Shahnameh by Ferdowski * Reuben Levy (translator) (1967/2001)

For decades I had wanted to read the “Shahnameh” and quite a while ago I ran into a very nice translation for little money. Happy I brought home the book, but when I started to read it, I was less happy. For some reason I cannot read stories. I do not care about plots, cannot remember who is who and I usually get bored after a few pages. Well, the “Shahnameh” is exactly that: a story. Perhaps not an ongoing one, but the work reads like a book. The complete title of the translation that I found runs: “Shahnameh, The Epic Of The Kings, the national epic of Persia by Ferdowski” it is “translated by Reuben Levy” and “revised by Amin Banani”. The translation was originally published by Routledge, but my printing is of the Iranian publisher Yassavoli. It comes with a large number of colour plates of drawings from some old Shahnameh manuscript. Some time ago I was in a museum (I forgot which) that also had quite a few of these plates. They certainly are beautiful and very nicely reprinted. As the title says, what we get is the story of the rulers of ancient Persia. The “Shahnameh” was written around 1000 CE. It starts with Hushang, but I cannot find in which period he ruled. He was supposedly the second Shah or king of Persia. In short chapters Ferdowski tells about the proceedings of an endless line of characters, quite in detail too sometimes. Happenings of wars, struggles, times of peace, fathers, sons and daughters, envious family members and a little woven through a bit of the old religion, Zoroaster and Christianity. The book is most likely not historically correct in our terms, but mythological upto a certain degree. Like I said, it all comes in a story and however the translation is nice, I have problems keeping my attention to it all. I did not read the book from cover to cover, but started scanning it for interesting passages. I now see that I got my book for a very good price, since Amazon has it listed for almost 10x of what I paid for it. There are other printings of Levy’s translation which I did not see, but the Yassavoli version certainly is a nice one. I also like the idea that I got the national epic from the country itself, especially when we all know how the current religion of Iran acts.
2001 Yassavoli, isbn 9643062082

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