Alexander the Great according to Ferdowsi

This article is also available in: Italiano

The legendary Persian poet is the first to unite the figure of Alexander with the Quranic Dhul-Qarnayn, giving life to a truly extraordinary myth that will make us travel through fantastic lands, with creatures and stories never seen before.

Union of two worlds

Ferdowsi is undoubtedly among the most famous and renowned authors of Persia to deal with the figure of Alexander of Macedon, forming what will be the foundations of his myth in neo-Persian literature. The poet of Tus will be the first to combine the tales of the “Alexander Romance” and Dhul-Qarnayn, giving life for the first time to a “hybrid” of the two figures, which he will then scorn with his admirable poetic gift.


Indeed, Ferdowsi’s Alexander the Great will be the basis of a new narrative course that will develop a new vision, superimposing history, myth and Quranic stories. Here the Macedonian is a true universal hero, able to unite East and West through a sort of “prophetic mission” that will even lead him to Mecca, albeit as a simple monotheist. Alexander then becomes a sort of more mobile and combative “proto-Muhammad“, becoming a real divine messenger.

Important premise

Before starting to analyze this formidable story in more detail, a necessary and important premise must be made: I do not have a copy of the Shah-nameh, from which the latter is taken. Unfortunately, the aforementioned text in Italy has not been reprinted “publicly” since the end of the 19th century and therefore the information I bring you is not taken from there but from: “Il libro della Fortuna by Alessandro” by Nezami, translated by Carlo Saccone. In the marvelous and thorough introduction of this text (however rare in the Bel Paese), the brilliant Paduan professor illustrates in detail Alexander’s vision in the Persian world, including that of Ferdowsi.


Personally, once this last chapter was finished, I couldn’t help but dream of a series and / or a film that would propose its version, which is really fantastic. Ferdowsi imagines dragons, giants, mystical encounters, distant lands, battles and fantastic creatures; elements that alone lead every reader to dream but which, combined with a figure such as Alessandro, become something truly extraordinary. So let’s start immediately with the Ferdowsian tale.

Alexander of Persia

Referring to the “Alexander Romance”, Ferdowsi espouses the thesis according to which the latter is not Greek, but Persian. This is because he was not the son of Philip, but of Darab, father of Darius, and of Nahid, daughter of the Greek sovereign, sent as a gift to the king of Persia and then, due to the stench emanating from her, “sent back to the sender”. However, the young woman was already pregnant with Alexander, who was born and raised at the Hellenic court while maintaining awareness of his origins. Over the years, both Darius and Alexander became bigger and more powerful but, due to too high taxes requested by the king of Persia, they came to the fight.

Alexander and Darius

First the Greek conquered Egypt and then, with a disguise, tried to parley with his stepbrother, who discovered him and nearly killed him. At this point the military clashes will take place, marked by the defeats of Darius and the subsequent betrayal by his subordinates, who will hand him over to Alexander. The latter revealed their kinship to his dying stepbrother, promising to join Rowshanak, his daughter, in order to keep the dynasty alive. Once the funeral ceremony is over, the new ruler of Persia will prepare to defeat Porus, king of India, then giving life to a completely new story.

On the edge of the world

From this moment on, we will witness the real union between Alexander the Great and the Dhul-Qarnayn, so much so that the first stop of the Macedonian will be Mecca, where he will go as a monotheist, starting a real prophetic path. From Arabia he will go to Andalusia, which he will conquer peacefully and then to distant India to parley with wise Brahmins; the latter will reproach him for the chaos and destruction left on the way, for criticism, he will respond by appealing to the superior will of God. Leaving the Indian subcontinent, he will travel in a boundless sea, where he will find a mountain that will prove to be an immense fish. Once he has landed he will want to return to the West: first to Abyssinia, where he will defeat a people of giants, and then to Arabia, where he will kill a frightening dragon.

Alexander’s death

Not satisfied, he will then go to the East, where he will meet al Khidr, a legendary character from the Quran, with whom he will travel to the Land of Darkness in search of the Water of Life, which will be drunk only by al Khidr. At this point he will climb a mountain and find you at the top Israfil, the angel of the Day of Judgment, who will admonish him about greed and greed. Descended from the mountain, he will go to the territories of Gog and Magog, where he will have the famous barrier built to keep the aforementioned bestial peoples away. Later, on a mountain, he had a vision of a dead king seated on his throne, a repetition of a similar warning vision he had had shortly before; however, it will go further, even reaching China, with which it will establish peace. Finally, he will divide the land of Persia among the local princes, go to Babylon and die there.

A truly extraordinary story that, personally, I can’t wait to read as soon as possible and bring it into detail on the site; incredible.

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