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The Sophy: News of Shah Ismail Safavi in Renaissance Europe

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Shah Ismail Safavi emerged as the revolutionary leader of a new, Shiʻite movement in western Iran in the early years of the sixteenth century. News of his rise to power reached Western Europe almost immediately and provoked a wide range of responses: some observers hoped he would join the Christian princes of Europe in a new offensive against their common enemy, the Ottoman Turks. Others saw him as an economic and social revolutionary who brought justice to the poor and dispossessed of Persia and whose works might occasion similar reforms in Europe. Yet others saw his rise as a providential event, freighted with apocalyptic significance, or perhaps a divine endorsement of some more particular domestic agenda. Learned humanist observers in Italy and elsewhere found themselves on several sides of the question, expressing first scepticism and then later qualified enthusiasm for this new Islamic prince. The circulation of information about Shah Ismail was fluid, unpredictable, and shaped by local conditions; the printing press also played an important role in transmitting—and transforming—the story of the “Sophy” across Renaissance Europe.

Affiliations: 1: University of Notre Dame

10.1163/15700658-12342434
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2014-10-30
2017-09-25

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