Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Eurasian Narratives of Kingship, 1300-1800

In this sub-project a selected number of narrative texts will be examined written in the Eurasian realm in the period 1300-1800, focusing on representations of kingship and royal authority.

2011 - 2016
Jeroen Duindam

Attention will be paid especially to fictional texts which show glimpses of what may be called ‘popular’ visions of life, in contrast to official histories or juridical, administrative or ethical compendia, in order to determine the symbolic components of kingship which buttress royal power not through formal privileges or doctrines, but rather through the perceptions of authority within the cultural imagination. The narratives will show how formal constructions of power are culturally anchored into socially accepted forms of authority.

The texts to be studied are divided into two types:

[1] mirrors for princes with a predominant fictional component, usually structured as dialogues between the king and his vizier/minister, or between the king and his spouse, through an exchange of exemplary tales;

[2] adventure stories in which the hero, either a prince or a legendary warrior, conquers power or acts as the mainstay of the ruling monarchy. In both cases the structure of power/authority is reflected in the hero’s rise to prominence and in his attitude towards traditional concepts, discourses and practices of authority.

A special place will be given to the Arabic cycle of tales titled the Thousand and One Nights, since it contains a rich corpus of material from various periods and origins and functions as a locus of transmission, translation and adaptation of narrative material between Asia, the Arab world and Europe. Some stories from the collection will be analysed as generic models.

The narratives will be studied mainly from a narratological perspective and will only incidentally be embedded in their historical context. In this way the emphasis will lie on historical continuity and types and stereotypes developed over time rather than on direct contextual influences. Evidently, elements indicating historical transformation will be highlighted. The aim of the analysis is to find parallels and discrepancies in narrative discourses of kingship which are rooted in the popular imagination and foster the transformation of formal power into symbolic authority.

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