The Persian Prince
The Rise and Resurrection of an Imperial Archetype
Hamid Dabashi



The Idea and the Dominion of the Persian Prince

Thus, as we meditated on this analogy, we were inclined to conclude that for man, as he is constituted, it is easier to rule over any and all other creatures than to rule over men. But when we reflected that there was one Cyrus, the Persian, who reduced to obedience a vast number of men and cities and nations, we were then compelled to change our opinion and decide that to rule men might be a task neither impossible nor even difficult, if one should only go about it in an intelligent manner. At all events, we know that people obeyed Cyrus willingly, although some of them were distant from him a journey of many days, and others of many months; others, although they had never seen him, and still others who knew well that they never should see him. Nevertheless, they were all willing to be his subjects.1

Xenophon, Cyropaedia (circa 370 BCE)

I have heard that on his deathbed

Thus spoke Anushirvan to [his son] Hormizd:

Protect the poor!

Don’t indulge in your own luxuries!

No one will rest peacefully in thy realm

If you were after your own comfort and nothing else—

The wise would not see it right

For the shepherd asleep

While the wolf is loose among the sheep.2

Saʿdi, Bustan (1257 CE)

IN MIKE NEWELL’S FILM Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010), Jake Gyllenhaal appears as Prince Dastan with Gemma Arterton as Princess Tamina. From the producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Walt Disney Studios, the film was an adaptation of the widely popular video game of the same name, with themes from other stories from the Sands of Time trilogy of the Prince of Persia also incorporated into the swashbuckler script. The adventures of the Prince and Princess of Persia made for a delightful summer spoof to be enjoyed with any teenagers in your family and an ample supply of popcorn and soda; inevitably, you would be interrupted halfway through the film by a rushed visit to the bathroom. The adventures of the Prince and Princess of Persia over, you walked out of the theater with the deafening score of Harry Gregson-Williams still resounding in your ears, wondering how in the world these old-fashioned Orientalist cream puffs (making the late Edward Said spin in his grave) still sell in North America, Western Europe, and beyond. They do sell. The global box office earnings of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, including Russia and China, according to Walt Disney officials, stood at US$133.3 million.3

Soon after the overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty in Iran in the course of the 1977–1979 revolution, the crown prince of the dynasty, Reza Pahlavi (born 1960), emerged as the permanent Shahzadeh Reza Pahlavi, Prince Reza Pahlavi in exile. He was indeed the crown prince according to the Iranian constitution of 1906, which was of course annulled by the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of 1979—even disregarding the fact that his father, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, fled Iran in 1953 following Mohammad Mosaddegh’s nationalization of the Iranian oil industry and was brought back to power by the combined military coup of the CIA and MI6. In exile in the United States, “Prince” Reza Pahlavi cut quite a dismal character, far less handsome than Jake Gyllenhaal in the Prince of Persia, with a dubious if not altogether nonexistent claim to the nonexistent Iranian throne.4 But the rambunctious Iranian monarchists in the United States and around the world were no less flamboyant than those in the movie in singing and dancing their claims to the Peacock Throne.

From the Italian Principe to the Persian Prince

Today the term “Persian Prince” has transfigured and atrophied into fertile grounds for Orientalist fantasies, ethnic nationalism, reactionary politics, misogynistic patriarchy, clichéd cinematic tropes, outdated fairy tales, or else as a marker of arrested modernity, fodder and forage for colonial conquests, nativist xenophobia, and even racist ressentiment. Persian cat, Persian carpet, Persian Prince: they all sound the same—the paraphernalia of a foregone Orientalist nostalgia that serves delusional fantasies of one sort or another. This degeneration and decline have to do in part with the history of the term “Persian” in English and other European languages. This also has to do with the epistemic chasm between scholarship performed in these languages and scholarship done in Persian, Arabic, Turkish, or other Islamic languages. But this very history of the word “Persian” and the term “Persian Prince” is among the issues that require closer examination. How did we get from there to here, from Persia as an empire to Persia as a Hollywood spoof—and, far more importantly, why does the historical trajectory of this journey matter?

In this book, I intend to revive the archetype of the Persian Prince for a radically different and diametrically opposed purpose from the one we see in our pop culture and reactionary politics alike by tracing it back to its classical antiquity, imperial and dynastic pedigrees, medieval and modern destinies, colonial and postcolonial gestations, literary and historical lexicography, poetic and philosophical renditions. I intend to do so by first going into a distant historical past and then cautiously and gently coming forward to our own time, when the Persian Prince archetype has survived in far subtler and far more enduring ways hidden behind these conceptual anxieties. I plan to map out in some detail the Persian theories and practices of rulership that survived the Arab conquest of the Sassanid Empire in the seventh century, linked the pre-Islamic and Islamic periods, and offered the vastest and most varied Muslim empires throughout history with one of the most effective models of imperial rule evident in the celebrated genre of “mirrors for princes” and other seminal literary and philosophical masterpieces. I wish to bring the poetics and the politics of the term “Persian Prince” together—and soon you will find out why this rapprochement is so necessary. I plan to do so not out of any antiquarian interest in bygone ages, or out of an academic exercise in futile curiosity, or in order to count how many Persian princes can dance on the head of that proverbial pin, as it were, but precisely to come forward in the opposite direction, to our own time, and to wonder how the figure of the Persian Prince metamorphosed into two other iconic figures of the Prophet and the Poet to redefine the nature and disposition of political authority in the wider Iranian and Islamic worlds. Three concurrent and coterminous figures and institutions—the Prince, the Prophet, and the Poet—will thus dwell at the core of this book, as I trace them in a longue durée (taken in a general sense) from pre-Islamic, through the Islamic, and down to the post-Islamist frames of references. So this will be a long journey, made of mud and mortars, hopes and fears, dreams and nightmares, of history itself, not of the old curiosity shop of the Hollywood apothecary or of even more outdated ethnic nationalism of one brand or another. I have quite a different story to share. You may not have heard or read anything like it before.

To anchor and locate my book on the Persian Prince in solid comparative and conceptual contexts, and furthest from such false anxieties, I borrow the title of this book intentionally from Niccolò Machiavelli’s famous text De Principatibus/Il Principe/The Prince (1513/1532), an exceptionally important book I consider rather elementary in comparison to a text like Khwajah Nezam al-Molk al-Tusi’s (1018–1092) Siyasat-nameh (Book of governance), which, composed centuries earlier, was one among countless other manuals of how to rule an empire—in real time and real terms, not in mere speculative theorization. But still, I think, in Machiavelli’s little book we find a good starting point as to where we might go, furthest removed from his wildest imagination, as to how to rule the world, not just a small municipality in Florence or even a country in Europe.5 To be sure, Machiavelli was fully aware of the imperial history of military conquest and population control, as evidenced in his discussions in the section he calls “Why the Kingdom of Darius Which Alexander Seized Did Not Rebel from His Successors after Alexander’s Death.”6 Here he compares the Ottoman Empire (he calls them “the Turks”) with France as two prime examples of his time, one ruled via imperial despotism and the other on the model of a royal oligarchy. While entirely tangential to Machiavelli’s concerns in his Prince, in my Persian Prince that imperial pedigree from the Achaemenids to the Ottomans would be a far more immediate and much more detailed concern to me. Machiavelli was using those imperial cases as mere props to build his own case in his Prince. Here, I will reverse the gaze and use his Prince as prop to build the case for my Persian Prince. The case of Machiavelli’s Prince will act like a European mirror, as it were, onto which I wish to project a richer and more powerful image of a different, a Persian, prince. Once we stand between Machiavelli’s Prince and my “Persian Prince,” a more detailed and sculpted view of world imperial histories will emerge that will be instrumental in understanding our own contemporary history better. I have other more urgently historical reasons to turn to Machiavelli’s text, but all in good time.

As you begin to read me, you will realize how my initial move here is to detail a perspective on the multifaceted trajectories of Islamic and Persianate statecraft, in which I place the archaic idea of the Persian Prince and where my overriding question would be: How did Muslims and non-Muslims rule such vast empires? Of course, there is more than one answer to that question, and there are recognizable and well-documented factors and forces in the available historiography of early Islam that are the common staple of our reading of the rise of Muslim empires: wars of conquest from the Arabian Peninsula into the Sassanid and Byzantine territories, forced and voluntary conversions, the development of scholasticism and humanism as two competing imperial ideologies, and the eventual emergence of powerful mystical theories, practices, and orders. In this book, by no means do I intend to diminish the significance of such crucial factors. Quite to the contrary: I wish to add a new missing element to them—the archetype of the Persian Prince—that in and of itself requires a more detailed attention and understanding. To be sure, eminent Orientalists, like the late Ann Katharine Swynford Lambton (1912–2008) in her seminal book Theory and Practice in Medieval Persian Government (1980), have dealt extensively with such Persian elements. So have a whole host of other scholars within and outside Iran paid crucial attention to the Persian component of Islamic statecraft. I will certainly rely on and examine such earlier works. But the theoretical and historical trajectories of my book have a whole other point of origin and destination. My book seeks to use the heuristic and substantive example of Machiavelli’s text to add a new, decidedly comparative frame of reference that will enrich, not supplant, our reading of all other factors. My contention is that the comparative perspective with Machiavelli’s Prince offers a whole different angle of vision. The history and historiography of early Islam, from the establishment of the Umayyad dynasty to the rise of the gunpowder empires, offer us ample space to make such comparative assessments plausible and worthy of much wider consideration.

That crucial objective, however, is only a preparatory stage for an even more ambitious twist in my book. The temporal turning point would be in fact precisely the time of Machiavelli himself, when Europe starts to come into contestatory and eventually colonial contact with the larger Muslim world—from the Mughals in the East to the Safavids and the Ottomans in the West. Machiavelli’s references in The Prince to “the Turks” speak to that European anxiety of his time. A good, and perhaps symbolic, indicator of this contact is the Italian artist Cristofano dell’Altissimo (1530–1605), who was in the service of Cosimo I de’ Medici and the near contemporary of Machiavelli (1469–1527)—and actually painted a famous portrait of him, along with those of countless princes (world leaders), including one of the Safavid monarch Shah Ismail (1487–1524) and Tahmasp I (1514–1576). These portraits were housed in the corridors of the Uffizi and obviously represented the global awareness of the Medicis, who had employed him and Machiavelli almost at the same time.7 We need to place this historical coincidence in the context of Machiavelli’s Prince, in which he repeatedly refers back to Cyrus, Darius, and Alexander as archetypal princes—figures that I will now propose as examples of the idea and archetype of the Persian Prince at the heart of Machiavelli’s Prince itself. We are therefore in the realm of an archetype—just as it is evident in the setting of Aeschylus’s The Persians (performed in 472 BCE) and, after that, in Xenophon’s Cyropaedia (composed circa 370 BCE)—that had long preceded Machiavelli’s Prince and was, as the very titles of the works indicate, about a Persian monarch and his conquests. The link therefore between my idea of the Persian Prince and Machiavelli’s theorization of his Prince, when he uses his contemporary Safavid or Ottoman monarchs as examples, becomes emblematic of a larger archetypal proposition, which Machiavelli and I share in our respective understanding of the (Persian) Prince. There is a Persian Prince, as it were, at the heart of Machiavelli’s Prince.

It is quite crucial to keep in mind that Machiavelli’s knowledge of Persian culture and Persian empires was not limited to his familiarity with classical antiquity. There is ample evidence of his own contemporary period of political interest in and knowledge about the Aq Qoyunlu, Safavid, and Ottoman empires. We have records of a number of Italian travelers going to Safavid Persia and its adjacent regions to pursue both diplomatic and commercial interests. For example, during Machiavelli’s lifetime, in 1472, the Italian merchant, traveler, and diplomat Giosafat Barbaro (1413–1494) was officially sent as an ambassador to the Aq Qoyunlu court, a post he held for about five years, until 1478. His primary mission, in the company of an Iranian named Haci Muhammad, was to shore up a united front against the Ottomans. In 1487, Barbaro wrote his travelogue, Viaggi fatti da Vinetia, alla Tana, in Persia . . . His mission was “to solicit Aq Qoyunlu sovereign Uzun Hasan . . . to wage war upon the increasingly menacing power of the Ottoman Turks; but in the end he realized that Uzun Hasan had not the slightest intention of going against the Ottomans.”8 We know the historic significance of this travelogue and what it meant for the time—particularly exposure to Persian culture and history, geography and topography, trading routes and archeology, among them “the remains of ‘Cilmynar’ [Čehelmenar, i.e., Persepolis], the reliefs at Naqš-e Rostam, and the tomb of Cyrus; curious customs, manners of Sufis, qalandars, and dervishes.”9

The last reference, to the tomb of Cyrus, is a clear indication that, however sporadically, the Italians of Machiavelli’s time were fully aware of the contemporary lineage of the Safavid Empire and to the idea of Persian monarchy going back to classical antiquity. This textual fact is corroborated by two portraits dell’Altissimo did of two seminal monarchs of the Safavid dynasty. This is all to say that not only was Machiavelli aware of the contemporary geopolitics of the region in which the Safavids and the Ottomans were located, but the increasing European interest in Muslim lands brought the political provenance of Machiavelli’s Prince into the immediate vicinity of my concern with the historical unfolding of the archetype of the Persian Prince. Thus, my attention to his seminal text is not merely for heuristic and comparative reasons. There are, in short, historical, textual, comparative, classical, contemporary, and theoretical links between Machiavelli’s theorization of The Prince and my turn to the Persian Prince. But my turn to Machiavelli’s classical text some five hundred years later is linked by yet another seminal text closer to Machiavelli’s neighborhood.

From the Prince to the Modern Prince to the Persian Prince

There are solid historical and further theoretical reasons as to why I am drawing your attention to Machiavelli’s seminal text by way of preparing you for my idea of the Persian Prince. Machiavelli’s Prince is rightly considered a major turning point in European political theory, where abstract moral mandates yield to factual, pragmatic, and, according to some, even cynical reality.10 Dedicated to Lorenzo de’ Medici, Machiavelli’s book is in the form of advice as to how a prince ought to run his realm with precision, brutality, and deceit if need be. This is presumably based on a deeply realistic understanding of human nature. Between being loved and feared, Machiavelli famously proposed, “one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with. Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, property, life, and children, as is said above, when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you.”11 The concern of Machiavelli here is therefore not with the nature of justice or the form of government as we have known it since Plato and Aristotle but in pure and undiluted power and how to sustain it. Absent from The Prince is even a pretense to “Christian morality.” Machiavelli seems to have invented a whole new way of thinking about politics.

From such premises the term “Machiavellianism” eventually emerged as a derogatory term for deceitful politics and unprincipled power-mongering. But this is not the way that, generations later, the eminent Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937) would revisit and reread Machiavelli’s Prince. Gramsci interpreted The Prince in a vastly different way. In his Prison Notebooks, Gramsci devoted a section to what he called the “Modern Prince.”12 Here Gramsci argued that Machiavelli’s book ought to be read figuratively, for he was trying to form a national will to power in the figure of the prince. The mythic figure of “the prince,” in other words, pivoted toward the formation of a national will to power. The same holds true now, Gramsci argued, that the vanguard political party of the labor class ought to do similarly toward the formation of a new national will. This modern “prince,” for Gramsci, was no longer a real person but a progressive political party. This is how Gramsci formulated his argument:

The modern prince, the myth-prince, cannot be a real person, a concrete individual. It can only be an organism, a complex element of society in which a collective will, which has already been recognized and has to some extent asserted itself in action, begins to take concrete form. History has already provided this organism, and it is the political party—the first cell in which there come together germs of a collective will tending to become universal and total.13

This Gramscian insight, particularly his allegorical and mythic reading of the figure of “the Prince” as a regulative agent of power and authority in politics, would become of immense importance to me once I began to trace the active transmutation of the ancient archetype of the Persian prince: under colonial duress, not into any weak and wobbly political party but into the far more potent formative forces of the public and parapublic spheres on which the heroic figure of the public intellectual as the prophetic voice of the time retrieves aspects of its historical memory and metamorphoses into the tragic figure of the rebel-poet.14 In other words, here in this book I have a figurative conception of the archetype of the Persian Prince that remains constant in its authorial institution but metamorphic in its varied political manifestations in a long and winding history from the pre-Islamic to the post-Islamist periods.

At the very outset, we must note a strong Persian presence in the European historical imagination at the crucial and transformative moment of Machiavelli’s Prince.15 However transformative and unique, Machiavelli’s Prince was in the long tradition of European mirrors, which begins, quite poignantly for my purposes in this book, with Xenophon’s Cyropaedia (circa 370 BCE), a significant mirror predicated on the author’s imaginative construction of the life and leadership of the Persian emperor, of the “Persian Prince” par excellence.16 Xenophon’s positive conception of Cyrus is further complicated by the more critical assessment portrayed by Herodotus (circa 484–425 BCE) before him. Subsequently, such seminal texts as Cicero’s De Officiis (44 BCE) and Seneca the Younger’s De Clementia (55–56 CE) are among many other princely mirrors that appear throughout European history.

All of these texts, however, pale in comparison to such pivotal mirrors as Vishnu Sharma’s Panchatantra (200 BCE) and Laozi’s Tao Te Ching (sixth century BCE), both of which expand our knowledge of the genre of mirrors for princes to include the formidable body of Islamic sources in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Urdu, and other languages, which have had a palpable influence on medieval Europe. From two sides, from the Greek side of Cyropaedia and the contemporary side of Muslim sources, the medieval European texts on mirrors of princes were framed within a Perso-Islamic context. As Xenophon’s Cyropaedia went in one direction carrying the legacy of Persian imperial heritage into Greek, Roman, and thereafter European contexts, from the other side the Arabic and Persian renditions of a pre-Islamic Iranian heritage of imperial rule brought the selfsame legacy into Euro-Islamic contexts. The pre-Islamic Iranian pedigree of both the Greco-Roman-European sources on one side and the Islamic trajectories on the other locate my theorization of the figure of the Persian Prince at the epicenter of the manufactured binary between “Islam and the West”—and dismantles and overcomes them both.

This pedigree I just outlined makes Machiavelli’s Prince a “Persianate” text if we were to use this term as an adjective for the Persophiliac proclivities of European political culture, as I have detailed extensively in Persophilia, and in the sense that it is in the direct line of Xenophon’s Cyropaedia and is conversant with its contemporary resonances. With Gramsci, however, Machiavelli’s Prince is liberated from its rootedness in ancient and medieval European contexts and brought to our contemporary and colonial world, though Gramsci himself was not too seriously engaged with that colonial world. Under the ruling fascist regime, Gramsci was imprisoned in 1926, and he wrote his Prison Notebooks between 1929 and 1935. This was the heyday of European colonial savagery around the world. This was the height of the Italian colonial consolidation of power in Libya in 1912 and, even before that, in Eritrea and Somalia in the 1880s. The French were in Algeria much earlier, in the 1830s, whereas Napoleon’s campaign in Syria and Egypt dated even earlier (1798–1801). The British of course had beat them all by their presence in India, as had the Spanish and the Portuguese in the Americas, and the Belgians in Africa. None of these were of much interest to Gramsci or his Eurocentric Marxism, especially if he were to be compared with his contemporary Rosa Luxemburg (1875–1919), the utterly brilliant Marxist theorist, who was infinitely more aware of and politically and theoretically engaged with European colonialism.17 To be sure, Gramsci’s Italian contemporaries, older-generation anti-fascist thinkers like Gaetano Salvemini (1873–1957), were deeply against Italian colonial expansion into North Africa; indeed, Gramsci was critical of European imperialism in a generic and theoretical sense. But Asia, Africa, and Latin America were not really on his European radar. There are postcolonial thinkers and scholars who consider Gramsci crucial for their scholarship.18 But Gramsci himself was too preoccupied with Europe to think much of the rest of the world. His reading of Machiavelli’s Prince for his own contemporary Europe, however, gives me a solid bridge to trace the fate of the Persian Prince into the colonial contexts of its later resurrections.

Between Machiavelli’s Prince and Gramsci’s “Modern Prince,” what does the Persian Prince, whose archetypal presence extends from the pre-Islamic to post-Islamist periods, look like and what could it teach us about the manner in which Muslims once ruled the world? By extension, how can it inform our contemporary thinking regarding the troubled formations of the postcolonial nation-state, public and parapublic spheres, and, perhaps most importantly, the postcolonial subject, or who and what and by what authority could claim political or public legitimacy? My initial project in this book is to provide a detailed panorama of the historical and textual contours of the Persian Prince and then to seek to explain how the idea consolidated the manner in which pre-Islamic Iranian ideals of just and legitimate governance metamorphosed into their Islamic gestations to provide the Muslim world with the longest running succession of world empires until the dawn of European colonial modernity.

But the story of the Persian Prince does not end in the course of that fateful encounter with European colonialism and will have a decisive resurrection very much in the spirit of, if not the precise, political parameters that Gramsci had theorized. Not in the shape of any political party, as Gramsci surmised, but in the prophetic voice of the rebel-poet, defining a new organicity to the postcolonial public intellectual, to continue to use Gramsci’s own crucial conceptualizations, does the Persian Prince reemerge as the simulacrum of what Gramsci called the “myth-prince,” here articulated not within any legitimate political organism but in the premise of a gendered and transnational public sphere that gives birth to the figure of the organic public intellectual—in the prophetic voice of the rebel-poet—as the “modern Persian prince.” This sustained dialogue between my theorization of the Persian Prince with Gramsci’s “Modern Prince” and Machiavelli’s Prince—keeping in mind that all these dialogues are predicated on Xenophon’s Cyropaedia, the Persian Prince par excellence—will sustain a comparative perspective that keeps the course of my investigations steady.

As you see in the very prose and politics that such comparative analytics occasion, we have long since passed our artificial limitations within one political culture or another. The figure of the Persian Prince as I outline it in this book is decidedly cross-cultural and transnational—as it maps out the configuration of a whole different way of thinking politics in multiple historical and cultural settings. This requires a certain degree of patience and perseverance from my readers to allow me to bring perhaps unfamiliar names and ideas and place them right next to those with which they might be more familiar. My emphatic turn to Gramsci, for example, and what he did with Machiavelli’s Prince anticipates a similar twist to Gramsci himself as I reread his “Modern Prince” in a colonial and a postcolonial context far beyond his immediate (and perfectly legitimate) Eurocentric preoccupations. Gramsci was decidedly concerned with the party politics in Italy of his time.19 The crucial link between my theorization of the Persian Prince in the colonial context is Gramsci’s fascist Italy, which on the colonial edges of European modernity was a standard operation, whether we were ruled by colonial officers or their native tyrants. In the course of its affliction with fascism and Nazism, Europe tasted a bit of the poison it had been giving to the world at large. The link between Gramsci’s and my readings of Machiavelli’s Prince is his intuitive emphasis on the role of organic intellectuals and the literati. But while he was preoccupied with party politics, I am far more concerned with the disposition of the transnational public and parapublic spheres into which the figure of the Persian Prince dissolves, resurrects, and ultimately sublimates. In other words, under the epistemic shock of European colonialism the figure of the Persian Prince folds upon itself, leaves the Persianate court, enters and defines the public and parapublic spheres, and resurrects into the prophetic voice of the rebel-poet. Here we suddenly realize that the metamorphic figures of the grandest theorists of the power of the Persian Prince were the Persian poets, artists, and philosophers—as they spoke, painted, theorized, philosophized, and theologized the Persian Prince. There was a rebellious poet at the heart of the Persian Prince that he had to repress, hide, sublimate, and bypass in order to assert power and authority. The Persian Prince was always a paradoxical figure, a tragic hero, a political sublimation of a poetic instinct, a prophetic voice oscillating between the royal court and the revolutionary battlefields.


1. Xenophon, Cyropaedia, with an English translation by Walter Miller, in two volumes (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; London: William Heineman, 1914), I.i.2–3 and I.i.3–4, pp. 5–7.

2. All my citations from Saʿdi’s Bustan are from the authoritative critical edition of the text by Gholamhossein Yusefi (edited, annotated, with an introduction), Bustan-e Saʿdi (Saʿdi-nameh) (Tehran: Khwarizmi Publications, 1980), 42ff. All translations from the original Persian are mine.

3. For a tongue-in-cheek review, see Roger Ebert, “Is This a Dagger of Time I See Before Me?,” Roger Ebert (blog), May 26, 2010, reviews/prince-of-persia-the-sands-of-time-2010.

4. Reza Pahlavi adroitly kept himself in the news by following the news in his homeland and calling for uprisings on his behalf. See, for example, “Prince Reza Pahlavi Calls for Civil Disobedience, Reconstruction of Iran,” Radio Farda, February 9, 2019, a/prince-reza-pahlavi-calls-for-civil-disobedience-reconstruction-of-iran/29760926.html.

5. See Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, trans. Harvey C. Mansfield (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).

6. Machiavelli, The Prince, 16–19.

7. These portraits, which include one of Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi, are available online here: Wikimedia, s.v. “Category: Cristofano dell’Altissimo,” last modified September 6, 2019, 20:58, wiki/Category:Cristofano_dell%27Altissimo. Cristofano dell’Altissimo’s portrait of Machiavelli is available online here: Wikimedia, s.v. “File: Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli Cristofano di Papi dell’Altissimo.jpg,” last modified May 17, 2019, 15:12, Machiavelli_ Cristofano_di_Papi_dell%27Altissimo.jpg#mw-jump-to-license.

8. Encyclopaedia Iranica, s.v., “Barbaro, Giosafat,” accessed August 6, 2020, barbaro-giosafat-venetian-merchant-traveler-and-diplomat-venice-1413-94.

9. Encyclopaedia Iranica, “Barbaro, Giosafat.” Scholars of visual and performing arts have also noted a link between the simultaneous theatrical traditions of commedia dell’arte and Persian Ro-Hozi theater. “It seems likely,” one scholar points out, “that there is a connection between all of these forms and both commedia dell’arte of the late Italian Renaissance and northern European comic carnival plays based on similarity of performance themes, character types, costumes, and performance conventions.” See Encyclopaedia Iranica, “Ruḥawżi,” accessed August 6, 2022, articles/ruhawzi. Occurring in the time of Machiavelli, the form brought aspects of Persian culture into his own popular culture.

10. Some more recent scholarship has, of course, challenged the traditional way of reading Machiavelli—see, for example, Erica Benner, Machiavelli’s Ethics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010), for a radically different reading of The Prince as in fact an ethical treatise.

11. Machiavelli, The Prince, 98.

12. See Antonio Gramsci, “The Modern Prince,” in Selections from the Prison Notebooks, ed. and trans. Quentin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1971), 313–444.

13. Gramsci, “The Modern Prince,” 323.

14. For my detailed articulation of the idea of the transnational parapublic sphere, expanding upon Habermas’s initial Eurocentric idea, see Hamid Dabashi, Persophilia: The Persian Culture on the Global Scene (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015). Nancy Fraser and Mary Ryan have alternatively offered the term “counter public” to specify spaces outside Habermas’s articulation of the bourgeois public sphere. I still prefer “parapublic,” for both theoretical and historical reasons. Fraser’s and Ryan’s ideas remain limited to Eurocentric experiences, and the spaces to which I refer—underground literature, works by exiles or political prisoners, etc.—are not “counterpublic”; in fact, sometimes they are more important than the public, and thus parapublic. See Nancy Fraser, “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy,” Social Text, nos. 25–26 (1990): 56–80, 10.2307/466240, and Mary P. Ryan, Women in Public: Between Banners and Ballots, 1825–1880 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990).

15. I have documented this Persian presence in European imagination in detail in Persophilia (see note 14).

16. For an examination of Xenophon’s Cyropaedia and other works as a mirror for princes, see Vivienne J. Gray, Xenophon’s Mirror of Princes: Reading the Reflections (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

17. For more on this, see my essay “Rosa Luxemburg: The unsung hero of postcolonial theory,” Al Jazeera, May 12, 2018, /2018/5/12/rosa-luxemburg-the-unsung-hero-of-postcolonial-theory/.

18. See, for example, the essays collected in Neelam Srivastava and Baidik Bhattacharya, ed., The Postcolonial Gramsci (London: Routledge, 2011).

19. There is, of course, much more to Gramsci’s retheorization of Machiavelli’s Prince, to which I will return repeatedly in this book. For a detailed discussion of the potentials of Gramsci’s idea of the Modern Prince, see Peter Thomas, “Gramsci and the Intellectuals: Modern Prince Versus Passive Revolution,” in Marxism, Intellectuals and Politics, ed. David Bates (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 68–87.