Book review/Collaboration: “Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Alexander the Great” by K. R. Moore (editor)

Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Alexander the Great offers a considerable range of topics, of interest to students and academics alike, in the long tradition of this subject’s significant impact, across a sometimes surprising and comprehensive variety of areas. Arguably no other historical figure has cast such a long shadow for so long a time. Every civilisation touched by the Macedonian Conqueror, along with many more that he never imagined, has scrambled to “own” some part of his legacy. This volume canvasses a comprehensive array of these receptions, beginning from Alexander’s own era and journeying up to the present, in order to come to grips with the impact left by this influential but elusive figure.

Read from February 18 to April 7, 2019.

First of all, I’d like to thank the people who at the Brill Publisher gave me the enormous opportunity to read this wonderful book. Without them, I would probably never have been able to write this review. You have my gratitude, thank you!

This is my little contribution to this anthology, a splendid work that speaks for itself. This reading made me understand an important thing: for 2300+ years now, how many people have been captured and interested in the figure of Alexander? One thousand? Ten thousand? One hundred thousand? A million? A billion? And, more importantly, a figure like this can be inspiring in many respects and each of these people touched by him, including me, has his own image of Alexander. Each of us has his own personal image of Alexander. And it’s unique. Yes, we are all influenced by the readings we can have access to, by the scholars we read, but also by the religion and the dominant culture of our time. Each of us has our own personal and family experience, which he unwittingly uses to create the figure of the Macedonian leader. This thought makes us special, makes me special and I owe it to this wonderful reading. This premise is not to affirm that this is the subject of the book, but that its contributions, on the whole, make us understand how a historically so important character is interpreted and used differently according to the needs of the time.

Another clarification that I want to do is this as follows: this won’t be a real review, but more than anything else a very concentrated summary of the book with some reflection of mine. I don’t want to review the professors who contributed to this book for obvious reasons.. I’ll focus more on some contributions than on others, but it must have a relative importance because each contribution says a lot and must be analyzed carefully. I hope however to do a useful and well done job because these are my goals.

Last but important clarification: if there are errors in this article they are only my fault and please excuse me and tell me that I’ll fix them as soon as possible!

In the three parts of this anthology all the aspects and the variations of how Alexander was received are analyzed. If this book doesn’t completely cover the argument about how Alexander the Great was received for 2300 years to now, it’s very close to me. Let’s see them in more detail.

Ancient Greek, Roman and Persian Receptions

Professor Moore immediately explains that Alexander the Great is a subject that has been said a lot, for better or worse, in more than 2,300 years, so it isn’t easy to say how Alexander was received. To better address the problem of the many cases that could be cited, he focuses on three key episodes and he will say what the ancient and modern authors claim. The authors who he analyzes are many in all three cases.

The first is the assassination of Philip II: the ancient authors who consider Olympias and Alexander are those belonging to the Vulgate and not the Officials (he also explains who is part of these two distinctions), while among the modern authors the guilt of the two depends from the sources that are considered. Moore, however, believes that Alexander in life was never accused of patricide, even when he was criticized several times during the expedition to Asia. Pausanias may have killed Philip for truly personal reasons and we have no evidence that Alexander was involved in the plot. It is curious how Braccesi in his new book (Olimpiade regina di Macedonia. La madre di Alessandro Magno, Roma: Salerno; 2019), analyzing the same sources, that is the ​​Euripides’ Medea, arrives at diametrically opposed conclusions.

The destruction of Thebes is one of the most controversial episodes of Alexander: it isn’t easy to say that he could have avoided its destruction, but it is also true that no poleis at the League of Corinth took its defense.

The murder of Callisthenes is the third and last episode that Moore analyzes and, always explaining the positions of the various sources, he believes that he wasn’t tortured and killed but died of an unknown disease.

In this article I noticed for the first time how Alexander was a “star” at his time, as if he were always in the spotlight and everyone was ready to criticize him for everything he did.

Philip was a star at the time: many texts speak of him, for better or for worse and most of the time he is remembered only for his son Alexander. In the Greek version of Alexander’s Romance, Alexander’s paternity is even denied to him.

This article analyzes how the Ptolemaic dynasty used the figure of Alexander in his favor. The incredible thing is that Alexander was criticized when he was still alive to want to believe himself a god, but then the Ptolemaics founded their dynasty by feeding that myth and built themselves as myths.

Macedonian propaganda used many tools, Squillace considers two of them: Alexander in Gordium and the death of Callisthenes. Moreover, the propaganda messages of that time ended up becoming historical facts.

Alexander’s successors were portrayed similar to him to inherit the legitimacy of their kingdom and the power itself. The author analyzes statues, coins, tombs.

Wallace analyzes how Alexander was used in the Hellenistic and Roman world with false declarations of contact with him (the foundation of a city by Alexander himself or of descending from him); how some cities enjoyed privileges by recalling their connection with him; and how the Alexander’s cult became important in some cities.

The author analyzes how the figure of Alexander was used with the advent of the Persian and Roman Empire in the lands previously conquered by Alexander himself.

Mullen talks about how Alexander had to deal with the local populations of Persia: resources agree on how he adopted the clothes and the court protocol but disagree in the details and Mullen shows us where. The difference with the East also justified European colonial rule and Alexander’s behavior was seen as contaminated by the barbarians.

The author compares Alexander and Antony because they both saw themselves as sons of Heracles and shows the differences and similarities.

Muccioli considers three aspects: Alexander’s popularity in Greek poleis through divine and heroic cults; Alexander as an ancestor of the Hellenistic monarchies; and Alexander in Greek literature which is often opposed to the Roman one.

In the first century BCE Rome had a great transformation because from a republic it became a monarchy and, consequently, the romans referred to the figure of Alexander they could use: that is, the one with the power in only one hand to him and they used it as a lesson for the rulers because from one part was a warning against tyranny and excesses and on the other as an imperial limit. Alexander thus became a reflection of Rome itself.

Celotto analyzes Alexander in the works of Seneca and Lucan and how much Roman culture influenced how it was seen.

In this contribution it’s analyzed how Plutarch created Alexander, the most Roman of the Greeks.

Later Receptions in the Near- and Far-East and the Romance Tradition

The first Hebrew writings on Alexander are prior to those of the Greco-Roman tradition and Alexander’s Romance in the Hebrew version highlights things other than its Greek-Latin version. There are also secular and religious examples of the Romance in Jewish literature.

I had never read before about the meeting of Alexander and High Priest and here are reported: the history, the evolution of the text and the stories that flowed from it.

Here the various versions of Alexander’s Romance are compared.

In the Byzantine period there are no new biographies on Alexander, but Alexander’s Romance is rewritten seven times in the attempt to make Alexander from a pagan king to a Christian hero.

This contribution shows how Alexander was considered a negative king and then becomes a positive figure and the Jewish tradition makes Alexander a king who follows and does what he succeeds thanks to the will of God.

In Italy in the Middle Ages the figure of Alexander derives from the tradition of Leone Arciprete, while in the Renaissance his figure is more historic than legendary.

As the title says, the Syrian and Persian versions of the Alexander Romance are analyzed.

“Modern” and Postmodern Receptions

Alexander is missing in the literature of that time as a prominent figure but is associated with Napoleon.

It’s analyzed how Alexander was seen in English colonialism and archaeologists.

Droysen was a great scholar of Alexander and is analyzed in detail here.

Alexander’s version in the Renault trilogy and the figure of Bagoa are examined.

The most important modern authors on Alexander the Great are Tarn, Briant and Radet and here are examined.

The reasons for the flop of Rossen’s 1956 film are analyzed despite having many points in its favor at the beginning.

Alexander inspired and still inspires many adventurers who undertake journeys on the trail of the great conqueror.

The fire of Persepolis is one of the most controversial episodes in the life of Alexander and the figure of the enigmatic Thais is also analyzed.

Alexander’s behavior with the populations of present-day Afghanistan is compared with that of NATO today and the author believes that an approach like that of the Macedonian would be more efficient.

Professor Cohen analyzes the history of the most important statues and works of art on Alexander.

Here are instead analyzed some folk songs that recall to Alexander and to today’s question of ethnic struggles.

This last contribution focuses on how people with disabilities were seen in the ancient world, how there was a distinction between war wounded and disabled from birth, but also how the emphasis on difference with the able-bodied is a modern concept and Alexander is ahead of his time in considering these people as people and he becomes the first example of history in bringing respect to them.

Here some quotes of the book.

Finally I give you some information about this beautiful book:

Copyright Page

List of Contributors

Ancient Greek, Roman and Persian Receptions

  • Framing the Debate By: K.R. Moore
  • Attic Orators on Alexander the Great By: Elias Koulakiotis
  • The Reception of Alexander’s Father Philip II of Macedon By: Sabine Müller
  • The Reception of Alexander in the Ptolemaic Dynasty By: John Holton
  • Alexander after Alexander: Macedonian Propaganda and Historical Memory in Ptolemy and Aristobulus’ Writings By: Giuseppe Squillace
  • The Reception of Alexander in Hellenistic Art By: Olga Palagia
  • Metalexandron: Receptions of Alexander in the Hellenistic and Roman Worlds By: Shane Wallace
  • Alexander between Rome and Persia: Politics, Ideology, and History By: Jake Nabel
  • Beyond Persianization: The Adoption of Near Eastern Traditions by Alexander the Great By: James Mullen
  • Sons of Heracles: Antony and Alexander in the Late Republic By: Kyle Erickson
  • The Ambivalent Model: Alexander in the Greek World between Politics and Literature (1st Century BC / beg. 1st Century AD) By: Federicomaria Muccioli
  • The Latin Alexander: Constructing Roman Identity By: Dawn L. Gilley
  • Alexander the Great in Seneca’s Works and in Lucan’s Bellum Civile By: Giulio Celotto
  • Plutarch’s Alexander By: Sulochana R. Asirvatham

Later Receptions in the Near- and Far-East and the Romance Tradition

  • Alexander in the Jewish tradition: From Second Temple Writings to Hebrew Alexander Romances By: Aleksandra Klęczar
  • Jews, Samaritans and Alexander: Facts and Fictions in Jewish Stories on the Meeting of Alexander and the High Priest By: Meir Ben Shahar
  • The Reception of Alexander the Great in Roman, Byzantine and Early Modern Egypt By: Agnieszka Wojciechowska and Krzysztof Nawotka
  • Byzantine Views on Alexander the Great By: Corinne Jouanno
  • Church Fathers and the Reception of Alexander the Great By: Jaakkojuhani Peltonen
  • Medieval and Renaissance Italian Receptions of the Alexander Romance Tradition By: Barbara Blythe
  • Syriac and Persian Versions of the Alexander Romance By: Krzysztof Nawotka

“Modern” and Postmodern Receptions

  • Alexander and Napoleon By: Agnieszka Fulińska
  • The Men Who Would be Alexander: Alexander the Great and His Graeco-Bactrian Successors in the Raj By: Rachel Mairs
  • Receptions of Alexander in Johann Gustav Droysen By: Josef Wiesehöfer
  • “The Unmanly Ruler”: Bagoas, Alexander’s Eunuch Lover, Mary Renault’s The Persian Boy, and Alexander Reception By: Elizabeth Baynham and Terry Ryan
  • Alexander’s Image in German, Anglo-American and French Scholarship from the Aftermath of World War I to the Cold War By: Reinhold Bichler
  • Alexander as Glorious Failure: The Case of Robert Rossen’s Alexander the Great (1956) By: Alastair J.L. Blanshard
  • Go East, Young Man: Adventuring in the Spirit of Alexander By: Margaret E. Butler
  • The Great Misstep: Alexander the Great, Thais, and the Destruction of Persepolis By: Alex McAuley
  • Avoiding Nation Building in Afghanistan: An Absent Insight from Alexander By: Jason W. Warren
  • The Artist as Art Historian: Some Modern Works on Alexander By: Ada Cohen
  • Alexander the Great Screaming Out for Hellenicity: Greek Songs and Political Dissent By: Guendalina D.M. Taietti
  • The Conscience of the King: Alexander the Great and the Ancient Disabled By: Alexandra F. Morris

Series: Brill’s Companions to Classical Reception, Volume: 14

I would like to thank one last time the people who at the publisher brill wanted to give me this enormous opportunity.

Thank you very much,

Originally published at on April 9, 2019.



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