THE IDEA OF MAN AND DIVINITY IN ANTIQUITY PART II: Alexander the Great in the Persian legends:
from the Pseudo-Callisthenes’s Greek Romance about Alexander of Macedon
to the Sikandar of Firdousi’s Shah-Nameh

Dan- Tudor Ionescu 1
1 - The Metropolitan Library of Bucharest
2014; 15 (4):
ICID: 1138976
Article type: Original article
IC™ Value: 3.00
Abstract provided by Publisher
The main aim of my study is to analyse the origins and evolution of Alexander’s legend
in the Islamic world and especially in the Persian speaking realms. My starting point is
the Greek Alexander Romance that was most probably written in Alexandria of Egypt;
in this article I try to follow the spreading of Alexander’s legend that stems from Pseudo-
Callisthenes’s Greek Alexander Romance into the world of the Near East and Middle East.
The successive transformations suffered by the figure of Alexander in the Syriac, Middle
Persian (Sassanian Pahlavī), and Arabic Islamic literature have formed the basis for the
creation of Alexander’s figure of a rightful Persian “King of kings”, as it appears into the
epic poems of Firdousi and Nizami. However, underground this official image of Iskandar
Dhū-l Qarnayn (‘the Two-Horned Alexander”) or simply Sikandar in the new Persian language
evolved after the Arab Islamic conquest of Iran, there was another strand of Iranian
tradition about Alexander of Macedon, namely the Zoroastrian tradition that perceived
the Macedonian hero as a destroyer of the “Good Religion” and of the true Kings and nobility
of Iran; in short the Macedonian conqueror was seen by them as a wrathful demon.
This image of the bad or accursed “Alexander the Roman” is constructed according to the
Zoroastrian religious principles: the true Iranian Kings ruled through the grace of the
supreme creator God, the righteous and good Deity Ahura-Mazdā (Ormazd/Ormuzd);
Alexander appears here more of a destroying entity of the race sprung from the Evil One
(Angra Mainyu/Ahriman). This image of an evil “Alexander the Greek/Macedonian/Roman”,
was further strengthened by the never ending conflicts between the Parthian Arsacid
Kingdom and the Seleucid Kingdom, then from the struggle between Parthia and
Rome, and finally by the wars fought between Sassanian Persia and the Eastern Roman
Empire. It has nevertheless influenced as a Zoroastrian background the image of the good
Shahanshah Sikandar (the good “King of kings” Alexander) in the Persian epic poems
(Firdousi’s Shah-Name and Nizami’s Iskandar-Name). Another important part of this study is the discussion on the origins of some
figures that appear linked to Alexander in the Islamic legends: the mysterious figure
of Dhū-l Qarnayn (“The Two-Horned One”) that appeared in the 18th Chapter
(Surah Al-Kahf) of the Koran and that was later identified by the Hadith (the
Commentaries to the Koran) and by Islamic scholars with Alexander of Macedon,
but also with other royal and prophetic figures from the Pre-Islamic Arabic and
Persian past. It was also of special importance the bound formed during Iskandar’s
(Alexander’s) quest for the “Fountain of Life” (the Alexander counterpart to the
Grass or Herb of Immortality searched by Ghilgamesh, King of Uruk) with the
“Green Man” of Islam, Al-Khadir. The mythological and religious underground of
both Dhū-l Qarnayn’s and Al-Khadir’s figures is underlined by this article of mine.
DOI: 10.5604/20842937.1138976

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