The Shahnameh | The Persian Epic as World Literature — Hamid Dabashi's Official Website
Hamid Dabashi

The Shahnameh | The Persian Epic as World Literature

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The Shahnameh, an epic poem recounting the foundation of Iran across mythical, heroic, and historical ages, is the beating heart of Persian literature and culture. Composed by Abu al-Qasem Ferdowsi over a thirty-year period and completed in the year 1010, the epic has entertained generations of readers and profoundly shaped Persian culture, society, and politics. For a millennium, Iranian and Persian-speaking people around the globe have read, memorized, discussed, performed, adapted, and loved the poem.

In this book, Hamid Dabashi brings the Shahnameh to renewed global attention, encapsulating a lifetime of learning and teaching the Persian epic for a new generation of readers. Dabashi insightfully traces the epic’s history, authorship, poetic significance, complicated legacy of political uses and abuses, and enduring significance in colonial and postcolonial contexts. In addition to explaining and celebrating what makes the Shahnameh such a distinctive literary work, he also considers the poem in the context of other epics, such as the Aeneid and the Odyssey, and critical debates about the concept of world literature. Arguing that Ferdowsi’s epic and its reception broached this idea long before nineteenth-century Western literary criticism, Dabashi makes a powerful case that we need to rethink the very notion of “world literature” in light of his reading of the Persian epic.





This enlightening scholarly study will serve, for most Western readers, as their introduction to the Persian Book of Kings. . . . Dabashi provides background on Ferdowsi and the pre-Islamic epic tradition that shaped his poem before sharing colorful accounts of its cast of warrior kings, rebellious offspring, and seductive courtesans. Publishers Weekly


Monumental epic. M. A. Orthofer, The Complete Review


This is a work of imaginative activism. Hamid Dabashi coaxes and cajoles the reader to achieve the critical intimacy with the founding epic of Iran that he himself has acquired from childhood and through teaching and parenting. Historically conscientious, he is aware of the abuses of nationalism and triumphalism. His Shahnameh is a metaphysical epic of worthy failure. Such readings open many worlds, shaming the Eurocentric binaries of ‘world literature.’ Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, University Professor, Columbia University


A major achievement. With wit and erudition, Hamid Dabashi has pushed open one of the great locked doors of world literature: the Shahnameh. In bringing the central work of Persian literature vividly to life, he also offers us a new way to understand all epics. More likely, in Dabashi’s brilliant reading, to undermine imperialistic ambitions than to proclaim them, the Shahnameh and its fellow epic poems reassert their relevance in our troubled times. Aravind Adiga, author of The White Tiger


This is an important book that will make its readers reconsider what they think they know about Iran’s national epic. It situates the poem in three contexts: The imperial world in which it was born, the world that it envisions, and the postcolonial world in which it is read and understood. Writing as a learned and passionate critic, Dabashi succeeds in placing the Shahnameh in the corpus of world literature, but somewhere beyond the reach of Eurocentrism. Like Dabashi’s other works, it will stay with its readers, and will open new vistas for the specialist and the nonspecialist alike. Mahmoud Omidsalar, author of Poetics and Politics of Iran’s National Epic, the Shahnameh


This is a work of love and care on the foundational story telling of the Persianate. Dabashi guides the reader to avoid the traps of the Eurocentered idea of ‘world literature.’ He invites us to reimagine and rewrite it starting from the Shahanameh instead of from a canonical Western narrative. A powerful political statement that shifts the geography of ‘world literature.’ Walter Mignolo, coauthor of On Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics, Praxis


In The Shahnameh, Hamid Dabashi shows the global importance of the tenth-century Persian masterpiece and gives readers a strong sense of its literary magnificence. Dabashi allows us to see the world imagined by Abolqasem Ferdowsi in its richness and complexity eight centuries before Goethe made his influential claim for Weltliteratur and, thereby, helps us expand our sense of the world of literature. After reading Dabashi’s magisterial account of the great Iranian epic, we must return to the ongoing debates in world literature anew. Brian Edwards, author of After the American Century: The Ends of U.S. Culture in the Middle East


It is not preaching to the politically converted that achieves Dabashi’s goal of compelling others to read Ferdowsi’s epic. It is his love of his native epic coupled with his obvious gifts as a teacher that succeed where the tired cultural politics of the postcolonial academy fail. . . . Highly recommended. Choice


For those who wish to deepen their understanding of Persian poetry and literary history, The Shahnameh: The Persian Epic as World Literaturemakes a worthy companion to the English translation by Dick Davis. Australian Book Review


Dabashi has been teaching the Shahnameh for several years now and in his previous books, he has written in detail about Persian culture and literary tradition. This expertise, combined with his lucid writing, brings the epic alive and makes the reader curious about the world in which it was written, Asian Review of Books

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Array ( [2] => Array ( [title] => [text] => "A leading cultural observer." Washington Post "Our most prominent intellectual." Shirin Neshat "Renowned Columbia University scholar on Iranian culture." Boston Globe "Spectacular, important, and incisive. Dabashi's work is crucial for our times." Zillah Eisenstein
Ithaca College, NY
"Hamid Dabashi lovingly writes about the history of Iran that teaches us how to understand a people overshadowed by the grand narratives of political (mis)representation." Gayatri Spivak
Columbia University
"You are with a humanist who deeply loves his country, and invites you to feel very much at home." Susan Buck-Morss
Cornell University
"Superb authority... Dabashi provides a tour de force on Iranian art, politics and culture." Shirin Neshat "Great erudition and imagination... bringing out rich aspects of Iranian culture that are little known or not recognized." Vanessa Martin, Royal Holloway
University of London
"Hamid Dabashi, is one of the most significant intellectual voices outside of Iran since the Islamic revolution." Shirin Neshat "A leading light in Iranian studies." The Chronicle of Higher Education "Cuts through the myths, past and present, that Americans have been told about Iran... presenting Iran's history through the lens of its literary cosmopolitanism." Susan Buck-Morss
Cornell University
"Magisterial." Houchang Chehabi
Boston University
"An important man in New York." Sir Ridley Scott "Much-needed in our troubled times." Gayatri Spivak
Columbia University
"Exemplary of a new Leftist discourse that is undogmatic and non-sectarian... open and intimate." Susan Buck-Morss
Cornell University
"Hamid Dabashi beautifully lays out the alluring dynamic between Iranian art and politics." Shirin Neshat "A rare cultural critic." Mohsen Makhmalbaf "Dabashi's passion and extraordinary vision, gives us the knowledge and commitment to stand against war and build the possibilities for peace and global justice." Zillah Eisenstein
Ithaca College, NY
"Hamid Dabashi's piercing revelations have been as instrumental in fashioning my own films as have Scorsese, Rossellini and Bresson." Ramin Bahrani "Superb and brilliant." Bruce Lawrence
Duke University
"Fresh, provocative and iconoclastic." Ian Richard Netton
University of Leeds, UK
"Learned... sparkles with verve and a sometimes punishing wit. Hamid Dabashi is the perfect guide." Edward W. Said "There are few better places to begin than with Dabashi's subtle and vividly presented wealth on Iran." Said Amir Arjomand
SUNY, New York
"Objective and empathetic... unlike many others on contemporary Iran." Ervand Abrahamian
Baruch College, New York
"Enthusiastic... clear and accurate... impressive." Oliver Leaman
Liverpool John Moores University, UK
"Original, creative and insightful." John L. Esposito
Georgetown University
"Extraordinary." Daniel Brumberg
Georgetown University
"Dabashi has an astonishing ability to range over some of the most complex issues of modern intellectual life." Sudipta Kaviraj
Columbia University
"If anyone can lay claim to Nima Yushij's statement that this world is his home, it is Hamid Dabashi. I want a very broad readership to know the quality of his writing and thinking, of his immense epistemic and historical scholarship." Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Columbia University
"Dabashi is learned, poetic, ranging from philosophy to film, every word written with a commitment to the possibility of a just world. I have worked with him in the past and will work with him again in the future." Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Columbia University
"Hamid Dabashi is one of the foremost exponent today of postcolonial critical theory, whose work deserves to be called post-colonial with all the multivalence of this description." Sudipta Kaviraj
Columbia University
"Hamid Dabashi's writings on Iranian culture and politics brilliantly re-imagine the rich heritage of a shared past and a conflicted present. His reflections on revolution and nationhood, poetry and cinema, philosophy and the sacred, are urgent, provocative, complex, and highly original." Timothy Mitchell
Columbia University
"Equally fluent in philosophical reasoning, literary interpretation, visual hermeneutics and writing with a rare combination of penetration and lyricism, Dabashi's work continues values of both modern critical theory and the highly sophisticated and subtle intellectual traditions of Iranian... reflection -- for both of which he is an wonderfully sympathetic reader." Sudipta Kaviraj
Columbia University
"Hamid Dabashi belongs to a marvelous tradition of poetic thinkers, whose deep insights are crafted in magnificent poetic prose." Gilbert Achcar
University of London
"Dabashi provides his readers with the wine of literary pleasure along with rich food for thought." Gilbert Achcar
University of London
"In Dabashi's work, post-coloniality does not mean a denial or denunciation of the modern European tradition of philosophy and social theory, but their effortless absorption into a larger, more complex reflection." Sudipta Kaviraj
Columbia University
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