The Prince of Persia
It might come as a surprise that, despite the fact that he conquered their nation, the great Alexander was just as important a figure in Persia as he was in the West. Sure having been conquered by the Macedonian was somewhat embarrassing. But there was a way to get around the problem. The Persians fabricated Alexander’s ancestry to make him a legitimate Persian ruler: not the son of the Macedonian king Philip II by a royal descendant of the Persian Achaemenids.
Alexander appears in many works of Persian literature. But his most important appearance came in Firdawsî’s eleventh century “Shahnameh” or “Book of Kings”—the world’s longest epic poem composed by a single author. According to Firdawsî, Alexander—or Iskandar as he’s called in classical Persian—was the progeny of the Persian king Darius II and the daughter of Philip of Macedon. Marital issues mean Philip’s daughter is forced to flee to Rome where she gives birth to Alexander. Thus when he ultimately returns to Persia as a conqueror, he’s not the conqueror but the legitimate ruler.
Having established himself on the Persian throne, Alexander sets off on his adventures. His adventures aren’t just about military conquest, however, as they were in the historical record. Instead, they are quests for wisdom and knowledge. He battles his enemies, dispenses justice, and adopts local customs and cultures. He also memorably meets a group of naked philosophers (more on whom later) and discusses with them the brevity of life and the ultimate futility of power.
Approaching the end of the known world—in a story that by now should be becoming familiar—he encounters a terrorized population living at the foot of the mountainous nation of Gog and Magog. They are constantly being attacked by these terrifying marauders, who have the faces of camels, black tongues, and red eyes. So Alexander agrees to help. He assembles blacksmiths and masons and has them construct a giant wall to hold Gog and Magog at bay from civilization.
Finally, Alexander comes across a talking tree with two heads; one male that speaks during the day of terrifying things, and one female that speaks sweetly at night. Both prophesy that Alexander will soon die, “in a strange land, with strangers standing by”. Though obviously legend, this ties in with history. And Alexander does soon die in Babylon, ending this section of Firdawsî’s epic.