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The folkloric tradition was so popular because people were able to relate to it. Although Ferdowsi wrote his text with the intention that people of all backgrounds would be able to celebrate the history of the land, the folkloric tradition derived its appeal from the fact that everyone could relate with the characters in a very real, first-hand way. Most of the stories simply had stock characters, similar to the Commedia Del Arte theatrical tradition in Italy. These characters were archetypes rather than actual historical figures. Although the everyday events depicted in these stories were fictional and made up by the person who happened to be telling the story, the stories were used as a form of entertainment that would offer some form of momentary escape from the cares of their everyday lives. This context represents a major difference from the Shehmaneh, which generally attempts to represent history and actual events rather than escaping from real life.
Another major difference between the Shehmaneh and the Turkish folkloric literary tradition is that the folktales did not have any Persian language in them. This had the major difference of making the folktales less tied to the region. Another difference is that where folktales were communicated through a more verbal quatrain structure, the written word was communicated through couplets.
Persian literature had a great effect on not only the Turkish literary tradition but also the Ottoman poetic heritage. Ottoman poetry was nonfictional, and so it was similar to the Persian literature in that way. Although poetry was the more popular form, there was also Ottoman prose as well. The Ottoman poetry is known for using a large amount of symbols and metaphors, a trait that it received from Persian poetry. One of the main differences between Ottoman prose and Ottoman poetry is that the poetry used Persian language while the prose used Arabic language. Where Persian language did not have to rhyme, the Ottoman prose had to match the rhyming patterns of the Arabic language.
The impact of the Shahmenah cannot be overstated. Ferdowsi gave the people of the region a cultural identity that they could be proud of and celebrate. By beginning the text with the creation of the Earth, he showed how the Persians were legitimate members of the human species and deserved to succeed. On a very important level he created a tradition where the Persian people could celebrate their literary works even while their lives were filled with difficult situations. In his foreword to one of the editions of the Shamenah, Amir Nafisi notes:
"Persians basically did not have a home, except in their literature, especially their poetry. This country…has been attacked and invaded numerous times, and each time, when Persians had lost their sense of their own history, culture, and language, they found their poets as the true guardians of their own home." (9)
Ferdowsi represents perhaps the greatest figure in the tradition of poets who gave the country a sense of identity even when their cultural identity was threatened. Although it is true that the treatment of women in the Shahnameh is unfair and portions of the epic poem are morally suspect, Ferdowsi influenced a poetic tradition that has helped Persian make it through some very difficult times (Davis).
Although the Shahnameh is in many ways very different from the oral poetic tradition, there are some similarities. Both try to provide a sense of optimism in the everyday peasants, and Ferdowsi has even been referred to as conducting "oral performance" (Yamamoto xxiii). The focus on the peasants and everyday characters is a major theme that is even popular in more modern Turkish literature. It has been noted that perhaps the most common theme of Turkish literature as a whole is that it attempts to give the working man a sense of optimism toward his life, no matter how difficult the situation (Karpat 153). There continues to be a belief that the best way for people to express their opinions, and the poetry is the best means through which to communicate and release frustration with their situation (Karaomerlioglu 2002).
Overall, the effects of the Shahnameh in Turkish literature relate to the sense of cultural unity that Ferdowsi brought to the people. Ferdowsi raised awareness of the cultural heritage of a population that has suffered through many difficult situations and he instilled pride in them. Today, Turkish literature reflects the emphasis of both the Shahnameh and the oral Turkish folkloric tradition.
Davis, Dick. "Introduction." The Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings. Trans. Dick Davis. Korea: Mage, 2004. 7-15.
Doostkhah, Jalil. "Shahnameh and the Oral Epic Traditions: A Brief Note." Iran and the Caucasus 5 (2001): 157-162.
Gay, David Elton. "The Oral Background of Persian Epics: Storytelling and Poetry, and: Sunset of Empire: Stories from the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi. Vol. 3." Journal of American Folklore 119.472 (2006): 243-245.
Karaomerlioglu, Asim. "The Peasants in Early Turkish Literature." East European Quarterly 36.2 (2002): 127-154.
Karpat, Kemal H. "Social Themes in Contemporary Turkish Literature: Part II." Middle East Journal 14.2 (1960): 153-168.
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