The hero of Ḥamza-nāma is Ḥamza b. ʿAbd-al-Moṭṭaleb, whose adventures are thought to be a conflation of stories from eastern Persia about Ḥamza b. ʿAbd-Allāh the Kharijite (d. 181/797-98) and of Ḥamza b. ʿAbd-al-Moṭṭaleb, paternal uncle of the Prophet Moḥammad (Bahār, Sabk-šenāsi, I, pp. 284-86).
The following summary is based on the modern edition titled Qeṣṣa-ye Amir al-Moʾmenin Ḥamza, (ed. Jaʿfar Šeʿār, 2nd rev. ed., Tehran, 1362 Š./1983). The action takes place around the time of Ḵosrow I Anušervān and his minister Bozorgmehr, but the context is clearly Islamic. Ḥamza is born in Mecca at the same time as ʿOmar Omayya Zomāri (variant: Zomri), and the two children grow up together and become lifelong companions. Ḥamza is precocious physically, and comes to the attention of Anušervān. At court, Ḥamza and the ruler’s daughter Mehr Negār fall in love, and this sets in motion a lengthy series of adventures that take Ḥamza and ʿOmar Omayya as far afield as Sarandib (Sri Lanka), Turkestan, Rum (Byzantium), Tangier, and the lands of the demons (divs) and fairies (paris), namely Mt. Qāf. Eventually, Ḥamza returns to Mecca, is converted to Islam by the Prophet, and is killed at the battle of Oḥod.
The story is filled with formal and thematic elements common to other romances of this genre, such as set-pieces of action (battles, banquets), conventional phraseology, repetitions, recapitulations and other evidence of oral transmission, elements of folklore and popular culture, sorcery and magic, and parallels with stories from the Shahnameh (Šāh-nāma). There is a definite religious coloring to the tale, and Ḥamza frequently converts his conquered enemies to “an Abrahamic [monotheistic] religion.”
During Safavid and Mughal times Ḥamza-nāma became one of the most popular and widely known of the Persian popular romances (rivaled only by Eskandar-nāma, q.v.), especially in the Indian subcontinent (see Section ii; see also Schimmel, p. 33, and n. 133). An enormously elaborated version called Romuz-e Ḥamza gave rise to even longer versions in Urdu. (For a selective translation of an Urdu version, see Pritchett.) In addition to the edited version noted above, there are several popular and chapbook editions from Tehran, Kabul, and Dushanbe. For Arabic versions, see M. C. Lyons, The Arabian Epic, 3 vols., Cambridge, 1995, esp. II, pp. 534-85, III, pp. 223-38; and N. Ibrahimov, Arabskiĭ Narodnyĭ Roman, Moscow, 1984, pp. 235-37 and passim. For Turkish versions, see Lütfi Sezem, Halk Edebiyatında Hamzanâmeler, Ankara, 1991; and Warren S. Walker, A Turkish Folktale: The art of Behçet Mahir, New York, 1996 (an English transl. of an oral recitation of “The Legend of Hamzai Sahip Kıran”). For an English translation of a Georgian version, see Mose Khoneli, Amir Darejian, tr. R. G. Stevenson, Oxford, 1958. For Javanese and Balinese versions, see Theodore G. Th. Pigeaud, Javanese and Balinese Manuscripts, Wiesbaden, 1975, p. 90. For Malayan versions, see C. Hooykaas, Over Maleise Literatuur, Leiden, 1947, pp. 151-57; and V. E. Braginskii, Isotoria malaĭskoĭ literatury VII-XIX vekov, Moscow, 1983, pp. 138-40 and passim.
Gerhart Egger, Ḥamza-nāma: vollständige Wiedergabe der bekannten Blätter der Handschrift aus den Bestanden aller erreichbaren Sammlungen, Graz, 1974-82.
Hermann Ethé, Grundriss II, pp. 318-19.
Arthur Gobineau, “Trois ans en Asie,” in his own collected works, Œuvres, ed. J. Gaulmier, Paris, 1983, II, p. 359.
William L. Hanaway, “Persian Popular Romances before the Safavid Period,” Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1970.
Ḥ. Lesān, “Šāh-nāma-ḵvāni,” Honar o mardom 159-160, 1354 Š./1975, p. 13.
G. M. Meredith-Owens, “Ḥamza b. ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib,” in EI2 III, pp. 152-54.
Frances Pritchett, The Romance Tradition in Urdu: Adventures from the Dastan of Amir Hamzah, New York, 1991.
Ḏabiḥ-Allāh Ṣafā, Ḥamāsa-sarāʾi dar Irān, Tehran, 1333 Š./1954.
Annemarie Schimmel, “Islamic Literatures of India,” in A History of Indian Literature, Wiesbaden, 1973, VII. Ph. S. van Ronkel, De Roman van Amir Hamza, Leiden, 1895.
Charles Virolleaud, “Le Roman de l’Émir Hamza, oncle de Mahomet,” L’Ethnographie N.S. (Paris) 53, 1958-59, pp. 3-10.
Idem, “Le Roman iranien de l’Émir Hamza,” Comptes rendus de l’Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres, April-June 1948, pp. 224-34.
For reviews of the Tehran edition of the Ḥamza-nāma of 1347 Š./1968, see Rāhnamā-ye ketāb 15, 1351 Š./1972, pp. 67-75, 475-81; and Soḵan 18, 1347 Š./1968, pp. 460-62, 480-86.
(William L. Hanaway, Jr.)
Originally Published: December 15, 2003
Last Updated: March 6, 2012
This article is available in print.
Vol. XI, Fasc. 6, p. 649