AMĪR ARSALĀN, a prose romance of the genre dāstānhā-ye ʿammīāna, “popular tales.” The story was composed by Mīrzā Moḥammad ʿAlī Naqīb-al-mamālek, the naqqāl-bāšī or chief storyteller of Nāṣer-al-dīn Shah (r. 1264-1313/1848-96). According to D. ʿA. K. Moʿayyer-al-mamālek (Yaḡmā 8, 1334 Š./1955, pp. 554-56), Tūrān Āḡā Faḵr-al-dawla, daughter of Nāṣer-al-dīn Shah, wrote down the story of Amir Arsalān, as the naqqāš-bāšī related it in the evenings to help the monarch fall asleep. The oldest manuscript is dated 1305/1887-88, which is close to the actual completion of the story (Amīr Arsalān, ed. Maḥǰūb, intro. p. 65).
The story opens with Ḵᵛāǰa Noʿmān, chief merchant of Cairo, rescuing from an island the widow of the king of Istanbul, recently killed when Sām Khan conquered the city and dispersed the court. She is pregnant and on her journey to Egypt gives birth to Amir Arsalān. As a youth he shows precocity and is taught to speak seven languages. He attracts the khedive of Egypt’s attention and is called upon to translate in court when an ambassador arrives from Peṭros Shah of Farang. Amir Arsalān kills the ambassador in a quarrel and sets out with an army to avenge his father. He kills Sām Khan, captures Istanbul, and becomes its king. There in a church he sees a portrait of Farroḵ-leqā, daughter of Peṭros Shah, with whom he falls in love. Learning that Amir Arsalān has killed his ambassador and Sām Khan, Peṭros has portraits of Amir Arsalān distributed to aid in his capture; Farroḵ-leqā, seeing one, falls in love with him. Amir Arsalān goes in disguise to Peṭrosīya to find Farroḵ-leqā. Under an alias he works in a cabaret, where his handsomeness eventually attracts the attention of Farroḵ-leqā herself. They meet there and declare their love. Soon Farroḵ-leqā is murdered, and the action now becomes fantastic in a manner typical of the genre. Šams, a vizier and wizard, revives Farroḵ-leqā; but she is soon carried off by a hand from a cloud. Amir Arsalān sets out to find her but encounters difficulties in a foreign city and is sentenced to hang. An afreet rescues him from the gallows and carries him to the land of the parīs. A series of adventures leads him to another land where he is reunited with Farroḵ-leqā. Later her father forgives Amir Arsalān and agrees to their marriage. They return to Istanbul, where Amir Arsalān resumes his rule, and they live happily ever after.
In terms of plot structure, Amir Arsalān is consistent with other examples of the genre, although there is less emphasis on chivalry (ǰavānmardī) and the deeds of ʿayyārs than in earlier romances. There are numerous reflections of the life and attitudes of Qajar Iran. Its language shows much influence of spoken Persian. Unusual are the setting, which is wholly outside Iran, and the Turkish name of the hero. The characters are somewhat less black and white than in other romances although in the end evil is punished and good triumphs. Two films based on this romance (1334 Š./1955 and 1345 Š./1966), a play by Parvīz Kārdān staged in 1965, and a 32-episode television series in 1968 (Kayhān International, 18 June 1968) attest to the continuing interest in this tale.
M. J. Maḥǰūb, ed., Amīr Arsalān, Tehran, 1345 Š./1966.
P. Kārdān, Amīr Arsalān-e nāmdār, Tehran, 1346 Š./1967.
Dzh. Dorri, “"Amir Arslan" i ego mesto sredi Iranskikh narodnykh dastanov,” Teoreticheskie problemy vostochnykh literatur, Moscow, 1969, pp. 61-66.
Maḥǰūb, “Dāstānhā-ye ʿāmmīāna-ye fārsī: Amīr Arsalān-e Rūmī,” Soḵan 11, 1339 Š./1960, pp. 911-20, 1139-49, 1264-78.
Ḡ. Ḥ. Yūsofī, Dīdār-ī bā ahl-e qalam, Mašhad, 1357-58 Š./1979-80, pp. 3-36.
Dūst-ʿAlī Khan Moʿayyer-al-mamālek, Reǰāl-e ʿaṣr-e Nāṣerī, Tehran, 1361 Š./1982, pp. 63-64.
Ḥ. Soʿāʿī, Namāyeš-nāma va film-nāma dar Īrān, Tehran, 2535 (= 1355 Š.)/1976.
(W. L. Hanaway, Jr.)
Originally Published: December 15, 1989
Last Updated: August 3, 2011
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Vol. I, Fasc. 9, p. 958