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Quotes: Krzysztof Nawotka – The Alexander Romance by Ps.-Callisthenes: A Historical Commentary

We probably will never know the name of the author of the Alexander Romance but based on the strongly Egyptian coloring of his work and on his good knowledge of the topografy of Alexandria, the opinio communis of modern scholarship holds that the anonymous Historia Alexandri Magni was written in Alexandria by a Greek (or a Hellenized Egyptian), well acquainted with Egypt, its history and culture. For all the mistakes he makes, he is also familiar with Greek history and literature which suggests that the author of the Alexander Romance received a typical high-class education. He clearly disregards geography, with Alexander often jumping between distant places within one chapter, e.g. from the land of the Amazons to the Red Sea, then to the Tanais and to Susa. Ps.-Callisthenes is clearly a pagan author who shares important characteristics with better known pagan authors of later antiquity, both in what he writes about and what he avoids.

The ideological climate of the mid-third c. seems to have furnished a fertile ground for the creation of the Alexander Romance, an idealized biography of the most admired historical character of the day.

The eulogy of Egypt in the opening sentence of the Alexander Romance is a vivid testimony to the Egyptian origin of the first part of Book I and to the final editing of the whole work, in all probability conducted in Alexandria.

The story of Nektanebo in the Alexander Romance contains several typically Egyptian literary features, including the motive of a magician manipulating people and the generally positive rendition of magic.

The idea of an old man becoming a youth again is drawn from the Egyptian idea of the transfer of power from a pharaoh to his successor.

Olympias is the first woman in Greek history known by name to have played an important political role in her own right.

The idea of the divine parenthood of a king is also, if not primarly, Egyptian.

For maximum dramatic impact Nektanebo observes the sky and directs Olympias to deliver her child in the most propitious hour. He is not only an astrologer forecasting the future but as a true magos he influences it.

Alexander was self-conscious in his image-building, projecting his lion-like nature using the template of his ancestor Achilles.

Alexander distances himself from the astrology and Oriental wisdom in general represented by Nektanebo, becoming in the following sections of the Alexander Romance the son of Ammon alone and not of Nektanebo, regardless of whether he learned the truth of his father here.

Hephaistion’s arrogance and propensity to intrigue led to frequent conflicts with other generals and courtiers, including Krateros and Eumenes in the first sentence. Hephaistion was among those in Alexander’s court who were the most enthusiastic about their king’s Orientalizing policy.

The violent incident at the wedding party was only one of a number of symptoms of a rift between Philip II and Alexander in 337 BC.

In the Alexander Romance the adjective “sound of mind” is the most common epithet of Alexander who wins more through qualities of his mind than with arms.

Darius’ wife Stateira, however, died in childbirth shortly before the Battle of Gaugamela, ca. two years after she had been taken prisoner of war at Issos, hence, in all probability, she was pregnant with Alexander’s child.

Alexander was short, perhaps as short as 1.55 m to fit the armor found in Tomb II in Vergina.

The historic Battle of Gaugamela seems to have been split in the Alexander Romance into two encounters: the battle by the Tigris and the battle on the Stranga.

The story of Thalestris and Alexander is of course fictitious and this was understood already in antiquity even if some modern scholars try to find a rational element in it, seeing an alleged encounter with Dahae women-warriors as the template for the Amazon story.

Omina preceding the death of Alexander are recorded in a number of mainstream sources, in the universal belief in antiquity that the death of an eminent person could not happen without divine signs and prophecies predicting it.

This seemingly bizarre story may have originated in the Iranian milieu: if Alexander disappeared having thrown himself into the Euphrates unseen by anybody, this would be the evidence of his immortality, but he was prevented from that by Rhoxane acting in the capacity of the Iranian water goddess; thus the goddess deserted him and he would not be perceived immortal.

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