The Hellenistic Prince

The Hellenistic Prince

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DVDs About Greek History

These DVDs are formatted for North American audiences.

In Search of History: The Greek Gods. This sweeping look at the legendary gods of ancient Greece includes footage of some of the most beautiful artwork ever created.

Gods and Goddesses. A new look at Greek mythology suggests that some of these ancient tales may have roots in actual events.

Empires - The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization. Lavish PBS documentary that tells the story of Athenian democracy from its first stirrings in 500 B.C. through to the cataclysmic wars that virtually destroyed the empire. (Review ©

The Spartans. This PBS documentary explains Sparta's culture, history, and downfall.

The 300 Spartans. This 1961 movie about the Battle of Thermopalye stars Richard Egan as King Leonidas of Sparta. (Review ©

The First Olympics. Three full-length programs capture the raw competition and Bacchanalian excess of the original Olympic Games.

The Real Olympics. PBS documentary compares the ancient and modern games.

Conic Sections of Apollonius

Conic sections of Apollonius

But Alexandria was not the only centre of learning in the Hellenistic Greek empire. Mention should also be made of Apollonius of Perga (a city in modern-day southern Turkey) whose late 3rd Century BCE work on geometry (and, in particular, on conics and conic sections) was very influential on later European mathematicians. It was Apollonius who gave the ellipse, the parabola, and the hyperbola the names by which we know them, and showed how they could be derived from different sections through a cone.

Hipparchus, who was also from Hellenistic Anatolia and who live in the 2nd Century BCE, was perhaps the greatest of all ancient astronomers. He revived the use of arithmetic techniques first developed by the Chaldeans and Babylonians, and is usually credited with the beginnings of trigonometry. He calculated (with remarkable accuracy for the time) the distance of the moon from the earth by measuring the different parts of the moon visible at different locations and calculating the distance using the properties of triangles. He went on to create the first table of chords (side lengths corresponding to different angles of a triangle). By the time of the great Alexandrian astronomer Ptolemy in the 2nd Century CE, however, Greek mastery of numerical procedures had progressed to the point where Ptolemy was able to include in his “Almagest” a table of trigonometric chords in a circle for steps of ¼° which (although expressed sexagesimally in the Babylonian style) is accurate to about five decimal places.

By the middle of the 1st Century BCE and thereafter, however, the Romans had tightened their grip on the old Greek empire. The Romans had no use for pure mathematics, only for its practical applications, and the Christian regime that followed it even less so. The final blow to the Hellenistic mathematical heritage at Alexandria might be seen in the figure of Hypatia, the first recorded female mathematician, and a renowned teacher who had written some respected commentaries on Diophantus and Apollonius. She was dragged to her death by a Christian mob in 415 CE.

The Boxer at Rest is More Than Just a Work of Art

Some scholars are of the opinion that the Boxer at Rest was valued by the ancient Greeks and Romans not merely as a work of art but was also revered as an object that possessed magical powers . Parts of the sculptures hands and feet show signs of wear, and it is believed that this was caused by repeated touching in ancient times.

The Boxer at Rest, Greek Hellenistic bronze sculpture of a sitting nude boxer at rest. Source: Carole Raddato / CC BY-SA 2.0 .

Some have suggested that the Boxer at Rest was attributed with healing powers, which is plausible, since certain statues of famous athletes are also believed to have such powers. Therefore, since the sculpture was so highly venerated, the Romans could have taken extra care to protect it when Rome was threatened by ‘ barbarian’ invaders .

While there are many unanswered questions and speculations surrounding the Boxer at Rest , there are others that scholars have been able to answer satisfactorily. One of these is the techniques employed in the production of this masterpiece. Like the majority of Hellenistic bronze sculptures, the Boxer at Rest was made using the hollow lost-wax casting by the indirect process.

This was one of three lost-wax casting processes, the other two being solid lost-wax casting, and hollow lost-wax casting by the direct process. The hollow lost-wax casting by the indirect process had certain advantages over the other techniques. In solid lost-wax casting, only small figurines could be cast, due to the physical properties of bronze.

Therefore, large sculptures could only be made with hollow casting. One of the main advantages of the indirect process over the direct one is the preservation of the original model during the casting. This means that copies of the same sculpture could be made, large-scale sculptures could be piece-cast, and sections could be recast if needed.

The Boxer at Rest was not cast as a single piece of bronze, but made in different sections – head, body, genitals, arms above the gloves, forearms, left leg, and the middle toes. These individual sections were then welded together. There is also evidence that the sculpture was extensively cold worked, especially its hair, as part of the finishing process. The process serves to strengthen the bronze.

The ‘Boxer at Rest’ was made in different sections and welded together. (Carole Raddato / CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Although the Boxer at Rest is a bronze sculpture, a considerable amount of copper inlay was used as well. This is particularly noticeable in the wounds on the sculpture’s head, and the drops of blood on the right thigh and arm. The use of a different metal for these details serves to enhance the realism of the sculpture.

Copper inlay was also used for the lips, nipples, as well as the straps and stitching of the boxing gloves. Furthermore, the bruise below the right eye is of a darker color, as it was cast using a different alloy.

Today, the Boxer at Rest is part of the collection of the National Museum of Rome and is normally on display in the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme , which is located just a stone’s throw away from Roma Termini, Rome’s main railway station. The Boxer at Rest is displayed in the same room as the Hellenistic Prince (known also as the Seleucid Prince ), another spectacular bronze sculpture.

Although the two pieces were discovered in the area, it is likely that they were unrelated. The Boxer at Rest has been loaned to other museums. In 2013, for instance, the sculpture was on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

In 2015, the sculpture was loaned to the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, in Los Angeles, as part of the Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World exhibition. This exhibition assembled about 50 bronze sculptures and portraits, “more than have ever been seen together since ancient times”.

The Boxer at Rest is rightly considered to be a masterpiece of Hellenistic bronze sculpture. This remarkable work of art has been admired for its aesthetic qualities by many since its discovery, and has even inspired other creative works, the most notable of these being The Boxer , which was composed by the Italian poet Gabriele Tinti.

Admiration for the Boxer at Rest will likely continue in the future. Nevertheless, it is also hoped that the many questions surrounding this sculpture may someday be answered.

Top image: Detail of The Boxer at Rest, Greek Hellenistic bronze sculpture of a sitting nude boxer at rest. Credit: giorgio / Adobe Stock

Polygamy, Prostitutes and Death: The Hellenistic Dynasties

In this book, Daniel Ogden attempts to come to grips with the dynastic problems of succession and legitimacy at the courts of the Macedonian and Hellenistic kings, where polygamy or serial monogamy resulted in numerous candidates for the throne but rules of political inheritance were virtually non-existent. Thus, we get the apparent ‘whimsical violence of half-crazed princelets’ (p. ix) that characterises the period. Whether the accession of a given individual was engineered or merely confirmed by the army, the court or an élite group of megistoi, it was vital for the new ruler to establish his legitimacy through various means. O. concentrates on two important aspects of dynastic politics: amphimetric strife and levirate marriage.

The sons of the same father by different mothers are sometimes termed (e.g. by Hesychios) amphimetores. But in a world where polygamy, or more precisely polygyny, was practised but where there was often no clear indication of which wife was the official ‘queen’ or first wife, ‘royal wives hated each other the various groups of paternal half-siblings hated each other but the most intense hatred of all was reserved for the relationship between children and their stepmothers’ (p. x). To confuse matters further, primogeniture appears to have been the rule only amongst full siblings: thus, of the children of Amyntas III, Eurydike’s sons (Alexander II, Perdikkas III and Philip II) ruled in order of age but there is no clear indication of whether the children of Gygaia were older or younger than those of Eurydike, and scholars have been divided on the matter. 1 At the Ptolemaic court amphimetric strife occurred right from the beginning with the children of Eurydike (the daughter of Antipatros) and Berenike the sons of the courtesan Thais, Lagos and Leontiskos, clearly had no (realistic) regal aspirations. A solution was sought in brother-sister marriage. This may have solved the problem of amphimetric strife, but succession struggles continued nevertheless, the most famous involving Philometor and Euergetes II (Physkon), and the two sons of Kleopatra III, Lathyros and Alexander. In fact, the female partner became the dominant and ‘more stable element’ and O. sees an ‘inversion’ of the normal process (p. 84).

Levirate marriage stands in curious contrast to the problems of polygamy, since new rulers often attempt to establish legitimacy by marrying the wife of the deceased king. The term ‘levirate’ normally refers to the marriage of the widow to one of the king’s brothers—which is, of course, prohibited in Judeo-Christian societies (at least, if the first marriage was consummated) 2 on the basis of Leviticus xxviii:16, xx:21—and O. uses the term loosely, for convenience and not out of ignorance: cf. p. 205, where he speaks of Attalos II’s attempt ‘to legitimate his own position by levirate (in the full sense of the word, since the bride was passed between brothers) marriage.’ O. makes sense of Justin’s claim (7.4.7-8, 5.4-7: usually dismissed as scandalous nonsense) that Ptolemaios Alorites married Eurydike by supposing this to be an example of levirate marriage. It is, of course, not the only example of mothers supplanting their daughters, and too often these elder women have been dismissed as lustful Mrs Robinsons, with the exception that they display a greater appetite for power than for sexual pleasures. At first glance, it may not be obvious why a union with the king’s widow should be preferable to one with his daughter, who at least has the advantage of royal blood. But by marrying his widowed mother-in-law, Ptolemaios could at least act as regent for her under-aged children, whereas the claims of Eurynoë were insignificant in relation to the rights of her brothers. Hence it is surprising that O. does not make more of the otherwise bizarre story of the affair of Demetrios the Fair with is mother-in-law, Apama (Justin 26.3.2 wrongly calls her Arsinoë), the widow of Magas of Kyrene. Here there is not only the apparent advantage of legitimacy through levirate marriage but also the prospect of undermining Ptolemaic authority in Kyrene through the marriage of the Seleukid Apama to the Antigonid Demetrios. 3 By contrast, Ptolemy Keraunos’ marriage to Arsinoë, the widow of Lysimachos, which O. rightly observes can be ‘construed as levirate-legitimation of Ceraunus’ claim to the Macedonian throne’ (p. 77), was entirely a family affair.

This, of course, raises the question of how the status of individual wives was determined in the ancient world, and on the basis of what evidence this can be understood by modern scholars. Indeed O. (pp. 23-24) puts an interesting twist on one possible method of measuring a wife’s importance, the practice of renaming. Instead of supposing that a ‘dynastic name’ (which is how I would define ‘Eurydike’ in fourth-century Macedon) bestowed special status on the female, O. suggests that ‘Philip II renamed his wife, Audata, [Eurydice]…after his mother, and, more significantly, his father’s wife, as a means of expressing his succession to his father’ (p. 23). But what do we make of Adea, then, who was given the name Eurydike when she married Arrhidaios (himself renamed Philip)? Surely, the name-change was, in effect, the same as calling her basilissa and, as I observed in Glotta 61 (1983) 41-2, the only female in this line (Audata-Kynnane-Adea) who did not take the name Eurydike was Kynnane, whose husband Amyntas son of Perdikkas did not rule (or, at least, was never ‘king’ in the years that the two were married). 4

The idea that Macedonian and Hellenistic rulers practised serial monogamy rather than polygamy is laid to rest: in most cases this view was based on modern Christian prejudices rather than a proper evaluation of the evidence. The problem of which partners were actually what we would call ‘wives’ (to call them ‘legitimate wives’ begs the question) persists and so does the concomitant matter of bastardy, a subject which O. has tackled in a previous book. 5 Since royal bastards were not clearly defined by Macedonian law, as far as we know, charges of bastardy originated inevitably with the crown prince and his faction or with the new king as a means of legitimating his own position by undermining the status of his rivals (and by extension their mothers). Alexander’s agents reported to Pixodaros that Arrhidaios was a bastard ( nothos), even though both princes were the sons of foreign mothers, i.e., they were metroxenoi. And, since Philinna of Larisa was certainly not a whore or dancing-girl but rather a woman of the Aleuadai (cf. O. p. 25), the status of the mother and the legitimacy of her son were not necessarily determined by ethnicity. Attalos’ prayer that Kleopatra-Eurydike would produce ‘legitimate successors’ was rightly taken by Alexander as a charge of bastardy, but whether it was based on the belief that Kleopatra’s status as a Macedonian was greater than that of the Epeirot Olympias is a thorny question. 6 What is clear from the respective comments of Alexander (regarding Arrhidaios) and Attalos is that legitimacy and bastardy were matters of perspective rather than law or custom. But it was not just the winner of the contest for succession who leveled charges of bastardy against his rival: Demetrios son of Philip V made a similar attack on the ruling Perseus, a charge which survived because Rome defeated Perseus and her historians cast Demetrios in a favourable light, even though the Romans may not have cared much for the prince himself. O. observes that it was a ‘classic example of a legitimacy dispute and a policy dispute becoming aligned’ (p. 186).

The book is divided into two main parts: Part I, ‘Polygamy and Death in the Macedonian and Hellenistic Courts’ occupies seven chapters and over two hundred pages (1. Argead Macedonia: 3-40 2. Alexander: 41-52 3. Cassander and Lysimachus: 53-66 4. The Ptolemies: 67-116 5. The Seleucids: 117-70 6. The Antigonids: 171-98 7. The Attalids: 199-213) Part II, ‘Hellenistic Royal Courtesans’ comprises three chapters on ‘Methodology and evidence’ (215-30), ‘Status and career’ (231-58) and ‘Courtesans at Work'(259-77). There are three appendices: ‘Women’s quarters in Hellenistic royal palaces’ ‘Repertorium of sources for Hellenistic royal courtesans’ and ‘King lists of the Argead and Hellenistic dynasties’. These are followed by an extensive bibliography and index.

Whereas Part I moves logically and effortlessly from chapter to chapter, Part II seems to be tacked on as an afterthought. This is perhaps necessary, given the nature of the evidence and the notorious difficulties associated with determining the status of hetairai. A study of the royal courtesans reveals that very little is in fact known about them as individuals and that most stories are intended as (usually, negative) judgments on not the courtesans themselves but the men with whom they are associated. But what we do know about certain individual courtesans is carefully collected and discussed in the chapter on ‘Status and Career’. We know the father’s names of only three royal courtesans: Lamia, Bilistiche and Agathokleia. And, not surprisingly, these are also the ones about whom we are best informed in general. In the majority of cases we cannot even say with certainty what their own birth names were.

O. handles his sources with skill and manuoeuvres carefully through this historical mine-field. Some conclusions or suggestions strike me as unlikely: for example, I doubt that Ptolemy I’s mistress and later queen, Berenike I, ‘may have begun her relationship with him as a courtesan’ (p. 231) she was an attendant and kinswoman of Eurydike, and although she may have been considered Ptolemy I’s concubine at some early stage, even the most hostile contemporary source would have found it impossible to convince his readers that Berenike was a whore, if indeed anyone would even have dared to do so. Similarly, I consider it highly unlikely that Kratesipolis, the widow of Alexandros son of Polyperchon, may have been a courtesan (p. 219) first of all, her attempts to attract a powerful second husband are not much different from those of Kleopatra, the sister of Alexander the Great, and second, I can think of no courtesan in the ancient world—leaving aside the legendary Semiramis, who is at any rate a composite of several female types—who commanded an army (Diod. 19.67). 7

O’s book provides a valuable companion to Macurdy’s Hellenistic Queens 8 and Beth Carney’s excellent new study of Macedonian Royal Women (n. 1): as well as keeping the reader abreast of who’s who and who belongs to whom in the Hellenistic world, it engages in ample, and generally fruitful, speculation. Jakob Seibert’s Historische Beiträge zu den dynastischen Verbindungen in hellenistischer Zeit, Historia Einzelschriften 10 (Wiesbaden 1967) laid the groundwork, but failed to examine the impact of these dynastic marriage-alliances on the courts themselves. Ironically, these attempts at creating security in matters of foreign policy were internally disruptive. O’s book puts internal disputes into perspective and introduces a certain amount of method to the apparent madness of Hellenistic domestic affairs. It is a prosopographer’s delight, and goldmine of information for every student of Hellenistic history.

1. My own view, for what it is worth, is that Gygaia was Amyntas’ first wife, and that her sons were not ‘born into the purple’ (see Glotta 61 (1983) 41). For the opposite view, see Elizabeth Donelly Carney, Women and Monarchy in Macedonia (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000) 47-8.

2. Hence Katherine of Aragon’s sworn testimony that she had not had sexual relations with Henry VIII’s brother, her first husband, put a kink in the king’s plans for an ‘easy’ divorce.

3. Demetrios was, admittedly, the grandson of Ptolemy I Soter — his parents were Demetrios Poliorketes and Ptolemais, a daughter of Soter and Eurydike (Plut. Demetr. 53) — but the daughter of Antipatros had been displaced by her kinswoman, Berenike, and Demetrios’ loyalty was undoubtedly to the Antigonid house. The marriage of Apama (Arsinoë) to Magas was arranged at the time when Magas attempted to become independent of his half-brother Philadelphos. But O’s concerns are primarily with the internal aspects of dynastic marriage rather than with their implications for foreign policy.

4. Whether Aristoboulos’ claim that Dareios III’s daughter was called Barsine indicates that Alexander renamed her Stateira in order to enhance his own position (p. 24) is debatable. Maria Brosius, Women in Ancient Persia (Oxford, 1996) 77 n. 68, thinks that Alexander may have renamed her Stateira since levirate marriage to the wife of Dareios was preempted by her premature death. Alexander could not have married Dareios’ daughter in 333/2, when the offer was first made, without placing himself under an obligation to his father-in-law and thus limiting the scope of his conquest nor could he marry Dareios’ wife while the Persian king still lived.

5. Greek Bastardy in the Classical and Hellenistic Periods (Oxford, 1996).

6. O. flirts with the idea that ‘Philip could himself entertain the idea of a metroxenic kind of bastardy’ (p. 22), which is plausible only if we accept (as O. does) that Philip’s own mother had no Illyrian blood, and O. makes a strong case for the latter point.

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Judah ha-Nasi

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Judah ha-Nasi, (born ad 135—died c. 220), one of the last of the tannaim, the small group of Palestinian masters of the Jewish Oral Law, parts of which he collected as the Mishna (Teaching). The Mishna became the subject of interpretation in the Talmud, the fundamental rabbinic compendium of law, lore, and commentary. Because of his holiness, learning, and eminence, Judah was variously called ha-Nasi (“the prince”), rabbi (“teacher”), rabbenu (“our teacher”), and rabbenu ha-qadosh (“our saintly teacher”). A descendant of the great sage Hillel, Judah succeeded his father, Simeon ben Gamaliel II, as patriarch (head) of the Jewish community in Palestine and, consequently, of the Sanhedrin as well, at that time chiefly a legislative body (in earlier times, the Sanhedrin had been primarily a court). As patriarch at Bet Sheʿarim and later at Sepphoris (both located in Galilee, a Palestinian region of historic importance), he maintained a liaison with the Roman authorities and, according to the Talmud, was a friend of one of the Antonine emperors (either Antoninus Pius or Marcus Aurelius), with whom he discussed such philosophic questions as the nature of reward and punishment. When Judah died, he was buried at Bet Sheʿarim.

Because the Written Law of the Jews (found in the Pentateuch, or Five Books of Moses) could not cover all exigencies, over the centuries a body of Oral Law had developed. In order to preserve this tradition, Judah spent some 50 years in Bet Sheʿarim sifting the Oral Law, which he then compiled into six orders dealing with laws related to agriculture, festivals, marriage, civil law, the temple service, and ritual purity. His purpose was not only to preserve a storehouse of tradition and learning but also to decide which statement of Halakhot (laws) was normative. Although he edited the six orders of the Mishna by subject matter, according to the method of two earlier tannaim, Rabbi Akiba and Akiba’s pupil Rabbi Meïr, Judah made profound contributions of his own. He determined which rabbinic opinions were authoritative, at the same time carefully preserving minority opinions in case laws should be changed in the future and a precedent for these changes be required. On the other hand, he omitted laws that were obsolete or otherwise lacking in authority. The Mishna became the subject for commentaries by subsequent sages in Palestine and Babylonia called amoraim these commentaries became known as the Gemara (Completion), which, along with the Mishna, make up the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds. (The term Talmud is also used alternatively for the commentaries, instead of Gemara.)


Arsaces seems to have enjoyed great fame among the tribes. His name remained linked with the names of the sovereigns of this dynasty, who succeeded each other for the four and a half centuries of the Parthian state. His image regularly appeared on the obverse of Parthian coins until the end of the period.

The rupture of the communications link between the Seleucid capitals and the east caused by Arsaces’ success placed Diodotus in a difficult situation. He seems to have wanted to collaborate with Seleucus II Callinicus in a campaign he was preparing against the Parthians. The death of Diodotus (c. 234 bc ) and the accession of his son, Diodotus II, reversed matters, for the young successor changed his father’s policy and joined with Arsaces. It was not until 232 or 231 bc that Seleucus arrived in the east to put down the rebellion. Arsaces, who had remained closely allied with the nomads to the north, sensed his own weakness in the face of Seleucus’s army and fled to the home of the Apasiacae, or “Scythians of the Waters.” Seleucus tried to cross the Jaxartes but, having suffered losses at the hands of the nomads, decided to return to Syria after receiving alarming news from the west. He made peace with Arsaces, who recognized his suzerainty.

From that time on, Arsaces changed his policy: he acted no longer as a nomad but rather as a chief of state—a worthy successor to the Seleucids, whose example he followed, in Parthia. He had himself crowned. Besides Asaak and Dārā (an impregnable fortress), he founded such cities as Nisā, where he would be buried. These new cities were usually named for the king or the dynasty. Arsaces seems not to have infringed on the rights of the Greeks and Macedonians living in these cities, perhaps hoping to win their support. From the beginning, while maintaining the autonomy of the cities, he made use of propaganda to ensure their continuing obedience. He installed his capital at Hecatompylos, on the Silk Road. His death is dated between 217 and 211 bc .

Rise of fraternal orders

Slightly later, mystical orders (fraternal groups centring around the teachings of a leader-founder) began to crystallize. The 13th century, though politically overshadowed by the invasion of the Mongols into the Eastern lands of Islam and the end of the ʿAbbāsid caliphate, was also the golden age of Sufism: the Spanish-born Ibn alʿArabī created a comprehensive theosophical system (concerning the relation of God and the world) that was to become the cornerstone for a theory of “Unity of Being.” According to this theory all existence is one, a manifestation of the underlying divine reality. His Egyptian contemporary Ibn al-Fāriḍ wrote the finest mystical poems in Arabic. Two other important mystics, who died c. 1220, were a Persian poet, Farīd al-Dīn ʿAṭṭar, one of the most fertile writers on mystical topics, and a Central Asian master, Najmuddīn Kubrā, who presented elaborate discussions of the psychological experiences through which the mystic adept has to pass.

The greatest mystical poet in the Persian language, Jalāl al-Dīn al-Rūmī (1207–73), was moved by mystical love to compose his lyrical poetry that he attributed to his mystical beloved, Shams al-Dīn of Tabriz, as a symbol of their union. Rūmī’s didactic poem Mas̄navī-yi Maʿnavī in about 26,000 couplets—a work that is for the Persian-reading mystics second in importance only to the Qurʾān—is an encyclopaedia of mystical thought in which everyone can find his own religious ideas. Rūmī inspired the organization of the whirling dervishes—who sought ecstasy through an elaborate dancing ritual, accompanied by superb music. His younger contemporary Yunus Emre inaugurated Turkish mystical poetry with his charming verses that were transmitted by the Bektāshīyyah (Bektaşi) order of dervishes and are still admired in modern Turkey. In Egypt, among many other mystical trends, an order—known as Shādhilīyyah—was founded by al-Shādhilī (died 1258) its main literary representative, Ibn ʿAṭāʾ Allāh of Alexandria, wrote sober aphorisms (ḥikam).

At that time, the basic ideals of Sufism permeated the whole world of Islam and at its borders as, for example, in India, Sufis largely contributed to shaping Islamic society. Later some of the Sufis in India were brought closer to Hindu mysticism by an overemphasis on the idea of divine unity which became almost monism—a religiophilosophic perspective according to which there is only one basic reality, and the distinction between God and the world (and humanity) tends to disappear. The syncretistic attempts of the Mughal emperor Akbar (died 1605) to combine different forms of belief and practice, and the religious discussions of the crown prince Dārā Shukōh (executed for heresy, 1659) were objectionable to the orthodox. Typically, the countermovement was again undertaken by a mystical order, the Naqshbandīyyah, a Central Asian fraternity founded in the 14th century. Contrary to the monistic trends of the school of waḥdat al-wujūd (“existential unity of being”), the later Naqshbandīyyah defended the waḥdat al-shuhūd (“unity of vision”), a subjective experience of unity, occurring only in the mind of the believer, and not as an objective experience. Aḥmad Sirhindī (died 1624) was the major protagonist of this movement in India. His claims of sanctity were surprisingly daring: he considered himself the divinely invested master of the universe. His refusal to concede the possibility of union between humanity and God (characterized as “servant” and “Lord”) and his sober law-bound attitude gained him and his followers many disciples, even at the Mughal court and as far away as Turkey. In the 18th century, Shāh Walī Allāh of Delhi was connected with an attempt to reach a compromise between the two inimical schools of mysticism he was also politically active and translated the Qurʾān into Persian, the official language of Mughal India. Other Indian mystics of the 18th century, such as Mīr Dard, played a decisive role in forming the newly developing Urdu poetry.

In the Arabic parts of the Islamic world, only a few interesting mystical authors are found after 1500. They include al-Shaʿrānī in Egypt (died 1565) and the prolific writer ʿAbd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusī in Syria (died 1731). Turkey produced some fine mystical poets in the 17th and 18th centuries. The influence of the mystical orders did not recede rather new orders came into existence, and most literature was still tinged with mystical ideas and expressions. Political and social reformers in the Islamic countries have often objected to Sufism because they have generally considered it to be backward, hampering the free development of society. Thus, the orders and dervish lodges in Turkey were closed by Kemal Mustafa Atatürk in 1925. Yet, their political influence is still palpable, though under the surface. Such modern Islamic thinkers as the Indian philosopher Muḥammad Iqbāl have attacked traditional monist mysticism and have gone back to the classical ideals or divine love as expressed by Ḥallāj and his contemporaries. The activities of modern Muslim mystics in the cities are mostly restricted to spiritual education.

Watch the video: 041: Polybius of Megalopolis - Historian of the Hellenistic Age


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