ferdowsi in Public Space
The 20th century Iranian modernization project linked the Shahnameh to a secular nationalism that hailed purity and homogeneity over multiculturalism. With the adoption of Persian nationalism as state doctrine after 1925, Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh emerged as a prime target for politicization. The Shahnameh suited the Pahlavi dynasty’s goals in two key ways. First, by linking ancient pre-Islamic Persia and today, the Pahlavis sought to distinguish themselves from the Semitic Arab World by underlining Iran’s uninterrupted “Aryan” linguistic and, thus, racial credentials. Second, by portraying Ferdowsi as an anti-Arab figure, the Pahlavis created an icon of secular Persian nationalism that opposed Islam’s “corrupting” influence, justifying the contemporary political projects of forcible secularization. The new pseudo-academic Shahnameh scholarship taught Iranians that Ferdowsi symbolized opposition to Arab influence and helped spread the three major myths outlined above in Iranian schools.
As this ideology was integrated into every aspect of public life, Ferdowsi streets and squares blossomed across the nation. Eager to provide a suitable “Persian nationalist” tomb for their “Persian nationalist” hero, nationalists did not spare Ferdowsi’s tomb in the northeastern Iranian city of Tus. In the 1920’s the Society for National Heritage (Anjoman-e Asar-e Melli) emerged with the aim of preserving Iran’s cultural patrimony, building and rebuilding dozens of mausoleums and national monuments, shaping them to represent contemporary political beliefs regarding Iran’s past. As scholar Talinn Grigor has outlined in detail, the Society applied Pahlavi ideology to the public sphere, erasing the complexity of Iranian cultural and architectural history.
The 1934 reconstruction of Ferdowsi’s Tus mausoleum was central to this effort, involving the destruction of the existing monument in order to erect one that suited Persian modernist taste and highlighted a chauvinist view of history that erased influences deemed insufficiently “Persian.” The monument contains a farahavar, a Zoroastrian symbol, copied directly from Persepolis. Besides the monument’s influences from ancient Persian design, the white stone signifies the Persian “purity” of the Shahnameh with respect to its non-inclusion of Arabic words. It’s name, “Ferdowsiyeh,” taken from the Shia Hosseiniyeh, implies that the tomb should become a site of contemporary pilgrimage just as Iranians had historically visited the tombs of Shia religious figures (imamzadeh).
Ferdowsi’s tomb at Tus embodied his centrality to the Pahlavi ideological project, its reconstruction removing the beautiful cultural fusion and complexity of centuries of mixing that his work represented. Instead, it propagated a reductionist version of Iranian history that prided itself on cultural purity and ignored the diversity of contributions not only to the Shahnameh but also to Iranian culture at large.
Towards a Multicultural Perspective
The purpose of this post is not to diminish the importance of Ferdowsi and Shahnameh for Iranian national heritage. It is vital, however, that we not take 20th century notions of ethnic separatism and apply them to 10th-11th century works. Ferdowsi’s work speaks to the cultural invigoration of the Iranian Peoples and the lands of Ajam, a revival summarized in the following couplet popularly attributed to Ferdowsi to note his monumental achievement:**
بسى رنج بردم در اين سال سى
عجم زنده كردم بدين پارسى
I struggled greatly during these thirty years,
I gave life to the Ajam with this Persian.
It is crucial to recognize the centrality of the Shahnameh to Iranian or Persianate transnational culture and heritage not because it combats Islam or foreign dominance, but exactly because it engages with and combines varied cultural influences. Ajam did not come alive because Ferdowsi denied our past and the diverse Persian, Arabic, and Turkic roots that helped formulate notions of Iranian, Afghan, and Tajik nationhood; Ajam came alive because Ferdowsi recognized that cross-cultural pollination enriches us all.
**Editor’s note: The couplet mentioned in the article was not composed by Ferdowsi, but has been attributed to the text centuries after its completion.
1: By focusing your article on destroying the Persian nationalist narrative, you’ve successfully been co-opted by that narrative by default. In arguing against that narrative, you automatically adopt the position of downplaying nationalism in the Shahnameh rather than objective seeing the truth.
Which, to the extent that I can see, suggests pretty damned clearly that Ferdowsi attempted to both immortalize himself and Persian culture against being overtaken by Arab culture in the Shahnameh. Even though your three points are largely correct.
2. Scholars have pointed out conclusively that the two-beity about “ajam zende kardam bedin Parsi.” does NOT match Ferdowsi’s diction, poetic structure, or literary style generally. In fact, it began appearing centuries after the Shahnameh itself. That line is likely another poet’s and faked Ferdowsi, and yet it gets included in your Conclusion uncritically! Whereas the rest of your article treats criticism of the Persian nationalist tropes as automatically true.
Thanks for your comments. You raise an important point about being co-opted by the nationalist narrative. Iranians growing up in the diaspora (myself included) have been raised with this nationalist narrative, and thus have been co-opted by it unwillingly. The purpose of this article is a response to a particular narrative that has been pushed upon us without any critical examination.
You advocate an objective perspective in regards to examining the text. Any work of literature can be interpreted many ways, making the search for an “objective truth” much more difficult to discern than in a didactic text. Nowhere was it argued that Ferdowsi did not strive to immortalize himself or Persian culture, the final portions of the Shahnameh makes this clear. That being said, much of the antagonism towards Arabs or Turks can be called into question by artistic and structural elements. Just as you have interpreted the Shahnameh as being opposed to Arab culture, we hoped to show certain elements of the text that would allow for a more nuanced interpretation.
Many lines and hemstitches have been attributed to Ferdowsi, when in actuality they were most likely added several centuries later. Certain bayts such as “ajam zende kardam bedin Parsi,” regardless of their authenticity, have been accepted into the totality of the Shahnameh. The actual authorship of certain sections thus becomes irrelevant to the argument, especially when those sections have been memorized and recited by so many. With that said, I would love to see your sources on the authorship of that line, since I myself am very fascinated by the notion of the Shahnameh as a living text.
Thank you for your essay; I also share your sentiments regarding overtly nationalistic readings of the Shahnameh. In order to perform a reading of the Shahnameh–and any other literary work–one needs to see what narratives/theories the text lends itself to, and not the other way around. Nationalist readings are fine so long as they remain contextualized. You rightly mentioned that the Shahnameh is the common heritage of all Persian-speakers; it’s equally important to note another consequence of over imposing nation-state oriented readings on the text, namely how it has been re conceptualized and re-imagined by many critics and scholars as exclusively Iranian*, adding Afghans and Tajiks to its “others.” The literary and cultural legacy of the Shahnameh lives on in those lands regardless of what Iranian scholars suggest or claim, but as students of literature/scholars it’s important to carefully critique what is said about our literary heritage. *Professor Wali Ahmadi writes in that direction, read “Exclusionary poetics: approaches to the Afghan “other” in contemporary Iranian literary discourse” Iranian Studies, 37:3, 407-429.
Like the last reader who has commented, I also have not seen the beyt with which you conclude your essay. Regardless of its authenticity, it undermines the core premise of your writing. There are many abyat that celebrate geographical, linguistic and ethnic diversity in the Shahnameh that are more appropriate for your conclusion, in my humble opinion.
Hi Aria, thanks for your comments! We really appreciated them. We just updated the conclusion to reflect that the couplet in question was not in the original canon of the Shahnameh. Like Rustin mentioned in his earlier comment, we didn’t include the line to promote or deny its authenticity. It’s undeniable that the couplet has entered the narrative and mythology of the Shahnameh, and many believe it to be the best line for summing up Ferdowsi’s struggle and triumph in writing the Shahnameh.
The couplet itself raises a number of questions. Why were these couplets added? Why have they persisted in Persian literature? Myself and Rustin–two of the three people who wrote this post–actually had to memorize that line for our college and graduate-level Shahnameh and Persian literature courses. Besides being plain ridiculous (why memorize lines that aren’t actually in the Shahnameh) what does that mean?
The prevalence of these lines means two things. First, they show the important role the Shahnameh plays in Iranian culture–everyone is quick to want to remember Ferdowsi as a hero, a martyr for the Persian language. Second, the lines demonstrate the importance of the Shahnameh as an unscrutinized text. Had people read the Shahnameh as much as they expressed their pride in it, these sorts of couplets would have never entered mainstream discourse to the extent that they did. Nor would they be taught at top universities in the United States. And there would be no reason to write this article, because then people would know that the Shahnameh wasn’t completely devoid of Arabic, and that the stories of the Shahnameh are more nuanced than “Persians versus Arabs/the world.” The prevalence of these lines are similar to the prevalence of the myths we mentioned in our article.
While we didn’t parcel out these points (and perhaps we should have in the article!), I hope that sheds some light as to our decision to include the couplet.
Beeta! Your comments and response are the best argument/ counter argument !
Ferdowsi is a Persian chauvinist who’s appreciated only in farsi speaking regions of Iran. He is not appreciated at all in the Caucuses as the author states. Ferdowsi is a divisive character for Iranians, which is a multi-ethnic country made of different races and languages. Ferdowsi’s attempt to avoid using non-persian words in Shahnameh resulted in a work that offers little literary value, lacks depth, and as the author admits, fails to achieve its chauvinistic objective by making extensive use of Arabic and Turkish words. Ferdowsi focuses on form rather than content. He’s generous with insults against Arabs, Turks and women, and he doesn’t deliver a message for the mankind. Persians enjoy glorifying him to satisfy their chauvinistic ego and that’s understandable. But, it’s unacceptable behavior in this century, to denigrate other people only for the sake of your own ego. It doesn’t meet the modern standards of conduct. It’s divisive for a multi-ethnic country to glorify its “Racist in Chief” character. The Arabs that Ferdowsi insults are those who brought a new life to Iran. They overhauled the corrupt cast system of the Sasanides and provided means to Iranians to flourish in science, art and literature. It’s only in the post -Islamic Iran that we find significant contributions by Iranian scientists, artists and poets to Islamic and world heritage.
Worshiping Ferdowsi is going to lead Persians to dictatorship and alienate the non-Persians of Iran. Rejecting Arabic and Turkish words in farsi is not going to solve Iran’s problems. It will only create an inaccurate language and irritate non-Persians in Iran. Focusing on the content and inclusive values for all people of Iran is the future.
The arabs brought brought a “new life to Iran”? THEY BROUGHT ABOUT A THOUSAND YEARS OF HELL TO IRAN! The backwards death cult of islam and not to mention the fact that they tried to destroy our culture, traditions, and replace our language with arabic, (that’s kinda important, don’t you think…)
Is it just me or lately there is a media blitz against everything Iranian?I Who are the culprits? Who are the native informers? Since many years ago watering down ancient Iranian culture seems to be the strategy used by enemies of Iran in devaluing our importance in the world stage. Some in the West are attributing so much of our culture to minorities without ever mentioning the mainstream. Others are linking our ancient culture to Arabs and Islam. Both coincidentally have one objective and that is to devalue an old culture paving the way for neo colonialist adventures.
You do realize this is a site run by Iranians and that all of the authors of this piece are Iranian right?
Re-examining and questioning nationalist myths is not attacking Iran, it is analyzing our own history. Trying to discover our own multicultural history is exactly the opposite of “devaluing” an old culture.
The term native informer is one you should look up!
Yes it’s very nice that you’ve learned a new word and like to use it, but I’m sorry to inform you that it does not apply in this situation. You are using this term incorrectly.
Persian prejudice is propagated by Iranians against other Iranians and against foreigners. As Iranians, we are standing up and saying that Iran is a multicultural country shaped by a history of multicultural influences and we refuse to allow Iranians to slander Arabs and Turks based on simplistic, racist versions of history that have been propagated with the political intent of dividing our country and our region into ethnic groups. The Persian-ist version of history that de-emphasizes the role of other cultures and minorities in shaping our country was propagated first and foremost by Europeans whose desire was to divide our country; Reza Shah of Iran, who was supported and installed by these same Europeans, picked them up and decided to teach us a racist version of history.
If recognizing the multicultural nation of our history disturbs you or makes you think we are anti-Iranian, then you apparently have a pretty racist, exclusive idea of what Iran is. If anything, attacking our neighbors and our fellow citizens and thus dividing our region and our country into ethnic groups and religious groups that we as “Persians” should oppose is what fits directly into neo-colonialist attempts to bring down Iran.
This is what you call a “native informer.”
Your efforts are much appreciated, Alex (as well as your co-authors’). This attitude prevails everywhere, though. It’s almost as intense, or more so, than Pan-Turanian ideology. Have late-19th/early-20th century divisive tactics with the implementation of the nation state really left such deep divisions within the Middle East and Africa? Phobia of the Other exists and doesn’t seem to want to be unpacked, still.
It’s the islamic regime. The same one that tried to ban the tradition of jumping over fire on Chaharshanbe Suri. The same one who’s leader, Khomeini, said he wouldn’t care if Iran burns, as long as islam prevails. The same leader who wanted to rename the Persian Gulf, “Islamic Gulf” because the arabs wanted to change it to “Arabian Gulf.” The same regime that pays “Farhangestan e Zaban va Adab e Farsi” to replace European words, like “Pizza” to “elastic loaf,” but also pays them to keep arabic words because arabic is the language of the quran. Need I go on…?
I’d like to just add that such politicization is unfortunately (or not) common in many countries and cultures especially when it comes to their epic writers. You find it, namely, in English, German, French and even American literature. For instance, the British attribute to Shakespeare, the resurgence of the English language after the French conquest of England by William the Conqueror.
Unfortunately, Mr Shahin you did not read well nor did you undrestand Shahnameh and I can say by your writing, that you are trying to examine your own english skills. Also, your interpretation of shahnameh is as sarcastic as the islamists. Otherwise, they did not change many part of the book in thier own favour after islamic revolution. You are doing exactly the same as they did. Read your own writing at the end and you are the one selling our heritage to non-iranians. You must be ashamed of yourself doing this but many and many people have tried during the history of Iran but never succeeded. Iran and ferdowsi can not be sold. During the history of Iran and under many non-Iranian rulles, they were proud of Ferdowsi and Shahnameh and they accepted Farsi and Persian caulture as its own but what about you who are doing other way around by trying to diminish and bringing down the importance of Ferdowsi and his Shahnameh in Iran for the sake of pleasing your masters.
Who do you think Shahin is? At least get your people right if you’re going to try to insult!
Shahin, I do not understand what you are talking about. There wasn’t a resurgence of the English language. Modern English emerged in the late 15th century as a mix of Anglo-Saxon and French and Latin as spoken by the Norman invaders. Modern English was already thriving by the time Shakespeare began writing his plays and poetry. The only politicization practiced by Shakespeare was the demonizing of the Plantagenet dynasty in favour of the Tudor dynasty who had supplanted them.
This article is more wishful thinking than an objective reflection of the work of Ferdowsi (Pirouze Pârsi). Ferdowsi do not speak against the multicultural idea, he points out the negative influences of turk and arab invasion on Iran and Iranians. in the present day Iran we do not have a problem with rassism against turks and arabs, but a problem with the dictatorship of the Turks and Arabs upon Iranians. Khamanei is a Turk and Khomeini a Tâzi, never had any positive feelings about Iran and said once he would like to see Iran burn in Hellfire if it benefits the victory of islam. The Turks and Tâziparast among Iranians are those who slander any western influence. The problem of Iran with being a multicultural society are the turks and arabs who creates an atmosphere of monoculture, where only the influences of Tâzi and turks are allowed, and all positive influences by west and east are condemned as haram and heretic. If you look back in Irans history there were always nomadic Turks who collaborated with the Tâzi mullahs and other turkish tribes in order to kill thousands of Iranians and establish turkish shahs. Last but not least I think the problem of the authors of this blog is their lack of knowledge of the persian language, otherwise Ferdowsis words about the Turks and Arabs are very clear: http://mashruteh.org/wiki/index.php?title=%D8%B4%D8%A7%D9%87%D9%86%D8%A7%D9%85%D9%87/%D9%86%D8%A7%D9%85%D9%87_%D8%B1%D8%B3%D8%AA%D9%85_%D9%81%D8%B1%D8%AE%D8%B2%D8%A7%D8%AF_%D8%A8%D9%87_%D8%A8%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AF%D8%B1%D8%B4
*Yawn* your rhetoric got old when the Shah’s son died. Keep living in that racialist fantasy
از ایران و از ترک و از تازیان
نژادی پدید آید اندر میان
نه دهقان نه ترک و نه تازی بود
سخنها به کردار بازی بود
ز تازی و هندی و ایرانیان
ببستند پیشش کمر بر میان
Thank you for this post. I only wish I’d been able to read it last year when I was writing the introduction to my The Teller of Tales: Stories from Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, which is a verse translation of the beginning of the epic. It covers selections of “The Poet’s Preface” and includes the stories of Kayumars, Houshang, Tahmures, Jamshid and Zahhak. You can find an excerpt here, and the publisher’s website is here. I assume you know A. Shapur Shahbazi’s Ferdowsi: A Critical Biography (Mazda Publishers 2010). He takes on the myths you take on here. Again, a good, thought-provoking post. Thanks.
Ajam media is anti-Iranian.
Ferdowsi: ”Damn this world, damn this time, damn this fate,
That uncivilized Arabs have come to make me Muslim.”
This article is very amusing to say the least….
I’m sure you are aware that the line you quoted is from Yazdegerd III as the Arab armies were approaching in the final portions of the Shahnameh. You choose a line uttered by a character and expect it to stand for entire premise of the text? You could have easily taken Zahhak and Afrasiyab’s lines and made the case that Ferdowsi opposes Iran. The purpose of this post is to highlight exactly these sentiments– the Shahnameh is often selectively read out of context to prove an ideological point, when in reality the text has multiple interpretations, not all of them overtly nationalistic.
To Mishow: Wrong. Ferdowsi is not racist or chauvinist. In fact he was reacting to the near death of his language by writing this work. It wasn’t meant to be an attack on other races or languages, but simply to preserve the Persian language from extinction. I agree that some racist ulta nationalists take advantage of Ferdowsi and use him now, but Ferdowsi has nothing to do with those people.
You guys have to remember the times he wrote in. This was after not only Arab conquest, but after the rule of the Ummayyad dynasty which had very harsh Jim Crow-like laws against Iranians (like Arab men could marry Iranian women but Iranian men could not marry Arab women, lower pay for IRanian soldiers, etc) and then the Abbasid dynasty which disintegrated (esp in Iran) into many small military dictatorships that were unstable. In such a milieu Ferdowsi had to take on this work. One Egyptian scholar was asked how Egypt with its ancient culture predating ISlam became an Arab country but IRan didnt and he said it was because Egyptians never had a FErdowsi.
Me First above is correct. I’ve noticed a huge push in the past couple of years to try to divide Iranians. Everywhere on hte net now there is constant statements and articles and videos emphasizing that Iran is a multi-ethnic and multi-racial country, and there have been on Youtube several videos coming out by militant Sunni Muslims arguining against Shiism and overstating the number of Sunnis in Iran. There just seems to be an overall push to portray Iran as this very diverse heterogenuous country and the Persian-speaking Shi’a majority are a bunch of facists forcing everyone to be like them. That is beyond ridiculous and I honestly think a lot of this is indirectly inspired by the CIA. We know for sure that Jundullah was CIA/Saudi plot.
Any country in the world will have an official language that everyone has to learn in order to do business and get by. If you are Mexican living in America you have to learn English too. If that Mexican then teaches his kids to speak English and the schools teach English as the primary language is that fascism??
Everyone in Iran – Kurds, Azeris, “Persians”, etc – is proud of Ferdowsi and Persepolis and ancient Persian culture. Most are proud of Islam too.
Thank you for the post. It certainly stimulates healthy debate. One thing we can all agree on is that people are passionate about The Shahnameh!
I have been reading this conversation with a great deal of interest, first because I think it illustrates perfectly the thesis of the original post, i.e., that the Shahnameh has been, and continues to be, politicized in any number of ways. Indeed, it’s important to recognize that the nuanced, “multiple-readings” approach suggested in the original post is itself ideologically and politically driven and that its proponents, therefore, are no less self-interested, have no less of a stake in it, than those who read the epic nationalistically have in that reading. My own stake in the discussion is complex. Since I am not Iranian, neither my national, ethnic, racial nor religious identity is implicated here. My wife, however, is from Iran; my son is Iranian-American; and so the question of Iranian/Iranian-American identity is one that I care about very deeply even though I only experience it vicariously.
The other stake I have in this discussion is as a translator. In 2003, I was commissioned by an organization called The International Society for Iranian Culture to produce literary translations of selections from five works of classical Iranian literature: Saadi’s Golestan and Bustan, the Shahnameh, Attar’s Ilahi Nama, and Nezami’s Haft-Peykar. As I mentioned in my comment above, I published last year The Teller of Tales, which is a verse translation of the first five stories from the Shahnameh. One of the frustrating aspects of doing the research that informed my translation was the difficulty I had in finding critical work in English that treated the epic as a work of literature, not as a historical-political document, or as, at best–as Edward G. Browne characterizes it in A Literary History of Persia–a second rate epic that merits attention primarily because of its historical and anthropological significance. (My understanding is that this is not the case in the critical work that’s been published in Persian.) There is Dick Davis’ Epic and Sedition, some articles by Mahmoud Omidsalar, and one that I published in a special edition on Iranian literature of ArteEast Quarterly; and there are some others that I have found since I finished the book; but, overwhelmingly, the critical approach to the Shahnameh that gets the most attention is the one focused on its politics.
I mention this because I think it’s important to remember that the Shahnameh is, first and foremost, a poem, a work of literature, not a piece of propaganda. More to the point, whatever his politics may have been, Ferdowsi was a poet, not a propagandist and, as a poet, he was–and I think this is clear from the literary quality of so many of the stories–interested in creating a poem that would have its own internal validity, that would stand on its own as work of literature, which means by definition that it would be overdetermined and susceptible to many and even conflicting readings. In one sense, in other words, it doesn’t matter whether Ferdowsi consciously sought to rescue pre-Islamic Iranian culture and the Persian language from the assimilationist pressures that existed at the time; the poem is not bound by his intent or his identity–which we really don’t know much about, after all–nor should we want it to be. The epic has lasted as an important piece of world literature for nearly 1,000 years; of course the meaning it has for those who read it has changed. The place in the world occupied by Iran and Iranians–both inside Iran and out; both those who were born in Iran and those who were not–has changed; how can their and the world’s reading of this poem that has been so central to Iranian identity not also change?
Last year, I was invited to speak at Columbia University as part of a celebration of the work of Professor Mahdavi Damghani. In my very brief remarks, one of the points I made is that the generations of Iranian-Americans who do not, who will not ever, read Persian well enough to be able to read the originals deserve versions of those texts that live in the literature of English on their own terms–the way Homer does, or Tolstoy’s works, or Sappho’s–and not merely as extensions of the Persian originals. The reading of the Shahnameh suggested in the original post seems to me in keeping with this impulse, if not with how I have shaped the impulse in my own work, because it is a reading more invested in placing Iran and Iranians within a network of meanings than in staking out a territory that is uniquely, oppositionally, inviolately Iranian.
I realize this is a very long comment, and I apologize, but I also, again, want to thank the writers of the original post and all the commenters for such a thought-provoking discussion.
Some of the comments on this page have for the most part proven the point the authors originally intended to raise. The core point of contention in this article is that in Iranian history and the Iranians’ collective psyche Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh is continually, and sometimes misleadingly, read as a secular nationalistic text that pits Iranian-ness against Arab-ness, Persian language against Arabic language, and Iranian culture against Islamic culture. However, no such clear binary distinctions exist in Iranian society, nor in any other society for that matter. In fact, historically, these binaries are constructed in order to further a particular political agenda and to incite popular sentiments. It may not be possible to know what Ferdowsi intended when he wrote the Shahnameh; but the authors never made any claims about Ferdowsi’s personal political beliefs. They merely stated that the Shahnameh is a text that is read and re-read with overtly secular nationalistic tones without actual textual evidence supporting the myth with which we (Iranians) have all grown up: namely, that Shahnameh single-handedly preserved the Persian language (and ultimately Persian culture) while opposing Arabic language and Islamic culture through this text.
Just like any other culture, ours is one that is mixed with many different languages, religions, and traditions. It is true that Iran is home to a great ethno-linguistically diverse peoples; however, most of those people consider themselves first and foremost Iranian and are equally proud of their country’s cultural and literary heritage, including Islamic culture. Not seeing the Islamic Republic as a legitimate government or disagreeing with its policies does not mean that one must categorically demonize Islam and spout off Orientalist and Islamophobic clichés about the lives of one billion Muslims worldwide. Just as Islamic culture has mixed in with Arab culture, it has also mixed in greatly with Iranian culture over the course of history. Islam in Iran is distinctly “Iranian,” however you choose to define that word. It does not mean that we are becoming “Arabized.” The fact that this article, which calls into question the Persian ethno- and lingo-centrist reading of the Shahnameh, incited such a heavy and intense reaction defending “Iranian” culture vs. “Islamic/ Arab” culture proves that we, Iranians, have bought into this myth! It is truly distressing to see that our constant struggle for cultural “purity” and finding solace in the overtly nationalistic reading of one of our most beloved epic stories, has completely overshadowed the lessons that we should be learning from the Shahnameh and its colorful characters: to be courageous like the “pahlavan”s and heros, and to fight against oppression and tyranny wherever it props up its ugly head. We would be stronger as a society if we accept and celebrate the multiplicity of identities, cultures, religions, languages, and traditions that give color and meaning to our lives, instead of drowning in the quagmire of provincialisms, such as parsing out an imaginary cultural and linguistic ‘purity’ that simply does not exist.
No one, or at least me and others like me, is saying Ferdowsi was anti-Islam. In fact Ferdowsi was a Muslim himself. There is a difference between Arab culture and Islam the religion. He was down with Islam the religion but Arab culture/language/tribalism were making forgotten his native language and epic tales. And he wasn’t “anti” Arab, he was just defending his native culture from extinction. That doesnt mean he advocated ill feelings to Arabs. The Shahnameh preserved alot of old Persian tales and language. When he wrote in the words of Yazdgerd “Damn that ARabs came to make me Muslim” or whatever it says, it doesn’t mean Islam is bad, he is damning the way it was brought into Iran by force. That is also the stance of Shi’a Muslims who condemn Umar for among other things spreading Islam violently.
[PS the great irony of these debates is that Shi’a Islam and Persian ultra nationalists have the same enemy – the Arab caliphates of Ummayads and Abbassids! but now they are arguingin with each other!!]
I personally identify with Shiism but I like the Shahnameh I read a translation it has beautiful tales and poems. But Persianians, especially the striver upper-middle-class-secular ones in the US are for hte most part are obnoxious and vapid. Arabs are admittedly more personable.
Fine sentiments but respectfully I don’t agree with some of your points regarding Ferdowsi’s context. Ferdowsi lived in the late 10th-early 11th centuries. Arab rule had already died down a bit at that time and the main powers in that region were rulers like the Samanids, Saffarids and the Ghaznavids (Ferdowsi’s masters). All Persian and Turkic in origin. While Arabic did supercede Pahlavi (Middle Persian) and Greek as the regional lingua franca, it did not actually create “two centuries of silence” as is often claimed. As Touraj Daryaee and other historians have shown, Pahlavi culture survived in the east (where the hold of Arabs and Islam was less strong) and even the Ummayads and others allowed bilingual coinage and everyday use of non-Arab languages. Arabic was simply the imperial language. The Ummayads certainly veered towards cultural exclusivism but “Jim crow” laws is kind of ahistorical and a stretch. It was an empire run by a tribal elite and those who did not belong had little to no power. This included Christian and Jewish Arabs, lesser Arab Muslim tribes, local peoples like the Aramaic, Syriac, Greek, Phoenician, Egyptian and Persian-speaking peoples of the Ummayad empire. Ancestors of todays Iranians, Egyptians, Lebanese, Palestinians, Syrians and Iraqis. Jim Crow forbade intermarriage of any kind and held onto a racialist conceptualization that would have not existed in societies in the pre-modern era. As you pointed out, intermarriage norms in Ummayad Middle East were sexist. Which were not out of keeping with the norms other tribal conquerors in that period. It must be remembered that many of the rebellions against the Ummayads in Persia often had Arabs as well, Arabs who were not part of the elite and could be as disaffected as local Persians. With regards to Ferdowsi, he lived at a time when that world had more or less passed into history and Persian revivalism of a kind was already headstrong in the region. The Samanids and Saffarids were patrons of Persian cultural revival while upholding Islam and Arabic at the same time. And this was just before Ferdowsi’s time. The Ghaznavids he worked for helped spread Persianate culture through Afghanistan. And as pointed out in this article and some comments, what Ferdowsi did was not novel but part of a tradition dating back to before his birth if not longer. His SHAHNAMEH was but the latest of many different “king books”, some of which may have been written during the Sassanid era itself. My understanding of Ferdowsi tells me that he had cultural rather than nationalist or racial goals. And that too within a royalist context. With all this bro haha about Persian nationalism, its so easy to forget the class bias in this book. This is a “book of Kings” after all. it was written to commemorate the cultural folklore and mythology of the region from the perspective of its royal heroes both mythical and historical. And to honor the current monarch who ostensibly rules in that tradition and with that historical weight on his shoulders. Which is not to say that these stories didn’t become ingrained in the culture of the masses (through diffusion and having existed before Ferdowsi) but that this epic in of itself was for a limited audience. It was only in the 19th century that scholars began to read it as a “national epic” for all Iranians. Nationalism and racialism are 19th century theories and the Shahnameh was re-read to take them into account. Never mind that for centuries, the main fans of this book more often than not were Turkic sultans, even the man for whom it was written – Mahmud of Ghazni. Not exactly something the average Iranian peasant would read and recite, though individual stories obviously they were familiar with.
I write all this not to be an apologist for the Arab Ummayads (I am not) nor for Islamism nor out of any anti-Persian hate. I simply desire more historical awareness and sensitivity from people before they toss fancy claims of “anti-Arab resistance” or “nationalist glamor”.
It appears that the following sources (you probably already know) also can benefit the intellectual direction of this essay:
Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, “Language Reform Movement and Its Language: the Case of Persian.” in Bjon H. Jernudd and Michael J. Shapiro, Eds. The Politics of Language Purism, Berlin, Mutton de Gruyter, 1989, pp. 81-104.
Iran nameh, the issue dedicated to literary criticism (Sal-i 12, zimistan-i 1372/1994), most particularly the introduction, pg. 4-34.
You digressed in your comments to unrelated issues. Since you brought them up, they need to be answered.
Iran’s ethnic groups: Arabs, Azeris, Beluches, Kurds, Lors, Turkmans, ..etc. are aboriginals of Iran. They have their own language, culture and history that even predate the arrival of the Persians in Iran. Comparing them to the Mexicans in the US is irrelevant. One might argue that Persians would be the Mexicans in this analogy since they arrived later.
All together the non-Persian ethnic people of Iran make more than 50 percent of Iran’s population. Since the arrival of Reza Pahlavi their basic rights have been suppressed. Their languages have been banned, use of their names has been banned, the name of their cities and provinces have been persianized, etc. All of this in the name of the superiority of the persian race and Ferdowsi as the symbol of the persian chauvinism. Is it that hard for Persians to understand that non-Persians in Iran are also proud of their own history and culture? And, that history and culture is not persian? No, non-Persians of Iran are not proud of Ferdowsi who has insulted them. No, non-Persians are not proud of Persepolis which is the symbol of slavery and submission to the persian kings.
Lastly, it’s so common for Persians to talk themselves to the conspiracy theories and accuse different views as foreign powers and none sense of that sort. That was Shah’s method, times have changed. In fact to find the biggest threat to Iran’s unity, the Persian chauvinists don’t have to go farther than a mirror to find the culprit. It’s the chauvinistic attitudes like those exposed by WORD here that are dividing Iranians.
“Iran’s ethnic groups: Arabs, Azeris, Beluches, Kurds, Lors, Turkmans, ..etc. are aboriginals of Iran. They have their own language, culture and history that even predate the arrival of the Persians in Iran. Comparing them to the Mexicans in the US is irrelevant. One might argue that Persians would be the Mexicans in this analogy since they arrived later.”
1)no..of all those groups you mentioned not one “predates” the arrival of Persians.
Arabs came to Iran after the Arab Invasion, Turkmens came during the Turkic invasions/migrations, Kurds, Baluchis and Lors are considered Iranian people and thus came with the Indo-Iranians (Persians included) when they migrated to the Iranian plateau.
2.) Persians (Fars) actually make up 50 percent of the population, not the other way around.
3.) They still speak their native languages if you go to those areas today :p
4.) As stated earlier, most of these groups (with the exception of Arabs in Khuzestan, and Turkmen) are technically Iranian peoples, and actually are proud of the Shahnameh. Imo the Shahnameh was used to ressurrect Iranian-ness rather than Persian-ness.
5..) Ferdosi lived long before the concept of chauvinism even existed, you’re judging the past with present-day rhetoric.
If the Shahnameh was used as a means to proliferate “Persian superiority” as you claim why were a lot of the characters of mixed race (i.e. Turan and Iranians, Arab and Iranian etc.)? Wouldn’t make more sense to have characters of pure Persian blood.
People like you are the dividers :p
To Mr. Shams: Your views and comments on multi-ethnic nature of Iran are refreshing and so different from the common view of Persians. Thank you for standing up against the racist views expressed here by some Iranians against Iranian Arabs and Turks (for example read Mr. Parsi’s notes). I believe this is essential for Iran’s future. A lot of Iranians are disappointed by the current state of affairs in Iran and by default they gravitate to persian chauvinistism and rejection of Islam. They don’t realize that the very solution they’re embracing, chauvinism and intolerance, is the root cause of why Iran is where it is. What we see today is the result of years of chauvinistic dictatorship by the Pahlavis.
So Persians arrived later than Arabs and Turkmen in Iran? LOLERZ
This is the first time I’m hearing that Persians arrived in Iran later than Arabs and Turks. Is this some sort of a joke? Fact:Arabs arrived in Iran during the Arab invasion and Turks arrived during the Turkish invasion of Iran. Do not make up ridiculous statements to try to change Iran’s history. Your attempt is laughable.
Thanks for this thoughtful posting – it definitely helps explain why I felt so uncomfortable inside Ferdowsi’s tomb! But have you see the British Library propaganda World War II postcards – on my own blog http://www.carolinemawer.com/whats-new/shahnameh/shahnameh-propaganda/ – or via the BL: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2013/05/the-shahnameh-as-propaganda-for-world-war-ii.html
Arabs were present in Iran BEFORE the arrival of Islam. This is one of the biggest misconception i.e. saying that the Arabs only arrived in iran (some even claim in Iraq!) after the so called Arab invasion of Iran. As a matter of fact, there were thousands of Arab (Christian and Zoroastrian) Arabs in the army of Yazgerd the third. The Khuzestan and Iraqi area were inhabited by Arabs since 2000 BC. Yes, more Arab tribes moved to Iraq and the Ahwaz area of Iran after Islam came (and in fact, some Arab tribes of Ahwaz came from Iraq and other areas after the 16th century i.e. 400 years ago, nevertheless, it doesn’t changed the fact that Arabs are an ancient people of what is known as Iran today). The Elamites who ruled parts of what is known as Iran today were Semites like Arabs and many Ahwazi Arabs trace their origin back to them.
‘arguining against Shiism and overstating the number of Sunnis in Iran’
That’s a joke right? I am a Sunni PERSIAN (yes, there are MANY Sunni Persians in the Fars and Hormozgan province) and it is actually the other way around! The Iranian gov. UNDERESTIMATES the numbers of Sunnis and this is what all dictatorships usually do in regards to their minorities.
You also said:
‘[PS the great irony of these debates is that Shi’a Islam and Persian ultra nationalists have the same enemy – the Arab caliphates of Ummayads and Abbassids! but now they are arguingin with each other!!];
Yes, that is what we Muslims firmly believe, that Safavid Shiism is some Majoosite (Zoroastrian) consipracy. You’re enemies are the Rashid Caliphs (!). As for Omar (raziallahu anho) attacking Iran. I am going to write an IN DEPTH article proving that it was the Sassanid regime who ATTACKED Arab countries way before Arabs set foot in Persia (Sassanid Persians occupied Yemen, Oman etc ANCIENT Arab land!!!), in fact the Sassanids tried to kill the Prophet (sallallaho alaihi wa aalehi wa sallam) of Islam. All Omar did was to defend the new Islam state with a pre-attack and I will prove – so Allah will – from Shia sources that ALI IBN ABI TALIB himself fully supported Omar for what he did and NEVER accused him of what the likes of you (Shia Safavids) accuse Omar of when you said:
‘ Damn that ARabs came to make me Muslim” or whatever it says, it doesn’t mean Islam is bad, he is damning the way it was brought into Iran by FORCE’
The only thing by force that came to Iran was the Sabaite Shia religion that was brought by FORCE by a turkish clan to Iran.
PS. Don’t dare to accuse me of being a ‘wahhabi-zionist’ or whatever! We Sunni Iranians are fed up by you Shia Safavids who call ever Sunni (particularly Iranian) who disagrees with your sect a ‘wahhab/zionist’etc. We Sunni Iranians shaped over 900years of ISLAMIC history of Iran. the last 500 years of heresies and superstition i.e. Shiism that brought basically NOTHING to Iran (Ferdowsi himself was a Sunni who PRAISED Abu Bakr and Omar, something no Shia on earth does) except destruction and heresy:
Well said, brother.
Much to your chagrin Mr. Haameed, all these ethnic groups (Azeri Turks, Arabs, Kurds, etc.) are non-persian or non-iranian by your definition. They were there, right where they are now, when the Persians invaded them and occupied their lands for a short while. You don’t know this because Iranians are taught only the persian history written by the Pahalavi regime and of course the Shahnameh, which they consider as the absolute truth.
Mr. Haameed, I don’t think you have ever been to Azerbaijan, Baluchistan, Khuzestan, Kurdistan, Turkman sahra, etc. If you really went to these places, you’d see how their language is banned, their culture is the subject of jokes, etc. This is a well known fact, just read a few other ajammc.com articles here.
Ferdowsi’s work in Shahnameh is of course the praise of the persian/aryan superiority. Why do you think he is revered by Persians like the woman who’s worshiping him in the picture above, and yourself Mr. Haameed? Ferdowsi’s Shanameh is essentially a collection of insults against Turks and Arabs. Perhaps the culture of racism and insult is so deep in your soul that you don’t realize it.
In conclusion, Mr. Haameed, chauvinist people like you are the dividers. Whenever some non-Persians talk about their culture you cannot tolerate it, and you don’t hesitate to call them names, in fact you deserve all those titles.
First of all, I’m not racist, so lets not jump to assumptions because you’re offended. No where in my response to you did I justify or claim that what happens in Iran to those minority groups doesn’t happen (thank the Pahlavis for starting it, and the IRI for continuing it), however the languages themselves are still spoken, whether they are taught in school or not. For the record I have been to Khuzestan as I am both Bakhtiari and Qashqai on my father’s side, so I’m well aware of the jokes that people from those areas receive. Also, you’d have to be pretty ignorant to believe that the Shahname is absolute truth seein as how there are multiple references to dragons, demons, and a giant bird that can talk :p
My response was toward your claim that the groups you listed predate the arrival of the Persians (the Persians as a group were never known as a distinct group until long after the Indo-Iranians migrated into the Iranian plateau and split into their respectve Persian, Median and Parthian tribes). The Azeri Turks for example were not considered “Turks” until after the arrival of the Oghuz Turks in the 11th century. The Kurds are descendants of the Medians who were related to the Persians. The proof being their language being in the same language family as Persian, same thing goes for the Baluchis in southeastern Iran.As these groups began to migrate throughout Iran they began to develop their own distinct languages and cultures.
My other response being that the Shahname was used as a tool of Persian/Aryan superiority. When the book clearly has good and bad characters from both “Iranian” and “Turanian” ethnic stock. As I stated earlier, the concept of Persianness and Persian superiority was not emphasized in book, nor was it a concept back then, as most people identified with their geographical rather than ethnic place of origin (i.e. Shiraz, Tabriz etc.). If you actually read the stories within it you’d know that the book has a multitude of themes that go beyond the simple “Persians are awesome” claim. I ask again, why are so many of the characters portrayed of mixed-blood (Rostam, the “Hercules” of Iranian folklore was of partial Arab stock through his mother Rudabeh)? Where in the book does it have any anti-Turk themes? The beginning of the book clearly provides a narrative of the origins of both the Iranians and Turanians. It shows that the Turanians (claimed to be associated with Turks in modern day) are in fact of Iranian stock as well. My point being that the book is an attempt to revive “Iranianness” which goes beyond ethnic and linguistic lines. Pashtuns and Kurds can read the book and still feel a connection to the characters since the book doesn’t emphasize ethnic groups other than Iranian, Turanian, or Arab. The fact that the book is written in Persian is solely to appeal to the audience of the people of Iran since, whether you like it or not, Persian was the most commonly spoken language at that time.
I understand that you might’ve received the sort of modern day chauvinism that is common among many Persian speakers today, and I apologize for that. However, to say that the Shahname is a tool to emphasize Persian superiority is a modern day claim, and insensitive to our complex history.
If one were to read Hakeem Abulqasem’s “deebaacheh”, i.e. preamble, one notices a true sense of shia rafidhism; not any zoroastarian tendencies and absolutely no form of bakrism-omarism or so-called “sunnism”.
Dr. Jaleel dustkhah, a shahnameh expert, has also stated that the praises of the first two tyrannical usurpers i.e. Abu Bakr and Omar, are later additions or better yet corruptions due to politics; since they don’t weigh out to Ferdowsi’s methodological balancing.
We should learn to be neutral in our writings. Is it possible to be neutral without biases? I don’t know. But whoever is not neutral will use various means to prove their points. Researching should prevent providing inaccurate information to readers. This post probably has misled some of the readers.
Before reading your article, I researched the co-writers and found out that all of you are very educated, from very well-known universities. This should make you very credible. It certainly made me confident of your research skills. However, I came across few points that were not accurate. Was it intentionally inaccurate? Why I say intentionally, is due to the fact that such smart, educated writers/researchers would not miss on these known facts, and, would not use various techniques to prove the conclusion they are aiming for, unknowingly.
I like to bring your attention to your paragraph on “Daghighi”:
“Additionally, Ferdowsi did not invent the “book of kings” genre and often borrowed from his contemporaries. Abu-Mansur Daqiqi, also from Tus, wrote an earlier shahnameh. Ferdowsi acknowledges and praises Daqhiqi in his exordium and used his couplets extensively, including around one thousand lines on Zoroaster. What is special about Ferdowsi’s, then, is not that it retrieved Persian from a linguistic vacuum, but rather that it was a seminal work of Persian, one of the largest of its time.”
Although Daghighi was not the first to start a shahnaameh, but, the fact that Daghighi started the work before Ferdowsi is accurate. However, he did not, by any means, have a whole book of kings as he was killed very young. He only has one thousand couplets, or at least what we know he had. Ferdowsi has quoted them in his book. The way you constructed the paragraph, will indeed, mislead the readers who are unaware of these facts. Saying that: “and used his couplets extensively, including around one thousand lines on Zoroaster”, implies that besides the 1000 couplets, Ferdowsi used Daghighi’s lines extensively which is totally inaccurate. In addition, although Ferdowsi praises Daghighi, according to scholars and Ferdowsi himself, the quality of Daghighi thousand couplets are far from Ferdowsi’s work. I am sure that you have read the Shahnameh from beginning to the end many times, what I don’t understand: how is it possible that you ( the co-writers) do not distinguish the quality of work and only say the book is largest of its time and seminal work of Persians without mentioning any of other values.
In the paragraph immediately after, the article reads, quote: “and the frontiers beyond the Iranian plateau were often sought out by the Iranian protagonists, including Siyavash and Sohrab”. unquote.
Neither Siyavash nor Sohrab were seeking out frontiers beyond the Iranian plateau. If you are mentioning Siyavash and Sohrab to prove your point of Iranian protagonists fighting Turan and wanting frontiers beyond Iranian plateau, you have chosen the wrong characters. It is hard to think that the writers have rushed through the stories and misunderstood them. In fact, you have misled those readers who are not fully familiar with these two characters by providing inaccurate info in this paragraph, like the paragraph regarding Daghighi. The only thing accurate in this paragraph is mentioning Kay Kaavoos as an Infamous king.
Moving on to the “Visual Tradition” where you are trying to tie Shahnameh to multiculturalism by showing that the visuals used long after the Ferdowsi, are under the influence of oriental arts. No one could be sure how Ferdowsi had visualized his characters. Analyzing these visuals and linking them to Saba’s “Shanshahnameh” centuries later, would not be correct as the available copies show the illustrations are mostly under the influence of European style rather than being inspired by Ilkhanid and Timurid era artists.
One of the interesting parts of your post is “State Nationalism and Ferdowsi in Public Space”, where you argue that: “Ferdowsi streets and squares blossomed across the nation” as if all the streets in cities had proper names and they all changed to Ferdowsi. It is as if, from at the time Tehran was made capital (or other big cities) the massive network of streets and roads all had different names but because of Pahlavies and their ideology, Ferdowsi streets and squares blossomed everywhere. And in addition, there were no other poet names that were used. To name a few, poets such as: Hafez, Khayyam, Sa’adi, Molavi, etc. These streets are everywhere.
It is amazing to read: quote: “It’s name, “Ferdowsiyeh,” taken from the Shia Hosseiniyeh, implies that the tomb should become a site of contemporary pilgrimage just as Iranians had historically visited the tombs of Shia religious figures (imamzadeh).” From your reasoning, then Hafezyeh, Sa’adyeh and Kamranyeh, Qaytartyeh, Farmaanyeh, Zaferanyeh, Mahmoudyeh and all the similar places endings with “yeh” apparently imply to become places for pilgrimage.
I was going to write more and analyze your post from a different perspective. But instead, if I may ask Ms. Beeta Baghoolizadeh’s to give me a space to comment on her interview: “Episode 70: Race, Slavery & Abolition in Iran”. I found it rather unfair to ordinary Iranians like myself.
The above is not a personal view. I see them as facts that you could challenge them and I will be really happy to read your comments on them.
Before I end, I would like to give a personal view generally on Iran and I am not referring to Persia or Iranian plateau, just the present country of Iran and people living within Iran’s border. There are three different ideologies in Iran that would not retire till they destroy Iran: Monarchists ( saltanat talabhaa), Islamists (Muslims) and so-called communists (todehii haa and the rest of them). My suggestion: exclude yourselves from these groups and only think of humanity.
Having said all of the above I encourage you to write more about Ferdowsi and his Shahnaameh.
Until the time that Iranians (the people living in Iran) wake up: