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Alexander's True Passion: Transcendence

Alexander and BucephalasThis short essay was originally posted on the Forum on May 12th 2003 by Karen Wehrstein.

Alexander's greatest passion can be expressed simply as: transcendence.

Arrian states it accurately if mundanely: "if there had been no other competition, he would have competed against himself" (7.1). If he had aimed just to outdo his father, he'd have limited himself to outdoing his father, and lost his motivation after conquering more territory than his father ever had. He wanted to surpass every limit, within or without, to be larger than life and more than human, like the ancient heroes. He wanted to transcend the possible, as witness the many times he was told he couldn't do something, but did it nonetheless.

He wanted to transcend his nationality, to expand himself to incorporate the cultures of his subjects, which got him into trouble with the old-guard Makedonians. He wanted to transcend the very concept of nations and states by conquering the world.

Small size colossus

Small of stature, he wanted to transcend his size, and be seen as a colossus. He wanted to transcend any previous mental limits of scale: to come up with the greatest strategy, tactics and logistics, to hold the richest banquet, have the largest wedding, enable the most active trade and prosperity, lead the bravest and most skilled army, build the greatest empire, enable the best scientific knowledge, give the most expensive gifts, and so on -- that the world had ever seen.

He wanted to transcend the usual relationship between king and soldiers, and bond with his army as no one had before; I think he even wanted to build an unprecedented relationship with the Gods, though he never lost his awe of them. He wanted to transcend the limits of incarnate human life by making his name immortal, or by becoming divine.

He was in love with challenges, because to meet a challenge is to transcend our internal limits, of thinking, of fear, of strength. I think he lived on these thoughts -- "Is this possible? Only one way to find out... let's go!" -- and the inward freedom and joy they carry.


Even in his relationship with Hephaistion he was transcending the usual social mores, since they were about the same age, and the accepted form was between an older man and a youth. I think that passion arose out of Hephaistion's willingness and ability -- he had enough intelligence, wisdom and self-confidence -- to be Alexander's other half, which cannot have been an easy task. I think Alexander also had a passion for unifying people in a common goal, inspiring them to transcend self-interest.

If he had not been raised a warrior, I think he would have expressed that urge in whatever field he had entered, arts, philosophy, or what-have-you.

Essay submitted by Karen Wehrstein