As the first Safavid monarch, Shah Ismail Safevi (d. 1524) established a dynasty that ushered Iran into the eighteenth century as a predominately Shīʿī state. Shah Ismail remains a controversial figure of Islamic history, as evidence suggests that he promoted himself as semi-divine incarnation. This article explores the Turkish minstrel tale (hikâye) of Shah Ismail. The hikâye is a type of oral narrative that, in this case, is based on a historical figure who promoted himself as a messianic figure. By the time Shah Ismail’s hikâye began to circulate in the seventeenth century, however, this belief had largely dissipated. While Shah Ismail’s hikâye conforms to the structure of the genre, certain episodes of this cycle reveal the influence of outside sources, including European reports, Safavid chronicles, and Safavid legendary biographies. Despite the apparent basis in history, Shah Ismail’s hikâye demonstrates a remarkable transformative ability. Feared as a ruthless despot during his lifetime, Shah Ismail becomes a poetic maestro in the hikâye, with his sword replaced by his saz, the banjo-like stringed instrument that is the weapon of choice for Shah Ismail’s new persona of folk hero.


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pp. 173-195
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