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AE80: Alexander the Great and the Alexander Tradition

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  1. AE80: Alexander the Great and the Alexander Tradition November 1, 2006 PART VII: The Development of the Legendary Alexander The so-called “divinity” of Alexander

  2. Did Alexander consider he was a god? [A new one, or one in which the Greeks believed?] If Alexander did think he was a god, did he want others to believe so too? Why? Did he take steps to promote such a belief? If he didn’t think he was divine, did others? Who? Why? What would be the effect of some notion of a divine Alexander on his Friends and contemporaries? What light does this throw on our view of Alexander as a person? • Why does it matter, anyway? — Deified Roman emperors [“divus Augustus”, etc.] — The “divine right of kings” in medieval and later Europe — The supernatural abilities of the legendary Alexander in, e.g., The Alexander Romance

  3. In bed wook dame Olympyas And aspyed on vche manner Gif she might ought yhere Hou Amon the god shulde come. Neptenabus his charme hath nome, And taketh hym hames of dragoun, From his shuldre to hele adoun; His heued and his shuldres fram He digtteth in fourme of a ram. Ouere hire bed twyes he lepeth, The thrid tyme and jn he crepeth. Offe he cast his dragons hame And with the lefdy playeth his game. She was tholemood and lay stille; The fals god dude al his wille. Also oft so he wolde, that game she refuse nolde Alexander is conceived from a ruse played by the trickster-magician Neptenabus, adopting the form of a dragon and of Amon From the Middle English Kyng Alisaunder, 380-96

  4. Achilles Herakles Dionysos Zeus Ammon

  5. J.H. Schönfeld (ca. 1630), Alexander Visits the Tomb of Achilles [at Troy] Achilles Alexander depositing his copy of Homer’s Iliad in a box taken from the Persian spoils Quintus Curtius IV.6 Alexander drags Betis at Gaza, as Achilles dragged Hector at Troy

  6. Herakles Alexander depicted on his coinage wearing a lion-skin head-dress Herakles fights the Nemean lion Tyre Argead dynasty Melqart (Arrian II.18)

  7. Dionysos God of: wine, ectasy, vegetation, virility, theater (Not a Greek god in origin) Accompanied by: maenads/bacchants satyrs

  8. Dionysos’s wild orgiastic return from India was a stock theme in ancient art • Especially popular on Roman-era sarcophagi… • … such as this one at the Kelsey Museum, University of Michigan Note: Maenads Panther Snakes Music Orgiastic dancing Dionysus in a chariot drawn by a centaur

  9. A seeming progression: from the Greekest of Greek heroes (Achilles) to one of the most non-Greek gods Associating with an existing god (“Alexander is a new Herakles”) is not the same thing as formal recognition and worship as a god during his lifetime The distinction between mortals and immortals was perhaps a little fuzzy for the Greeks The Philippeion at Olympia Theater at Aigai, Macedonia

  10. Three key episodes in Alexander’s life: — Visit to oracle-shrine of Zeus-Ammon at the Siwah oasis — Attempt to introduce proskynesis at Bactra, 327 BC — Events of 324/3 BC, the last year of Alexander’s life

  11. Cartouche showing Alexander’s Pharaonic name Mery-amun [“beloved of Amun”] Alexander the Great as Pharaoh of Egypt before the god Amun in the Temple of Amun at Luxor

  12. Siwah Oasis (western Egypt) Coin of Ptolemy I, showing Alexander wearing elephant-scalp headdress and the ram’s horns of Zeus-Ammon

  13. Proskynesis [Greek name for the ritual greeting in Oriental courts]

  14. Events of 324/3 BC — Alexander sent a decree from Susa to the Greek cities, demanding that they receive back their political exiles —Cities send envoys to Alexander, acceding to his request and granting him divine honors. [Arrian VII.23] “…the envoys came like theoroi (sacred envoys) to honor a god… and yet Alexander’s end was near” (i.e., he was not immortal) — “Since Alexander wants to be a god, let him be a god” (epigram by Damis of Sparta)

  15. (Tentative) Conclusion — Not clear whether Alexander was ever acknowledged as divine during his lifetime — If he was, and if we believe Arrian, it happened only in the last year of his life — From this point on, however, the deification of rulers becomes increasingly common. Alexander stands at the head of this tradition. — An Alexander with powers beyond those of a mere mortal is an integral aspect of the medieval traditions of the Alexander Romance