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.
Central Asia, Bukhara, 1553. This depiction of Iskandar (Alexander the Great) from Mīr ʿAlī Shīr Navāʾī's Chagatai Turkish-language work entitled Sadd-i Iskandar or Wall of Alexander, encapsulates a number of the hero's key attributes as a devoted leader. In medieval Persian tradition, Iskandar was credited with overthrowing Zoroastrianism and establishing Islam as the new faith of Iran. By receiving a beggar, Iskandar is demonstrating his humility and piety. (MS. Elliott 340, fol. 17v)
Leaf from a disbound manuscript of Jāmī's Haft Awrang or Seven Thrones, copied c. 1570. Jāmī was one of several Persian poets who recounted the story of Iskandar and the golden age of his leadership. In this illustration, Iskandar is shown looking down from an upper window on a discussion of learned men. The men are likely to be some of the philosophers who were a fixture of his court. Jāmī, who revered the work of his visionary 13th-century predecessor Niẓāmī, may have been inspired by Niẓāmī's influential account of Iskandar. (MS. Elliott 149, fol. 287v)