The Shahnameh: the Persian epic in world literature

Dabashi, Hamid. 2019. The Shahnameh: the Persian epic in world literature. New York: Columbia University Press.

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.

About the Author

Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He is a founding member of the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University. Among his most recent books are The World of Persian Literary Humanism (2015) and Persophilia: Persian Culture on the Global Scene (2016).

Interpreting Herodotus

Harrison, Thomas & Elizabeth Irwin (eds.). 2018. Interpreting Herodotus. Oxford University Press.

Charles W. Fornara’s Herodotus. An Interpretative Essay (1971) was a landmark publication in the study of Herodotus. It is well known in particular for its main thesis that the Histories should be read against the background of the Atheno-Peloponnesian Wars during which Herodotus wrote. However, it also includes penetrating discussion of other issues: the relative unity of Herodotus’ work; the relationship between Herodotus’ ethnographies and his historical narrative; and the themes and motifs that criss-cross the Histories, how ‘history became moral and Herodotus didactic’. Interpreting Herodotus brings together a team of leading Herodotean scholars to look afresh at the themes of Fornara’s Essay, in the light of the explosion of scholarship on the Histories in the intervening years. What does it mean to talk of the unity of the Histories, or Herodotus’ ‘moral’ purpose? How can we reconstruct the context in which the Histories were written and published? And in what sense might the Histories constitute a ‘warning’ for his own, or for subsequent, generations?

Alexander the Great From His Death to the Present Day

Boardman, John. 2019. Alexander the Great From His Death to the Present Day. Princeton University Press.


John Boardman is one of the world’s leading authorities on ancient Greece, and his acclaimed books command a broad readership. In this book, he looks beyond the life of Alexander the Great in order to examine the astonishing range of Alexanders created by generations of authors, historians, and artists throughout the world—from Scotland to China.

Alexander’s defeat of the Persian Empire in 331 BC captured the popular imagination, inspiring an endless series of stories and representations that emerged shortly after his death and continues today. An art historian and archaeologist, Boardman draws on his deep knowledge of Alexander and the ancient world to reflect on the most interesting and emblematic depictions of this towering historical figure.

Some of the stories in this book relate to historical events associated with Alexander’s military career and some to the fantasy that has been woven around him, and Boardman relates each with his customary verve and erudition. From Alexander’s biographers in ancient Greece to the illustrated Alexander “Romances” of the Middle Ages to operas, films, and even modern cartoons, this generously illustrated volume takes readers on a fascinating cultural journey as it delivers a perfect pairing of subject and author.

Persian Literature from Outside Iran

Perry, John (ed.). 2018. Persian Literature from Outside Iran: The Indian Subcontinent, Anatolia, Central Asia, and in Judeo-Persian (History of Persian Literature IX). London: I.B. Tauris.

After the fall of the Sassanian Empire and with it the gradual decline of Middle Persian as a literary language, New Persian literature emerged in Transoxiana, beyond the frontiers of present-day Iran, and was written and read in India even before it became firmly established in cities such as Isfahan on the Iranian plateau. Over the course of a millennium (ca. 900-1900 CE), Persian established itself as a contact vernacular and an international literary language from Sarajevo to Madras, with Persian poetry serving as a universal cultural cachet for literati both Muslim and non-Muslim. The role of Persian, beyond its early habitat of Iran and other Islamic lands, has long been recognized: European scholars first came to Persian via Turkey and British orientalists via India. Yet the universal popularity of poets such as Sa’di and Hafez of Shiraz and the ultimate rise of Iran to claim the centre of Persian writing and scholarship led to a relative neglect of the Persianate periphery until recently. This volume contributes to the scholarship of the Persianate fringe with the aid of the abundant material (notably in Tajik, Uzbek and Russian) long neglected by Western scholars and the perspectives of a new generation on this complex and important aspect of Persian literature.

Elam and its Neighbors

Mofidi-Nasrabadi, Behzad, Doris Prechel & Alexander Pruß (eds.).(2018). Elam and its neighbors: Recent research and new perspectives. Proceedings of the International Congress Held at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, September 21-23, 2016 (Elamica 8). Hildesheim: Verlag Franzbecker.

The international congress “Elam and its Neighbors. Recent Research and New Perspectives”, which forms the content of the present proceedings volume, was held at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz from September 21st – 23rd 2016. The idea to hold a congress originated from the recent excavations and fieldworks carried out in different Elamite sites. These new research activities yielded interesting archaeological, philological and historical results which offer new perspectives concerning Elamite studies. The aim of the congress was to provide an opportunity to discuss such new results in order to reflect the research strategy and create impulses for further studies in the future.

Table of contents:

  • Badamchi, H: Law in a Multicultural Society: Akkadian Legal Texts from Susa in Comparative Perspective
  • Krebernik, M: Eine neue elamische Beschwörung aus der Hilprecht-Sammlung (HS 2338) im Kontext alloglotter Texte der altbabylonischen Zeit
  • Mäder, M., Balmer, St., Plachtzik, S., Rawyler, N: Sequenzanalysen zur elamischen Strichschrift
  • Malbran-Labat, F., Roche-Hawley, C: On the Unpublished Contracts from Susa (TS A IX-XV)
  • Mofidi-Nasrabadi, B: Who was ˮdMÙŠ.EREN.EŠŠANA.DINGIR.MEŠˮ? 113
  • Prechel, D: Administration in Haft Tappeh 127
  • Tavernier, J: The Functions of Abrupt Spellings in the Elamite Writing System
  • Abdali, N: Glazed Artefacts in Elam and North-Western Iran: A Common Technology?
  • Álvarez-Mon, J: Puzur-Inšušinak, Last King of Akkad? Test, Image and Context Reconsidered
  • Dinarvand, Y., Rezaloo, R., Ba Ahmadi, H: A Neo-Elamite Site South of Susa (Tappeh Konar)
  • Rashidian, E: Dehno and its Environs. A Geoarchaeological Approach to the Elamite Urban Places
  • Wicks, Y: Elam and its Neighbours: A View from Neo-Elamite Mortuary Remains
  • Zalaghi, A: Digging up the Past: Revisiting the Elamite Underground Vaulted Tombs at Tappeh 497 (KS 53?), Susiana Plain

Statistics for 2018

Just some quick numbers to wrap up 2018: We had a total of 41,504 views on our website, up by 8418 views compared to 2017. In 2018, 22,885 people visited Bibliographia Iranica from 142 countries, the USA leading with 11,363 visitors. We have 1,015 visitors from Japan but only 47 from Iran (perhaps the result of anonymisers?). Sajad Amiri, Shervin Farridnejad, Yazdan Safaee and Arash Zeini together published 172 entries, with “amazon” (20) beating 2017’s “friedrich carl andreas” (6) as the most searched term on the blog. “friedrich carl andreas” came second in 2018 with a total of 13 searches!

As always, the above numbers do not account for the views and shares on our Facebook or Twitter accounts. These are just the website statistics.

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Thank you for your continued support and interest in Bibliographia Iranica. We wish you all a happy and healthy 2019.

Rivalry and conflicts between Christians and Zoroastrians

Hutter, Manfred. 2018. Rivalität und Konflikte zwischen Christen und Zoroastriern. Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Religions- und Kulturgeschichte 112. 91–104.

The encounter of Christianity with Zoroastrianism in the Sasanian Empire started already in the 3rd century. But it was only since the 5th century that a sizable number of Zoroastrians, mostly from the upper classes, converted to Christianity. This led to reactions by the Zoroastrian clergy against the adherents of the agdēn, the «false» or «bad» religion, as this religion was seen as unfitting to Iranian culture. Thus, Middle Persian texts discuss the necessity to avoid contacts with members of agdēn. This term is not restricted to Christianity, but can also be applied to other religions. It is only from the early Islamic period in Iran that two Middle Persian texts, the Dēnkard and the Škand Gumānīg Wizār, discuss (and refute) Christian teachings more systematically. The reason for this theological discussion about Christianity can be seen in the minority situation which Zoroastrianism faced in the Islamic period.

IRANICA ANTIQUA, VOLUME 53

The table of contents of the latest issue (53) of the journal Iranica Antiqua:

Hanns-Peter Schmidt (1930-2017) Gedenkschrift

The 6th volume of DABIR is a Gedenkschrift to honour Hanns-Peter Schmidt (1930-2017), an excellent German scholar of Indo-Iranian studies, who mainly worked on the Vedas and the Gāθās, as well as Indian mythology and the Zoroastrian religion.

You can download the whole issue here.

ToC

Anti-christological Zoroastrian polemics. Mechanisms of deconstruction (ŠGW 15)

Timuş, Mihaela. 2018. Polémique mazdéenne anti-christologique: Mécanismes de déconstruction (ŠGW 15). Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Religions- und Kulturgeschichte 112. 105–122.

The present article proposes the analysis of some of the anti-christological arguments to be found at the beginning of the 15th chapter (namely the paragraphs 18–30) of the Zoroastrian polemical treatise Škand Gumānīg Wizār (The Doubt-dispelling Explanation, E. W. West 1887). This treatise was originally written in Middle Persian, but its first version was lost. Nowadays, one works mainly with the reconstruction after the Pāzand (Middle Persian in Avestan characters) version of the text. The article has two parts. On the one hand, the article upholds the hypothesis which states that Zoroastrian anti-christological polemics was done case by case, referring to three groups of Oriental Christians: the Melkites, the Jacobites and the Nestorians respectively. Three main arguments are brought forward. On the other hand, the article provides a description of the logical structure of this polemical attack. It appears that the reasoning follows a syllogism-likpattern, which betrays the influence of Greek logic. It is still a matter of debate whether such influence dates from the Sasanian period and was then passed on to the later Mazdeic exegesis during the first centuries of the Islamic period, or whether it took place after the Arab conquest by the transmission of Muslim theologies and philosophies (eg. the mu’tazilites).

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