Anyone who read this review when it was still anonymous - what did you make of it at the time (as far as you remember) and why? Curious if we can identify what sunk it in the book review contest!
Now I'm curious: does the Iron Maiden song "Alexander the Great" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TvWE30PJ1oE) count as a modern entry in the Alexander Romance? Arguably, the main reason to not count it would be that it's too historically accurate. Not a single dinosaur to be mentioned!
Egyptians claimed Alexander was the son of Ammon-Ra and so gave him the epithet "Two-Horned", one of Ammon-Ra's titles, which translated the same as the common misinterpretation (because of a lack of diacritics) of Moses being Two-Horned, so in the Quran, in a moment of apparent confusion, one of the stories related about Moses (18:60-82) is a recitation of a syriac Alexander legend
The picture just after the "Fountain of Youth" segment is all black, that seems like an error?
Also, among the listing of the nations that Alexander saved us from, I can't help but notice the "Anouphagoi". The, uh, butt-eaters...?
> Look down on the earth, Alexander!” I looked down, somewhat afraid, and behold, I saw a great snake curled up, and in the middle of the snake a tiny circle like a threshing-floor. Then my companion said to me, “Point your spear at that threshing floor, for that is the world. The snake is the sea that surrounds the world.”
Hmm, sounds like Alexander was wrong earlier!
> I accepted the whip, so as to flay the barbarians with my own hands . . . the ball, as a sign that I shall be ruler of the world, [which is] spherical like a ball.
I wonder why other conquerors, like Genghis Khan, didn’t get embellished as superheroes? Also curious if any prominent figures from our era will get embellished as superheroes. I’d be entertained by a comic book about Boris Johnson fighting dinosaurs.
The real question is; wheres the tv show?, the lower cost the special effects the better
You joke about a theme song but there's an Iron Maiden song called Alexander the Great. It fucking rocks!
So that's what's in the "Matter of Rome", nifty!
I think my favorite comparison is fanfiction, which is especially evident in the ensemble "Matter of Britain", where a bunch of OC knights get added and it takes a while to settle out who the fandom thinks is "the best". (The solution? "Best" can mean different things!)
He sounds like the ancient Chuck Norris to me. “Behind Alexander’s beard isn’t a chin, just another fist.”
Does this make you rethink things at all with regards to geeks vs nerds? Or at least resolve your thought experiment one way or the other?
Jess Nevins writes, in "the Evolution of the Costumed Avenger" that a few things set apart these guys (like Samson or Hercules or Gilgamesh) from superheros proper: a superhero does good because he is good, and he wears an identifiable costume.
My favorite story about the Alexander Romances comes from when Lysimachus, a diadochi, was told a story of Alexander meeting and wooing Thalestris, beautiful queen of the Amazons. Lysimachus famously replied, "And where was I then?" (Ie, I don't remember this and I was there.) It was a joke though and the teller was rewarded. Because Lysimachus, like all of the diadochi, got their legitimacy from Alexander and so spent generations burnishing the legend as a matter of state policy.
I do dislike the Marvel universe because there's no real oxygen in the big cast and plot for person to person relationships, but I think it's really quite good stuff in its way. I agree that The Alexander Romance isn't a great book but I don't know how far I would extend that to the general genre
I've tried to read War and Peace twice. The first time I stopped because there's an extended rumination on the horribly pointless respect given to an aunt of no importance by the visitors to the house of the active main character. The disgust for this illogical frivolity is so intense that I just stopped. The book had just started, was I going to experience something like this ten times while reading it?
The second time I stopped for the same reason, I had forgotten it was War and Peace that I had stopped reading for that reason. The Marvel universe is essentially about morality and virtue and I'm very unqualified to genuinely contrast that to Tolstoy since I didn't read the book but I'm not comfortable with calling Tolstoy high and Marvel low. Maybe someone familiar with both could make some kind of comparison and I will mention my hypothetical desire to be able to compensate you in some kind of internet credibility currency by way of emphasizing that I would genuinely appreciate if someone would
Alexander the Great is definitely a prime candidate to become a superhero. Even the real man sounds like a fictional character.
>Then Alexander built a giant gate in between the mountains, and he planted brambles for 3000 miles in every direction, and watered them so the brambles made a giant mass of thorns that covered the mountains for 3000 miles, so that the unclean nations could never get through.
Reminds me of those Trump-era plans for a border wall with fences, lighthouses, and a moat made of radioactive waste.
It's interesting that the art style depicts Alexander as wearing medieval plate armor, rather than Greek bronze armor. Hardly the first character to get modernized as technology changes!
>>"What should one do to gain favor in people's eyes?" They told him, "stay away from high positions, Kings and officers. Because when people see that you're consorting with the high class, they will become jealous and despise you." Alexander responded, "my idea is better than yours. By being around the kings and nobility, you can help people with their needs and they will like you."
All the bits with Alexander discussing the morality of his kingship kind of remind me of his appearance in Fate/Zero (a show that's *all about* romanticizing legendary heroes). In that show, his driving ideal is "a king should do great and impressive things, to inspire his people to be as great as he is." He doesn't really care whether conquering things is good or evil, he just thinks that it would be awesome.
It bothers me that people who kill and steal are sometimes put on a pedestal if they did enough a lot of it and far enough back in time.
I don't know much about the history of Alexander though. Maybe they really deserved it / were rich enough not to have been harmed much / etc.
But his mom resembled Angelina Jolie though, right?
"Finally, Alexander reached the end of the world, “where the sky meets the earth”, which was inhabited by griffins (other sources say big white birds that ate carrion"
Where the sky meets the earth is the roof of the world, Tibet, well.known as an abode of the Garuda.
Great stuff, Scott.
Interesting. This accumulated legendarium spread across cultures sounds very similar to what happened later with King Arthur and with Charlemagne. Though we tend to notice the insane variety/inconsistency of Arthur less because it got a "definitive" version in the form of Le Morte dArthur.
"[...] (also, the text offhandedly mentions, then never brings up again, that Alexander was only four feet tall, and everyone was surprised by this).
During the dinner, Alexander kept pocketing the gold and silver dishes in his cloak. [...] Luckily, Alexander outran everyone in Persepolis, slipped through the gates, and made it back to his own camp. Also, his camp was across a river that froze and melted in an alternating cycle once every few days, and he ran across it just at the moment it melted, so the Persians were stuck on the other side and couldn’t pursue him."
This is all consistent with the hypothesis that Alexander the Great was in fact a Hobbit.
Somehow the fictionalized story of Alexander capturing the Persian capital is less exciting than the historical* story of the Persians capturing the Babylonian capital.
While the Persian army could defeat the Babylonian army in the open field, they did not pose a significant threat to the city itself because of its formidable walls. The Babylonians, taking comfort in their walls, celebrated a festival while the Persian army was outside of the gates.
The Persian army dug trenches and diverted the great Euphrates River away from the city. They were then able to enter the city on the dried riverbed. The Babylonians were taken by surprise and the Persians seized the city with almost no resistance.
* According to Herodotus and one other source. Daniel 5 also describes the festival, but not the river.
The lyrics from Prince's Little Red Corvette: Love 'em and leave 'em fast I guess I must be dumb 'Cause you had a pocket full of horses Trojan and some of them used But it was Saturday night I guess that makes it all right And you say, "what have I got to lose?" And honey, I say Little red Corvette Baby, you're much too fast, oh Little red Corvette You need a love that's gonna last
The excellent OSR blogger is making an tabletop RPG setting based on the Alexander Romance. Might be interesting to someone reading this: https://coinsandscrolls.blogspot.com/2018/06/osr-iron-gates-quotes-from-greek.html
Scott, did you read War and Peace and appreciate it or did you prescribe it the untouchable place in the temple of genius based on general outside view?
It's always weird and amusing for me to see how people nonchalantly mention that W&P is obviously a masterpiece. Russians do it because it's part of Our Great Culture (c). Foreigner's do it... mostly because they got bluffed by the Russians, I suppose? Because criticizing the Great Thing requires to actually read it, and reading W&P is a huge effort, borderlining torture, so it's much easier to just agree that it's a great?
I had to read it in High School. And it's not good. Maybe it was at the time of writing, but not anymore. Definitely not timeless. Essentially, a boring soap opera, drowning in meaningless exposition, with crude moralisation and elements of authorial wish fulfilment. Any modern editor would cut it at least twice in size and would be right to do so. You can skip pages and pages of text and miss nothing. There are some decent moments but you have to actively search for them.
I don't think that any aspect of the book, other than its status, would look superior in comparison to say, the Song of Ice and Fire. Would someone who read both correct me?
Captain Britain is not the British version of Captain America, in case you thought so! The British version of Captain America is the Union Jack, and is a magical character with his own interesting powers and history.
My favorite ancient ruler is probably the 2nd Century AD Roman Emperor Hadrian because he wasn't as hyper-aggressive as most of these other guys like Alexander. His view was that Rome had almost all the good territory in the western world, so he concentrated on defense rather than more conquest. His boss Trajan had conquered to the Persian Gulf, but that was too far to be defensible from the Parthians, so Hadrian pulled back. Instead of trying to conquer worthless Scotland, for example, he built a wall to keep their wild men from pestering productive England. At home, he built the best Roman building, the Pantheon.
But Hadrian was too adult to capture the imagination of his age and subsequent ages.
He also inspired two nordic sagas! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexanders_saga, and was included in the -slightly modified- plagiarized version of Maccabees called "Gyðinga saga" (lit. saga of the Godings) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gy%C3%B0inga_saga.
*furiously taking notes* "Gods and wizards are allowed to bang wives with impunity." Very useful knowledge.
The snake part reminds me of Jörmungandr from Norse mythology, the World Serpent.
Given that the Bible was more popular, why didn't we see the superhero-ification of Jesus as well? These stories make Jesus seem downright tame by comparison.
I had a lot of fun reading this. Never read it during the competition. It feels a little incomplete or unsatisfying, but good nevertheless. Scott stronk.
Knowing your love for nominative determinism, I must ask: is your middle name part of the reason you reviewed this?
I hadn’t heard of Karl Knausgaard so I Googled around a bit and found Jeffrey Eugenides’ review of “My Struggle Book 4”. I think Scott mentioned the guy as a successor to Tolstoy and Proust as a kind of a joke.
Eugenides’ piece is a nice tight informative review written by a guy who has an enviable track record of his own when it comes to literary talent.
It comes in at 1,450 words. Just right for this sort of thing in my experience. The winner of this year’s book review clocks in at 24,000 words. I wish there was a misplaced comma there but no, it is in fact almost 2/3 the entire length of “Heart of Darkness”.
"Captain Britain"? Hah, move over, have you never met "Captain Berlin":
"In case you’re wondering, in addition to Gog and Magog, this saved us from the nations of “Anougeis, Aigeis, Exenach, Diphar, Photinaioi, Pharizaioi, Zarmatianoi, Chachonioio, Agrimardio, Anouphagoi, Tharbaioi, Alans, Physolonikaioi, Saltarioi, and the rest.” I recognize two of these: the Sarmatians and the Alans - as real steppe tribes. The others are probably imaginary steppe tribes meant to represent how big and scary the steppe was in the Mediterranean imagination."
Sarmatians isn't actually in that list of nations, was it supposed to be?
Now I'm imagining a far future civilization mashing together a bunch of Batman comics into a single book hoping for a coherent story about the life of Bruce Wayne.
Ok this is my new favorite review in the contest.
I was reading about Hanuman the other evening (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanuman?wprov=sfti1), since I was doing hanuman asana in yoga that evening, and had eaten at a Thai restaurant named “Hanuman”, and realized that Hanuman is to Rama as Robin is to Batman - the entertaining and acrobatic “celibate bachelor” sidekick.
Loving the webcomic retelling of the Romance so far
I made my own contribution to this genre, I suppose, with SCP-1909 (https://scp-wiki.wikidot.com/scp-1909), which had Alexander the Great being a reflection of the true, cosmic Alexander and comports surprisingly well with his adventures here.
> Then he went back to the crowd and said that the people who killed Darius should come forth so he could reward them - “I swear I will raise them up and make them conspicuous among men.” Darius’ killers came forth, and Alexander crucified them, explaining that he didn’t break his oath because he sure did make them high up and conspicuous.
A missed opportunity to see how Alexander handles the whole crowd declaring, "I killed Darius." What would Solomon do?
"There is no single Alexander Romance. Every culture from Ethiopia to Russia added their own bits and adapted it to their own needs. The Persian version changes things around so that Alexander is secretly the descendant of the rightful Shah of Persia; the Jewish version adds bits about how Alexander knelt before the High Priest of Jerusalem and said that the LORD was the one true God."
Further afield than that Alexander became the ancestor of the Malay sultans :
"When Alexander [said his last goodbye to his horse Bucephalus], the whole army howled, making a tremendous noise. The treacherous slave who had prepared the poison and who had plotted against their lives thought that Alexander was dead, and came running to see. When Bucephalus saw him, he cast off his morose and dejected look, and, just as if he were a rational, even a clever man - I suppose it was done through Providence above - he avenged his master. He ran into the midst of the crowd, seized the slave in his teeth, and dragged him to Alexander; he shook him violently and gave a loud whinny to show that he was going to have his revenge. Then he took a great leap into the air, dragging the treacherous and deceitful slave with him, and smashed him against the ground. The slave was torn apart; bits of him flew all over everyone like snow falling off a roof in the wind. The horse got up, neighed a little, and then fell down before Alexander and breathed his last. Alexander smiled at him. Then the air was filled with mist, and a great star was seen descending from the sky, accompanied by an eagle; and the statue in Babylon, which was called the statue of Zeus, trembled. When the star ascended again to the sky, accompanied by the eagle, and had disappeared, Alexander fell into his eternal sleep."
I agree that as written text, this is not very great, but don't think the written transcript makes it justice. Imagine someone is telling this aloud, with the right pauses, and lots of gestures and making all the sound effects, animating what is going on. It's immediately much better. Now it's a really funny over the top action scen.