Son of Khaqan and the Reconstruction of the Iranian National Narrative: Jalal al-Din Mirza and his Nameh-e Khosravan

Jalal al-Din Mirza's Nameh-e Khosravan is among the earliest examples of modem Iranian historiography in the Qajar period. A prince of some erudition, Jalal al-Din Mirza (1826-1872) was among the founders of the Faramush-khane, a short-lived league of Qajar reformists (under the celebrated Malkum Khan) which was banned by Nasir al-Din Shah (r. 1848-1896) for advocating liberal reforms. An outcast of the Qajar court, Jalal al-Din's freethinking first encouraged him to study French language and European literature and therefrom to the study of ancient Iranian history especially after exposure to such writing in "pure Persian" as Dasatir and the literature of the neo-Zoroastrian movement of Azar Kayvan. His Nameh-e Khosravan (the book of the Khosraws: i.e. the book of the kings) in four volumes was an attempt to render a simple pictorial textbook from the beginning of Iranian history to the present for the use of the general public and especially for children (and possibly students of the Dar al-Fonun).

In the first volume, the author vacillates between myth and history by employing a range of Persian legendary histories, Shahnama and some standard Persian accounts. His passionate urge for the ancient past inspired Jalal al-Din to emphasize a narrative of historical continuity and thus treat such occurrences as the rise of Islam and the Arab invasion as destructive aberrations. In volumes two and three, published just before his immature death, the author covers the Islamic period up to the end of the Zand period (I785). Here again he treats the Turkish and Mongol hegemonies as chief causes of Iran's decline and decrepitude, a romantic perspective no doubt influenced by European currents of his time. His critical view of the Qajar period, in some ways the climax of his account, remained untold in part because of his fear of Qajar reprisal (later completed by another author). His anti-establishment perspective also brought Jalal al-Din in contact with Mirza Fath 'Ali Khan Akhundzadeh, whose correspondence remains a valuable source for our knowledge of the prince.

Though dry and prosaic in the rendering of a dynastic history, Nameh-e Khusravan is significant not only for constructing a national narrative based on ancient glory and present decay, but because of its novel language and presentation. Jalal al-Din's successful use of pure Persian style, which consciously avoided the use of Arabic and Turldsh words, and his clear printed pictorial text, anticipated the historiography of the post-Constitutional and the early Pahlavi periods.

* Abstract prepared by the author

Abbas Amanat
Current Issue: 
Past Issue