Among the masterpieces of world literature, perhaps the least familiar to English readers is the Persian Book of Kings (Shahnameh, in Persian). This prodigious national epic, composed by the poet Ferdowsi between 980 and 1010, tells the story of ancient Persia, beginning in the mythic time of Creation and continuing forward to the Arab-Islamic invasion.
With our third and final volume of stories from the Shahnameh we move from mythology and legend to romanticized history. Here the mighty events that shook ancient Persia from the time of Alexander of Macedons conquest to the Arab invasion of the seventh century C.E. are reflected in the stirring and poignant narratives of Ferdowsi, the master poet who took on himself the task of preserving his countrys great pre-Islamic heritage. We see vast empires rise and fall, the rule of noble kings and cruel tyrants, the fortunes of a people buffeted by contending tides of history. Larger than life individuals are vividly depictedthe impulsive, pleasure-loving king Bahram Gur, the wise vizier Bozarjmehr, the brave rebel Bahram Chubineh, his loyal defiant sister Gordyeh, and many othersbut we also see many vignettes of everyday life in the villages and towns of ancient Persia, and in this part of the Shahnameh Ferdowsi indulges his talent for sly humor much more than in the earlier tales. The poem rises to its magnificent climax in its last pages, when the tragic end of an era is recorded and Ferdowsi and his characters look with foreboding towards an unstable and fearful future.
Breathtaking miniatures from the finest Persian Shahnameh manuscripts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, many of them published here for the first time, heighten the emotional impact of the text.