There are a lot of legends and myths that go along with the story of Alexander the Great’s life. Most of these myths are portrayed in the Greek Alexander Romance, but what if we assumed that these myths were true? What if we assumed that Alexander was a Christian? What would his autobiography look like? These are some of the questions I am addressing when I try to put together Alexander’s autobiography in an Augustine Confessions-styled form. Knowing Augustine’s techniques that he uses in Confessions, we can create an autobiography with the same creative techniques, only with Alexander being the subject.
Alexander the Great:
When it comes to Alexander the Great’s childhood, there are many stories and myths that have to be taken into account. Using the Greek Alexander Romance by Pseudo Callisthenes, we can put together a very exciting childhood before Alexander even takes the throne from King Philip. Before Alexander is born, the Romance goes into detail about how Alexander was conceived. It is said in the book that Philip is not really Alexander’s father, but the Egyptian Nectanebo was the actual culprit of adulteration. While Philip was away at war, Nectanebo actually tricked Olympias into thinking that he was a God, and made love to Olympias on numerous occasions, eventually getting her pregnant.
Upon the time of Alexander’s birth, it was said that “there were great claps of thunder and flashes of lightning so that all the world was shaken” (Romance 44). Alexander was well educated early on in his childhood. Being a prince, there is really no surprise to this. He developed leadership skills early in his life, by doing various exercises with the military. When troops would be training, Philip would hop up on a horse and would join right in on the exercise. He would also often divide his fellow students from school into teams and strategize for the two sides before sending them into battle against each other. If one side were winning, he would give more advice to the other side and try out ways to help them win. Alexander was well loved by his peers because of this “intelligence and warlike prowess”.
Although Alexander had a great early childhood, things would start to get complicated with the death of Nectanebo. In the story, Alexander pretended to be interested in astronomy in order to lure Nectanebo into a trap. Alexander would end up pushing him into a large pit, severely injuring his neck. Nectanebo then went on to tell Alexander that he was actually his father, and died shortly after. Alexander obviously did not feel too good about this.
Despite this horrid act that Alexander committed, he would go on to become an accomplished, courageous young man. The Romance tells of how Alexander attended the Olympics and won a glorious chariot race. He also mastered the man-eating horse that his father had locked up. Callisthenes portrayed this as a near impossible task and it showed just how larger-than-life Alexander really was. Alexander then went on to bring his parents back together after some mishaps, even when Philip sought to marry someone else. When a city rebelled against King Philip, he sent Alexander with an army to crush the rebellion. Instead of easily using this army to force his will upon the rebelling city, Alexander used persuasion to convince the leaders of the city to return their allegiance back to him and King Philip. Alexander also courageously saved his mother from Pausanias, and in the words of King Philip “avenged his father’s death” (Romance 56).
Formatting and Plot:
It is a little difficult at first to relate the two works of the Greek Alexander Romance and Saint Augustine’s Confessions. On one hand you have a mythical story about one of the greatest military leaders circa 340 BC. On the other hand you have a very deep philosophical autobiography in which Augustine speaks to God. The goal of my project is to take the story of Alexander’s life, and turn it into an autobiography of the form equivalent to that of Augustine’s Confessions and to use the same techniques that Augustine uses to successfully get his point across to the reader. An example of one of these techniques Augustine uses would include talking to God about his faults and praising God for how God helped him through it. The tricky part about a task like this is that Alexander was actually born some hundred years before Jesus Christ, so it would take some imagination to write a biography of how he would have talked to a Christian monotheistic God. However, there are certain points in the Romance where characters in the story talk to the Gods, so we can draw a little bit of knowledge from that. For example, there are many times in the Romance where King Philip as well as others will often try to interpret dreams as a sign from the Gods. In the writing of Augustine form, we could switch this event around, saying that in a dream, God came to Alexander and told him to do something. Alexander would write in his autobiography that God advised him to do this and helped him overcome an obstacle. Specific examples will be mentioned later.
As to the format of this new Augustine form of Alexander’s autobiography, I decided to take the events from the Romance and use them as legitimate facts of Alexander’s life. Using these so-called factual events from the Romance, we could put together a life story like that of Augustine’s in Confessions, and use some creativeness to write this story as an account to God. I will use a breakdown of books similar to that in the actual Confessions. In Augustine’s Confessions, the first two books describe his childhood and his sinful wrongdoings as a child. A large portion of this is Augustine describing his incident stealing pears with his friends. This isn’t a life or death event, but Augustine ponders in his writing why he has committed this act and the effect that friends and peer pressure had on his decision-making. There isn’t a lot of information that can be used on Alexander’s very early childhood, but we know that he had a very militaristic background and liked to order teams of his friends around. Because of this, I think that Alexander would talk about him and a group of friends bullying or singling out a boy who was weaker than him. He would reflect on this, realizing it was wrong, but would wonder why him and his friends did this. He would ask God about this, and talk about the peer pressure that was put on him. For the books in the middle of Confessions, mainly book three through book six, Augustine talks about getting lost in the theory of Manichaeism, taking part in lustful actions and straying from his path to Christianity. In the end, Augustine realizes that this is not the theology he wants to take part in and starts to move towards Christianity. I think this is very comparable to the darkest part of Alexander’s life, in which he pushed Nectanebo into a pit and killed him. This is obviously a severely dramatic event in which Alexander committed one of the largest crimes of all. Obviously in his writing of his own Confessions, Alexander would feel remorseful in doing this, realizing that it is wrong but in doing so started turning to the Christian God for help and guidance through these horrible times. After this act, Alexander would start to get deeper and deeper into his decision to convert to Christianity, as Augustine starts doing in book seven. He has trouble in picturing God and explores different ways in doing so. Then, finally Augustine would have the dramatic event in which a children’s voice tells him to read a part of the Christian Bible. After this, he finds a passage in the Bible that helps him complete his conversion to Christianity. This would take place in Alexander’s life around the time that the evil Pausanias tries to kill Alexander’s father and kidnap his mother. Alexander courageously saves his mother and brings her back to his father. We could say that a voice from God told him that his mother was being kidnapped, and that is how Alexander heard about it in the first place. After this dramatic saving of his mother, it became clear that Alexander would convert to Christianity. He would then go on to a glorious campaign to unite the Greeks and defeat the evil Darius and the Persians.
Examples and Quotations:
To start, Augustine’s first main controversy comes in the story about the pear theft. In Confessions, Augustine explains the story in the following way: “we malicious young punks steered our way to the tree, shook down its fruit and carted it off, a huge load we did not want to eat ourselves but to throw before swine—or if we ate some of it, that was not our motive. Simply what was not allowed allured us” (Confessions 32). Here Augustine explains the crime by saying that him and his friends did not need the pears, but did it simply because they were not supposed to. This would be changed to Alexander’s story by substituting the pear theft with the bullying. It would go something like, “we malicious young punks steered our way towards the helpless child, beating him and tossing him about. It wasn’t for our satisfaction or because he had done wrong to us, but we did this simply because we were not allowed to”. The main point being that Alexander and his friends bullied a kid because they weren’t supposed to. Further on after the pear theft, Augustine would talk to God about this event and how he felt about it. He says, “But this act is was not one I would ever have done alone, never would I have done it—that is my strong recollection in your presence, my God. I would not have robbed on my own, where what I robbed was not alluring but that I robbed” (Confessions 37). In Alexander’s words, he would talk about this source of peer pressure, and say that he would not have done the bullying alone. He also would have made the distinction that it was not what he took away from this poor kid that was his reasoning but for the pure sense of taking something away. Eventually he would go on and talk to God about skewing from his path.
Augustine also mentions several times about the idea that God gave people the ability to do certain things. Augustine says, “You gave the faculties, and the skill in using them, that can accomplish these things” (Confessions 87). Alexander could say something like this in his Confessions about numerous events. This might include things like, “You gave me the skill and the faculties to master Bucephalas, and allowed me to accomplish this near impossible task”. You could also use the event where Alexander wins the chariot race in the Olympics, even though he was very young and outmatched. Alexander would talk to God about him giving Alexander the power to overcome these tasks and allow him to succeed.
In book six, Augustine describes his flaws in believing Manichaeism and how God saved him from this treacherous behavior. Augustine says, “Here is my heart, Lord, you who lead me to this account and testimony, let my soul adhere to you, who extricated me from the clinging muck of death. What a thing to be pitied was I” (Confessions 117). Alexander could relate to this by talking about his act of killing Nectanebo and how he himself was a thing to be pitied. Just like Augustine, Alexander was extricated from a muck of death, but this muck of death refers to that state of mind that led Alexander to kill Nectanebo. It refers to his former thoughts or ideologies that made Alexander do this, instead of the ideas of Manichaeism that first attracted Augustine.
Augustine finally makes the decision to convert to Christianity in the eighth book after a dramatic event occurs. When a voice tells him to read the Bible, he picks it up and reads the quote “Give up indulgence and drunkenness, give up lust and obscenity, give up strife and rivalries, and clothe yourself in Jesus Christ the Lord, leaving no further allowance for fleshly desires” (Confessions 182). This is the quotation that gets Augustine to immediately convert to Christianity. It is hard to relate this to a point in Alexander’s life because he always did care about material things and such, but if one was to pick a point where Alexander’s mind became clear and he knew what he had to do it was after his father died and he went on his campaign. The connection is a little loose, but I think it has enough relevance to be the tipping point of Alexander’s Confessions. Alexander could write about how a voice led him to save his mother, and he knew that it was God. After this had happened, everything became clear to Alexander and he became sure about his faith.
In Augustine’s Confessions, he gives us the story of his life through an account given to God, praising God for what he has done along the way. As shown in examples, Alexander’s Confessions would do the same as to open up to God completely, letting the reader see his inner thoughts toward life in general as well as, more importantly, religion. This would help the author get his points across to the reader, by being completely honest in his prayer to God. He would give God credit for helping him along the way, giving him the skills he needed to succeed, and in turn helping him to finally convert by a dramatic event. These writing techniques and thoughts portrayed by Augustine would be used in Alexander’s Confessions to deliver his messages to the reader, and produce a book similar to Augustine’s.