Alexander the Great, A Turkic Hero: Turkic Visages and Usages of the Macedonian Conqueror

Alexander the Great, A Turkic Hero: Turkic Visages and Usages of the Macedonian Conqueror

This folio depicts the meeting of the armies of Alexander the Great and the Emperor of China. It comes from the Walters Art Museum manuscript W.666, which is an illuminated and illustrated copy of the Khamse (quintet) of the Ottoman Turkish poet and scholar ʿAṭāʾullāh bin Yaḥyá ʿAṭāʾī (d. 1044 AH / 1634 CE).

A lecture by Marc Toutant (UCLA/CETOBAC)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016
3:00 PM
10383 Bunche Hall

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When dealing with the variety of Alexander the Great’s classical biographies, one has to approach a composite figure, a “hero with a thousand faces.” The portrait of the kosmokrator differs from one source to another, each version serving its own literary and social purpose. There is a long-established Alexander-tradition among the Turks, as a part of a broader Afro-Asiatic Alexander cycle that flourished in the regions from the Eastern Mediterranean to Indonesia and from Asia Minor to Sub-Saharan Africa. Although Ottoman and Central Asian Turkic poets closely modelled their work on Persian masterpieces such as Nizâmî Ganjawî’s Iskandarnâma, they nonetheless shaped their own specific way of narrating the life of the Macedonian conqueror. In this paper, Marc Toutant focuses on three major works: the first one is a romance (mathnawî) composed by the Ottoman poet Ahmedî between 1389 and 1410. The second one is another mathnawî authored by Nawâ’î, the most famous representative of Eastern Turkish literature. Aside from this aristocratic mathnawî tradition, there existed more popular versions, like this Iskendernâme written in prose by a certain Hamzevî, who appeared to be Ahmedî’s own brother. Actually, the way Hamzevî told the story of Alexander reveals that the three poets had very different expectations regarding the reception of their works. Whereas some used the figure of the Macedonian king as an opportunity to forge a new courtly ethos, others just wanted to entertain their audience with a thrilling and colourful depiction of the conqueror’s wondrous adventures.

Marc Toutant is a historian of Turkic-Iranian cultural interactions and Central Asian culture. He graduated in Political Philosophy at Science-Po Paris, in Classical Philology and Humanities at the Sorbonne University, holds diplomas in Persian, Turkish and Arabic (from the Institute of Oriental Languages & Civilization and the Sorbonne), and a PhD in history from the EHESS in 2013. He is currently an Ahmanson-Getty Fellow at UCLA and Associate Researcher of the CETOBAC (Center for Turkish, Ottoman, Balkan and Central Asian Studies, Paris). His research encompasses the Islamic Central Asia and its cultural and intellectual connections to the wider Turko-Iranian world (Ottoman Empire, Iran, Northern India). In 2014-2015, he conducted a research on the appropriation of Alexander the Great in Turkic and Mongolian languages and cultures at VU Amsterdam University.

Cost : Free and open to the public.

Johanna Romero
(310) 825-1181

Sponsor(s): Center for Near Eastern Studies, Program on Central Asia