Susan MokhberiOct 28, 2021
The Persian Mirror
French Reflections of the Safavid Empire in Early Modern France
Oxford University Press 2019
When I/we think about the early modern relationship between France and Persia, Montesquieu's 1721 Lettres persanes is a text that comes to mind immediately. Susan Mokhberi's The Persian Mirror: Reflections of the Safavid Empire in Early Modern France (Oxford UP, 2019) is a kind of a pre-history of Montesquieu's work that is, in different ways, more of a commentary on France and the French than Persia or Persians during this period. The Persian Mirror's several chapters examine a range of cultural and political texts, including letters, literature, travel writing, and material artifacts from the period, excavating the French relationship to Persia and Persian culture as both reflective and distorting.
Distinct from other sites in the region, Persia fascinated the French who were also hopeful that a political alliance with the Safavid Empire might work to counter the powerful Ottoman Empire. French observers in the period lingered on different forms of affinity between France and Persia while also tracking and commenting on the cultural divide that was evident in diplomatic and other exchanges between the two powers. The book brings together analysis of the French cultural imagination of Persia with a careful reading of real-life encounters such as the visit to France by the Persian ambassador Mohamed Beg in 1715. In addition to the perceptions of a common ground between cultures and political regimes, Franco-Persian relations also included misunderstanding and conflict. Concerns about the resemblance between France and Persia morphed and grew as political critiques of despotism, political power, decadence, and inequality emerged and proliferated in the period. After the fall of the Safavid Empire, France's anxious attention focused with increasing intensity on the Ottoman Empire into the later eighteenth century.
Roxanne Panchasi is an Associate Professor of History at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada who specializes in twentieth and twenty-first century France and its empire. If you have a recent title to suggest for the podcast, please send her an email (email@example.com).