Saturday, November 15, 2014

Ferdowsi's 11th century epic Shahnameh in illustration

by Salman Hameed

I have posted about Hamzanama and Tilisme-Hoshruba before (see: Homer meets Tolkien in Medieval World and Tilisme-Hoshruba: "Magic that will blow your senses away"). These are South Asian stories mixed with Iranian and Arab/Islamic tales. Well, if you go back a bit, you run into the grand-daddy of these stories: Ferdowsi's epic poem, Shehnameh (The Book of Kings). There are new illustrations of the epic now by a New York based artist, Hamid Rahmanian. From the Guardian:
After the enormous success of the Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, as well as blockbusters such as 300 and Clash of the Titans, the time might be right for Persian mythology to find an audience in the west. 
Iran's national epic, the Shahnameh, involves many of the same themes and motifs as popular works of fantasy: heroic quests, magical beasts, devilish monsters, passionate romances, fierce intrigues over power, and monumental conflicts fought across immense spans of time. 
Written more than 1,000 years ago by Abolqasem Ferdowsi (940–ca. 1019), the Shahnameh recounts a long, legendary history of the Iranian people from the beginning of civilisation until the historical Arab conquest of the region in the seventh century. The heart of the narrative concerns the adventures of Iran's most celebrated mythological hero, Rostam.
On a nostalgic note, can I mention that I still remember seeing a movie called "Rostam and Sohrab" back in the late 70s or early 80s. I went with my older brother and I was probably 9 or 10. I have no idea who made that film but I remember the ending quite distinctly (yes, it was sad - Rostam kills his son, Sohrab, in the final battle but he did't know that Sohrab was his son. It is not a spoiler if the story is a 1000 years old and even the movie is at least a several decades old!). I have tried finding that movie, but have been unsuccessful. May be it was a local Pakistani production - but don't know. There is an Iranian and an Indian version from the 1950s, but as I remember, this film was in color (oh the fields got bright red from the blood of the dead from the two armies - I think I'm still impacted by the film :) ). Anyways, so here is one of the new illustrations that depicts a scene between Rostam and Sohrab:
Sohrab assesses his enemy's strength and looks for his father, Rostam

Here is a short video by the artist explaining how some of the images were created. Here is specifically talking about the scene when Sohrab learns the identity of his father:

Here are a couple of more illustrations: 
Siavosh confides in Piran about his doomed fate

The young Feraydun crosses the Arvand River to confront the serpent king Zahhak

Siavosh marries the Turanian commander's daughter

You can see more about these illustrations and buy a copy here


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