THE LEGEND OF ALEXANDER THE GREAT IN THE CHRISTIAN ORIENT

*
STEPHEN GERO
EBERHARD-KARLS-UNIVERSITAT, TUBINGEN

The perennial fascination with the figure of Alexander the Great is reflected in the phenomenal spread of the Alexander romance of Pseudo-Callisthenes, 1 a work in itself surely not distinguished either by historical accuracy or (at least for our modern taste) any particular literary merit. There are versions of the Alexander romance to be found among peoples whom neither the Alexander of history nor the Alexander of legend ever visited; the gamut ranges from a Swedish version in the far north 2 through a (fragmentary) Mongolian version in central Asia,3 all the way to elaborations in Malay4 and other southeast Asian languages. Only the great wall of China seems to have checked, so to speak, the triumphant literary progress of this literary product of third-century Alexandrian Hellenism. This is not the place to discuss in detail the complicated questions either of the identifiable sources or of the several recensions of the Greek Alexander romance. 5 The text remained alive, so to speak, through the centuries and, never protected by the hedge of canonization, was considerably modified in the course of
* A revised and expanded version of a public lecture delivered at Harvard University and at the Catholic University of America in April 1990. 1 Edition of the oldest version, on the basis of Par.gr. 1711 (saec. xi), by W. Kroll, Historia Alexandri Magni /PscnJo-Callisthenes), vol. I (Berlin, 1926); for a complete English translation of this version see E.H. Haight, The life of Alexander of Macedon (New York, 1955); see now also R. Stoneman, The Greek Alexander romance (London, 1991). For useful surveys of the later material see A. Abel, Lc roman d'Alexandre: legendaire medieval (Bruxelles, 1955); G. Gary, The medieval Alexander (Cambridge, 1956); J.A. Boyle, 'The Alexander romance in the East and West', Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, 60 (197"), 13 ff. F. Pfister provides the impressive statistic of about 200 different extant prose or verse versions (Kleine Schriften zum Alt'\ancrniinan (Aieisenheim, 1976), 19). 2 See Clary, Alexander, 50. 3 N. Poppe, 'Eine mongolische Fassung der Alexandersage', Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenldndischen Ccscllsc/iaft, 107 (1957), 105-2". On the appearance of certain episodes of the Syriac Alexander legends in Turkish and Mongol historical lore see J.A. Boyle, 'The Alexander legend in Central Asia', Folklore, 85 (1974), 21" ff. 4 P.J. van Lccuwcn, De maleische . \lcxanderroman (Meppel, 193"). 5 See H. Merkelbach-J. Trumpf, Die Quellen Jcs griec/risciicn Alexanderrpinan* (Munich, 197"), 92 ff, 201 ff.

Moses Khorenats'i. It has been dated very early. and London. Der griechische Alexanderroman nach der Handschrift L (Darmstadt. T'reanc' (ed. .6 The oldest such oriental witness is the Armenian version/ Extant in over thirty manuscripts. English translation.). Wolohojian. 1961). the Coptic text seems to be affiliated to the so-called (3-recension of the Greek. Wolohojian. this dating may need revision. 8 N. 12 There seems to have existed no full translation of the Greek Pseudo-Callisthenes in Georgian. Greek retroversion by R. Der griechische Alexanderroman (Leipzig. Ross. from a single manuscript (eleventh century). 12ff and more recently H. 1963). Leben und Taten Alexanders von Makedonien. 1907). the other major Christian literary language of the Caucasus area. to the fifth century. 1896).W. 88-91. Mass. Die spatbyzantinische Rezension des Alexanderromans (Cologne. 1842). 45. 'Pseudokallisthenes bei Moses von Khoren'.9 This Armenian version is nevertheless a good witness to an early recension of the Alexander romance. Der Alexanderroman bei den Kopten (St Petersburg. 14 This is all rather meager for Christian Egypt .J. xiii (1938). Patmut'iwn Alek'sandri Makedonac'woy (Venice. llff. 1903). as opposed to technical or philosophical works. Das Alexanderbild der Byzantiner (Munich. Akinian 'Die handschriftliche Uberlieferung der armenischen Ubersetzung des Alexanderromans von Pseudo-Callisthenes'. Ausfeld. Alexander historiatus. 24. because it assumes in turn the wrong fifth-century dating of Moses Xorenac'i's history. 13 Of an early Coptic version in the Sahidic dialect (? sixth century) only fragments survive. possibly via a Slavonic intermediate stage. 1978). 14 O. and the cycle may well go back to a prototype. to lost late antique illustrations of the early Greek Pseudo-Callisthenes. 22-3. which was translated from Greek into Armenian in late antiquity. The romance of Alexander the Great by Pseudo-Callisthenes (New York and London.was Alexander too much of a Greek to stimulate the imagination of the nationalistic Copts? 6 See H. 13 Ross. 1974). Kleine Schriften. 1992). Moennig.A. History of the Armenians (Cambridge. only Georgian translations. The most recent contribution in this area is U. 9 J. von Lemm. 1969). of the late medieval Byzantine Alexander legend are known. apart from traces in Armenian historiography.8 it represents a translation made directly from the Greek. Alexander historiatus: a guide to medieval illustrated Alexander literature (London. Byzantion. Raabe. ISTOPIA AAEEANAPOY (Leipzig. 6-7.4 BULLETIN JOHN RYLANDS LIBRARY time. R. 6. 10 Of particular interest is the fact that several Armenian manuscripts are richly illustrated. xxxviii. 7 R. was slight. 40 (1886). Here just a brief survey of the various versions of the Alexander legend among the non-Hellenic peoples of the Christian Orient will be presented. Byzantine material proper can be noted only marginally. Gleixner.J. van Thiel. 12 See Pfister.M. although it was translated into Turkish late in the seventeenth century. The influence of this version. 11 D. 201ff. Romance. 11 The Alexander romance is the only work of profane Greek entertainment literature. 10 So A. which is textually dependent on the Armenian Pseudo-Callisthenes. Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenldndischen Gesellschaft. Gildemeister. Thomson. A.

ALEXANDER THE GREAT 5 The Syriac version of Pseudo-Callisthenes 15 extant in several. based probably on the twelfth to thirteenth-century Byzantine Alexander prose narrative.F Weymann. including the flowering of Persian poetry (Firdausl. vol. in Denkschriften der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wisseuschaften.'. Ch. 'Beitrage zur Geschichte des Alexanderromans'. Trumpf. Die aethiopische und arabische ubersetzung des Pseudocallisthenes. 11 ff. 22 This should be rigorously distinguished from the (still unedited) seventeenth-century translation made by the cleric Yuwasaf ibn Suwaidan. Abhandlung V (Vienna. 18 Noldeke. 21 This lost Arabic translation. 79. Philosophisch-historische Classe. albeit late (and unilluminated!) manuscripts. 20 K. 'Alexander legend'. 434-45. The 'Arabic Pseudocallisthenes' in an Istanbul . like the Pahlavi.20 is the source of much of the non-Koranic Alexander tradition and legend in the Islamic world. and trans. Eine literarkritische L'ntersuchung (Kirchhain. to recover this early text from a late Muslim Hispano-Arabic Alexander narrative see A. 17 So S. 45 (1891). Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenldndischen Gesellschaft. 18 Textually it is affiliated with the oldest Greek recension. 'The Arabic History of Dulcarnain and the Ethiopian History of Alexander'. 19 A Christian Arabic translation (again. in fact it has been convincingly demonstrated by Theodor Noldeke.'Beitrage'. in any case the translator was probably a Nestorian Christian. Wallis Budge (ed. The history of Alexander the Great being the Syriac version of Pseudo-Callisthenes (Cambridge. in a monograph which still is absolutely essential for the serious study of the Alexander romance. partial translation by Th. 357 ff. Fraenkel in his review of Noldeke's 'Beitrage'. since in Zoroastrian Pahlavi literature Alexander is a uniformly negative figure. which is now beyond our purview. 17 Was this Pahlavi translation intended for edification and entertainment at the court of some Hellenophile Sasanian emperor. 16"ff. but also shows some interesting additions. Speculum 6 (1931). For an attempt. 1890). or was it meant for the Persian Christians themselves? The Syriac translation in turn should probably be dated to the late sixth or the early seventh century. 16 Th. Lolos in (iracco-Arabica iii (1984). Attempts to connect directly the Syriac with Greek or Arabic prototypes have failed. 16 Both the dating and the purpose of this lost Pahlavi version from the Greek are matters of speculation. Byzantinische Zeitschrift (1967) 22-7 and A. 4 (1854). Anderson.). 1901). Nizaml). 21 See M. 22 much amplified and 15 E. Noldeke.A.S. 19 See Boyle. Pahlavi original.. not entirely convincing.R. 16. Iskandamamah: a Persian medieval Alexander-romance (New York. 319-20. in its original form lost) of this Syriac text. Southgate. 199 ff. 3 ff. 'Notice of a life of Alexander the Great translated from the Syriac'. has an interesting history and was immensely more influential than any of the oriental versions thus far discussed. 1978). 'Zur Uberlieferung des mittelgriechischen Prosa-Alexander . in particular a long episode (derived from a lost Greek text?) of Alexander's journey through central Asia all the way to China. 16 ff. Woolsey.D. See J. 38. probably made in the early ninth century. 1889). that the Syriac was translated from a lost Middle Persian. Journal of the American Oriental Society.

24 It is well known that Alexander appears in the Koran (Sura 18) under the name of E)u'l-Qarnain.J. Meissner. trans. 318) is to be corrected. 26 Paret's statement to this effect (Der Koran. subsequently rendered into Hebrew (see I. 575ff. the son of Philip the Macedonian. by means of an iron gate or dam until the end of time. Mass. Der Koran. albeit late manuscripts. Wilson.) by D. 19. The Arabic text was transmitted to Ethiopia via Egypt.E. translation only in the same author's The Alexander book in Ethiopia (London.'28 manuscript dating to the fifteenth century. This is material which is of interest not only for elucidating the background of the seminal Koranic presentation but also more generally for the emergence of a Christian apocalyptic interpretation of Alexander. in Hirth anniversary volume (London. into later Byzantine medieval recensions of the text from elsewhere. 28 Budge. how he went forth to the ends of the world and made a gate of iron and shut it in the face of the north wind. the Alexander romance stride dictu cannot be considered as a source of the Koranic narrative. the hero with the two horns. 25 Now. Czegledy. 'Alexander at the Caspian Gates'. Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association. is with some likelihood a free Muslim reworking. the biblical Gog and Magog. .g. as asserted (loc. when they shall burst out of their captivity. Levi in Revue des etudes juives. lines 1-3.). Gog and Magog.D. that the Hunaye might not come forth to plunder the lands. and it includes some interpolations from the tenth-century Arabic chronicle of Eutychius of Alexandria.. 2 vols (London. 23 This version is again extant in several. 25 Sura 18:83-98. xlix (1895). Ada Orient. Cf. 1896). 255. formed the basis for the last major oriental Christian version of the Alexander romance. and the inclosed nations (Cambridge.R. Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenldndischen Gesellschaft. 583. 24 Weymann. n. To complicate matters. 3 (1881) 259). one must take into account the (?lost) Arabic translation of the Latin Historia de preliis. it was only interpolated. that is. this episode is not found in the oldest form of the Greek Alexander romance. noted at second hand in Gary. entitled 'an exploit (neshana) of Alexander. 1980). see e. 26 The story of the gate27 by contrast is well attested in other related early Alexander legends. 18. History. not this missing link. 1933). 236. 23 E. to which we shall now turn. Kommentar und Konkordanz (Stuttgart. second edition (Stuttgart. cit. 59 (1928). 12. However. 27 For a well-nigh complete collection of material see A. and trans. the editor of Gary's book. namely the Ethiopia. The life and exploits of Alexander the Great. Paret. 'Mubassirs Ahbar el-Iskender'. Alexander. 211. Anderson had access to the oriental material only at second hand and this led him to some false conclusions. On material culled from medieval Arabic and Persian sources see further C. unfortunately not illustrated. R. Ross. 1922). 130ff. as we shall presently see. 'The wall of Alexander against Gog and Magog and the expedition sent out to find it by the Khalif Wathiq in 842 A. The most important text of this nature is a relatively short Syriac narrative. vii (1957). Anderson. Ubersetzung. 1932) and the same author's earlier paper. Wallis Budge (ed. n.'. 20ff.6 BULLETIN JOHN RYLANDS LIBRARY modified. Hung. B. Alexander's gate. as might be expected.A. In particular he is described there as shutting in the tribes of Yajuj waMajuj. 1980).

I. 91 (1953. 255. shortly before the Muslim conquest of Mesopotamia and Palestine. not a translation from Greek. 32 This prose legend (neshana) was then in turn the literary source of the Syriac metrical homily attributed to Jacob of Sarug (sixth century) in the manuscripts. follows the Syriac version of the Alexander romance proper. arguing. History. 32 K. But. Hunnius. Ada Orientalia Hung.31 the work also does not qualify as a direct source for the 'two-horned' Alexander of the Koran. and in the same author's article 'Alexander's horns'.the famous horns of Alexander.D. 30 Budge. Alexanderlied. 35 See Hunnius. Alexander's conquests are identified in detail with Heraclius's territorial gains (or potential claims). 27-8. without the tell-tale apocalyptic features would so qualify. that. line 4. Alexanderlied. which will be opened at an apocalyptic Endzeit by divine command.-J. Czegledy. deserves further investigation. against Noldeke's older sixth-century dating. Iskandernamah. Thus. Alexander's gate. 629. 231 ff.34 The political dimension of apocalyptic in this work is very interesting. 278. and trans. in particular any allusion to the histoire scandaleuse of Olympias and Nectanebus is lacking. Alexander is depicted as a pious. proto-Christian instrument of God. 31 E. but does not appear to depend on it directly. to my mind convincingly. 28.35 and the politically conciliant feature of the neshana. 32. and of course the central theme of the gate. in all its manuscript forms. History. vol. .. vol. 34 C. 33 G. 2. Reinink. Alexanderlied. It deals only with Alexander's travels. recent investigations indicate an ex eventu knowledge of the Khazar invasion of Armenia in A. 'The Syriac legend concerning Alexander the Great'. Das synschc Alexanderlied (Gottingen. 41. The apocalyptic element is very pronounced in this work. Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium..) Das syrische Alexanderlied. lines 15 ff. the building of the gate against the barbarians and the subsequent defeat of the king of Persia. 1904). 7 (1957). at least not in its present form. 110-11. 10 ff. 105. 'The Syriac legend'. Several features of the text also occur in the Koranic narrative . Chabot.). Corpus Scripiorum Christianorum Orientalium. 30-31. 454-5 (Louvain. 21 ff. Die Chadhirlegende und der Alexanderroman (Leipzig-Berlin. It claims to have been taken 'from the writings in the house of the archives of the kings of Alexandria'29 but seems to be in fact an original Syriac composition. the guarding of the gate is a contractually 29 Budge. despite the Persian defeat. Whether the divergent version of a 'narrative about Alexander' preserved in summary form in the eighth-century chronicle of Pseudo-Dionysius of TellMahre (ed. 2 vols. the journey to the west and then to the east.ALEXANDER THE GREAT 7 This work. Anderson. reprint of edition of 1927). and Reinink. 201. although this has been proposed by Noldeke30 and often repeated since. Alexander's gate. Southgate. Friedlaender. Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association.g. ii. See further Czegledy. 1983). 38. 248.33 The poem however was actually written in the seventh century. It is by no means a full biography of Alexander. Reinink (ed. endowed with the gift of prophetic utterance. n. 1913). For a summary see Anderson. 58 (1927).

a quite obscure.). Parthe.42 In some manuscripts. primarily devoted to the eschatological interpretation of the Arab conquest. 148-9. Anonymi Byzantini vita Alexandn regis Macedonum (Stuttgart. Reichmann. 263-81. prior to the apocalyptic colouring which was gradually given. For a readily accessible (although not entirely satisfactory!) edition of the Syriac text see H. 42 Recension e. 274. Ixxxiii (1990). Parthe. 205 ff. 'Die Entstehung der syrischen Alexanderlegende als politisch-religiose Propagandaschrift fur Herakleios' Kirchenpolitik'. die Bersiler und die Briiste des Nordens'. ch. 37 On the status quaestionis see now G. 41 See Merkelbach-Trumpf. Die Apocalypse des Ps. true to the genre of the Alexander romance. 'Der edessenische "Pseudo-Methodius"'. 1969).37 although it was soon translated not only into Greek.. 430ff. 36 is passed over in the poem in silence.. 145 ff. see G. 326-8. sometime in the last quarter of the seventh century. Sibyllinische Texte und Forschungen (Halle. On the political aspect of the eschatology of the poem. but has some significant differing features. 1971). Trumpf (ed. History. Suermann. The borrowing in some of the recensions of Pseudo-Callisthenes is made directly from Pseudo-Methodius.8 BULLETIN JOHN RYLANDS LIBRARY fixed joint Roman-Persian responsibility. F. Die geschichtstheologische Reaktion auf die einfallenden Muslime in der edessenischen Apokalyptik des 7. however. Der griechische Alexanderroman. 1959).40 As recent research has abundantly shown. as a letter from Alexander to his mother Olympias. 402 ff. Bergson. Rezension (3 (Uppsala. a geographical designation otherwise found only in Syriac sources. Das byzantinische Alexandergedicht nach dem Codex Marcianus 408 .-Methodios (Meisenheim. xviii (1985). 1985). van Thiel. H.J. the Pseudo-Methodius material is further elaborated. 1965). Buch III (Meisenheim. 1898). Sackur (ed. 41 It is in the form enriched with this apocalyptic interpolation that the Alexander romance became widespread in the Byzantino-Slavic world. Trumpf. 31 ff. 'Alexander. 39 The account of Alexander's gate in Pseudo-Methodius is not identical with that of the Syriac neshana. The gate is located at 'the breasts of the north'. it is the account of Alexander's gate from this Greek Pseudo-Methodius text which was added to later recensions of the Alexander romance (and not conversely!). . Reinink. Die Rezension \ des Pseudo-Kallisthenes (Bonn. 43 L.43 Is this last in itself an archaic feature. Reinink.). 34 ff. Quellen. Byzantinische Zeitschrift. 59ff. 39 E. 39 Q. 55 ff. 1968). This work also was composed in Syriac. (Meisenheim. Jahrhunderts (Frankfurt. Byzantinische Zeitschrift. 38 A Lolos (ed. The legend of Alexander's shutting in of Gog and Magog is also found in the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius. S. 40 See J. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta.-Methodios (Meisenheim. Alexanderroman. 1978).38 but also from Greek into Latin. lines 5710 ff. Der griechische Alexanderroman.). lines 19 ff. to the story of Alexander's building of the Caspian Gates? The point richly deserves further investigation! 36 Budge. 1976) and Die dritte und vierte Redaktion des Ps.. . . F.J. which preclude a literary dependence. Rezension Y.). Ixiv (1971). and cast in a non-apocalyptic form. under the influence of several barbarian invasions of the fourth to seventh centuries. but extremely influential text.

. and F Kampers. primarily on the Syriac material. whose pivotal intellectual and religious contributions to the civilization of the Mediterranean are still all too often insufficiently appreciated. although no invention of the Syriacspeaking Christians (Jewish influences certainly played a role). 184 ff. iii (Berlin-Leipzig 1930-31). 44 See F Pfistcr. The apocalyptic dimension of Alexander's building of the gate to confine the barbarians. The image of Alexander as apocalyptic guardian of civilization and inspired prophet of the one God was mediated to the medieval Muslim and Byzantine world through the literary activity of these oriental Christians. Alexander der Gro/3e und die Idee des \\"cltnnpcriums in Prophetie und Sage (Freiburg. Much more research is of course needed. cols 910 ff. in Handworterbuch des deutschen Aberglaubens. 1901).ALEXANDER THE GREAT 9 It is hoped that the importance of the several Christian oriental versions and offshoots of Alexander romance has been made clear. 'Gog und Magog'.44 came to be at any rate significantly developed in Mesopotamian Christian circles.

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