Saturday, January 2, 2010

Alexander Romances

The tradition of the Alexander Romance, stories of the mythical adventures of Alexander the Great, dates from the late 3rd to the 16th centuries, with variations in virtually every European language as well as Arabic, Persian, Ethiopic, Hebrew, Turkish, and Mongol. Chaucer makes reference to the tradition in The Canterbury Tales. Early versions were attributed to Aristotle's nephew and Alexander's historian, Callisthenes (more on him in a future post). But, since Callisthenes died well before Alexander, this author was later referred to as Pseudo-Callisthenes.

The stories were largely fantastical, featuring magical creatures, superhuman powers, prophecies, and a tryst with the Queen of the Amazons. (Told of this last story, Alexander's general Lysimachus, who accompanied him on his campaigns, is supposed to have said, "I wonder where I was at the time.")

Alexander rex exploring the depth of the sea

This image shows Alexander being lowered into the sea in a glass barrel to observe marine life (Aristotle's influence, perhaps?) From the old French prose Alexander Romance manuscript, Rouen, 1445
London, British Library.

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