What had Alexander the Great (or Magnus, as it has derived in Romance languages from Latin; known as Iskander to the Persians) that still mesmerizes us, in the XXI Century?


What could a youngster Makedonian king, son of a Warrior king, of the IV BCE Century, 24 and a half centuries ago!, have made that we wouldn't be able to do today? And faster, and better, and more reliable, and reproductible?

Well, he lifted the bar so high that it's still well over our heads as persons. Not just he, but his army, his generals... He did what basically nobody had done before, and what only a handful did after him. Of the things he achieved, we can probably find only a comparable feat in history, and it was almost 18 centuries later: Chinghis Khan (or Genghis Khan, as you wish). They (he and his army) did something some of us probably can only dream of: walked some 15,000 miles around a quarter of Eurasia. That's a feat in and on itself (not speaking of all the fighting, digging, sieging, killing, destroying, dieing, suffering, enjoying, etc that they did in the meantime). From Greece to Asia Minor, then Syria and Palestine, Egypt, back to Syria, Armenia, Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq), Media, Persia (modern day Iran), and then all the way to the Indo through and around the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and back, with visits to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and who knows where else? You can nowadays find cities and remnants of cities named Alexandria in the most unsuspecting places. I'd bet there are still places where he set a colony of veterans, or whatever, that nowadays still speak in Greek (or a pidgin) in the most unexpected places (it happened in Italy, there are still some ancient Greek colonies in the Magna Graecia that speak Greek, in the XXI Century, after the Roman Empire and all what happened there aferwards!).

Amazing Alexander.


I have read several novels about him, many I have forgot. Of the "modern" ones, Valerio Massimo Manfredi's trilogy was entertaining and good enough; Nicolas Nicastro's Empire of Ashes was a different take on it, indeed. He's a very good writer, and I enjoyed it a good deal. I surely read others, but I don't recall them (I have Mary Renault's home, I'll eventually read it).

This time, after Scott Oden's truly excellent Memnon, I was ready to tackle Stephen Pressfield's Alexander. The veredict? Maybe not as good as Gates of Fire (it depends on many things, you know), but very, very good. He shows a mastery of narrative and research that goes beyond my ability to praise. His ways of telling, showing, exposing, are impressive. His battle of Issos is really cool; and what to say about his Gaugamela? Speechless, breathless... I'll get, when it's out in Spain (English or Spanish, I don't care), his Afghani Campaign (title not really that one, surely), because I've been left with wanting more, and more, and more...


And now? I should be writing, but I got a good cold and writing is hard, when I am starting to get into the writing session, the train is arriving to my destination, argh! therefore I'll enjoy some more reading. And wanting more, I'll finally go to Gisbert Haefs's Alexander. He's one of my favourite writers, and I am sure to be inmersed into a huge adventure. I know, it's Alexander.



Devon Ellington said...

Okay, now I'm intrigued -- and I'm going to have to start reading some of those novels about Alexander! ;)

I see from Gabriele's blog that you're doing Nano, too. See you over there, perhaps?

Best of luck.

Excalibor said...


well, what more can I say...? :-)

Yes! I'll be on Nano 2006, search me by my nick 'Excalibor' and I'll be there... Let me know your nick and I'll make you a buddy and prod you if your wordcount falls too much behind the line, and try to help if I can.

(I expect the same from my buddies and blog readers, hehe)

best regards!

Pacal said...

I've tried reading Novels about Alexander but I frankly can't get over my feelings of rather intense revulsion for Alexander. so I found the hero worship inplicit / explicit in such Novels off putting. I'm thinking here primarily of Mary Renaught's Novels.

This goes back to my University years when I had to read Tarn's biography of Alexander. With it celebration of Alexander spreading a "superior" civilization and Alexander's alleged idea of the "Brotherhood of Man". In other words Alexander was a British gentleman colonialist speading the Empire and its benifits to the "Barbarians".

Aside from the problem of erecting such a "Brotherhood" on a alter piled high with slaughtered, men, women and children, sacked cities and devestated country. (Terror and violence don't seem like much of a secure foundation for "Brotherhood" and Love.)

The other problem is that the evidence for this is too put it mildly very poor. It seems to be almost entirely a myth created by 19th century historians.

Modern Historians like Green, Bosworth and Badian have made mincemeat of the whole idea. It doesn't seem to have reached popular media yet.

Hanson for example wrote a piece that is such a hachet job on Alexander that even I think its unfair. (His Alexander is a murderous adolescent psychopath with no real abilities except how to organize murder very effectively).

Alexander worship is sometimes so stomach turning to me that I recall Karl Popper's comment that History, as until now concieved, is the story of International crime and mass murder, and some the greatest criminals are Heroes in this History. The above is my paraphrase.

Power worship seems to be all to common among historians and its annoying. For example Peter the Great of Russia is glorified as a great westernizer and because of that his spectacular crimes and atrocities are ignored. (Like the fact he made the Russian autocracy even more brutal and absolute, or that the populasion of Russia diminished during his reign, in large part to the violent oppressions of his rule. St Petersburg for example was built by mass force labour and well over 100,000 died building it)

Well enough of the rant.

Just my thoughts.


Excalibor said...


Winners write History, and we all worship success, conveniently "forgetting" the bad aspects of it.

You are right, of course. Alexander's empire destroyed many a culture and was built over suffering and blood with little precedent.

You will enjoy reading Nicolas Nicastro's Empire of Ashes, it takes a very different approach to this whole subject. Besides, he's a very good writer, you'll enjoy both the focus and the reading of the novel.

As for Greeks and Barbarians, you see that chauvinism was not a French invention after all... *sad smile*.

It's, however, pretty common in most cultures, a "us" versus "them". Dehumanizing the others makes it easier to abuse them. We can see that happening nowadays.