Alexander the Great: A Life in Legend by Richard Stoneman - review by Peter Jones

Peter Jones

International Man of History

Alexander the Great: A Life in Legend


Yale University Press 314pp £20 order from our bookshop

Ancient Greeks regarded Macedonians as a collection of oiks. But the Macedonian Alexander the Great was a passionate Graecophile. Indeed, his father Philip II had (apparently) made Aristotle his tutor.

So when Philip, having conquered the Greek mainland, was assassinated in 336 BC, Alexander decided to prove what a good Greek he was. Between 490 and 479 BC the Persians had attacked Greece, but been repelled. Alexander announced his intention of taking revenge against them. In 334 BC, with Philip’s superbly trained army at his back, he set out on an epic trail which was to bring him revenge, glory, riches, empire – and immortality. For though Alexander never made it back to Greece (he died in Babylon in 323 BC), he left such an indelible mark that word of him and his exploits spread far and wide.

In India, Arabia, Russia, Malaya, Spain, Armenia, Syria, Ethiopia, Israel, the Balkans, even Iceland and Ireland, tales of Alexander were told and retold down the centuries. In some of these, he met and discussed philosophy with naked Indian Brahmans. In Wells Cathedral there are scenes of Alexander’s flight to heaven.

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