published 6.10.2016

Alexander the Great

In the 5th century BCE, King Archelaus turned Dion into the religious center of his Macedonian empire. He established Olympic games there, and offered patronage to the likes of Euripides. A hundred years later, his great-grandson Alexander went on to conquer the Persian empire. Before dong so, he assembled his armies in Ancient Dion, to perform sacrifices and prepare for the road ahead. As Dimitrios Pandermalis writes, in the catalog for "Gods and Mortals at Olympus": "Alexander erected a royal tent with a hundred couches and addressed himself personally to his companions and other officers, managing to alleviate their gloomy mood and rouse their enthusiasm for undertaking a great campaign in the east."

In this, the fourth issue of Off Center, we focus on the life and legacy of Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE).

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"In Our Time" - BBC podcast about Alexander the Great, with Professors Paul Cartledge, Diana Spencer, and Rachel Mairs.


Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on Alexander the Great, by Professor Frank W. Walbank: 

"[Alexander] spread Hellenism in a vast colonizing wave throughout the Middle East and created, if not politically at least economically and culturally, a single world stretching from Gibraltar to the Punjab, open to trade and social intercourse and with a considerable overlay of common civilization and the Greek koin? as a lingua franca. It is not untrue to say that the Roman Empire, the spread of Christianity as a world religion, and the long centuries of Byzantium were all in some degree the fruits of Alexander’s achievement."

Mary Mary Beard in the New York Review of Books - On the difficulties historians face in writing about Alexander the Great:

"For the most part, the debates about Alexander, and the evidence on which they are based, have not changed very much over two millennia: the basic dilemma—for writers, filmmakers, artists, and statesmen—is still whether Alexander is to be admired or deplored."

Christopher Hitchens on Alexander the Great, in Slate:

 "Alexander was eventually brought low by hubris. He did not know when or how to stop, and he wanted to be worshipped as well as admired. Unlike Ozymandias, however, it cannot be said of him that none of his work remains. And if we search for a neat contemporary allusion—imperial overstretch? clash of civilization?—we come up short because this time, as before, it really is too early to say."

Daniel Mendelsohn's review of Oliver Stone's "long, gaudy, and curiously empty new biopic about Alexander":

"I became a classicist because of Alexander the Great: at thirteen I read Mary Renault's intelligent and artful novels about Alexander, Far from Heaven and The Persian Boy (the latter told from the point of view of Bagoas the eunuch), and I was hooked." 

Diodorus Siculus (60-30 BCE) on Alexander's destruction of the palace of Xerxes in Persepolis, inspired by the drunken suggestion of a female friend:  "What was most remarkable was that the sacrilege committed by Xerxes, king of the Persians, against the Acropolis of Athens was avenged by a single woman, a fellow-citizen of the victims, who many years later, and in sport, inflicted the same treatment on the Persians."

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Bucephalus, Alexander the Great's horse, is among the most famous animals from the ancient world. In this excerpt from Plutarch's Parallel Lives (45-120 CE), a young Alexander takes a liking to the seemingly untamable steed. His success with the animal leads his father to exclaim: “My son, seek a kingdom worthy of thy greatness! Macedonia is too small for you.”

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The most famous surviving depiction of Alexander is a Roman mosaic (circa 100 BCE) uncovered in Pompeii. It is currently housed in the Archaeological Museum of Naples. Learn more about it in this short clip.

A lecture by Michael Barry, Professor in Princeton's department of Near Eastern Studies, entitled "The Persian Romance of Alexander the Great: From Greek Epic to Persian Myth, Poetry, Mysticism, and Art": 

"Every people whom he conquered, from the Egyptians to the Jews to the Babylonians to the Indic peoples of what is now Pakistan and Southeastern Afghanistan -- all those people ended up making Alexander one of their own, as if he were a true descendent of their ancient kings, as if he were a worshipper of their own notion of the divine. The only people of the Near East who continue to revile Alexander bitterly, to resent what he had done to them, were the Persians themselves, who came to call him 'the incarnation of the lie'"

"The Lost Treasure of the Alexandria Library," a documentary narrated by Leonard Nimoy, about Alexander's foundation of his eponymous Egyptian city, and the rise and fall of its famous library: 

Rent the "ultimate cut" of Oliver Stone's Alexander, for $3.99:

Hungry for more? Enroll for free to follow the course "Was Alexander Great? The Life, Leadership, and Legacies of History’s Greatest Warrior," by Wellesley College Professor Guy MacLean Rogers: