Iskandar / Alexander

In the medieval Islamic tradition, Alexander the Great, known as Iskandar, was widely celebrated as a global hero and as ruler of the world.

In the Persian narratives, Iskandar is accompanied on his journeys firstly by his friend and tutor Aristotle, and then by Khiḍr (the 'Evergreen One'), a prophet who, in the Islamic tradition, gained immortality. Combining traditions bequeathed by his travelling companions, the heroic figure blends the philosophy of ancient Greece with the spirituality of the Persian world.

Three centuries later, the poet Niẓāmī wrote a history of Iskandar that linked him to a tale known in Sufi circles from the writings of al-Ghazālī. In Niẓāmī'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.


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