The Shahnameh

The Persian Epic as World Literature

Hamid Dabashi

Columbia University Press

The Shahnameh

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Pub Date: January 2019

ISBN: 9780231183444

272 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $35.00£27.00

Pub Date: January 2019

ISBN: 9780231544948

272 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $34.99£27.00

The Shahnameh

The Persian Epic as World Literature

Hamid Dabashi

Columbia University Press

The Shahnameh, an epic poem recounting the foundation of Iran across mythical, heroic, and historical ages, is the beating heart of Persian literature and culture. Composed by Abu al-Qasem Ferdowsi over a thirty-year period and completed in the year 1010, the epic has entertained generations of readers and profoundly shaped Persian culture, society, and politics. For a millennium, Iranian and Persian-speaking people around the globe have read, memorized, discussed, performed, adapted, and loved the poem.

In this book, Hamid Dabashi brings the Shahnameh to renewed global attention, encapsulating a lifetime of learning and teaching the Persian epic for a new generation of readers. Dabashi insightfully traces the epic’s history, authorship, poetic significance, complicated legacy of political uses and abuses, and enduring significance in colonial and postcolonial contexts. In addition to explaining and celebrating what makes the Shahnameh such a distinctive literary work, he also considers the poem in the context of other epics, such as the Aeneid and the Odyssey, and critical debates about the concept of world literature. Arguing that Ferdowsi’s epic and its reception broached this idea long before nineteenth-century Western literary criticism, Dabashi makes a powerful case that we need to rethink the very notion of “world literature” in light of his reading of the Persian epic.
This is a work of imaginative activism. Hamid Dabashi coaxes and cajoles the reader to achieve the critical intimacy with the founding epic of Iran that he himself has acquired from childhood and through teaching and parenting. Historically conscientious, he is aware of the abuses of nationalism and triumphalism. His Shahnameh is a metaphysical epic of worthy failure. Such readings open many worlds, shaming the Eurocentric binaries of 'world literature.' Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, University Professor, Columbia University
A major achievement. With wit and erudition, Hamid Dabashi has pushed open one of the great locked doors of world literature: the Shahnameh. In bringing the central work of Persian literature vividly to life, he also offers us a new way to understand all epics. More likely, in Dabashi’s brilliant reading, to undermine imperialistic ambitions than to proclaim them, the Shahnameh and its fellow epic poems reassert their relevance in our troubled times. Aravind Adiga, author of The White Tiger
This is an important book that will make its readers reconsider what they think they know about Iran’s national epic. It situates the poem in three contexts: The imperial world in which it was born, the world that it envisions, and the postcolonial world in which it is read and understood. Writing as a learned and passionate critic, Dabashi succeeds in placing the Shahnameh in the corpus of world literature, but somewhere beyond the reach of Eurocentrism. Like Dabashi’s other works, it will stay with its readers, and will open new vistas for the specialist and the nonspecialist alike. Mahmoud Omidsalar, author of Poetics and Politics of Iran's National Epic, the Shahnameh
This is a work of love and care on the foundational story telling of the Persianate. Dabashi guides the reader to avoid the traps of the Eurocentered idea of 'world literature.' He invites us to reimagine and rewrite it starting from the Shahanameh instead of from a canonical Western narrative. A powerful political statement that shifts the geography of 'world literature.' Walter Mignolo, coauthor of On Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics, Praxis
In The Shahnameh, Hamid Dabashi shows the global importance of the tenth-century Persian masterpiece and gives readers a strong sense of its literary magnificence. Dabashi allows us to see the world imagined by Abolqasem Ferdowsi in its richness and complexity eight centuries before Goethe made his influential claim for Weltliteratur and, thereby, helps us expand our sense of the world of literature. After reading Dabashi’s magisterial account of the great Iranian epic, we must return to the ongoing debates in world literature anew. Brian Edwards, author of After the American Century: The Ends of U.S. Culture in the Middle East
This enlightening scholarly study will serve, for most Western readers, as their introduction to the Persian Book of Kings. . . . Dabashi provides background on Ferdowsi and the pre-Islamic epic tradition that shaped his poem before sharing colorful accounts of its cast of warrior kings, rebellious offspring, and seductive courtesans. Publishers Weekly
Preface
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. The Persian Epic
2. Ferdowsi the Poet
3. The Book of Kings
4. Epics and Empires
5. Empires Fall, Nations Rise
Conclusion
Notes
Index

About the Author

Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He is a founding member of the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University. Among his most recent books are The World of Persian Literary Humanism (2015) and Persophilia: Persian Culture on the Global Scene (2016).