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Alexander Romance in Persia and the East

Alexander Romance in Persia and the East

Richard Stoneman
Kyle Erickson
Ian Netton
Volume: 15
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Barkhuis
Pages: 416
  • Book Info
    Alexander Romance in Persia and the East
    Book Description:

    Alexander the Great of Macedon was no stranger to controversy in his own time. Conqueror of the Greek states, of Egypt and of the Persian Empire as well as many of the principalities of the Indus Valley, he nevertheless became revered as well as vilified. Was he a simply a destroyer of the ancient civilizations and religions of these regions, or was he a hero of the Persian dynasties and of Islam? The conflicting views that were taken of him in the Middle East in his own time and the centuries that followed are still reflected in the tensions that exist between east and west today. The story of Alexander became the subject of legend in the medieval west, but was perhaps even more pervasive in the east. The Alexander Romance was translated into Syriac in the sixth century and may have become current in Persia as early as the third century AD. From these beginnings it reached into the Persian national epic, the Shahnameh, into Jewish traditions, and into the Quran and subsequent Arab romance. The papers in this volume all have the aim of deepening our understanding of this complex development. If we can understand better why Alexander is such an important figure in both east and west, we shall be a little closer to understanding what unites two often antipathetic worlds. This volume collects the papers delivered at the conference of the same title held at the University of Exeter from July 26-29 2010. More than half the papers were by invited speakers and were designed to provide a systematic view of the subject; the remainder were selected for their ability to carry research forward in an integrated way.

    eISBN: 978-94-91431-51-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VIII)
  2. Introduction
    (pp. IX-XIV)
    Richard Stoneman

    Alexander’s posthumous fame in the lands that had made up his empire is a paradox. Received for the most part with hostility (except in Egypt, where he was welcomed, and in Babylon, where the rulers knew how to accommodate themselves to changing circumstances), his rule was imposed by force and sometimes with brutality. Zoroastrian tradition in Iran remembers him as the great destroyer, a new Zahhak, and in Iraq his name is still that of a bogeyman. Yet Persian literature presents him as a hero, a legitimate king, a wise ruler and a pious but inquisitive explorer. Arabic Romances develop...

  3. A Note on Transliteration and Bibliography
    (pp. XV-XVI)

    • Persian Aspects of the Romance Tradition
      (pp. 3-18)
      Richard Stoneman

      ‘They did not allow Alexander the Water; by struggling or by gold, that is impossible to achieve.’ Hafez’s reference to Alexander’s failure to discover the water of Life for himself is highly allusive. He mentions only ‘Water’, not even giving it its usual designation of Water of Life (ab-e khayat). Certainly the story was one of the most familiar about Alexander in Persian literature of the Middle Ages, outside the works devoted to his adventures. In another ghazal of Hafez (13 in Gray 1995) the Water of Life is linked with the garden of Iram,¹ another place visited by Alexander...

    • Mapping the Alexander Romance
      (pp. 19-60)
      Daniel L. Selden

      Between roughly 450 BCE and 1450 CE, readers across the Levant, North Africa, and Europe were united by complex networks of interrelated texts, attested in a multiplicity of languages, that contemporary scholars call the Ancient Novel. All available evidence points to the Afroasiatic origins of the narrative devices that typify these compositions,¹ whose several types show a diffusional pattern from the Levant around the Mediterranean and into Europe, southward through the Ḥijāz and Yaman to Ethiopia as well as eastward across Ῑrān to India and central Asia. Reciprocally, Indic and other oriental matter moved west, following the trade routes, progressively...

    • King Midas’ Ears on Alexander’s Head: In Search of the Afro-Asiatic Alexander Cycle
      (pp. 61-80)
      Faustina C.W. Doufikar-Aerts

      For the purpose of visualising ancient history the historian Michael Wood literally travelled ‘In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great’.

      In his eponymous television documentary he gave a report of his 30,000 kilometres’ long journey through the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and India. During these travels he everywhere met with local spokesmen, historians, storytellers, boatmen, pilgrims and officials who were prepared to tell him their ‘indigenous’ story about ‘Iskandar’ in front of the camera. This furnished the documentary with the status of a quest for mysterious traces left behind by the Macedonian invader and it aroused the impression...

    • The Alexander Romance and the Pattern of Hero-Legend
      (pp. 81-102)
      Graham Anderson

      It is usual and right to see theAlexander Romanceas a group of texts that have still to be studied primarily in relation to one another.¹ Once the original amalgam of material is in place – in particular the epistolary collections and the Alexander-history² – we tend to see the rest as a matter of slow accretion round its central core, with the material of each new recension seen largely as part of a subliterary evolution. I wish here to throw the net wider: to ask how readily the ‘heroic’ inventions of theRomancemirror those already implicit in...


    • The Persians in Late Byzantine Alexander Romances: A Portrayal under Turkish Influences
      (pp. 105-116)
      Corinne Jouanno

      The texts I shall be considering in this paper are two Late Byzantine versions of theAlexander Romance. Though both are usually classified under the heading of vernacular literature, they are indeed of a very different kind: the first one, a poetic version, in a rather conservative language, to be found in a single manuscript, theMarcianus graecus408, is for the most part a rewriting of the two oldest versions of theAlexander Romance, the so-called α and β recensions, and may have been composed at the end of the fourteenth century, if the date of 1388, which appears...

    • Adventures of Alexander in Medieval Turkish
      (pp. 117-126)
      Hendrik Boeschoten

      Recently I published a couple of Alexander stories on the basis of a fragment from the Oriental Institute of the Sankpeterburg Academy.¹ The fragment is bound as an appendix into a volume containing a 16thcentury copy of the Eastern Turkish Stories of the Prophets - also known as theQιṣaṣ-ι Rabghūzī(Boeschoten 2009). As is clear from theirductus, these Alexander stories have been written down by a person who has been working over an extant copy of the Prophets’ Stories, restoring some lost portions from another manuscript. I guess these contributions to be from the late 18thcentury....

    • Some Talk of Alexander Myth and Politics in the North-West Frontier of British India
      (pp. 127-158)
      Warwick Ball

      John Lennon’s famous claim in 1966 that the Beatles were more famous than Jesus found its echo when Richard Stoneman stated quite rightly that theAlexander Romancehas been as influential in literature as the Gospels, making itself felt from Iceland to China and Russia to Ethiopia. It resurfaces in works as divergent as theQur‘an, theShahnameh, theAdventures of Sindbad, Baron Munchausenand a huge range of medieval and later stories and epics.¹ To Stoneman’s impressive list one might add Rustaveli’s Georgian epic,The Knight in the Panther’s Skinand modern fantasies such as C S Lewis’Chronicles...


    • Alexander the Great in the Shāhnāmeh of Ferdowsī
      (pp. 161-174)
      Haila Manteghi

      Although there are many works on Alexander the Great in Persian,¹ none of them is as close to the Syriac version and even to the Greek version of Pseudo-Callisthenes as theShāhnāmehof Ferdowsī. Although traditions about Iskandar in Persian literature were retraced on an Arabic source representing Pseudo-Callisthenes,² the story of Alexander in theShāhnāmehhas some important characteristics which cannot come from an Arabic source but a Persian. It is obvious that the source of Ferdowsī had passed through an Arabic intermediary, for example because of the transformation of “p” to “f” in some proper names such as...

    • The King Explorer: A Cosmographic Approach to the Persian Alexander
      (pp. 175-204)
      Mario Casari

      Several manuscripts scattered in various libraries contain a still unpublished Persian geographical account, probably the work of an author from Kerman, composed in the middle of the 14thcentury. In thisKitāb suwār al-aqālim, “Book on the figures of the climates” – which has nothing in common with the more famous work of the same name by al-Balkhī (d. 934) – the anonymous author states that he had found in the prince's library an outline of the inhabited quarter of the globe. He states that he had written the present work as an explanatory text, interspersed with curious information and...

    • ‘Umāra’s Qiṣṣa al-Iskandar as a Model of the Arabic Alexander Romance
      (pp. 205-218)
      David Zuwiyya

      The surviving version ofQiṣṣa al-Iskandarby eighth-century author ‘Umāra Ibn Zayd is a sixteenth-century copy (from 1504 a.d.) by the scribe ‘Ubayd Allah Muḥammad b. ‘Abd al-Mun’im b. Muḥammad al-Anarī al-Khazrajī al-Malikī.¹ The text spans eighty mss. folios or 160 pages and is in every respect a full-length Arabic Alexander Romance.Qiṣṣa al-Iskandaris unedited except for short excerpts that have been reproduced by Friedlaender (1913), Zuwiyya (2001), and Doufikar-Aerts (2010).

      Qiṣṣa al-Iskandaris in some senses a model text for the Arabic Alexander Romance because it contains well preserved versions of most of the episodes that represent the...

    • Al-Tabari’s Tales of Alexander: History and Romance
      (pp. 219-232)
      El-Sayed M. Gad

      In hisHistory of Prophets and Kings, better known asHistory of Al-Tabari, Al-Tabari has devoted a chapter to the tale of Darius the Great and Darius the Younger.¹ As it turned out, however, the main character in this chapter became Alexander the Great, and the main topic was his conquest of Persia.² Since Al-Tabari has obviously taken the chance to retell some of the stories which he knew about the Greek conqueror and about his deeds in Persia and the east, the chapter thus ended up as a description of the end of the Achaemenid dynasty and of the...

    • Al-Mubaššir ibn Fātik and the α Version of the Alexander Romance
      (pp. 233-254)
      Emily Cottrell

      Since Bruno Meissner's incomplete edition and translation of the chapter of al-Mubaššir ibn Fātik'sChoicest Maxims and Best Sayings(Muḫtār al-Ḥikam wa Maḥāsin al-kilam) on the life of Alexander the Great at the end of the nineteenth century, not much has been made of this important source of information on the Arabic transmission of theAlexander Romance, which became wrongly attributed on a medieval manuscript and has been known from then on as the Pseudo-Callisthenes.¹ This is all the more surprising, considering that Ibn Fātik preserves, among the Arabic versions, one that comes close to the lost α version of...

    • Aspects of Alexander in Coptic Egypt
      (pp. 255-262)
      Leslie S.B. MacCoull

      The nine preserved fragments of a Coptic-language version of the Alexander Romance¹ continue to provide scholars with unsolved puzzles.² The paper (hence late) manuscript was discovered in the ‘White Monastery’ near Sohag in Upper Egypt in about the early 1880s and dispersed in parts to libraries in Paris, London, and Berlin.³ Though this text, in Sahidic with Bohairic influences, seems to have been copied in about the 10th-11thcentury,⁴ the version of the Romance it transmits was probably made by a bilingual, Greek- and Coptic-speaking Egyptian redactor much earlier, possibly the 6thcentury. However, there is far from being a...

    • The Islamized Alexander in Chinese Geographies and Encyclopaedias
      (pp. 263-274)
      Yuriko Yamanaka

      Until now, Alexander narratives from the very eastern extremity of the Eurasian continent have attracted little attention in comparison to various versions of the Alexander Romance in Europe and the Middle East. When and how was information on Alexander transmitted into China and Japan?

      The eastward transmission of the Alexander Romance went beyond Persia, as is already known. Studies have been done on the Mongolian version, Central Asian turkic version, and Malay version of the Alexander Romance.¹ However till now, a full blown Chinese version of the Ps.-Callisthenes Alexander Romance depicting his whole life has not been discovered. We suppose...


    • Sekandar, Dragon-Slayer
      (pp. 277-294)
      Daniel Ogden

      Ferdowsi’sShahnamehorBook of Kingsof ca. 1000 AD contains a number of dragon-slaying stories, and two of them resemble each other closely in their focal vignettes: that of Sekandar’s (Alexander’s) slaying of a dragon in a region adjacent to Abyssinia and that of Ardeshir’s slaying of the Worm of Haftvad in Persia. What can we say of the archaeology of these narratives, and of their relationship?

      Let us begin with Sekandar. TheShahnamehtells how Sekandar and his army reach a great and civilised city which welcomes him, and besides which he encamps. The people of the city...

    • Stories of the Persian Bride: Alexander and Roxane
      (pp. 295-310)
      Sabine Müller

      In spring 327 BC, at an advanced age for an Argead ruler,¹ Alexander the Great married for the first time. Probably contrary to general expectations, he neither courted a Macedonian noble woman nor one of the captured Achaemenid princesses but a ‘no-name’, Roxane, the daughter of the Bactrian noble Oxyartes.² Obviously, the wedding was no matter of the bride’s dynastic prestige but motivated by urgent political pressure: At this point of time, the fairly successful revolt of Bactria and Sogdiana seriously menaced Alexander’s conquests.³ As military repression had failed, he tried to come to terms with the resistant local nobility...

    • Alexander the Philosopher in the Greco-Roman, Persian and Arabic Traditions
      (pp. 311-326)
      Sulochana Asirvatham

      A key feature of some important ancient Greek and Roman writings on Alexander is their morally loaded interest in the king’s connection to philosophy—an association whose origins and implications for both Alexander and ancient philosophy itself have been hotly debated in modern scholarly and popular discourse.² Of course, no one in Greco-Roman antiquity nor in the modern era has argued that Alexander was formally a philosopher, but the characterization of him in both contexts variously as a ‘philosopher’, someone ‘philosophical,’or even as a king who appreciated philosophers and sought their company is, to my mind, frequent and influential enough...

    • In Search of Water of Life: The Alexander Romance and Indian Mythology
      (pp. 327-338)
      Aleksandra Szalc

      Water of Life is a popular motif in various mythologies and religions. In mythology there are many stories about magical properties of water, including the story of water which gives immortality to one who finds it. It can be found also in some versions of theAlexander Romance, beginning with recension β of the fifth century AD. It is a late addition to theRomancesince its oldest recension α, represented by the Greek A manuscript, Latin Iulius Valerius and the Armenian version, does not contain this story. The story of the Water of Life is known from recensions β...

    • The Kingship of Alexander the Great in the Jewish Versions of the Alexander Narrative
      (pp. 339-348)
      Aleksandra Klęczar

      The problem of Alexander’s kingship in the tradition of Jewish literature cannot be analysed without having first asked a few questions – questions which, as it turns out, will make the discussion at the same time easier and frighteningly more complicated, as they add a broad historical and cultural scope to an otherwise not so large body of Jewish texts, ancient and medieval, dealing with the legend of Alexander the Great.

      The first of those questions is the problem of the sources and their nature. What is the place of the various Jewish versions of theAlexander Romancein the...

    • Alexander in Bavli Tamid: In Search for a Meaning
      (pp. 349-366)
      Ory Amitay

      Growing up in Israel in the 1980’s, I never read rabbinic literature. In the political and cultural atmosphere of the time, such a seemingly innocuous activity was regarded as a religious and political statement, which did not conform to my ideas in either of these fields. It is the wonderful irony of life that only during my sojourn in Berkeley, ten time zones away from Israel and farther West than even Alexander dreamt of going in the wildest of his “last plans”, did I first become acquainted with the rabbinic Alexander.¹ I thus learnt a double lesson. First, that Alexander...


    • The Impact of Alexander the Great in the Art of Central Asia
      (pp. 369-382)
      Olga Palagia

      The impact of Alexander’s conquest of Asia was both profound and longlasting. The art and architecture of what was once the Achaemenid Empire were transformed in various ways, leading to new, multicultural mixtures. We must bear in mind that when Alexander crossed the Aegean there was little in the arts of his homeland that could be properly described as Macedonian. The Macedonians were primarily bearers of Greek art and culture. Their own visual culture was enriched as a result of Alexander’s conquests. The excavations in Macedonia have revealed an influx of Oriental elements in Macedonian painting and luxury items after...

    • Oriental Imagery and Alexander’s Legend in Art: Reconnaissance
      (pp. 383-404)
      Agnieszka Fulinska

      The existence of oriental elements in the iconography of Alexander seems to be very often taken for granted. The scholarship of the subject is well aware of the presence of such attributes as the ram horns and the elephant scalp in portraits or images of Alexander, and as far as their origin is concerned, hardly anyone challenges seriously the association of the horns with Ammon, or the elephant’s with the Indian conquests. Also the notion that such images served mostly the purposes of the Diadochi and their successors, seems to be widely accepted. The topic has never, nonetheless, received full...

    • A Flying King
      (pp. 405-410)
      Firuza Melville

      The painting from the National Library of Russia in St Petersburg (front cover) illustrates the text of Firdousi’sShahnama(completed in 1010 A.D.), and is one of the few known images that create an interesting discussion about shared mythological, folk, literary and art history, when details of the visual representation of a story in one cultural tradition are ascribed to another, in which those details are lost or absent.

      This universal phenomenon can be identified as the wandering iconography of wandering stories, or intervisuality of intertextuality. Among its examples are the first illustrations of the Bible, based on the patterns...