Alexander and the sin of the search for knowledge

It is said that the legends of heroes start from their very life. The marvelous goes hand in hand with the heroes, enveloping the characters of exception step by step until they break the boundaries of the heroic and penetrate decisively into the realms of the mythical. Thus true heroes have biographies that open themselves to the legendary and the fantastic, even before their earthly life ends or their memory begins to be adorned with the mists of time; that which can be valid for almost any great hero is an absolute truth in the case of Alexander the Great, the young emperor of Macedonia who died at the age of thirty-three after having conquered the known world and part of what was not yet known. . Because -if his legend does not lie- Alexander was not content only to seize the Persian empire and arrive victorious to the fabulous India, the great Alexander – always dominated by two obsessions, go beyond the limits and equalize with the gods – managed to unravel the secrets of the sea and the air and to enter the territory of the marvelous.

Alexander covers, like few historical figures, the requirements that every hero must meet to transcend the frontier of history and enter the mythical: he has in his body the marks that mark him as an exceptional being (his eyes are of different colors ), his birth presages with prodigies a unique destiny, overcomes numerous tests before being prepared to undertake his great feat and project his impulses in the companies that define the mythical heroes: the search for immortality, wisdom and transcendence. The path of such longings is always strewn with wonders, and so Alexander will begin to tread on the wonderful from the moment when, concluded his epic conquest of the Persian Empire, is not prepared to enjoy his triumph or consolidate his conquered empire but decides Continue your warrior pilgrimage and venture into unknown terrain. Beyond the known can only await the prodigy and destiny.

Always controversial, the figure of Alexander was -even for his own chroniclers and generals who followed him closely and shared his adventures-, a prism from which one facet could hardly be captured. The image of the conqueror of Asia slips away and in his texts appears just showing one of their faces. This happens as much to the serious historians of Antiquity to our days as to writers more concerned with adulation, the exotic, the aesthetic, the romantic or the moral than with historical fidelity.

Even before he died, his historical facts and the real personality of Alexander were interwoven with numerous stories in which his life was exaggerated, falsified or adorned, and his deeds became more expensive and hyperbolic. Around his adventures a network of increasingly improbable and audacious stories was being assembled; little by little his figure was mythologized until becoming a paragon and ideal, not only of the warrior or the wise, but also in the prototype of the traveler and of the man always eager to cross the very limits of humanity and the proud one that aspires to be equated with the divinity.

Such problems are not surprising. Alexander had to live obsessed by his mother’s ideas that Philip of Macedon was not his father, but that she had conceived it from Zeus himself. Treated as a god by the Persians and received as another by the Egyptians, more fond of «glory than life,» the young Alexander, who saw falling under his armies or his fame reputable cities of impregnable, was not always able to Keep calm and do not take seriously your deification or, at least, your stated origin.

Always worried to know more, to explore unknown lands, after having finished with his great epic feat – the war against Darío -, Alexander is not able to remain calm in his newly conquered kingdom or with his new wife.

Always more glorious in the war than after the victory «, he must continue with his exploits, move towards the limits of the known world, in the regions to which only the most intrepid had come and of which only wonders were told. And so we can see how Alexander is also entering the legend. At the end of that trip, Quintus Curcio makes him say: «I have almost reached the end of the world and, crossing it, I have resolved to open another nature and another universe.»

Numerous are the historians and the biographers of Alexander who dedicate themselves to narrating, with moderation or without it, their life and adventures, and that in this itinerary they leave their works plagued by prodigies; but the text in which the marvelous is lordship and the story takes true nuances of a novel is in that of Pseudo Calisthenes, who, more than a biography of Alexander, is a collection of fantastic stories. It is in that text, dismissed as mediocre and decadent -and that for centuries was the most popular after the Bible-, where «the transfiguration of Alexander into a mythical character, into an almost mythological hero (like the adventurer Ulysses) took place» redivive, sagacious and curious ..) «; the work in which the most significant feature of Alexander was: «his eagerness to transgress human limits: to arrive in his explorations to the end of the world, to ascend to the heavens, to surpass the deeds of the gods, to attain immortality »

It is in this text where you can see Alexander aspiring to the impossible and struggling to surpass his condition as a man. The Pseudo-Callisthenes narrative takes place between descriptions of all the fabulous peoples and exotic places that made the text famous, but all those wonders seem the barely important decoration that will frame the great adventures of Alexander. In the midst of prodigies that are revealed to him, Alexander suddenly realizes that there are things that are not in accordance with his nature:

Therefore, I decided to make a large iron cage and inside it introduce a huge glass jar with a thickness of one and a half cubits. And I ordered a hole in the bottom of the jar, enough for a man’s hand to pass, because he wanted to descend and find out what was in the bottom of the sea. From the inside, he could have the hole in that hatch closed at the bottom of the tub, and when he came down, open quickly to reach out through the hatch and take what he found on the floor of the sea from the sandy bottom. Again withdraw my hand and instantly plug the hole. I did it like that. I ordered to make a chain of three hundred and eight fathoms and instructed that no one should hoist me until I felt the chain stir … (Pseudo Callisthenes, pp. 161-162).

After two unsuccessful attempts Alexander manages to descend to about 308 cubits, but, while watching the fish comfortably from his submarine, a very large one drags him along with the men in charge of taking care of his sphere. Already on the shore, half-dead with fear, while thanking Providence for having saved himself, he says to himself: «Alexander desists, of trying impossible, lest by tracing the abyss you deprive yourself of life» (Pseudo Callisthenes, P. 163).

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