What makes Alexander Great? His story has captured the imagination of authors, artists, philosophers, and politicians across more than two millennia. He has provided a point of convergence for religious and spiritual thinkers, he has been co-opted as a champion for gender and sexual openness, he represents a paradigm for would-be charismatic dictators (and their opponents), he gives us scientific imperialism and justification for conquistadorial dreaming, and he exemplifies the risks of cultural appropriation. To understand why Alexander resonates so widely across so many different fields of study, interest groups, and media, is an exercise in reception. This Alexander who has captured the imagination is triumphantly equivocal and it is in the plurality of traditions through which this complexity is expressed that his enduring “greatness” lies. The imaginary quality of Alexander is unsurprising because more profoundly than for any comparable individual from classical antiquity, his history is a product of reception from the start: every encounter with Alexander the Great is part of a conversation that depends substantially on accounts and narrative evidence from long after his death, and at the least at one remove from the historians who first and contemporaneously chronicled his life and achievements.
These ancient traditions of Alexander are rooted in the contradictory and multifarious strands in which his achievements were retold and repurposed, even within his own lifetime. His rapid development as an ideological and cultural icon rather than as a purely historical character accelerated and amplified his significance far beyond that of the short-lived empire that he conquered. To trace all of these traditions and their significance, from antiquity to the 21st century, would be impossible. The aim here is to present a broad overview, focusing on Western reception but with citations and references enabling more detailed study of individual aspects and the Eastern traditions.
(i.e. pseudo-Ambrose), the author of the Commentary on Thirteen Pauline Letters (except Hebrews) handed down under the name of *Ambrose. Attempts at identifying the author have not yet yielded conclusive results. The commentary was written under Pope *Damasus (
Theodore John Cadoux and P. J. Rhodes
David M. Gwynn
John Norman Davidson Kelly and David M. Gwynn
Remembered as the great heresiarch of the 4th-cent. Church. Probably Libyan by birth, he became a leading presbyter at *Alexandria (1), but in 318 or 320/1 came into conflict with his bishop Alexander for teaching the subordination of the Son to the Father within the Trinity. He was expelled from Egypt and, although supported by several prominent bishops including Eusebius of Nicomedia and Eusebius of Caesarea, Arius was condemned at the council of *Nicaea (1) (325). Although rehabilitated in c.335, Arius died shortly afterwards in a Constantinople latrine. The heresy of *‘Arianism’ is named after him, but in fact Arius and his teachings exerted little influence on 4th-cent. theological debates after Nicaea. Only a few letters and some fragments of his Thalia (verse and prose popularizations of his doctrines) survive, confirming that Arius did not deny the Son’s divinity, but reduced Him to a created being inferior to God the Father.
William Hugh Clifford Frend and M. J. Edwards
Philip Rousseau and M. J. Edwards
“Discipline” is the common translation of the Greek noun askêsis. Its English derivative “asceticism” denotes a sustained routine of abstinence, more severe than the occasional self-denial which was enjoined before rites and festivals. Motives for such austerity were seldom religious: sexual continence was enjoined on particular orders like the Vestal Virgins, but not on Jewish or polytheistic priesthoods. Philosophers were more likely to adopt a lifelong regimen to maintain their equanimity or free the soul from bodily attachments. Thus Epicureans and certain Platonists shunned the ties of marriage, though absolute continence was not prescribed. Pythagoreans starved the concupiscent element of the soul by abstaining from meat (and thereby also spared themselves the guilt of shedding the blood of a kindred being). Diogenes the Cynic set an example of self-sufficiency which was sometimes hyperbolically imitated and sometimes ostentatiously violated by his followers. Among Jews the nomadic Rechabites drank no wine, while Nazirites neither drank wine nor cut their hair; but only in the Hellenistic era do we hear of Essenes whose frugal regimen precluded meat and the knowledge of women. Philo’s treatise on the Therapeutae attests the cohabitation of male and female celibates in a community devoted to prayer and worship. It is, however, in Christian circles that abstinence is first prescribed as a norm for all and not merely for the elect. Jesus had “nowhere to lay his head”, while Paul declared virginity superior to marriage. Their teachings presupposed the imminent and of the world; abstinence from flesh and sexual intercourse was said to imply contempt for all things created in encratites, Marcionites and Manichees, yet orthodox Christians also held that the clergy should not take wives after ordination, and Eusebius commends the rigorous practices of Origen.
John Norman Davidson Kelly and David M. Gwynn
Athanasius was one of the greatest fathers of the 4th-century Church. As a deacon he attended the council of *Nicaea (1) (325), and in 328 he was appointed bishop of *Alexandria (1). Athanasius faced immediate opposition from the Meletian Schism within Egypt, and particularly from those whom he regarded as supporters of *“Arianism”, the heresy condemned at Nicaea. These conflicts caused Athanasius to be exiled from his see on five separate occasions, but he never ceased to defend his conception of Christian orthodoxy, and became the foremost champion of the Nicene doctrine that Father and Son were consubstantial (homoousios). He also developed the doctrine of the full divinity of the Holy Spirit, promoted the spread of monasticism, notably through his Life of Antony, and greatly enhanced the power and prestige of the Alexandrian see. Athanasius’ surviving writings include apologetic, dogmatic, and ascetic treatises, and a number of letters.
John F. Matthews
St Augustine (Aurelius Augustinus (354–430
Bishop of Vienne, from c.490