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date: 07 December 2019

Alexander the Great, reception of

Summary and Keywords

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.

Keywords: Alexander the Great, reception, imperialism, celebrity, biography, legends, quests, identity, art, ideology, autocracy

Key Locations

Macedonia; Rome; Persia; India; Europe

Alexander the Great: From Man to Legend

Alexander the Great was many things to many people, and across multiple traditions. The first wave of historical and biographical accounts, themselves compromised as sources by their partisanship, is almost entirely lost; instead we are left with the layers of historiography, legend, reinvention, and traditions that cluster around this one man.

Alexander appears to have been alert to the possibilities of a powerful biographical narrative of charismatic heroism, and employed Callisthenes (nephew of his former tutor, Aristotle) to produce just that. Other accounts, composed by the ambitious individuals who made up his entourage, survive primarily through their use as research material for centuries-later authors. These accounts came with distinctive agendas that encouraged exaggeration, selective editing, and invention, to create the Alexanders best suited to the moment. Somewhere within, behind, and all around the more or less credible legends was an historical figure, but this character, striding through the histories of Greece and the East, was already inaccessible by the time the first recorded instance of calling Alexander “the Great” entered the literary canon.1

Alexander enjoys the epithet the Great for the first time in Plautus’s Roman comedy Mostellaria (775–777). There, the character Tranio, a slave, utters the unexpected line: “Alexander the Great and Agathocles are, they say, the pair who have achieved the greatest feats; what about me as a third? I perform immortal deeds unaided!”2 Tranio’s wit proves Alexander’s worth in a popular cultural context, shows his currency as an exemplar of impossible acts of derring-do, and underscores the ambivalence that colours his reception as a leader. Sicilian Agathocles is hardly the most positive parallel. His birth was low, his war against Carthage was ill-advised, and his cruelty was legendary.3 With this first piece of literary reception, Alexander’s Roman career sparks into life.

Rome’s Alexander (from Hannibal to Hadrian)


By the late 1st century bce Alexander of Macedon was sufficiently “Great” to feature as a bogeyman to match Hannibal in thought-experiments by key Roman pundits such as Livy. In book 9 of his massive history of the city-state from its earliest beginnings, Alexander is introduced as a protagonist in a counterfactual version of Rome’s history.4 This so-called “Alexander digression”5 imagines the outcome had the Macedonian turned west with his army. Livy’s critical point is that Rome’s myriad of excellent commanders and strength-in-depth of citizen prowess would inevitably, by weight of numbers if nothing else, prove superior to Alexander. From this perspective, the problem with Alexander is his own idiosyncrasy. Alexander the Great is unique. He is inimitable and irreplaceable—and that is his (and when brought into comparison, Rome’s) problem. His projects are always doomed to tragic failure because they cannot be contained or maintained. Rome, by contrast, produces statesmen of Alexander’s quality in every generation and protects them and the res publica by denying them the tragic heroics of solitary and unique power.

Livy uses Alexander to make a point about the strengths of the Roman constitution and its system of governance. The irony in Livy’s position is that by the 30s bce, when his work Ab Urbe Condita was in development, Rome had already succumbed to the magnificence of a turbulent sequence of generalissimos (Cornelius Sulla Felix, Pompey, Iulius Caesar, Antonius, Marcus, Roman consul and triumvir) whose chaotic impact on government had led to an acceptance of autocracy that would result in the Augustan Principate.

Livy’s textbook discussion of the problems attendant on over-reliance on one invincible (Liv. 19.17.4) individual shows Rome responding to the tendency to eulogise Alexander in the Hellenised world. Representative of the most balanced early Greek tradition are voices such as Polybius, whose universal history gives a good example of what this tradition looks like, and includes interesting cameos for Alexander, moments which suggest just how baked into educated Greco-Roman consciousness he was, whether as city-destroyer, as comparandum for kingly virtue, as fortunate, or as remarkable for (almost superhuman) courage.6

Other Instances

Alexander’s cultural potency for Rome stretches from the aftermath of the Punic Wars (and, by association, with the adventures of Cornelius Scipio Africanus) to the Antonine era.7 It is evidenced by the myriad depictions in genres as diverse as domestic décor, personal epistolary correspondence, epic, occasional, and satiric verse, geography, architectural theory, philosophy, politics, and religion. Subsequent thematic sections delve into key examples, but let’s start with a flavour of the extraordinary breadth of Alexander’s Roman reception.

In the decorative sphere, the so-called Alexander Mosaic, [Fig. 1] located in an exedra in the House of the Faun (Pompeii) and sometimes (although without any compelling evidence) claimed to be based on a lost original by Alexander’s court artist Apelles, gives a sense of the power that episodes from those storied eastern campaigns held for Italian elites.8 Pliny would later recount images and souvenirs of Alexander on display in the Forum Augustum or Augusti (HN 35.27, 35.93–94; 34.48).

In the semi-private literary context of epistolary collections, Cicero explores how to create a relationship between himself and Caesar that was modelled on Alexander’s relationship with Aristotle, and exhibits a fascination with Alexander’s famously well-crafted persona.9 By contrast, addressing Augustus in verse, Horace showcases the funny side of crediting Alexander with greatness in every area of endeavour, and proves his point by noting that unlike Augustus (with whose support Horace thrived), Alexander couldn’t spot a good author to save his life.10

Silius Italicus (Punica) and the poet Lucan’s civil war epic give a mid-1st-century ce flavour of how complicated and often ambiguous the traditions associated with Alexander could be. Silius’s Alexander functions as a memento mori, who advises Scipio to get on with acquiring greatness because the darkness of death is ever present; in death, this Alexander’s impotence is highlighted, and Silius characterises him as a wanderer rather than as a conqueror (Punica 2.762–776). For Lucan (10.20–52), Alexander is that “insane son” and “lucky pirate,” echoing excoriating critiques of the chaotic impact of Alexander that crop up in the works of Lucius Annaeus Seneca.11

For Strabo (writing geography) and Vitruvius (writing architectural theory), Augustan era interest in Alexander centres on Mount Athos. There, by way of a terraforming project akin to Mount Rushmore, Vitruvius gave Romans a vivid example of how territory can be shaped to add lustre and impact to the right commander’s victories, and dedicated the treatise to Augustus.12 Alexander’s appearance at a key moment in Vitruvius’s study of what makes a great architect, and Strabo’s characterisation of Alexander as inceptor of a scientific and intellectual agenda for world conquest, are part of a wider acknowledgement of knowledge gains that result from imperial success. Alexander’s cultural impact was appreciated by the highly literate Roman elites, and as Pliny the Elder acknowledges, Alexander’s most famous city foundation, Alexandria, changed the world by revolutionising the storage and transmission of knowledge.13

In Roman religion (see religion, Roman, oriental cults and religion), Alexander’s ripple effect is perhaps most visible in the widening political implications of deification. Caesar attempted to adopt for himself Hellenistic models of monarchy entwined with divinity that drew inspiration from stories of Alexander’s divine paternity and self-association with heroic figures and demi-gods such as Hercules and Dionysus.14 Caesar’s attempts to see how much autocracy Rome might stand led to his assassination, but it did not dissuade imitators. For Antony, association with Alexander was turned into political poison after his defeat by Octavian.15 Yet Octavian, transformed into the First Citizen and titled Augustus, was also keen to experiment with the pattern of semi-divine kingship that traces back to Alexander.16

The Game of Imitation

Livy’s excursus evaluated the chances of Rome outdoing Alexander, and this topos recurred in his Roman reception. Exceptional individuals provoke reactions, often competitive, often imitative (imitatio), inevitably comparative (aemulatio, an ambitious rivalry). This was particularly the case given Rome’s developing tolerance and even enthusiasm for charismatic individualism in the 1st century bce. By the 1st century ce, Rome’s Alexander was frequently characterised as trying to outdo Dionysus and Hercules (e.g., Sen., Ben. 1.13.2; Curt. 8.5.8). Roman accounts also enjoy retelling Alexander’s possession of memoranda of his own heroes: a statue of Hercules, recounted by Statius (Silv. 4.6), or reminders of Achilles (e.g., Cic. Arch. 24; Fam. 5.12.7; cf. Plut. Alex. 8.2). In this way, Alexander became the paradigm for anyone wanting to build their own brand.17

Among the many ways in which Romans could measure themselves against Alexander, competitive comparisons in military excellence took on primary importance.18 The success of Scipio, for instance, is demonstrated by the fact that the lagoon waters supposedly receded on Scipio’s capture of New Carthage (Polyb. 10.8.6–9.3, 11.6–8, 14.7–12; Livy 26.45.8–9), echoing reports of the waters bowing down in obeisance before Alexander at Mt. Climax (Plut., Alex. 17.3–5; Arr., Anab. 1.26.1–2).19 Claudius repurposed two paintings by replacing triumphant Alexander’s features with those of Augustus (Plin., HN 35.93–94), thus claiming interchangeability for the two leaders. Sometimes the aim is not to imitate but to exceed Alexander. Rome was, after all, capable of better. Jupiter’s tantalising promise of “imperium sine fine” (see Virgil, Aen. 1.279) or “boundless rule” to Rome contrasts with Alexander’s achievements, which came up against fixed boundaries and the confines of his mortality (e.g., Sen. Ben.; cf. Lucan 10.39–42, 272–283). Compared with the dizzying destiny of Rome, Alexander’s achievements look small in comparison. Seen from this perspective, Alexander was a failure.

The Dangers of Heroic Leadership

Many of the dangers of heroic leadership are also dangers inherent in any story dependent on the exploits of a charismatic protagonist. What happens next? Who takes over? Will the hero admit the importance of collaboration and fostering talent? These questions crop up throughout Alexander’s reception, clustering especially at historical crux points in his deployment as a model with which to think. The problem of singularity, simultaneously Alexander’s most important and most troublesome attribute, was already evident in Livy’s comparative “digression.” Livy concluded that even in the best scenario, one “great” leader is never sufficient—especially when, as memorably recounted by Lucan, mutiny strikes.20

Whenever great Romans are discussed, comparisons with Alexander seem to follow. It seems impossible to talk of Pompey without evoking Alexander. Pliny the Elder’s Pompey (HN 7.95, 7.97) seems likely to have been coloured by comparisons with Alexander that focused on the lost potential displayed by both leaders.21 Lucan’s Pompey, by contrast (see, e.g., bc 8, passim), cedes all Alexander-style dynamism and bravura exploits to the character of Caesar, a narrative transfer which is emphasised by the poem’s epic account of Caesar’s pilgrimages to Troy (in Alexander’s footsteps) and Alexander’s tomb.

Alexander’s patronage of the arts is similarly complicated in reception. While the sponsorship of public works and beautification projects is praiseworthy, there is frequently a manipulative undertone souring the acts of generosity. Evoking Alexander becomes a way of questioning the purity of civic altruism. For instance, Quintus Caecilius Metellus Macedonicus displayed at Rome a statue group by Lysippus, created for Alexander, of the fallen cavalry at the Battle of the Granicus river. Alexander was said to have had his own likeness included among the group. In recounting this, the historian Velleius Paterculus observed caustically that the same Metellus’s dedication of a lavish marble temple in Rome, facilitating the display of his art booty, made him “the foremost author [princeps] of this kind of munificence, or perhaps we should say extravagance [uel magnificentiae uel luxuriae]” (Vell. Pat. 1.11.2–5). Good and bad motives coexist. Similar complications can be found in Statius’s discussion of equestrian statues, where a statue of Alexander with its head swapped out became Caesar (Stat. Silv. 1.1.84–90).22

Memorabilia of Great Alexander can not only provoke unseemly behaviour but also prefigure unhappy outcomes: witness the gloss put on Pompey’s triumph (61 bce) by Plutarch—better that his life should have ended with this highpoint—when he was said to have paraded through Rome draped in Alexander’s cloak.23 Or consider Caesar’s lamentation (ingemo) on gazing at Alexander’s statue at Gades (Suet. Iul. 7), or Gaius’s looting of Alexander’s breastplate from his tomb (Suet. Calig. 52).24

Alexander and Tyranny

One of the virtues of the Alexander story is that the character of Alexander need not be static; in fact its mutability is part of the ongoing attraction. Alexander the Good is all the more striking a character because he becomes Alexander the Bad.25 His positive reception as a military commander is overshadowed, as Roman politics develop, by the implications of autocratic rule. This makes Alexander useful for examining a tendency in the literature of autocracy and identity towards highlighting negative outcomes within Roman imperial governance.

A central role in such stories about Alexander is played by the idea of the East. The East, in these Alexander narratives, is a territory of arcana, a seductive environment, and a space which is crippling to normative masculine civic ethos. Here, gender roles are undermined and patterns of moral, sexual, and political excess characterise what is represented as an inevitable slide into poor patterns of judgement and diminished self-control.26 Within Roman discourse, the East becomes the place where a hardy, beloved military commander, renowned for his acute judgement, was transformed into a monomaniac and tyrant.

This context is important for understanding the tension between optimistic and pessimistic Roman receptions of Alexander. His successes inspire emulation while his failures prefigure but perhaps also excuse all subsequent Eastern disasters, with Rome’s politically devastating losses at Carrhae a particular case in point.27 To push Rome’s boundaries east was a significant aspiration for Mediterranean empire-builders, but remained more aspiration than reality until Trajan.28 Alexander’s meteoric transition narrative spanning continents as well as the best and worst of human behaviour, and conquest of territories that remained outside Rome’s control, made him unusually useful to autocrats and regime critics.29

We can see these motifs developing through the rhetoric of libertas (freedom) that begins to appear in discussions of Alexander.30 Those who resist “Alexander” are the truly free men (e.g., Curt. 8.7.1, 14), with this sentiment also colouring Seneca’s description of the death of Alexander’s critical friend Clitus (de Ira 3.17.1; compare Sen. Suas. 1.2).31 Many of these issues crystallise in the reign of Nero. His tutor and adviser, Seneca the Younger, is one of the key voices in Alexander-reception in the mid-1st century ce, and in the narration of Nero’s transformation from promising young leader (during the so-called quinquennium, or five good years) to mad and dangerous despot, incapable of recognising or respecting any boundaries to his desires, there is always a whisper of Alexander.32 The influence of autocrats such as Nero and Domitian should not be underestimated in the reception of Alexander.

After Domitian there was a shift in Alexander’s role as way-marker for imperial behaviour. A renaissance in cultural confidence (known as the Second Sophistic) enabled Greeks to write Alexander back into a more optimistic mode. Dio Cocceianus (Chrysostom, “Golden Mouth”), allegedly banished by Domitian, had a successful career under Marcus Cocceius Nerva and Trajan, with his orations on kingship exemplifying a new discourse melding Greek cultural revitalisation with increasingly confident Roman governmental rhetoric.33 It was this world view which produced what subsequent generations would affirm to be the most true-to-life history of Alexander, a full-length treatment by Arrian, which would eventually join the other strands in Alexander’s reception for one last imperial hurrah, with the emperor Julian the Apostate.34

The Roman Historians and Biographers of Alexander

Most remarkable in Alexander’s reception is the versatility and power with which his image, now approaching 2500 years after his death, continues to flex. One reason for this persistence is the lively, highly editorialised, and often scandalous nature of the earliest extant histories and biographies. Key names for extended autonomous treatments of Alexander in the Roman world are Quintus Curtius Rufus (probably writing in the mid- to late 1st century ce), Arrian, and (in his comparative series of parallel lives of Greeks and Romans) Plutarch (both of whom were active in the early 2nd century ce).

Arrian’s account of Alexander (his Anabasis or “Journey Up-Country”) was long the account considered to be the most accurate, authoritative, and closest to the primary sources.35 Arrian claims in his Preface to be drawing on the most reliable of the first-generation accounts of Alexander and his exploits, accounts written by the Great Man’s companions, men who would themselves share out the empire after Alexander’s death. Ptolemy I Soter is Arrian’s preferred account because, Arrian argues, his trustworthiness depends not only on his first-hand experience of the campaigns and his friendship with Alexander, but also on his transition to the status of monarch when he seized Egypt as his kingdom during the chaos that Alexander’s death precipitated. Arrian’s seemingly measured tone sketches a catastrophe, but one that played out in good faith, and saw Alexander acknowledge his failings; as Arrian puts it, Alexander was the youthful victim of his own extraordinary run of unbroken successes, and in his over-identification with the “barbarous” arrogance of his conquered enemies he was fatally encouraged by the flatterers who always cluster around kings in the hope of self-advancement (Arr. Anab. 7.29–30).

Q. Curtius Rufus’s history of Alexander is remarkable as the only (mostly) extant full-length treatment in Latin, and his Alexander is the product of a characteristically Roman perspective on autocracy and its dangers.36 For Curtius, Alexander prefigures crucial developments in the nature of personal power at Rome, with focus falling especially on the devastating impact of increasing aspirations to be, and to be believed to be, divine. In the process, one of Alexander’s flaws is shown to be over-eagerness to practise assimilative imperialism, leading to his own incorporation into the conquered alien peoples and their corrupting environments.37 This trope was one which reverberated through receptions of Alexander from the beginnings of Roman historiography. Curtius’s Alexander is no ingénu, but becomes increasingly incapable of distinguishing between his own self-publicity, the sycophancy of his entourage, and the kinds of intercultural role-play required for stable governance.

Plutarch’s short Alexander was a particularly powerful influence on the later reception.38 Readers of Plutarch’s biography are challenged not just to delight in its vivid characterisation, but also to read and interpret it as one of a comparative pair paralleling Alexander with Julius Caesar. Plutarch benefitted from especially rich source material, including (probably) a lively anecdotal tradition.39 Plutarch’s Alexander is intensely physical, a man whose beauty and physical prowess are complemented by sexual restraint (Alex. 4.1–7), and whose passionate, impetuous nature is underpinned by an education in philosophy and statecraft. Plutarch’s heroic Alexander, thus, benefits from the recognisability of myriad stock virtues within a framing narrative that emphasises the uniquely charismatic qualities that made them hang together in just one man. Compared, however, to Plutarch’s encomiastic, rhetorical On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander, the Alexander is markedly more ambiguous, dramatising as it does the leader’s eventual decline into passionate excess, drunkenness, and megalomania.

Romance: From Antiquity to the Medieval Tradition

As Chaucer famously put it: “The story of Alisaundre is so commune | That every wight that hath discrecioun | hath heard somewhat or al of his fortune . . . I seye, as fer as man may ryde or go, | The world was his—what sholde I moore devyse?” (“The Monk’s Tale,” from The Canterbury Tales, 2631–2633, 2651–2652). It is not just impossible but also undesirable to try to disentangle history from wonder when the two were entwined from the very beginning.

The tension between Alexander’s greatness and its fallout comes early into the Jewish and Christian traditions, with his extraordinary conquests matched by his failure to secure the succession and the inferiority of his heirs. From this, as was made clear by the author of 1 Maccabees, many evils ensued (1 Maccabees 1.1–10). But the question of how and why Alexander endured as a household name with recognition value across so many cultures is less a story about actual historical events or an acknowledgement of the far-reaching geographic spread of his achievements than it is about the power of alternative facts and the lure of wonders.

Curtius’s historical narrative had created a remarkably contemporary protagonist in Alexander, one whose achievements and disasters resonated with a particular trend in Roman popular thought and sat easily against a rich pop-cultural interest in novelistic tales of marvellous adventures. In doing so he exemplifies how the practice of Alexander-history participated in a growing body of legendary, fantastical stories that reached out to medieval authors who enthusiastically reappropriated and recontextualised.

Alexander the Great, reception of
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Figure 1. The “Alexander Mosaic.” Dating to c. 100 bce, usually identified as a Roman copy of a Hellenistic depiction of a battle between Alexander the Great and Darius III. Found at the House of the Faun (Pompei).

Museo Archeologicio Nazionale, Naples, Italy. Photo courtesy of Berthold Werner. Creative Commons License (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Alexander’s strange travels gave ample scope to the imagination of medieval artists, stone-carvers, wood-workers, and book illustrators, whose richly depicted visualisations cover everything from Alexander’s flying chariot (11th-century relief carving, north façade, St Mark’s Basilica, Venice) to his undersea adventures (from the 14th-century Roman d’Alexandre, ms Bodley 264).

Alexander the Great, reception of
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Figure 2. Alexander the Great in a flying chariot, from the north façade of Basilica San Marco, Venice.

Photo courtesy of Sp!ros. Creative Commons License (CC BY-SA 3.0).

The Alexander Romance

The Alexander Romance (see Iulius Valerius Alexander Polemius, Pseudo-Callisthenes) along with its evolving associated narratives, whose beguiling qualities blend fantasy and the limits of possibility, is the most substantial and influential of these adventure stories; Richard Stoneman’s magisterial survey of the “Primary Sources from the Classical and Early Medieval Periods” is the ideal guide.40 The Romance had its genesis in the decades after Alexander’s death, with comparable and perhaps once connected cycles of letters between Alexander and Darius emerging from Egypt, while Jewish historian Josephus in his Jewish Antiquities ascribes a reverent visit to Jerusalem to Alexander, anointing his campaign and thematically entwining his miraculous relationship with Ammon with a vision from the Jewish god (AJ 11.317–345).41

Written in Greek, and exhibiting enough emphasis (particularly at the start) on an Egyptian perspective that it has been argued to have been composed in Alexandria (possibly as early as the 3rd century bce),42 the Alexander Romance was translated into Latin at least as early as the 4th century ce. In Greek, it continued to be copied and transmitted through the Byzantine era, while a Syriac translation filtered into Persian epics and on into popular culture in Afghanistan.43 In late antiquity it was translated into more languages, including Armenian and Georgian, and by the early medieval period multiple vernacular traditions existed.

The Romance is a composite text: along with the narrative, it incorporates an epistolary novel and some originally stand-alone wonder-stories drawing together miracles and ethno-geography (for instance, the encounter of Alexander and the Brahmans)—all clearly inspired by the very personal and charismatic brand of leadership practised by Alexander, but also consonant with the tradition of scientific enquiry that supposedly attended his campaign.44 Indeed, the text of a letter supposedly written by Alexander to his old tutor Aristotle, incorporated in the Pseudo-Callisthenes tradition, was multiply rewritten in the later tradition, so that Alexander became half-brother to his great enemy Darius III of Persia, found the water of life (and turned his sister into a mermaid), exercised Solomon-like wisdom as a sage and philosophical ruler, and even was said to exist only to gorge on the blood of his enemies.

The Romance was in one recension wrongly ascribed to Alexander’s court historian Callisthenes (hence the modern attribution to “Pseudo-Callisthenes”). Nonetheless, the bravura exploits and impossible aspirations of its hero had sufficient points of intersection with the more sober accounts that it gained and retained a patina of verisimilitude. This semi-historicity paid significant dividends for Alexander’s posthumous career, filtering through popular literary traditions from medieval Iceland in the far north-west all the way to south-east Asia.45 Alexander’s yearning (pothos) and youthful death made him susceptible to Romantic and visionary ideological retellings, at the heart of which sits a cluster of stories so fabulous and bizarre that they almost have to be true. Could anyone have made up from scratch a life history that starts with the last Egyptian Pharaoh, Nectanebo, fleeing to Macedonia, falling for glamourous and dangerous Olympias (wife of Philip II), and after hoodwinking her into a sexual liaison by pretending to be the Egyptian god Ammon, becoming the father of her son, Alexander?46 In fact, although parricide, magical messenger birds, dreams, and omens colour the childhood phase of the story, this phase in the Romance is not completely dissimilar to the more fanciful elements of the extant historical tradition, especially that exemplified by Curtius and Plutarch.

It is only after the first appearance of the Indian king Porus (2.12) that matters become truly novel. Alexander in disguise crosses the mysterious river Stranga (capable of freezing and thawing in an instant, 2.14–15); then, with Darius’s defeat and death, Alexander writes home to his mother about his impending wedding to Roxane and the marvels that he has witnessed thus far (from weird and magical flora and fauna, including centaurs, to undersea exploration; from the Land of the Blessed and the Water of Life, to an aerial attempt on Heaven, 2.23–44).

Alexander the Great, reception of
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Figure 3. Alexander in a diving bell (14th century, MS Bodley 264). Jehan de Grise and his workshop (illuminator) (Oxford, Bodleian Library, ms.264, f50r].

Image courtesy of Jehan de Grise (Public Domain).

This takes the Romance to India. At the City of the Sun Alexander’s death is foretold (2.44), but despite mutiny among his troops (3.1), Alexander defeats Porus in single combat and makes a visit to the Brahmans (3.4–6), which results in another “letter,” this time to Aristotle, characterising his experiences in India (3.7–16). Visits to Candace (Queen of Meroe) and her son Candaules lead to more extraordinary sights and encounters, including another warning about his death (3.18–24), and subsequently, successful annexation of the Amazons (3.25–26), all summed up for another letter home to mother (3.27–29). Back at Babylon, amidst more ominous events, Alexander is poisoned by his cupbearer (an attack planned from Macedon) and recognises that death has caught up with him (3.30–32). The Romance closes with the removal of Alexander’s body to Egypt by Ptolemy, and a list of the cities founded by Alexander.

Between Worlds

Alexander the Great, reception of
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Figure 4. Alexander meets the Amazons. Early 15th century, from an illustrated edition of La Vraye Histoire du Bon Roy Alixandre.

The British Library, London, England. Creative Common License (CC0 1.0).

Part of the enduring popularity of the Romance resided in its ability to connect the new polities and perspectives of late antiquity with an Alexander similarly facing challenges to the norms of reality. After the fall of Rome, new kinds of pan-European and cross-Mediterranean dialogue were realigning traditional relationships between East and West. New possibilities for East–West contact, and the dangers and opportunities of confabulation and miscommunication, ensured the popularity of the Romance as a model world of mysteries, marvels, and opportunities. Its Alexander was attractive because he too was experiencing the world destabilised, and therefore was a handy exemplar for understanding new waves of localism, nationalism, belief, and ethnic territorialism, and safely examining changes rippling out of the rise and decline of the Byzantine and Sassanian empires.47

Alexander the Great, reception of
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Figure 5. The Coronation of Alexander (from a late fifteenth-century edition of Latin text of Historia de preliis Alexandri Magni). Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru—The National Library of Wales, reference Peniarth MS 481 (the Disticha Catonis, with an English paraphrase in verse; the wars of Alexander—historia Alexandri magni regis Macedonie; and an incomplete text of Historia sanctorum trium regum. Illuminated).

The National Library of Wales. Creative Commons License (CC0 1.0).

Alexander’s story needed to be at least as rich with wonder as those of the new Christian heroes (biblical figures, saints, and martyrs) if it was to survive in Christendom.48 In the increasing turbulence of the new millennium, Alexander’s complex parentage, compromised nationality, philosophical education, and enthusiasm for self-fashioning made him an ideal figure for contemplation, and this strand (along with his miraculous adventures) would also feature vividly in the Arabic legendary tradition, and the central Asian legends of the Abbasid Caliphate era.49

The Romance had its beginnings in the East–West cosmopolitanism of the Hellenistic era, and also played well to new, later audiences, in Christendom and beyond, eager to see themselves and their local concerns slotted into the marvellous achievements of real-life figures. The “romantic” hero of early novelistic adventure stories was at once a narrative protagonist and an exemplum whose exploits and philosophical enthusiasms alike shed light on models of virtue (and vice).

Alexander the Great, reception of
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Figure 6. Alexander overseeing the building of a wall against the peoples of Gog and Magog (late 15th-century manuscript, Mughal style, possibly from a Khamseh of Nizami).

The British Library (Public Domain).

This tradition of Alexander sat well alongside the wandering, miracle-strewn travelogues told in the apocryphal Acts of various Apostles, and echoed in stories associated with the early Christian saints.50

By the 12th century, it would be easier to count the cultures without a popular lien on Alexander than to work through those where dynamic appropriations were thriving. In Europe especially, a vernacular literature was developing to provide entertainment for the new aristocracy of knights and their families. Two strands of the Alexander tradition predominate: the courtly, chivalrous Alexander, paragon of virtue but also sometimes a romantic gallant,51 and Alexander the precursor of East–West aggression, in an era of crusading politics.52 Recent edited collections have, for example, teased out the transformative role of Alexander for French rulers looking for eastern conquests, but also emphasised the lack of prominence for Alexander as a romantic gallant, despite the focus on love common to the European courtly tradition.53

Alexander the Great, reception of
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Figure 7. Alexander the Great and the Seven Philosophers, including Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato—early 16th-century edition of an early 13th-century text, with 18th-century re-illustration; Indian origin. The Walters Art Museum accession number W.609.372A.

Photo courtesy of Sefer Azeri. Creative Commons License (CC BY-SA 4.0).

The lavishly illustrated 12th-century MS Bodley 264, the French Roman d’Alexandre, along with its later sequels, offers an ideal example of just how vividly Alexander could speak to all agendas in the beginnings of a shift from religious to secular culture. Alexandre de Paris’s Roman d’Alexandre is a work of didactic and political sophistication, balancing and teetering between epic and romance, but emphasising the contemporaneity of Alexander’s story for tackling modern agendas.54 It delivers a sense of universes expanding and new scrutiny of traditional modes of thought, an appetite for city-building and architectural innovation as prosperous commercial centres took on new powers, and a new culture of curiosity and enthusiasm for solutions that depend on multiple modes of thought.55 At the same time, its interest in Alexander the city-destroyer just as much as Alexander the civiliser is a powerful context for the forces battering cities, from the fall of Constantinople (the sack by the Fourth Crusade, 1204) to Acre (1291) to the siege of Tournai (1340), where the book itself was produced as the siege by the English king Edward III unsuccessfully unfolded. Moreover, in the aspirational leadership mode combining political and military prowess, Alexander the front-line commander and spearhead of Western intervention in Eastern affairs was again a valuable and interesting prototype.

As the age of transatlantic and global exploration dawned, Alexander’s refreshed modernity ensured that he joined the new world of opportunities.

Reinvention: From Renaissance Politics to 21st-Century Pop Culture

Alexander the Great, reception of
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Figure 8. Alexander watching the Sirens bathing—an early 16th-century edition of an early 13th-century text, with 18th-century re-illustration; Indian origin. The Walters Art Museum accession number W.609.387B.

Photo courtesy of Sefer Azeri. Creative Commons License (CC BY-SA 4.0).

When artists and authors curated stories of Alexander for their patrons, they were participating in a creative and dynamic story of appropriation. It was an extraordinarily rich tradition involving the idea of wise kingship married to military genius, foiled only by youth, ambition, and the dictates of fortune. For any of the well-educated potential successor figures of the new elites, benefitting from myriad analyses and descriptions of Alexander’s rise and fall, the flaws that led to his downfall are surmountable. After the Byzantine Empire lost control of its capital Constantinople in 1453, the displacement of populations, economic shifts, and re-evaluation of the power dynamics between old and new conceptions of territorial, cultural, and ethnic imperialism accelerated the enrichment and engagement of Western reception with Eastern media and ideas. The figure of Alexander, significant for Crusader ideology, would now play a significant role in the development of newly secular and humanistic ideologies of power, but this reclamation of Alexander as a credible model for domestic realpolitik continued to coexist, in the Eastern traditions especially, with versions enthusiastic for his magical adventures.56

Alexander the Great, reception of
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Figure 9. Alexander’s flight, from the mid-fifteenth-century tapestry, possibly created for Philip the Good, now in the Villa del Principe (Genoa)— a gift from Emperor Charles V to Andrea Doria.

Photo courtesy of Sailko. Creative Commons License (CC-BY 3.0).

From the 15th century in particular, the West’s Alexander increasingly participates in art and literature dedicated to the autonomous individual: a protagonist conscious of his own mortality, less securely confident in the religious afterlife, and eager to explore how best to govern in the here and now and secure a legacy in the hereafter. In a subtle and lavishly illustrated discussion, Piero Boitani makes the case for Alexander’s mortality as a powerful factor in his enduring significance in the Western tradition.57

Alexander the Great, reception of
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Figure 10. Alexander overseeing the building of a wall against the peoples of Gog and Magog, assisted by demons (from a mid-16th-century Iranian edition of the Book of Divinations, Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, catalogue number Per 395.1).

Photo courtesy of Abd al-’Aziz (Public Domain).

We see the idea of an intellectual legacy develop in a renewal of scholarly interest in Alexander’s scientific conquests,58 as well as the ways in which ideas about Alexander clearly underpin Machiavelli’s characterisation of his Prince. We see a similar interest amongst theatrical audiences drawn to a dramatic hero whose human passions, yearnings, and failures could tug at their heartstrings.59 In Western art, these centuries also produce an Alexander who blends contemporary concerns and scenography with a new “archaeological” sensibility in which select and recognisable signs of classical antiquity give added weight to the reality-effect of the action.60

Alexander the Great, reception of
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Figure 11. Alexander the Great refuses to take water, Giuseppe Cades (1792).

Photo courtesy of the Hermitage, Department of Western European Fine Arts (Public Domain).

Alexander the Great, reception of
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Figure 12. Plate (tin-glazed earthenware) showing Alexander with Diogenes (Giulio da Urbino, 1534; the Walters Art Museum accession number 48.1493).

The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, United States. Creative Commons License (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Alexander the Great, reception of
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Figure 13. Plate (tin-glazed earthenware) with Alexander’s Triumphal Entry into Babylon, after the painting by Charles le Brun. Miguel Soliva; Spanish, 1740 (Metropolitan Museum of Art accession number 06.309).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (public domain).

Alexander the Great, reception of
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Figure 14. Alexander the Great and Campaspe in the Studio of Apelles, about 1740, Oil on canvas 42.5 × 54 cm (16 3/4 × 21 1/4 in.).

The J. Paul Getty Museum, California, United States (Public Domain).

Alexander the Great, reception of
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Figure 15. Timocleia Captive Brought Before Alexander the Great (Domenichino, c. 161, one of a series on Alexander intended for the house of Cardinal Peretti Montalto, in Rome). Louvre inventory number INV. 796.

The Louvre (Public Domain).

Alexander the Great, reception of
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Figure 16. Alexander the Great Cutting the Gordian Knot (Giovanni Paolo Panini, 1718/19). The Walters Art Museum accession number 37.516.

The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, United States. Creative Commons License (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Alexander the Great, reception of
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Figure 17. Alexander the Great Before the Tomb of Achilles (Hubert Robert, c. 1754), Louvre reference R.F. 1983-82.

Photo courtesy of Hubert Robert. Creative Commons License (CC BY-SA 3.0).

As the lost worlds of Pompeii and Herculaneum were brought to light, the anonymous ghosts conjured from the famous plaster after-images of ordinary Pompeians at the moment of their deaths encouraged an increasingly humane view of antiquity in which viewers could see themselves participate. The impact was amplified by an increasing prevalence of figures from antiquity in the accessories and wallpaper of everyday elite and bourgeois life.61 Grand Tourists might easily imagine themselves walking with Alexander to cut the Gordian Knot or visiting the tomb of Achilles in a way that viewers of earlier but comparable scenographies may well have struggled to achieve.62

Reinventing Individual Power

It was not just the emerging commercial classes of ambitious and aspiring individuals who were encouraged to see an increasingly down-to-earth Alexander as their preceptor. New models of autocracy were fermenting in the West, with iconic figures eager to find ways to boost their personality cults and authority.63 In Alexander, Louis XIV of France found a powerful model (key images created by Le Brun were so popular that they gained their own afterlife).

Alexander the Great, reception of
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Figure 18. Alexander the Great at the Tomb of Achilles (Giovanni Paolo Panini, 1718/19). The Walters Art Museum accession number 37.510.

Walters Art Museum. Creative Commons License (CC0).

With Racine’s drama Alexandre, premiered in December 1665, the impact of the comparison was felt well beyond court circles. The successful absolutism of the Sun King embraced aspects of the imagery of Alexander as a patron of the arts and sciences. Yet neither Alexander’s legendary relationship with his intellectual cohort nor with his cadre of close companions was uncomplicated, and in Napoleon’s subsequent development of charismatic leadership and its contexts, we can see the positive and negative strands in Alexander’s reception again converge.64

Napoleon’s entourage, like Alexander’s more generally, was remarkable in particular on campaign in Egypt (1798–1799) for its scientific expertise. A civilian troop of scholars, the savants, including Dominique-Vivant Denon, who would go on to produce the landmark piece of antiquarian and archaeological scholarship the Description de l’Égypte (1801), supported a propaganda-rich expedition and provided fuel for an imperial project that aspired to “restore” Egypt’s ancient greatness while making intellectual advances and achieving military triumph.65 This scientific turn was also on display when in 1833 Johann Gustav Droysen published Die Geschichte Alexanders des Großen, a new kind of study of Alexander with minute attention to teasing out a stable and coherent narrative from the sources, and within which Alexander’s determination to unite disparate peoples was to become the foundation of a new, stronger civilisation—a vision ended by his premature death. Yet whereas Droysen and academic scholarship were taking a turn towards objectivity, Alexander was simultaneously an icon for British imperialism and the English Romantics, young men eager to valorise Alexander’s incomplete life, unfinished masterwork, and mystical enthusiasms as a way of encoding an artistic movement obsessed with the wild, with the untameable, the unknowable, and the impossible.66

Even within the Muslim tradition, where Alexander entered through the Qur’ān, he “began as a defender of the cosmos against Chaos and became a warrior and prophet of God as well as a Mirror for Princes.”67 This search for a connection to something greater than oneself, and a capacity to reflect on what makes a life extraordinary and gives it meaning, make versions of the Romance’s Alexander flicker in and out of the stories and life histories of a host of remarkable and troubled individuals.68

Romanticism as an artistic movement challenged audiences to recognise the terrible power of nature and the insignificance of human existence within a magnificent cosmos, and to embrace life as an expeditionary quest the end of which was the beginning of a new quest.69 This strand in western reception continued to be manifest in the lives of explorer-scholars as diverse as Freya Stark,70 Aurel Stein,71 and Richard Burton (with his Alexander-like pothos for finding the source of the Nile), and damaged military mavericks such as T. E. Lawrence. In their real-world adventures they gave to Alexander’s real and imagined quests for the Water of Life, or the edges of the earth, or a glimpse of the Amazons, or the wisdom of the Brahmans, something of the symbolic force that drove the next great phase of exploration, the 20th-century space race.

Alexander and the Ideologues

Visionaries of a different kind, ideologues whose ambitions would overshadow the first half of the 20th century, would also look to Alexander for inspiration and support. Fascism early found a natural touchstone in the idea of Alexander’s destined role as a man defined by Providence to educate future generations.72 But Alexander was a less amenable—much less controllable—model for Italian or Nazi fascism to embrace wholeheartedly; he worked as a leitmotif to prefigure the need for a man of destiny to take charge of history, but Mussolini’s wry allusive reference/quotation made to Hitler during their joint trip to Russia on 23–30 August 1941, “E allora? Piangeremo come Alessandro Magno per la luna?” (So now? Shall we weep like Alexander the Great for the moon?), makes evident the persistently double-edged quality of Alexander the Great (and the Terrible), the god and the deluded mortal.73

For some scholars of the mid-20th century, exemplified by W. W. Tarn,74 the idea of Alexander as purveyor of a brand of universal brotherhood helped to sugar his deployment not just by the warmongers of their own era, but also as a long-running guide for imperialists and politicians alike.75 From the appearance of William Mitford’s eight-volume History of Greece (1784–1810), talking up the parallelism between Macedonian and British political systems, to John Gillies’ assertion in 1786 that “[Alexander’s] superior skill in war gave uninterrupted success to his arms; and his natural humanity, enlightened by the philosophy of Greece, taught him to improve his conquests to the best interests of mankind,”76 we see Alexander’s exploits evoked in support of a paternalistic imperialism. As exemplified in British political reception, Alexander became the model for the right sort of empire-building.77

George Grote’s distaste for the semi-barbarian (Macedonian) Alexander (in his History of Greece in twelve volumes, from 1846 to 1856), and liberal distrust of nationalism and state-building rhetoric, might have seemed more prescient in the 20th century had Tarn not annexed Alexander for a visionary agenda whose healing charismatic leadership made him ideally suited to a continent in recovery from two cataclysmic wars.78

Receptions in Mass Media and Popular Culture

When Andy Warhol transformed Alexander the Great into one of his Factory crew, he was illustrating a vibe that would see Alexander claimed enthusiastically as a gay icon (Alexander and Hephaestion are of course the one true pair).79 Alexander crops up all over the place, but Warhol’s brand of high–low pop culture reaches its stranger limits in British heavy metal group Iron Maiden’s song “Alexander the Great” (from their 1986 album Somewhere in Time), while perhaps inevitably, a Google search for [Alexander the Great Leadership] produces a wealth of cash-in volumes for would-be kings of business, especially around 2004.80 Perhaps the most enduring and well-loved piece of modern Alexander-reception is Mary Renault’s trilogy of novels on Alexander. Across three very different treatments Renault covers Alexander’s boyhood (Fire From Heaven, written as a straightforward account), eastern campaign (The Persian Boy, from the perspective of a captured eunuch who becomes Alexander’s most loyal companion), and Funeral Games (a gruelling read, tackling the aftermath of Alexander’s death, and the implications of his failure to secure the succession).81

The last seventy-five years have seen Alexander emerge with remarkable lack of success as a movie hero. Neither Robert Rossen’s inspired casting of Richard Burton as Alexander (Alexander the Great, 1956) nor Oliver Stone’s big-budget gamble on a hokey, straight narration—Alexander (2004)—achieved popular or critical success, but Stone has continued to edit, eventually in 2014 producing a cut which seems to satisfy almost everyone.82 Alexander had already proved popular on screen in Sohrab Modi’s 1941 epic Sikander. This nationalistic pageant illuminated India’s struggle for self-determination, with Modi in the heroic role of Porus, and was dourly received by the British authorities. Some of its ambiguity in reimagining Alexander is also evident in John Huston’s surprisingly dark but also unabashedly escapist retelling of Rudyard Kipling’s 1888 short story, The Man Who Would be King (1975), a self-conscious “reception” of Alexander’s impact on “Kafiristan.” The last word on Alexander movies (thus far) might be given to Eugene N. Borza: “In the end, Alexander of Macedon has yet to meet his modern film maker.”83

Anglophone television adaptations would also draw on the significance of Alexander as British imperialism lost its oomph, with Sean Connery memorably talking the lead in a 1961 BBC adaptation of Terrence Rattigan’s 1949 play Adventure Story, while in 1968 William Shatner was Alexander in a US pilot passed over by studio executives, but now with a cult following.84 Most recently, in the footsteps of Modi’s Sikander, Siddharth Kumar Tewary’s lavish, swashbuckling (and extremely expensive) miniseries Porus (starring Laksh Lalwani, with Alexander played by Rohit Purohit) has successfully reinvented the glamour and mystique of the Romance tradition as part of a reframing of the cultural politics.85

Trends in Early 21st-Century Scholarship

In 2000 came a collection of essays in which “fiction” shared the limelight with “fact” and students of Alexander were challenged to recognise the imaginary quality of so much of what keeps his image lively.86 Two years later, enthusiastic encouragement to look to Roman-era texts for more than echoes of an ever-elusive “real” Alexander focused attention on the importance of reception in understanding the history of Alexander.87

Methodologically, this new attention to the fragility of Alexander’s historicity was a game-changer for classicists and ancient historians. Collections on Alexander now routinely include contributions on his reception in antiquity and beyond,88 a Companion to the Reception of Alexander the Great was published in 2018 by Brill,89 while monographs too tend to include discussion of his “afterlife,” highlighting the power of Alexander’s many variant contexts and cultural moments of significance.90 Alexander’s role in the very real repercussions of Macedonian identity politics has yet to be treated substantially as a topic in reception, but the bite to his political deployment still colours East–West relations, and his role within Eastern traditions has a lively scholarship.91

In this respect classical studies is coming comparatively late to the party. A long and rich tradition of medievalist scholarship explores local reception histories through the Alexander-Romance. George Cary’s ground-breaking study of The Mediaeval Alexander remains foundational, alongside D. J. A. Ross’s survey of illustrated texts.92 It was joined by significant regional studies on (for instance) medieval British and French reception, including a richly rewarding and substantial study of Alexander’s significance for the luminaries of European intellectual history.93 French scholars, meanwhile, have explored receptions beyond the European cultural frame, showing particular interest in Arabic and Iranian traditions.94 For everyone interested in receptions from these edges of Alexander’s empire, The Alexander Romance in Persia and the East is essential.95 This trend is now also evident in anglophone work shedding light on the complex transnational meanders in receptions at the beginning of the early modern era.96

Particularly impressive is the body of scholarship masterminded by Catherine Gaullier-Bougassas, especially the multi-volume series of edited collections Alexander redivivus, which ranges well beyond medieval reception.97 While the Alexander redivivus series represents monumental attention to detail and breadth of coverage for reception of Alexander and what one might term Alexander-mythography from the medieval era to the Renaissance, and into the Enlightenment, the definitive monograph on Alexander in the Renaissance has yet to be written. For Alexander’s significance in the shifting intellectual currents in the “long” 18th-century developments, Pierre Briant’s 2012 survey situates Alexander at the heart of Enlightenment thinking.98 Readers interested more broadly in seeing instances within the sweep of post-medieval reception can consult the extensive 2009 edited collection Alessandro Magno in età moderna which ranges into the early 20th century, and Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Alexander the Great.99

Scholarship on the conqueror’s treatment in contemporary media is unexpectedly meagre, especially given the brouhaha attendant on the Alexander Movie Wars (ending in a head-to-head of competing “Alexanders” contested by Baz Luhrman and won in 2004 by Oliver Stone). Modern media receptions get a chapter in Gideon Nisbet, Ancient Greece in Film and Popular Culture, and feature eclectically, but without leading to any overall evaluative conclusion, in Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Alexander the Great.100 A panel at the American Philological Association conference (2006), considering Stone’s movie, but also briefly looking back to Rossen’s, generated publications including a collection edited by organisers Hanna M. Roisman and Martin M. Winkler and published in The Classical Outlook; subsequently Stone’s 2004 Alexander has been reverentially revisited in the edited collection Responses to Oliver Stone’s Alexander: Film, History, and Cultural Studies.101 Erotic fan-fiction has been one of the liveliest areas of reception for Stone’s Alexander: “Alexander (2004)” and “Alexander Trilogy—Mary Renault” are popular categories for filtering and defining erotica on the website Archive of Our Own, and while Alexander and Hephaistion are the most common pairing, one can also find the more unexpected “Alexander the Great/Legolas Greenleaf,” where Alexander jumps mythos, a phenomenon also evident in the Fanfiction community where alongside standard pairings Alexander also jumps to the Warhammer- and Zeldaverse.102 On this erotic angle, Konstantinos P. Nikoloutsos gets to the bottom of the “bromance” and gender fluidity in Alexander (2004), a welcome intervention to a mostly staid set of critical responses within classical scholarship.103

Taking the longest view, Richard Stoneman’s lively and richly informed Alexander the Great: A Life in Legend weaves a compelling and reflective overview as it tracks the hero’s posthumous deeds through two millennia of storytelling.

Florimont, Flower of the World, Grandfather of Alexander the Great: illustrates the wider context of Alexander’s medieval reception.

Medieval Alexander Bibliographies: A good bibliography on the medieval receptions of Alexander the Great, maintained by E. R. Huber.

On Alexander Track to the Indus.

Alexander Romance (“Pseudo-Callisthenes”): A useful translation of the Alexander Romance.

Sikander (1941).

Iron Maiden sings about “Alexander the Great”.

The Man Who Would be King.

Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte—Complete by Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne: spot how often Alexander (the Great) recurs in Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne’s Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte, Complete, ed. R. W. Phipps (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1891 [first published in French, 1831]).Find this resource:

Plutarch: Life of Alexander.

Arrian’s Anabasis (E. Iliff Robson’s original translation, in the Loeb Classical Library series).

Further Reading

Baynham, Elizabeth. Alexander the Great: The Unique History of Quintus Curtius. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998.Find this resource:

Biasutti, Franco, and AlessandraCoppola, eds. Alessandro Magno in età moderna. Padua: CLEUP, 2009.Find this resource:

Bosworth, A. B., and Elizabeth J. Baynham, eds. Alexander the Great in Fact and Fiction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.Find this resource:

Briant, Pierre. The First European: A History of Alexander in the Age of Empire. Translated by Nicholas Elliott. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017 (first published, in French, Paris 2012).Find this resource:

Cartledge, Paul, and Fiona Rose Greenland, eds. Responses to Oliver Stone’s Alexander: Film, History, and Cultural Studies. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Studies in Classics, 2010.Find this resource:

Cary, George. The Medieval Alexander. Edited by D. J. A. Ross. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1956.Find this resource:

Chatzinikolaou, Nikos, ed. Ο Μέγας Αλέξανδρος στην ευρωπαϊκή τέχνη‎. Thessaloniki: Organismós politistikī́s prōteúousas tīs Eurṓpīs “Thessaloníkī ̓97,” 1997.Find this resource:

Doufikar-Aerts, Faustina. Alexander Magnus Arabicus: A Survey of the Alexander Tradition Through Seven Centuries, from Pseudo-Callisthenes to Suri. Mediaevalia Groningana, vol. 13. Louvain: Peeters, 2010.Find this resource:

Gaullier-Bougassas, Catharine, Jean-Yves Tilliette, Corinne Jouanno, and Margaret Bridges, eds. Alexander redivivus. Turnhout: Brepols, 2011–.Find this resource:

Goukowsky, Paul. Essai sur les origines du mythe d’Alexandre (336–270 av. J.-C.), vol. 1. Les Origines politiques. Nancy: Annales de l’Est, 1978.Find this resource:

Hammond, N. G. L. Sources for Alexander the Great: An Analysis of Plutarch’s Life and Arrian’s Anabasis Alexandrou. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.Find this resource:

Jouanno, Corinne. Naissance et métamorphoses du Roman d’Alexandre. Domaine grec. Paris: CNRS, 2002.Find this resource:

Maddox, Donald, and Sara Sturm-Maddox, eds. The Medieval French Alexander. Albany: State University of New York, 2002.Find this resource:

Moore, Kenneth R., ed. Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Alexander the Great. Leiden: Brill, 2018.Find this resource:

Ross, D. J. A. Alexander Historiatus: A Guide to Medieval Illustrated Alexander Literature. London: Warburg Institute, 1963.Find this resource:

Spencer, Diana. The Roman Alexander: Reading a Cultural Myth. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2002.Find this resource:

Stock, Marcus, ed. Alexander the Great in the Middle Ages: Transcultural Perspectives. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016.Find this resource:

Stoneman, Richard. Alexander the Great: A Life in Legend. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.Find this resource:

Stoneman, Richard, Kyle Erickson, and Ian Netton, eds. The Alexander Romance in Persia and the East. Groningen: Barkhuis, 2012.Find this resource:

Zuwiyya, David, ed. A Companion to Alexander Literature in the Middle Ages. Leiden: Brill, 2011.Find this resource:


(1.) Plut. Pyrrh 19.1 (1st/2nd century ce) credits earlier use of “the great” nickname to one of Rome’s culture-heroes Appius Claudius Caecus, in 280 bce (encouraging Rome to recall its claim to be more than a match for Alexander, had he looked west). There is no contemporary record of the speech, and Plutarch’s evidence is unknown.

(2.) Unexpected, e.g., Daniël den Hengst, “Alexander and Rome,” in Emperors and Historiography: Collected Essays on the Literature of the Roman Empire by Daniël den Hengst, ed. D. W. P. Burgersdijk and J. A. van Waarden (Leiden: Brill, 2010), 68–83.

(3.) Polyb. summing up on Agathocles of Sicily, 9.23.2, 12.15.1–11, 15.35.1–7, draws in Scipio’s comment that the greatest statesmen, equally wise and courageous, were “Agathocles and Dionysius the Sicilians.”

(4.) For the endurance of this counterfactual, see e.g., Diana Spencer, “‘You Should Never Meet Your Heroes . . .’: Growing Up with Alexander, the Valerius Maximus Way,” in Philip II and Alexander the Great: Father and Son, Lives and Afterlives, ed. Elizabeth Carney and Daniel Ogden (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 182.

(5.) Ruth Morello, “Livy's Alexander Digression (9.17–19): Counterfactuals and Apologetics,” Journal of Roman Studies 92 (2002): 62–85.

(6.) Key instances are Polyb. 3.6.4–14; 5.10.6–9; 8.10.7–11; 9.28.8, 34.1–3; 12.17–22, 23; 38.2.13–14.

(7.) Diana Spencer, “Roman Alexanders: Epistemology and Identity,” in Alexander the Great: A New History, ed. Waldemar Heckel and Lawrence A. Tritle (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 251–274, at 251–253; Giuseppe Zecchini, “Alessandro Magno nella cultura dell’età antonina,” in Alessandro Magno tra storia e mito, ed. Marta Sordi (Milan: Jaca, 1984), 195–212. For extensive analysis, see Diana Spencer, The Roman Alexander: Reading a Cultural Myth (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2002).

(8.) Andrew Stewart, “The Portraiture of Alexander,” in Brill’s Companion to Alexander the Great, ed. Joseph Roisman (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 31–66. For Rome, note Cic. Fam. 5.12.6–7.

(9.) Cicero Ad Att. 12.40.1–2, 13.26.2, 13.27.1, 13.28.1–3; see Spencer, Roman Alexander, 57, 61–63.

(10.) Spencer, Roman Alexander, 128–134.

(11.) Aug. Civ. Dei 4.4.1, probably citing Cicero Rep., describes Alexander’s confrontation with a pirate; in an uncomfortable comparison, both are terrorists in their own way. See George Cary, The Medieval Alexander, ed. D. J. A. Ross (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1956), 95.

(12.) E.g., Strabo 1.2.1; for further references, see Spencer, “Roman Alexanders,” 273. On Vitruvius, Arch. 2 Praef., see Diana Spencer, “Vitruvius, Landscape and Heterotopias: How ‘Otherspaces’ Enrich Roman Identity,” in The Routledge Handbook of Identity and the Environment in the Classical and Early Medieval Worlds, ed. Rebecca Kennedy and Molly Jones-Lewis (London: Routledge, 2016), 171–191.

(13.) Pliny, HN 13.27; see Spencer, “Roman Alexanders,” 274.

(14.) In his wake, see Antony refracted through a similar lens by Plutarch (Ant. 4, 24, 54, 60); Spencer, Roman Alexander, 25, 67–68, 77–78, for references and bibliography.

(15.) See Spencer, “Roman Alexanders,” 259. For the coinage, e.g., denarius from 38 bce (see Coinage of the Roman Republic Online).

(16.) Diana Spencer, “Horace and the Company of Kings: Art and Artfulness in Epistle 2,1,” Materiali e discussioni per l'analisi dei testi classici 51, no. 2 (2003): 135–160.

(17.) E.g., Cic. Fam. 5.12.7; or Strabo 13.1.27 (Caesar, philalexandros, recreates Alexander’s obsequies at Troy).

(18.) For this principle, see Gary D. Farney, Ethnic Identity and Aristocratic Competition in Republican Rome (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

(19.) Spencer, Roman Alexander, 179 n.32; for further detailed discussion, see Otto Weippert, Alexander-Imitatio und römische Politik in republikanischer Zeit (PhD Diss., Würzburg, 1972), 37–55.

(20.) E.g., BC 5.261–295, 317–318; compare Caesar, BC 3.6.1, 74.2; 3.91, 95.1, 97.1; 3.47.5–48; for discussion, see Spencer, Roman Alexander, 201–203.

(21.) Spencer, “Roman Alexanders,” 254–255.

(22.) On these two passages, Velleius and Statius, see Spencer, Roman Alexander, 182–189.

(23.) Plut. Pomp. 46; Appian Bell. Mith. 117 (12.17).

(24.) Cf. Suet. Aug. 18, 50 for more ambiguous engagement with Alexander’s corpse and image by Augustus.

(25.) An appreciation for good/bad figures underpins Roman exemplary literature; another useful example is Valerius Maximus’s treatment, on which see Spencer, “Heroes,” 175–191.

(26.) Spencer, Roman Alexander, 193–195.

(27.) Spencer, Roman Alexander, 21–21, 24, and (in Nero’s aftermath) “Roman Alexanders,” 256–257, 263–264.

(28.) For Trajan as an Alexander-imitator, see e.g., Cass. Dio 68.29, on which Sulochana R. Asirvatham, “His Son’s Father? Philip II in the Second Sophistic,” in Philip II and Alexander the Great: Father and Son, Lives and Afterlives, ed. Elizabeth Carney and Daniel Ogden (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 193–204.

(29.) See e.g., Alexander’s significance for Egypt as a civil war landscape; Jonathan Tracy, Lucan’s Egyptian Civil War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), passim.

(30.) E.g., Curt. 8.5.20, 10.2.6–7. See also Petre Ceauşescu, “La double image d’Alexandre le Grand à Rome: essai d’une explicatioin politique,” Studii clasice 16 (1974): 159 n. 29.

(31.) For Romans writing about freedom versus tyranny (in this context, e.g., Justin 11.11), the context might also include the role and responsibilities of the Princeps’ circle of friendly advisers (e.g., Pliny, Pan. 85–86; Eutropius, Breu. 8.4–5).

(32.) On the quinquennium, see e.g., Barbara M. Levick, “Nero’s Quinquennium,” in Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History, vol. 3 (Collection Latomus 180), ed. Carl Deroux (Brussels: Latomus, 1983), 211–225. On Seneca’s Alexander, see Domenico Lassandro, “La figura di Alessandro Magno nell’opera di Seneca,” in La figura di Alessandro Magno tra storia e mito, ed. Marta Sordi (Milan: Jaca, 1984), 155–168; on Seneca and how to advise Alexander/Nero, see Diana Spencer, “Telling it Like it Is . . .: Seneca, Alexander and the Dynamics of Epistolary Advice,” in Advice and its Rhetoric in Greece and Rome, ed. Diana Spencer and Elena Theodorakopoulos (Bari: Levante, 2006), 79–104.

(33.) On introducing Alexander as a persisting motif for Trajan and Hadrian, Spencer, “Roman Alexanders,” 265–267.

(34.) See detailed discussion in Robin Lane Fox, “The Itinerary of Alexander: Constantius to Julian,” Quarterly 47, no. 1 (1997), 239–252.

(35.) A. B. Bosworth’s work has done much to erode the faith in Arrian’s bona fides, e.g., From Arrian to Alexander: Studies in Historical Interpretation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), and Alexander and the East: The Tragedy of Triumph (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996).

(37.) For Curtius on territory as a corrupting force, see Diana Spencer, “Perspective and Poetics in Curtius’ Gorgeous East,” Acta Classica 48 (2005): 121–140.

(38.) The remarkable significance of Plutarch’s work is reflected in a comparative analysis undertaken by N. G. L. Hammond, Sources for Alexander the Great: An Analysis of Plutarch’s Life and Arrian’s Anabasis Alexandrou (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993). For a brief, clear overview, see Sulochana R. Asirvatham, “Plutarch’s Alexander,” in Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Alexander the Great, ed. Kenneth R. Moore (Leiden: Brill, 2018), 355–376.

(39.) On Plutarch’s anecdotalism as a compositional device, see Luc Van der Stockt, “Compositional Methods in the Lives,” in A Companion to Plutarch, ed. Mark Beck (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014), 321–332. Some of the evidence for Alexander’s anecdotal reception is evident in Valerius Maximus, on which see Spencer, “Heroes.”

(40.) Richard Stoneman, “Primary Sources from the Classical and Early Medieval Periods,” in A Companion to Alexander Literature in the Middle Ages, ed. David Zuwiyya (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 1–20. The standard English translation is Richard Stoneman, trans., The Greek Alexander Romance (London: Penguin, 1991), but see now Richard Stoneman, ed., and Tristano Gargiulo, ed., trans., Il Romanzo di Alessandro, vols. 1, 2 (Milan: Fondazione Lorenzo Valla/A. Mondadori, 2007, 2012), part of a project to produce new editions and translations of all the major sources. On questions of authorship, Stoneman, Romanzo, is crucial, but summarising some aspects of that introduction (and perhaps more widely available) see Richard Stoneman, “The Author of the Alexander Romance,” in Readers and Writers in the Ancient Novel, Ancient Narrative Supplementum 12, ed. Michael Paschalis, Stelios Panayotakis, and Gareth Schmeling (Groningen: Barkhuis, 2002), 142–154.

(41.) On Alexander and empire in the Jewish tradition, see e.g., Ruth Nisse, “Diaspora as Empire in the Hebrew Deeds of Alexander (Ma’aseh Alexandros),” in Alexander the Great in the Middle Ages: Transcultural Perspectives, ed. Markus Stock (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016), 76–87.

(42.) Richard Stoneman, Alexander the Great: A Life in Legend (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008), 53–66. On the Greek beginnings in particular, see Corinne Jouanno, Naissance et métamorphoses du Roman d'Alexandre. Domaine grec (Paris: CNRS, 2002).

(43.) On wide-ranging coverage of the Eastern tradition, see Richard Stoneman, Kyle Erickson, and Ian Netton (eds.), The Alexander Romance in Persia and the East. Ancient Narrative supplementum 15 (Groningen: Barkhuis Publishing, 2012). A usefully concise summary of the complex recensions is Henriette Harich-Schwarzbauer and Claudia Ott, “Alexander Romance,” in Brill’s New Pauly, Antiquity volumes, ed. Hubert Cancik and Helmuth Schneider. First published online: 2006. Focusing on the Syriac tradition, Krzysztof Nawotka, “Syriac and Persian Versions of the Alexander Romance,” in Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Alexander the Great, ed. Kenneth R. Moore (Leiden: Brill, 2018), 525–542.

(44.) Key “scientific” figures in the court included Onesicritus and Nearchus. See e.g., Antonio Ignacio Molina Marín, “Under the Shadow of Eratosthenes: Strabo and the Alexander Historians,” in The Routledge Companion to Strabo, ed. Daniela Dueck (Abingdon: Routledge, 2017), 294–305. For individuals, see Waldemar Heckel, Alexander the Great: Prosopography of Alexander’s Empire (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006).

(45.) For the Romance variants listed with descriptions and tabulated, see Stoneman, A Life in Legend, 230–245, 247–254. For a concise literary critical summary, see Richard Stoneman, “The Alexander Romance: From History to Fiction,” in Greek Fiction: The Greek Novel in Context, ed. J. R. Morgan and Richard Stoneman (London: Routledge, 1994), 117–129. See also e.g., Elizabeth J. Baynham, “Who Put the ‘Romance’ in the Alexander Romance? The Alexander Romances within Alexander Historiography,” Ancient History Bulletin 9 (1995): 1–13.

(46.) Referencing follows Stoneman, Romance.

(47.) Emily Reiner, “Meanings of Nationality in the Medieval Alexander Tradition,” in Alexander the Great in the Middle Ages: Transcultural Perspectives, ed. Markus Stock (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016), 30–50.

(48.) Peter Brown, “The Rise and Function of the Holy Man in Late Antiquity,” Journal of Roman Studies 61 (1971): 80–101.

(49.) E.g., Christine Chism, “Facing the Land of Darkness: Alexander, Islam, and the Quest for the Secrets of God,” in Alexander the Great in the Middle Ages: Transcultural Perspectives, ed. Markus Stock (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016), 51–75.

(50.) E.g., Michael Zink, “The Prologue to the Historia de Preliis: A Pagan Model of Spiritual Struggle,” in The Medieval French Alexander, ed. Donald Maddox and Sara Sturm-Maddox (Albany: State University of New York, 2002), 21–27; Graham Anderson, “The Alexander Romance and the Pattern of Hero-Legend,” in The Alexander Romance in Persia and the East. Ancient Narrative supplementum 15, ed. Richard Stoneman, Kyle Erickson, and Ian Netton (Groningen: Barkhuis Publishing, 2012), 81–102.

(51.) Laurence Harf-Lancner, “Medieval French Alexander Romances,” in A Companion to Alexander Literature in the Middle Ages, ed. David Zuwiyya (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 201–229; Catherine Gaullier-Bougassas, Les Romans d’Alexandre. Aux frontières de l’épique et du romanesque (Paris: Honoré Champion, 1998). In the Roman de Perceforest (a complex work in French, probably dating to the 14th century), in a very different way of bringing Alexander into courtly focus, he takes a role in the Arthurian mythos and Britain’s legendary history.

(52.) E.g., Emmanuèle Baumgartner, “The Raid on Gaza in Alexandre de Paris’s Romance,” in The Medieval French Alexander, ed. Donald Maddox and Sara Sturm-Maddox (Albany: State University of New York, 2002), 29–38; William W. Kibler, “‘A paine a on bon arbre de malvaise raïs’: Counsel for Kings in the Roman d’Alexandre,” in The Medieval French Alexander, ed. Donald Maddox and Sara Sturm-Maddox (Albany: State University of New York, 2002), 111–125.

(53.) E.g., Emmanuèle Baumgartner, “The Raid on Gaza in Alexandre de Paris’s Romance,” in The Medieval French Alexander, ed. Donald Maddox and Sara Sturm-Maddox (Albany, NY: State University of New York, 2002), 29–38; William W. Kibler, “‘A paine a on bon arbre de malvaise raïs’: Counsel for Kings in the Roman d’Alexandre, in The Medieval French Alexander, ed. Donald Maddox and Sara Sturm-Maddox (Albany, NY: State University of New York, 2002), 111–125.

(54.) Gaullier-Bougassas, Les Romans d’Alexandre.

(55.) Mark Cruse, Illuminating the Roman d’Alexandre, Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 264: The Manuscript as Monument (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2011).

(56.) See e.g., in the Persian tradition, Abu Taher Tarsusi’s Darabnameh (12th century), edition and French translation by Marina Galliard, Alexandre le Grand en Iran. Le Darab-nameh d’Abu Taher Tarsusi (Paris: Boccard, 2005); Abu Yusif Nizami Ganjavi’s massive Iskandarnameh which treats statecraft and “fortune,” and sees Alexander reach China (12th/13th century), translation into German by Johann-Christoph Bürgel, Das Alexanderbuch. Iskandarnameh (Zürich: Manesse, 1991); see also Amir Khusraw’s late 13th-century poem Āyinah-i Iskanadarī, online in an illustrated Persian manuscript (1609) now in the Walters Museum, with edition and Italian translation by Angelo Michele Piemontese, Lo Specchio Alessandrino (Soveria Mannelli: Rubbettino, 1999). For the continuation of mystery-adventures, with a diminished sense of admiration, in the West, see e.g., Domenico Falugio’s 16th-century Triompho Magno or Jacopo di Carlo’s 15th-century Alessandreide.

(58.) Achille Olivieri, “Alessandro Magno creatore di saperi: fra ’500 e ’700,” in Alessandro Magno in età moderna, ed. Franco Biasutti and Alessandra Coppola (Padua: CLEUP, 2009), 117–132.

(59.) E.g., Vickie Sullivan, “Alexander the Great as ‘Lord of Asia’ and Rome as His Successor in Machiavelli’s Prince,” Review of Politics Special Issue: Machiavelli’s Prince 75, no. 4 (2013): 515–537; Claudia Corti, “Eroico/erotico: Alessandro Magno nella drammaturgia romantic inglese,” in Alessandro Magno in età moderna, ed. Franco Biasutti and Alessandra Coppola (Padua: CLEUP, 2009), 201–232.

(60.) Summary discussion, Spencer, Roman Alexander, 208–209; on one example, see E. J. Baynham, “Power, Passion, and Patrons: Alexander, Charles Le Brun, and Oliver Stone,” in Alexander the Great: A New History, ed. Waldemar Heckel and Lawrence A. Tritle (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 294–310.

(61.) Alexander also found his way onto decorative tiles, e.g., early 15th-century Bavarian stove tile; (object Cg99), brought to my attention by Kate Cook (@KatExe).

(62.) Taking Rome as an example, Barbara Steindl, “L’iconografia alessandrina nella Roma dell ’800,” in Alessandro Magno in età moderna, ed. Franco Biasutti and Alessandra Coppola (Padua: CLEUP, 2009), 315–348.

(63.) Jean-Marie Roulin, “Chateaubriand: Alexandre à la lumière de la Révolution et de Napoléon,” in Alessandro Magno in età moderna, ed. Franco Biasutti and Alessandra Coppola (Padua: CLEUP, 2009), 255–269. For a wider sweep, see Pierre Briant, Alexandre des Lumières. Fragments d'histoire européenne (Paris: Gallimard, 2012); now translated as The First European: A History of Alexander in the Age of Empire, trans. Nicholas Elliott (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017).

(64.) Chantal Grell and Christian Michel, L’Ecole des princes ou Alexandre disgracié, foreword Pierre Vidal-Naquet (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1988).

(65.) A detailed overview is offered by Agnieszka Fulińska, “Alexander and Napoleon,” in Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Alexander the Great, ed. Kenneth R. Moore (Leiden: Brill, 2018), 545–575. For the background to Egyptian obsession, see Brian A. Curran, “The Renaissance Afterlife of Ancient Egypt (1400–1650),” in The Wisdom of Egypt: Changing Visions Through the Ages, ed. Peter Ucko and Timothy Champion (London: University College Press, 2003), 101–131. On the Description, see Anne Godlewska, “Map, Text and Image, the Mentality of Enlightened Conquerors: A New Look at the Description de I'Egypte.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, New Series 20 (1995): 5–27. Eventually, the only physical relic of Alexander in French possession by 1801 was the so-called “Sarcophagus of Alexander” (in fact, sarcophagus of Nectanebo II), now in the British Museum, which was surrendered to the British rather than gracing the Louvre. See Andrew Chugg, “The Sarcophagus of Alexander the Great?” Greece & Rome 49, no. 1 (2002): 8–26.

(66.) For an accessible study of Droysen’s Alexander, see Josef Wiesehöfer, “Receptions of Alexander in Johann Gustav Droysen,” in Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Alexander the Great, ed. Kenneth R. Moore (Leiden: Brill, 2018), 596–614; on the British political appropriations in India, see Rachel Mairs, “The Men Who Would be Alexander: Alexander the Great and His Graeco-Bactrian Successors in the Raj,” in Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Alexander the Great, ed. Kenneth R. Moore (Leiden: Brill, 2018), 576–595.

(67.) Stoneman, A Life in Legend, 228.

(68.) On turning east, see Josef Wiesehöfer, “The ‘Accursed’ and the ‘Adventurer’: Alexander the Great in Iranian Tradition,” in A Companion to Alexander Literature in the Middle Ages, ed. David Zuwiyya (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 113–132.

(69.) For this millennia-old impetus recast in modern agendas, see Margaret E. Butler, “Go East, Young Man: Adventuring in the Spirit of Alexander,” in Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Alexander the Great, ed. Kenneth R. Moore (Leiden: Brill, 2018), 694–716.

(70.) Freya Stark, Alexander’s Path from Caria to Cilicia (London: J. Murray, 1958).

(71.) Aurel Stein, On Alexander’s Track to the Indus: Personal Narrative of Explorations on the North-West Frontier of India, Carried out under the Orders of H. M. Indian Government (London: Macmillan, 1929); see Frank W. Ikle, “Sir Aurel Stein: A Victorian Geographer in the Tracks of Alexander,” Isis 59, no. 2 (1968): 144–155.

(72.) Alessandra Coppola, “L’Alessandro fascista,” in Alessandro Magno in età moderna, ed. Franco Biasutti and Alessandra Coppola (Padua: CLEUP, 2009), 357–370.

(73.) According to Eugen Dollmann, Mussolini was alluding referentially to stanzas 1 and 5 of the melancholy, experimental poem “Aléxandros” (Giovanni Pascoli, 1855–1912). Quoted in Eugen Dollmann, With Hitler and Mussolini: Memoirs of a Nazi Interpreter, trans. J. Maxwell Brownjohn, foreword by David Talbot (New York: Skyhorse, 2017 [first published as The Interpreter, London: Hutchinson, 1967]); Pascoli, “Aléxandros.”

(74.) W. W. Tarn, Alexander the Great, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1948).

(75.) Briant, Alexandre des Lumières; on one element of detail, see Pierre Briant, “Grote on Alexander the Great,” in Brill’s Companion to George Grote and the Classical Tradition, ed. Kyriakos N. Demetriou (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 329–365.

(76.) John Gillies, The History of Ancient Greece, its Colonies, and Conquests, From the Earliest Accounts till the Division of the Macedonian Empire in the East. Including the History of Literature, Philosophy, and the Fine Arts, 4 vols. (London: A. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1787 [second edition]), vol. 4, 385.

(77.) E.g., Christopher A. Hagerman, “In the Footsteps of the ‘Macedonian Conqueror’: Alexander the Great and British India,” International Journal of the Classical Tradition 16, no. 3/4 (2009): 344–392.

(78.) For a survey of scholarship, see Reinhold Bichler, “Alexander’s Image in German, Anglo-American and French Scholarship from the Aftermath of World War I to the Cold War,” in Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Alexander the Great, ed. Kenneth R. Moore (Leiden: Brill, 2018), 640–674. For one interesting case study, see Kyriacos N. Demetriou, “Historians on Macedonian Imperialism and Alexander the Great,” Journal of Modern Greek Studies 19, no. 1 (2001): 23–60.

(79.) A tumblr search brings up a wealth of examples.

(80.) Spencer, Roman Alexander, 219–221 summarises the state of play as it was in 2002, but the field keeps changing.

(81.) Mary Renault, Fire From Heaven (Ney York: Pantheon Books, 1969/London: Longman, 1970), The Persian Boy (London: Longman 1972), Funeral Games (London: Peter Murray: 1981). See e.g., Neil McEwan, Perspective in British Historical Fiction Today (London: Macmillan, 1987), 58–78; Beert C. Verstraete, “Alexander the Great in the Historical Fiction of Mary Renault and Louis Couperus: A Study in Contrasting Portrayals,” Cahiers des études anciennes 34 (1998): 151–157; Shaun Tougher, “The Renault Bagoas: The Treatment of Alexander the Great’s Eunuch in Mary Renault’s The Persian Boy,” New Voices in Classical Reception Studies 3 (2008): 77–89; Elizabeth Baynham and Terry Ryan, “‘The Unmanly Ruler’: Bagoas, Alexander’s Eunuch Lover, Mary Renault’s The Persian Boy, and Alexander Reception,” in Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Alexander the Great, ed. Kenneth R. Moore (Leiden: Brill, 2018), 615–639. Claude Mossé, Alexander: Destiny and Myth, trans. Janet Lloyd, foreword by Paul Cartledge (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004 [first edition published by Éditions Payot & Rivage, 2001]), 202–209, contrasts two fictional Alexanders from Klaus Mann (1929) and Valerio Massimo Manfredi (London: Pan Macmillan, 2001, first published in Italian in 1998).

(82.) Released around the time of the film’s tenth anniversary, Alexander: The Ultimate Cut has gone some way towards reengaging the critics, e.g., Peter Sobczynski, “A Reappraisal of Oliver Stone’s ‘Alexander: The Ultimate Cut’,” June 24, 2014. As of April 16, 2019, it had an 80%—versus 34% for the original version—audience approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. See also e.g., Jim Hemphill, “Jim Hemphill (The Trouble with the Truth) Talks Oliver Stone’s Alexander: The Ultimate Cut,” July 30, 2014.

(83.) Eugene N. Borza, “Movie Commentary: Alexander,” Archaeological Institute of America Online, 2004.

(84.) Extracts from Adventure Story online. For Alexander, see YouTube.

(85.) See theatrical trailer, Porus (2017), at YouTube.

(86.) A. B. Bosworth and Elizabeth J. Baynham, eds., Alexander the Great in Fact and Fiction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

(87.) Spencer, Roman Alexander, with the follow-up, “Roman Alexanders.”

(88.) Examples include Elizabeth Carney and Daniel Ogden, eds., Philip II and Alexander the Great: Father and Son, Lives and Afterlives (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), Waldemar Heckel and Laurence A. Tritle, eds., Alexander the Great: A New History (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), and Joseph Roisman, ed., Brill’s Companion to Alexander the Great (Leiden: Brill, 2003).

(89.) Moore, Reception of Alexander. A weighty assembly of chapters covering a heterogeneous series of receptions from antiquity to the 21st century, its breadth of approaches and range of case studies guarantees that no one “Alexander” emerges.

(90.) E.g., Mossé, Alexander: Destiny and Myth; Paul Cartledge, Alexander the Great: The Truth Behind the Myth (London: Pan Macmillan, 2013). On Alexander’s significance for image-making in the Hellenistic dynasties, see Andrew Stewart, Faces of Power: Alexander’s Image and Hellenistic Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).

(91.) On Macedonia and Alexander, see e.g., Loring M. Danforth, “Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Conflict,” in Brill’s Companion to Alexander the Great, ed. Joseph Roisman (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 347–364. For synthesis, discussion, and substantial analysis of non-Western examples, see e.g., Bram Fauconnier, “Ex occidente imperium: Alexander the Great and the Rise of the Maurya Empire,” Histos 9 (2015): 120–173; Faustina Doufikar-Aerts, Alexander Magnus Arabicus: A Survey of the Alexander Tradition Through Seven Centuries, from Pseudo-Callisthenes to Suri. Mediaevalia Groningana, vol. 13 (Louvain: Peeters, 2010). Scholarship on the Eastern traditions is also cited as it arises in the main discussion.

(92.) Cary, The Medieval Alexander; D. J. A. Ross, Alexander Historiatus: A Guide to Medieval Illustrated Alexander Literature (London: Warburg Institute, 1963).

(93.) E.g., Gerrit H. V. Bunt, Alexander the Great in the Literature of Medieval Britain (Groningen: Egbert Forsten, 1994); Donald Maddox and Sara Sturm-Maddox, eds., The Medieval French Alexander (Albany: State University of New York, 2002).

(94.) See notably Laurence Harf-Lancner, Claire Kappler, and François Suard, eds., Alexandre le Grand dans les littératures occidentales et proche-orientales (Paris: Centre des Sciences de la Littérature de l’Université Paris X-Nanterre, 1999), and on specific examples, see e.g., Laurence Harf-Lancner, “From Alexander to Marco Polo, from Text to Image: The Marvels of India,” in The Medieval French Alexander, ed. Donald Maddox and Sara Sturm-Maddox (Albany: State University of New York, 2002), 235–257.

(95.) Stoneman et al., Alexander Romance in Persia and the East, including a chapter on “The Islamized Alexander in Chinese Geographies and Encyclopaedias.” Examples of other area studies represented include e.g., Robert Hillenbrand, “The Iskander Cycle in the Great Mongol Šahnama,” in The Problematics of Power: Eastern and Western Representations of Alexander the Great, ed. Margaret Bridges and J. Christoph Bürgel (Bern: Peter Lang, 1996), 203–229; Maya Ionova, “Observations on the Reception of the Novel about Alexander the Great in Medieval Orthodox Slavonic Literature,” Troianalexandrina 12 (2012): 91–96; Faustina Doufikar-Aerts, “Alexander the Flexible Friend: Some Reflections on the Representation of Alexander the Great in the Arabic Alexander Romance,” Journal of Eastern Christian Studies 55, no. 3–4 (2003): 195–210; and drawing together the Arabic tradition and scholarship on the development of the novel, Richard Stoneman, “Alexander the Great in Arabic Tradition,” in The Ancient Novel and Beyond, ed. Stelios Panayotakis, Maaike Zimmerman, and Wytse Keulen (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 3–21.

(96.) E.g., Markus Stock, ed., Alexander the Great in the Middle Ages: Transcultural Perspectives (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016), and the monumental work of David Zuwiyya, A Companion to Alexander Literature in the Middle Ages (Leiden: Brill, 2011). See also unexpected national literatures featuring Alexander, e.g., Erik Peters, “Die irische Alexandersage,” Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie 30 (1967): 71–264; and Elena Gogiashvili, “Alexander of Macedon in Georgian Folktales,” Folklore 127, no. 2 (2016): 196–209.

(97.) E.g., Gaullier-Bougassas, Les Romans d’Alexandre. Bridging Eastern and Western receptions, visual culture, history, literature, and with chronological reach to the 19th century: Catherine Gaullier-Bougassas, Jean-Yves Tilliette, Corinne Jouanno, and Margaret Bridges, eds., Alexander redivivus (Turnhout: Brepols, 2011–), multiple volumes.

(98.) Briant, Alexandre des Lumières.

(99.) Franco Biasutti and Alessandra Coppola, eds., Alessandro Magno in età moderna (Padua: CLEUP, 2009).

(100.) Gideon Nisbet, Ancient Greece in Film and Popular Culture (Exeter: Bristol Phoenix Press, 2006); Moore, Reception of Alexander, chapters under the heading “‘Modern’ and Postmodern Receptions,” 545–843.

(101.) Joseph Roisman, “A Precursor to Scholars: Robert Rossen’s Alexander the Great,” “KINHMA” 2006: The “Alexander” Papers, special edition of the Classical Outlook 84, no. 3 (2007): 101–103; Paul Cartledge and Fiona Rose Greenland, eds., Responses to Oliver Stone’s Alexander: Film, History, and Cultural Studies (Madison, WI: Wisconsin Studies in Classics, 2010); Alastair J. L. Blanshard, “Alexander as Glorious Failure: The Case of Robert Rossen’s Alexander the Great (1956),” in Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Alexander the Great, ed. Kenneth R. Moore (Leiden: Brill, 2018), 675–693.

(103.) Konstantinos P. Nikoloutsos, “The Alexander Bromance: Male Desire and Gender Fluidity in Oliver Stone’s Historical Epic,” Helios 35, no. 2 (2008): 223–251.

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