Shahnameh of Ferdowsi

13 Dec, 2012 890 Other literatures

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the epic poem the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, the ‘Book of Kings’, which has been at the heart of Persian culture for the past thousand years. The poem recounts a legendary history of Iran from the dawn of time to the fall of the Persian Empire in the 7th century and serves, in a sense, as a creation myth for the Persian nation. The Shahnameh took Ferdowsi thirty years to write and, consisting of over 50,000 verses, is said to be the longest poem ever written by a single author. Laced with tragedy, Ferdowsi’s epic chronicles battles, romances, family rifts and Man’s interior struggle with himself. Although the stories may not always be true they have a profound resonance with Iranians even today, and the poem has been referred to as both the ‘encyclopaedia of Iranian culture’ and the identity card of the Persian people.

Play on BBC Sounds website


  • Narguess Farzad No other episodes
    Senior Fellow in Persian at SOAS, University of London
  • Charles Melville 2 episodes
    Professor of Persian History at Pembroke College at the University of Cambridge
  • Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis 4 episodes
    Curator of Middle Eastern Coins at the British Museum

Reading list

  • The Persian Book of Kings: Ibrahim Sultan's Shahnama
    Firuza Abdullaeva and Charles Melville (Bodleian Library, 2008) Google Books →
  • Epic of the Persian Kings: The Art of Ferdowsi's Shahnameh
    Barbara Brend and Charles Melville (eds.) (I.B.Tauris, 2010) Google Books →
  • Muhammad Juki's Shahnamah of Firdausi
    Barbara Brend (Philip Wilson, 2010) Google Books →
  • Epic and Sedition: The Case of Ferdowsi's Shahnameh
    Dick Davis (University of Arkansas Press, 1992) Google Books →
  • Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings
    Ferdowsi (author), Dick Davis (trans.) (Penguin Classics, 2007) Google Books →
  • The Epic of the Kings
    Ferdowsi (author), Reuben Levy (trans.) (London, 1967 and reprints) Google Books →
  • Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings
    Elizabeth Laird (Frances Lincoln, 2012) Google Books →
  • The Persian Book of Kings: An Epitome of the Shahnama of Firdawsi
    B. W. Robinson (Routledge, 2002) Google Books →
  • Persian Myths
    Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis (British Museum Press, 1993) Google Books →
  • The Idea of Iran
    Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis and Sarah Stewart (eds) (I.B.Tauris, four volumes published between 2005-2009)
  • Ferdowsi: A Critical Biography
    A. Shapur Shahbazi (Harvard University Press, 1991) Google Books →

Related episodes

Programme ID: b01p7dcv

Episode page:

Auto-category: 891.5511 (Persian literature)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. Over 1,000 years ago in 1010 AD, the Persian poet Ferdowsi finished writing his epic poem, the Shahnameh or Book of Kings.