ABSTRACT

Besila is a paradisical setting in the Kushnameh, an early twelfth-century Persian epic that combines the ancient Iranian messianic legend of Kangdez with more recent geographical knowledge, based on travelers' reports, of China and Korea. Besila’s messianic role in the narrative, its antipodal location, and its quasi-fictional status are quintessentially utopian, and yet little is revealed about the society of Besila. The Kushnameh instead emphasizes the means by which paradises are formed, including the rational origins of Besila’s monotheistic creed, organic growth, translatio imperii, travel, and geographical knowledge. The Kushnameh’s vision of universal monotheism anticipates the story of Hayy ibn Yaqzan, a later utopia with important connections to the development of Islamic political theory. The case of Besila thus suggests that the early modern genre of utopia has deep roots in the medieval discourse of travel and travelers.

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