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Alexander the Great: Journey to the End of the Earth
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Alexander the Great: Journey to the End of the Earth

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by Norman F. Cantor, Dee Ranieri, Dee Ranieri (With)

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"Alexander's behavior was conditioned along certain lines — heroism, courage, strength, superstition, bisexuality, intoxication, cruelty. He bestrode Europe and Asia like a supernatural figure."

In this succinct portrait of Alexander the Great, distinguished scholar and historian Norman Cantor illuminates the personal life and military conquests of this most


"Alexander's behavior was conditioned along certain lines — heroism, courage, strength, superstition, bisexuality, intoxication, cruelty. He bestrode Europe and Asia like a supernatural figure."

In this succinct portrait of Alexander the Great, distinguished scholar and historian Norman Cantor illuminates the personal life and military conquests of this most legendary of men. Cantor draws from the major writings of Alexander's contemporaries combined with the most recent psychological and cultural studies to show Alexander as he was — a great figure in the ancient world whose puzzling personality greatly fueled his military accomplishments.

He describes Alexander's ambiguous relationship with his father, Philip II of Macedon; his oedipal involvement with his mother, the Albanian princess Olympias; and his bisexuality. He traces Alexander's attempts to bridge the East and West, the Greek and Persian worlds, using Achilles, hero of the Trojan War, as his model. Finally, Cantor explores Alexander's view of himself in relation to the pagan gods of Greece and Egypt.

More than a biography, Norman Cantor's Alexander the Great is a psychological rendering of a man of his time.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
One hesitates to question the decision to publish this biography owing to its author's credentials-Cantor was professor emeritus of history, sociology, and comparative literature at NYU before dying in 2004. Here, he wishes to consider four preeminent recent historians of Alexander: A.B. Bosworth, Robin Lane Fox, N.G.L. Hammond, and Peter Green, but early on he drifts into the treacherous topic of Alexander's personality. Readers are offered a Freudian rationalization of Alexander's relationship with his mother and father that claims Alexander was the "classic paradigm of an Oedipus complex." Furthermore, Cantor notes that "Alexander's sex life and sexual proclivities have always been the subject of much conjecture" and proceeds to add his own, while admitting that Alexander was not atypical of his age and environment. Ultimately, the question is this: does scholarship need a chapter titled "How `Great' Was Alexander?", which is too brief an effort to consider the modern scholarship stated in the beginning as the main focus of the work. That discussion might have been more effective at the onset so that readers could understand better the difficulties facing historians of that pivotal period. An optional purchase. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/04.]-Clay Williams, Hunter Coll., New York Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Bestselling historian Cantor (Antiquity, 2003, etc.) provides a fantasy-free study of the richly gifted, seriously flawed Macedonian whose dozen years of military conquests yielded immortality. His assessment of Alexander's personal proclivities may well underscore why the recent Hollywood offering directed by Oliver Stone, similarly frank with regard to sex, failed to win audiences. Though Cantor calls Alexander "undoubtedly bisexual" and cites his several wives, in the end the author concludes that Alexander "had a lifelong gay lover" and had almost nothing to do with women. Cantor stresses in the same breath that the pre-Christian world, unlike today's box office, would have assigned no stigma to bedroom liaisons with juvenile male prostitutes. Of the many sources he cites, including Roman archivists, all affirm Alexander's personal courage and martial genius. During his brief but spectacular tenure (336-23 b.c.) as ruler of Macedonia and field commander of its armed forces, he combined verve with military cunning. The author contends, however, that Alexander's initial defeat of Persia, which provided him both the impetus for further subjugation and the treasury to pay the thousands of mercenaries who marched with him, was abetted by King Darius's failure to take the Macedonian threat seriously. Darius could have assembled a force so numerically superior as to be unbeatable, but he didn't. Thus Alexander's push all the way to India became legend, and part of the glory that was Greece as resurrected and codified mostly by British Victorians. Not bad, Cantor implies, for a merciless militarist who once killed a close friend while in a drunken stupor and probably died clinically insane.Well informed, chatty and opinionated.

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Alexander the Great

Journey to the End of the Earth
By Norman F. Cantor

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Norman F. Cantor
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060570121

Chapter One

The Greek World

Ancient Greece, extending from the kingdom of Macedonia in the north down to the city -- state of Sparta in the south, was a large peninsula or archipelago jutting out into the Aegean Sea. Much of its land was taken up by forests, mountains, and deep valleys -- a topography that made unification of the Greek city -- states difficult.

Up the coast from Sparta lay the rich and artistic city -- state of Athens -- distinguished by its Parthenon, navy, democracy, and opinionated orators -- with the bustling port of Piraeus some ten miles to the southwest. Thebes and Corinth were other city -- states, lying halfway between Macedonia and the well -- disciplined but bellicose Sparta.

The two principal forms of Greek culture stemmed from two periods of Greek history. The first, which could be called the Heroic Age (about 1300 to 800 BC), was an era in which kings like Agamemnon and Menelaus ruled, and their successes and failures were recounted in a grand oral tradition of heroic poetry. These rulers held on to a so -- called shame culture in which honor and dignity were exalted and in which the worst thing was to be disgraced, to be without honor.

Reflecting this societal norm, the ten -- year Trojan War allegedly occurred because a Trojan prince stole Helen, Menelaus's wife, and honor decreed that the king had to go to war to retrieve her. At the end of this period, around 800, in two epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey, Homer set down the oral traditions of the war, thus providing the written material for Alexander's obsession with Achilles. Homer's writings were a kind of light at the end of the tunnel of the Greek Dark Age. During this period there had been much jockeying for power among various peoples: the Dorians, the Ionians, and the Mycenaeans.

The years from about 800 to 500 BC are known as the Archaic Age. This was the period during which the city -- state, or polis, was formed and the cities of the peninsula split into separate governmental bodies. This was also a time of great colonization, of Sicily and southern Italy. In art the human form underwent a transformation from an earlier style, in which it had looked almost like a stick figure, to the realistic portrayal of the human form in all its beauty that characterizes Greek art of the Classical Age.

From 500 to 320 BC, Greek -- or at least the Athenian -- culture underwent a radical transformation. In the words of Edgar Allan Poe, this was the period that gave the world "the glory that was Greece." It saw the rise of Athens and the building of the Parthenon as well as the democratic ideals and government of Pericles; the drama of Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides; and the philosophical schools of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. This period also witnessed the development of the conflict between Persia and the Greek cities that finally ended with the rise of Alexander the Great.

For many years the city -- states had fought one another over territory and commercial privileges in miserable, bloody wars. No one person had ever come along who was strong and ruthless enough to unite these natural enemies; thus there were only two exceptions to these dreadful -- and futile -- internecine conflicts. One was the period in the later fifth century BC when Athens and Sparta united during the Peloponnesian War against the menace of the Persian Empire coming over from Asia Minor. The alliance of Athens and Sparta defeated the Persians in the famous Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. After the war had dragged on for almost ten years, the Greeks forced the battle by advancing full force toward the Persian army and surrounding it. The Persians had no alternative except to retreat to their ships, heading south toward Athens to launch a surprise attack on the defenseless city. As they retreated, however, it occurred to the Athenian general that the city of Athens itself was defenseless, its citizens unprepared for an attack. He ordered a soldier named Phidippides to run to Athens and bring them the news of the impending attack. Phidippides ran the distance of twenty -- six miles in three hours (this was the birth of the marathon), delivered the message to the waiting city, and then promptly died from overexertion. In some versions of the story, Phidippides had already fought in the battle as well as having run to Sparta and back (about 280 miles in all) in the previous days -- all his efforts culminating in his death from overexertion.

The only regular occasion on which the city -- states were united was during the period of the Olympic games. At the games they discussed important political issues, celebrated common military victories, and even formed political and military alliances. Between about 700 BC and AD 400, every four years heralds were sent out from a small town near Mount Olympus declaring an Olympic truce, which lasted for the duration of the games and protected the athletes, visitors, spectators, and embassies from danger during the actual period of the competition. Most competitors were men and boys, but separate track events were held for unmarried girls (married women were strictly barred from the games). The men competed naked, their skin covered with olive oil. It was a highly competitive, heroic, largely masculine world. At the conclusion of the games, the city -- states went back to fighting among themselves as usual for the next four years.

What was singular about Athens was its ribbons of colonies extending from the Black Sea to Asia Minor, to Sicily and the south coast of France. Settlers had gone out from Athens, settled these far -- distant places, and sent tax money back to Athens. In return they were governed by officials sent by the Athenian government. Though the Athenians' treatment of these colonies was harshly exploitative, the obvious power and strength of their navy kept most rebellion at a minimum.


Excerpted from Alexander the Great by Norman F. Cantor Copyright © 2005 by Norman F. Cantor. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Norman F. Cantor was Emeritus Professor of History, Sociology, and Comparative Literature at New York University. His many books include In the Wake of the Plague, Inventing the Middle Ages, and The Civilization of the Middle Ages, the most widely read narrative of the Middle Ages in the English language. He died in 2004.

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1.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
pondererRC More than 1 year ago
Do enough readers buy books on Alexander to justify the large output of publications such as this which contribute nothing to understanding of the subject? Those who enjoy reading this book should remember that what the author alleges to have been the feelings and motives of Alexander are mere supposition. The documentary evidence does not exist. Even the bibliography in this book is poorly selected. For anyone with a serious interest in Alexander the Great, the book by Carol G. Thomas would be recommended. The search for the historical Alexander, as has so often been pointed out to no avail, is as futile as the quest for the Holy Grail.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is not much of a book on Alexander. It reads like some old BS lectures cobbled together in hope of making a dollar. The author knows little or nothing about the tactics employed in battles which gave Alexander control of much of Asia. Alexander was not a homosexual. In his world the concept did not exist. Neither did the consept of pedophilia. He had, from about the age of sixteen, relations with a girlfriend, married several wives, had children, in addition to the men and boys he enjoyed. Generally, it seems that only the religions I have recently heard called 'Abrahamic,' i.e. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, developed extensive sexual prohibitions, probably in the interests of breeding. Like most soldiers, Alexander was known to take a drink. The bibliography might be worth taking a look at.