Born: Circa 935-940 near Tus, Persia (now Iran)
Died: Circa 1020, near Tus, Persia (now Iran)
Firdawsi is the pseudonym of the Persian poet Abu Ol-Qasem Mansur, about whom little is known to be fact. The last factual account was given by the poet Nezami-ye Aruzi dating from the time he visited Firdawsi's tomb around 1116-1117. Any other information about this poet has been inferred from legends and his work.
Legends recount that Firdawsi was a landowner who made a comfortable living from his estates. He had one daughter, for whom he wrote a poem. His text Shah-nameh, or Book of Kings, took Firdawsi thirty-five years to finish. He hoped to sell it to the emperor to provide a dowry for his daughter when she married.
The Book of Kings is considered one of the world's greatest epics. It is a story of the kings of Persia from mythical times down to the reign of Khosrow II (590-628) and includes some material from later in the seventh century. The entire epic includes nearly 60,000 couplets based on ancient text dated to the seventh century.
Firdawsi completed the text in 1010 and presented it to the Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna. Firdawsi had been assured, in good faith, by one of the ministers of the sultan that the poem would be bought. However the sultan consulted some of the minister's enemies who suggested the poem was not worth 50,000 dirhams because of its heretic nature.
Firdawsi was enraged when he was paid 20,000 -- what he considered a paltry amount for thirty-five years of work -- and in an insolent gesture he spent all the money on a bath and a beer. Fearing the wrath of the sultan, he fled the country and took up court with Sepahbad Shahrayer, who claimed ancestry to the kings of Persia. Here, he wrote another one hundred verses of satire about the sultan and offered to dedicate the entire work to his hosts. In a politically adept move, Mahmud Shahrayer bought the offensive text and had it expunged from the original.
Many years later, in a reversal of heart the sultan gave orders to transport 60,000 dinars worth of indigo to the poet to make up for shabby treatment. The camels transporting the indigo made it safely to Tus, but as they were coming in one gate, Firdawsi's bier was going out the other to be buried. The daughter of Firdawsi refused the gift and the money was spent on repairing a resthouse on the boundaries of Tus.