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Among Kings and Sages: Greek and Indian Wisdom in an Arabic Mirror for Princes

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Abstract The mirror for princes known as the Naṣīḥat al-mulūk of al-Māwardī, probably a tenth-century text, is replete with references to sources identified by the author as “Indian”. A large number of these texts also appear in the so-called Waṣiyyat Arisṭāṭālīs li-l-Iskandar; some examples find parallels in Kalīla wa-Dimna and Bilawhar wa-Būḏāsaf. These coincidences raise several possibilities: first, that the author’s “Indian” source represents a work of Indic background, translated from Sanskrit or another Indian language into Arabic, probably at the time when the Barmakids were sponsoring such translations in significant numbers; secondly, that it was rendered from an Indian language into Middle Persian in the Sasanian period and from that language into Arabic in the early centuries of the Islamic era; thirdly, that the text was composed in a non-Indian language, probably Middle Persian, and acquired a “forged” Indian genealogy in a parallel to the numerous spurious Greek attributions (a category that would subsequently include the pseudo-Aristotelian testament). The article addresses these three possibilities, and, on the basis of textual and contextual considerations, suggests that at the present stage of research, it is the second that seems most likely.

Affiliations: 1: Wellesley College


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