When Alexander the Great arrived in Troy

At the beginning of May of the year 334, Alexander left for Asia. A brisk march to the east, following the coastal routes to Thrace, led him safely through its four great rivers and, therefore, in twenty days he reached the Dardanelles. She had encouraged him to make the journey Olympia, which had «revealed the secret of his birth,» as she believed, and had «asked him to think and act in a manner worthy of his lineage»; With this note of personal mystery, mother and son separated and never saw each other again.


In Sesto began with a visit to a well-known monument, the tomb of Protesilao, the first of the Greek heroes who stepped on the soil of Asia in the faraway days of the Trojan War; as it had been prophesied, the feat cost Protesilao his life, so Alexander dedicated a sacrifice in the hope that his first landing would be more promising. However, like Protesilao, Alexander had already decided that he would be the first man to disembark in Asia; Alexander was also adapting the invasion to the greatest episode of the epic past of Greece, when the Greek allies, like his own, finally marched to Asia to besiege Troy. The careful ritual, essence of the Greek epic, was already creating the atmosphere for the continuation. While Parmenion and the main army planned the crossing from Sesto, he went to sea from the tomb of Protesilao; for the first and only time in his life, Alexander was going in the opposite direction from the one required by the tactics, but his destination was too imperious to be ignored.

With him sailed sixty warships in the open waters of the Dardanelles, but Alexander insisted on taking himself the helm of the royal trireme. Halfway through the journey, when the trees surrounding the tomb disappeared from sight, he paused to placate the ocean, for which he sacrificed a bull in honor of the sea god Poseidon and poured libations for the Nereids, the sea nymphs, using a gold cup. The cup he chose was related to the cult of heroes. Then, when he began to approach the shores of Asia, Alexander dressed himself with all the armor of his armor and moved forward; when the vessel reached land, he threw his spear against the floor of the Persian Empire to reclaim it from then on as his own, received from the gods and won by the right of conquest. Once again his gesture came from the heroic past. Like Protesilao, he jumped to Asian land and was the first of the Macedonians to set foot on the beach, which is still known as the port of the Achaeans. The landscape that surrounded it could not have been more evocative.

In the port of the problems one could see the beach in which it was believed that the ships of the fleet of the Greek heroes were distributed when the children of the afflicted recovered the blonde Helena and sacked the citadel of Troy; The other side of the beach stretched the dunes and hills where it is thought that the heroes of Homer have been buried, and inland has been the Troy itself, which has been said in the same city windswept plains . Alexander has been released in the country of his favorite story, the Iliad; with his chosen companions, the new book.

When Alexander visited it, it was a long time since Troy was in decline and that his state was a village, better known for his temple of Athena and his priests. The «sacred city» of Homer, Troy VIII when Schliemann found it, remained buried under the rubble of some eight hundred years, and if Troy still mattered to the Greeks that Alexander directed, it was more because it was the center of a dangerous game of hiding that As a monument of the heroic past. The most strange story. The Thessalian hero Ajax was killed to perfection Kassandra at the end of the Trojan War, so the oracles were ordered to the nobles of the families of the family, in Thessaly, to be sent each year two virgins to the Dardanelles and that They will leave it in that place for us to make a trip to Troy. By tradition, the natives went out to hunt and kill them armed with axes and stones, and only if the virgins escaped in the temple of Athena through a secret passageway; They lived there safe, dressed like slaves and with shaved heads until a replacement managed to free them. The ritual had to last a thousand years, but it is known that at some point in Alexander’s life he was interrupted. As governor of the Thessalians, perhaps Alexander was the first to dispense his subjects from these obligations.

Virgins aside, at every point of his path, Alexander took care in a respectful way of the ceremonial. Among the Greeks, it was a common belief that, if one of the participants in a company offended or neglected the relevant gods, all his companions would pay the consequences; as king, ally and general leader, Alexander always carefully observed the religious custom and accommodated the sacrifice to the situation. Therefore, on his way to Troy, Alexander continued to be linked to the first Greek invasion in the Homeric past: he dedicated heroic sacrifices in the tombs of Ajax and Achilles, and honored them as worthy predecessors. Alexander thought that, in the first invasion of Asia, the favor of the divine Greek heroes of the Trojan War was the most important for his campaign.

In the own Troy, the citizens did not have clear how to receive it. They had heard that a king named Alexander was approaching, and they thought that he would undoubtedly want to see the relics of his namesake, Alexander of Homer, better known as Paris de Troy. However, when they offered to show him the lyre of Alexander, it seems that he answered: «I do not care about this lyre, since I have come for the lyre of Achilles, with which, as Homer said, he sang the feats and glories of men bold ». The Alexander of Homer, more enthusiastic of women left the war, was not to the taste of his Macedonian namesake; Achilles was the hero with whom this Alexander was identified, but, unlike Achilles, he had no Homer to immortalize his name. The most necessary, therefore, was to make explicit his own point of view; Even in the smallest detail, the visit to Troy would leave no doubt about his personal preferences.

Upon entering the city, Alexander accepted a gold crown offered by his helmsman, probably as a tribute to the control he had shown to have of the ship when they were in the middle of the sea. However, the name of the helmsman was more significant than the crown: it was called Menecio and, after Troy, this name had never appeared again in history, although thanks to Homer’s Iliad the name of Menecio was well known for being the father of Patroclus, the closest friend of Achilles. The man was chosen because of a name that was appropriate for the moment.

After anointing himself with oil, he ran naked among his companions to the tomb of Achilles and honored him with a garland, while Hephaestion did the same in the tomb of Patroclus. It was an extraordinary tribute, rendered in a unique way, and is also the first time that Hephaestion is mentioned in Alexander’s career. Both were already intimate, they were even Patroclus and Achilles for those around him; the comparison would remain until the end of his days. Then, before an altar of Zeus, the theme of a new Achilles was again underlined. Alexander made a sacrifice and invoked Priam, legendary King of Troy, begging him to placate his anger against this new descendant of his murderer, because the son of Achilles had killed old Priam on an altar of Zeus.

It remained to honor the temple of Athena, and again the pious emulation of Alexander did not abandon it. He made a sacrifice and dedicated his own armor to the goddess; in return, he took from priests the most magnificent relics of heroic times, a shield and a set of weapons that, it was believed, dated from the days of the Trojan War. No gesture could have expressed their personal ideals more clearly. Homer’s Achilles had also received a divine armor before going to battle, and there was no other shield more famous than his, «large and strong, carved in all directions, and around which a shining fence had been placed, of three layers, effulgent, and made from him a sword made of silver. Five layers had the shield, precisely, in itself, and over him, with expert senses, they carved a thousand reliefs ». Now Alexander had equaled his hero, and such was his preference for the Trojan shield and armor that he wanted to accompany him to war, to a place as far away as India, and also on the way back, being carried in arms for his escorts. The design of the shield must have been extremely impressive, and posterity would display a lot of ingenuity to guess what its probable emblems were: dressed in his sacred armor, Alexander would live the splendor of another time. With the reception of the sacred armor and shield, the visit to Troy ended. In Alexander’s entire career there is no more memorable behavior, none that expresses with greater eloquence his personal ideals.

In return, Troy was granted generous privileges, among which was not the least a new democracy, and later a disciple of Aristotle, a man «with one of the most penetrating minds», would write a pamphlet entitled The sacrifice in Ilium . Unfortunately it has not survived, but the title implies that the author realized the importance of the visit. From the beginning to the end, Alexander’s purpose was amply written in his meticulous behavior. It is true that the Persian king Xerxes, whose errors Alexander was avenging, had visited Troy a hundred and fifty years ago and had also offered a sacrifice before launching himself into the Dardanelles; however, Xerxes’ offerings were planned and arranged in a different way, and nothing proves that Alexander had taken into account the precedent of his enemy: no Persian king had personally piloted his ship or had run naked around his hero’s tomb . Alexander’s visit was Greek and spontaneous; it depended on a connection with the Trojan War, and, above all, each of the tributes offered had evoked the hero Achilles, his comrade, also in search of glory and fame. Achilles’ propaganda had its importance, at least for the Thessalian troops. The Thessalian horsemen, it was said later, rode simulating a battle around the tomb of Achilles and summoned the horses of their war chariot by their names, urging them to be part of their side in the coming war. But for Alexander, Homer’s lover and Achilles’ emule, the visit surely depended more on his personality than on politics. Going to face his hardest trial, the new Achilles was first to honor his predecessor, not for reasons of power or vain sophistication, but because Homer’s hero had ignited his imagination and, as a Macedonian king, lived by ideals that were linked to the old Homeric world. The visit to Troy is typical of a true romantic, and romanticism was part of the way in which Alexander himself wanted to be seen. The lesson, however, would not be forgotten.

About five hundred and fifty years later, the Roman emperor Caracalla would choose Alexander as a hero to emulate. Marching through Thrace, he looks like Alexander, armed himself and recruited elephants and a Macedonian phalanx of sixteen thousand men. He crossed the Hellespont with less dexterity than his hero, for his ship capsized, was a Troy, made a sacrifice in Achilles and ran, not naked but fully armed, around the hero’s tomb. Seven years later, Alexander rode again: a strange character left the Danube and had fun repeating his way through Thrace, assisted by four hundred revelers who waved their batons in a joyful procession, while as Alexander’s conqueror. Every day the impostor announces his route in advance and we enjoy the food and the roof at the expense of the public, since no officer dared to challenge his credentials. However, when reaching Byzantium, this character went to Asia, released his last laugh and disappeared. Obviously, he went through Caracalla, the return to make a second trip in the style of Alexander, and this way could be applied to his claim of his own emperor. It is the most extraordinary tribute to his memory; It was said that Alexander had sent a message to «Achilles» for «I had» a «Homer who spread his fame», but even without «poet».

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