Alexander the Great: Journey to the End of the Earth
Norman F. Cantor
HarperCollins, 2005 (2005)
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Reviewed by Tim Davis
hat do you really know about Alexander the Great? Let me challenge you with a speculative opinion and suggest that most of what you probably know is wrong. (And if your source of knowledge is limited to the recent Hollywood cinema vision of Alexander, the most successful military commander of ancient history, then I would argue that you have been very much misinformed.)
ut if you read Norman F. Cantor's splendid biography, which I enthusiastically recommend, you will be most certainly surprised, entertained, and much better informed. You will gain new insights into Alexander of Macedon's world. For example, the classical Greek world - the one we associate with the great philosophers (Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle), the great poets and playwrights (Sappho, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes), and the early experiments in popular
- was actually a very different but critically formative world for Alexander. The Greek way of life from which Alexander emerged was, in fact, a tumultuous world of greed, violence, sexual promiscuity, slavery, child abuse, and drunkenness.
urthermore, Alexander, having been tutored (quite ironically) by Aristotle, and having come-of-age in a post-Homeric world of tremendous volatility, was a man whose complex character and paradoxical behavior remains a puzzle for modern minds. Alexander's legendary heroism, courage, and strength - those qualities which Alexander consciously modeled upon Achilles, the hero of the Trojan War, and those same qualities about which we think we are correctly informed - were radically and dangerously mitigated by the conqueror's idiosyncratic private life (characterized by troubled familial and bisexually romantic relationships), his opportunistic religious fervor (tempered by international cultural influences, personal superstitions, and cynical pragmatism), and his complicated personality (exacerbated by alcohol abuse, an explosive temper, and his inexplicable cruelty to friends and foes alike).
orn in 356 B.C., this flawed but fascinating figure of the ancient world - following in the footsteps of his father, Phillip II - assumed his father's throne at the age of twenty and then went on to control a huge empire, swallowing up most of western and eastern Europe along with western Asia (including all of Persia and parts of India) through his strategic brilliance and his relentless pursuit of power. When Alexander died, at the height of his powers, after a rule of only twelve years and seven months, he was the much feared but little understood conqueror of the known world.
ow, more than twenty-three centuries later, because of renowned historian Norman Cantor's exemplary, 180-page biography, we as readers can acquire important new insights into this most fascinating mythic figure from the past. And - even more intriguing - this spellbinding biography, because of recent events in the same western Asian regions once dominated by Alexander, is an extraordinarily relevant document; the more we understand about Alexander - and the inherent dangers of conquest and domination - then perhaps we will be in a better position to understand (and make decisions about) our own place in history.
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