Kingship and Masculinity in Medieval Persian Literature
This talk is an inquiry into the complex subject of kingship in early Persian literature, with a focus on the romance Vis & Ramin (w. ca. 1054). The royal figure of the story, King Mobad, appears on the surface to represent a travesty of sovereignty in all its manifest forms: an old man surrounded by younger rivals, cuckolded by his younger brother, made impotent by a nurse’s spell, humiliated in battle by his own vassals. The magnitude of his many failures, however, somewhat overshadows a very interesting problem, namely the difficulty of determining their cause. Failure is simultaneously omnipresent and nowhere: every juncture presents no viable alternatives for the king, yet his every move contributes to a seemingly inevitable slide into disaster. In this talk, we explore how this text probes the unstable ideology of kingship as an untenable concatenation of masculine prowess and symbolic authority, an edifice that sows the seeds of its own destruction.