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Foundational Texts of World Literature


Edited By Dominique Jullien

What makes a world author? How did Homer become a «cosmopolitan» author? How does a Mayan creation narrative challenge our Western logocentric ideas of foundational texts? What might world literature look like to a fourth-century Roman reader? How do past and more recent translations of Dante’s Commedia help us to rethink the changing definitions of world literature? How did the Alexander romance adapt to an Islamic context? How did Tasso’s epic adapt to a later cultural context dominated by the «Turkish Fear»? What shaped the West’s first impression of The Tale of Genji? How does the Ovidian myth of Arachne migrate from Japan to the Caribbean? What are the foundational metaphors at the root of Goethe’s weltliteratur paradigm? What happens when cultures import canonical texts for lack of their own? By what process does an eccentric writer reconstruct a new foundational text from heterogeneous fragments of other cultures? How did literary criticism contribute to the canonization of the Thousand and One Nights in Western literature? What is left of the primacy of the national language when writers are published simultaneously in various translations? How do modern misreadings shape our understanding of national epics and ensure their survival?
World literature, first intuited in Goethe’s foundational idea of weltliteratur as literature that seeks to transcend national boundaries, is viewed here in its essential mobility and migratory capacity, which relies on the centrality of the reading act. This volume focuses on foundational texts as they are read across cultures, languages and historical contexts. Its goal is to reflect on canonical texts – from Homer’s Odyssey to Murakami’s Genji, from Cervantes to Mayan hieroglyphs, from Dante to Coetzee, from Goethe to Lezama Lima, from the Thousand and One Nights to Jorge Luis Borges – in a global perspective: how they are translated, appropriated, transformed, how they travel across different cultures and languages, their foundational status evolving accordingly in a post-European world.
Foundational Texts of World Literature includes contributions by Gerardo Aldana, Sandra Bermann, Piero Boitani, Michael Emmerich, Azadeh Yamini Hamedani, Stefan Helgesson, Paulo Lemos Horta, Juan Pablo Lupi, Peter Madsen, Ulrich Marzolph, Suzanne Saïd, Evanghelia Stead, Mads Rosendahl Thomsen, and Richard Van Leeuwen.


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The Creative Reception of the Alexander Romance in Iran (Ulrich Marzolph) 69


The Creative Reception of the Alexander Romance in Iran Ulrich Marzolph hen the Greek emperor Alexander died, aged 33, in the year 323 BCE, his life and career destined him to become the ideal model for the topos of valiant hero and reckless conqueror. Considering his conquest of more or less the whole world known to the Greek culture of his day, he would even become the quintessential expression of a world ruler. In world literature, no other historical character plays a similarly significant role. No other character has been portrayed so often and in so many different ways in historical literature, in epics, romances, and legends, in songs and dramatic poetry, in works of pious edification and in prophetic revelations.1 In terms of geography, the narrative tradition dealing with Alexander covers primarily the whole of Europe and the Near and Middle East. In terms of chronology, it has stayed alive and vibrant, albeit with changing notions, from the earliest versions up to the very present. As a matter of fact, the Alexander tradition is so overwhelmingly present in both space and time that in a historical perspective it is hard to think of any work of transnational narrative literature surpassing its popularity. Consequently, it was neither surprising nor coincidental that Alexander became the focus of scholarly attention towards the end of the second millennium CE, when his memory was celebrated in various conferences, large research projects, and numerous scholarly publications.2 The narrative tradition focusing on Alexander derives mostly from...

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