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FIRDOUSI, Persian poet. Abu '1 Kasim Mansur (or Hasan), who took the nom de plume of Firdousi (Firdausi or Firdusi), author of the epic poem the Shdhndma, or "Book of Kings," a complete history of Persia in nearly 6o,000 verses, was born at Shadab, a suburb of Tus, about the year 329 of the Hegira (A.D. or earlier. Firdousi was profoundly versed in the Arabic language and literature and had also studied deeply the Pahlavi or Old Persian, and was conversant with the ancient historical records which existed in that tongue.

The Shdhndma of Firdousi (see also PERSIA : Literature) is perhaps the only example of a poem produced by a single author which at once took its place as the national epic of the people. During the reign of Chosroes I. (Anushirvan) the contemporary of Mohammed, and by order of that monarch, an attempt had been made to collect, from various parts of the kingdom, all the popular tales and legends relating to the ancient kings, and the results were deposited in the royal library. During the last years of the Sassanid dynasty the work was resumed, the former collec tion being revised and greatly added to by the Dihkan Danishwer, assisted by several learned mobeds. His work was entitled the Khoda'indma, which in the old dialect also meant the "Book of Kings." On the Arab invasion this work was in great danger of perishing at the hands of the iconoclastic caliph Omar and his generals, but it was fortunately preserved; and we find it in the 2nd century of the Hegira being paraphrased in Arabic by Ab dallah ibn el Mokaffa, a learned Persian who had embraced Islam. Other Guebres occupied themselves privately with the collection of these traditions; and, when a prince of Persian origin, Yakut) ibn Laith, founder of the Saffarid dynasty, succeeded in throwing off his allegiance to the caliphate, he at once set about continuing the work of his illustrious predecessors. His "Book of Kings" was completed in the year 26o of the Hegira, and was freely circulated in Khorasan and Irak. The Samanid princes who succeeded applied themselves zealously to the same work, and Prince Nfih II., who came to the throne in 365 A.H. (A.D. 976), entrusted it to the court poet Dakiki, a Guebre by religion. Dakiki's labours were brought to a sudden stop by his own assassination, and the fall of the Samanian house happened not long after, and their kingdom passed into the hands of the Ghaznevids. Mahmud ibn Sabuktagin, the second of the dynasty (998-103o), collected a vast amount of materials for the work, and after having searched in vain for a man of sufficient learning and ability to edit them faithfully, he at length made choice of Firdousi. The sultan ordered his treasurer, Khojah Hasan Maimandi, to pay to Fir dousi a thousand gold pieces for every thousand verses; but the poet preferred to allow the sum to accumulate till the whole was finished, with the object of amassing sufficient capital to con struct a dike for his native town of Tus, which suffered greatly from defective irrigation, a project which had been the chief dream of his childhood. Owing to this resolution, and to the jealousy of Hasan Maimandi, who often refused to advance him sufficient for the necessaries of life, Firdousi passed the latter portion of his life in great privation, though enjoying the royal favour and widely extended fame.

At length, after thirty-five years' work, the book was completed (I cm I), and Firdousi entrusted it to Ayaz, the sultan's favourite. for presentation to him. Mahmud ordered Hasan Maimandi to take the poet as much gold as an elephant could carry, but the jealous treasurer persuaded the monarch that it was too generous a reward, and that an elephant's load of silver would be sufficient. 6o,000 silver dirhems were accordingly placed in sacks, and taken to Firdousi by Ayaz at the sultan's command, instead of the 6o,000 gold pieces, one for each verse, which had been promised. Firdousi in a rage gave 20 thousand pieces to Ayaz himself, the same amount to the bath-keeper, and paid the rest to a beer seller for a glass of beer (f ouka) , sending word back to the sultan that it was not to gain money that he had taken so much trouble.

He gave a sealed paper to Ayaz, begging him to hand it to the sultan in a leisure moment after 20 days had elapsed, and set off on his travels with no better equipment than his staff and a dervish's cloak. At the expiration of the 20 days Ayaz gave the paper to the sultan, who on opening it found the celebrated satire which is now always prefixed to copies of the Shdhndma, and which is perhaps one of the bitterest and severest pieces of re proach ever penned. Mahmud, in a violent rage, sent after the poet and promised a large reward for his capture, but he was already in comparative safety. Firdousi directed his steps to Mazandaran, and took refuge with Kabus, prince of Jorjan, who at first received with great favour, and promised him his continued protection and patronage ; learning, however, the circumstances under which he had left Ghazni, he feared the resentment of so powerful a sovereign as Mahmud, who he knew already coveted his kingdom, and dismissed the poet with a magnificent present. Firdousi next repaired to Baghdad, and found refuge at the court of the caliph. Firdousi composed a poem of 9,000 couplets on the theme borrowed from the Koran of the loves of Joseph and Potiphar's wife—Yusuf and Zuleikha (edited by H. Fthe, Ox ford, 1902 ; complete metrical translation by Schlechta-Wssehrd, Vienna, 1889). This poem, though rare and little known, is still in existence—the Royal Asiatic Society possessing a copy.

Mahmud finally decided not to pursue Firdousi further and to give him full reparation. The change, however, came too late ; Firdousi, now a broken and decrepit old man, had in the mean while returned to Tus, and, while wandering through the streets of his native town, heard a child lisping a verse from his own satire in which he taunts Mahmud with his slavish birth:— Had Mahmud's lather been what he is now A crown of gold had decked this aged brow ; Had Mahmud's mother been of gentle blood, In heaps of silver knee-deep had I stood.

He was so affected by this proof of universal sympathy with his misfortunes that he went home, fell sick and died. He was buried in a garden, but Abu'l Kasim Jurjani, chief sheikh of Tus, refused to read the usual prayers over his tomb, alleging that he was an infidel, and had devoted his life to the glorification of fire-wor shippers and misbelievers. The next night, however, having dreamt that he beheld Firdousi in paradise dressed in the sacred colour, green, and wearing an emerald crown, he reconsidered his determination; and the poet was henceforth held to be perfectly orthodox. He died in the year 411 of the Hegira (A.D. 1020), aged about eighty, eleven years after the completion of his great work.


Shahnama (which only existed in ms. up to the beginning of the igth century) was published (1831-68) with a French translation in a magnificent folio edition, at the expense of the French government, by Julius von Mohl. The size and number of the volumes, however, and their great expense, made them difficult of access, and Frau von Mohl published the French translation (1876-78) with her husband's critical notes and introduction in a more convenient and cheaper form. Other editions are by Turner Macan (Calcutta, 1829), J. A. Vullers and S. Landauer (unfinished; Leiden, 1877-83). There is an English abridg ment by J. Atkinson (London, 1832 ; reprinted 1886, 1892) , a verse translation by A. G. and E. Warner (19o5—I s) , with an introduction containing an account of Firdousi and the Shahnama ; the version by A. Rogers (1907) contains the greater part of the work. The episode of Sohrab and Rustam is well known to English readers from Matthew Arnold's poem. The only complete translation is 11 Libro dei Rei, by I. Pizzi (8 vols., Turin, 1886-88), also the author of a history of Persian poetry.


also E. G. Browne's Literary History of Persia, i., ii. (19o2—o6) ; T. Noldeke, Das iranische Nationalepos (Strasbourg, 1896) for a full account of the Shahnama, editions, etc.; and H. Ethe, Neupersische Litteratur (Strasbourg, 1896) .

poet, mahmud, poem, ayaz, translation, persian and hegira