The Alexander of the thousand faces

He had a dreamy look, one eye of each color and boundless fascination with classical heroes. He became the model of all the conquerors.

What they said most impressed the young Macedonian monarch was not his bearing or his beauty, his leonine hair or his stature, otherwise not too prominent. It was his two-colored gaze, markedly dreamy, always stretched to the distance as if he longed to go beyond this reality. In the famous Roman mosaic, a copy of an original Hellenistic painting, which today houses the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, we see Alexander the Great, fighting battle in Isos with the Persian King Darius, and already characterized with that special look. And it is that Alexander knew himself born for an immortal destiny, although perhaps he did not know how to realize it. He had been a young dreamer, in love with literature and classic heroes, one of those noble characters – like the Homeric heroes or the protagonists of the «Lives» plutarch – whose life already seems written by a design of historical immortality, of glory imperishable He would be a model for all the conquerors that have been in the world: from Caesar and Pompey to Trajan, from George Washington to Napoleon. Everyone would be fascinated, more than by their achievements, by the personality of that man who managed to make his dream come true. The dreamer who turned the impossible into reality.

In turn, Alexander’s models were beyond human and everyday experience. They were, a god and a demigod, a hero and a great king. First Dionysus, god of ecstasy but also conqueror of distant worlds that his civilization had taken, in the form of the gifts of wine and dance, to distant India, in the confines of the known world. He was his divine model and Alexander would take the Greek civilization as far as the last Alexandrians he founded in the vicinity of India, beyond which there was supposed to be nothing more that the human being could contemplate.

Then there was Heracles, who had crossed the borders of the beyond and had even reached the distant columns that, in the fierce West, meant the border with the great unknown ocean, the end of the earth. But Alexander was also a mythomaniac of Homer’s heroes, slept with a copy of the «Iliad» near his bedside – and loved as no other the fierce, bloodthirsty but noble Achilles, a fleeting and tormented life character who was aware of that the only way to gain immortality forever was to transcend the world of legend for his deeds. Fourth was the founder of the Persian empire, the great King Cyrus, who laid the foundations of the might of the great multiethnic empire that the Greeks feared and admired in equal measure in an ambivalent mixture of sentiments, as also seen in the famous «Cyropedia. »By Xenophon.

On the back of his horse Bucephalus, equipped with a handful of dreams and the shadow of the heroes he wanted to imitate, with a visionary character and the interested propaganda that made him the son of a god and that he himself had fostered with oracles and rumors , the young reader and mythomaniac, instead of staying at home immersed in literature, learning the sciences of Aristotle and dreaming of his favorite heroes, was put into action. In the spring of 334 a.C. He crossed the Dardanelles strait, which separates Europe from Asia, and after paying the due tribute to the heroes of Troy, he set out to fulfill the dream of all the Greeks, starting with his father Philip, who had not lived to realize it. : tame the Persians in an expedition of revenge against the Persian Empire that would have destroyed Greece.

Pietro Citati, author of other exceptional books such as the unforgettable «La luz de la noche» (Seix Barral), about myths in history, comments on this historical and legendary profile, stating, very deliberately, that the Macedonian king was a unrepeatable synthesis of myth and history at the same time, a contradictory character like few others who possessed a multiple, irascible, sweet, adventurous and fascinating self, which has caused admiration forever in posterity. The author says that «living with such weight of images on his shoulders was the desire for his existence: Alexander managed to do it and was happy, if that word has any meaning. However, he understood how difficult and dangerous it is for a man to have so many souls. In each moment of his life he had to coexist within himself the gestures and acts of Achilles and Cyrus, as well as the feelings of Dionysus and Hercules, to combine different models when each of them struggled to manifest without the others or in against the others ».

If the events of Alexander the Great are totally implausible even today, his multifaceted personality continues to amaze historians who have tried to analyze the great Macedonian monarch. For example, I think of the excellent biographies of Robin Lane Fox (Acantilado) and Pedro Barceló (Alianza Editorial), two of the most recommended for all types of public and offering two sides of the same medallion: a romantic Alexander and a realist in their ambitions.

In any case, the most surprising thing about this young lover of heroic literature who could make his dreams come true is the mythical dimension that his figure acquired, that is, how he himself became a fabulous and almost fictional hero. Beyond the well-known historical vicissitudes of the conquering Alexander, his more personal profile, his counterpart and multifaceted personality, and, above all, the magnitude of his legend with the passage of time in the various geographical and cultural areas to which the echo of his exploits are also revealed. I think for example in our «Book of Alexandre» and its French precedent the «Roman d’Alexandre», where a curious and unrepentant explorer of worlds appears beyond reason, in the tradition of the Slavic and Russian Alexander – remember that several Russian tsars bore his name-, the courtly king of Central Europe (the German Alexandros of Lamprecht or Hartlieb), the Arab «Al-Iskandar», which appears in «Arabian Nights», the Persian Eskandar or Sekandar of the Šahname of Ferdowsi or the Sikandar of which the Indian wrens were called descendants, etc. All this fascinating tradition is represented by great fictional stories that border on fantasy and even science fiction and whose origins go back without doubt to the historians and storytellers who accompanied the expedition of Alexander, but are represented by apocryphal books as curious as the novel of the Pseudo-Callisthenes, splendidly translated and edited by Carlos García Gual in the Gredos Classical Library. Finally, he invites us to return once again to the legend of the monarch with a thousand faces, conqueror, dreamer, discoverer, and reinventor of the story called Alexander; to rediscover the magnetic gaze of the Macedonian king, with heterochromatic eyes – on those who wrote Plutarch or Julio Valerio and which the artist of the Neapolitan mosaic traced with fabulous features – who knew how to change the world forever.

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