When I saw the subhead of a review in the Book Review section of today’s NY Times (this week devoted entirely to Islam)—”The ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey’ of medieval Persia is presented in a hefty new English translation”—I was sure I knew what it referred to. But it wasn’t the Shahnama, it was something I’d never heard of, the Hamzanama, translated by Musharraf Ali Farooqi as The Adventures of Amir Hamza. The website has links to a bunch of reviews, and it sounds like a lot of fun—the Times review says:
Born as early as the ninth century, it grew through oral transmission to include material gathered from the wider culture-compost of the pre-Islamic Middle East. So popular was the story that it soon spread across the Muslim world, absorbing folk tales as it went; before long it was translated into Arabic, Turkish, Georgian, Malay and even Indonesian languages…
“The Adventures of Amir Hamza” collected a great miscellany of fireside yarns and shaggy-dog stories that over time had gathered around the travels of its protagonist, the historical uncle of the Prophet Muhammad. Any factual backbone the story might once have had was through the centuries overtaken by innumerable subplots and a cast of dragons, giants, jinns, simurgh, sorcerers, princesses and, if not flying carpets, then at least flying urns, the preferred mode of travel for the tale’s magicians.
The translation is from an Urdu version. If you’re curious about the illustrations commissioned by Akbar, you can see a nice selection of them at La boite à images.