Created Date : Friday, May 16, 2014   Update Date : Monday, August 10, 2015    Visit : 9052


Hakim Abu ‘l-Qasim Ferdowsi Tusi (حکیم ابوالقاسم فردوسی توسی), commonly referred to as Ferdowsi, is one of the most revered poets in the world, the author of the epic of Shahnameh (Book of Kings), and a national symbol of the Persian identity, heritage and, more importantly, language.


Ferdowsi was born in 940 CE in Tus, Iran, an ancient city near modern-day Mashhad. Little is known about his early life. It is believed that Ferdowsi came from an aristocratic family, had a wife from the same social class and a son, whose death at the age of 37 is mourned in his masterpiece, Shahnameh. It has been said that before Shahnameh, it is possible that Ferdowsi wrote other poems, none of which are available today.


Ferdowsi started his work on the epic of Shahnameh during the Samanid dynasty and was supported by the royal family. After the invasion of Persia and overthrowing of the Samanids by the Turkic Ghaznavids, Ferdowsi continued his work on the book. After more than thirty long years, as Ferdowsi claims himself in his masterpiece, Shahnameh, as the world’s longest epic poetry created by a single poet, was finished.


The book, as the national epic of the Persian speaking world, is a literary masterpiece which tells the mythical partially historical past of the Persian Empire, beginning from the creation of the world up until the Islamic invasion of Persia in 651. Today, this masterpiece is celebrated in several countries, namely Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Georgia, Armenia, and Turkey. Shahnameh consists of three parts: The Mythical Age, the Heroic Age and the Historical Age. Throughout the book, Ferdowsi does not adhere strictly to a chronological pattern but a general movement through time can be seen. Various characters galore and numerous tales are told. It is indisputable that the existence of many cultural and social aspects and characteristics of the Persian speaking world, as well the Persian language and identity, can be attributed to this great tale of kings and queens, heroes and villains, royalty and slaves, and farmers and warriors.


Upon completion of his work, Ferdowsi was to receive a grand total of 60,000 gold coins from Sultan Mahmoud Ghaznavi, one for each couplet. Ferdowsi planned to use the money on construction works in his hometown. However, the courtier whom the Sultan had trusted, held a grudge against Ferdowsi and replaced the gold coins with silver. Angry and distrusted, Ferdowsi gave the silver coins to a bathkeeper, a vendor and a slave. When news of his actions reached the Sultan, Mahmoud Ghaznavi ordered the execution of the poet, and thus Ferdowsi went into hiding, only to return to his home city as an old man. The Sultan eventually learned the truth and, having punished the dishonorable courtier accordingly, sent the poet a new gift as previously promised. Sadly, however, upon arrival to Tus, the courier bearing the money came upon a funeral procession, that of Ferdowsi’s: The poet had died from a heart attack. And thus it was that one of the most respected epic poets of history, the person known as the preserver of the Persian language and heritage, the author of one of the most renowned national epics of the world, breathed his last. Ferdowsi was laid to rest in his hometown of Tus in the year 1020, at the age of 80.


At the end of Shahnameh, Ferdowsi gives his personal insight toward his masterpiece and its legacy in a few words. Translated by Reza Jamshidi Safa, this is what Ferdowsi believes about his work and his life purpose:


Much I have suffered in these thirty years,

I have revived the Ajam1 with my verse.

I will not die then alive in the world,

For I have spread the seed of the word.

Whoever has sense, path and faith,

After my death will send me praise.


1 One who is illiterate in language, referred to Persians by Arabs.




For more information about the Persian language, see the links below:


Arya Rahimi Golkhandan