Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Hakim Abol Ghasem Ferdosi (فردوسی), (935 to 1020) was a highly revered Persian poet. He was the author of the Shahnameh, the national epic of Persian-speaking world as well as the entire Iranian realm. Ferdosi was born in 935 in a village near Tus, in Greater Khorasan (now part of the Iranian Khorasan Razavi province). The son of a wealthy land owner, his great epic, the Shahnameh ("The Epic of Kings"), to which he devoted more than 35 years, was originally composed for presentation to the Samanid princes of Khorasan, who were the chief instigators of the revival of Iranian cultural traditions after the Arab conquest of the seventh century.

When he was just 23 years old, he found a “Shahnameh” written by Abu-Mansour Almoammari; it was not, however, in poetic form. It consisted of older versions ordered by Abu Mansour ibn Abdol Razzagh. The discovery would be a fateful moment in the life of the poet. Ferdosi started his composition of the Shahnameh in the Samanid era in 977 A.D. During Ferdosi’s lifetime the Samanid dynasty was conquered by the Ghaznavid Empire. This task was to take the poet some thirty years or more, during which he included the verse:

“ ... I suffered during these thirty years, but I have revived the Iranians (Ajam) with the Persian language; I shall not die since I am alive again, as I have spread the seeds of this language ... ”

After thirty years of hard work, he finished the book and two or three years after that, Ferdosi went to Ghazni, the Ghaznavid capital, to present it to the king. There are various stories in medieval texts describing the lack of interest shown by the new king, Sultan Mahmood of Ghazni, in Ferdosi and his lifework. According to historians, Mahmood had promised Ferdosi a dinar for every distich written in the Shahnameh (60,000 dinars), but later retracted and presented him with dirhams (20,000 dirhams), which were at that time much less valuable than dinars (every 100 dirhams worth 1 dinar). Some think it was the jealousy of other poets working at the king’s court that led to this treachery; the incident encouraged Ferdosi's enemies in the court. Others believe that Mahmood was furious for not being the subject of the book and thus betrayed their agreement. Ferdosi rejected the money and, by some accounts, he gave it to a poor man who sold wine. Wandering for a time in Sistan and Mazandaran, he eventually returned to Tus, heartbroken and enraged. He had left behind a poem for the King, stuck to the wall of the room he had worked in for all those years. It was a long and angry poem, more like a curse, and ended with the words:

"Heaven's vengeance will not forget. Shrink tyrant from my words of fire, and tremble at a poet's ire."

Regarding the money promised to Ferdosi, one story claims Mahmood resent the amount promised to Ferdosi’s village, but when the messengers reached his house, he had died a few hours earlier. The gift was then given to his daughter, since his son had died before his father at the age of 37. However, his daughter refused to receive the sum, thus making Ferdosi’s Shahnameh immortal. Later the king ordered the money be used for repairing an inn in the way from Merv to Tus, named “Robat Chaheh” so that it may remain in remembrance of the poet. This inn now lies in ruins, but still exists. Some say that Ferdosi's daughter inherited her father's hard earned money, and she built a new and strong bridge with a beautiful stone caravansary nearby for travelers to rest and trade and tell stories.

Ferdosi’s Shahnameh has remained exceptionally popular among Persians for over a thousand years. It tells the history of old Persia before the Arab conquest of the region. This tale, all written in poetic form and in Dari Persian, starts 7,000 years ago, narrating the story of Persian kings, Persian knights, Persian system of laws, Persian Religion, Persian victories and Persian tragedies. It is the history of Iran's glorious past, preserved for all time in sonorous and majestic verses.

Ferdosi is said to have died around 1020 in poverty at the age of 90, embittered by royal neglect, though fully confident of his work’s ultimate success and fame (clearly seen especially in last verses of his book). Ferdosi was buried in the yard of his own home. It was not until Reza Shah Pahlavi's rule that a mausoleum was built for the great poet (and remodeled in 1969). His tomb is nowadays well-marked and celebrated by people from all realms. In 2006 installation of power poles for transferring electricity in Tus not only vulgarised the historical-cultural landscape of the mausoleum, but also reduced the chances for registration of this historic monument in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.

Ferdosi is one of the undisputed giants of Persian literature. Ferdosi has a unique place in Persian history because of the strides he made in reviving and regenerating the Persian language and cultural traditions. The most important descriptive passages of the Shahnameh are descriptions of war, the beauty of people, and the beauty of nature. Although Ferdosi himself had probably never taken part in a battle and the descriptions of scenes of warfare are in the main imaginary, they are described so variously, with such liveliness and to so stirring an effect that, despite their brevity, the reader seems to see them pass before his eyes. His works are cited as a crucial component in the persistence of the Persian language, as those works allowed much of the tongue to remain codified and intact. In this respect, Ferdosi surpasses Nezami, Khayyam, Asadi Tusi, and other seminal Persian literary figures in his impact on Persian culture and language. Many modern Iranians see him as the father of the modern Persian language.

In May 2006, UNESCO designated May 15th as National Ferdosi Day which is annually celebrated by Iranians. To commemorate the great Iranian epic poet, many art and cultural festivals are held on this day across the country.

چــو ایــــــــران نبـاشد تن من مباد
بدین بوم و بر زنــده یک تن مباد
دریـغ است ایــران که ویران شود
کنـام پلنگـــــــان و شیــــــران شود

بسی رنج بردم در این سال سی
عجم زنـده کردم بدین پـــــارسی

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