The Written Text as a Metaphor for the Integrity of Oral Composition in Classical Persian Traditions and Beyond


The centerpiece of this essay is a brief narrative found in the classical Persian text of the Shāhnāma or ‘Book of Kings’, a monumental poem composed in the early eleventh century CE by a poet named Ferdowsi, literally, ‘the man of paradise’. In this narrative, the poet tells the story of the genesis of an archetypal ‘Book of Kings’ celebrating the kings and heroes of the Iranian Empire. This book, says the poet, became the ultimate source of his own classical Persian poem:

There was a book [nāma] from ancient times | in which there was an abundance of stories.
It was dispersed into the hands of every mōbad. | Every wise one [of the mōbads] possessed a portion of it.
There was a nobleman [pahlavān], born of the dehqāns, | brave, powerful, wise, and noble,
one who inquired into the earliest days. | He sought to retrieve all the past stories.
From every region an aged mōbad | he brought, who would remember this book [nāma].
He asked them about kings of the world | and about the famed and glorious heroes,
when and how they held the world in the beginning | that they should have passed it down to us in such a wretched state,
how, with a lucky star, | every day completed a heroic exploit for them.
The great ones, one by one, recited before him | the stories [sokhanhā] about kings and the turnings of the world.
When the lord heard their words from them | he set the foundations for a renowned book [nāma].
Thus it became his memorial in the world. | The small and the great praise him.

Shāhnāma I 21.126–136 [1]
According to this story, an archetypal book had once been disintegrated—only to become reintegrated many years later at the initiative of a wise nobleman who put together the fragments of the disintegrated book. This nobleman, described as a descendant of elite Zoroastrian landowners (dehqāns), proceeded to gather experts in poetry (mōbads) from all over the Iranian Empire. [2] Each one of these experts brought with him a fragment of the original book. Then, lining up the experts in order, the nobleman invited each one of the experts to recite, in proper order, what was contained in each fragment. This way, the archetypal book was reintegrated, and it was this book that became the primal source of Ferdowsi’s own Shāhnāma or ‘Book of Kings’. As I have argued in earlier work, “Ferdowsi’s description of this genesis amounts to a myth-made stylization of oral poetry.” [3]
This is not to say that Ferdowsi’s Shāhnāma is oral poetry in and of itself. Ferdowsi’s poem acknowledges that it was written down, and, to that extent, it cannot be described as oral poetry in the sense of a composition-in-performance. Nevertheless, this poem also acknowledges its own derivation from poetry as performed by oral poets.
In the present work, I will argue that the picturing of a disintegrated and then reintegrated book is a metaphor for oral poetry, and that we find this metaphor attested in a wide variety of oral traditions that have evolved independently of each other. As we will see, such a metaphor can serve a variety of purposes in a variety of cultures that differ widely with regard to their use of written texts.
To get a better sense of such a metaphor, I will consider

  • other classical Persian narratives that feature variations on the theme of a disintegrated and then reintegrated Book of Kings
  • other Iranian narratives about other kinds of books
  • non-Iranian narratives found in other Indo-European traditions.

Other classical Persian narratives that feature variations on the theme of a disintegrated and then reintegrated Book of Kings

Two relevant narratives, from the Bāysonghori Preface

I start with a classical Persian prose text featuring two further narratives that are most similar in content to the poetic narrative I quoted from the Shāhnāma of Ferdowsi. These two narratives are embedded within the framing narrative of the preface of a book stemming from a recension of Ferdowsi’s Shāhnāma, commissioned in 1426 CE by the Timurid prince Ghiāth-al-Din Bāysonghor. [4] The book, known as the Bāysonghori Shāhnāma, is now housed at the Golestan Museum in Tehran, and I will be quoting here from the text of the preface to this book. From here on, I will refer to this text as the Bāysonghori Preface, abbreviated BP. [5] Near the very beginning of the text (BP 368), the framing narrative says that there were numerous copies of the Shāhnāma in the imperial library of Prince Bāysonghor. But none of them ‘agreed with his delicate constitution and elegant disposition.’ So, that was the impetus, according to the logic of the framing narrative here, for a new recension. And the circumstances were right: ‘when in the time of his imperial rule—may this period of peace be doubled—works of art dominated and well-measured speech held immeasurable value, dried up shoots of wisdom and knowledge were refreshed day by day with the subsidizing drops of rain from his learning.’ So, when the prince called for a collation of texts, the production of ‘a more complete and accurate copy’ was acted upon, and the text highlights all the editorial work that went into the production of an enhanced text for this book. The framing narrative now proceeds to aetiologize this editorial work in the form of two embedded narratives that tell about the genesis of an archetypal book of kings:

[1] ‘The just king Anōshirvān loved collecting accounts of the past generations and having them shorn of their anomalies. And he habitually sent messengers to research throughout the world and gather stories of the rulers of different regions along with other noteworthy accounts and to deliver a copy of their research to the [royal] library.’
[2] ‘When it came to Yazdgerd’s reign, all those historical accounts had been preserved in his library but in no particular order. He ordered Dāneshvar the Dehqān—a senior figure at the royal court [madā’in], who combined courage with learning and wisdom—to organize a list of chapters and arrange them in order from the beginning of the rule of Kayomarth to the end of the reign of Khosrow Parviz. And whatever lacunae he found there he filled and appended by asking information from the learned and from the Zoroastrian mōbad-s. And so a chronicle of sheer perfection and comprehensiveness was created.’
BP 369
In terms of these two embedded narratives, the archetypal book of kings that each one of the two shahs had commissioned seems to be the same text that Ferdowsi supposedly turned into Persian poetry around 1010 CE. At least, that is how this archetypal book of kings is imagined in the embedded narratives.
In effect, these two embedded narratives about two earlier shahs serve the purpose of prefiguring the recension undertaken by the would-be shah Bāysonghor (this prince died before he ever became shah), which is the main topic of the framing narrative. In the second of the two embedded narratives I have just quoted, it is made explicit that the textual recension involves not only earlier texts but also performances stemming from oral traditions. By implication, the variations found in the texts of the Shāhnāma that were housed in the library of Bāysonghor were understood to be derived from not only textual but also performative variations in the transmission of lore about kings and heroes.
But this gesture of prefiguration glosses over a major complication concerning the transmission of this lore. The texts commissioned by the two shahs who are figured here as prototypes of Prince Bāysonghor would have been composed not in Persian but in Pahlavi, the imperial language of the Sasanian Dynasty. The shah Khosrow I Anōshirvān was ruler of the Sasanian Empire from 531 to 579 CE, while the shah Yazdgerd III, the very last king of the Sasanian Empire, ruled from 632 to 651 CE. And there is a further complication concerning the transmission: as we read from the words of Ferdowsi himself, the prototype for his poetic version of the Book of Kings is envisaged as a text written in Pahlavi prose, and it is up to the poet to turn the prose of the Pahlavi book into Persian poetry. Here is how the poet speaks about this Pahlavi prototype:

In my city I had a congenial friend [mehrbān]. | You might say that he and I were in one skin.
He said to me: “This idea of yours is good. | Your steps indeed tend to goodness.
This book [nāma] written down in Pahlavi, | I will present to you so that you may not slumber!
You have lucid language and youth. | You have the words for heroic composition.
Go, render anew this book [nāma] of kings! | With it seek honor among the great!”
When he brought this book [nāma] to me, | it inflamed my dark soul.

I 23.156–161 [6]

Another relevant narrative, from the so-called Older Preface [7]

A still further complication concerning the transmission of lore about Iranian kings presents itself in the so-called Older Preface to the Shāhnāma, hereafter abbreviated OP, attested in the London manuscript of the Shāhnāma (= L, British Museum), dated 1276 CE, as also in other manuscripts. [8] The content of the OP is dated all the way back to the middle of the tenth century. [9] According to the narrative of the OP, a Book of Kings composed in Persian prose was commissioned by a certain Ibn ʿAbd al-Razzāq, a local potentate of Tus (which was the native city of Ferdowsi), in concert with his administrator, Abū Manṣūr al-Maʿmarī (OP §6). The resulting work, finished in 957 CE (OP §7), was based on a ‘compilation’ of older books (OP §6). The narrative relates that Ibn ʿAbd al-Razzāq had been inspired to commission this book after hearing the story of the genesis of the book Kalīla and Dimna, which is a celebrated collection of fables stemming ultimately from India (OP §6).
As we are about to see, the events that are adduced in the Older Preface to explain how the book Kalīla and Dimna attained its supposedly perfect form are presented as a prefiguration of the events that explain how the Shāhnāma supposedly reached its own perfection—once it was turned into poetry by Ferdowsi.
According to the Older Preface, the Sasanian shah Khosrow I Anōshirvān commissioned a translation of the Kalīla and Dimna from the ‘Indian’ language into Pahlavi (OP §4). It was this same shah, as we already noted in the Bāysonghori Preface, who commissioned the reintegration of a supposedly disintegrated Book of Kings, likewise written in Pahlavi (BP 369). Having noted this detail once again, I return to the narrative of the Older Preface: so, many years after the translation of the Kalīla and Dimna into Pahlavi, the Caliph al-Maʾmūn (who ruled from 813 to 833 CE) ordered a translation of this book from Pahlavi into Arabic, through the agency of his administrator Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ (OP §4). [10] Then the Samanid Amir Naṣr II b. Aḥmad (who ruled from 914 to 943), through the agency of his secretary Balʿamī, commissioned a translation from Arabic into Persian prose (OP §5). And, finally, Balʿamī’s prose version was transposed into Persian verse by the poet Rudaki, who flourished in the late ninth and early tenth century CE (OP §5). It is said of the Persian prose version that ‘the book fell into men’s hands and every man turned its pages,’ and of the poetic version that from then on, Kalīla and Dimna ‘was on the tongues of the great and the lowly’ (OP §5). [11] Ferdowsi himself draws a parallel between his own Shāhnāma and Rudaki’s Kalīla and Dimna, stressing that the uniqueness of both compositions depends on what is described as the turning of prose into poetry (Shāhnāma VIII 655.3460–3464). [12]
The rhetoric of the narrative I just analyzed in the Older Preface operates on a principle that I describe as an ascending scale of prestige. At the climax of the narrative, the Persian prose version of the Kalīla and Dimna is capped by the Persian poetic version. And now we are about to see that the same kind of rhetoric is at work in the “happy ending” built into the narrative of the Older Preface about the genesis of the Shāhnāma. In this instance, just before the climax of the narrative is reached, the Book of Kings has been translated from Pahlavi prose into Persian prose (OP §15–§16). Then, in a final and perfect culmination of the process of composition, the Persian prose text is superseded by the Persian poetic version. This time, it is Ferdowsi who converts the prose into poetry, and his patron is specified as Maḥmud of Ghazna, who ruled from 998–1030 CE (OP §16). In this narrative, there is no explicit time-gap between the compilation of the Persian prose version and its subsequent conversion into Persian poetry: ‘And after they had compiled it in prose, Sulṭān Maḥmud, son of Sebüg-tegin, ordered the sage Abu ’l-Qāsim Manṣur Ferdowsi to turn it into the dari [‘court’] language in verse, and the circumstances of it will be mentioned at their proper place’ (OP §16). [13]
According to one influential theory, this crucial part of the narrative, the climax, is an “interpolation.” [14] But the advocates of this theory overlook the rhetorical integrity of the Older Preface when they proceed to excise the supposedly interpolated part of the text. With the excision in place, the truncated text is then “archaeologized” as having had a completely different purpose from that which the OP itself announces as its raison d’être, namely to introduce the poetry of the Shāhnāma. Instead, in terms of the theory, the text was intended to introduce a hypothetical “prose Shāhnāma,” which, although no longer extant, supposedly corresponded to the original text commissioned by Ibn ʿAbd al-Razzāq.
Opposing this theory, I argue that the narrative of the Older Preface requires the text that preceded the poetic Shāhnāma to serve as a foil, marking the penultimate stage in the process that led to the perfection of the final product. Narrative precedents provide a clear model for the construction of such a foil: at least in terms of the rhetoric of the narrative, it is evident that the predecessor-text must have been written in prose, just as Balʿamī’s prose Persian Kalīla and Dimna constituted the predecessor-text for the poetic Persian Kalīla and Dimna of Rudaki. Similarly, in terms of the logic that takes shape in the narrative of the Older Preface, the Shāhnāma must have existed in a prose version that functioned as a predecessor-text to the poetic Shāhnāma of Ferdowsi. Such a rhetorical crescendo, in which a prose Shāhnāma commissioned by Ibn ʿAbd al-Razzāq becomes a stepping-stone to a grander and more perfect work, articulates a point of view marked by a poetic Shāhnāma commissioned by Maḥmud of Ghazna.
The purpose of the preceding discussion is not to suggest that a prose Shāhnāma commissioned by Ibn ʿAbd al-Razzāq, the potentate of Tus, never existed. Rather, it is to demonstrate that the narrative in the Older Preface about the commissioning of such a prose Shāhnāma is inextricably tied to its narrative concerning the conversion of this prose into poetry by Ferdowsi, the poet of Tus. In other words, the narrative of the Older Preface rhetorically motivates the Shāhnāma of Ferdowsi instead of the earlier “prose Shāhnāma” that serves as its foil.

Yet another relevant narrative, from the Bāysonghori Preface

There is a comparable narrative in the Bāysonghori Preface concerning the same Sultan Maḥmud, would-be patron of Ferdowsi in the eleventh century CE: this king showed a keen interest in locating texts of the Shāhnāma stemming from western Iran (in this case, Fars, at BP 371) and from eastern Iran (in this case, Sistān, at BP 373). In this case, the activity of gathering regional variants of the Shāhnāma in the era of Maḥmud is presented as a prototype for the interest of Prince Bāysonghor himself in attempting to enhance the text of the Shāhnāma by way of augmenting it with regional variants.
A result of such attempts at enhancement by augmenting the actual text of the poetic composition by way of regional variants is the enormous size of the Bāysonghori Shāhnāma. This fifteenth-century book contains over 58,000 verses. It has 346 folios (with six columns and 31 lines per page) and only 20 illustrations, by comparison with most books of the Shāhnāma in the fourteenth century, which typically have around 300 folios and many more illustrations. [15]

Other Iranian narratives about other kinds of books

At the beginning of a thirteenth-century narrative poem about the early life of Zoroaster and the beginning of his public life as a prophet, the poet speaks of his source in the following words:

I saw a notebook [daftar] from the time of the empire | in a script which is called Pahlavi.
Zardoshtnāma line 14 [16]

Later on in the poem, the poet says that a mōbad urged him to translate the book into Persian verse. Here is what the mōbad tells the poet:

You see these ancient stories | of which no one recalls the origins, foundation, and root.
No one understands this script. | I fear it will disappear altogether.
It is better that you put it in verse, | in beautiful language and in dari [= Persian] script.

Zardoshtnāma lines 23–25 [17]
Such medieval Persian narratives about the rescuing of books written in Pahlavi can be traced back to still earlier Iranian narratives. Already in the ancient Avestan tradition, a book could be seen as the foundation of performance. A case in point is a narrative that we find in the Dēnkard, which is a tenth-century Pahlavi compendium of Zoroastrian beliefs and customs (in Pahlavi, the word Dēnkard or Dēnkart means ‘Acts of Religion’). In the Dēnkard, we find a story about the transmission of archetypal Avestan texts—texts that date back ultimately to the second millennium BCE. According to this story, three pivotal moments in the transmission happened in three successive eras of Iranian imperial kingship. The three eras are represented by three kings who stem from three successive Iranian dynasties, which are [1] the Achaemenid, [2] the Parthian, and [3] the Sasanian. Here is the relevant text, as translated by the noted Iranist Mary Boyce:

[1] Daray [= Darius III], son of Daray, commanded that two written copies of all Avesta and Zand, even as Zardusht [= Zoroaster] had received them from Ohrmazd [= Ahura Mazda], be preserved … [2] Valakhsh the Ashkanian [= Vologases I] commanded that a memorandum be sent to the provinces (instructing them) to preserve, in the state in which they had come down in (each) province, whatever had survived in purity of the Avesta and Zand as well as every teaching derived from it which, scattered through the land of Iran by the havoc and disruption of Alexander, and by the pillage and plundering of the Macedonians, had remained authoritative, whether written or in oral transmission. [3] His Majesty Ardashir [= Ardashir I], King of kings, son of Pāpak, acting on the just judgment of Tansār, demanded that all those scattered teachings should be brought to the court. Tansār assumed command, and selected those that were trustworthy, and left the rest out of the canon.
Boyce 1984:114 [18]
So we see a spanning of three consecutive dynasties in this narrative:

[earliest phase 1] The Achaemenid dynasty is represented here by the king Darius III, who ruled the Persian Empire from 336 to 330 BCE. In the Dēnkard, Darius III is known simply as Daray son of Daray.
[later phase 2] The Parthian dynasty is represented here by the king Vologases I, who ruled the Parthian Empire from about 51 to 78 CE. In the Dēnkard, Vologases I is known simply as Valakhsh.
[still later phase 3] The Sasanian dynasty is represented here by the king Ardashir I, founder and first ruler of the Sasanian Empire, whose kingship extends from 208 to 242 CE. In the Dēnkard, Ardashir I is known as Ardashir son of Pāpak. [19]
On the basis of such comparative evidence, I argue that the medieval Persian narrative of Ferdowsi’s Shāhnāma about a disintegrated and then reintegrated book can be traced back to earlier Iranian traditions. I especially note, in phase two of the narrative in the Dēnkard, the reference to the scattering of the texts of the Avesta: to quote again from the translation of Boyce, the texts were ‘scattered through the land of Iran’. In brief, then, the ancient Avestan tradition is seen in terms of a book that serves as the foundation of performance. So there is a deep prehistory to be found in the linkage of book and performance.

Comparable non-Iranian narratives found in other Indo-European traditions

Over a century and a half ago, Jules Mohl had already interpreted the passage I quoted from Ferdowsi’s Shāhnāma at the beginning of this presentation as an example of a well-known type of myth that serves to explain the genesis of a national epic poetic tradition. [20] Following my analysis of this passage from the Shāhnāma, Gregory Nagy interprets it as evidence for the kind of culture “where written text and oral tradition coexist.” [21] In such cultures, as Nagy argues, “the idea of a written text can even become a primary metaphor for the authority of recomposition-in-performance.” [22] The consequences are enormous:

The intrinsic applicability of text as metaphor for recomposition-in-performance helps explain a type of myth, attested in a wide variety of cultural contexts, where the evolution of a poetic tradition, moving slowly ahead in time until it reaches a relatively static phase, is reinterpreted by the myth as if it resulted from a single incident, pictured as the instantaneous recovery or even regeneration of a lost text, an archetype. [23]
For Nagy, the most striking comparative parallel with the Persian model is a set of ancient Greek myths that tell of the disintegration and subsequent reintegration of the Homeric corpus itself, culminating in the historicized narrative of the “Peisistratean Recension.” [24] Other comparable parallels include the medieval Irish aetiology of the “lost” book of the Táin Bó Cúailnge ‘Cattle Raid of Cúailgne. [25] Another parallel adduced by Nagy is the medieval French narrative of Guiron le courtois, which “lays the foundation for its authority by telling of the many French books that were produced from what is pictured as an archetypal translation of a mythical Latin book of the Holy Grail.” [26] Just as the whole tradition of medieval French romance presents itself as an overall corpus that derives its individual parts from translations of a mythical Ur-text written in Latin, I argue that the whole of Ferdowsi’s Shāhnāma derives itself from a comparable Ur-text written in Pahlavi. [27] Yet another parallel comes from ethnographic fieldwork on the oral epic tradition of an illiterate society, the untouchable Malas of India: “The epic, it is claimed [by the performers], was first written by a Brahmin poet, torn into shreds, discarded, and then picked up by the present performers.” [28]

Summing up

I started with Iranian traditions as I examined the theme of the disintegrated and then reintegrated book. And I concluded by surveying parallel themes in non-Iranian traditions, both cognate (as in the case of Greek, Irish, and other Indo-European traditions) and non-cognate (as in the case of substrate traditions in India). On the basis of these parallel themes, I argue in general that oral traditions can compare themselves metaphorically to written traditions.


Bertels, Y. E. et al., eds. 1960–1971. Ferdowsi: Shāhnāma I–IX. Moscow.
Blackburn, S. H. 1989. “Patterns of Development for Indian Oral Epics.” Oral Epics in India, ed. S. H. Blackburn, P. J. Claus, J. B. Flueckiger, and S. S. Wadley, 15–32. Berkeley and Los Angeles.
Boyce, M. 1984. Textual Sources for the Study of Zoroastrianism. Manchester.
Davidson, O. M. 2001. “Some Iranian poetic tropes as reflected in the ‘Life of Ferdowsi’ traditions.” Philologica et Linguistica: Festschrift für Helmut Humbach, ed. M. G. Schmidt and W. Bisang, supplement, 1–12. Trier.
———. 2002. “Haft K̲vān.” Encyclopaedia Iranica 11:516–519.
———. 2005. “Persian/Iranian Epic.” A Companion to Ancient Epic, ed. J. M. Foley, 264–276. Oxford.
———. 2008. “The Testing of the Shāhnāma in the “Life of Ferdowsi” Narratives.” The Rhetoric of Biography: Narrating Lives in Persianate Societies, ed. L. Marlow, 11–20. Cambridge, MA.
———. 2013a. Poet and Hero in the Persian Book of Kings. 3rd ed. Cambridge, MA (2nd ed. Costa Mesa, CA 2006; 1st ed. Ithaca, NY 1994).
———. 2013b. Comparative Literature and Classical Persian Poetics. 2nd ed. Cambridge, MA (1st ed. Costa Mesa, CA 2000).
———. 2015. “Parallel Heroic Themes in the Medieval Irish Cattle Raid of Cooley and the Medieval Persian Book of Kings.” Erin and Iran: Cultural Encounters between the Irish and the Iranians, ed. H. E. Chehabi and G. Neville, 36–44. Cambridge, MA.
Davis, D. 1996. “The Problem of Ferdowsi’s Sources.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 116:48–57.
Hillenbrand, R. 2010. “Exploring a Neglected Masterpiece: The Gulistan Shāhnāma of Bāysunghur.” Iranian Studies 43:97–126.
Lord, A. B. 1991. Epic Singers and Oral Tradition. Ithaca, NY.
———. 1995. The Singer Resumes the Tale. (ed. M. L. Lord). Ithaca, NY.
Minorsky, V. 1964. “The Older Preface to the Shāh-nāma.” Iranica, Twenty Articles, 260–274. Publications of the University of Tehran 755.
Mohl, J., ed. 1838–1878. Le livre des rois I–VII. Paris.
Nagy, G. 1996. Homeric Questions. Austin.
Nagy, J. F. 1985. The Wisdom of the Outlaw: The Boyhood Deeds of Finn in Gaelic Narrative Tradition. Berkeley.
———. 1986. “Orality in Medieval Irish Narrative.” Oral Tradition 1:272–301.
———. 1997. “How the Táin Was Lost.” Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie 49–50:603–609.
Qazvini, M. 1944. “Muqaddama-ye qadim-e Shāhnāma.” Hazāra-ye Ferdowsi 123–148. Tehran.
Riyāhi, M.A., ed. 1993. Sar-chashma-hā-ye Ferdowsi shenāsi. Tehran.
Rosenberg, F., ed. and trans. 1904. Le livre de Zoroastre (Zartusht Nāma) de Zartusht-i Bahram ben Pajdu. St. Petersburg. Re-edited 1959 by M. Dabir-Siyāqi. Tehran.
Skjærvø, P. O. 2012, ed. and trans. The Spirit of Zoroastrianism. New Haven.


[ back ] 1. Citations of passages from the Shāhnāma follow the volume- and section- and line-numberings of Bertels 1960–1971. The translations are mine.
[ back ] 2. Further analysis in Davidson 2013a:29. Mōbad means ‘priest’ or ‘wise man’ and dehqān means ‘landowner.’ The latter meaning, however, masks the actual function of the dehqān: as a chief owner of property in a particular locale, he is the “authority” not only in the narrow sense that he has administrative powers but also in the broader sense that he actually validates the traditions of that given locale.
[ back ] 3. Davidson 2005:268.
[ back ] 4. Bāysonghor was ruler of the city of Herat from 1416/7 until 1433, the year of his death. This prince was the son of the king Shāhrokh and grandson of Timur, that is, of Tamerlane himself. The production of the book was completed in 1430, on January 30, by Mowlanā Ja’far Bāysonghori, a Tabrizi calligrapher who appears to have also served as librarian to the prince in Herat.
[ back ] 5. The text of the preface to the Bāysonghori Shāhnāma has been edited by Mohammad Amin Riyāhi 1993:364–418. My citations of relevant passages in the Bāysonghori Preface (BP) will follow the convention: BP + the page-number in the Riyāhi edition. In my citations, I will make paraphrases of the relevant passages, occasionally highlighting the specific words being used; also, I will occasionally offer loose translations, enclosed within single quotation marks. In a forthcoming project, Mohsen Ashtiany and I will produce a literal translation of the whole Bāysonghori Preface.
[ back ] 6. For this and other examples of references to a prototypical book written in Pahlavi prose and then supposedly turned into Persian poetry, see Davidson 2013a:27–29.
[ back ] 7. This section is an epitome of arguments already presented in Davidson 2001 and 2008.
[ back ] 8. In Davidson 2013a:60, I list some other medieval manuscripts of the Shāhnāma that contain this Older Preface. The text of the Older Preface has been edited by Riyāhi 1993:170–180.
[ back ] 9. In what follows, numbers preceded by the sign § refer to the divisions of the text of the OP in the translation by Minorsky 1964. Besides the Older Preface and the Bāysonghori Preface, another comparable text is the preface to the Florence manuscript of the Shāhnāma, dated 1217/18 CE, supplemented by the preface to the Topkapi manuscript (Riyāhi 1993:264–287); still another comparable text is the “intermediate” preface (see Riyāhi 1993:326–338).
[ back ] 10. The narrative here is anachronistic: Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ had been executed in approximately 759 CE, well before the reign of al-Maʾmūn.
[ back ] 11. Translations from Minorsky 1964:266.
[ back ] 12. Davidson 2013a:38.
[ back ] 13. Translation from Minorsky 1964:271 (his transliterations have been modified here).
[ back ] 14. Minorsky 1964:271n2. For the most influential exposition of this theory, see Qazvini 1944 and Minorsky 1964, and the critique in Davidson 2001.
[ back ] 15. The relevant statistics are gathered by Hillenbrand 2010:105.
[ back ] 16. This poem is edited by Rosenberg 1904 (re-edited by Dabir-Siyāqi 1959).
[ back ] 17. The translation is mine. For further commentary and bibliography, see Davidson 2013a:37–38.
[ back ] 18. See also Skjærvø 2012:41.
[ back ] 19. Davidson 2013b:110–111.
[ back ] 20. Mohl 1838:xi; see also Davidson 2013a:43.
[ back ] 21. Nagy 1996:70; see also his pp. 7–38, supporting the view of Lord 1991 and 1995; also Davidson 2013b:21.
[ back ] 22. Nagy 1996:70.
[ back ] 23. Nagy 1996:70.
[ back ] 24. Nagy 1996:71–72.
[ back ] 25. Nagy 1996:70, following J. F. Nagy 1985:292–293 (also 1986 and 1997); see also Davidson 2015.
[ back ] 26. Nagy 1996:71; see also Davidson 2013a:38n43.
[ back ] 27. Davidson 2013b:33, with reference to Davidson 2013a:35–39.
[ back ] 28. Blackburn 1989:32n25; see also Nagy 1996:71. Further parallels are adduced by Davis 1996, which I analyze in Davidson 2013b:34–35 in conjunction with the parallels that I adduced in Davidson 1994 (first edition of Davidson 2013a).