Friday, November 2, 2012

Lecture (9): Muhammad Juki's Shah-namah

 The Escape of Qubad (detail) Royal Asiatic Society, MS. 239, fol. 394a

To say that we, who are engaged in what has been called by its practitioners as--until very recently when it became unfashionable to do so--oriental studies, have a strong inclination for the origins, would not be an understatement. The study of the Persian epic, the Shah-namah, has not escaped this paradigm as evident in the quest to reach Firdawsi's Ur text. Although recently scholars have begun to highlight the lost opportunities of his approach,* art historians interested in the richly illustrated manuscripts of the Shah-namah have long appreciated its material multiplicity.

Today's lecture traces the history of one manuscript of the Shah-namah--one likely commissioned by the Timurid prince Muhammad Juki (d. 1447), which later entered the royal library of the Mughals in India. It is presented by Barbara Brend, the author of, amongst other books, Muhammad Juki's Shahnamah of Firdausi, co-authored with A. H. Morton (2010), and was part of the Asia Society's exhibition from last year, A Prince's Manuscript Unbound: Muhammad Juki's Shahnamah. If you are a Shah-namah fan there is of course Charles Melville's project, which includes an impressive digital archive of illustrations from various Shah-namah manuscripts. Also last year, the Islamic Studies Library, as part of their exhibition series based on their materials, showcased illustrations from the epic, with some digitized record of it here. Firdawsi was right then, when he wrote:

نميرم از اين پس كه من زنده ام  / كه تخم سخن را پراكنده ام
Never hence would I die for I am alive / having sown the seeds of poetry**

* See for instance:

Nasrin Askari, "A Unique Episode from the Kārnāmag ī Ardašīr ī Pābagān in a Nineteenth-Century Illustrated Indian Manuscript of the Shāhnāmeh," Iranian Studies 45 (2012): 203-16.

M. Amin Mahdavi, "'Genetically Modified Text' or 'Critical Edition'?" Persica 19 (2003): 1-31.

** The translation is, I believe, Prashant Keshavmurthy's.

And thus without further ado, Barbara Brend on Muhammad Juki's Shah-namah

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