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  • 5/14/2011

Ferdowsi’s Life


Mansur ibn Ahmad, later known by Ferdowsi, was born in a family of landowners in 935 C.E. in the village of Paj, in the city of Tus in the province of Khorasan, in northeastern Iran. Ferdowsi was a Shi'a Muslim, which is attested by the Shahnameh and also confirmed by early accounts.

Ferdowsi, was in his thirties when Sultan Mahmud of the Ghaznavids, received an old prose version of the history of Persia titled Shahnameh written by Abu-Mansour ibn Abdol-razzagh and decided to order a poetic version. Ferdowsi would be selected for the task, having earned a reputation among poets. Mahmud would offer him thousand gold coins for every thousand verses he drafts. In what is perhaps a financial error, Ferdowsi opts to receive payment when his project is fully done instead of gradual payments.

Ferdowsi would work for some thirty years on the Shahnameh eventually finishing it at the old age of 70 in 1010 C.E. A courtier of the king, would betray Ferdowsi as he would replace the payment (some sixty thousand gold coins) with silver ones and deliver it as king's retribution to him while he was in a public bath. Ferdowsi, upon discovering the diminution of his payment, would donate it all away to those around him including slaves working at the bath. The courtier would then inform the king of what Ferdowsi has done portraying him as a deceiver. The king, upon the false news, would sentence Ferdowsi to be trampled under an elephant's feet. Ferdowsi would be informed of this order by those loyal to him and would flee for the next ten years of his life in exile wandering for a time in Sistan and Mazandaran.

In a show of defiance, Ferdowsi would leave behind a satiric poem for the king, stuck to the wall of the room he had worked in for all those years. It was a critical satire of the king and his inability as a ruler and ended with the words:

"Heaven's vengeance will not forget. Shrink tyrant, from my words of fire, and tremble at a poet's ire."

It seems that the king would eventually find out the truth, punish the courtier and order sixty thousand gold coins to be delivered to Ferdowsi. Ironically, Ferdowsi would die of a heart attack before he could receive his just remuneration. His great epic, the Shahnameh to which he devoted more than 35 years of his life (he started his composition in 977 A.D and completed it on 8 March 1010) however would last the test of time. What became of his payment depends on the scholarly source consulted, as some scholars argue that Ferdowsi's family accepted the payment and used it for repair of the dikes in Tus, as Ferdowsi had originally intended, while others argue that it was used for repairing an inn in the way from Merv to Tus, named “Robat Chaheh” in remembrance of the poet.

Ferdowsi is said to have died around 1020 C.E. in poverty at the age of 85, embittered by royal neglect, though fully confident of his work’s ultimate success and fame, a point which he seems to elucidate with clairvoyance in the last verses of his book.

Ferdowsi was buried at the yard of his own home, where his mausoleum now lies. It was not until the time of the Persian monarch Reza Shah of the Pahlavi dynasty, in 1925, that a mausoleum was built for the great poet. His mausoleum still stands today despite allegations of its near destruction at the time of the Iranian revolution by hardliners.

Source: wikipedia.org

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