The Shâh Nâmeh or Shah nameh or Shahnamah شاهنامه|Deliver kings|audio-f=Fa-f-شاهنامه.ogg is a Persan poem epic of more than 60000 Distique S, written about the year 1000 by Ferdowsi.

Ferdowsi and context of writing of the Shâh Nâmeh

One knows only very badly the life of Ferdowsi, the independent source on this subject being the Shâh Nâmeh him even. Other poets, like Nizami, wrote about it, but the chronological variation is such as it is difficult to grant a credit to these texts. Born in Bazh, (close to Keep silent, in Iran) towards 940-941 of the Christian era (three centuries after the Arab invasion), Ferdowsi seems to have belonged to a family of dihghans, i.e. easy landowners.

The political context of this time is at the very least disturbed: as of IXe century, the capacity of the caliph Abbasside is called into question, and the dynasty of the Samanides seizes the power in Iran. Since their principal capital of Bukhara, the leaders of this dynasty sponsor an important mental activity, protecting the poets Rudaqi and Daqiqi, the historian friendly Bal' or the philosophers Rhazes and Avicenne. However, under the pressure of Turkish of Central Asia, the emir Nuh II is seen constrained to name Mahmud Ghaznavi governor of the Khorasan. This one, thanks to an alliance with Turkish Qarakhanides of Transoxiane makes fall the emirate samanide in 1005.

In spite of its richness, Ferdowsi seeks a guard to achieve what he judges like the work of his life: the compilation of the legends Persians. Taking over Daqiqi after its death into 980, it immediately starts to write for various silent partners but will have to await the arrival of Mahmud to the capacity to find a guard really powerful. It is then 65 years old, and undergoes already problems of money. For financial reasons, but perhaps also religious (Ferdowsi was Chiite, according to Nizami, or perhaps Zoroastrien), however, the poet separates relatively quickly from his dedicatee, which obviously did little case of a work which could not serve it politically. " If Mahmud had not had the spirit also borné/Il me would have placed in a row élevé" , Ferdowsi writing in its Shâh Nâmeh . After the publication of a satire on its former guard, largely diffused, Ferdowsi sees itself constrained to flee towards courses provincial (Bagh, Ahwez). He dies about 1020 (the date is prone to controversy) in the embarrassment. The legend tells that at the same moment that one transferred the skin from Ferdowsi, one crossed the camels of Mahmud Sultan arriving with the quantities of gold and money as a forgiveness.

The text of the Shâh Nâmeh


When Firdawsi started the writing of the Shâh Nâmeh , it did not leave nothing. Indeed, it is the poet Daqiqi who had the first the idea to write this great epopee, and which began the drafting of it. Unfortunately, he died assassinated by a slave towards 980, leaving only a one thousand of distiches. Ferdowsi, in spite of acid criticisms of which it accompanies them, incorporated them in its work, and developed considerably the idea of its predecessor. According to its clean dires, it took him thirty years to finish the drafting of the epopee (" here thirty years of my life in suffering… "), which thus had to be completed about 1010, that is to say ten years before its death.


" All that I will say, all one already told/all already traversed the gardens of the savoir" writing the author. Indeed, the Shâh Nâmeh draws its sources in the important Iranian mythological tradition. The topics are not new: the exploits of the Rustam hero, for example, already were painted in Takht-i Sulayman several centuries before.

According to G. Lazard, the oldest sources are Indo-Iraniens myths, like the Avesta , of the myths Scythes (for the cycle of Rostam and its family) and of the Parthes myths. For the more historical parts, Ferdowsi would have partly taken again the Iskandar Nâmeh the pseudoone, the chronicles royal Sassanide S, the romantic literature in Pehlevi and collections of maxims and councils, cities textually in the Shâh Nâmeh . End of the time sassanide, one also knows a compilation of the Khwadayènamag translates by Ibn Al-Muqaffa into Arabic in VIIIe century.

One should not either forget the sources oral, innumerable, of which Ferdowsi undoubtedly was useful; they undoubtedly constitute the independent source of inspiration of the poet.

Lastly, it is also necessary to say a word of the embryos of Shâh Nâmeh whose Ferdowsi took again part of its informations.
One knows a Shâh Nâmeh undertaken under the influence of the governor of Keep silent, Abu Mansur, by a college of four zoroastriens. Those were inspired besides by the Khoday Nâmeh already quoted. This text in prose is a source attested of that of Ferdowsi.
Il exists also a poem into Persan of Massudi de Merv composed at the beginning of the Xe century, whose currently only three distiches remain. One does not know if Ferdowsi had of it really connaissance.
Enfin, of course, the poem of Daqiqi of 975-980 was an unquestionable source of the epopee.

" I wished to have this book of Daqiqi to make it pass in my worms. I requested it from innumerable people. I trembled to see time to pass, fearing not to live enough and to have to leave this work to another. However, I had in the city a devoted friend: you would have said that it was in the same skin as me. He says to me: " It is a beautiful plan, and your foot will lead you to happiness. I will bring this splendid book to you. Do not deaden you! You have the gift of the word, you have youth, you know the old language. Write this Book of Kings, and seeks by him glory near the grands." It thus brought the book to me, and the sadness of my heart was converted into joie"


With the Arab conquest, the pehlevi, old Persian, spoken at time about Sassanides, disappeared from the documents written with the profit of Arabic. It is only in IXe century that this idiom reappeared, under a new face: the Persan one. This language results in fact from the oral transformation from the pehlevi, which remained usually spoken in the world although he was not written, and grows rich by Arab words. Ferdowsi, by using the Persan one in a text as considerable as the Shâh Nâmeh , sign truly the birth certificate of this language, even if it were already sometimes used by certain Iranian writers.

It should not however not be believed that the Shâh Nâmeh of Xe century was preserved such as it is at the wire of time. The text was taken again, altered, in particular to adapt the language to the context. The faults of the copiers remained. The text was revised mainly in 1334-35 by the vizier of Aldine Rashid, then in 1425-26 for the Baysunghur sultan. It is this version which one generally uses.


The text comprises, according to the versions, from 40.000 to 60.000 distiches of two worms of eleven feet each one rimant between them. All the worms have the same rate/rhythm: C L L C L L C L L C L (C=courte/L=longue) . The sentences (stylistic devices) and the rhymes are generally stereotyped, in order to prevent that reciting it a lapse of memory does not have, which seems sometimes wearying for our Western sensitivities.


The Shâh Nâmeh is a national epopee, a rather clean kind in Iran. It recalls the history of the area since the creation of the world until the arrival of Islam.

Gilbert Lazard divides the text into three great parts (increased by an introduction), which cover fifty reigns.

  • the introduction is the moment when Ferdowsi explains, amongst other things, why and how he wrote this text.
  • history of the " civilisateurs" is a relatively short part, which includes/understands

the creation of the world, its exit " out of the néant"
the dynasty of Pishdadian, " the first crées" , which teaches with the men all arts (control of fire, work of metals, construction of the houses, medicine, irrigation, justice, etc), which reign Jamshid.
the fall of this dynasty due to the Evil, incarnated by Zahhak, whose tyranny lasts thousand years, and who finally will be reversed by the dispenser of justice Faridun. With died of this one, its kingdom is divided between its three sons, but two older assassinate their junior, which marks the beginning of the long war between Iran and Turan.
  • the history of the legendary kings constitutes the longest part, and most prone to the epopee. A great part is devoted to the war between Iran and Turan, and it is in this context that the cycles of the large heroes like Rostam are developed, Gudarz, Tus, Bijen… The central account, the war against the sovereign of Turan, Afrassiyab, is intersected with history secondaries, which are more or less attached to him, such as that with Bijen and Manija. The Zoroastrienne religion takes a place more visible than in the other passages.

  • the " part; historique" is made up of accounts of battles and anecdotes often punctuated by a morals. The introduced characters are more human (in particular on the plan of the lifespan). One can identify several periods which correspond to historic moments:

the achéménides, which are developed rather little. Darius takes the name of Darab and its son Darius III, that of Dara, which is overcome by Iskandar.
the cycle of Iskandar, i.e. Alexandre the Large one, is a resumption of the Iskandar Nâmeh of pseudo-Callistène. It is a very developed passage, which presents few common points with the real history. Alexandre is introduced like wise, who in particular exceeded the end of the world, conversed with the Arbre waq-waq…
kings Ashkanian are mentioned quickly. They correspond to the parthes Arsacides, but the author had here to be confronted with the quasi-absence of
sources the Sassanide dynasty, finally, occupies a third of the whole account. One finds there at the same time accounts of battle, anecdotes punctuated by morals and philosophical discussions.

Influences of the Shâh Nâmeh

The Shâh Nâmeh and the culture Persian

The Shâh Nâmeh is undoubtedly the most known literary work in Iran, with the Khamsa of Nizami, which besides is inspired some. The language has little vielli (according to G. Lazard, lira the Shâh Nâmeh for Iranian corresponds a little to reading Montaigne in the text in France), and it constitutes a base impossible to circumvent for reciting and the poets still nowadays.

The Shâh Nâmeh and Iranian art

Obviously, the text of the Shâh Nâmeh gave place to many representations, in painting Persian as in objects (ceramics, etc).

The first illustrated manuscripts of the Shâh Nâmeh date from the period it-khanide. The Shâh Nâmeh Demotte is one of the most known manuscripts and most studied Arts of Islam. Rich person of more than 180 illustrations, this great codex (58 cm in height) was cut up at the beginning of the XXe century, and saw his pages dispersed in various Western museums. The Musée of Louvre preserves three of them, the Metropolitan Museum off Art of New York and the Freer Gallery of Washington some others. This manuscript poses many problems of dating, because it does not comprise a Colophon preserved.

The Timurides continued and magnifièrent the patronage of illustrated books, carrying this art with its apogee. The Shâh Nâmeh was still one of the texts privileged by the silent partners, and all the schools of paintings produced some, as well Herat as Chiraz and Tabriz. The political directors were done to do everything at least a Shâh Nâmeh . One knows thus of it a fact for Ibrahim Sultan, for Baysunghur (1430), for Muhammad Juki

Under the Safavides, it was made by it for Shah Isma' it Ier, of which there remains only one page and who obviously was never completed, and for Shah Tahmasp, which one of the most beautiful known Persan manuscripts, is today preserved in several parts at Metropolitan Museum off Art, the museum of contemporary art of Teheran and in private collections. It is largest Shâh Nâmeh ever painted. Comprising 759 folios of which 258 paintings, it required the work of at least a dozen artists among whom Bihzad, Sultan Muhammad, Mir Musavvir, Aqa Mirak… It is the handwritten large last of the Shâh Nâmeh painted, since the fashion then moved towards the albums. However, the provincial workshops as that of Bukhara still left the dozen more minor manuscripts.

The Shâh Nâmeh in the Islamic rest of the world

The text of the Shâh Nâmeh was quickly translated into Arabic and Turkish, and copied much in these languages. It is interesting to see that at the Othoman court, XVIe century, there was an official station of " shahnamedji" : the poet the occupant was to compose of works in the style of the Shâh Nâmeh , which it generally made in Turkish language and not in Persan worms. This station, which concretized a habit born in the middle of XVe century, was removed in 1600, although orders of this type had still placed, by Uthman II and Murad IV, for example. It shows how much the Shâh Nâmeh remains popular in the Islamic countries of culture, even several centuries after its creation.

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