Kai Ka'us Ibn Iskander
Kai Ka'us Ibn Iskander. 1951. A Mirror for Princes. Translated by Reuben Levy. London: The Cresset Press.
Many societies have developed political philosophies. In the ancient Mediterranean and the Middle East, these philosophies often took the form of what are known as "instructions," or tracts written from a father to his son, dispensing relevant political advice. Sometimes these were from rulers to their heirs, but often they were from government officials to their sons. While not technically an "instruction," the following document includes political advice from a Persian prince to his son.
Written around 1082 C.E. by Kai Ka'us Ibn Iskander, the grandson of an important prince, A Mirror for Princes is also designed for consumption by the author's son. The document provides advice on all aspects of life, ranging from how to purchase slaves, to how to raise children, to proper behavior and etiquette. In addition, it includes lengthy discussions of how rulers should rule, behave, and deal with their subjects. This advice is often in the form of stories, and thus, the following document is written as if by one of the author's ancestors, Nushirwan, to that relative's son.
The Counsels of Nushirwan the Just to his Son
NUSHIRWAN BEGAN BY saying: As long as day and night come and go, never marvel at the vicissitudes of [human] affairs. Then he said: How is it that men commit actions of which they afterwards repent, although others before them have done them and repented?
How can a man who has acquaintance with kings lay himself down to sleep free of care?
How can a man count himself happy whose life has not gone according to his desires?
Why not account that man your enemy who secretly knows his generosity to be to the detriment of mankind ?
Do not call him your friend who is the enemy of one of your well-wishers.
Form no friendship with men lacking merit, for such men are worthy neither of friendship nor of enmity.
Beware of the man who deems himself wise but is in actual fact a fool.
Do good of your own accord, thus may you be free of the [compulsion of the] lawgiver.
Speak the truth though it be bitter, and if you desire your enemy not to become possessed of your secret do not reveal it to your friend.
The great man who looks upon himself as small is indeed the great man of his age.
Do not regard as living creatures men who lack all value.
If you desire to be rich without unhappiness, let all your actions be worthy of praise.
Do not buy at any price, so that you may not be compelled to sell at any price.
Better die of hunger than be sated with the bread of ignoble men.
Place no reliance, for some fancy you may conceive, upon untrustworthy men, nor cease your reliance upon them you can trust.
Regard it as a great misfortune to stand in need of kinsmen humbler than oneself, for it is better to die in the water than to beg help of a frog.
The sinner who is a humble seeker after the next world is better than the devout but self-important man who is a seeker after this world.
There is no fool greater than he who sees a man of lowly state risen to greatness and yet continues to regard him as lowly.
There is no fault greater than for a man to lay claim to knowledge which he does not possess and then to resort to lying.
Be not misled by him that gives something which he has picked up in exchange for something not so [easily] acquired.
There is no meaner person in the world than he to whom appeal is made for help and though able to grant it refuses.
Regard him that speaks ill of you, when you are innocent, more worthy of forgiveness than him who carried the report of it to you.
He that is stricken by the misfortune of one dear to him suffers less grievously than he that hears of it and is helpless [to succour].
He that is afflicted by what his eyes behold suffers far more than he who himself…