Firdausi or Ferdowsi [key], c.940–1020, principal Persian poet, author of the Shah Namah [the book of kings], the great Persian epic. His original name was Abul Kasim Mansur; he is thought to have been born of a yeoman family of Khorasan. He received a thorough education in Muslim learning and in the Persian language and antiquities. The course of his life is not certain because of the immense accretion of legend about it. He lived at the court of Mahmud of Ghazna, with a group of antiquarians. In order to glorify Persia's past, Firdausi undertook his epic history, which opens with the creation of the universe and, combining history and myth, tells the story of ancient Persia, beginning with its first king and ending with its 7th-century conquest by Muslim Arabs. He dedicated the work to the king, who paid him less than Firdausi expected. In retaliation, the poet wrote a savage satire on the king (usually used as a preface to editions of the Shah Namah) and fled. He wandered from court to court and arrived in his old age at his home. His poem, in nearly 60,000 verses, is the first great work of modern Persian literature. In it Firdausi set the mark for Persian poetry with his even rhyme, stately cadences, and continuous flow. The poem has taken a singular place in Iran, and long sections of it are commonly recited by ordinary citizens and illiterate tribespeople alike. The version of the Shah Namah illustrated for the Shah Tahmasp in the early 16th cent., now known as the Houghton Shah-Nameh (facsimile ed. 1972), is one of the masterpieces of world art.
See Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings (tr. 2006).
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