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and religions. In mythology there are many stories about magical properties of water, including the story of water which gives immortality to one who finds it. It can be found also in some versions of the Alexander Romance, beginning with recension β of the fifth century AD. It is a late addition to the Romance since its oldest recension a, represented by the Greek A manuscript, Latin Iulius Valerius and the Armenian version, does not contain this story. The story of the Water of Life is known from recensions β and γ, as well as from the Greek manuscript Land a sixthcentury sermon of Jacob of Seroug, appended to the Syriac version of the Alexander Romance in Ernest A. WallisBudge‟s edition (The Alexander Romance in Persia and the East , 327–338). The Byzantine β recension contains a short, yet undeveloped story of the Water of Life (Bergson, II 39). Alexander, going through the land of Darkness, orders his cook to take a dried fish and make a dinner of it. The cook finds the stream, in a place less dark and with a pleasant fragrance in the air. The water itself is very bright and shining. When the cook started washing the dried fish in a spring of water, the fish suddenly came to life and slipped away from the cook‟s hands. He did not reveal to Alexander what happened. The eight-century L manuscript has the same story, albeit much expanded. The cook, having seen what happened to the fish, drew some water from the spring, drank it and did not tell Alexander about its supernatural qualities. Then he approached Alexander‟s daughter, called Kalē (“Beautiful”) and offered her the magical water to seduce her. When Alexander became aware of what happened, he killed the cook and condemned his daughter to a solitary life in the mountains. From that time on her name was Nereide. At this point Alexander knew that he had reached the end of the world, so he ordered a great arch to be constructed in this place to inform anybody who reached that place, that it was the end of the world and that he should turn back. Mysterious birds with human faces and voices told Alexander to turn back, because this place belonged to gods. As a reward they offered to him a victory over the Indian king Poros. In Jacob of Seroug‟s sermon (sixth cent. AD), Alexander searches for the Water of Life and he knows that it can be found somewhere in the East, beyond the Land of Darkness. An old man who talks to Alexander, instructs him that this place is full of various springs and wells, and to find the magic one, the fish has to be taken and immersed in every spring. Alexander then orders his cook to take the fish and to check every source of water he comes across. When the dead fish is restored to life in a spring and slips away from the cook‟s hands, he jumps into the water to catch it. Alexander hears the cook screaming but cannot find him anymore. Jacob explains that God did not want Alexander to find the Water of Life which leaves Alexander sad and disappointed until the end of his life. In Jacob of Seroug‟s rendition of this story, the Water of Life is to be found near the wall placed by God to protect the world from Gog and Magog. This shows that the source of theWater of Life was near the end of the world. What begs for explanation is how the motif of the Water of Life found its way to the Alexander Romance and what was its original source. Thescholars who had been
searching for the source of this motif, pointed out that a very similar story appears in the Babylonian epic Gilgamesh. The hero, after the death of his dear friend Enkidu, searches for a medicine to cure him. Gilgamesh finds the magical herb, which grows in the bottom of the sea, but he looses it (tablets 9-11). Despite some apparent similarities, like crossing the Land of Darkness and the very search for immortality, the hypothesis does not hold. In the Romance Alexander is searching for water, not for an herb of immortality and he, unlike Gilgamesh, does not set out on this endeavour for sake of his dead friend, while the birds who guard this land order Alexander to turn back and in most versions he never enters the land of immortality. Frequently, the motif of the Water of Life is connected with the journey to the end of the world. Hopkins, The Fountain of Youth , Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 26(1905), p.19, Rönnow, p. 264., Dawkins, M. R, Alexander and the Water of Life , Medium Aevum, VI, no. 3, 1937, p. 173., Jouanno C, Naissance et metamorphoses du Romand’Alexandre , CNRS Editions, 2002, p. 268.In L, Syriac and Alexander knows that the reaches the end of the world. Ogden D., Alexander in the Underworld, in: Philip II and Alexander the Great. Father and Son. Lives and Afterlives, ed. E. Carney and D. Ogden, Oxford University Press,2010. Lévȇque P, Dionysos dans l’Inde, Inde, Grèce ancienne, Regardscroises enanthropologie de l’espace Alexander the Great. A Life in Legend , Yale University Press, 2008, p. 68., Dreyer B., Heroes, Cults and Divinity , p. 218-234, Alexander the Great. A New History D. Ogden in his paper „ Alexander in the Underworld argues that Alexander came to the Underworld where, according to Greek mythology, the souls of heroes dwell. Indeed, the description of the place, where the water of life is, seems very similar to the Greek image of “makarōnnēsoi”. However it is still possible that the water of life motif is of oriental origin, because, as far as I know, there is no reviving water in Greek mythology, found by a hero or a human being (besides Glaukos, see below). Moreover, there is no reviving water in the Underworld nor in the Greek Islands of the Blessed. Waters of various properties, including those which have the ability to revive the dead, can be found in India at the boundaries of the human world. These two stories had become one, and have been interpreted together. The story of the Water of Life seems to be essential to the latest recensions of the Alexander Romance (there is no Water of Life story in α). Alexander‟s journey to India, where he hopes to find immortality, defines the principal idea of the Romance: Alexander wants to achieve more than any other human being before him, rivaling heroes and divinities as well. He draws inspiration from the exploits of Heracles, and, particularly in the Syriac version, from Dionysus too. The Indian adventures of Heracles and Dionysus are well known.
Reaching the end of the world was Alexander‟s next supernatural achievement, after the descend to the bottom of the sea in diving bell or ascend into the air. A seemingly obvious interpretation of the motif of Water of Life would see it as a variation on the Greek rendering of marvels of India, something to the tune of the magical springs mentioned by Herodotus (III 23) in the story of the Ethiopians and their magical spring, or the well of liquid gold in Ctesias‟ Indica (Phot, 72, Ind . 3 and 14), or of water of truth (Phot, 72, Ind.14) or of water which cures illness (Phot, 72, Ind. 30).The motif of the Water of Life is not altogether alien to Greek mythology. To the best of my knowledge there is one very similar incident in the story of Glaucus, the son of Sisyphus, transmitted by the fifth-century Scholia Vetera to Plato‟s Republic. There, Glaukos one day encountered the spring of immortality, immersed in it and when nobody believed him, he jumped into the ocean to prove his point, and thereupon became a sea god.The unique story of a spring of immortality appears in Greek mythology not earlier than the fifth century, so there is no real evidence that the story of the Water of Life in the Alexander Romance is of Greek origin. This story seems to be very old and some scholars connect it with the old Indo-Iranian stories from the Ṛigveda (created probably in the middle of 2nd millennium BC, and written down in the seventh or sixth century BC) and the Avesta (composed no later than the seventh or sixth century BC, written down no earlier than the sixth century AD) about the gods Yama (Yima) and Gandharva (Gandarəwa) who possessed the ancient water of immortality, the Vedic Soma (Haoma). It is curious to observe that the Gandharvas who guard the Soma were pictured as birds with human heads, similarly to the birds with human faces who order Alexander to turn back in the Romance. The story of Glaukos‟ immersion in the spring of immortality is certainly of eastern origin. There are however some dissimilarities between this story and that of the Water of Life in the Alexander Romance. The b recension and later versions put the story of the Water of Life in the far East and not in Greece. Then Alexander misses the opportunity to drink the magic water, because it is forbidden for a human being to drink from the source of immortality. The story of Glaukos does not contain this shade of meaning. In contrast to Greek mythology, Indian mythology and the earliest Indian literature abound in stories of miraculous water. The great Indian epic, the Mahābhārata , also contains stories of the water of immortality. It is difficult to determine the period in which the epic was created. Most scholars date it between the fourth century BC to the fourth century AD. But before it was written down, its stories were passed on orally, thus originating in a far more distant past. The Mahābhārata is a real treasury of Indian mythology, religion and folklore with all stories are braided into the main story of a war between Pandavas and Kauravas. D. Barnett, Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies,Vol. 4, nr 4, 1928, p. 716.Glaukos can be identified with a Khiḍr “Green man” . In Islamic tradition Khiḍr is a companion of Alexander, and they find the Fountain of Life ( e.g. Southgate, M, S, Iskandarnamah, A Persian Medieval Alexander Romance, New York, 1978, p. 55-59)Khiḍr is associated with waters, the same as Glaukus, who become a sea-god. 8 Hopkins, E. W., Epic mythology, Strassburg, 1915, p. 1. In order to find possible links with the Mahābhārata it is necessary toreview the circumstances in which Alexander came across the Water of Life. Going through the Land of Darkness, Alexander or rather his cook finds the Water of Life. In all accounts (b, L, Jacob) the place where it happens is less dark and has a pleasant and sweet smell in the air. This is the quality of
miraculous springs known already to Herodotus writing about a source in which the Ethiopians bathed to render their bodies shiny and sweet smelling. In fact, he was referring to the Indians here, since the eastern Ethiopians are in his account inhabitants of India. In the later stories of Alexander this whole place is described as very bright and almost white, but this light does not come from the sun. For example: in the story of prophet Mahomet‟s life by Ibn Hishām of the ninth century Alexander finds a white land, inhabited by sinless people of white skin, similar to the Indian paradise Svietadvipa (The White Island). Another important thing are birds with human faces and voices, who order Alexander to turn back, because he entered to the land of Gods, forbidden to human beings. As a reward the birds promise to Alexander a victory over Poros. The Mahābhārata has a story of Arjuna very similar to that of Alexan-der.MBh. 3,25.7-16 A miraculous fountain in India, K. Karttunen, Arctos XIX, 1985, 55-65. (eastern Ethiopi-ans III 94, Ctesias calls Ethiopians the “makrobioi” and places them in India (Phot, 72,Ind 15). Rönnow, p. 266.In Indian mythology Svetadvipa is an earthly paradise, not only white and shining but also rich in various precious stones, gold and pearls, which are also considered (the same as nowadays) to be an important element of people‟s happiness and wealth.(Perry, J. W, The Isles of the Blest, Folklore, vol. 3, 1921, p. 171.). It is curious to observe that, when Alexander leaves the Land of Darkness, where the Water of Life was, and comes to the light, he and his men discover that the stones they have picked up in the darkness turn in-to fine gold (Bergson, II, 41). At last the son of the player of Paka, arriving in the country of North Harivarsa, desired to conquer it. Thereupon certain frontier-guards of huge bodies and endued with great strength and energy, coming to him with gallant hearts, said „O son of Pritha, this country can be never conquered by thee! If thou seekest thy good, return hence! He that entereth this region, if human, is sure to perish. We have been gratified with thee; O hero, thy conquests have been enough. Nor is anything to be seen here, O Arjuna, that may be conquered by thee! The Northern Kurus live here. There cannot be war here. Even if thou enterest it, thou wilt not be able to behold anything, for with human eyes nothing can be seen here. If, however thou seekest anything else, O Bharata, tell us, O tiger among men, so that we may do thy bidding!‟ Thus addressed by them, Arjuna smilingly addressing them, said: „I desire the acquisition of the imperial dignity by Yudhisthira the just, of great intelligence. If your land is shut against human beings, I will not enter it. Let something be paid unto Yudhisthira by ye as tribute! Hearing these words of Arjuna, they gave him as tribute many cloths and ornaments of celestial make, silks of celestial texture, and skins of celestial origin.” There is also a similar story of Bhīma, who finds “water of ambrosial taste and cool and light and clear and fresh,” but he is denied to be in this place with the words “Men subject to death cannot sport here.” „‟Having reached that spot, Bhimasena saw in the vicinity of the Kailas a cliff, that beautiful lotus lake surrounded by lovely woods, and guarded by the Rakshasas. And it sprang from the cascades contiguous to the abode of Kuvera. And it was beautiful to behold, and was furnished with a wide-spreading shade and abounded in various trees and creepers and was covered with green lilies. And this unearthly lake was filled with golden lotuses, and swarmed with diverse species of birds. And its banks were beautiful
devoid of mud. And situated on the rocky elevation this expanse of excellent water was eccedlingly fair. And it was the wonder of the world and healthful and of romantic sight. In that lake the son of Kunti saw the water of ambrosial taste and cool and light and clear and fresh: and the Pandava drank of it profusely. And that unearthly receptacle of waters was covered with celestial Saugandhika lotuses, and was also spread over with beautiful variegated golden lotuses of excellent fragrance having graceful stalks of lapis lazulis. And swayed by swans and Karnadavas, these lotuses were scattering fresh farina.”(…)“Rakshasas said: „O foremost of men, this spot is dear unto Kuvera, and it is his sporting region. Men subject to death cannot sport here. O Vrikodara, the celestial sages, and the gods taking the permission of the chief of the Yakshas, drink of this lake, and sport herein. And, O Pandava, the Gandharvas and the Apsaras also divert themselves in this lake. That wicked person who, disregarding the lord of treasures, unlawfully attempteth to sport here, without doubt, meeteth with destruction. Disregarding him, thou seekest to take away the lotuses from this place by main force.” Both Alexander and Arjuna are denied entrance to the land of Gods always placed in the north. Then there are quite numerous stories about healing water and water of eternal youth or eternal life. A wise man, Cyavana, gained eternal youth and immortality by immersion in the magical water. “They again spoke unto her: „We two are celestial physicians of note. We will make thy lord young and graceful. Do thou select one of us, viz. ourselves and thy husband, - for thy partner. Promising this do thou, O auspicious one, bring hither thy husband – O king Agreeably to their words she went to Bhrigu‟s son and communicated to him what the two celestials had said. Hearing her message, Chyavana said unto his wife – Do thou so – having received the permission of her lord, (she returned to the celestials) and said – Do ye so – Then hearing her words viz. Doyeso, they spoke unto the king‟s daughter – Let thy husband enter into water. Thereat Chyavana desirous of obtaining beauty, quickly entered into water. The twin Aswins also, O king, sank into the sheet of water. And the next moment they all came out of the tank in surpassingly beautiful forms, and young and wearing burnished ear-rings.” This story appears in the part of the Mahābhārata called Tīrtha-yatra Parva (MBh, III, section LXXXII - CLV), the great catalogue of various holy and magical springs and wells, in that of those who give immortality and eternal youth to one who bathed in it. The same motif is well attested in later Indian literature as well, e.g. the Kathāsaritsāgara, a collections of Indian fairytales, probably of the ninth century AD, contains the story of the bodhisattva Vintimat ī , whose dead body sprinkled with magical water comes to life. There is also another aspect of magical water in India. Indians believed that the whole world was surrounded by waters of magical properties. If Alexander reached the end of the world he may have come across the boundary river. In the Upani ṣads, the oldest philosophical texts of India composed around the mid-first millenium BC, we find the Vijarā river (San-skrit “vi-jarā”
– without old age, ageless, deprived of old age). After crossing this river the souls of men gained immortality.Similarly the river Vaitara marked the boundary between the human world and the land of the dead. The Ocean of Story , transl. C. H. Tawney, 1924, vol. VI, p. 98.from: E. Washburn Hopkins, The fountain of youth , Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 26 (1905), pp. 1-67. Then the mysterious river Silles, in which nothing can float, mentioned by Ctesias and Megasthenes which is also the boundary river. According to the Indian tradition the river Silles flowed in the land of the Uttarakurus, a people famed for longevity. The Silles was difficult to cross, because it turned into stone everything it touched. It is described as very shiny and bright, in a very similar way to the source of immortality in the Romance. It seems to me that the Water of Life motif has something in common with Indian beliefs of magical boundary rivers. Alexander reaches the end of the world and near to that place he finds the magical spring which can revive the dead or enable one to pass into the other world, the dwellings of the gods. It must be some kind of interpretation of old Indian beliefs. Although there is not, to the best my knowledge, an exact earlier Greek match for the story of the Water of Life known from the Alexander Romance, I have been trying to point out striking parallel motifs in the earliest Indian literature. It abounds in stories of magical waters, including those of water of immortality and eternal youth. Beginning from the oldest Indo-Iranian stock, through the epics and fable up to present times, water has played a tremendous role in culture, religion and legends of India. Such elements as shining bright water, guardians who defend the access to the water or to the dwellings of the gods even against heroes and demigods, the presence of the water of life at the border of the world, are distinctive for Indian legends. Having in mind that these motifs are far less common in Greek mythology and some of them entirely absent, the Indian origin of the story of water of life in the Alexander Romance seems likely. I do not intend to wander into the speculative, but a question as to the ways in which the story of the Water of Life made it into the Romance needs to be asked. It is generally accepted that the Alexander Romance evolved from the semi-factual account of the recension α to the more and more marvelous story telling of later versions, beginning with the recension β. Its author, in search of making the narrative richer and more interesting, added the motif of the Water of Life borrowed from the stock of legends of India, the land famed for its marvels. There was certainly more than one route of transmission of stories about wonders of India to the Western world and the ex-change of ideas paralleled the trade in goods. Besides Indian merchants calling at Alexandria, we know of intellectuals on both sides claiming to have visited India and the Mediterranean. An early example of the flow of Alexander the Great stories in opposite direction is the Indian poem Har ṣ acarita 22 of B ā ṇ
a.This is a story of life of king Harṣa, written in 630AD. There is an episode in which Harṣa is visited by a young princess, and they speak about great heroes who managed to conquer the whole world. One of them is “alesacanda ”, which is the Sanskrit rendition of Alexander. In addition they mention that this king was near the kingdom of women, but did not enter it. It is surely a reflection of one of Alexander the Great‟s adventures portrayed in the Romance. In the Α recension, opposite to the tradition of Alexander historians, Alexander exchanges letters with leaders of the Amazons but does not go into their country. Hence the Alexander Romance was known, directly or indirectly, in India of the seventh century AD and possibly earlier. In all probability related stories flew both ways.
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A miraculous fountain in India, Arctos XIX, 1985, 55-65.Lévȇque P, Dionysos dans l’Inde, Inde, Grèce ancienne, Regards croisés en anthropologie del‟espace, ed. Jean-Claude Carrière, Evelyne Geny, Marie-Madeleine Mactoux, FrançoisePaul-Lévy, 1995, p. 125-138.Levi, S., Alexander and Alexandrias in Indian literature, IHQ, 1936, p. 121-133.Lincoln B., Waters of Memory, Waters of Forgetfulness, Fabula 23 (1982): 19-34.Meissner, B., Alexander und Gilgamos, Leipzig, 1894, reprinted 1928. Nawotka, K., Alexander the Great , Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010.Ogden D., Alexander in the Underworld, in: Philip II and Alexander the Great. Father and Son. Lives and Afterlives, ed. E. Carney and D. Ogden, Oxford University Press, 2010.Perry, J. W, The Isles of the Blest, Folklore, vol. 3, 1921, p. 150-180.Rönnow K., Some remarks on Svetadvipa, Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, Vol. 5 No. 2, 1929, 253284.Sachse, J., Le mythe de Śilā , fleuve indien, Eos, Comentarii Societas Philologae Polonorum,vol. LXX, 1982, fasc. 2, 237-241.Southgate M., S., Iskandarnamah. A Persian Medieval Alexander Romance, Columbia Uni-versity Press, 1978.Stoneman R., Alexander the Great. A Life in Legend , Yale University Press, 2008.
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