Alexander Romance – Pseudo-Callisthenes

I’ve done it. I’ve finally done it. I’ve found a page linking to PDF files of the Alexander Romance. English translations, that is!

Broadly speaking, I’d describe the Alexander Romance as the lovechild of King Arthur and The Odyssey.

The Alexander Romance is a mythologised biography of Alexander The Great, that was really popular back in medieval Europe. Combining fact with fantasy, it tells the story of a Macedoninan king who ascends to the throne at a young age and then goes on a demented journey to conquer the world. He goes to India and he hangs out with some wise Brahmins. Allegedly, they know everything, and Alexander gets ten free questions. One of them is about the human body; specifically, which side is the holiest, left or right? Seriously, that was a question people were asking back then. The take-home message is that medieval Europe is the strangest culture I’ve ever read about.

There’s also a cool story about the Gates of Alexander. There’s a mountain range somewhere, and on the other side was a strong nation antagonistic to Alexander. Somehow he seals the range shut, either building a fortress between the mountains or miraculously jamming the mountains shut. In some versions the antagonists are referred to as Gog and Magog. There was also an apocalyptic element. I read things like that, and then I think magic Berlin wall.

Alexander also wanders around the Land of Darkness, which is about as well-lit as the name suggests, and meets the engimatic Enoch from Genesis. He had a real nice couch. There’s a wacky city with an even wackier river. People throw their flith, junk and whatever pollutants they had in classical times in the river, and the stuff never mixes! Now that’s cool! There might also have been a moral aspect to the magic river, maybe good people fished up fat trout and scoundrels get nothing but old boots, but maybe not. The whole book has a demented fantastic vibe which impressed me a great deal.

I think there’s a lot of room for this mythical Alexander in popular culture. I mean, if we can have ninety-nine novels and films about King Arthur’s love life then we can have at least twenty books about, I don’t know, temporally displaced teenagers joining Alexander’s army and headbutting centaurs.


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