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No. 26     Eskandar (Alexander the Great) enters the Land of Darkness


Rashid al-Din, Jamial-Tawarikh (‘Compendium of Histories’)
Il-Khanid: Tabriz, 1314

Opaque watercolour, ink, gold and silver on paper

Edinburgh University Library, MS. Or. 20, fol. 19r


Eskandar, or Alexander the Great, went into the Land of Darkness to seek the Water of Life, but failed to find it. Here, he sends his horse forward into the swirling darkness. His followers look anxious and even two of the horses stare at each other, uncertain of what they are about to encounter. The flame-like protuberances on Eskandar’s helmet probably allude to his identification with the qur’anic figure Dhu’l-Qarnayn (‘Lord, or Possessor, of Two Horns’).

This is one of the earliest Shahnameh illustrations that are precisely datable. Together with Nos. 23, 24 and 25, it belonged not to a Shahnameh manuscript, but to a copy of the Jamial-Tawarikh (‘Compendium of Histories’) that draws on the Shahnameh as one of its sources.



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