Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Book Review: Alexander the Great - A Life in Legend

Bryn Mawr Classical Review

There's a table of contents on the above page, together with the rest of the review. Here's an extract:

Richard Stoneman, Alexander the Great: A Life in Legend. New Haven, CT/London: Yale University Press, 2008.

Reviewed by Dawn L. Gilley, History, University of Missouri-Columbia

Modern scholars of Alexander the Great are deeply indebted to Richard Stoneman for his work on the Alexander Romance and its influence on later works about the Macedonian king. In the current volume, he has combined that research in an attempt to address Alexander's longevity in the imaginations of writers after the death of the world's greatest conqueror (4). The work is organized in such a way as to follow the life and career of the king, but also addresses his reign through centuries of interpretation by various cultures. Every chapter opens with pertinent passages from various texts, which aid in highlighting the themes under discussion. Ultimately, the author argues that the presentation of Alexander changes to fit the demands of a particular culture, whether Egyptian, Persian, or Christian, or the genre itself (149).

The work begins with the birth of the future king of the world (Chapter 1) and focuses on Egyptian and Persian versions. Various myths about Alexander's birth insinuate some sort of celestial interference, which has colored these accounts (Alexander Romance I.4, 6, Plutarch, Alexander 2.3-6). The Egyptian version suggests that the lover of Olympias, a serpent, was Nectanebo a magician and last pharaoh of Egypt. It was also an incarnation of Ammon-Re and signified the birth of a hero (7). Stoneman argues that Egyptian culture required that Alexander be conceived by a god (20-21) in order to legitimize his rule of Egypt. That Alexander was designated Pharaoh of Egypt has been much debated. None of the historians of Alexander mentioned that he was Pharaoh or that there was a ceremony to designate him as such, though temple reliefs depict the king as sacrificing in the ways of the Pharaohs. The Alexander Romance refers specifically to a coronation ceremony, which, according to Stoneman, needed some sort of legitimization (1.34). The cultural demands of Egypt required that Alexander followed the traditional "procedure" for pharaohs.

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