'Aussie Rick''s Reviews > Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great by Philip Freeman
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Jan 15, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: ancient-warfare
Read from April 11 to 14, 2014

I have been meaning to read Philip Freeman’s book on Alexander the Great since early 2011 when I purchased a copy after reading his book on Julius Caesar. His account of Caesar was a very enjoyable read which led me to purchase Alexander the Great. Although it has taken me three years to open this book up and turn the first page I can say that the delay was not due to the quality of the book and the author’s writing, just me flicking from book to book as most of us do.

This story of Alexander is written for a general audience and may not be as in-depth as others I have read on the subject, my two favourites being; Alexander the Great by Robin Lane Fox and Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C. by Peter Green. However it’s an excellent first book to read on the subject, easy to read, well written and full of great and interesting stories of Alexander’s life and times. Like this account of Alexander's training as a youth with one of his tutor's, a crusty old tyrant named Leonidas:

"He was so parsimonious that one day when Alexander took a whole handful of incense to throw on the alter fire, Leonidas rebuked the boy, saying that once he had conquered the spice markets of Asia he could waste good incense but not before. (Years later, when Alexander had taken the entire Near East, he sent his aged tutor an enormous shipment of frankincense and myrrh with a note saying he could now stop being so miserly to the gods.) Yet alexander loved his cantankerous teacher and thought of him as a second father."

The author then takes us on a journey with Alexander and his army as he consolidates his hold on Macedonia and Greece before heading east to confront the Persian Empire of Darius. On his return trip from Athens this incident occurred:

"On the way home, Alexander made a detour through the mountains of central Greece to the sacred site of Delphi beneath Mount Parnassus. Like so many kings before him, he wished to consult the oracle regarding his upcoming military campaign. Unfortunately, he was informed that the priestess who spoke for Apollo was in seclusion and as a matter of religious principle was not available that day, even for the ruler of all Greece. Alexander promptly marched into her lodgings and began dragging her forcibly into the shrine. This grossly sacrilegious act had its intended effect, however, when the priestess cried out: 'You are invincible!' This was all Alexander wanted to hear. He donated a modest amount for the upkeep of the temple, then gathered his troops and marched north to Macedonia."

The author has utilised the ancient sources and in cases where there is some doubt about the veracity of the story the author takes the time to provide details of the various accounts and why he prefers one account over another. Alexander is also presented with a human face and a man with a sense of humour, as during this incident:

"The famous painter Apelles was resident in Ephesus when Alexander arrived and the king could not resist commissioning a portrait of himself astride Bucephalas. The king had seen Apelle's work before, including the painting of his own father, Philip, and had great expectations for a matchless work. However, when the painting was finished, Alexander was not impressed. Apelles then brought it over to show Bucephalas, who neighed in apparent approval. The bold artist then told Alexander that his horse had better taste than he did."

I really enjoyed this story, his almost constant warfare to establish his hold on the Persian Empire and the lands further to the east led him and his men on a quest into the unknown. I was amazed at how Alexander could continue to motivate his Macedonians after so many years away from their homeland; they kept on marching and fighting, almost to the ends of the known earth. Alexander was truly a most remarkable man and commander. The beauty of this book is that he is presented and judged as man of his times, not of ours, something that some authors feel reluctant to do.

Having only just recently finished reading The Histories by Herodotus I was tickled pink to find out that Alexander carried a copy of that book with him on his travels and conquests and used it as a sort of ancient travel guide.

In closing, here is an account from the end of the book that speaks volumes in itself: “Julius Caesar studied Homer and Herodotus as carefully as any Greek scholar and wept when he saw a statue of Alexander on display at a temple in Spain on the shores of the Atlantic. The Roman general explained his tears by saying he had accomplished so little by the age at which Alexander had died.”

I would heartily recommend this book to anyone who wanted to read just one good account of Alexander the Great. It's an easy to read book providing more than enough detail on Alexander and his times. I am sure that anyone who enjoys a good history book will enjoy this story.
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04/11/2014 marked as: currently-reading
04/14/2014 marked as: read
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