As a window on the world, Shahnameh belongs in the company of such literary masterpieces as Dante’s Divine Comedy, the plays of Shakespeare, the epics of Homer— classics whose reach and range bring whole cultures into view. In its pages are unforgettable moments of national triumph and failure, human courage and cruelty, blissful love and bitter grief.
In tracing the roots of Iran, Shahnameh initially draws on the depths of legend and then carries its story into historical times, when ancient Persia was swept into an expanding Islamic empire. Now Dick Davis, the greatest modern translator of Persian poetry, has revisited that poem, turning the finest stories of Ferdowsi’s original into an elegant combination of prose and verse. For the first time in English, in the most complete form possible, readers can experience Shahnameh in the same way that Iranian storytellers have lovingly conveyed it in Persian for the past thousand years.
At the centre of The Lusiads is Vasco da Gama's pioneer voyage via southern Africa to India in 1497-98. The first European artist to cross the equator, Camoes's narrative reflects the novelty and fascination of that original encounter with Africa, India and the Far East. The poem's twin symbols are the Cross and the Astrolabe, and its celebration of a turning point in mankind's knowledge of the world unites the old map of the heavens with the newly discovered terrain on earth. Yet it speaks powerfully, too, of the precariousness of power, and of the rise and decline of nationhood, threatened not only from without by enemies, but from within by loss of integrity and vision.