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Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) precipitated immense historical change in the Mediterranean and Near Eastern worlds. But the resonance his legend achieved over the next two millennia stretched even farther—across foreign cultures, religious traditions, and distant nations.
This engaging and handsomely illustrated book for the first time gathers together hundreds of the colorful Alexander legends that have been told and retold around the globe. Richard Stoneman, a foremost expert on the Alexander myths, introduces us first to the historical Alexander and then to the Alexander of legend, an unparalleled mythic icon who came to represent the heroic ideal in cultures from Egypt to Iceland, from Britain to Malaya.
Alexander came to embody the concerns of Hellenistic man; he fueled Roman ideas on tyranny and kingship; he was a talisman for fourth-century pagans and a hero of chivalry in the early Middle Ages. He appears in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic writings, frequently as a prophet of God. Whether battling winged foxes or meeting with the Amazons, descending to the underworld or inventing the world’s first diving bell, Alexander inspired as a hero, even a god. Stoneman traces Alexander’s influence in ancient literature and folklore and in later literatures of east and west. His book provides the definitive account of the legends of Alexander the Great—a powerful leader in life and an even more powerful figure in the history of literature and ideas.
Stoneman (honorary fellow, Univ. of Exeter) claims-with good reason-that his work displays a new approach to the much-studied Alexander by focusing on the legends surrounding him. Yes, historians have previously constructed such analyses around groups of texts embodying these legends and the geographical area whence they sprang. Stoneman, however, uses the chronology of Alexander's own life to connect the various legends. This strategy works surprisingly well, primarily because the reader reviews the historical facts of Alexander's life (in all their uncertainty) before being asked to follow the various tangents of legend, which can be bewildering. It becomes clear how and why stories appeared centuries later, whether in medieval India or England, and what geographical and cultural factors were involved. In this way, Stoneman introduces Christian myths and legends and makes their genesis more understandable, particularly in relation to "histories" that arose in the 13th and 15th century from a ninth-century Romance of Alexander. These are all complex aspects of the study of Alexander, yet Stoneman does his best to present them in an organized fashion, and for the most part he succeeds. Recommended for academic libraries.
"The volume is highly informative in its goal of tracing the evolution of thought about Alexander through the centuries."—Dawn L. Gilley, Bryn Mawr Classical Review
— Dawn L. Gilley