Alexander the Great, the Muslim hero: editio princeps, printed entirely in Persian

Nizami, Nizam al-Din Abu Muhammad. The Secander Nama of Nizami. With a selection from the works of the most celebrated commentators by Beder Ali & Mir Hosain Ali.

Calcutta, Hindoostanee press, P. Pereira, 1812.

Small folio (238 x 303 mm). (2), 638, (2) pp. Modern half calf with red and green gilt spine labels, bound in 19th century style.


First printed edition of the celebrated Islamic biography of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) by the Persian poet Nizami, completed ca. 599/1202. Published under the auspices of Sir Gilbert Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound, the First Earl of Minto (1751-1814), and printed in Persian throughout but for the English title.

"The Alexander of the Persian romances is much more colorful than his Western counterpart [...] Nizami celebrates him first as a king and conqueror, then as a sage and a prophet. In 'Iskandarnamah', in addition to being a zealous Moslem, Alexander becomes an ardent lover with numerous wives and concubines" (Southgate, "Portraits of Alexander in Persian Alexander-Romances of the Islamic Era").

Islamic myths about Alexander the Great are thought to have derived in part from Qur'anic references to the "Dhu'l-Qarnayn" ("He of the Two Horns") as well as from the Greek sources in translation. "The principal episodes of the legend of Alexander, as known to the Muslim tradition, are elaborated in the [Eskander-nama]: the birth of Alexander, his succession to the Macedonian throne, his war against the Negroes who had invaded Egypt, the war with the Persians, ending with the defeat and death of Dara and Alexander's marriage to Dara's daughter, his pilgrimage to Mecca. Nezami then dwells at some length on Alexander's stay in the Caucasus and his visit to Queen Nushaba of Barda'a and her court of Amazons; this lady takes over the role of Candace in earlier versions of the Alexander saga. Alexander then goes to India and China. During his absence the Rus (i.e., the Russian Vikings) invade the Caucasus and capture Barda'a (as they in fact did some two centuries before Nezami's time) and take Nushaba prisoner. Alexander's wars with the Rus, which are depicted at considerable length, end with his victory and his magnanimous treatment of the defeated army. The [Eskander-nama] concludes with the account of Alexander's unsuccessful search for the water of immortal life" (Encylopaedia Iranica, Vol. VIII, pp. 612-614). Along the way Alexander's conquests of much of Central Asia and the pre-Islamic world are described: Dara (Syria), Ajam (near Kuwait), Kayan (Afghanistan), the Arabian Peninsula, Khorasan (Northern Iran), and so on.

Ca. 20 pages with wormholes affecting some text, wide margins. Some browning throughout. Discarded and sold from the Library of Haverford College, Pennsylvania, with their drystamp to the title-page. Later in the Alexander the Great Collection of Julio Berzunza (1896-1952), Professor of Languages at the University of New Hampshire.


Graesse IV, 680. Brunet IV, 83; Ebert 14833 ("1811" in error). Nawabi 414. OCLC 41609907.

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