on March 31, 2006
I am surprised at the reviews that mention only what is not in this edition of the Shahnameh, at the expense of what is in the book. It is well that it is not a complete, unabridged translation; the Shahnameh is one of the longest epic poems in the world, and a complete translation (which would always be a contentious claim) would run over a thousand pages. This edition is well-selected and wonderfully accessible for the modern reader of English, and contains in full most of the greatest narratives of the epic, from their beginnings to their conclusions. Dick Davis' translation into beautiful and sensitive English verse and prose is a breakthrough for Ferdowsi in the non-Persian-speaking world.
on April 19, 2006
I was born in the US to Iranian parents, so I grew up listening to the stories from the Shahnameh, told to me in Persian by my parents and grandparents. But since I couldn't read the stories in the original Persian, I was never able to pick up a book and follow the stories from start to finish, or really put them in context. When I heard that the Shahnameh was finally available in English I rushed to get a copy. And all the stories and characters I'd learned in childhood are here! The legends of Zal, Rostam, Sohrab, Eskandar, Bahram, Mazdak, Khosrow, and Anoushirvan, and even more that I never knew were part of the Shahnameh. Reading this book as an adult, I can see the Shahnameh not just as fable but what it really is: an epic poem, a mix of myth and history, and a still-living story of a people. Dick Davis is a genius for having translated this incredibly long poem so evenly and clearly. The drama, humor, and pathos of Ferdowsi is never lost in his translation. Reading this book, there is still the sense of excitement and of having gained some kind of wisdom as when I first heard the stories of the Shahnameh as a child.
on March 28, 2006
I bought this book on a recommendation from an Iranian friend of mine who told me that, if I wanted to get a more sophisticated and nuanced view of Iran than the current headlines would allow, I should read the Shahnameh. At the time I hadn't even heard of this book, which is a shame because I now know that it is on a par with the great epic poems of the world. In fact it is in some ways even more epic, as it begins with Creation and has an extremely wide perspective, spanning thousands of years and putting Iran in a global context as far back as antiquity, when the Persian Empire had dealings with Alexander the Great, Roman emperors, India, and China. Who knew that the Persians came to revere Alexander, or that Roman emperors kneeled in submission to Persian kings, that Persians had ventured far to the east, beyond what the greatest minds of ancient Greece still considered the edge of the earth? The Shahnameh also contains human tales of love and loyalty that are just as compelling, and it is fascinating to see the personalities of the Shahnameh sketched with precision and flair by Ferdowsi, the poet. My friend was right, and even though you may not learn much about Iran's modern history and political woes, learning about this rich and vibrant part of Iranian culture, its myths, legends, famous historical figures, is a first step to grasping more about a place and a people than two-minute news stories will ever tell you.
on November 1, 2006
With some of the material previously published in "The Lion and the Throne", "Father and Sons", and "Sunset of Empire" all published by Mage Publishers, Dr. Dick Davis has added some more of his translations and has crafted and compiled a very readable and compact version of the Shah-Namah in his latest publication: Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings.
The Shah-Namah is the National Epic of Persia/Iran, composed by the poet Abulqasim Firdausi in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries. The current standard edition of the poem which runs into nine volumes (roughly 300 pages per volume), includes over 50,000 lines. In its great length, and it's multiplicity of characters and generations, as well as in other significant ways, the Shah-Namah comes closer to the Indian Epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, than to say the Illiad, the Odyssey or the Aeneid of the western world.
According to history, Sultan Muhammad Ghaznavi commissioned Firdausi to compose the Shah-Namah, promising to pay the poet a gold coin for every line. The King does not fulfill his promise. Instead he sends the poet silver coins, which Firdausi despite his dire poverty refuses. The King finally realizing the worth of the poet, repents of his behaviour and travels to the city of Tus to console the poet. He is too late, as his procession enters the main gate of the city, it encounters another procession leaving the same gate, with Firdausi's coffin. While political power is temporal, history and literature are eternal. We remember the King, because we remember the Poet.
GIven the poem's immense length and repititions, some passages have inevitably been omitted and others presented in a summary form. The most substantial ommission is the episode of the "twelve champions" which occurs during the Kaikhushru's war against Turan. Variant editions of the Firdausi's text have been used in working on this translation, for justifiable reasons. The illustrations used in this edition are taken from the lithographs for popular nineteenth-century editions of the poem of Dr. Ulrich Marzolph.
The book is very readable with meticulous English and well framed sentences. The books ends with a sumptuous glossary of names. Every Parsi and Zarathushtrian the world over, who may want to know a little of their past heritage, should give this book their undivided attention.
on December 14, 2006
This book is a beautiful hardcover book, and the text is written in an accessible prose style.
As an earlier reviewer noted, nowhere on the cover, dustjacket, or contents is it indicated that the text on offer is an abreviated version; indeed, I had asked the Penguin sales rep at a conference if it was abridged as was told that it was not. I am a bit miffed that in fact, it is, with no indication of where or how much beyond a brief note in the translator's preface.
As the original is verse, there are no footnotes, and no bibliography for further reading, I was dissapointed to discover that the vast majority of the book is in prose. I was hoping for a text that would enable me to easily find a way into more advanced scholarship related to this epic, but have unfortunately not found this edition helpful in that regard.
If you are looking for a good read in a new epic tradition this is a good book for you; if you are hoping to research Persian folk traditions and mythology, this book is probably not the resource for which you are looking.
Shahnameh is a poetic form rarely appreciated. It's an epic, it's storytelling, it's history, politics, myth, and religion. Ironically it stands as a stark counterpoint to today's poetic ethos of word economy, in which modern poets can sum up a universe in a hundred words.
Shahnameh stands, as translated here, at over 850 pages, possibly the longest poem ever created. Dick Davis' translation seems lacking in the ornamental nature of poetic language, and possibly the Persian language, but is likely true to the original's context. He does grace his prosaic pages occasionally with delightful quatrains to remind us that this is poetry, that its origins belong to the oral tradition, that it once beguiled as song.
Few will read this tome to completion, and that's a shame in a time in which we in the west need a better understanding of what was once one of the planet's most ascendant cultures, one that has influenced ours in more ways than we probably care to imagine.
on November 21, 2008
Nobody has been very enthusiastic up till now, and so it must be up to me. I loved and adored this book. I was entranced from the very beginning. Who could resist a story that tells you, "He was like a tall cypress tree topped by the moon", or, "He gathered together fairies, leopards and lions"?
The "Shahnameh" or "Book of Kings" is one of the world's great epic poems; but the episodic structure, the frequent fantastic and supernatural elements, make it more like "Tales of King Arthur" than the "Iliad". The "Iliad" happens almost in real time; but the "Shahnameh" follows Iran's legendary Royal Line over centuries from its origins: the first Kings are culture-heroes who teach men the use of fire, metals, medicine, weaving.
Ancient epics crammed with unfamiliar names are not everyone's taste. For me, nothing beats these tales of a time when everything was bigger and brighter, as if the world had a childhood as well as individuals; when every morning was different and everything that happened was wondrous simply because it happened. This is poetry, concise and allusive, so stylised images replace gritty detail; psychological realism is absent and emotions are painted by numbers.
Fairy-tale colours and seething incident compensate for the absence of that large-scale architecture that draws you through the "Iliad". This book is very long, not repetitious but, let's say, uniform: it is all marzipan throughout. So don't be in a rush to finish it, pace yourself. Read a bit, leave it for a while and then come back to it.
The truth that remains behind, as with all epic poetry, is the Invincibility of Fate, and Transience: the illusoriness of what seemed most real... I could complain mildly: I find the prose a bit too flat and short-winded for this subject-matter; and I'm not convinced that occasional bursts of rhyming couplets add much. But that would border on ingratitude: this is a wonderful book. At last those of us too lazy to learn Farsi have some idea what the fuss was about.
on March 21, 2006
Before anyone becomes excited that the Shahnameh has finally been made available - don't. It hasn't. This text is not noted as being abridged because it isn't, technically. Instead large swaths of untold length have been summarized in a paragraph or two as, according to the translator, he found them of lesser importance and gosh, the poem is really long. (Actually, the review does say, "most complete version available" or something like that. This apparently is meant to be read as 'translator's selection'.)
I myself am no great scholar of Persian texts so I will leave a review of what has been included in the text to someone more familiar with the Shahnameh's various versions than myself. My two stars are because I felt like there was no fair warning that this was an abbreviated version.
on March 25, 2006
The publication of this book is a landmark event in English-language Persian scholarship. It's been too long that Iran's major epic poem went unknown to readers of English because of poor, spotty, and incomplete translations. Imagine masterpieces of literature and windows on history and myth like the Iliad, Odyssey, or Mahabharata remaining inaccessible until now. And that's what the Shahnameh is-a masterful fusion of history and myth in poetic verse, and at nearly 60,000 lines, an almost unparalleled act of skill and devotion by the poem's author, Ferdowsi. Ferdowsi recounts the Iran's history beginning with the creation of the world and ending with the Arab invasion in the seventh century CE, along the way using the examples of kings, warriors, women, and everyday people, some noble, some ignominious, to recite not just history but stories of good, evil, love, lust, greed, generosity, foolishness, and wisdom. Dick Davis has completed a feat of his own in translating this epic work of poetry into beautifully clear and concise language. What should long ago have been enshrined as a classic of world literature, taught in schools and read by enthusiasts of epic poetry and history alike, is now available in the most complete translation to date, in single volume.
on March 28, 2006
As a non-Persian speaker who had never before had access to the Shahnameh, I was very excited to see this new English translation at an affordable price.
Most of the stories from the original are included, but the fact that this is an abridged version is not revealed on the dust jacket flaps and if it had been, I doubt I would have bought it. The amount of the poem that is abridged is only discussed very late in the translator's introduction and he states that he omits parts to make it "accessible to the general reader". Quite an insult to the "general reader's" intelligence, I think.