According to Nezami, Ferdowsi was a dehqan (landowner), deriving a comfortable income from his estates. He had only one child, a daughter, and it was to provide her with a dowry that he set his hand to the task that was to occupy him for 35 years.
The Shah-nameh of Ferdowsi, a poem of nearly 60,000 couplets, is based mainly on a prose work of the same name compiled in the poet's early manhood in his native Tus. This prose Shah-nameh was in turn and for the most part the translation of a Pahlavi (Middle Persian) work, the Khvatay-namak, a history of the kings of Persia from mythical times down to the reign of Khosrow II (590-628), but it also contained additional material continuing the story to the overthrow of the Sasanians by the Arabs in the middle of the 7th century. The first to undertake the versification of this chronicle of pre-Islamic and legendary Persia was Daqiqi, a poet at the court of the Samanids, who came to a violent end after completing only 1,000 verses. These verses, which deal with the rise of the prophet Zoroaster, were afterward incorporated by Ferdowsi, with due acknowledgements, in his own poem.
The Shah-nameh, finally completed in 1010, was presented to the celebrated sultan Mahmud of Ghazna, who by that time had made himself master of Ferdowsi's homeland, Khurasan. Information on the relations between poet and patron is largely legendary. According to Nezami, Ferdowsi came to Ghazna in person and through the good offices of the minister Ahmad-ebn-Hasan Meymandi was able to secure the Sultan's acceptance of the poem. Unfortunately, Mahmud then consulted certain enemies of the minister as to the poet's reward. They suggested that Ferdowsi should be given 50,000 dirhams, and even this, they said, was too much, in view of his heretical Shi'ite tenets. Mahmud, a bigoted Sunnite, was influenced by their words, and in the end Ferdowsi received only 20,000 dirhams. Bitterly disappointed, he went to the bath and, on coming out, bought a draft of foqa' (a kind of beer) and divided the whole of the money between the bath attendant and the seller of foqa'.
Fearing the Sultan's wrath, he fled first to Herat, where he was in hiding for six months, and then, by way of his native Tus, to Mazanderan, where he found refuge at the court of the Sepahbad Shahreyar, whose family claimed descent from the last of the Sasanians. There Ferdowsi composed a satire of 100 verses on Sultan Mahmud that he inserted in the preface of the Shah-nameh and read it to Shahreyar, at the same time offering to dedicate the poem to him, as a descendant of the ancient kings of Persia, instead of to Mahmud. Shahreyar, however, persuaded him to leave the dedication to Mahmud, bought the satire from him for 1,000 dirhams a verse, and had it expunged from the poem. The whole text of this satire, bearing every mark of authenticity, has survived to the present.
According to the narrative of Nezami, Ferdowsi died inopportunely just as Sultan Mahmud had determined to make amends for his shabby treatment of the poet by sending him 60,000 dinars' worth of indigo. Nezami does not mention the date of Ferdowsi's death. The earliest date given by later authorities is 1020 and the latest 1026; it is certain that he lived to be more than 80.
The Shahnameh or The Epic of Kings is one of the definite classics of the world. It tells hero tales of ancient Persia. The contents and the poet's style in describing the events takes the readers back to the ancient times and makes him sense and feel the events. Ferdowsi worked for thirty years to finish this masterpiece.
An important feature of this work is that during the period that Arabic language was known as the main language of science and literature, Ferdowsi used only Persian in his masterpiece. As Ferdowsi himself says, "Persian language is revived by this work".