Alexander the Great is known as one of the greatest military leaders of all time. He conquered numerous territories some of which were the neighboring states of Greece, the Persian empire, and the Egyptians. He was an enthusiast of Homeric models and in several ways developed his style of kingship by looking to those models.
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Many people who also admired Homer’s poetry did not like Alexander as they believed he misunderstood Homer and the idea of “Homeric kingship”. Nevertheless, Alexander conveyed that he understood the lessons in Homer’s poems well through his unwavering decisions and sensible actions during his reign.
An important lesson taught by The Odyssey was that evil-doers will inevitably face the consequences for their choices. For example, the Cyclops Polyphemus devoured two of Odysseus’ men and trapped the others in his cave. Odysseus hatched a brilliant plan to intoxicate the cyclops with wine, then stab its eye using a sharpened olive tree while it was passed out. His plan succeeded; the blind Cyclops removed the boulder blocking the exit of the cave to call for help which allowed Odysseus and his men to escape. The Cyclops faced the repercussions for not respecting the ancient Greek tradition of providing hospitality to guests who were far from home. Alexander did some gruesome things during his reign. However, he seldom inflicted damage upon anyone without a logical reason and if he did, he would genuinely regret it. For instance, when Alexander came into contact with the sacred sanctuary of Nysa, the Indians explained it was constructed from their own interpretation of Greek religion.
The sanctuary, which was the only place where ivy grew in India, was a dedication to the god Dionysus, who the Indians believed was their founder. After learning this, Alexander did not destroy the sanctuary. Instead, he garrisoned his troops in the territory, celebrated the sanctuary with festivities, and formed a close friendship with the Indians. He believes in the importance of having the gods on his side to ensure victory in his conquests. Destroying the sanctuary of Nysa would be an evil act which would undoubtedly upset the gods. In short, Alexander preferred to avoid divine punishment. Moreover, his celebration of the sanctuary of Nysa with the Indians exemplifies his respect for the representation of Greek religion in foreign cultures. The formation of friendships with the Indians demonstrates Alexander’s understanding of his limits. To elaborate, since Alexander already has countless enemies, he recognized that it was unnecessary to make even more when there was no apparent reason. This indicates that Alexander clearly understood the Homeric lesson of how evil-doers are unable to escape their consequences.
In Homer’s Iliad, Agamemnon was portrayed as the cruel and selfish king of Mycenae who kept most the riches from war to himself despite not having shed a drop of blood. Homer utilized Agamemnon to illustrate the lesson that a king who obsessed over wealth and power but has no respect for his soldiers, is incompetent for such authority. As the Indians took refuge from the Macedonians in the citadel, Alexander commanded his troops to continue their pursuit. Witnessing the sluggishness of the Macedonians bringing up the ladder, Alexander impatiently grabbed the ladder from a soldier and climbed up himself. Concerned about their king’s safety, multiple foot guards tried to climb the ladder at once which caused it to break, leaving no other way to get to Alexander. Considering his unfavorable positioning which exposed him to all surrounding towers, Alexander decided to jump into the citadel and he ultimately killed them all. Eventually, as more Indians came, his chest was pierced by an arrow which led him to lose consciousness. Fortunately, his soldiers were able to support him (Arrian, Anabasis 6.9.1-6). This represents Alexander’s passion to lead his soldiers into battle despite being a king. He did not hesitate to be the first person to climb up the ladder or jump into the citadel.
If Alexander was consumed by greed for wealth, he would not endanger his life on the front line of battles. This also highlights the high level of respect Alexander has for his soldiers. As a king, he wants his men to be displaying their utmost endeavor. So by endangering himself, he exposed their maximum efforts to protect their king. Not only does this make his soldiers stronger, more confident, and increase their survivability, but it also points out the care Alexander has for them. Instead, his choice was a life of struggle, of wars and of unrelenting ambition (Plutarch, The Age of Alexander 284.5-6). Alexander found the idea of things being handed to him from his father, King Philip II, to be distasteful. He preferred to achieve fame through his own actions. This testifies for Alexander’s proficiency to be king. Therefore, he understands that a king must not be greedy and must respect his soldiers similar to how they admire him.
Conclusively, Alexander the Great deeply understood the lessons outlined by Homeric poems such as the Iliad and Odyssey. Although numerous individuals who loved Homer and his poems disliked Alexander, as they believed he misinterpreted Homer and the idea of “Homeric kingship”, his decisions and actions suggest otherwise. Hence, Alexander the Great was a competent king who respected his soldiers, as well as other foreign cultures, and knew he could not escape facing dire consequences if he intentionally committed an evil deed.
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