A masterpiece of Persian Classical epic, the Shahnama or Book of Kings was composed by Abu´l-Qasem Ferdowsi at the beginning of the eleventh century. Because the Shahnama presents itself as a chronicle of the reigns of the shahs from the primordial founders to the Sasanian dynasty which ended in 651, scholarly attention has centered on the question of its historical accuracy. Addressing the literary as well as the historical and mythological aspects of the Shahnama , Olga M. Davidson makes this centerpiece of Iranian culture accessible to Western readers. Drawing on recent work in epic studies and oral poetics, Davidson considers analogies with Classical and medieval European narratives as she investigates the poem´s social contexts. Her interpretation of the Shahnama focuses on both the figure of the poet himself and on his protagonists-the superhuman hero Rostam and the historical or historicized shahs. Exploring the Shahnama as an example of court poetry designed to glorify the idea of empire, Davidson identifies as a driving force of Ferdowsi´s narrative a strong current of antagonism between king and hero. Ironically, she shows, it is the epic hero himself who poses the greatest threat to the concept of kingship that he is sworn to defend. Poet and Hero in the Persian Book of Kings will be welcomed by readers working in such fields as comparative literature, Middle Eastern Studies, folklore, literary theory, and comparative religion.
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