“Alexander the Great: God in Conquest, Man in Death”
By Nolan Flike
The historical deeds of the iconic king and general, Alexander the Great was turned into a tremendously popular ancient novel by following the general story of Alexander but making it more exciting by focusing on Alexander’s help from the gods not his historical importance. When we look at the prophesies made for Alexander in the beginning of the story we can see that the gods knew before he was born how is life was going to turn out. This is shown in the beginning of the story before the birth of Alexander when his father is told about his son; “King, you will have a son who will go around the whole world, bringing everyone under his sway. But, turning back towards his own kingdom, he will die young” (p175 The Alexander Romance). Throughout the entire story the gods guide Alexander through visions and oracles, keeping him on the path they have decided for him before his birth. By the author making it seem as though the gods have planned out Alexander’s life it makes the story much more exciting and appealing to a large audience of readers, playing up the already commonly held belief of the time that Alexander the Great was in fact a god. If the author had taken the contrasting approach of making the story more about Alexander’s historical importance and military intelligence I believe this story would have only appealed to people interested in history and would not have been nearly as popular.
The story begins in Egypt with king Nektanebos, the father of Alexander invoking the gods through the form of wax model ships in a dish full of water. Through his invoking he is informed that his empire is doomed to be defeated by the Persian invaders, causing him to flee his empire in order to save his own life. This is the first of many instances when we see the gods play a role in helping Alexander. If they had not warned his father of the impending attack the invaders probably would have killed him, causing Alexander to never be born. This scene of Alexander’s father being saved by the gods is the first of many times in which Alexander is going to have entertaining assistance from the gods that will make this story well known.
After their king fled the Egyptians asked their gods what had become of him and they received this response; “This king who has fled will come again to Egypt, not in age but in youth, and our enemy the Persians he shall subdue” (170 The Alexander Romance). This prediction given before the birth of Alexander plays a crucial role in helping in his conquest of Egypt years later, when Alexander jumped on the statue of his father and spoke of the prophecy from years before; “This is my father-I am his son. What the oracle told you was not false. But what amazes me is that you were taken over by the barbarians even though you have invincible walls that could not be pulled down by the enemy. This must be the working of Providence above and the justice of the gods” (p.192 The Alexander Romance). By having this prophecy come true and help Alexander take over Egypt the author is giving a real sense that the gods were on his side the entire time and had every event in his life planned to lead him to be the great conqueror he is known as today. When we look at the audience of the time when this was written it was very smart to put this in because Alexander was still thought of by many as being a god because of his extreme success. In modern times we have seen many great conquers since but at the time this was written he was by far the greatest conqueror of all time and many believed he could not have done this without he himself being a god or having great help from the gods. By putting in this extra influence from the gods the author is making this story an interesting and exciting novel instead of just an historical account of Alexander’s military conquests, appealing to a much greater audience.
This however was not the only prophecy that helped Alexander gain his empire, another prophecy that was made before Alexander’s birth that helped him was; ”Woman, you have conceived a male child who shall tend you and shall avenge the death of his father” (P173 The Alexander Romance). King Philip, the king of Macedon and the “father” of Alexander heard the god Ammon say this to his wife Olympias in a dream he had shortly after Alexander was conceived. In this same dream King Philip was informed that Olympias had become pregnant by a god but the king was always skeptical and never fully embracing Alexander. This all changed at the end of his life when Alexander proves the prophecy by helping his father, in the last moments of his life to kill the man that inflicted his fatal wounds.
By avenging his father’s death, Alexander finally got the approval of his father to take the crown and rally his fellow Greeks to start a campaign against the Persians. This is not the true story of how Alexander got his throne but it is a much more exciting and appealing to his audience, by putting this story in the author uses a few techniques that attract readers. First, he again uses the gods showing that they had Alexander’s life and rise to power planned out from the beginning. Second, it is an exciting story of Alexander rushing home to help his father, making him look very heroic and mythical. Last it helps to develop the story and gives a reason for Alexander to push on against the barbarians.
The major turning point in the story is when the god Ammon tells Alexander he is his true father; “Alexander saw Ammon embracing his mother, Olympias, and saying to him, “Alexander, my child, you are my seed” (p 187 The Alexander Romance). This part of the story is so crucial to making this novel popular and appealing because it reinforces the already commonly held notion that Alexander the Great was in fact a god. From this point on in the story Alexander feels invincible and is always receiving help from the gods when trying to defeat his enemies. This allows the author to create great stories of how Alexander and his god like powers were able to conquer the majority of the known world. The author is also greatly expanding his base of readers by adding these gods like features, making every conquest Alexander made seem epic and part of a greater plan.
When writing about Alexander’s conquest of Tyre, the author writes about a dream Alexander has that is interpreted to mean; “You shall be king over all Tyre, and it shall be under your control” (p 193 The Alexander Romance). If the author had simply told the story in the historical military sense, it probably would have been much more anti climatic and only appealed to readers who enjoy military history. However making the focus of this battle on the god like Alexander he is making this into a story that is creative and exciting.
Another major example of assistance from the gods is their advice on sending a messenger to Darius, king of Persia; “If you send a messenger to Darius, he will betray you: you yourself must become a messenger and go on your way” (p209 Alexander Romance). This advice greatly helped Alexander because when the Persians discovered the messenger was in fact Alexander they began to chase him out of the kingdom. Because of his help from the gods he is able to escape and defeat the army when they go after him. The message from Ammon that he will protect Alexander as a messenger adds to the myth of Alexander making the readers believes he truly is invincible. This makes Alexander seem more like a modern day superhero than a historical figure, dodging death left and right and being able to defeat every army he comes in contact with.
This advice of being his own messenger is used again in the story and once again helps Alexander defeat another enemy. The other time Alexander was his own messenger was when he spoke with the leaders of India, while there he saw all the animals the Indians planned to use against him in war. After seeing them he was able to come up with the strategy of heating up bronze armor so when the animals bite the armor they would burn their mouths and refuse to attack anyone else in the army. This strategy did not single handedly win him the battle but it did help him to stop the animals. By putting this story in the author is giving a unique and brilliant battle strategy of Alexander to make this battle seem very interesting. In reality Alexander probably never did use this technique but by writing it he is making a battle with India that is not extremely famous seem exciting and unique.
Alexander’s death just as all the other major events in the story is foretold in the future; “King Alexander, soon you must die at the hands of your own people” (p 231 The Alexander Romance). As the prophecy stated Alexander was poisoned by one of his butlers. By having the gods predict his death the author truly shows that his entire life was planned out and the gods had a very specific plan for him. As predicted in the beginning of the story Alexander went around the world and brought a lot of people under his sway, but he did die young and never did make it back to his kingdom. By having this prediction made in the beginning of the story come true in the end the story seems to come full circle, making every little part of the story to be an important puzzle piece in Alexander’s rise and fall.
The author of this novel does a very good job of turning the historical story of Alexander the Great’s conquests into a fictional story that is exciting and appealing to a very large audience. He does this by making the story not as much about the historical aspects but instead creating exciting stories of the gods helping Alexander. He makes it seem as though Alexander’s life was planned out from start to finish before he was born, anytime it looks as though Alexander will lose a battle or go of the course of his path he receives assistance in different forms from the gods. This novel was so popular because it took the basic story of Alexander and emphasized his assistance from the gods through thrilling stories of conquest.