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Study Guide | Theater

Feathers of Fire

Context
Ancient Persia and Modern Iran 

The story Feathers of Fire is part of the Shahnameh, a poetic account of the pre-history and history of Persia.

Persia is the ancient land that is now known as Iran. The culture is extremely ancient, but its history can be said to begin around 1200 BCE, when the Indo-European people from Central Asia moved south into the land that is now Iran. These people were called the Medes and the Persians. Around 550 BCE, the great Persian king Cyrus took control of the land from the Medes. He was a strong leader who established a powerful government and expanded the Persian territory, ruling over nearby lands and peoples. The Persian Empire was a powerful entity for many centuries.

Like all large empires, it went through many changes and was influenced by many other powerful empires, including the Greeks, Egyptians, and Assyrians. In the early medieval period, around 630 CE, the Persian Empire was conquered by Arab invaders, and the religion of Islam began to spread throughout the empire. The Islamization of Iran transformed Persian culture. Over time, Islam was adopted as the main religion in Persia, shifting the governmental structure and introducing Arabic as the widely accepted language of religion and academic learning. During the Islamic Golden Age, which lasted approximately from 780 to 1500 CE, Persian poetry, philosophy, science, and art flourished. Even as Islam brought about these changes, Persian culture and language survived. It continues to have a strong influence on the Islamic culture of modern-day Persia, known as Iran.

Today, Iran is a multi-cultural nation that plays an important role in Western Asia. It has a unique government that was established after the revolution in 1979. It is ruled by democracy along with Islamic law, and Persian is the official language. Iran’s capital, Tehran, is an important modern political and industrial city that still holds the ruins and remnants of the country’s ancient and rich history.


 

The Shahnameh & The Poet Ferdowsi

The history of Persia, as told in the Shahnameh, is a mixture of history and mythology. It mixes reality and fantasy to create a powerful Persian epic—a long poem that follows the journey of a central hero. The Shahnameh epic is divided into the “mythical age,” the “heroic age,” and the “historical age.” The “mythical age” tells the story of the creation of the world and its earliest people. The “heroic age” is the longest section, and it tells the story of the ancient Persian empire. Feathers of Fire is the story of Zaul and Rudabeh, which is told in the heroic age section of the Shahnameh. The last section, the “historic age,” tells the history of the Sassanid Empire, the last Persian empire before the rise of Islam. The Shahnameh was written between the years 977 and 1010 CE by a Persian poet named Abloqasem Ferdowsi. Ferdowsi lived from 935 to 1025 CE in the city of Tous in ancient Persia. Ferdowsi used many historical, mythological, religious, and contemporary sources to create the Shahnameh, which he wrote in Modern Persian. It is still read today and celebrated as the great Persian epic, much like The Iliad and The Odyssey from ancient Greece, or the Bhagavad Gita from India.


 

Hamid Rhamanian

Feathers of Fire was created by the artist Hamid Rahmanian. Rahmanian is an Iranian filmmaker and graphic artist who created a series of illustrations depicting scenes from the Shahnameh. The live performance of the story of Zaul and Rudabeh is a continuation of that project. More of his illustration work is available online at http://theepicofthepersiankings.com/home/.

Rahmanian is not the first artist to illustrate the Shahnameh. Artists throughout time have shared their visions of the great epic. Explore images of the Shahnameh by artists throughout time by clicking on these links:

The Princeton Shahnama Project: http://www.princeton.edu/~shahnama/

The Fitzwilliam Museum: http://www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/gallery/shahnameh/patronage.html

The Fotografia Gallery of Islam: http://fotografia.islamoriente.com/en/content/masterpieces-persian-miniature-zahhak-and-snakes-taken-shahnameh-ferdowsi-shah-tahmasbi

“BAM Education study guides are supported by the Frederick Loewe Foundation.”