Shahnameh: Persian Book of Kings

History of an Entire Civilization

By Abolqasem Ferdowsi
Translated By Dick Davis
Persia/Iran, 977-1010
Persian Poetry, Epic Poetry, Philosophy

Main Attractions

Abolqasem Ferdowsi, Translated By Dick Davis, Penguin Classics Edition
1.  Epic scale heros and villains.   
2.  Varying levels of magic throughout.
3.  A variety of battles always with 2 possible outcomes.
4.  Seeing Persia’s collective memory build as time goes on.
5.  Tonnes of travelling, heaps of travelling.
6.  Moral of the story: listen to the advice of your women.
7.  Not every king was a good leader.
8.  Some kings are worth remembering for all time.
9.  War leads to retaliatory wars.
10.  Moments of great wisdom & humanity.

Cuisine & Delicacies
Ranked as: Han Jeon Shik
The expansive history of this epic alone makes this book a reading feast.  As with history, similar mistakes are repeated of course.  But there are a few genuine heroes who rise up from these pages of history to change how future generations change how they look back on their shared heritage.  It’s quite astounding to journey through the entire history of a single civilization to see it rise and fall through the passage of time.  As for variety, the number of kings & characters would boast the most here.  In Dick Davis’ translation, there are new characters introduced every few pages it seems.  Of course, some are more memorable than others. 

Why Visit Here

Ferdowsi wrote this as a way to preserve his Persian language from the growing influence of the Arabic language.  When he was creating this epic history, he only used native Persian words and excluded all foreign ones.  This alone is quite a feat for one person to do.  He also used this opportunity as a way to chronicle the history of his people.  Reading this or even parts of it can help to foster some understanding with the people of Iran and their history.  Their heros and the way women are celebrated in this book is quite fun to learn about.

Destination Summary

We begin this epic with the mythological roots of ancient Persia.  During these opening pages, there is more magic than even myth.  We learn about mythical kings, villains and creatures who will later become cornerstones for later Persians’ points of reference for explaining various human qualities.  This is comparative to something like ‘you’re as strong as Hercules!’ 

Travel Advisory

Remember, this book is talking about the entire history of a civilization, so there will be infinite amounts of name dropping.  Read it simply to enjoy the events that you connect wit and become familiar with only the stars of each chapter.  Thankfully, the stars are named in the chapter title to let you know who to focus on.  There is quite a bit of travelling in this book as well, so a map of medieval Persia would come in handy if you can find one.  Otherwise, just knowing the basics of geography could get you through without too much trouble.  The battle scenes are described in cinematic detail but there isn’t anything too gruesome or above something inappropriate for teens, considering it’s warfare. 

Packing List
✓ Endless photos of the exquisite early mythology
✓ A map of Medieval Persia with family trees
✓ Panoramic views of mountains & oceans from your window

Recommended Resources
Alternate Books
✓ The Mahabharata By Krsna Dvaipayana Vyasa (c. 400 BCE) - Geographically these two epics happened close to each other.  They both include warfare and wisdom but the feel of each book is quite different.
✓ The Iliad By Homer (c. 800 BCE) - Both books weave morality into their plot lines of warfare.  Because The Iliad focuses on a single battle, the morality can take centre stage.  It makes a great pairing with The Shahnameh because one covers the history of warfare and other the intense daily gruelling experience of it.
✓ The Conference of the Birds By Farid Ud-Din Attar (c. 1146 or c.1187) - A beautiful epic Persian poem about the quest to find the mythical Simorgh.

Alternate Movies
✓ The Last Fiction (2018) Directed by Ashkan Rahgozar - An animated adaptation of The Shahnameh and the most expansive animation project produced by Iran to date.