Cool Deccani painting, 18th century: Alexander the Great holding the Cup of Jamshid

30 Mar

Alexander the Great Deccani(click)

Through the ShahnamehAlexander, sometimes as an invading villain, sometimes as a great hero, (but then the Shahnameh is an intensely complex work morally), has entered the legend canon of all Persianate societies.  Pashtuns in particular, for whom the melding of “invading villain” and “great hero” must have a special resonance (smile…) think that Alexander — Sikandar — is a particularly lucky and propitious name to give a boy.  (See: The Cup of Jamshid)

And…see best, most recent translation of the Shahnameh in English, and Reza Aslan’s interesting review for the Times from 2006: “The Epic of Iran” — where he discusses the work’s — and Iranians’ — ambiguous relation to Iran’s pre-Islamic past and the Arab conquest:

“FOUR hundred miles from the bustling metropolis of Tehran lie the magnificent ruins of Persepolis. Built some 2,500 years ago, Persepolis was the royal seat of an Iranian empire that, at its height, stretched from the Indus Valley to the Mediterranean Sea. Though the imperial city was sacked two centuries later by Alexander “the Accursed” (as Iranian chroniclers referred to him), the towering columns and winged beasts that still stand guard over the lost throne of Iran serve as a reminder of what was once among the most advanced civilizations on earth.

“I first visited Persepolis two years ago. Born in Iran but raised in the United States, I knew the place only from dusty academic books about the glories of pre-Islamic Iran. I was totally unprepared for the crowds I saw there. Busloads of schoolchildren from nearby Shiraz filed through the complex of temples and palaces. A tour guide walked an older group up a stone stairway etched with row upon row of subject nations humbly presenting themselves before the king, or shah, of Iran. Families laid out sheets and napped in the shade cast by the intricately carved walls.

“Breaking away from the crowd, I noticed a boy scrawling graffiti on the side of a massive stone block. Horrified, I shooed him away. When I moved closer to see what he had written, I immediately recognized a verse, familiar to many Iranians, taken from the pages of Iran’s national epic, the “Shahnameh.”

          Damn this world, damn this time, damn this fate,
          That uncivilized Arabs have come to make me Muslim.

“Written more than a thousand years ago by Abolqasem Ferdowsi, the “Shahnameh,” or “Book of Kings,” recounts the mythological history of Iran from the first fitful moments of creation to the Arab conquest of the Persian Empire in the seventh century A.D. Ferdowsi was a member of Iran’s aristocratic class, which maintained a strong attachment to the heritage of pre-Islamic Iran…”

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Reza_aslan_2013Reza Aslan (click)

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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