Abu’l-Qasem Ferdowsi

It was Abul-Qâsem Ferdowsi, from Tus, in northeast Iran’s province of Khorasan, who took the Persian language to the peak of sophistication. His Shahnameh or ‘Book of Kings’ is one of the greatest works of world literature and the national epic of Iran, still much-loved, and often-quoted, by millions throughout the Persian-speaking world; it is the longest poem ever written by a single author. Centuries after the Arab invasion of Iran, Ferdowsi was determined to restore the Persian the language and the culture of Persia through a composing a chronicle of its kings. Shahnameh covers the reigns of around fifty kings, from the first legendary rulers, the Kiyumars, down to death of Yazdegerd III, the last ill-fated Sasanian, murdered as he ran from the marauding Arabs. Ferdowsi’s kings and heroes – Sam, Zal, Rustam, Siyavash – are constantly involved in battles, hunts and court festivities – bazm va razm (‘feasting and fighting’) – which were so central to the warrior code and the pastimes of the nobility. The epic is commonly divided into three sections: myths, legends, and history. The historical part of the poem begins with the fall of the Achaemenid dynasty and the conquest of Iran by Alexander and ends with the collapse of the Sasanian Empire. The epic is a great celebration of Iran and all things Iranian. It is a masterpiece.
Professor Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones (Cardiff University)

Professor Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones Talks about Shahnameh by Ferdowsi


One of the most famous accounts from the Shahnameh (Book of Kings) tells the story of Sam, Zal, and the Simurgh (Phoenix). Sam is a hero and ruler of ancient Persia who has no children, but when he eventually has a son, Zal is born an albino, and his snow-white hair is considered an ill omen. His father, Sam, ashamed of the new-born’s strange appearance, orders Zal to be left in the Alborz Mountains where the mythical Simurgh finds the infant and raises him as her own. As years pass, Zal grows tall and strong, and passing caravans catch sight of him running up and down the mountain. But far away in the palace, Sam is reminded in a haunting dream how badly he has behaved towards his son. He feels remorse and sets out to the mountains to see if his son might still be alive. Sam finds Zal and asks forgiveness from his son, who is reluctant to leave the only home he has ever known. The magical bird convinces him to go with his father, and there are many celebrations to mark the reunion of Zal and his family.