I am not a historian. I don’t even claim to have an extensive knowledge of history. However, I can safely call myself a history enthusiast. I love reading about the past.
I guess it all started when I was in Class IV. My parents bought me a book which dealt with the lives and times of some great names in history – Chandragupta Maurya, Ashoka, Julius Caesar, Akbar, Napoleon, Garibaldi, Mahatma Gandhi. I was fascinated by the book and the personalities that it described. However, the character that captured my imagination was Alexanderos Philippou Makedonon, known more popularly, as Alexander the Great.
What appealed about Alexander to my young mind, at that time, was that he had managed to conquer most of the known world of his time. I marvelled at how this man, who was crowned king when he was barely 20, muster the courage to invade Persia, one of the most poweful countries of his time. I was amazed at how he won every battle that he ever fought. Most of all, what blew me over completely was that Alexander achieved all this by the age of 32. He had quite an impact on my young mind. Now, that’s a hero, I said to myself.
As I grew older, so did my interest in Alexander. By the time I finished my studies I was a self confessed Alexander aficionado. I began collecting and reading all the books about Alexander that I could lay my hands on. All that we know about Alexander today comes from five original sources from antiquity – Arrian, Curtius, Plutarch, Diodorus and Justin. All medieval and modern authors have based their works on one or more of these five sources. I read the translations of the works of Arrian, Curtius and Plutarch along with the works of some other modern authors such as Norman Cantor and Michael Wood.
I was overwhelmed initially, by the various shades of his personality. Was he the bloodthirsty villain who razed the towns of Thebes, Tyre, and Malla and massacred its people or was he the magnanimous hero who ensured the safety of Darius’ family after the battle of Issus and returned Porus his kingdom after defeating him in battle? Was he the megalomaniac who believed he was the son of Zeus-Ammon or was he the caring general who refused water for himself while his troops were thirsty? Was he a philosopher or a pragmatic battle hardened soldier?
These contradictions in his character is what makes him extremely interesting. This is what author I.B. Brouilette has to say about Alexander:
His magnetism in life was rivaled only by his magnetism in death, and the story of his career has evoked vastly different interpretations in his age and ours. Young romantic hero or megalomaniac villian? He has worn both masks. But in the end, whatever view one takes, whatever theories one subscribes to — more or less hostile — we are left with the man himself in all his complexity and contradiction. He was neither a demon nor a god, whatever he wanted to believe about himself. He was a man, capable of cruelty and sympathy, brilliance and blindness, paranoia and an open-handed generosity. As remarkable as he was, he was human. And that is what makes him interesting.
What was the driving force that drew Alexander out of Macedonia and took him across Asia to Egypt and finally to the borders of India? Ambition? Search for glory? Quest to achieve the impossible? Maybe all of this and maybe more…his curiosity! What is behind that mountain, this river, that desert? Does the river Ganges really lead to the Outer Ocean? Is it possible to sail down the Ganges into the Outer Ocean and back to Greece? He wanted answers to these questions and that is why he wanted to keep going forward. It is another matter that his army couldn’t keep up with his energy, ambition, and curiosity.
Alexander is regarded as the greatest general of all times, who could achieve suprhuman feats – scaling the Sogdian Rock overnight, building a causeway on the sea to the island of Tyre, marching across the Gedorosian Desert, crossing the Hindukush mountains. It has been more that 2300 years since Alexander died, but his legend lives on. Even today…across the world.
This is the first in a series of pieces that I intend to post on Alexander. In my future posts, I will talk about his personality, the battles that he fought, his heroes, his vision, his policies, his relationship with Hephaestion, his parents, his wives and mistresses, his life and death and the legend that surrounds him, a lot of which, by the way is true. Yes, the greatest legend of all was real.