An essay by Reza Aslan: The Epic of Iran. He writes about Iran's national epic, the "Shahnameh."
Written more than a thousand years ago by Abolqasem Ferdowsi, the "Shahnameh," or "Book of Kings," recounts the mythological history of Iran from the first fitful moments of creation to the Arab conquest of the Persian Empire in the seventh century A.D. Ferdowsi was a member of Iran's aristocratic class, which maintained a strong attachment to the heritage of pre-Islamic Iran. According to legend, he composed the "Shahnameh" under the patronage of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna, who promised him one dinar for every couplet. But when Ferdowsi presented the sultan with nearly 60,000 couplets, a flustered Mahmud offered him a fraction of his promised reward. Insulted, Ferdowsi rejected the money and returned home to the city of Tus, where he died impoverished and embittered. But his poem endured.
A verse from the Shahnameh:
Where are your valiant warriors and your priests,
Where are your hunting parties and your feasts?
Where is that warlike mien, and where are those
Great armies that destroyed our country's foes? . . .
Count Persia as a ruin, as the lair
Of lions and leopards. Look now and despair.
Reza Aslan is the author of No God But God.