“Knowledge is Power”
In the darkest moments of Iran’s history when Persia had been conquered, first by the Arabs who brought Islam, and later by barbarians from central Asia, one man sets out to revive its past and keep the Persian language and culture alive. Ferdowsi is credited with preserving the Persian language.
Arguably the most important work of Iranian literature, Ferdowsi’s epic poem Shahnameh was written without a single word of Arabic. He is therefore credited with saving the Persian language from becoming Arabic after the Islamic conquest. In fact, when asked why present-day Egypt speaks Arabic instead of Coptic, a prominent Egyptian historian stated matter-of-factly, “Because we had no Ferdowsi.”
Ferdowsi (940 – 1020Ad) was born in Tus, a town in North Eastern Iran, in the province of Khorasan. He devoted over 35 years of his life to the creation of the Shahnameh, which is the longest work of epic poetry ever written, composed of over 60,000 verses. Translated as ‘The Book of Kings’, the Shahnameh spans the history of Iran from mythical times until the Sassanid period in the 7th century, telling the tales of heroic blacksmiths, despotic rulers and wicked demons who form the currents of good and evil which run throughout human history. Through his complex characters, Ferdowsi demonstrates the capacity for lightness and darkness and for happiness and unhappiness, in every being, encouraging his readers to actively take the side of good. He glorifies war and warriors, yet his characters rarely escape the consequences of their actions. The most famous story in the book is that of Rostam, a warrior whose bravery and skill surpass all others, and who defeats unbeatable foes.
Iranians compare him to the Greek poet Homer. His statue gazes over the traffic in a Tehran square. The closing couplets of his great poem are chiseled into the walls of the classical tomb built to his memory in northeastern Iran. Most importantly, his book remains in many Iranian homes and hearts.
It is true that it was Ferdowsi, with a single great book, who preserved the Persian language, history and mythology from being erased.
Ferdowsi concludes the Shahnameh by writing:
Much I have suffered in these thirty years,
I have revived the Ajam 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.
Translation by Reza Jamshidi Safa