Alexander the Great: A Life in Legend

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist

"This is an unusual and thought-provoking book that should appeal to both Alexander buffs and well-informed general readers."—Booklist

Choice

"The first full-scale study in over 50 years of the Alexander Romance and its legacy in English. . . . Particularly interesting is the author's discussion of the rich medieval Persian Alexander literature—both Zoroastrian and Islamic—and its influence. This fascinating book belongs in every university and college library Essential."—Choice
Bryn Mawr Classical Review - Dawn L. Gilley

"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
Choice

"The first full-scale study in over 50 years of the Alexander Romance and its legacy in English. . . . Particularly interesting is the author's discussion of the rich medieval Persian Alexander literature—both Zoroastrian and Islamic—and its influence. This fascinating book belongs in every university and college library Essential."—Choice
Library Journal

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.
—Clay Williams

Bryn Mawr Classical Review

"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

The Barnes & Noble Review
Some talk of Alexander, and some of Hercules are the opening words of the most famous military song in English, the march known as "The British Grenadiers." The pairing of the greatest general of antiquity and a mythical hero is quite appropriate; for while Alexander the Great actually lived, he had passed into myth even before his death in 323 B.C. In his short life of little more than three decades, Alexander mastered the largest empire yet known to history and, as his deeds were remembered and retold, they took on the shape of stories like Hercules' labors. Within a century, an entire body of fantastical literature had been collected, now known as the Alexander Legend, and its influence was felt across three continents. Translated and reinterpreted, Alexander appears in everything from the Bible (Book of Daniel) to the Qu'ran (as Dhu'l-qarnain, the "Two-Horned One") to the Persian national epic, the Shahnameh (as Sekandar). It is this generation and transmission of lore that Richard Stoneman surveys, opening a brilliant window into the afterlife of ancient myth, ranging over classical, medieval, and Renaissance sources with passing references to Borges, Proust, and even Thomas Bernhard. Alexander may have failed in his dreams of conquering Rome and Carthage, but he achieved immortality nonetheless. Greek fishermen still know what to do when a two-tailed mermaid roils the sea, crying out, "Where is Alexander the Great?" Only shouting "He lives and reigns and keeps the world at peace" will stay the mermaid from plunging the ship to the bottom. --Robert Messenger
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300164015
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 3/30/2010
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author


Richard Stoneman is Honorary Fellow of the University of Exeter and widely acknowledged as the foremost expert globally on the myths of Alexander.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations     vii
Preface     xi
Note on Proper Names and Languages     xiii
Abbreviations and Major Classical Texts Cited     xiv
Historical Timeline     xvi
Introduction     1
Nativity: Egyptian Origins (356 BC)     6
Golden Vines, Golden Bowls and Temples of Fire: The Persian Versions     27
Cities of Alexander: Jews and Arabs Adopt the Hero     49
The Marvels of India (329-326 BC)     67
'How Much Land Does a Man Need?': Alexander's Encounters with the Brahmans (326 BC)     91
From the Heights of the Air to the Depths of the Sea: Alexander as Inventor and Sage     107
Amazons, Mermaids and Wilting Maidens     128
The Search for Immortality     150
The Unclean Nations and the End of Time     170
Death in Babylon (323 BC)     186
Universal Emperor: The Christian Hero     199
King of the World: Alexander the Greek     217
Epilogue     227
The Formative Alexander Romances, their Main Derivatives, and the Main Illustrated Versions     230
Tables     246
Notes     255
Bibliography     284
Index     306
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