In the medieval Islamic tradition, Alexander the Great, known as Iskandar, was widely celebrated as a global hero and as ruler of the world. Both European and Persian versions of the Macedonian king’s legendary exploits drew on a popular Greek-language romance of the 3rd century AD, later translated into Latin and Arabic.
Persian legends of Iskandar are recorded in Firdausi’s Shahnama, in which detail was introduced from Arab accounts of his exploits. This included his building of a magic wall to protect the Persian frontier from raiding nomads, known as 'Yajuj' and 'Majuj' in the Qurʾan, and as 'Gog' and 'Magog' in the Bible.
In the Persian narratives, Iskandar is accompanied on his journeys firstly by his friend and tutor Aristotle, and then by Khizr (the 'Evergreen One'), a prophet who, in the Islamic tradition, gained immortality. Combining the traditions of his travelling companions, the heroic figure of Iskandar blends the philosophy of ancient Greece with the spirituality of the Persian world.
Three centuries later, the poet Nizami wrote a history of Iskandar that linked him to a tale known in Sufi circles from the writings of al-Ghazali. In Nizami’s version, Iskandar presides over a competition between a Greek painter and a Chinese counterpart, in which the artists are required to portray the same subject.
The Greek artist produces a skilled rendition, while the Chinese artist simply positions a mirror to reflect the Greek’s work. Through this tale, Iskandar became known as the inventor of mirrors, which were understood as reflecting divine creation, while Iskandar himself became a symbol of divine and benevolent kingship.
Love & devotion in the UK
The Bodleian Libraries is showing its own presentation of the Love and devotion exhibition at the Exhibition Room, Bodleian Library, in Oxford, England, between 29 November 2012 and 28 April 2013.
Learn more about how you can visit this exhibition on the Bodleian Libraries website.
Love and devotion: Persian Cultural Crossroads
This two-day conference held in April 2012 featured distinguished international guests and Australian specialists exploring cultural convergences in literature, the arts and architecture, history and philosophy within Persia's cultural sphere and Europe, from the 11th century to the present day.
For information on keynote speakers & topics discussed, visit our conference page
Visit the exhibition
The Love and devotion exhibition took place from 9 March to 1 July 2012. In-depth information about the exhibits and themes can be found on this website.
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Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, Tel +61 3 8664 7000