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The Shahnameh or Persian book of kings is a compilation of history, myths, traditions, religious lore and philosophy and folktales that was compiled and rendered into verse in the then new Persian language (Farsi) by Ferdowsi about 990 in the reigns of the Sassanid and Ghaznavid dynasties. The Shahnameh covered the entire history, culture and past glories of  Persia beginning with the creation of the world and the period before Zoroastrianism.

The Shahnameh   has become the cultural centerpiece of  Persian and modern Iranian culture. It was based on the oral traditions and recorded history extant at time it was compiled.

The Shahnameh  can be divided into several parts, corresponding to the mythical, heroic, and historical ages.

In the first cycle of creation, evil is external (the devil). This text is based primarily on the oral history of religious bards or muba'ads.

In the second part we see the beginnings of family hatred, bad behavior, and evil permeating human nature. Shah Ferseyun's two eldest sons feel greed and envy toward their innocent younger brother and, thinking their father favors him, they murder him. The murdered prince's son avenges the murder, and all are immersed in the cycle of murder and revenge, blood and more blood.

In the third cycle, there are a series of flawed shahs.

In the next cycle, all the players are evil.

The Shahnameh incorporated an unfinished work of the poet Daqiqi, the Garshaspnameh, that relates the rise of  Zoroastrianism.

The Shahnahmeh incorporates and argues for the monotheistic theology of  Zoroastrianism rather than Islam.

Ferdowsi mourned the fall of the Persian empires and the conquest by Arabs and Turks. The Shahnameh preserved the real or imagined memory of Persia's golden age and transmitted it to posterity, building a Persian national tradition against the encroachments of the Turks, the Arabs and the western countries,

Ami Isseroff

November 10, 2010


Synonyms and alternate spellings: Ghajar

Further Information: A Brief History of modern Iran 

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Encyclopedia of the Middle East

Note - This encyclopedia is a work in progress. It is far from complete and is being constructed and improved all the time. If you would like to contribute articles or expansions of existing articles, please contact news (at) mideastweb.org.  Suggestions and corrections are welcome. The concise version of this dictionary is at our Middle East Glossary.

Spelling - Spelling of words in Middle-Eastern languages is often arbitrary. There may be many variants of the same name or word such as Hezbollah, Hizbolla, Hisbolla or Husayn and Hussein. There are some conventions for converting words from Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew There are numerous variant renderings of the same Arabic or Hebrew words, such as "Hizbollah," "Hisbulla" etc. It is not possible to find exact equivalents for several letters. 

Pronunciation - Arabic and Hebrew vowels are pronounced differently than in English. "o" is very short. The "a" is usually pronounced like the "a" in market, sometimes as the "a" in "Arafat."  The " 'A " is guttural.  " 'H "- the 'het ('Hirbeh, 'Hebron, 'Hisbollah') designates a sound somewhat similar to the ch in "loch" in Scots pronunciation, but made by touching the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. The CH should be pronounced like Loch, a more assertive consonant than 'het.

The "Gh" combination, and sometimes the "G," designate a deep guttural sound that Westerners may hear approximately as "r." The "r" sound is always formed with the back of the tongue, and is not like the English "r."

More information: Hebrew, Arabic

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