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Development of the Ideas and Themes of Pseudo-Callisthenes in the Greek Alexander Romance

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The Greek Alexander Romance is a biography about the life of Alexander III of Macedon, better known as Alexander the Great. There are many versions of the Alexander Romance that contain the mythical exploits of Alexander’s life. The author of the biography although not known is called Pseudo-Callisthenes. Even though the author is not known, we can take many examples from the book to help us draw conclusions on what the author thought of the subject Alexander. We can also see how the author develops his material to achieve certain meanings and themes.

In general, Callisthenes thinks very highly of Alexander. This thought is brought out in almost every story Callisthenes tells in the Alexander Romance. Right from the beginning, the author makes us aware of this by saying, “In our opinion, Alexander the king of the Macedonians was the best and most noble of men, for he did everything in his own way, finding that his foresight always worked in harness with his virtues” (location 753). To Callisthenes, everything about Alexander pointed to nobility in every sense of the word. His actions, his family background, and even his appearance force the author to regard Alexander as a mere God amongst men and this message is translated to the reader. At the time of his birth Callisthenes says “And as the child fell to the ground, there were great claps of thunder and flashes of lightening, so that all the world was shaken” (location 922). Obviously this story is fictitious along with this event, but Callisthenes exaggerates with the shaking of the world to get his point across that this birth was of the utmost significance. Although everyone knows that Alexander the Great went on to make many successful conquests, this also serves as foreshadowing that Alexander will go on to be great and impact the world. In another example, Alexander’s goodness is brought out once again when talking to his teacher Aristotle. Even as a young child, he talked of responsible matters of paying him back for his services when the kingdom was his.

Appearance is not the most important part of Callisthenes’ development, but it further adds to the way he sees Alexander. Callisthenes compares Alexander to a lion when he says, “In shape he was a man, but his hair was that of a lion” (location 929), and “His movements were as swift and violent as a lion’s” (location 929). Not only does his appearance remind the author of that of a lion, but Alexander’s actions as well. This allows the reader to further extrapolate Alexander’s actual personality by basing it on what they know of a lion’s personality. This may be the fierce, strong-willed nature to go along with the swift and violent movements as mentioned above.

The military actions and conquests of Alexander are a large part of the Alexander Romance as well as the author’s attempt to characterize Alexander in the eyes of the reader with this evidence. Callisthenes tells us that Alexander was in possession of this talent starting when he was a young child. While playing with his friends, he took control and used them to test out military strategies against each other. He then criticized the kids who lost the battles and Callisthenes refers to him as “victory” in this comment: “This made it clear that he himself was Victory” (location 936). Obviously, saying that Alexander was victory gives even more insight into the author’s thoughts. I think that soldiers and winning great battles were thought of very highly back in this time of ancient Greece. Knowing this, and the fact that Alexander was a great militarist from childhood, Alexander through the eyes of Callisthenes was that of a hero.

We can see that the author clearly sees Alexander as more than a man, possibly even Godly. Being born to a Queen as a mother and supposedly the God Ammon through Nectanebo, we can see this theme emerge. Not only does Alexander go on to make the greatest military campaign in history but also does other impossible little things to show how powerful he was. For example, when the horse turns out to eat men, Alexander tames it and the horse recognizes him as his master. Taming a horse does not seem like much, but taming a man-eating horse is looked at by Callisthenes as a near impossible task.

We know that Callisthenes regards Alexander as one of the noblest, God-like people of the time as is exemplified through the stories in the book, but we are also reminded by Callisthenes that Alexander is only a man. This happens a number of times throughout the book. I think the most significant point is when Darius dies and Callisthenes wrote, “He cried out and began to shed tears, lamenting him as he deserved” (location 2034). Almost every event in the book preceding this one told of Alexander’s greatness, but here we are reminded that he is a human being just like himself and the reader. When he weeps, this small moment of weakness lets the reader connect to Alexander. However, after this short moment of weakness, Callisthenes once again reminds the reader of how noble and honorable Alexander is by first keeping his word to carry Darius to carry the bier with his own shoulder and carry Darius to his burial. Then, he finds the people in charge of the murder of Darius. “Then everyone praised Alexander’s cunning, and the wicked murderers were crucified on the grave of Darius” (location 2073). He gives them the penalty of death and by the tone of the writing we can tell that his actions were just according to the people.

Another theme that I recognized in reading the Greek Alexander Romance was the author’s stress on what Alexander was thought of by his peers. Like Callisthenes, everyone besides his enemies had an enormous amount of respect for Alexander. Going back to the example of Alexander playing with his friends as a boy, everyone listened to Alexander at a young age. He was given a huge amount of respect and people thought highly of him from the beginning, even to the extent of little kids taking orders. In the previous example when Alexander punished the murderers of Darius, everyone “praised him for his cunning” and was accepting of his decision. When Alexander goes from Corinth to Plataea, a priestess there tells him he will be famous and glorious while she tells a general named Stasagoras from her own city of Plataea that he will fall and lose his power. Once again, everywhere Alexander went he was given respect and was looked at in the highest opinion. Furthermore, when Alexander was nearing his death, Callisthenes really brings out this common theme. When close to death, a fellow soldier says to Alexander, “Your father Philip, your majesty, ruled as a good king, and so have you done. You are leaving us now; it would be good that we should die with you, for you made Macedon a free country” (location 2750). Alexander was such an honorable, respected commander to his people that his soldiers were willing to die with him at the end. A soldier would not likely take his own life for just an ordinary king. It takes something unthought-of for a man to do something like that, and I think it’s the tremendous respect that Alexander’s men had for him. Callisthenes further delivers this message through personification of the horse. The horse weeps for Alexander on his deathbed. This is a slightly entertaining way of getting the message even further across.

Through the events, themes, and styles of Callisthenes work, we can see that Alexander the Great was a truly honorable, noble man with great respect and power through his eyes. He conveys this message to the reader easily with his stories about Alexander. He lets us know how highly the people thought of him, including himself, and tells us an ample amount of stories to prove it so. Callisthenes also shows us how God-like of a man Alexander was and gives us over-exaggerated examples of his powerful actions. Yet, in the end, he reminds us that Alexander was just a man like himself and the reader, crying after deaths and eventually coming to a death of his own. Still, we know of the author’s love and admiration for Alexander. I think that the writer of the Alexander Romance could have been an admiring soldier in Alexander’s army. I believe the military conquests and the associating stories were more factual, leading me to believe that this person was actually present. In addition, I think these childhood stories and Nectanebo could have easily been made-up stories created by soldiers as rumors to guess where their powerful leader received is background. Whatever the case, we know that the author was a deep admirer of Alexander the Great, and understand why his writing developed the way it did.

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