January 26, 1998
The Lion and the Throne : Stories from the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, Vol. 1 (Mage Publishers, 1997, $75). Prose rendition by Ehsan Yarshter, translated by Dick Davis. Clothbound, 272 pages with 130 full-color illustrations.
Excerpt from introduction to "The Lion & The
By Dick Davis
The tales included in this volume are taken from the first quarter of the Persian national epic, Ferdowsi's Shahnameh, which is the largest repository of pre-Islamic myth and legend still extant in Persian culture.
In the form in which they appear in the Shahnameh, these legends and myths were written down in verse by the poet Ferdowsi at the end of the tenth and the beginning of the eleventh century, some 350 years after the Arab conquest which had destroyed the Sasanian Empire and Persian political independence, and brought to the country the new religion of Islam.
Ferdowsi's poem is at one and the same time a gathering of folk memory, a nostalgic record of a lost imperial civilization, and a definition by percept and example of a perceived cultural identity that had seemed in danger of being eroded by the new civilization, social values, and religious concerns that emerged in Islamic Iran.
Most of the present book is a translation of Professor Ehsan Yarshater's well-known retelling in modern Persian prose of the opening narratives of the Shahnameh, Bar Gozideh-ye Dastanha-ye Shahnameh az aghaz ta piruzi-ye kay kavus bar shah-e mazanderan (Selections from the stories of The Shahnameh: From the beginning until the conquest of Kay Kavus over the king of Mazanderan).
The last two narratives... have been rendered into English directly from Ferdowsi's Shahnameh. Professor Yarshater included short passages of direct quotation from Ferdowsi in his retelling, and these I have translated as verse in English.
At the end of the book the reader will find four appendices: A glossary of names in the text and their pronunciation, a summary of the complete Shahnameh, an essay on illustrating a Shahnameh, and a guide to the illustrations used in this volume and their sources.
Ferdowsi was born in Khorasan in a village near Tus, in 940. His great epic the Shahnameh, to which he devoted most of his adult life, was originally composed for the Samanid princes of Khorasan, who were the chief instigators of the revival of Persian cultural traditions after the Arab conquest of the seventh century. During Ferdowsi's lifetime this dynasty was conquered by the Ghaznavid Turks, and there are various stories in medieval texts describing the lack of interest shown by the new ruler of Khorasan, Mahmud of Ghazni, in Ferdowsi and his lifework. Ferdowsi is said to have died around 1020 in poverty and embittered by royal neglect, though confident of his and his poem's ultimate fame. (Back to text)
Dick Davis was born in Portsmouth, England, in 1945, and educated at King's College, Cambridge and at the University of Manchester (PhD. in Medieval Persian Literature). He has taught at the universities of Tehran, Durham, Newcastle, and California (Santa Barbara) and is currently associate professor of Persian at Ohio State University. He lived for 8 years (1970-1978) in Iran, as well as for periods in Greece and Italy. He has published numerous books of poetry, translations of Medieval Persian poetry (including, with his wife Afkham Darbandi, Attar's Conference of the Birds, and Ferdowsi's The Legend of Seyavash, both with Penguin Classics), as well as scholarly works and editions. (Back to text)
Ehsan Yarshater was born in 1920 in Iran and received a Ph.D. in Persian Language and Literature from the University of Tehran and a Ph.D. in Old and Middle Iranian from London University. He is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor Emeritus of Iranian Studies at Columbia University where he founded the Center for Iranian Studies in 1968 and started the Encyclopaedia Iranica in 1974. He currently lives in New York where he teaches and edits the Encyclopaedia Iranica. This monumental project will record the details of the history, culture, and achievements of Iranian peoples throughout history. (Back to text)
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