19 may 2009

Wadham receives early birthday present


Firdousi bust being unveiled in Wadham College
The bust of Persian poet Firdousi was unveiled in Wadham College

A bust of Persian poet Abu'l-Qasim Firdousi has been unveiled in Wadham College to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the completion of Firdousi’s Shahnama and the College’s 400th anniversary. 

The bust, set in the Persian section of the Wadham Library named after Firdousi, was unveiled by the Iranian ambassador to the UK, Rasoul Movahedian earlier this month. Both anniversaries are going to be celebrated throughout 2010.

The gift was welcomed by the Warden of Wadham Sir Neil Chalmers and by the Curator of the Persian Library and Lecturer in Persian Literature Dr Firuza Abdullaeva. The statue was created by British-based Iranian sculptor Mehran Ghahari under the supervision of WadhamCollege officials and Iran’s cultural centre in London, under Dr Ali Helmi.

Fellow of Wadham College Professor Edmund Herzig explained how important it is to understand the phenomenon of extreme popularity of the Shahnama (meaning the Book of Kings), written a millenium ago in the contemporary Iranian society. The Shahnama is the longest poem or versified chronicle ever written by a single author.

Since its creation 1000 years ago, Firdousi and his Shahnama have always been a symbol of Iran and its cultural heritage

Dr Firuza Abdullaeva

Dr Abdullaeva said: ‘We are delighted to receive this addition to the library. Since its creation 1000 years ago, Firdousi and his Shahnama have always been a symbol of Iran and its cultural heritage in all periods of turbulent history of the country. I hope this statue will become a symbol of resurrection of a good relationship between the two countries.’

Dr Helmi, the cultural counsellor of the Iranian Embassy, said Shahnama is the masterpiece of the Persian literature, which influenced a number of literary writings many centuries after its compilation.

He said: ‘The bust of Ferdousi is a gift from the Iranian nation to the Wadham College for appreciating the efforts of all people and nations who are come together in mutual respect and understanding. Persians regard Ferdousi as the greatest of their poets. For a thousand years, they have continued to read and listen to recitations from Shahnama.’

The Firdousi Library, (formerly Princess Ashraf), specialising in Persian literature, art, history and culture, is unique among the college libraries of Oxford. It possesses about 3500 volumes, almost 800 manuscripts, about 200 lithographs in Arabic and Persian and about 700 rare and early Armenian books - most of which were donated by Dr Caro Minasian.

At the end of the sixties, the Wadham Warden, Sir Maurice Bowra, President of the British academy and one of the first co-founders of the British Institute of Persian Studies (BIPS) welcomed a donation to construct the building of the New Library in Wadham, where the emphasis would be given to Persian Studies and the post in Persian. Since then a special connection between Wadham and Iran has been established.

The statue was unveiled in the week that Iranians celebrate the national day of Ferdowsi (circa 935-1020) - May 15.