Eleanor Herman’s magic-tinged multi-POV historical Legacy of Kings, out August 18, tracks the becoming of ancient Greek king Alexander the Great. We meet the hero at age 16, when he’s raring to leave his kingdom behind to seek adventure. The exquisitely well-researched novel’s scope expands to include his reluctant Persian fiancée, his best friend, and more, set against the epic, ever-shifting canvas of the ancient world. Here’s Herman on some of the wild true facts she learned about Alexander and his world during her intensive research process.
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Five Cool Things I Learned about Alexander
1. When Alexander’s mother, Queen Olympias, realized she was pregnant, she told everyone she had dreamed on her wedding night that she was struck by a lightning bolt, causing a flame that spread far and wide. She believed this dream meant that Alexander’s father wasn’t King Philip, whom she hated, but a god. Alexander was born with one blue eye and one brown eye, and his natural body odor was as sweet and fragrant as perfume—proof, some said, of his divine parentage.
2. Alexander has a troubled family life. His parents’ marriage was miserable. He often quarreled with his father. His mother was known to be a witch who had snakes as pets and sacrificed puppies to the goddess of the Underworld. His sister Cynane was an Amazonian warrior woman, and his half-brother Arridheus was mentally handicapped. Rumor had it Alexander’s mother Olympias either poisoned Arridheus or dropped him on his head as a baby so he would pose no challenge to her own son’s right to rule.
3. When Alexander and his father got into a fight at King Philip’s wedding to his eighth wife, Philip tried to run his son through with a sword, but was so drunk he fell flat on his butt. Alexander laughed at him and said, “There’s the man who’s making plans to pass out of Europe and into Asia, falling down while passing from one seat to another.” Philip was so angry Alexander ran away for six months.
4. When Alexander was 13, he tamed a wild black stallion no one else could ride. He named him Bucephalus and took him on his campaign east. Bucephalus survived countless battles and died at the age of twenty-nine, either from old age or in a battle. Alexander built him a magnificent tomb in what is now Pakistan and founded a city called Bucephala.
5. When the Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar kissed the 300-year-old, honey-embalmed corpse of Alexander in his tomb in Alexandria, Egypt, he accidentally broke off his nose. A few years later, Emperor Caligula visited and stole Alexander’s breastplate. At some point Alexander’s entire body disappeared.
Five Weird Things I Learned about Alexander’s World
1. Water often made people sick because of bacteria leaching in from outhouses, animals, and other sources. The ancient Greeks didn’t know why well water upset their stomachs, but they did know if they mixed it with wine they wouldn’t get sick. So people—even the youngest kids—drank watered wine all day long.
2. When someone you loved died, at the funeral you would cut off your hair and tie it to the funeral wreath to put on their tomb.
3. A really white tunic was a sign of wealth. (Poor people had unbleached, oatmeal-colored tunics.) But in order to whiten cloth before the advent of Clorox, people used urine. Laundresses set tubs out in front of their shops where men passing by could do their business, then brought the tubs in to bleach garments. (Oatmeal color is looking pretty good now, right?)
4. Many ancient people had tattoos, and tattoo kits have been found in tombs. They would prick the skin with hot needles and rub soot in the wounds.
5. Several cultures encouraged women to become warriors, including the Scythians and Illyrians. In fact, DNA analysis has proved that 25% of the “warrior kings” found in burial mounds in what is now Ukraine, surrounded by weapons and sustaining brutal battle wounds, were actually women!
Legacy of Kings hits shelves August 18.