Homeric Warrior Ethos in the Histories of Alexander the Great

There are any number of things which have peaked my interest as side projects since the start of my thesis, some not at all related, others just tangents. One of the tangents that I have been unable to shake off and will likely return to at some point down the line in actual research is the connection between Homer, Alexander III of Macedon (the Great), and the historians of Alexander.

In nearly all of the sources (Plutarch, Quintus Curtius Rufus, Arrian) are stories concerning Alexander compared to Achilles, Hephaestion to Patroclus, Philip to Peleus, and his tutor Lysimachus to Phoenix (the tutor of Achilles), and Alexander is reported to have taken a copy of the Iliad notated by Aristotle with him into Asia, sleeping with it and a dagger under his pillow. This obsession is generally qualified as Alexander seeking to be put on a level with Achilles, far above other mortal men, and in all likelihood he appeared as such to many of the rank and file soldiers–an invincible, ever victorious hero whose only comparison was with his ancestor Achilles (if I am remembering correctly, it was his mother Olympias whose family descended from Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles, while his Philip’s family descended from Hercules).

Now I am not an expert on the Homeric warrior ethos and how they were supposed to behave militarily and whatnot, but Alexander would have been aware of it, but more importantly to me is how writers at least four hundred years later were still picking up on it and superimposing the values onto their histories. One of the most confounding elements in these histories is how Alexander was supposed to be demoting various officers by giving them critical administrative or organizational posts, often with large contingents of troops, yet this repeatedly crops up either in word or in tone. My current thought is that this is where the warrior ethos kicks in because these men were no longer in the best position to be out winning glory with their king and as such “must have considered this a slight” (my own broad generalization).

Conspiracy theories abound about Alexander and some of my other problems with the scholarly work is how readily they abound, but there is not much to do about it. On the other hand, I think using this methodology could potentially open up new possibilities in the histories, while the main study of the histories themselves currently rest in the portrayal of the officers based on the actual primary sources written by Ptolemy, looking at his biases.

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