The Kushnameh is unique, literally. Only one copy of the “Epic of Kush” exists, sitting in the British Library. Hardly anything is known about its author, Iranshah. It features a quite villainous protagonist, the tusked warrior Kush, who carves a swathe of destruction across the region. And it spans nearly half the world, with episodes in Spain, the Maghreb, India, China and even Korea.
It was that last reference that encouraged academics in Korea to study the Kushnameh, and bring Kaveh L Hemmat to do its first-ever English translation, published by the University of California Press this year.
Kaveh Hemmat is assistant professor, professional faculty in History at Benedictine University, scholar of world history and Islamicate culture, director of the NEH-funded Khataynameh Translation Project, an unusually determined cyclist, and a dabbler in sundry pursuits ranging from sourdough bread baking to drawing. He completed his PhD at the University of Chicago in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations in 2014. His research focuses on interaction between the Islamic world and East Asia and the importance of this interaction to Islamic political thought and pre-modern global political history.
In this interview, Kaveh and I discuss this unique document and the cultural and political context behind its writing.