Ancient and modern treatment of Alexander the Great
By Joan Hill
Master’s Thesis, University of South Africa, 2002
Abstract: This dissertation examines the different interpretations of the secondary sources for Alexander the Great by three modern historians, Nicholas Hammond, Peter Green and Mary Renault. The Introduction looks briefly at the lost primary Alexander-histories, the extant works of Diodorus Siculus, Quintus Curtis, Plutarch and Arrian and includes an abbreviated curriculum vitae for each modern author.
Chapter I concerns modern interpretations of the controversial circumstances surrounding the accession of Alexander and the assassination of Philip. Chapter II covers the elimination of possible rivals, Attalus, Alexander Lyncestes and Amyntas son of Perdiccas, two major conspiracies – the Philotas Affair and the death of Parmernio, the conspiracy of the Royal Pages and the death of Callisthenes – and the killing of Cleitus the Black. Chapter III deals with modern explanations of the death of Alexander.
The conclusion highlights significant theories and trends presented by the modern historians, which influence their interpretations of the ancient sources.
“This is his true claim to be called ‘Alexander the Great’: that he did not crush or dismember his enemies,… nor exploit, enslave or destroy the native peoples,… but that he created, albeit for only a few years, a supra-national community capable of living internally at peace and of developing the concord and partnership which are so sadly lacking in the modern world.”
“Philip’s son was bread as a king and a warrior. His business, his all-absorbing obsession through a short but crowded life, was war and conquest. It is idle to palliate the central truth, to pretend that he dreamed, in some mystical fashion of wading through rivers of blood and violence to achieve the Brotherhood of Man by raping an entire continent.”
These two opinions illustrate the passionate debate that has always surrounded the life and deeds of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC). The legend and the controversy around Alexander began before he died in Babylon, and both continue to grow, even after the passage of over two thousand years as men and women are attracted by the spell of his youth and glory, or repelled by the perception of his corruption and self-deification. The ‘real’ Alexander is the victim of his own fame, or infamy, and has been obscured by the stories, legends, propaganda and the conflicting emotions that surround his life and conquests.