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

Counsel for Kings: Wisdom and Politics in Tenth-Century Iran. By LOUISE MARLOW. 2 vols. Edinburgh Studies in Classical Arabic Literature. Edinburgh: EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2016. Pp. xv + 344 (vol. 1), viii + 384 (vol. 2). $220, [pounds sterling]150

Louise Marlow has written a fascinating and probing study of one of the earliest Arabic mirrors for princes. She greatly advances our understanding of not just the early tenth-century Nasihat al-muluk or even of the genre, but of the general eastern Iranian, Samanid intellectual and political context in which the text was produced. There have been a number of important studies in recent years on this region and its intellectual, social, and political currents (e.g., by Bilal (Mali, Arezou Azad, Etienne de la Vaissiere, and Deborah Tor, among others) but it still is badly in need of studies that meticulously document the possibilities and constraints created by the contexts in which authors worked. Its Arabic literary and intellectual heritage, in particular, requires much more study, and Marlow has now added enormously to our understanding.

The origins of the text and its attribution--surely incorrectly--to the great Shafi'I jurist al-Mawardi (d. 450/1058) are the first problems that Marlow must tackle. This attribution has long come under fire, not least because none of the period's authoritative biobibliographers refers to a Nasihat al-muluk among the works of al-Mawardi (though, as Marlow points out, medieval titles pose a host of problems). Nor does careful reading of the lone manuscript witness to the text support this attribution (100 fols. within a late sixteenth-century three-part majmu'a held in Paris, BnF, MS Arabe, No. 2447). Marlow notes that the title and author given in the manuscript are merely provided by a copyist (possibly from an exemplar, but still hors de texte), but the most convincing argument against attributing the text to al-Mawardi turns out to be the way in which the text makes the most sense if read as responding to the specific situation of eastern Iran, and especially Balkh, of the first part of the fourth/tenth century. For these reasons, then, Marlow refers to the author throughout her book as "Pseudo-Mawardi." Though rather clunky, it seems the best option.

Marlow was afforded what few authors today receive: ample space--two volumes!--to roll out her arguments. This allows for unusually detailed comparisons that shed light on the specific context, choices, and meanings of Pseudo-Mawardi and his text. For example, part one of the first volume (The Nasihat al-muluk of Pseudo-Mawardi: Contexts and Themes) focuses on "Situating the Text," and here Marlow shows the likelihood that the text was composed in Balkh during the tumultuous reign of the Samanid Nasr II b. Ahmad II (r. 301-31/914-43), when the sons of another Samanid, Ishaq b. Ahmad, unsuccessfully asserted their own claims to rule. Whereas Pseudo-Mawardi, reflecting a possibly regional point of view, held Ishaq in high regard, his fellow historians relate stories about Ishaq that foretell the dissipation of his children's authority or treat him as a plotter of rebellions (e.g., al-Bal'ami, writing in Buyid Iraq; al-Narshakhi, who presented his Tarikh-i Bukhara to the ruling son of Nasr II, Nuh; or al-GardizI, who flourished in the fifth/eleventh century). Citation and discussion of passages from these other historians aid enormously. Similarly, when Marlow considers various settings for the composition of Nasihat al-muluk, her discussion of Balkh, at the edges of the Islamic world, is expansive. Most fascinatingly, she shows that Pseudo-Mawardi's understanding of the person and significance of the Buddha differed in kind from that of his contemporaries. These insights involve a close reading of a number of other texts, and a worthwhile digression into the confusions of other tenth-century authors (e.g., al-Mas'udi, al-Maqdisi, Ibn al-Nadlm, and al-BIruni). Likewise, in terms of genre and the development of ideas on rulership, through comparisons Marlow differentiates Nasihat al-muluk from its closest predecessor, Akhldq al-muluk (known as Kitab al-Taj), and subsequent mirrors, including that of the famed Seljuk vizier, Nizam al-Mulk. She also shows, through careful and extensive citation, Pseudo-Mawardi's intellectual debt to and interaction with both Mu'tazili thought (especially that of the theologian al-Ka'bi, who was resident and teaching in Khurasan at the very time when Pseudo-Mawardi wrote) and also the Kindian philosophical tradition.

The structure of Marlow's study is somewhat complicated, which she seeks to clarify with repeated sign-postings. Generally speaking, volume one is contextual, made of up three parts: "Situating the Text," "Governance and Society," and "The Religious Landscape." The second volume (The Nasihat al-muluk of Pseudo-Mawardi: Texts, Sources and Authorities) translates and analyses extensive parts of the work, especially three of the volume's ten chapters: "The King's Self-Governance," "The Governance of the Elites," and "The Governance of the Common People." But this division is not absolute, as topics and themes run through both volumes, most prominently pertaining to kingship, hierarchy, and the limits and obligations of rulers. While the material is generally presented well, I believe that it would have been preferable to contain the analytical discussion to one volume, and then to follow, in volume two, with a full translation with explanatory notes. My sense of Nasihat al-muluk as a book, I think, would have been stronger, and likewise, as a teaching resource, or for nonspecialists, such access to the work would be useful.

Marlow shows that the Samanid context involved a "decentralised model of cooperation," with power dispersed among a number of elite groupings, so that "cooperation of these intermediaries with the dynasty was essential to the functioning of the Samanid system" (vol. 1, p. 107). Rebellions were frequent, and challengers aplenty. Nasihat al-muluk reflects this environment, and puts forward a vision of sacralized kingship, with the king's status at the top of a hierarchy, below God and his angels and prophets, but above humanity, including the ruling elite (khdssa) and the common mass ( (()amma, "subjects" generally). Central to Pseudo-Mawardi's view is the concept and practice of khidma (lit. service), which involved an exchange of obedience to a ruler's commands for his honoring expectations and acting in a trustworthy manner.

It is impossible to know if any Samanid ruler actually read Pseudo-Mawardi's book, but his forthrightness--for which many other advisors suffered a ruler's wrath--is noteworthy nonetheless. In the first chapter of Nasihat al-muluk, Pseudo-Mawardi emphasizes the duty of subjects to offer sincere counsel to the ruler and the reciprocal duty of the king to receive and heed salutary advice. He goes on to enumerate six reasons for kings being the most fitting of people to accept advice and listen to admonition. Pseudo-Mawardi's longest chapter is in fact devoted to the king's governance and discipline of the self (siyasat al-nafs wa-riyadatuha), where, as Marlow discusses, the paired terms siyasa and riyada evoke training and discipline. The crucial idea underpinning Pseudo-Mawardi's approach is that "the ruler should emulate the divine qualities" (vol. 2, p. 74), which entails, among other things, that he cultivate the virtue of taqwd Allah ("godliness, consciousness of God, fear of God," vol. 2, p. 76). His governance should be based on "rational and religiously derived principles" (vol. 2, p. 88), with knowledge--a divine attribute--listed first among the virtues required of kings, and knowledge of "the science of religion" ('ilm al-din) being the highest in value. Among the other divine attributes worthy of emulation is forbearance. As Pseudo-Mawardi writes, God is forbearing towards his creatures, and is not quick with his punishments. A ruler should follow his Maker: "His extraordinary power and limitless dominion should not move him to iniquitous vengeance and hasty reprisal, nor should he abandon the custom of waiting before inflicting punishment. Let him remember God's power over him, the abundance of His gifts to him, and His goodness to him. Let him remember also his manifold disobedience to God and God's forbearance of him, so that he should not treat those subject to his power (man tahta yadihi) in a manner different from that which he loves in God's action (towards him)" (vol. 2, p. 117).

The second volume includes very close readings of long passages of Nasihat al-muluk, and here Marlow gives readers the flavor of the work and especially of Pseudo-Mawardi's schematizing efforts. Marlow deserves special praise for her skill in translating difficult phrases. Her renderings of the term adab (pi. ddab) were especially perceptive (as "literary culture," "appropriate and pleasing behaviour," or in the plural, "maxims," "notable sayings," "instructive examples"). Given the audience and genre, Pseudo-Mawardi's perhaps surprising preference for kalam over fiqh also comes through clearly (as Marlow discusses, comparing Pseudo-Mawardi's approach to that of al-Farabi; vol. 2, p. 101). Marlow's book might now usefully be read alongside recent publications treating the Buyid vizier al-Sahib b.'Abbad (d. 385/925), who is known to have promoted the teaching of Mu'tazill theology throughout Buyid territories and beyond (W. Madelung and S. Schmidtke, Al-Sahib lbn'Abbdd, Promoter of Rational Theology: Two Mu'tazili kalam texts from the Cairo Geniza [Leiden, 2016]; M. Pomerantz, Licit Magic: The Life and Letters of al-Sahib b. 'Abbad (d. 385/995) [Leiden, 2017]).

The second volume also includes an impressively detailed identification and analysis of the nonsacred sources for Nasihat al-muluk (chapter two, "Sources and Authorities: The Living Meaning of Ancient Wisdom"). Marlow's discussion of transmission and reception of pre- and early Islamic Iranian texts into Arabic and Persian is nuanced and engages with a very wide range of specialist scholarship--as elsewhere, her bibliography represents the state of the field extremely well. Again, here the comparisons with other works are important and show, for example, that Pseudo-Mawardi, writing in the Islamic East, had a more intimate knowledge of pre-Islamic Persian writings (kutub al-'ajam), such as the Testament of Ardashir ('ahd Ardashir), than someone like lbn Qutayba, and that early writers drew from "a common repertoire," in which accounts circulated in multiple forms (vol. 2, p. 58).

To summarize, Marlow has produced a perceptive and thorough study of Nasihat al-muluk, the result of deep thinking about the literary possibilities available to the text's author. The relevance of her study extends beyond this book, time, and geography, as she sets a high standard for reading even a little-documented text in its full literary and historical context.

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Author:Savant, Sarah Bowen
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Oct 1, 2018
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