Narratives of Kingship in Eurasian Empires, 1300-1800


In Narratives of Kingship in Eurasian Empires, 1300-1800 Richard van Leeuwen analyses representations and constructions of the idea of kingship in fictional texts of various genres, especially belonging to the intermediate layer between popular and official literature. The analysis shows how ideologies of power are embedded in the literary and cultural imagination of societies, their cultural values and conceptualizations of authority. By referring to examples from various empires (Chinese, Indian, Persian, Arabic, Turkish, European) the parallels between literary traditions are laid bare, revealing remarkable common concerns. The process of interaction and transmission are highlighted to illustrate how literature served as a repository for ideological and cultural values transforming power into authority in various imperial environments.

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Richard van Leeuwen, Ph.D. (1992) University of Amsterdam, is senior lecturer in Islamic Studies at that university. He has published widely on the history of the Middle East, Arabic literature, and Islam, and is also a translator of Arabic literature. His publications include Notables and Clergy in Mount Lebanon, 1736-1840 (Brill 1994); Waqfs and Urban Structures in Ottoman Damascus (Brill 1999); (with U. Marzolph) The Arabian Nights Encyclopedia (2 vols, Santa Barbara 2004); The Thousand and One Nights: Space, Travel and Transformation (London 2007).
“The author analyzes (and provides helpful summaries of) the narratives to describe, among other themes, common literary emphases on the links between the morality of kings and ministers and the health of their dynasties and societies; between the authority of kings and supernatural forces; between rulership, esoteric knowledge, and concepts of cosmic and social harmony; and between gender relationships and the coherence of polity and community. –Summing Up: Recommended. Graduate students/faculty.”
Mark Soderstrom, Aurora University. In: Choice, Vol. 55, No. 8 (April 2018).

“Van Leeuwen’s book draws our attention to tantalising possibilities in the broad comparative analysis of literary genres nearly always locked up inside specialists’ cabinets, opening a door through which other scholars will surely want to follow.”
Alan Strathern, Brasenose College, Oxford. In: The English Historical Review, Vol. 134, No. 570 (October 2019), pp. 1301-1304.

List of Figures

The Thousand and One Nights and Processes of Transmission
 Source Material

1 Kings, Viziers, Concubines
 The Cycle of the ‘Seven Viziers’/ ‘Seven Sages of Rome’ and Its Cognates
 Variations: The Story of ‘Jaliʾad of Hind and His Vizier Shimas’
King Wu’s Expedition against Zhou and Proclaiming Harmony
 Concluding Remarks

2 Gods, Demons, and Kings
 The Prince and the Demons of Evil: The Legendary Vikramaditya
 The Thirty-Two Steps of the Throne
 Harun al-Rashid, Vizier Jaʾfar, and the Jinns
 Harun al-Rashid and the Discourse of Power
 Fighting the Evil Spirit: The Creation of the Gods
 Concluding Remarks

3 Divine Insights, Cosmic Harmony
 The Cycle of the ‘Queen of the Serpents’
 King and Cosmos: The Sorcerer’s Revolt
 Jan Potòcki’s Manuscrit Trouvé à Saragosse
 Concluding Remarks

4 The Knight and the King
Tirant lo Blanc: The Ideal Knight
 The Harbinger of the Faith: Amir Hamza
 The Emperor and the Barbarians: The Exploits of Yue Fei
 Hang Tuah, the Malay Hero
 The ‘Foreign’ Sultan: Al-Zahir Baybars
 The Muslims against the Byzantines: Sayyid Battal
 Concluding Remarks

5 Kingship and Love
 The Prince and the Mysteries of Love
 The Story of ‘Mirigavati’
 Sufis and Solomon
 The Enchantment of Love: European Fantasies of Kingship and Love
 Concluding Remarks

6 Unrequested Advice
 The Frustrated Official: Mustafa Ali of Gallipoli
 Against the Old Order: Huang Zongxi and Hung Sheng
 European and Oriental Despots: Montesquieu and Diderot
 A Modern Mirror-for-Princes: Christoph Martin Wieland’s Der Goldene Spiegel
 The Official and His Empress: Alexander Radischev and Catherine  II
 Concluding Remarks


Scholars and students in the fields of history and literature of Eurasian empires, comparative literature, world literature, ideologies of power and authority.