At the same time Alexander’s views of empire are investigated, his attitude to his subjects, and the development of his concepts of personal divinity and universal monarchy. Analogies are thus drawn with the Spanish conquest of Mexico, which has a comparable historiographical tradition and parallels many of Alexander’s dealings with his subjects. Although of concern to the specialist, this book is equally directed at the general reader interested in the history of Alexander and the morality of empire.
The tendency to idealize began in antiquity. Within a generation of Alexander’s demise the rumours and slanders of poisoning gave impetus to full-blown fiction. A body of romance gradually accrued which had reached the dimensions of a novel by the Roman period and continued to develop in practically every language and culture from Scotland to Mongolia until the advent of the printing press. The Alexander Romance is overtly fictitious. However, the supposedly historical tradition of Alexander’s reign poses serious problems. It has been seriously distorted by the practitioners of rhetoric and popular philosophy. The primary historians of Alexander tended not to be widely read in antiquity. They provided examples which seeped into the popular consciousness through the medium of derivative literature. Alexander could be invoked in negative ways, to provide instances of irascibility, intemperance, and divine pre- tensions. There were also more positive examples, actions of generosity, magnanimity, and sexual restraint. But the constant factor in this exemplary use of Alexander is that the details are taken out of context, geared to the author’s own rhetorical or moralizing purposes. The most famous and influential instance is Plutarch’s ingenious treatise On the Fortune or Virtue of Alexander. This followed the precedent of Alexander’s contemporary, Onesicritus, who depicted the king in encomiastic vein and represented the Indian sage, Dandamis, acknowledging him as a philosopher in arms. For Onesicritus this was simply a tribute to Alexander’s intellectual curiosity, which remained unstifled by his military calling. Plutarch, however, developed the conceit and constructed a bravura portrait of Alexander, the philosopher under arms, with a mission to impose civilization — on the Greek model — on the lesser breeds without the law; “he sowed all Asia with Greek magistracies and so overcame its uncivilized and brutish manner of living” (Mor. 328e). He was sent by the gods as a mediator and conciliator for the whole world, and using force where reason was ineffective, he united all mankind in a single mixing jar, producing a cosmopolitan unity…
Alexander and the East: The Tragedy of Triumph
Clarendon Press; Reprint (15 octobre 1998)