Ferdowsi's Shahnameh as History

Since the era of Turkish-speaking Mongol rulers and Safavid kings no other Persian literary classic has surpassed Ferdowsi's Shahnameh as the object of attention by Iranian artists, illustrators, and storytellers. In the last century or so, however, the mere glorification of this classical epic through embellishment, imitation and recitation seems to have gradually been replaced by the analytical works of Western and Iranian scholars who have attempted to interpret it in textual, literary, linguistic, and historical frameworks. In these studies Shahnameh is essentially an object for cold, clinical analysis. It is perhaps time to supplement this scholarly attention with serious reflections on its inner soul and artistic, cultural and spiritual messages. It is through such reflections that Shahnameh will reach its ultimate glorious purpose and our understanding and enjoyment of it become more profound.

Ferdowsi's epic is not only the history of ancient Iran but, as history, it is the story of Iran in time and the imprint of time on Iran. It is in Shahnameh that history and time grow into their interconnected form and yet find their well-defined and relevant spaces. However, this ancient epic does not simply a collection of Iranians' memories of the past in exquisite poetic form. It is also the graphic expression of man's most basic passions and pursuits, his never-ending inner conflicts and recurrent battles with his foes and with nature itself. Thus, when Ferdowsi narrates a particular historical event, or depicts a legendary figure, all elements seem to have gone through a transformation. History is no more history and the spirit of the time present appears embodied in the time yet to appear.

Shahnameh, as the poeticized collective memory of Iranians, awakens their dormant past in the form of a series of transcendental truths. This awakening attests to the survival not only of our national identity but also the identity of all Persian-speaking peoples. Shahnameh, however, is not only the embodiment of our collective memory, but also the chronicler of the statecraft and political philosophy practiced by the Sassanian kings. As such, the quest to understand it leads to another journey for those who long to rediscover the earth and the heavens, and to fathom the bonds that link the world of the mortals to the universe of Gods.

Shahrokh Meskoob
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