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Counsel for Kings: Wisdom and Politics in Tenth-Century Iran

L. Marlow


A textual and contextual study of an early Arabic mirror for princes

Mirrors for princes form a substantial and important genre in many pre-modern literatures. Their ostensible purpose is to advise the king; at the same time they assert that the king, if he is truly virtuous, will appreciate being reminded of the contingency of his power. The unknown author of the Counsel for Kings studied in this book wrote in a distinctive early tenth-century Iranian environment. He deploys an abundant set of cultural materials representing ‘perennial wisdom’ of mixed provenances, which he reinvigorates by applying them to the circumstances of his own time and place.

The first volume situates Counsel for Kings in its historical context. The second volume gives direct access to a substantial portion of the text through translation and commentary.

Key features

  • Integrates the evidence of Counsel for Kings with established materials for the study of Samanid history
  • Demonstrates the interplay of mirrors for princes with other forms of literary expression, such as anthologies of adab, historiographical, theological, philosophical and homiletic writings, encyclopaedic works and poetry


Volume I

Notes on Transliteration and Dates
Part I: Situating the Text
Map 1: The Nile-to-Oxus Region in the Tenth Century
Chapter 1. An Early Samanid View of History: The Dating of Naṣīḥat al-mulūk
Map 2: The Oxus Regions in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries 85
Chapter 2. A Liminal Setting: The Location of Naṣīḥat al-mulūk
Part II: Governance and Society
Chapter 3. Kingship and Governance: Concepts and Terminology
Chapter 4. Intermediaries and Networks
Part III: The Religious Landscape
Chapter 5. Multiplicity and Rhetoric
Chapter 6. Religion and the Samanid Amirs
Chapter 7. The Afflictions of the Kingdom and Their Remedies
Chapter 8. The Religious Sensibility of Naṣīḥat al-mulūk
Fig. 1: The Samanids
Fig. 2: The Samanid Dynastic Family

Volume II

Part I. The Cultural Landscape
Chapter 1. The Presentation of Advice
Chapter 2. Sources and Authorities: The Living Meaning of Ancient Wisdom
Part II. The Three Governances: Translations and Commentary
Chapter 3. Governance of the Self
Chapter 4. Governance of the Élites
Chapter 5. Governance of the Common People
Index of Qurʾanic verses

About the Author

L. Marlow is Professor of Religion and Program Director for Middle Eastern Studies and Wellesley College.

Also in this series