THE OTHER ALEXANDER THE GREAT

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Amelia Soth in JSTOR Daily [h/t: David Schneider]:

In the centuries after Alexander the Great’s death, a family of stories emerged. They star a fantastical version of the famous conqueror. He seeks unfettered exploration, unlimited knowledge, and (most importantly) eternal life. These stories revolve around Alexander’s failures, not his victories, and the portrait that emerges is strangely poignant. These Alexander stories offer like a dreamlike vision of human struggle, one cast in strange, dazzling colors.

This version of Alexander originates from the Historia Alexandri Magni, written by an unknown author in the 3rd century. As these stories were retold, they blossomed into a literary and folkloric tradition. There are Arabic versions of the tales, as well as Greek, French, English, Egyptian, Mongolian, and Persian versions, one of which includes a romance with a mustachioed, club-swinging warrior princess. The historical Alexander may have won battles, but the Alexander of legend conquered hearts.

What unites these tales is Alexander’s obsession with exceeding the limits of human existence, his irrepressible desire to visit other worlds. But the tales are also tinged with melancholy. Those who read and heard the Alexander stories knew what would happen at the tale’s end: that he would die with his work unfinished; that, after his death, his empire would dissolve. This sadness hangs over the stories like an ill omen.

More here.

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