The Importance of Alexander Through a Fictional Account: The Alexander Romance
Alexander the Great was the king of the Macedonian people almost more than 2000 years ago. However, even today Alexander is still remembered for his achievements. There are many accounts of his life. What most people know about Alexander is that he was a great king that defeated the Persian army lead by King Darius. That was his main achievement during his life. However, he also conquered kingdoms in India and Asia. Before his death Alexander’s kingdom extended from Greece to India. Alexander controlled one of the largest of the ancient kingdoms. Alexander died when he was 32 by modern standards that is young and by ancient standards Alexander died in his youth. In those 32 years Alexander accomplished more than full life’s worth of work. He conquered the kingdoms of Northern Africa and the Egyptians, united the Greece nation states, defeated the Persian Empire, and explored much of India and Asia and much more before dying. Eventually after his death many biographies emerged that discussed his life. Some of the biographies were based off fact such as Plutarch’s account of Alexander. Others were a mix of historical fact with fiction such as The Alexander Romance by Pseudo-Callisthenes. Both tell the story of Alexander’s life; however, one was extremely more popular among ancient peoples. The Alexander Romance, provides a life story of Alexander that is full of magic and dealings with the Gods that presents a great man as a King. On the other hand Plutarch’s account of Alexander’s life gives a much more detailed of who Alexander was and what happened in his life that is based off fact. Plutarch’s account would be what modern day historians would use to learn about the life of Alexander. It leaves out what modern scholars have determined not to be creditable such as the use of magic and the gods. Plutarch might discuss magic and the gods but does not rely on them to explain the life of Alexander, rather they were part of the culture, and it is inevitable that Plutarch discuss their role. The Alexander Romance was written to a crowd that still believed in magic and powers of the gods, therefore to ancient persons the Alexander Romance was a biography of Alexander that was a parallel to their customs and life style but one that still carried some historical facts of his life. The author attempts to show the importance of Alexander and his life in a way that the common person can understand. It provided a story that was able to match the many deeds that he performed while he was alive and connects the events so that the reader can relate to them.
In the Alexander Romance, his father was not King Philip but a King from Egypt named Nektanebos. This king used magic similar to that of Pagan rituals to determine the future. In it he saw that his kingdom was going to be conquered by the Persians, Alexander’s future enemy. He left Egypt and came to Macedonia. He was able to convince the Queen of Macedonia named Olympias that the only way she would not be divorced from King Philip upon his return was to have intercourse with a god and that she would have son who is a son of a god. “He replied [Nektanebos], ‘You must have intercourse with a god on earth, conceive by him, bear a son and rear him, and have him to avenge you for the wrongs Philip has done you”’(The Alexander Romance, 171). The reader continues to learn that the god Olympias has sex with is actually Nektanebos in disguise. In the very beginning of the biography the reader has learned that Alexander is supposedly the son of god. The fact that he is supposed to be a son of a god foreshadows the success he will have in life. It is a technique of the author to show that while Alexander is 100 percent man that his deeds in life are comparable to those of gods. Any ancient person who is descendent from a god often leads a very important life. A few people who have come from gods are still known to the common person today, such as Hercules whose father was Zeus and even Achilles whose mother was also a god. The reader also learns that Alexander’s father was a King in Egypt that was conquered by the Persians. When Alexander reaches maturity his defeating of the Persians is one his greatest achievements. The description of the circumstances of his birth is the attempt by the author to give great importance to Alexander. The author connects the birth of Alexander with that of a god showing his importance while running parallels of his father’s destruction by the Persians and Alexander’s own success against them in the future.
In Plutarch’s version of Alexander there is much more cut and dry version. An attempt to relay the facts rather than create an interesting story that explains Alexander through ancient lay-men terms. “The night before they [King Philip and Olympias] lay in wedded bed, the bride dreamed that lightning fell into her belly, and that withal, there was great light fire the dispersed itself all about into divers flames. King Philip her husband also, shortly after married, dreamed the he did seal his wife’s belly, and the seal where with he sealed left behind the print of a lion” (Plutarch, 385-386). In this quote Plutarch is simply trying to describe the events that led up to Alexander’s birth. He does not especially try to give Alexander special importance. Alexander’s father is King Philip and there is no mention by Plutarch of Nektanebos or his defeat by the hands of the Persians. The reader does see however, the importance Alexander’s life has been given. Olympias had a dream that a bolt of lightning struck her stomach and her husband had a dream that when he left his seal on Olympias it was that of a paw print of a lion. The lightning bolt can be seen as the mark of Zeus whose weapon was the lightning bolt. The paw print is a sign of lion which can also have many interpretations such as courage or valor. These signs giving importance to Alexander are not as obvious as the signs given in the Alexander Romance. Therefore the fictional aspects of the Alexander’s birth in the Alexander Romance is an attempt by the author to give Alexander’s life importance in a way that common person 2000 years ago might have been able to understand and relate too in a clearer fashion in comparison to Plutarch. In the Alexander Romance there is a part of the story where the author adds in falsities in Alexander’s life to further his image as someone of immense importance and worth remembering. Alexander’s horse Bucephalus was first presented to King Philip Alexander’s step father who had the horse locked up because it was the “eater of men.” The horse is mentioned in a prophesy to the king. “On his [King Philip] return from abroad Philip went off to Delphi to consult the oracle on who would succeed him as king. And the Pythia at Delphi tasted the Kastalian spring and with an oracle of the earth replied as follows: ‘Philip, he shall be king over the whole world and shall subject all to his power, whosoever shall leap upon the horse Bucephalus and ride through the center of Pella’” (The Alexander Romance, 178). It is obvious to the reader that whoever is able to ride Bucephalus will be a man of great importance and eventually will take over world. The Oracle is foreshadowing the future of Alexander. Later, the reader sees Alexander’s reaction to the Bucephalus when he sees it for the first time.
“Alexander was fifteen when by chance one day he was passing the place where the horse Bucuephalus was caged. He heard a terrifying neigh and, turning to the attendents, asked ‘What is this neighing?’ In reply, the general Ptolemy said, ‘Master, this is the horse Bucephalus that your father caged because he was a man-eater.’…And when Alexander went up to the cage, straightaway the horse extended its forefeet to Alexander and licked him, indicationg who its master was. Alexander observed the striking appeaerance of the horse and the remains of numerous slaughtered men at its feet… He grasped its mane; it obeyed him, and he leapt on it without a bridle, then rode through the center of the city of Pella” (The Alexander Romance, 179).
Alexander is eventually the person who rides Bucephalus and does come to rule over the known world at that time. Also, there is more foreshadowing of Alexander’s victories in his future battles with lines “Alexander observed the striking appearance of the horse and the remains of numerous slaughtered men as its feet.” It is possible that the remains of slaughtered men at the horse’s feet are those of the men that Alexander will kill in his many battles. Also, it is very unlikely that the horse ate any men at all, ever. Horses do not eat meat. It is another attempt by the author to shower Alexander with greatness, to uplift him above everyone else by creating a fictional event that demonstrates clearly the qualities of Alexander.
Alexander is still remembered today because of what he did in the past. He was able to create an empire that stretched for thousands of miles. He went to battle and conquered many enemies without ever losing a major engagement. As a result there were many accounts of his life. The Alexander Romance is just one account of his life. However, the author has a goal in creating a fictional work about Alexander. He is trying to convey the greatness of Alexander through the fictional aspects of the story. Also, the story that the Alexander Romance presents was one that was geared toward an audience that still believed in many of fictional elements included in the story. Alexander the Great was portrayed in the Alexander Romance where as other authors might have portrayed Alexander the man. The author uses fictional elements to help create the great in Alexander. The deeds of Alexander were transformed into a popular ancient novel that the common person could read and clearly understand that Alexander was a type of man that had never been seen before. By creating a fictional account such as the Alexander Romance it is like creating a legend that will never die. The author realized Alexander’s importance in the world and the novel is his attempt to keep Alexander’s legend alive. The best way to do that was to create a story that was not historical fact but one that was fictional one that includes his major achievements but has enough imagination that the reader will never forget the life of Alexander.
Hansen, William Freeman. Anthology of Ancient Greek Popular Literature. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1998. Print.
Plutarch, and Thomas North. Plutarch Selected Lives. Great Britain: Wordsworth Classics, 1998. Print.