10 February 2019

Those who claim descent from Socrates

I recently came across a book, Islamic historiography and ‘Bulghar’ identity among the Tatars and Bashkirs of Russia by Allen Frank. Within it, there is a very interesting passage that goes thus:
Yâlchïghul ôghlî’s genealogy did not only encompass Bashkir genealogical tradition. In his work we also see a number of narrative section [sic] concerning the history of Bulghar. As we saw in the Tawârîkh-i Bulghâriyya, Bulghar was not only sacralised as the site of the Bulghars’ conversion to Islam, but the work’s compiler noted in the narrative that the city’s origin can be traced to its founding by Alexander the Great, and as a result, Bulghar’s Islamic roots include Qur’anic figures and actually predate the conversion to Islam. In the Târîkh Nâma-yi Bulghâr we see this idea developed further, and connected to one of Yâlchïghul ôghlî’s ancestors, Sôqrât Hakîm, or Socrates…

Yâlchïghul ôghlî cites the
Farhang Nâma as his source for part of his narrative concerning the founding of Bulghar, yet this work, if it in fact did exist, was probably not his only source for this semi-mythical history of Bulghar… The legend is at least partly Qur’anic in origin, and must have appealed to the Bulghar khans, whose Muslim state was on the northern fringes of the known world and which was surrounded by unbelievers. Such a legend not only helped legitimise the Bulghar khans and their military struggles with neighbouring unbelievers, but also helped unify the Islamic community and define its position within the Islamic world as a whole.

The significance of such a legend of origin is all the more evident when one considers that many Tatar and Bashkir communities traced their ancestry back to Sôqrât Hakîm. One such group were the so-called Noqrat Tatars, located along the Chepets River in what is today northern Udmurtia, who have preserved a number of genealogies of their collective ancestor Qara Bek, himself a descendant of Sôqrât Hakîm. In several versions of the genealogy of Qara Bek, the first ancestor is given as either Sôqrât Hakîm or as his son, Bâchmân. Sôqrât is said to have come from Anatolia and to have settled along the Ural or Saqmar River. This genealogy is apparently of Noghay origin, as Marsel’ Akhmetzianov has argued, and as an eighteenth century version published in Russian translation by P. Rychkov makes clear…

Another possibility is that Yâlchïghul ôghlî consulted Bashkir genealogies that mentioned Sôqrât Hakîm. Although such genealogies exist in some Bashkir communities, they remain unpublished and are poorly documented. At least two genealogies have come down to us as village histories, copied in 1915, in the Bashkir village of Rysai. However, the descendants of Sôqrât Hakîm listed in at least one of these genealogies do not correspond to those that appear in the
Târîkh Nâma-yi Bulghâr. In one of the two genealogies the names of Sôqrât Hakîm’s sons are given as Buzbi (or Yuzbi), Karbi, Kyzyl Bi and Kanzafar Bi.
The Platonist in me can’t help but raise an eyebrow at some of this mythopœsis, particularly given the rather sceptical treatment of such myth-making in, say, the Republic, the Timæus and the Critias. Plato himself has a very different idea of the importance of bloodlines (a negative one) – in the ‘city in speech’ he makes it clear that for the city to function, children are not to know their biological parents, and biological parents are not to know their children, particularly among the guardian class. As a part of the conversation between Socrates, Glaucon and Adeimantus, the elaborate logic of eliminating family ties in the city serves to demonstrate that personal patrimony and the private power that comes with it must be something of a secondary concern for the philosophical life. So I’m not quite sure at the moment what to make of the fact that the people of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan claim patrilineal descent from the Athenian.

That having been said, I do indeed have a high respect for the northern Turkic peoples of Central Asia, and in particular the Qypchaq peoples among whom chiefly are the Qazaqs, but also the Tatars, Bashkirs and Nogais. There is both a strain of warrior-sainthood among the Qypchaq peoples, and also a priceless legacy of profound virtue-ethical philosophical thought that emerged with Abû Nasr al-Fârâbî and goes all the way down to Abai Qunanbaiuly, who (remarkably!) bypassed certain neo-Platonic fixations and returned primarily to the political teleology of the Dialogues. For a society which the students of the Republic might no doubt have described as ‘timocratic’ to pay homage to their teacher by claiming descent from him was no doubt meant as a mark of respect. Perhaps it is fancy, but I must wonder if Socrates would not be flattered, if a bit ironically bemused, by this claim upon his patrimony (in much the same way as he was flattered by the compliments of Alcibiades in the Symposium). Still, I suspect Socrates might have considered it more appropriate to enlist al-Fârâbî and Abai as heirs, not because of any blood relationship they had to Socrates and Xanthippē, but instead because they both attempted to serve as the educational ‘midwives’ of the young talents among their people in their respective times.

No comments:

Post a Comment