Alexander the Great in legend

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There are many legendary accounts surrounding the life of Alexander the Great, with a relatively large number deriving from his own lifetime, probably encouraged by Alexander himself.


Prophesied conqueror[edit]

  • Philip dreams he sealed up the womb of his wife Olympias, and that the seal bore a lion device. The soothsayers treated this dream with suspicion, since it seemed to suggest that Philip needed to keep a closer watch on his wife. The seer Aristander declared that Olympias must be pregnant, since men do not seal up what is empty, and that she would bring forth a son whose nature would be bold and lion-like . (Plutarch Al. 2.2–3; Ephorus FGrH 70 217)
  • When the Pythia refused to answer Alexander, he began to drag her to the temple. Whereupon Pythia exclaimed, You are invincible o young! (aniketos ei o pai!) (Plutarch Al. 14. 6-7)
  • The one who could manage to untie the Gordian knot would become the king of Asia. (Arrian 2.3)
  • The one who rides Bucephalus will be the destined king of the world (Alexander romance)
  • Although Daniel does not refer to him by name, Alexander is the he-goat and King of Javan (Greece), coming from the west and crossing the earth without touching the ground. He charges the ram in great rage. He shatters the horns of Media and Persia and knocks the ram to the ground and tramples it.(Daniel 8:3-8).[1]

Deified Alexander[edit]

  • Erythraean Sibyl prophesied that Alexander is the son of Zeus and Olympias. Henceforth, Alexander often referred to Zeus-Ammon as his true father after visiting also the Siwa Oasis in Egypt. (Strabo 17.1.43)
  • Alexander was born on the same day the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus was burnt down. Plutarch remarked that Artemis was too preoccupied with Alexander's delivery to save her burning temple. Alexander later offered to pay for the temple's rebuilding, but the Ephesians refused on the ground that it was inappropriate for a god to dedicate offerings to other gods. (Strabo 14.1.22)
  • Apelles painted Alexander holding a thunderbolt of Zeus.
  • In Siwa Oasis, Alexander asked whether any of his father's murderers had escaped punishment ; the priest charged him to speak with more respect, since his was not a mortal father..Alexander, in a letter to his mother, tells her there were some secret answers, which at his return he would communicate to her only. Others say that the priest, desirous as a piece of courtesy to address him in Greek, "O Paidion," (oh my son) by a slip in pronunciation ended with the s instead of the n, and said "O Paidios,"or (O pai Dios=oh, son of Zeus) which mistake Alexander was well enough pleased with, and it went for current that the oracle had called him so. (Plutarch,Al. 27 - John Dryden)
  • In 327 BChe introduced proskynesis and demanded divine honours, provoking great unrest among his army. In 324 BC the Deification Decree was published.
  • Decree of the Ionian League (uncertain date): … so that we should [pass the day on which King Antiochus[disambiguation needed]] was born in … reverence [ … To each person participating in the festival] shall be given [a sum] equivalent to that given for [the sacrifice and procession for Alexander][2]

Alexander Romance[edit]

In the first centuries after Alexander's death, probably in Alexandria, a quantity of the more legendary material coalesced into a text known as the Alexander Romance, later falsely ascribed to the historian Callisthenes and therefore known as Pseudo-Callisthenes. This text underwent numerous expansions and revisions throughout Antiquity and the Middle Ages, exhibiting a plasticity unseen in "higher" literary forms. Latin and Syriac translations were made in Late Antiquity. From these, versions were developed in all the major languages of Europe and the Middle East, including Armenian, Georgian, Persian, Arabic, Turkish, Hebrew, Serbian, Slavonic, Romanian, Hungarian, German, English, Italian, and French. The "Romance" is regarded by many Western scholars as the source of the account of Alexander given in the Qur'an (Sura The Cave)[citation needed]. It is the source of many incidents in Ferdowsi's "Shahnama". A Mongolian version is also extant.

Greek Folklore[edit]

Alexander is also a character of Greek folklore (and other regions), as the protagonist of 'apocryphal' tales of bravery. A maritime legend says that his sister is a mermaid and asks the sailors if her brother is still alive.[citation needed] The unsuspecting sailor who answers truthfully arouses the mermaid's wrath and his boat perishes in the waves; a sailor mindful of the circumstances will answer "He lives and reigns, and conquers the world", and the sea about his boat will immediately calm. Alexander is also a character of a standard play in the Karagiozis repertory, "Alexander the Great and the Accursed Serpent". The ancient Greek poet Adrianus composed an epic poem on the history of Alexander the Great, called the Alexandriad, which was probably still extant in the 10th century, but which is now lost to us.


Oriental tradition[edit]

Eskandar fighting the enemy, 15th century Persian miniature, Czartoryski Museum
  • In Shahnameh, the Persian epic, Kai Bahman's elder son Dara(b) is killed in battle with Alexander the Great, that is, Dara/Darab is identified as Darius III and which then makes Bahman a figure of the 4th century BCE. In another tradition, Alexander is the son of Dara/Darab and his wife Nahid, who is described to be the daughter of "Filfus of Rûm" i.e. "Philip the Greek" (cf. Philip II of Macedon)[3][4]
  • The Gates of Alexander (Caspian Gates) were a legendary barrier supposedly built by Alexander in the Caucasus to keep the uncivilized barbarians of the north (typically associated with Gog and Magog) from invading the land to the south.
  • The early Muslim scholars generally identified the Dhul-Qarnayn of the Qur'an with Alexander the Great. The Alexander legend is also believed to extend to Alexander the Great in the Qur'an, where he appears as a prophet called Dhul-Qarnayn. In the centuries that followed, Alexander the Great was often thought of by Muslims as a Prophet of Islam. Early Islamic civilization would produce its own legendary traditions about Alexander the Great, particularly in Persia. With the Muslim conquest of Persia, the Alexander Romance found its way in Persian literature—an ironic outcome considering Zoroastric Persia's hostility to the national enemy who finished the Achaemenid Empire, but was also directly responsible for centuries of Persian domination by Hellenistic "foreign rulers".[5] Islamic Persian accounts of the Alexander legend, known as the Iskandarnamah, combined the Pseudo-Callisthenes material about Alexander, some of which is found in the Qur'an, with Sasanid Persian ideas about Alexander the Great. Persian sources on the Alexander legend devised a mythical genealogy for him whereby his mother was a concubine of Darius II, making him the half-brother of the last Achaemenid shah, Darius. By the 12th century such important writers as Nezami Ganjavi were making him the subject of their epic poems. The Muslim traditions also elaborated the legend that Alexander the Great had been the companion of Aristotle and the direct student of Plato.

Western tradition[edit]

Epic poems based on Alexander romance

Malay tradition[edit]

Epics and genealogies based on Alexander the Great (known to Malays as Iskander Zulkarnain)

Apocryphal letters[edit]

Women and Alexander[edit]

  • According to Greek Alexander Romance, Queen Thalestris of the Amazons brought 300 women to Alexander the Great, hoping to breed a race of children as strong and intelligent as he.
  • According to Greek Alexander Romance, Alexander encountered the Nubian Queen Candace of Meroë
  • A popular Greek legend[6][7] talks about a mermaid who lived in the Aegean for hundreds of years who was thought to be Alexander's sister Thessalonike. The legend states that Alexander, in his quest for the Fountain of Immortality, retrieved with great exertion a flask of immortal water with which he bathed his sister's hair. When Alexander died his grief-stricken sister attempted to end her life by jumping into the sea. Instead of drowning, however, she became a mermaid passing judgment on mariners throughout the centuries and across the seven seas. To the sailors who encountered her she would always pose the same question: "Is Alexander the king alive?" (Greek: Zei o vasilias Alexandros?), to which the correct answer would be "He lives, still rules, and conquers the World" (Greek: Zei kai vasilevei kai ton kosmon kyrievei!). Given this answer she would allow the ship and her crew to sail safely away in calm seas. Any other answer would transform her into the raging Gorgon, bent on sending the ship and every sailor on board to the bottom.


  1. ^ Willmington's Guide to the Bible By H. L. Willmington Page 821 ISBN 978-0-8254-1874-7
  2. ^ The Hellenistic world from Alexander to the Roman conquest By M. M. Austin Page 242 ISBN 0-521-29666-8
  3. ^ Encyclopædia Iranica - Page 12 ISBN 978-0-7100-9109-3
  4. ^ Alexander the Great was called "the Ruman" in Zoroastrian tradition because he came from Greek provinces which later were a part of the eastern Roman empire - The archeology of world religions By Jack Finegan Page 80 ISBN 0-415-22155-2
  5. ^ E.g. the Greek scholar G. G. Aperghis goes so far as to state: "Rather than considering the arrival of the Greeks as bringing something entirely new to the management of an empire, one should probably see them as apt pupils of excellent [Achaemenian] teachers. (link)"
  6. ^ Mermaids and Ikons: A Greek Summer (1978) page 73 by Gwendolyn MacEwen ISBN 978-0-88784-062-3
  7. ^ Folktales from Greece Page 96 ISBN 1-56308-908-4

See also[edit]