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Four Stories of Alexander the Great | Latin Book Club

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Short introduction to the legends of Alexander the Great

Alexan­der the Great was sub­ject to an enor­mous amount of myth-build­ing sur­round­ing his life and his per­sona. Accord­ing to one leg­end, for instance, Alexan­der was actu­al­ly the son of Zeus (and there­fore a god him­self); accord­ing to anoth­er, he untied the Gor­dian knot. Accord­ing to anoth­er leg­end, Alexan­der want­ed to see the world from above and thus had two large birds har­nessed with a seat for him­self in between them and had them fly up into the sky. And yet anoth­er leg­end claims that his sis­ter was a mer­maid. The sto­ries are plentiful.

The Great Alexander

Alexan­der the third of Mace­don, or Alexan­der the Great, reigned over the king­dom of Mace­don from 336 B.C., when he was twen­ty years old, until his death in 323 B.C.

Alexan­der spent most of his reign away from his king­dom, aim­ing instead to expand it through cam­paigns in Asia and Africa. This was large­ly suc­cess­ful and the “great” comes from his suc­cess as a mil­i­tary com­man­der as he nev­er lost a bat­tle and man­aged to cre­ate one of the largest empires in history. 

The Legendary Alexander

Alexan­der became a leg­end, a myth in his own time. He was depict­ed as a hero and, at times, as a god. His life and deeds quick­ly turned into the stuff of leg­end, and it might be that Alexan­der him­self encour­aged this.

Leg­ends are scat­tered about, you can find them with Roman authors, with 17th cen­tu­ry schol­ars, in poems, in Norse sagas and so on and so forth.

One of the most famous col­lec­tions of Alexan­der leg­ends is the so-called Alexan­der Romance, a large num­ber of texts merged into one. This col­lec­tion appeared in the first cen­turies after Alexan­der’s death and was first rumored to have been writ­ten by Alexander’s own his­to­ri­an Cal­lis­thenes. The Greek text was then added to, revised, and dur­ing antiq­ui­ty and the Mid­dle Ages. It’s been trans­lat­ed and used as the basis for the spread of Alexan­der myths.

The leg­ends of Alexan­der have also been the foun­da­tion of oth­er sto­ries. Small nuggets that might not be as grand as the idea of some­one being the son of Zeus, but that make up for it in inge­nu­ity and curiousness.

In today’s book club, we will read four of these short sto­ries about Alexan­der the Great, sto­ries that might or might not have a grain of truth in them – who knows.

You will find the Latin texts below the video.

Video in Latin: De Alexandro Magno

Story #1: Alexander bibit

(Gas­paris Shot­ti, Mirabil­ia nat­u­rae et artis)

Cum Alexan­der Mag­nus ali­quandō pōcu­lum bicon­gium expetīs­set, bibēn­sque Pro­team Mace­donem et pōtātiōnibus assuē­tum prōvocās­set, ille accēpit atque, cum rēgem plūribus ver­bīs laudās­set, ita bib­it ut eī ab omnibus applaud­erē­tur. Posteā vērō, exiguō tem­pore inter­positō, idem pōcu­lum expetīvit Pro­teās, rūr­susque bib­it rēgem prōvocāns. Quod capiēns Alexan­der, ēgregiē qui­dem bib­it, nōn tamen potu­it ferre, sed pōculō ex manibus dēmis­sō in pul­vī­nar dēcubuit. 

Story #2: Equus Alexandri

(Aulus Gel­lius, Noctes Atti­cae)

Equ­us Alexan­drī rēgis et capite et nōmine “Bucephalās” fuit. Ēmp­tum Charēs scrīp­sit tal­en­tīs tre­dec­im et rēgī Philip­pō dōnā­tum; hoc autem aeris nos­trī sum­ma est sēster­tia tre­cen­ta duodec­im.  Super hōc equō dignum mem­o­riā vīsum [est], quod, ubi ōrnā­tus erat armā­tusque ad proeli­um, haud umquam īnscendī sēsē ab aliō nisi ab rēge pas­sus sit. Id eti­am dē istō equō mem­o­rā­tum est, quod, cum īnsid­ēns in eō Alexan­der bel­lō Indicō et faci­no­ra faciēns for­tia in hostium cuneum nōn satis sibi prōvidēns inmī­sis­set, coniec­tīsque undique in Alexan­drum tēlīs, vul­ner­ibus altīs in cervīce atque in lat­ere equ­us per­fos­sus esset, mori­bun­dus tamen ac prope iam exsan­guis ē mediīs hostibus rēgem vīvā­cis­simō cursū ret­tulit atque, ubi eum extrā tēla extuler­at, īlicō con­cid­it et dom­inī iam super­sti­tis sēcūrus qua­si cum sēn­sūs hūmānī sōlā­ciō ani­mam exspīrāvit.  Tum rēx Alexan­der partā eius bel­lī vic­tōriā oppidum in īsdem locīs con­did­it idque ob equī honōrēs “Būcephalōn” appellāvit. 

Story #3: De Alexandro Magno et Asino

(Claudius Aeliānus, Varia His­to­ria)

Alexan­der sorte moni­tus erat, ut eum, quī sibi portā ēgressō prī­mus occur­ris­set, inter­ficī iubēret; asināri­um igi­tur forte ante omnēs obvi­am fac­tum ad mortem dūcī ius­sit. Quaer­ente illō, cūr sē inno­cen­tem capitālī sup­pli­ciō affi­ceret, rēx ad excūsan­dum fac­tum suum ōrāculī prae­cep­tum ret­tulit.  Tum asinārius: “Sī ita est”, inquit, “ali­um sors huic mortī dēstināvit; nam asel­lus, quem ego ante mē agēbam, pri­or tibi occur­rit.”  Quō cal­lidō dic­tō dēlec­tā­tus asināriō Alexan­der pepercit, asinum vērō occīdī iussit. 

Story #4: Alexander et Apelles 

Apel­lēs, pic­tor suae aetātis clāris­simus, Alexan­drum equi­tan­tem pīnx­er­at. Quam imāginem cum rēx minus laudāret, quam meruer­at artifex, equ­us Alexan­drī intereā adduc­tus pic­tō equō sīc adhin­nīvit, qua­si vērus esset equ­us. Tum Apel­lēs: “Ō rēx” inquit, “equ­us tuus pic­tūrae perī­tior quam tū vidē­tur esse.”

Amelie Rosengren

Amelie Rosengren

Amelie Rosengren, M.A. and co-founder of Latinitium, is a published author, illustrator and historian. She specializes in daily life, has a soft spot for historic curiosities, and works as a museum educator at the world’s oldest open air museum, Skansen.
Written by Amelie Rosengren

Written by Amelie Rosengren

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