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The Chronographical Alexandreid

 

Not later than the twelfth century a lengthy romance about the life and deeds of Alexander the Great, the so-called Pseudo-Callisthenes’ Alexandreid (which was mistakenly attributed to Callisthenes, the historian who accompanied Alexander on his campaigns), was translated from the Greek. The original historico-biographical background of the story about Alexander in the Alexandreid can barely be traced. It is a typical adventure story of the Hellenic age, in which the life of the Emperor of Macedonia is embellished with numerous legendary and fantastic details, and the main theme would appear to be the description of the strange lands that Alexander was supposed to have visited during his campaigns.27

One of the redactions of the Alexandreid was translated in Russia. This translation is found primarily in chronographical compilations, which is why it is called The Chronographical Alexandreid to distinguish it from The Serbian Alexandreid which came to Russia via the southern Slavs in the fifteenth cen­tury.

As already mentioned, the Alexandreid is not so much an historical romance or literary biography, as an adventure story, and Alexander himself also acquires some purely legendary features. For example, he is declared to be the son not of King Philip of Macedonia, but of the Egyptian King Nectanebes who appeared to Philip’s wife Olympias in the form of the god Amon. The birth of Alexander is accompanied by magical signs: the earth quakes and there are peals of thunder. Contrary to history, the Alexandreid speaks of Alexander’s campaign to Sicily and his conquest of Rome. This is no accident. The Macedonian general appears in the romance not only as the victor of the great power of Persia, but also as a hero who has conquered the whole world. The interpretation of Darius’ death, for example, is typical. Mortally wounded by his satraps, King Darius himself gives Alexander the throne of Persia and with it his daughter Roxana to be his wife. In fact Roxana, one of Alexander’s wives, was the daughter of a Bactrian satrap, not of Darius.

There are many exciting clashes in the romance. Thus, Alexander sets off to visit Darius dressed up as his own envoy and barely manages to escape recognition and captivity. Another time he pretends to be his friend and ally Antigones and comes to the Ethiopian Queen Candace whose son is thirsting to take vengeance on Alexander for killing his father-in-law, the Indian prince Porus. Candace recognises Alexander, and he manages to escape only because she conceals her guest’s secret in gratitude for his saving her other son.

Alexander’s death is also shrouded in mystery. A miracu­lous sign shows that his end is near: when he is dying, the sky darkens and a bright star comes out and gradually sinks into the sea.

The Alexandreid was included in Russian chronographical compilations and therefore regarded as an historical account of the famous hero of ancient times. But in fact Old Russian writers had made the acquaintance of a subject which was extremely popular in mediaeval European literature, and which formed the basis of numerous prose romances and poems written from the tenth to twelfth centuries in Italy, Germany, France and other countries.

In the second redaction of the Alexandreid (included in the second redaction of The Hellenic and Roman Chronicle) the element of entertainment was even stronger: the stories about Alexander’s campaigns to strange lands inhabited by wondrous creatures were embellished with new details, episodes were added in which the hero goes up to heaven or descends to the bottom of the sea, etc. The Alexandreid in various redactions was an essential component of all Russian chronographical compilations and chronicles right up to the seventeenth century.28

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