The broadest aim of Fragments is to generate new, integrated ways of thinking about the premodern past. More...

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Volume 3 (2013-2014) Current Issue

Akbar’s “Jesus” and Marlowe’s “Tamburlaine”: Strange Parallels of Early Modern Sacredness

Azfar Moin

This essay explores a strange parallel in the way that sovereignty was imagined in early modern South Asia and Europe. At the end of the sixteenth century, when the Mughal emperor Akbar embraced Christian messianic symbols and Catholic icons to make himself the most sacred being on earth, the English playwright Christopher Marlowe used the myth of Akbar’s world-conquering ancestor from Inner Asia, Timur or Tamburlaine, to fashion an enduring drama about the ultimate sovereign. The questions why Akbar in India turned to Jesus while Marlowe in England focused on Timur throw new light on the nature of religion and kingship across early modern Eurasia.

The Ghosts of Monotheism: Heaven, Fortune, and Universalism in Early Chinese and Greco-Roman Historiography

Filippo Marsili

This essay analyzes the creation of the empires of Rome over the Mediterranean and of the Han dynasty over the Central Plains between the third and the second centuries BCE. It focuses on the historiographical oeuvres of Polybius and Sima Qian, as the two men tried to make sense of the unification of the world as they knew it. The essay does away with the subsequent methodological and conceptual biases introduced by interpreters who approached the material from the vantage point of Abrahamic religions, according to which transcendent personal entities could favor the foundation of unitary political and moral systems. By considering the impact of the different contexts and of the two authors’ subjective experiences, the essay tries to ascertain the extent to which Polybius and Sima Qian tended to associate unified rule with the triumph of universal values and the establishment of superior, divine justice.