While living as a grad student in Paris I had the opportunity to interview the Afghan librarian and poet Latif Pedram for American Libraries* magazine. At that time Latif was living in exile and teaching at the Sorbonne after having narrowly escaped the Taliban who had threatened his life and burnt down the library he oversaw.
That interview was the first time I had heard the words auto-de-fé or Shahnameh and I learned as well that Latif had traveled around the world acquiring priceless editions of Ferdowsi’s illuminated Persian epic poem for his library– all tragically lost in a hail of machine gun fire and rocket launcher detonations.
Why is the Shahnameh or Book of Kings so special? In the modern context, Latif explained that in Iran, Afghanistan and other areas where Persian is traditionally spoken, the poem is a national tradition and family owned editions are an important pathway to literacy. Historically, sumptuous illuminated editions of the poem, produced for royal houses and wealthy families, provide important insights into Persian history and culture. The mythological adventures of heroes such as Garshap, Nariman and Sam provide fantastic visual imagery wherein armies are conquered, dragons slain and monsters overcome by amazing feats of courage and daring.
The power of Pictoscope’s visual discovery service is on full-display for students and researchers wanting to take a look at online digital editions of the Shahnameh. Our resource is designed to improve access to these priceless resources, now preserved and digitized by libraries and archives around the world. Pictoscope’s imaging index instantly allows users unprecedented access to Persian culture as preserved in these amazing illuminated manuscripts.
The experience is sure to inspire you just as the words of Ferdowsi continue to inspire present and future generations: “Instead of leaving behind palaces and riches, leave instead a memory of justice, honest thought, and good actions. These things will never turn to dust.”
*Loving, Matthew. 2002. “The War on Terror: Darkest Days – From exile in Paris, Afghan librarian Latif Pedram relives the nightmare”. American Libraries. 33 (5): 68.