At the beginning of this semester, our professor gave us the choice of researching many topics throughout the semester. One of the topics she professed enthusiasm towards was the Shahnameh, otherwise known as the Persian Book of Kings. We did not know what it was, but the name “Book of Kings” sounded interesting to all of us. We were not sure what we were expecting, but as we dove deeper into research we recognized that this text had more importance to it than we thought. After an initial investigation of this text, we were struck by the amount of cultural significance it seemed to have, considering it was a poem none of us had ever heard of before. As we began our research, the question we kept in mind was what is the relationship between Iranian culture and theShahnameh? We split into three groups focusing on a different aspect of culture: women, art, and religion.
We found that the Shahnameh was a meaningful cultural artifact of Iran. The art demonstrated the conservation of Iranian culture within creative mediums and conveyed a piece of history that affected the people who read Ferdowsi. The women in the text displayed the ever-shifting and unstable place of women within Iranian culture. The religious aspects of the work showed an attempt to preserve pre-Islamic culture. Overall, the Shahnameh exemplifies the culture of Iran and it continues to touch the hearts of everyone who reads it.
(Picture Source: Frontispiece from Firdausi’s Shahnameh from the Keir Collection (1493). This photo is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)
(Source: Rostam carried by Akwan-Diwa. This photo is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)
Shahnameh (the Persian Book of Kings) is an epic poem by Ferdowsi that depicts the history of Persia from its creation to the Arab conquest in the 7th century. It mainly focuses on the Persian Kings and depicts a history of them masked in mysticism and intrigue. It is an immensely long work with some fifty-thousand verses and hundreds of brilliant artworks displayed throughout its pages. Furthermore, it is one of the few histories that capture the manifestations of Persian intellect before the fall of their empire. Some scholars regard the Shahnameh as being the best encapsulation of Persian culture. Some of the cultural dimensions explored through Ferdowsi’s work are women, art, religion, and national identity. The goal of our project is to deeply understand these cultural aspects of the work and to contribute to the scholarly work that has already been done.
One of the cultural dimensions we hope to explore through this work is women. Women play a major role throughout the work and are portrayed in multiple ways, which adds to the complexity of the work. Through a dialogue between Ferdowsi’s work and other scholarly works, a deeper understanding of the Persian culture will be understood.
Another aspect of the book we wish to examine is the art. The Shahnameh is a richly illustrated book depicting heroes from throughout ancient-Iranian history, and the art can tell us a fair amount about the context it was created in. We wish to explore the methods and medium of the art, including its symbols and their relation to the story. We will also investigate the artists and their history as well as how these pages have been received by the people who came in contact with them over time.
Lastly, a third cultural aspect of the Shahnameh we will analyze is religion. Religion had a huge influence on the Ferdowsi’s writing and influenced the perspective he took within the work. It is important to remember that the Shahnameh was written at a time when the Persian empire had fallen and the culture of Persia was at risk of being forgotten. The religious influences within the work will add depth to our understanding of the culture captured within this work.
Our project will be a blog that explores the cultural dimensions of the Shahnameh; more specifically, we want to focus on the religion, art, and the role of women as a way to understand the Persian culture. The blog format allows accessibility for a mass audience and interactivity with the dialogues that are created around this work. Through our exploration of the scholarly work, we will uncover a new take that will build upon the work that has already been done and breath new life into the topic.