DATE 1200 - 1203
Iskandarnameh is the culminating poem in the enduring Khamsa, celebrated masterwork of the eminent Azerbaijani poet and thinker Nizami Ganjavi. The social ideas, literary ideals and poetic imagination of the great wordsmith attain their peak in this final oeuvre.
Nizami was well over sixty and had comprehensive and deep life experience when he consigned this last work to pen and paper. Reviewing his creative past, the poet felt that this ‘Book of Alexander’ should be the conclusion of the thoughts and hopes he had expressed in his previous works.
The main theme of Nizami’s final poem centres on the epic life of Alexander the Great, widely used in the written and oral literature of Eastern peoples. It is important to remark that Alexander’s image, described in ancient Iranian literature as a ruthless conqueror and fierce enemy of the Achaemenid Dynasty, is portrayed as a just ruler and a great hero of science and knowledge in numerous written works from Nizami’s times. One of the reasons behind such a dramatic change in the reckoning of Alexander’s character in sources was his ranking as a prophet in Islamic books.
The great poet stayed true to his working habits while composing Iskandarnameh. He went deep into a number of historical sources, selecting episodes that corresponded to his artistic ideas and he penned a true masterpiece. In addition to Arab and Farsi sources, the poet also mined Jewish, Christian and Pahlavi writings. Indeed, modern science recognizes that those sources hold a wealth of information on Alexander’s story. It is well known that the first novel about Alexander of Macedonia in Greek is believed to have been penned by Callisthenes, the hero’s longstanding personal physician. However, when historians discovered that the novel was written in the first century CE, it became known as: Pseudo Callisthenes. The book was translated into the Assyrian, Jewish and Pahlavi languages in the 12th century and Nizami may have benefited from those translations.
One of the sources used by Nizami was the Khwadāynāmag (Khudāynāme – Gratitude to God), written in Pahlavi, but later destroyed during the Arab conquest (8th-9th centuries). The epic parts of those chronicles were translated into Arabic and are prominent in Arabic books of both history and fiction.
The uncertainty about The Book of Alexander’s date of composition presents a number of difficulties. As a matter of fact, the poet himself did not clearly specify the date of Iskandarnameh, unlike the other works in the Khamsa. The sheer length of the poem – more than twenty thousand lines – and its intricate structure lead us to conclude that this particular poem was a long time in the making. Nonetheless, he wrote Iskandarnameh sometime after 1197 (when Seven Beauties, the fourth part of the Khamsa was written).
Sharafnameh is dedicated to Nusrat al-Din Abu Bakr ‘Bishkin’ (1191-1210). The poet mentions Malik Izz al-Din in the second part of Iskandarnameh (Igbalnameh). If he had Izz al-Din Mas’ud I (1180-1193) in mind, then Izz al-Din had died four years before the poem was written. But if the poet meant Izz al-Din Mas’ud II, he came to power in 1211, two years after Nizami’s death.
This chronological uncertainty has produced a theory that the last parts of the Igbalnameh were completed by others after the poet’s death. We believe this idea is groundless.
Following the widespread traditions of the genre in the Near East as well as in Azerbaijani literature, Nizami began his portrayal of the protagonist with his birth. There are two legends about Alexander’s ethnicity.
One of these describes Alexander as the son of an ascetic and adopted by Philip, King of Macedonia, while the other asserts that he was the son of Darius, King of Persia. Nizami notes both legends, but decides that Alexander was Philip’s son.
The Azerbaijani poet rejects the legend that Alexander was heir to the Persian throne. In fact, Nizami describes Alexander’s Greek origin to remain true to Rum history; Alexander is a fictional character and literary hero loved deeply by Nizami, who relates his desires and deeds.
The Sharafnameh section of the poem represents Alexander’s motivation for waging wars as not only to restore justice wherever he went, but also to acquire knowledge of those countries. We always see Alexander among famous Greek scholars during these campaigns.
Iskandarnameh also reflects the poet’s patriotism. Thus, Nizami constructs the character of Nushaba, ruler of Barda, with the greatest love for those patriotic feelings. Interestingly, Nizami deliberately resorted to historical anachronism to bring Alexander to his homeland, Azerbaijan. Nushaba, as ruler of Barda, is also a manifestation of the poet’s views on a ‘just ruler’.
Nizami was one of the greatest humanist poets of the day. His patriotic feelings were rooted in his internationalist views. Nizami was a herald of friendship between nations and ideas of peace.
Sharafnameh is a heroic epic and, naturally, we encounter many battles scenes there. The poet’s views on war and his internationalist ideas are organically connected: he believed that wars were disastrous for human societies.
While producing his last oeuvre, Nizami set himself the task of raising a number of issues, both crucial and topical, that excited the greatest thinkers of his time. He achieved this task to a high artistic level.
Source: Nizami Ganjavi, Iskandarnameh. Sharafnameh. “Leader Publishing House”, Baku. 2004. pp. 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.
Foreword by: Gazanfar Aliyev
Scientific editor: Khalil Yusifli
The eminent scientists, thinkers and artists of the Eastern Renaissance, including Nizami Ganjavi, dedicated their works to the ideal Human of great wisdom, noble morality, intellect and beauty. The lead character in Igbalnameh is also an image of such a Human. This may be why Nizami introduces such a character in the person of Alexander the Great, who found fame as a commander, ruler and patron of science. The poem’s main purpose is to serve the happiness of humanity and seek ways of ensuring this happiness.
Igbalnameh was written in the 12th century and like the other literature of the time, it opens with a series of panegyrics honouring God, the Prophet and the rulers of the time. Nonetheless, Nizami’s dedications, although firmly based on tradition, stand out for the great thinker’s humanity and his characteristic rationalism.
Igbalnameh stays true to the canons of medieval philosophical poetry. Alternating artistic stories develop the plot and cannot but mesmerize the reader. The essence of the thinker’s philosophical concept is the idea of complementing the moral and intellectual perfection of humanity with the social perfection of a community.
Nizami brings together the ancient Greek scientists: Aristotle, Pliny, Socrates, Plato, Thales and Porphyry, and has them comment on the crucial issues of medieval philosophy and science and discuss the history of the universe. Interestingly, Nizami’s philosopher characters convey their messages in accordance with the Eastern philosophical currents rather than as they did in life. While translating and interpreting ancient Greek philosophy, medieval Arabic-speaking philosophers were known to combine this philosophy with ancient and medieval Eastern philosophical ideas, creating completely original teaching.
While Igbalnameh completes the ‘Khamsa’, his perfect social teaching is also the final peak of the poet’s research and desire. From The Treasury of Mysteries to Iskandarnameh, Nizami repeatedly criticized violence, the oppression of hardworking people, amassing wealth, greed, cruelty, failing conscience and bribery in all his poems and he developed a series of fair rulers.
Viewed as part of Nizami’s socio-ethical views that are embroidered into all his other works, the doctrine of a perfect society in Igbalnameh invites the reader to fight more ardently for justice. This may be why the Nizami ideal is dear to people of all times. To quote the poet, ‘Igbalnameh is not a pearl, but the ocean itself.’
Source: Nizami Ganjavi, Iskandarnameh, Igbalnameh. “Leader Publishing House”, Baku. 2004. pp. 4, 5, 6, 8, 12, 13.
Foreword by: Zumrud Guluzadeh
Scientific editor: Khalil Yusifli