Completed by the poet Ferdowsi in 1010 AD, the Shahnameh is widely regarded as a masterpiece of world literature.
It is of central importance to Iranian culture and self identity, and has inspired some of the world's most exquisite manuscripts.
Unlike many other national epics, it is still read by Persian speakers throughout the world in its original form.
The poem consists of some 60,000 verses and tells the mythical and historical story of Greater Iran from the creation of the world until the Islamic conquest in the 7th Century.
But rather than being a patriotic chronicle of kingly deeds the poem is a subtle and highly ambiguous discussion of authority, and far from being a celebration of monarchy, its most famous episodes and heroes amount to a radical critique of the institution.
Now, 1,000 years after its completion Narguess Farzad dives into the text to explore the stories and themes contained within and to revel in the language. Discovering how the poem came about and why Queen Victoria and Catherine the Great both came to own copies later on.
With contributions from Professor Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran and other works, and Esma'il Kho'i, one of Iran's most celebrated contemporary poets.
First broadcast on Friday 12 November 2010