The homes that are the dwellings of today
Will sink ‘neath shower and sunshine to decay
But storm and rain shall never mar
What I have built — the palace of my poetry.
Hākim Abu´l-Qāsim Firdousi Tūsī (referred to as Ferdowsi in English) has been considered the greatest Persian poet ever since he composed a monumental epos – Shahnameh, the Book of Kings. He succeeded in preserving the national identity, language and heritage of Persia, and as the author of what is now acclaimed to be “Iran’s Identity card” has become famous and recognized worldwide.
Born in 940 into a wealthy family of land owners, Ferdowsi received an excellent education and, promoted by a friend of the Persian nobility, was attracted by ancient Persian epics, and in particular by the language. Carried away by a fervent desire to document and thus preserve this language of his country, at that time threatened by the overriding importance of Arabic, he started composing a “Book of Kings”. This took him 30 years and made him a poor man, having spent all his wealth while writing it. When he presented it to the sultan who had promised a golden dinar for every couplet written he was dismissed in disgrace: The ruler had expected an exhortation of his person as was the custom adopted by the court poets. He died in 1020, destitute and utterly disappointed but confident that his life-long endeavours had not been in vain. Sultan Mahmud soon realised his mistake and sent the promised reward – to arrive shortly after the poet´s death. As a Shi´íte he had not even been permitted to be buried in the cemetery of his native Sunni village of Tus but was laid to rest in the courtyard of his own house. It was only when Shah Reza Pahlavi came to power in the 20th century that, on his command, a Ferdowsi mausoleum was constructed there, to become almost a place of pilgrimage …
Having received royal acceptance of Sultan Mahmud Shahname rapidly became the best known and most read and quoted epic of Persia, and its fame continues unabated in modern Iran. Schoolchildren at elementary level find passages in their text books, students are widely familiar with classical readings, parents recite couplets to their offspring, illiterate people can remember long passages, and relevant quotations are national property. A series of legends has become common knowledge and every Iranian will be lighted to contribute yet another version.
This crown jewel of Persian literature consists of hero tales of ancient Persia, mythical tales and historical events of the country from the creation of the world to the Islamic conquest of Persia in the 7th century, extending over about 60 000 couplets. The events described take the reader back to ancient times governed by mythical creatures, recount legends and pinpoint the fight between good and evil. In addition to its catching narrative the text is meticulously written in pure Persian, as Ferdowsi made every effort to avoid the Arabic influence. In more or less chronological order the stories offer inspiration towards the better understanding of the reason for the rise and fall of rulers and nations, and the idea of learning from the past in order to improve the present.
The original manuscripts written by Ferdowsi seem to have been lost at some stage in the past. However, several handwritten Shahnameh manuscripts still exist, produced by scribes, most of them illustrated with miniatures. The earliest date back to some two hundred years after the poet had completed his writing. Unfortunately the book was torn apart by later generations subjected to foreign powers, and several chapters are incomplete. Whilst in the early manuscripts the pictures are fairly modest, designed to fit within the text, later on the illustrations are gradually given more priority, finally extending into the text to end up with the text being squeezed in around the pictures.
The miniatures show dragons, demons and heroes engaged in battles with monsters and supernatural creatures that threaten the survival of their kingdom – a valuable addition to Ferdowsi`s allegory inviting the beholder to reflect upon tragic occurrences in one´s own life and those of an entire nation.
The birth of Rustam, the main hero of Shahnameh, and a unique example of a cesarean, is given with the carpet showing a collection of miniatures.