Proclaimed by the Oracles as The Son of Zeus and Amun Ra. A descendant of Heracles and Achilles. A disciple of Aristotle. The son of an ambitious man, who brought the Greeks together under his leadership. Conqueror of perhaps the greatest empire in the Hellenistic age (which is second only to British Empire in 19th century). A man whose name still lives from Alexandria in Egypt to Alexandria-the-Farthest in Tajikistan. An ambitious and invincible military general, who was idolized by his Companions and followers even in his life. (Not to mention one of the few men who wore “skirts” and yet were masculine.)
Yet after all this, when you read the “Alexander Trilogy” by Valerio Massimo Manfredi, you get the sense of how Alexander the Great was all this, yet a strangely lonely and headstrong young man in his ambition.
Now, given that the story of Alexander is taught in history to all of us (or should be taught), I am not going to go over the storyline. But here’s a gist of the books:
From his birth (which was said to be “watched by Gods”), Alexander was groomed by his father King Phillip to be a Greek, with the vision of uniting Pan-Hellenic league under his leadership. He was taught by Aristotle, and gathered around him a faithful circle of Companions who later became generals in his all-conquering army.
He had a fallout with his father after one of his father’s marriages, and later after reconciliation, ascended throne after his father was assassinated. He gathered perhaps the greatest army in the world, and started the conquest of the east. After winning the greatest empire in the then-known world, he turned back from India after his battle-weary troops almost refused to go further. In between the great battles where he showed his military genius, there were attempts on his life by his own friends and soldiers, and he killed his own friend and the generals of his father for treachery and in his anger. After his death, his empire disintegrated by battles between his loyal friends, each one trying to be his successor, the most successful of whom was Ptolemy.
Now, I am not an Alexander expert, so I am not sure if there are any “historical liberties” taken in the books. But the story is beautifully told, and gives you a real sense of the man behind the legend. Spread over three volumes, there is no need to compress any details, and the details is what makes a historical account into a great story. Alexander seems a man whose ambition is ahead of his times and his friends, a headstrong young man, who acts emotionally many times, and yet shows a great historical and political sense even in his emotional outbursts and his seeming “drunken” and thoughtless doings.
I found Manfredi (a historian and archaeologist) through “The Last Legion” (more about it later). Now, this is one of the most often repeated and cliché phrases, but he does really bring the age to life, and the books are unputdownable. The third book “The Ends of The Earth” does tend to stretch a bit (or maybe I was impatient to get to the bit where he was finally defeated by the invincible India), but it covers enough time and incidents that you cannot get bored. It is in the flagging years of his life that Alexander comes out as the man who is pushing everybody around him (and sometimes himself) to fulfill his purpose, while watching his loyal friends dying or turn against him. It is here that he has to take some bad decisions which the situations command, and finally turn back without really reaching the “end of earth”.
Though Alexander did not fulfil his purpose, he proved himself a worthy descendant of Greek heroes like Heracles and Achilles, and a worthy son of God. For all history buffs and all those who want to read the ballad of one of the few people who are worthily called “The Great”, “Alexander Trilogy” is must read.
Scores a solid 2.0 on Book(?)…err scale (some points lost for the length which sometimes make you want to skip pages).
Quote of The Day:
If I were not Alexander, I should wish to be Diogenes.
– Alexander the Great