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The Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings

4.4 out of 5 stars 60 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Composed more than a thousand years ago, this national epic of Persia tells the story of Iran from the first "lord of the world," Kayumars, through the seventh-century Arab/Islamic conquest of the Sassanid dynasty. With a foreword by Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, and illustrated with Persian lithographs, Davis's translation of this epic poem is an accessible combination of poetry and prose.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

This immense volume translates into clear, accessible prose the bedrock work of Iranian literature. Compiled and cast into verse by a tenth-century bard, Shahnameh contains the stories of the kings of ancient Iran before Islam overwhelmed the land in the seventh century. The first half deals primarily with mythical and semimythical figures, chief among them the great hero Rostam, while the latter half, beginning with the conquest of Sekandar--that is, Alexander the Great--records historical persons and events. In the concise, informative introduction, Davis calls attention to the entire book's recurrent themes of father-son conflict and contrast between kings and heroes, the latter of whom are nobler in character than the former; indeed, so noble that they invariably decline the throne when it is proffered to them. Davis encourages viewing both themes as reflections of a detached and critical attitude toward formal power and markers of a humane spirit that has allowed the epic to persist as the supreme classic of its nation. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1134 pages
  • Publisher: Mage Publishers; Slp edition (August 30, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0934211973
  • ISBN-13: 978-0934211970
  • Product Dimensions: 4 x 7.5 x 11.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,233,124 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Christopher Eichler on March 31, 2006
Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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