Abu l-Qasim Ferdowsi Tusi (c.940-1020) was a Persian poet and the author of the immortal epic of Shahnameh (“book of kings”) which is the world’s longest epic poem that created by a single poet, and the national epic of Iran . Having drafted the Shahnameh under patronage of the Samanid and the Ghaznavid courts of Iran.
Ferdowsi is celebrated as the most influential figure in Persian literature and one of the greatest in the history of literature that widely regarded as the greatest poet in the Persian language . He was called “The Lord of the Word” and “The Savior of Persian Language”.
Except for his kunya and his laqab , nothing is known with any certainty about his full name. From an early period on, he has been referred to by different additional names and titles,that the most common one being Ḥakīm (“philosopher”). Based on this, his full name is given in Persian sources as / Ḥakīm Abu’l-Qāsim Firdowsī Țusī. Due to the non-standardized transliteration from Persian into English, different spellings of his name are used in English works, including Firdawsi, Firdusi, Firdosi, Firdausi, etc.
Ferdowsi was born into a family of Iranian landowners in 940 in the village of Paj, near the city of Tus, in the Khorasan region of the Samanid Empire, currently in the Razavi Khorasan Province of northeastern Iran. Little is known about Ferdowsi’s early life. The poet had a wife, who was probably literate and came from the same dehqan class. He had a son, who died aged 37, and was mourned by the poet in an elegy which he inserted into the Shahnameh.
The Muslim conquests of the 7th century had been a watershed in Iranian history, bringing the new religion of Islam, submitting Iranians to the rule of the Arab caliphate and promoting Arabic culture and language at the expense of Persian. By the late 9th century, the power of the caliphate had weakened and local Iranian dynasties emerged. Ferdowsi grew up in Tus, a city under the control of one of these dynasties, the Samanids, who claimed descent from the Sassanid general Bahram Chobin.
The Samanid bureaucracy used the New Persian language rather than Arabic and the Samanid elite had a great interest in pre-Islamic Iran and its traditions and commissioned translations of Pahlavi (Middle Persian) texts into New Persian . Abu Mansur Muhammad, a dehqan and governor of Tus, had ordered his minister Abu Mansur Mamari to invite several local scholars to compile a prose Shahnameh (“Book of Kings”), which was completed in 1010CE. Although it no longer survives, Ferdowsi used it as one of the sources of his epic. Samanid rulers were patrons of such important Persian poets as Rudaki and Daqiqi. Ferdowsi followed in the footsteps of these writers. Details about Ferdowsi’s education are lacking. Judging by the Shahnameh, there is no evidence he knew either Arabic or Pahlavi. Although New Persian was permeated by Arabic vocabulary by Ferdowsi’s time, there are relatively few Arabic loan words in the Shahnameh. This may have been a deliberate strategy by the poet. He died in 1020 A.D. in the Tus, Iran, Iran (Persia) in the same city that he was born in.
Life as a poet
Maybe Ferdowsi wrote some early poems which they haven’t survived. Around 977 Ferdowsi began work on the Shahnameh , he intending it as a continuation of the work of his fellow poet Daqiqi who he was slave. Like Daqiqi, Ferdowsi employes the prose Shahnameh of Abd-al-Razaq as a source. Ferdowsi received generous patronagefrom the Samanid prince and completed the first version of the Shahnameh in 994. Ferdowsi continued the work on the poem after Samanid toppled in the late 990 s and rewriting the section of praise Qaznavi Mahmoud. Mahmoud’s attitude to Ferdowsi and how well he rewarded the poet are matters which have long been subject to dispute and have formed the basis of legends about the poet and his patron.
The Turkic Mahmud may have been less interested in tales from Iranian history than the Samanids. The later sections of the Shahnameh have passages which speak about the Ferdowsi fluctuating moods: Some of them appears happy ,in some he complains about the old age, illness, poverty and the death of his son. A Millenary celebration was also held for the poet inviting scholars from Soviet Tajikistan, India, Armenia, and Europe such as : Germany, France, England, etc.which led to funds mainly from Parsi scholars’ donations that led to the building of a statue of the poet at his tomb site. Ferdowsi completed his epicon 8 March 1010. Virtually nothing is known with any certainly about the last decades of his life.
For all his literary contribution Ferdowsi was not recognized during his life. It was only after his death that his poems won him admiration. For hundreds of years, his resting place was nothing more than a minor dome-shrine erected by the a Ghaznavid ruler of Khorasan , without any permanent edifice in place in the garden of his house where Ferdowsi’s daughter had originally buried him. In the beginning years of the twentieth century, Iran started to realize his critical role in defining the identity of Iran.
Ferdowsi was buried in his own garden (the cemetery of Tus )that burial there having been forbidden by a local cleric. A Qaznavid governer of Khorasan constructed a mausoleum over the grave and it became a revered site. The tomb , which had fallen into rottenness, was rebuilt by the Society for the National Heritage of Iran on the orders of Reza Shah, and has now become the equivalent of a national shrine.
This tomb was built in the early 1930s,under the Reza Shah, and uses mainly elements of Achaemenid architecture and it is complex composed of a white marble base, and a decorative edifice erected in honor of this Persian poet located in Tus, Iran, in Razavi Khorasan province. The construction of the mausoleum, as well as its aesthetic design, is a reflection of the cultural, and geopolitical status of Iran at the time.
The tomb was originally designed by the Iranian architect. The now existing design of the structure also owes mainly to Karim Taherzadeh who replaced the old dome-shaped design by Lurden into the modern cubical design that is now present. Ferdowsi’s tomb is built in the style of the Achaemenid architecture especially emulating the tomb of Cyrus the Great. There is a clear link between this choice of architectural style and the politics of Iran at the time. Four years before Reza Shah even came to power in 1922, a group of secular Iranian reformists had created the “Society for National Heritage”.
The basic structure of the tomb is rectangular with a large garden surrounding the structure and interacting with the structure in the Persian style of gardening known as Char-bagh . In the center of the cross created by the legs of the garden surrounding it . The edifice can be divided into a “wide chamber” that lies at the base and a cubical erection on top, with four pillars surrounding it and scenes from the epic of Shahnameh and text ornating it. The body of the poet is actually interred in the center of the rectangular wide chamber underneath the overlying four pillars cube.There are twelve (12) steps leading from the lowest point of the wide chamber all the way to the level of the cube. The wide base has a total height of 16 m. The edifice has equal dimensions of 30 m on each side. There are twelve (12) steps leading from the lowest point of the wide chamber all the way to the level of the cube. The wide base has a total height of 16 m. The edifice has equal dimensions of 30 m on each side.
The following are schematic diagrams of the aerial view of the tomb’s wide base and edifice section and their topography:
A unique feature of the design of Ferdowsi’s tomb has been its resemblance to that of Cyrus the Great in Pasargadae. Cyrus’s tomb also has a rectangular structure seating atop a rectangular, gradually elevating base. This resemblance is intentional as the designer of this edifice intended to revoke the original Achaemenid style of architecture. In fact, every other facet of the edifice has a Zoroastrian symbol known as Faravahar. This is not coincidental. There are multiple applications of this in the Achaemenid architecture mainly in Persepolis in Fars province today. The “Society for National Heritage of Iran” (SNH) heavily relied on the use of Faravahar as this was the symbolic representation of ancient Iran since Achaemenid times. Many constructions in the 1930s, including the then National Bank of Iran use Faravahar which is not unexpected considering that the same architect that created Ferdowsi’s tomb also created the National Bank of Iran.
A closer look at the edifice points out that there are four columns each at the corner of the rectangular structure with two half-buried columns that protrude as deep friezes on each facet of the structure. Each frieze column has a box, followed by a two horn bull sign which is very much similar if not the exact imitation of the Persepolis column design. The columns are ornated with fluting 3/4 of the way down with the last portion spared. The overall effect is intended to create a grand gesture. The columns are as high as the edifice which is 30 meters high. Marble decorations are used to ornate the siding and the floor of the “wide base” structure as well the wall. Persian flower designs (concentric flower designs composed of a flower with seven valid pellets surrounding a central circle), and hexagonal marble designs are commonly used in the structure.
Comparison of the Persepolis columns, and the columns used in Ferdowsi’s mausoleum:
Iran’s history has been closely tied to geopolitical changes that have taken place since the establishment of the Achaemenid empire in Persis all the way to the modern day Iran. Two major events are of critical importance in Iran’s history especially its literary history as it pertained to Ferdowsi: 1.Arab conquest of Persia 2. The Mongolian invasion of Persia.
Ferdowsi lived his life as a poor man constantly moving from court to court and eventually died a poor widower, having lost his only son. Tus, at one point, was an opulent city in the greater Khorasan region but it was repeatedly sacked by Oguz Turks, Mongols, and Uzbeks from the steppe. This and the growing influence of Mashad as a political and religious center within Khorasan shaped Ferdowsi’s experience and in many ways influenced his writing as Tus lost prestige. Additionally, Arabic had found prestige in lands conquered by the Arabs and there was threat ofMiddle Persian being lost in favor of Arabic. Ferdowsi’s role is critical in that using the least number of loan-words he transferred the Middle Persian (Pahlavi) into Modern Persian (Farsi). In the time frame preceding the construction of the mausoleum, nationalistic feelings in Iran were high.
There was a renewed sense of national identity partly due to the pressures felt by foreign powers including the constant Anglo-Persian political struggle especially over the issues of oil, and partly due to the inability of the Qajar dynasty from protecting Iranian lands in central Asia to the Russians and in the east to the British. Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) was an important source of contention for Iranians.
The architecture of Ferdowsi’s tomb is also influenced by poet’s own personal life, reflecting a constant struggle between the poor poet and the lazy king, and adversity and hope. The Society for National Heritage in the 1930s drawing on poet’s attempt to revitalize the Persian language also attempted to revitalize Persian culture and Iranian identity through architecture. This was in many ways taken literary with Persian poems from Shahnameh etched into the white marble facets of the edifice of the poet’s mausoleum.
After the Iranian revolution, both tombs of Ferdowsi and the even mausoleum of Cyrus the Great survived the initial chaos. One of the most dangerous threats to the structure was that it would be equated with the late Pahlavi dynasty by the new regime and destroyed. It, however, was not and was instead embraced by the new local government since Ferdowsi was a devout Muslim.
Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh inspires tales of the heroic act by protagonists fighting against their antagonists. In that sense, it is a national epic that encompasses not only fictional and literary figures but also incorporates parts of the history of pre-Islamic Iran. This has led to the interior of the edifice of Ferdowsi to reflect the same heroic scenes.
The chief architect responsible for the design of the interior of the tomb of Ferdowsi is Feraydoon Sadeghi who created deep freeze scenes using three-dimensional statues each depicting a scene from Shahnameh. Rostam, the hero of the book of Shahnameh is the focus of the majority of the scenes inside of the edifice. As Shahnameh is essentially a text, artistic recreation of its heroic scenes are multiple.Centered inside the edifice surrounding by the frieze scenes and other artistic endeavors is the tombstone of the poet. Etched on the tombstone in Farsi (Persian) is the description of Ferdowsi’s contribution to the Persian-speakers and at the end, it ends by denoting the poet’s date of birth, date of death, and the date at which the mausoleum was built.
The English translation of the content of the tomb is rough as follows:
In the name of the God who created life. This place is the resting place of he (Hakim Abul-Qasim Ferdowsi Tusi) who has advanced the art of language among Persian speakers and the holder of the national epic of Iran and its national stories. His words have given a new life to Iran, and he has a place in the hearts of its people.
Today Ferdowsi’s tomb is one of the most photographed in Iran. Millions of visitors from various provinces of Iran come to see the tomb every year. Foreign dignitaries, tourists, and other Persian-Speaking civilians from Europe, Asia, and Middle East also visit the site. The most recent was a visit from the Iraqi tourism minister in July 2013. The site has also inspired many Persian poets including Iranian poet Mehdi Akhavan-Sales who is actually physically buried not far from the tomb of Ferdowsi, in his own tomb in the grounds of Ferdowsi’s complex.
According to legend Sultan Mahmud Qaznavi offered Ferdows a gold piece for every couplet of Shahnameh. The poet agreed to receive the money as a lump sum After he completed the epic. He planned to use the money for rebuild the dykes in his native Tus. After 30 years of work he finished his masterpiece . The sultan prepared to give him 60,000 gold pieces, one for every couplet as they agreed.
However , the courtier Mahmud Qaznavi had entrusted with the money despised Ferdowsi, regarding him as a heretic, and he eplaced the gold coins with silver. He received the reward when he was in the bath house and finding it was silver not gold and he gave the money away to the bath keeper,a refreshment seller and the slave who had carried the coins. When the courtier told the sultan about Ferdowsi’s Bahaviour, he was furious and threatened to execute him. Ferdowsi fled Khorasan, having first written satire on Mahmud, and spent most of the remainder of his life in exile. Mahmud eventually learned the truth about the courtier’s deception and had him either banished or executed. By this time, the aged Ferdowsi had returned to Tus. The sultn sent him a new gift of 60,000 gold pieces, but just as the caravan bearing the money entered the gates of Tus, a funeral procession exited the gates on the opposite side:the poet had died from a heart attack.
Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh is the most popular and influential national epic in Iran and other Persian-speaking nations that is the only surviving work by Ferdowsi regarded as indisputably genuine. Ferdowsi may have written poems earlier in his life but they no longer exist.
A narrative poem, Yūsof o Zolaykā was once attributed to him, but scholarly consensus now rejects the idea it is his. There has also been speculation about the satire Ferdowsi allegedly wrote about Mahmud of Ghazni after the sultan failed to reward him sufficiently. Nezami Aruzi, Ferdowsi’s early biographer, claimed that all but six lines had been destroyed by a well-wisher who had paid Ferdowsi a thousand dirhams for the poem. Introductions to some manuscripts of the Shahnameh include verses purporting to be the satire. Some scholars have viewed them as fabricated; others are more inclined to believe in their authenticity.
Ferdowsi is one of the undisputed giants of Persian literature and After his Shahnameh, a number of other works similar in nature surfaced over the centuries within the cultural sphere of the Persian language. Without exception, all such works were based in style and method on Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, but none of them could quite achieve the same degree of fame and popularity as Ferdowsi’s masterpiece.
Because of the strides he made in reviving and regenerating the Persian language and cultural traditions he has a unique place in Persian history. His works are cited as a crucial component in the persistence of the Persian language, as those works allowed much of the tongue to remain codified and intact. By his masterpiece he surpasses Nizami, Khayyám, Asadi Tusi and other seminal Persian literary figures in his impact on Persian culture and language. Many modern Iranians see him as the father of the modern Persian language.
Ferdowsi in fact was a motivation behind many future Persian figures. In 1934, Rezā Shāh set up a ceremony in Mashhad, Khorasan, celebrating a thousand years of Persian literature since the time of Ferdowsi, titled “Ferdowsi Millenary Celebration”, inviting notable European as well as Iranian scholars. Ferdowsi University of Mashhad is a university established in 1949 that also takes its name from Ferdowsi. Ferdowsi’s influence in the Persian culture is explained by the Encyclopædia Britannica:
The Persians regard Ferdowsi as the greatest of their poets. For nearly a thousand years they have continued to read and to listen to recitations from his masterwork, the Shah-nameh, in which the Persian national epic found its final and enduring form. Though written about 1,000 years ago, this work is as intelligible to the average, modern Iranian as the King James Version of the Bible is to a modern English-speaker. The language, based as the poem is on a Dari original, is pure Persian with only the slightest admixture of Arabic.