Mary Renault, The Mask of Apollo

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Set in fourth-century B.C. Greece, The Mask of Apollo is narrated by Nikeratos, a tragic actor who takes with him on all his travels a gold mask of Apollo, a relic of the theater's golden age, which is now past. At first his mascot, the mask gradually becomes his conscience, and he refers to it his gravest decisions, when he finds himself at the center of a political crisis in which the philosopher Plato is also involved. Much of the action is set in Syracuse, where Plato's friend Dion is trying to persuade the young tyrant Dionysios the Younger to accept the rule of law. Through Nikeratos' eyes, the reader watches as the clash between the two looses all the pent-up violence in the city.

Mary Renault, The King must die

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The story of the mythical hero Theseus, slayer of monsters, abductor of princesses and king of Athens. He emerges from these pages as a clearly defined personality; brave, aggressive and quick. The core of the story is Theseus' Cretan adventure.

Mary Renault, The Bull from the Sea

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The Bull from the Sea reconstructs the legend of Theseus, the valiant youth who slew the Minotaur, became king, and brought prosperity to Attica. Chief among his heroic exploits is the seduction of Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons, who irrevocably brought about both his greatest joy and his tragic destiny.

Mary Renault, The Praise Singer

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In the story of the great lyric poet Simonides, Mary Renault brings alive a time in Greece when tyrants kept an unsteady rule and poetry, music, and royal patronage combined to produce a flowering of the arts.

Born into a stern farming family on the island of Keos, Simonides escapes his harsh childhood through a lucky apprenticeship with a renowned Ionian singer. As they travel through 5th century B.C. Greece, Simonides learns not only how to play the kithara and compose poetry, but also how to navigate the shifting alliances surrounding his rich patrons. He is witness to the Persian invasion of Ionia, to the decadent reign of the Samian pirate king Polykrates, and to the fall of the Pisistratids in the Athenian court. Along the way, he encounters artists, statesmen, athletes, thinkers, and lovers, including the likes of Pythagoras and Aischylos. Using the singer's unique perspective, Renault combines her vibrant imagination and her formidable knowledge of history to establish a sweeping, resilient vision of a golden century.

Valerio Massimo Manfredi, Alexander: Child of a Dream

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Before his birth, omens foretold that Alexander, son of the warrior-king Philip of Macedonia, was destined for greatness. From boyhood, the prince was trained by the finest scholars and mightiest soldiers to attain extraordinary strength of body and spirit. A descendant of Heracles and Achilles, Alexander aimed to surpass his ancestors' heroism and honor, and his chosen companions strove to be worthy to share his godlike fate.

Even as a youth, Alexander's deeds were unequaled. In a single day, he tamed the fierce steed Bucephalus. In his first battle, his troops defeated the invincible Sacred Band. And as he grew to manhood, surrounded by deadly plots and intrigue, his friends pledged to follow him to the ends of the world. With the support of that loyal group of men, Alexander's might would transform dreams of conquest into reality amid the fabled cities of Persia and the mysterious East...and his destiny would carry them all to glory.

Steven Pressfield, The Virtues of War

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Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) ascended to the throne of Macedon at the age of 20. He fought his greatest battles, including the conquest of the mighty Persian Empire, before he was 25, and died at the age of 33, still undefeated by any enemy. His reputation as a supreme warrior and leader of men is unsurpassed in the annals of history.

In the brilliantly imagined first-person voice of Alexander the Great, acclaimed novelist Steven Pressfield brings to life his epic battles, his unerring command of his forces, and the passions and ambitions that drove him. A full-blooded, multi-dimensional portrait, The Virtues of War captures Alexander's complex character. No one tells of battles as brilliantly as Pressfield, and here he vividly describes the seminal conflicts of Alexander's career, revealing the tactics behind them and capturing the blood, heat, and terror of the battlefield.

Tom Holt, Alexander at the world's end

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This is the story of two remarkable men, one of whom conquered empires with apparent ease and one of whom struggled with the day-to-day problems of a small provincial town. The first was Alexander the Great, the second, Euxenus, philosopher and tutor to the young Alexander. It is the story of two men whose paths crossed only briefly, but whose encounter changed both their lives—and the course of history.

Bova Ben, Orion and the Conqueror

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The intrigues of fourth-century-B.C. Macedonia and Greece are brought vividly to life in this sweeping historical fantasy. To avert the possibility that the strands of space-time might unravel, Orion, rebellious instrument of the Creators previously encountered in Orion in the Dying Time , is sent to the court of Philip II to ensure that his son Alexander succeeds in his territorial conquests. Orion comes to admire Philip but falls under the control of his wife (and Alexander's mother) Olympias, an embodiment of the Creator Hera. Olympias is determined to arrange the assassination of Philip so that Alexander may gain the throne before a rival heir can be born to the king's new wife. Orion fights in the battle at Chaeroneia, where Macedonia defeats Athens and Thebes, and is sent to Persia where he is forced to desert when he has an opportunity to meet with his great love Anya, a Creator fighting other battles in a different time. She urges him to obey Olympias to save the Creators' universe. Despite Orion's admiration for the Macedonian king and all his attempts to flee his doom, he is drawn into a final confrontation. Bova's adroit use of detail makes the time setting ring true; his depictions of historic personages as well as his fictional creations are psychologically sound. The sounds, the scents and the sensibility of the ancient world permeate this well-wrought adventure.

David Gemmel, Dark Prince

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Reading this sequel to Lion of Macedon is like reading a compressed, accelerated Lord of the Rings crossed with the classic Star Trek episode, "Mirror, Mirror." Preternaturally precocious 4-year-old Alexander is kidnapped by Philippos, a demonic parallel-universe twin of King Philip of Macedon. Philip's strategos (chief general and strategist), Parmenion, and Philip's assassin, Attalus, form an uneasy alliance in order to retrieve Alexander. Passed (by the sorcerer Aristotle) through a portal to Makedones, a world geographically similar to but historically different from their own, they must first find Alexander and then make their way through hostile, enchanted territory inhabited by magical creatures to a rendezvous with Aristotle. But Philip of Macedon isn't the only person who has a twin in this parallel world, and as Parmenion discovers more about Makedones, he finds that the similarities rather than the differences are the most troubling.

There are two stories here. First, Alexander's mystic quest for redemption (carried out by the chosen few) and Parmenion and the Spartans' parallel last-ditch battle (fought with ordinary weapons); then, David Gemmell follows Alexander and Parmenion home. Although they have beaten a horrific demon in Makedones, they have yet to face the demons of Macedon: Alexander's life and soul are at stake in another battle against darkness.

David Gemmel, Lion of Macedon

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From Publisher's Weekly:
This enjoyable historical fantasy set in ancient Greece spans three decades in the career of Parmenion, a Spartan of mixed ancestry whose life is being shaped and monitored by an aging seeress. Scorned as a half-breed by the Spartans, he leaves vowing to wreak vengeance--which he does, at the head of a victorious Theban ar- my. Parmenion goes on to become Greece's preeminent soldier of fortune, a brilliant military strategist and tactician. Eventually, he hires on to Philip, the beleaguered king of Macedonia. Parmenion provides the young king with military help but, more importantly, intervenes in a ceremony meant to secure the siring of a child whose birth might signal the ultimate triumph of evil. Parmenion's final--and most meaningful--battle takes place not in this world but in Hades, where the forces of evil are held at bay long enough to deny the Dark God dominion over the newly born soul of Alexander the Great. Particularly enchanting in Gemmell's ( Legend ) ambitious book is the appearance of Aristotle as a wizard and guide through the underworld, a Greek combination of Arthur's Merlin and Dante's Virgil.

Melissa Scott, A choice of Destinies

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Review and description by FicusFan:
This is an historical fantasy that is also an alternate history. The premise is that Alexander the Great never made it into India. He was called home to deal with an uprising and then he went west to Rome instead. That is the alternate part.

The fantasy part is that the gods are real and appear to Alexander in fevers and dreams. There is also a seer who brings him messages from the gods about choices he has to make. Its a very minor part of the story and can be seen as no different than modern people and their belief in religion.

Not going to India meant he didn't get the terrible final chest wound in India, Hephaestion didn't die, and they didn't end up in Babylon in the summer. Alex didn't eventually die of drink/poison/illness or a combination of all 3 in 323 BC.

Instead after he dealt with the uprising in Greece, Alex took on the Romans and won, there was no one who could out-general him. He then had to spend the rest of his time consolidating and pacifying his empire - which meant it was stable when he died.

Because of his principles religion was respected but not the driving factor in civilization, and there were no dark ages. The Alexandrian empire was still around in the 1500s and they were flying because scientific exploration and learning were given priority. They were in space in the 1700s.

Scott uses 2 changes to the history of Alex, before he is prevented from entering India: Thebes was never destroyed (they were needed to rise later with Athens and Sparta to draw him back to Greece) and he ends up with a son much sooner, so he is 10 years old when Alex returns to Greece.

Interestingly the dead Greek wife who is the child's mother is Eurydice and so I wonder if Scott has Alex marrying his father's newest wife (widow) and raising Philip's son (his half-brother) as his son and heir? Olympias is still around, but somehow she didn't kill them when Philip died ? Its never explained.

Neither is how Thebes survived explained, other than they postponed their treachery for about 10 years. I will say that Alexander respecting the Sacred Band rather than slaughtering them seems much better than reality.

The story looks at Alex and his Friends/Companions as they return to Greece, deal with the uprising, and then set out for Rome and deal with politics, and war there. I liked how the settings were done, and how the characters were developed and portrayed.

I thought the writing was a bit clunky, awkward and didn't quite make sense in some scenes. It wasn't terrible, but it was a problem that hovered over the book.

The other issue is that although this was ancient history, there were interlude chapters that followed the development of the empire after Alex's death. Each one was in a different place, a different time, and dealing with different issues. It was a good idea and interesting, but with the writing problems it made the story choppy.

Mary Renault, Funeral Games

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After Alexander' s death in 323 B.C .his only direct heirs were two unborn sons and a simpleton half-brother. Every long-simmering faction exploded into the vacuum of power. Wives, distant relatives, and generals all vied for the loyalty of the increasingly undisciplined Macedonian army. Most failed and were killed in the attempt. For no one possessed the leadership to keep the great empire from crumbling. But Alexander' s legend endured to spread into worlds he had seen only in dreams.

Mary Renault, The Persian Boy

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The Persian Boy traces the last years of Alexander' s life through the eyes of his lover, Bagoas. Abducted and gelded as a boy, Bagoas was sold as a courtesan to King Darius of Persia, but found freedom with Alexander after the Macedon army conquered his homeland. Their relationship sustains Alexander as he weathers assassination plots, the demands of two foreign wives, a sometimes-mutinous army, and his own ferocious temper. After Alexander's mysterious death, we are left wondering if this Persian boy understood the great warrior and his ambitions better than anyone.

Mary Renault, The last of the wine

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In The Last of the Wine, two young Athenians, Alexias and Lysis, compete in the palaestra, journey to the Olympic games, fight in the wars against Sparta, and study under Socrates. As their relationship develops, Renault expertly conveys Greek culture, showing the impact of this supreme philosopher whose influence spans epochs.

Mary Renault, Fire fron Heaven

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Alexander’s beauty, strength, and defiance were apparent from birth, but his boyhood honed those gifts into the makings of a king. His mother, Olympias, and his father, King Philip of Macedon, fought each other for their son’s loyalty, teaching Alexander politics and vengeance from the cradle. His love for the youth Hephaistion taught him trust, while Aristotle’s tutoring provoked his mind and Homer’s Iliad fueled his aspirations. Killing his first man in battle at the age of twelve, he became regent at sixteen and commander of Macedon’s cavalry at eighteen, so that by the time his father was murdered, Alexander’s skills had grown to match his fiery ambition.

Cradle of a Legend

Graves laden with luxuries offer a revealing new look at the wealthy military culture that gave birth to Alexander the Great. Excavations in Archontiko have uncovered 450 tombs from the sixth century B.C. Archaeologists Pavlos and Anastasia Chrysostomou, of the Greek Ministry of Culture, describe scores of warriors whose armor, swords, and shoes sparkled with gold and silver as well as noblewomen adorned with gold, silver, amber, and faience. Other funerary items—a scarab from Egypt, ceramics from the eastern Mediterranean—foreshadow the empire that the fabled Macedonian general would conquer 200 years later. —A. R. Williams

Photo: A gold mask and gold-trimmed helmet, seen here on a mannequin, were found in a Macedonian warrior’s grave. Photograph by Gianluca Colla

The Greatest of Them All

All those who write about Alexander," grumbled the Roman geographer Strabo, "prefer the marvelous to the true." Such a criticism was not entirely accurate even when he made it 2,000 years ago, and it is certainly not fair now. We live in an age of groundbreaking classical scholar ship, when historians of the ancient world have only to get the sniff of a myth to set about busting it. Yet Alexander, more even than Cleopatra or Julius Caesar, has stood insouciant proof against every attempt at revisionism. No amount of cheese-paring by classicists can dim the brilliance of his luster. He remains what he has ever been: the epitome of youthful, world-conquering, terrifying glamour.

We are, perhaps, more squeamish about the collateral damage inflicted by his ascent to greatness, and less prone to celebrate it, than earlier ages. "Is it not passing brave to be a king, and ride in triumph through Persepolis?" Christopher Marlowe demanded in "Tamburlaine," his blood-sodden drama about a megalomaniacal one-time shepherd who had swaggered and slaughtered his way to a vast Asiatic empire in the 14th century. In point of boring historical fact, the mention of Persepolis in his hero's vaunt is a serious anachronism. The city had been burnt to the ground long before the time of Tamburlaine, all the way back in 330 B.C. Marlowe, however, was a playwright, not a historian—and he could recognize a poetic truth when he saw one.

The man responsible for destroying Persepolis had been none other than Alexander: the feat that broadcast his triumph more blazingly than all his many others, since the city had served, for almost two centuries, as the capital of Asia. The Achaemenids, a Persian dynasty whose rule had stretched from the Aegean to the Hindu Kush, had demonstrated in unprecedented fashion just how vast an empire might be. Alexander, by defeating them, had wrested from them their claim to global rule. Such was the heritage—of looting, bloodshed and unabashed imperialism—to which Tamburlaine in turn had laid devastating claim. No wonder, then, in Marlowe's rendering of his protagonist's career, that he should instinctively have alluded to the greatest conqueror of them all.

Yet it is precisely the measure of Alexander's charisma and celebrity that a general whose entire career was devoted to securing regime change in the Middle East should be a hero as well to a man as liberal in his sympathies as Oliver Stone. "I think all young people should see something in him because there's an idealism there," Mr. Stone explained in an interview to promote his 2004 biopic, "Alexander"—a movie in which the hero, as well as killing a lot of Persians, is cast as an enthusiast for a brotherhood of man. "He had a desire for change, to shake up the world, a desire to be famous," Mr. Stone explained. If this makes Alexander sound like a 1960s rock star, it is perhaps not entirely coincidental: Mr. Stone did, after all, direct a movie about the Doors. More significantly, however, the movie attests to the abiding influence, almost 40 years after it was first published, of Robin Lane Fox's "Alexander the Great" (1973). In this biography, Alexander is a hero sprung from the "Iliad": a figure quite as golden, as deadly and as tragic as Achilles.

Formidable historian though Mr. Lane Fox is, there has always been something of the romantic in him as well, and it is this sensibility that gives his portrait of Alexander a hauntingly close affinity with those of the ancient biographers. To the Greeks, the world of Homer was the inexhaustible point of reference— especially so when describing the career of a hero who had claimed descent from a god, penetrated to the very limits of the world and died young. Alexander lived a life more soaringly worthy of his own propaganda than any other conqueror in history and did not even have to die before becoming a figure of myth.

In this sense, Mr. Stone's ability to cast Alexander as an avatar of Jim Morrison is just one of the infinite number of ways in which, over the course of the millennia, people have seen in the blaze of the conqueror's flame a vision of their own deepest ambitions and desires. In "Alexander the Great: A Life in Legend" (2008), Richard Stoneman demonstrated, with formidable learning and not a little wit, just how exotic these visions had actually been. In some of them, Alexander fights with dragons; in others he flies through the air on a chariot; in still others he descends to the bottom of the ocean in a diving bell. Alexander even appears in the Quran; he stops on reaching "the setting of the sun" to have a chat with Allah. Set against exploits of this order, global conquest seems almost a minor feat.

No wonder, then, that modern historians, confronted by such a quagmire of myth and romance, should repeatedly have sought to drain it. The fantasies that they confront are not, of course, those that cast Alexander as an aeronaut or an interlocutor of gods but the far subtler ones of our best—and indeed almost our only—sources: the classical historians. These sources, although they convey an immense amount of information, are a good deal more treacherous than they might at first sight appear.

It is unsettling enough that Alexander, as image-conscious as any contemporary celebrity, made sure to appoint his own tame historian, a nephew of Aristotle's by the name of Callisthenes, to provide the authorized version. That this choice hardly made for an objective record of the great man's career goes without saying—and indeed, it is a measure of just how dangerous it might be to get on the wrong side of Alexander that Callisthenes would end up being put to death for treason. Quite how and why he was executed, however, is unclear: We have no less than five different versions of his end.

That this should be so hints at a further, and even more disconcerting, problem with the sources. Neither the works Callisthenes nor those of any other contemporary historian have been preserved as more than snippets. The few biographies that have survived from antiquity all date from centuries after their subject's death. The full implications of this sorry state of affairs have been spelled out brutally by Paul Cartledge. "The attempt to reconstruct the historical Alexander," he has argued, "is almost as problematic as trying to reconstruct the historical Jesus."

Mr. Cartledge offers this sobering reflection in his introduction to a sumptuously annotated and lavishly illustrated new edition of "The Campaigns of Alexander" by the Roman historian Arrian. Despite the fact that Arrian lived nearly a half-millennia after the events described in his history (he served as consul under the philhellenic Roman emperor Hadrian), he is by far our best and most reliable source for the events that he describes. He makes a point in his introduction of citing biographies by two contemporary biographies of Alexander—Callisthenes pointedly not being one of them—and of explaining how and why he has sought to square the contradictions. It is this painstaking reliance upon primary sources that makes his Alexander surely the closest of all Alexanders to the original. "Any readers who are surprised that it would have occurred to me to write this history," he declares with a winning lack of modesty, "after so many others have written theirs, should read the other accounts and then mine—and then let them say they are surprised."

Almost 2,000 years further on, however, and still the biographies come, with all the remorseless inexorability of a Macedonian phalanx advancing through the dust of Mesopotamia. Many of these are works of the highest quality, combining impeccable scholarship with what is, by the standards of professorial prose, immense readability. Callisthenes may have been a shoddy historian, but Alexander has been blessed in the caliber of his modern biographers: classicists of the order of Peter Green (1970), Brian Bosworth (1988) and Mr. Cartledge (2004) himself have all joined Mr. Lane Fox in writing studies of the great conqueror's career.

Should there be any enthusiasts for Alexander with an appetite for more, they could do worse than turn to Philip Freeman's study: one written, it is true, by yet another classics professor, but quite as racy and pacey as any novel. Here, in vivid and exciting detail, are all the familiar highlights of Alexander's career: the battles, the tempestuous relationships, the dazzling ambitions, the mysterious death in Babylon. Mr. Freeman's ambition, he tells us in his introduction, was "to write a biography of Alexander that is first and foremost a story." It is one he splendidly fulfills.

But the book is also something more than a rollicking read. Mr. Freeman's biography is interesting as well for what it tells us about the vagaries of academic opinion—which are, of course, no less subject to fashion than anything else. For several decades now, in reaction to Mr. Lane Fox's vision of Alexander as an idealist who dreamed of forging a new and better world, classicists have tended to swing to the opposite extreme. "For large areas of Asia," Mr. Bosworth put it flatly in a book published a decade ago on Alexander's legacy, "the advent of Alexander meant carnage and starvation." This vision of a proto-Tamburlaine has had an increased saliency in the wake of Western involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan—regions where Alexander did indeed spill a good deal of blood.

Perhaps, then, there is the hint of a new trend in the fact that another recent book is a robust dismissal of the terms of this debate. Pierre Briant's "Alexander the Great and His Empire" may be short, but it is of a wholly different order of seriousness from that of Mr. Freeman: an analysis less of Alexander himself than of his record as a state-builder and in particular of the debt that he owed to his Achaemenid predecessors.

Mr. Briant is one of the most brilliant historians of antiquity at work today, a scholar whose corpus of researches into the Persian Empire has enabled us to understand its overthrow from the perspective of the defeated as well as the victor. Alexander, Mr. Briant declares, was neither a visionary multiculturalist nor a deranged killer: "Simply, he governed like a statesman, using the administrative traditions previously adopted and adapted by the Achaemenids, as well as introducing some Graeco- Macedonian innovations." Dazzling his career may have been—and yet Alexander, for all that, ended up very much in the mainstream of Near Eastern history.

Mr. Briant's book is certainly not easy reading. The material is often self- consciously dry and the tone throughout one of sonorous hauteur: The scholar quoted most approvingly and repeatedly by Mr. Briant is Pierre Briant. Nevertheless, for anyone stirred by reading Arrian's history and Mr. Freeman's spirited narrative, "Alexander the Great and His Empire" offers an invaluable corrective to the classical sources and to the nagging sense, reading them, that the Persians only ever existed to be mown down in their thousands. That it serves to make the great conqueror seem a good deal less glamorous than he normally does is undeniable. Yet, in the final reckoning, the shade of Alexander is not likely to care. Neither French professors, nor Hollywood turkeys, nor even the pacifist spirit of the age can ever dim his awesome and incomparable mystique. "No one was like him." So wrote Robert Lowell:

Terrible were his crimes—

but if you wish to blackguard the
Great King,

think how mean, obscure and dull
you are,

your labors lowly and your
merits less.
—Mr. Holland is the author of "Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West"

Alexander the Great By Philip Freeman, Simon & Schuster, 391 pages

Alexander the Great and His Empire: A Short Introduction By Pierre Briant, Princeton, 216 pages

The Landmark Arrian Edited by James Romm and Robert B. Strassler, Pantheon, 503 pages

Legends of Alexander the Great Edited by Richard Stoneman (1994): A compilation of some of the more extravagant tall stories told over the centuries about Alexander. He battles with monsters, becomes a Jew and visits Paradise.

Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault (1969): A dazzling fictionalization of Alexander's childhood and youth. He has rarely been made to seem more hauntingly and erotically god-like.

Alexander the Great by Peter Green (1970): Beautifully written and sombre in its conclusions, it foreshadowed the darkening of Alexander's reputation that has occurred over the past few decades. A revision, the authorial equivalent of a director's cut and retitled 'Alexander of Macedon,' was published in 1991.

The Persian Boy by Mary Renault (1972): A loose sequel to 'Fire From Heaven,' this novel describes the relationship between Alexander and the Persian boy of the title, a eunuch by the name of Bagoas. Rare is the man who can read the description of Bagoas's castration without involuntarily crossing his legs.

Alexander the Greatby Robin Lane Fox (1973): Vast erudition is combined with a sense of epic sweep in this celebrated biography. Alexander himself would surely have enjoyed it. Oliver Stone certainly did.

Conquest and Empire: The Reign of Alexander the Great by A.B. Bosworth (1988): The most authoritative scholar currently at work on Alexander, he is also the bleakest and most unsparing in his conclusions. Great conquerors, he serves to remind us, are inevitably killers of many men.

Alexander the Great and the Mystery of the Elephant Medallionsby Frank L. Holt (2003): As close to a Sherlock Holmes story as a work of ancient history gets, this is a gripping account of how a medallion discovered in Afghanistan was found to provide us with something thrilling: a contemporary image of Alexander.

Alexander the Great: The Hunt for a New Past by Paul Cartledge (2004): Less a straight biography than a hunt through the sources for clues as to the real Alexander, it allows the reader to see just how complex and fascinating the practice of ancient history can be.

More on Apollo discovery tells a new story

A rare bronze signet ring with the impression of the face of the Greek sun god, Apollo, has been discovered at Tel Dor, in northern Israel, by University of Haifa diggers.

"A piece of high-quality art such as this, doubtlessly created by a top-of-the-line artist, indicates that local elites developing a taste for fine art and the ability to afford it were also living in provincial towns, and not only in the capital cities of the Hellenistic kingdoms," explains Dr. Ayelet Gilboa, Head of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Haifa, who headed the excavations at Dor along with Dr. Ilan Sharon of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

When the ring was recovered from a waste pit near Hellenistic structures, it was covered with layers of earth and corrosion, and the archaeologists had no indication whatsoever that it would reveal the shape of a legendary figure. Only after the ring was cleaned up at the Restoration and Conservation laboratory at the Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology, was the profile of a beardless young male with long hair, clean shaven and adorned with a laurel wreath, revealed. The ring was examined by Dr. Jessica Nitschke, professor of classical archaeology at Georgetown University in Washington DC, and by Dr. Rebecca Martin, assistant professor of art at Southeast Missouri State University, both of whom are partners in the Tel Dor excavations. Both confirmed that the image is that of Apollo - one of the most important of the Olympian gods in Greek mythology, god of the sun, of light, music and song.

The archaeological context and style of the signet ring date it back to the 4th or 3rd century B.C.E. This type of ring was used as a seal or was dedicated to the temple of the god imprinted on the ring. Since it was found in an urban context and at an orderly archaeological dig, the discovery is of great significance: Most of the small pieces of art originating in the Near East until now are of unknown origin, having been displaced through illegal antique trade, or purchased by museums and collectors before scientific archaeological research began.

The ring also testifies to the cosmopolitan character of this region as far back as 2,300 years ago. Despite the damage caused over the centuries, its high quality is easily recognizable. The precious object was found in the same area as a small gemstone with an engraved image of Alexander the Great and a rare, exquisite Hellenistic mosaic floor that were unearthed during earlier excavation seasons. All these discoveries are very likely to be linked to a nearby structure which is currently being excavated, the architectural features of which indicate that it is a grand elite structure.

These finds indicate that the circulation of fine art objects was not limited to the capital cities of the Hellenistic kingdoms in the east, such as Alexandria in Egypt or Antioch and Seleucia in Syria, where the main populations were Greek, but also spread to smaller centers, such as Dor, which was primarily populated by local Phoenician inhabitants.

The town of Dor was an important port on the Mediterranean shore from 2000 B.C.E. until 250 C.E. Pieces of Greek-style art, such as signet rings and miniature gems, began to appear in the east at the time of the Persian Empire (6th-4th centuries B.C.E.) and became more common after Alexander the Great conquered the region, passing through Dor on his journey from Tyre to Egypt in 332 B.C.E. Subsequently, the town of Dor became one of the centers of Greek culture in the land of Israel, and that culture left its mark even after Dor was conquered by Alexander Jannaeus, King of Judea, around 100 B.C.E. and its impact is evident well into the Roman era.

Tel Dor is located next to the Dor (Tantura) beach, between Haifa and Tel Aviv. It has been excavated continuously for some thirty years and is in the process of being declared a National Park by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. University of Haifa and Hebrew University teams collaborate in the excavations, along with a team headed by Prof. Sarah Stroup of the University of Washington in Seattle and a team directed by Dr. Elizabeth Bloch-Smith of St. Joseph's University, Philadelphia. Some 130 researchers, students and volunteers from Israel and the U.S.A. participated in the 2010 season of excavations. The ring was discovered in an excavation area directed by Yiftah Shalev and Hagar Ben-Best, a PhD candidate and a graduate student of the University of Haifa's Department of Archaeology. The Tel Dor excavations are supported by the Goldhirsh Foundation, USA, by the Berman Foundation for Biblical Archaeology and by the Israel Science Foundation.

Originaly Posted @ Archaeology News

Jason and the argot: land where Greeks ancient language survives

An isolated community near the Black Sea coast in a remote part of north eastern Turkey has been found to speak a Greek dialect that is remarkably close to the extinct language of ancient Greece.

As few as 5,000 people speak the dialect but linguists believe that it is the closest, living language to ancient Greek and could provide an unprecedented insight into the language of Socrates and Plato and how it evolved.

The community lives in a cluster of villages near the Turkish city of Trabzon in what was once the ancient region of Pontus, a Greek colony that Jason and the Argonauts are supposed to have visited on their epic journey from Thessaly to recover the Golden Fleece from the land of Colchis (present-day Georgia). Pontus was also supposed to be the kingdom of the mythical Amazons, a fierce tribe of women who cut off their right breasts in order to handle their bows better in battle.

Linguists found that the dialect, Romeyka, a variety of Pontic Greek, has structural similarities to ancient Greek that are not observed in other forms of the language spoken today. Romeyka's vocabulary also has parallels with the ancient language.

Ioanna Sitaridou, a lecturer in romance philology at the University of Cambridge, said: "Romeyka preserves an impressive number of grammatical traits that add an ancient Greek flavour to the dialect's structure, traits that have been completely lost from other modern Greek varieties.

"Use of the infinitive has been lost in all other Greek dialects known today so speakers of Modern Greek would say 'I wasn't able that I go' instead of 'I wasn't able to go'. But, in Romeyka, not only is the infinitive preserved, but we also find quirky infinitival constructions that have never been observed before only in the Romance languages are there parallel constructions."

The villagers who speak Romeyka, which has no written form, show other signs of geographic and cultural isolation. They rarely marry outside their own community and they play a folk music on a special instrument, called a kemenje in Turkish and Romeyka or lyra as it is called in Greek, Dr Sitaridou said. "I only know of one man who married outside his own village," she said. "The music is distinctive and cannot be mistaken for anything else. It is clearly unique to the speakers of Romeyka."

One possibility is that Romeyka speakers today are the direct descendants of ancient Greeks who lived along the Black Sea coast millennia ago perhaps going back to the 6th or 7th centuries BC when the area was first colonised. But it is also possible that they may be the descendants of indigenous people or an immigrant tribe who were encouraged or forced to speak the language of the ancient Greek colonisers.

Romeykas-speakers today are devout Muslims, so they were allowed to stay in Turkey after the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, when some two million Christians and Muslims were exchanged between Greece and Turkey. Repeated waves of emigration, the dominant influence of the Turkish-speaking majority, and the complete absence of Romeyka from the public arena, have now put it on the list of the world's most endangered languages.

"With as few as 5,000 speakers left in the area, before long, Romeyka could be more of a heritage language than a living vernacular. With its demise would go an unparalleled opportunity to unlock how the Greek language has evolved," said Dr Sitaridou. "Imagine if we could speak to individuals whose grammar is closer to the language of the past. Not only could we map out a new grammar of a contemporary dialect but we could also understand some forms of the language of the past. This is the opportunity that Romeyka presents us with."

Studies of the grammar of Romeyka show that it shares a startling number of similarities with Koine Greek of Hellenistic and Roman times, which was spoken at the height of Greek influence across Asia Minor between the 4th century BC to the 4th century AD.

Modern Greek, meanwhile, has undergone considerable changes from its ancient counterpart, and is thought to have emerged from the later Medieval Greek spoken between the 7th and 13th Centuries AD so-called Byzantine Greek.

Future research will try to assess how Pontic Greek from the Black Sea coast evolved over the centuries. "We know that Greek has been continuously spoken in Pontus since ancient times and can surmise that its geographic isolation from the rest of the Greek-speaking world is an important factor in why the language is as it is today," Dr Sitaridou said. "What we don't yet know is whether Romeyka emerged in exactly the same way as other Greek dialects but later developed its own unique characteristics which just happen to resemble archaic Greek.

Many of the world's languages are disappearing as once-isolated populations become part of the global economy, with children failing to learn the language of their grandparents and instead using the dominant language of the majority population, which in this part of the world is Turkish.

"In Pontus, we have near-perfect experimental conditions to assess what may be gained and what may be lost as a result of language contact," Dr Sitaridou said.

Originally Published @ Archaeology News

Greek archaeologists discover long lost marble friezes in Acropolis

Greek archaeologists on Friday said they had discovered five long lost friezes from the 2,500 year old Parthenon in the walls of the ancient Acropolis.

The friezes, which had been taken away to be used as building materials for the ancient Acropolis which at one point served as a fortress, were located along its southern walls by a weather balloon camera, officials at the Culture Ministry said.

The fragments were detected by air during a vertical scan of the walls of the Acropolis by the Culture Ministry, where a total of 2,250 photographs were taken.

The Parthenon has suffered extensive damage over the centuries and archaeologists believed many of the friezes adorning the southern part of the temple were destroyed after it was bombed during a 17th century Venetian siege of Ottoman-held Athens or taken.

Most of the interior walls of the temple, apart from the west end, were destroyed during the bombing, bringing many of the friezes and metopes down with them.

In the early 19th century, British diplomat Lord Elgin tore down a large number of the remaining friezes from the Parthenon and shipped them to Britain.

The artifacts were sold to the British Museum, which has since refused to relinquish the sculptures, insisting the transaction was legal. The sculptures include depictions of religious and mythological scenes.

Greece remains steadfast in its demand for the permanent return of the Parthenon Marbles to the new museum in Athens but the British government and museum has refused, arguing that the marbles are more accessible to visitors in London.

At a cost of 120 million euros (160 million dollars), the new museum is the Greek government's key argument for the return of the Parthenon, or Elgin, marbles from Britain.

Originally posted: Archaeology News

Alexander the Great's "Crown," Shield Discovered?

An ancient Greek tomb thought to have held the body of Alexander the Great's father is actually that of Alexander's half brother, researchers say.

This may mean that some of the artifacts found in the tomb—including a helmet, shield, and silver "crown"—originally belonged to Alexander the Great himself. Alexander's half brother is thought to have claimed these royal trappings after Alexander's death.

The tomb was one of three royal Macedonian burials excavated in 1977 by archaeologists working in the northern Greek village of Vergina (see map of Greece).

Excavators at the time found richly appointed graves with artifacts including a unique silver headband, an iron helmet, and a ceremonial shield, along with a panoply of weapons and an object initially identified as a scepter.

"[Archaeologists] announced that the burial in the main chamber of the large rich [tomb] was that of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, who was assassinated in 336 B.C," said Eugene N. Borza, professor emeritus of ancient history at Pennsylvania State University.

But recent analyses of the tombs and the paintings, pottery, and other artifacts found there, suggest that the burials are in fact one generation more recent than had previously been thought, Borza said.

"Regarding the paraphernalia we attribute to Alexander, no single item constitutes proof, but the quality of the argument increases with the quantity of information," he said.

"We believe that it is likely that this material was Alexander's. As for the dating of the tombs themselves, this is virtually certain."

Tomb Mystery

The original excavation at Vergina was led by Manolis Andronikos, an archaeologist at Greece's Aristotle University of Thessaloniki who died in 1992.

His team found the first tomb to be a simple stone box containing human remains identified as a mature male, a somewhat younger female, and a newborn.

Tomb II, a large vaulted tomb with two chambers, contained the remains of a young woman and a mature male.

Tomb III, with two vaulted chambers, was the resting place of a young teenager, most likely a male.

Both of the larger tombs contained gold, silver, and ivory ornaments, as well as ceramic and metal vessels.

"[Andronikos] presented his theories [that the tombs were those of Alexander's father and his family] with great skill, and the Greek nation responded with fervent enthusiasm," Borza said.

"Indeed I was one of those who, in two early articles in the late 1970s, accepted Andronikos' view that the remains were those of Philip II."

Borza started to doubt Andronikos' conclusions, however, as he studied the evidence.

He contacted Olga Palagia, an art historian at the University of Athens, to evaluate the tombs' construction, pottery, and paintings.

Soon the duo realized the significance of the fact that Tomb II and Tomb III were built using a curved ceilings called barrel vaults.

"The earliest securely dated barrel vault in Greece dates to the late 320s [B.C.], nearly a generation after the death of Philip II," Borza told National Geographic News.

Palagia also found that paintings on the exterior frieze of the tomb reflected themes that were likely from the age of Alexander the Great, rather than that of his father.

The paintings depict a ritual hunt scene with Asian themes, suggesting influences resulting from Alexander's extensive campaigns to the east.


The six-foot (two-meter) scepter found at the burial site is another clue, Borza added.

"We have several surviving coins issued in his own lifetime showing Alexander holding what appears to be a scepter of about that height," he said.

Additionally, a number of silver vessels discovered in Tomb II and Tomb III are inscribed with their ancient weights, which use a measurement system introduced by Alexander the Great a generation after Philip II's death.

"Once we have determined on archaeological grounds that Tomb II is a generation later than Philip II's death, we can then ask, Whose tomb is it?" Borza said.

"We have a double royal burial from this era attested in the ancient literature. Thus the tomb is that of [Alexander's half brother] Philip III Arrhidaeus and his queen, Adea Eurydice."

Borza and Palagia discussed their new analysis at the meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in January. Their findings will be published in a forthcoming study from the German Archaeological Institute.

Most of the ancient artifacts found at Vergina are on display today at a museum at the site of the tombs.

Death of Alexander

Alexander died of disease in ancient Babylon, near modern-day Baghdad, Iraq, in 323 B.C.

His generals appointed Philip III to take his place, and the half brother claimed Alexander's royal objects as public symbols to solidify his power, historians suggest.

Alexander's son, Alexander IV, who was appointed joint king along with Philip III, was assassinated around 310 B.C. He is likely buried in Vergina's Tomb III, which contains the remains of a young teenager, Borza said.

Historically, the only known Macedonian royal teenage burial is that of Alexander IV, he explained.

Alexander's father, Phillip II, is buried in Tomb I, along with his wife and their infant, according to Borza.

"Tomb I is from the age of Philip II—unlike the big chamber tombs, which are later—and the human remains of the three burials accord well with the assassinations of these individuals."

Winthrop Lindsay Adams, a professor of history at the University of Utah who was not involved with the study, said Borza's work builds on what other specialists have thought about the various aspects of the Vergina tombs.

The work of Borza and his colleagues convincingly make the case that Tomb II is the final resting place of Alexander's half brother, Adams explained.

"Indeed for most scholars working in fourth-century Macedonia, the original attribution by Andronikos now seems doubtful," he said. "This case is convincing."

Help Save the Sacred Altar of the 12 Gods

From Very recently, during constructions on the railway network of Athens, a magnificent Treasure of the Hellenic History was discovered, a masterpiece of the Hellenic Culture, the Sacred Altar of the 12 Gods. Now this Treasure is in immediate danger because of the lack of interest of the Hellenic State, because of the decision of the railway company to bury it as quick as possible. And also know that the Altar and its very site were the center of Athens in Ancient Years. The holiest spot of Athens. Where Hiketes (suppliants) would ask for Mercy! As archaeologists say, it is as important as the golden-elephantine statue of Goddess Athena! This Altar is not only an archaeological remain. It is also Sacred, especially to us, the followers of the Hellenic Ancient Religion. The total devastation of it, means that the Hellenic Culture has been mutilated by the ignorant and dangerous people who rule and they do not respect who they are, where they come from, and especially where they want to lead us, the Hellenes%u2026%u201D

Please help us to spread the news to all civilized people from all over the world, and to save
even the last minute the Cultural and Spiritual Treasure of our Ancient Heritage.

Call or e-mail Greek Ministry of "Culture" 302131322100 e-mail
Railway Station (ISAP) 302103248311 - 17 e-mail


Ancient "Lost" City's Remains Found Under Alexandria's Waters

The first physical clues to a long-rumored town that existed on the site of present-day Alexandria have been uncovered—by accident.

While searching under the waves of Alexandria's East Bay for Greek and Roman ruins, archaeologists discovered signs of building construction 700 years older than Alexander the Great's invasion of Egypt.

The conquerer founded Alexandria in 332 B.C. (Related: "Alexander the Great Conquered City via Sunken Sandbar" [May 15, 2007].)

The new find is "the first hard evidence" of Rhakotis, a town mentioned in several histories of the region but whose existence had never been substantiated, said geoarchaeologist Jean-Daniel Stanley of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History.

And the results, which are published in the August issue of the journal GSA Today, were "a bit of serendipity," Stanley said.

Sunken Surprise

Stanley has helped the Franck Goddio Society and Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities search for clues to what might have caused the structural failure of Greek- and Roman-era buildings, roads, and piers now sitting at the bottom of the bay.

The team sunk a half-dozen vibracores—vibrating three-inch (eight-centimeter) hollow tubes—into the muck and silt of the bay's floor.

The tubes contained layered soil samples, or cores—some as long as 20 feet (7 meters).

Stanley took his samples back to Washington, D.C., and dated them using a radiocarbon technique.

Though he was searching for cracked or damaged rocks that might suggest how Greek-era structures had failed, he was surprised to find older signs of human endeavor.

The cores turned up lead and human waste that were more than 3,000 years old—evidence of a significant settlement centuries before Alexander stormed Egypt.

Stanley assembled a team of specialists in terrestrial magnetism, anthropology, paleobiology, and geology to examine the core samples.

After a few years of study, the team confirmed the findings did indeed point to Rhakotis.

In addition to the 3,000-year-old lead, which was used for construction, the cores contained stone building materials from central and southern Egypt.

"There are signs of a flourishing settlement going back to Pharaonic times, but it's too early to say anything about it," Mohamed Abdel-Maqsud, an Alexandria expert from the Supreme Council of Antiquities, told the Associated Press.

Jean-Yves Empereur, director of the Center for Alexandrian Studies, said he had not yet read the findings and could not comment.

Sailor Haven

The city's bay, anchored by the island—now a peninsula—of Pharos, has long been known as a haven for sailors. The bay is even mentioned in Book Four of Homer's Odyssey: "Therein is a harbor with good anchorage, whence men launch the shapely ships into the sea. ..."

When Alexander arrived in 332 B.C., he apparently agreed with Odysseus's reasoning. His new Egyptian capital would be close enough to the Nile for southern travel, but far enough away that seasonal flooding wouldn't be a problem.

Ptolemy I, Alexander's political heir, built the nearly 500-foot (152-meter) Lighthouse of Alexandria on Pharos, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.(See an illustration of the lighthouse.)

The lighthouse served as both a beacon and a symbol of Alexandria's greatness until a pair of earthquakes sent it tumbling into the bay 1,600 years later. Alexandria today is a breezy Mediterranean city of five million people.

The next step for researchers will be unmasking the culture and people of Rhakotis, now the bay's earliest known inhabitants.

"Were they seamen, agriculturalists, traders?" Stanley said. "We don't yet know."

National Geographic News originally posted 31 JUL 2007

Ο Αλέξανδρος των λαών

Αναζήτησε τη χώρα όπου τεράστια μυρμήγκια σκάβουν για χρυσάφι, συνάντησε Κενταύρους και Δράκοντες, είχε περιπέτειες με τις Αμαζόνες. Επινόησε μια πτητική μηχανή, αναζήτησε τον τάφο του Αδάμ, πήρε από τον Σολομώντα το βιβλίο της σοφίας και το παρέδωσε στον Αριστοτέλη, έγινε ακόμα και μωαμεθανός!

Το πώς η ιστορία του Αλεξάνδρου εμφανίζεται σε θρύλους των Αράβων, Αρμενίων, Βουλγάρων, Άγγλων, Αιθιόπων, Εβραίων, Μογγόλων, Σέρβων, Περσών κ.ά. εξετάζει το βιβλίο «Αλέξανδρος ο Μέγας- Από την Ιστορία στον θρύλο» (έκδοση του Πανεπιστημίου του Γέιλ), που υπογράφει ο Ρίτσαρντ Στόουνμαν (μετάφρ.: Μοσχή Φωτεινή, εκδόσεις Τόπος). Βιβλία με ανάλογο περιεχόμενο έχουν υπάρξει πολλά. Ωστόσο, όλα τερματίζουν την αφήγησή τους στο θάνατο του Μεγάλου Αλεξάνδρου. Αντιθέτως, για τον Στόουνμαν, αυτό το γεγονός αποτελεί απλώς την αφετηρία. Στο βιβλίο συγκεντρώνονται πρώτη φορά εκατοντάδες περιπετειώδεις θρύλοι που οι λαοί ανέπλασαν στις εθνικές τους αφηγήσεις.

Πριν το όνομα του Αλεξάνδρου εμπλακεί στη διαμάχη Ελλάδας και Σκοπίων, η δική του καταγωγή είχε δώσει τροφή για εκατοντάδες θρύλους. Οι Αιγύπτιοι τον θεωρούσαν γιο του Νεκτανεβώ Β΄ (τελευταίος από τους ανεξάρτητους φαραώ της Αιγύπτου, ο οποίος ηττημένος εγκαταλείπει την Αίγυπτο). Σύμφωνα με κάποιους καταφεύγει στη Μακεδονία και ζητάει άσυλο στην αυλή του βασιλιά Φιλίππου. Εκεί ερωτεύεται τη βασίλισσα Ολυμπιάδα και χρησιμοποιώντας τον κυνισμό αλλά και τη μαγική του τέχνη, προσπαθεί να γίνει εραστής της. «Ο Νεκτανεβώ παροτρύνει τη βασίλισσα να συνευρεθεί με τον θεό Άμμωνα, που έχει μαλλιά και γενειάδα από χρυσό και κέρατα επίσης χρυσά που φύονται από το κεφάλι του». Συλλέγοντας βότανα από την εξοχή, «έφτιαξε ένα μείγμα, έπειτα έπλασε μία γυναικεία φιγούρα από κερί και έγραψε επάνω το όνομα της Ολυμπιάδας». Στη συνέχεια, «ψάλλοντας τις κατάλληλες μαγικές φράσεις, προκαλεί στην Ολυμπιάδα ένα ερωτικό όνειρο στο οποίο εμφανίζεται μία παρόμοια μορφή και την κάνει να προσμένει την επίσκεψη του ίδιου του θεού». Αργότερα «Έβαλε μία προβιά από το πιο απαλό μαλλί προβάτου με τα κέρατα ακόμα καρφωμένα στο κεφάλι. Τα κέρατα έλαμπαν σαν χρυσάφι. Είχε προμηθευτεί ακόμα ένα εβένινο σκήπτρο, έναν λευκό χιτώνα και ένα μανδύα που έμοιαζε με δέρμα ερπετού. Φορώντας τα, μπήκε στο υπνοδωμάτιο, όπου η Ολυμπιάς ήταν κρυμμένη κάτω από τα σκεπάσματα, κρυφοκοιτάζοντας διστακτικά. Τον είδε να μπαίνει, αλλά δεν φοβήθηκε, γιατί έμοιαζε ακριβώς με τον θεό στο όνειρό της. Οι λύχνοι ήταν αναμμένοι και η Ολυμπιάς σκέπασε το πρόσωπό της. Ο Νεκτανεβώ, αφήνοντας το σκήπτρο του στην άκρη, ανέβηκε στο κρεβάτι και συνευρέθηκε μαζί της. Έπειτα είπε: «Ηρέμησε γυναίκα, στη μήτρα σου κουβαλάς ένα αρσενικό παιδί που θα πάρει εκδίκηση για σένα και θα γίνει βασιλιάς και κυρίαρχος του κόσμου όλου. Έπειτα έφυγε από το δωμάτιο, κρύβοντας όλα τα εξαρτήματα της περιβολής του».

Στη ζωή του Αλέξανδρου η απουσία των γυναικών είναι καταφανής, αν και ο Στόουνμαν συγκέντρωσε κάποιες. Μια από αυτές θέλει τη βασίλισσα Θάληστρη των Αμαζόνων να επισκέπτεται τον Αλέξανδρο όταν εκείνος είχε στρατοπεδεύσει παρά τον ποταμό Τάναϊ (Ντον). «Η βασίλισσα έμεινε κοντά του δεκατρείς ημέρες, τόσες, δηλαδή, όσες να βεβαιωθεί ότι καρποφόρησε η συνεύρεση μαζί του ("συγγενέσθαι τεκνοποιΐας χάριν")». Έτσι η Θάληστρις είναι η πρώτη από όλες τις Αμαζόνες για την οποία γνωρίζουμε τον πατέρα του παιδιού της (οι Αμαζόνες συνήθως κρατούσαν τους άνδρες περιορισμένους σε ένα νησί όπου τους επισκέπτονταν τακτικά προκειμένου να συνευρεθούν μαζί τους, πρακτική αντίστοιχη με εκείνη των Βραχμάνων, που έτσι εξασφάλιζαν τη διαιώνισή τους.)

Μια πιο άγνωστη ιστορία διασώζεται στον Κώδικα 197 στη Μονή Βαρλαάμ στα Μετέωρα καθώς και στον Σιναϊτικό Κώδικα στη Μονή της Αγίας Αικατερίνης του Σινά. Η ιστορία αφορά τον Αλέξανδρο και τη Σεμίραμι «Ο Αλέξανδρος επισκέπτεται την πριγκίπισσα Σεμίραμι ως υποψήφιος μνηστήρας. Όλοι οι μνηστήρες απειλούνται με εκτέλεση, εκτός αν απαντήσουν σε μία σειρά από γρίφους, των οποίων συνήθως η απάντηση έχει ηθικό ή θρησκευτικό χαρακτήρα, όπως: "Με τι τρέφονται οι άγγελοι;" - "Με τις καλές πράξεις των ανθρώπων". "Ποια αμαρτία φέρνει τον άνθρωπο στον Παράδεισο;" -"Αυτή για την οποία μετανοεί"». Ο θρησκευτικός χαρακτήρας αυτών των ερωτήσεων ταιριάζει απόλυτα με την εύρεση του Κώδικα σε ένα μοναστήρι και μάλιστα υποδηλώνει πιθανή συγγραφή από μοναχό. Φαίνεται, πάντως, ότι οι μοναχοί της Μονής Βαρλαάμ είχαν γενικότερο ενδιαφέρον για τη μορφή του Αλεξάνδρου, καθώς ανάμεσα στις τοιχογραφίες της μονής υπάρχει μία πολύ σπάνια απεικόνιση του Αγίου Σισώη που κοιτάζει τα οστά του Αλεξάνδρου.

Εκτός από τις ιστορίες που αφορούν -έστω και μεγεθυμένα- τα κατορθώματα του βίου του υπάρχουν και κάποιες που είναι εντελώς μυθοπλαστικές. Σε μία από αυτές περιγράφεται μια φανταστική επίσκεψη του Αλέξανδρου στην Ιερουσαλήμ:
«Εδώ οι κάτοικοι της Ιουδαίας ανησυχούν για την άφιξη του στρατού του Αλεξάνδρου... Οι αρχηγοί των Ιουδαίων αποφασίζουν να παραδοθούν με αξιοπρέπεια. «Οι ιερείς ντύθηκαν με τα επίσημα ενδύματά τους και βγήκαν να τον προϋπαντήσουν, μαζί με ένα πλήθος ακολούθων...

«Η εμφάνισή σας είναι θεϊκή. Πείτε μου, ποιό θεό λατρεύετε; Γιατί δεν έχω δει ποτέ ιερείς κανενός θεού να είναι έτσι ντυμένοι», είπε ο Αλέξανδρος. «Λατρεύουμε έναν θεό που έφτιαξε τη γη και τον ουρανό και τα ορατά και τα αόρατα. Κανένας θνητός δεν μπορεί να τον αποκαλύψει», απάντησε ο ιερέας. «Είστε άξιοι ιερείς ενός αληθινού θεού. Πορευθείτε εν ειρήνη. Ο θεός σας θα γίνει και δικός μου και η ειρήνη μου θα σας συντροφεύει. Δεν θα σας αντιμετωπίσω όπως τα άλλα έθνη, γιατί είστε υπηρέτες του αληθινού θεού"», λέει ο Αλέξανδρος. Αυτός πρέπει να είναι ένας από τους πιο γρήγορους προσηλυτισμούς στην ιστορία των θρησκειών...

Οι Αιγύπτιοι από την άλλη, έχουν αναπτύξει έναν μύθο που αφορά στον καταδυτικό κώδωνα του Αλεξάνδρου. «Όταν ιδρύθηκε η πόλη, το λιμάνι ήταν γεμάτο από θαλάσσια τέρατα που έβγαιναν κάθε νύχτα και κατέστρεφαν αυτά που είχαν χτιστεί την ημέρα. Γι αυτό, ο Αλέξανδρος έφτιαξε ένα γυάλινο καταδυτικό κώδωνα και κατέβηκε για να δει τι συνέβαινε. Πήρε μαζί του αρκετούς καλλιτέχνες. Όταν ξαναβγήκε στην επιφάνεια έφτιαξε μπρούντζινα αντίγραφα των τεράτων, όπως τα είχαν απεικονίσει οι καλλιτέχνες. Τα έστησε μπροστά στην προκυμαία και τρόμαξε τα τέρατα, που δεν ξαναενόχλησαν τους τεχνίτες».

Αντιθέτως, στον ιουδαϊκό πολιτισμό υπάρχει μία περιγραφή που απαξιώνει τον Αλέξανδρο, παρουσιάζοντάς τον ως κλέφτη και ολετήρα. «…όταν ο Αλέξανδρος κατέκτησε τα Ιεροσόλυμα, βρήκε τα βιβλία της σοφίας του Σολομώντα. Τα έδωσε στον δάσκαλό του, Αριστοτέλη, ο οποίος τα μετέφρασε στα ελληνικά και στη συνέχεια κατέστρεψε τα πρωτότυπα. Έτσι, όλη η σοφία της Δύσης προέρχεται από τη σοφία του Σολομώντα, την οποία ο Αριστοτέλης παρουσίασε ως ελληνική». Παρόμοιοι μύθοι αναφέρουν τον προσηλυτισμό του Μακεδόνα στη ζωροαστρική θρησκεία καθώς και τις αραβικές μεταφράσεις της ελληνικής επιστήμης που αρχικά ήταν περσική. «Οι ανεκδοτολογικές αυτές εικασίες ανακυκλώνονται έως σήμερα, σε σημείο που όλο το έργο του Αριστοτέλη να θεωρείται κλεμμένο από αφρικανικά χειρόγραφα τα οποία ο Σταγειρίτης ανακάλυψε στη Βιβλιοθήκη της Αλεξάνδρειας: αφαίρεσε τα ονόματα των πρωτότυπων συγγραφέων και τα αντικατέστησε με το δικό του».

Ενδιαφέρον επίσης έχει να παρατηρήσει κανείς πως ο μύθος μεταλλάσσεται και προσαρμόζεται σύμφωνα με τα κοινωνικά, πολιτικά και θρησκευτικά δεδομένα της κάθε εποχής. Για παράδειγμα, οι συγγραφείς της Ρωμαϊκής αυτοκρατορίας επέδειξαν μικρό μόνο ενδιαφέρον για τους θρύλους του κατακτητή, αλλά χρησιμοποίησαν τον ιστορικό Αλέξανδρο ως «εργαλείο» σκέψης και ως παράδειγμα τρυφηλότητας, αλαζονείας, καταχρήσεων και τυραννίας. «Καθώς όμως η εποχή της αρχαιότητας τελείωνε, αυτή η αρνητική άποψη ξεθώριασε και ο Αλέξανδρος έγινε σύμβολο της «ειδωλολατρικής αναβίωσης» του 4ου αιώνα.

Με το τέλος του Μεσαίωνα, η μορφή του Αλεξάνδρου χάνει την κεντρική της θέση. «Οι λόγοι μπορούν να εντοπιστούν εν μέρει στην κοινωνική ανάπτυξη και εν μέρει στην αύξηση της γνώσης», λέει ο Στόουνμαν. «Κυρίως, όμως, στην άνοδο της αστικής τάξης και στο ξεθώριασμα των ιπποτικών ιδανικών. Στενά συνδεδεμένος με την ιπποτική παράδοση, ο Αλέξανδρος, αυτός ο θεοφοβούμενος ιππότης σταυροφόρος, έμοιαζε να ταιριάζει όλο και λιγότερο στη νέα τάξη πραγμάτων. Τα Μυθιστορήματα, επίσης, γραμμένα συνήθως σε καλαίσθητα ακριβά εικονογραφημένα χειρόγραφα, προορίζονταν για το αριστοκρατικό κοινό και ήταν δύσκολο να φτάσουν στους μέσους αναγνώστες. Όμως, στη νέα κοινωνία που διαμορφώθηκε δεν υπήρχαν αρκετοί αριστοκράτες για να συντηρήσουν μία εκδοτική παραγωγή, οπότε οι τυπογράφοι παρήγαγαν αυτό που αγόραζαν τα μεσαία κοινωνικά στρώματα».

Πηγή: Ελευθεροτυπία, 27/02/11

What the ancients did for us - Greeks

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