Internet Myths & Trivia
Here is your overview of modern myths that are apparently taken serious by many, but are - most likely - just the result of the rise of the Internet.
The emergence of the world wide web has given a real boost to the creation of new myths about Alexander. As pothos.org visitor Amyntoros remarked on November 7th 2003: "There were two sisters in the US who have written advice columns for decades - Ann Landers and Dear Abby. Whenever there are any letters written regarding epilepsy or being left-handed, Alexander is included in the lists of famous people in the response. The columnists use information from related organizations on the two subjects - but as to where *they* got the info, well that's another matter. But these two women have probably been read by more people than anyone else in the world - I kid you not - and unless challenged, their information is considered *gospel*."
In 2003 an article in The Times stated that Alexander was epileptic. UK television host Stephen Fry repeated that statement on the IQ Quiz Show. Alexander is frequently mentioned in lists of celebrities with epilepsy. But our historical sources contain no clues whatsoever to back up this claim. (Julius Caesar might have sufferred from epilepsy, as well as Alexander's half-brother Philip Arrhidaeus. But not Alexander.)
A common myth: Alexander should have been left-handed. We have all heard it, but there is no historical source.
Hair DyeThe only Alexanders known to have dyed their hair are Colin Farrell and Richard Burton.
Alexander is supposed to have hated cats. You can find this myth all over the Internet. Plutarch (100 A.D.) mentions Alexander had a dog that he was very fond of. But none of our sources mentions even the slightest reference to cats. (Oh, except for lions, which Alexander hunted.)
Alexander the Diabetic
The myth that Alexander was a diabetic has even been copied by scholars and can be found in various books. Again, no evidence in our historical sources.
He Was Gay!
Well, not in the modern sense. The Ancients did not have the same approach to sexuality as modern man. Alexander married to three women (Roxane, Statira and Parysatis), he had a lifelong (love) relationship with his boyhood friend Hephaistion, he had at least one mistress (Barsine) and he might have had an (erotic) affection towards Bagoas the eunuch (a castrated man). Why not read the excellent Sexuality article by Jeanne Reames-Zimmerman?
As far as we have evidence from our Ancient sources, Alexander had no grandchildren. His few known children were eliminated at a very young age during the successor wars. Buy yes, those mystical grandchildren are being invented and re-invented everytime someone wants to claim some kind of relation to, or descent from, Alexander. Indeed, there are several families claiming Alexander the Great as an "ancestor", going so far as to put their "family trees" on the Internet... Grandiose ancestral tales, no doubt.
Some tales published on the web refer to Alexander as the ancestor of the Turkana tribe, living in the semi-deserts of northern Kenya. It is even claimed that the Turkana themselves see Alexander as their founding father. Pothos.org invites any proud Turkana visitor to this site to confirm this - but I have my strong doubts. This myth fits in perfectly with a long-standing tradition that denies sub-Saharan Africans the ability to achieve anything on their own account. Romantic historians have argued that the Maasai people in Kenya and Tanzania are in fact the descendants of a lost Roman legion. The majestic ruins of Great Zimbabwe in southern Africa were once attributed to King Solomon. The early 20th century Somali fortress of Taleh was thought to have been build by the Ancient Egyptians. Get the picture?
Alexander Was a Freemason
This goes back to the legend of Alexander visiting Jerusalem. There is a sign used in Freemasonry which was "used by Moses" when he came down the from the mount. When Alexander approached Jerusalem he was met by the High Priest who saluted him with this significant sign. "It is a historical fact that Alexander was so much struck with the sight of this procession that he did homage to Gods vice-regent, and it is said, on more questionable authority, that his reverence proceeded from the mutual recognition of the Masonic Brotherhood."There is also a very high order in the Freemasons known as the Synods of the Ancient and Heroic Order of the Gordian Knot!
The Philosopher's Stone or Emerald Tablet of Alchemy
This myth seems to have originated in medieval records supposedly written by Albertus Magnus though they are believed to be spurious. "Central to the mysteries of alchemy was the belief that ancient texts contained forgotten secrets of nature. The most definitive of these texts was the Tabula Smaragdina or Emerald Tablet, which, according to legend, had been discovered by Alexander the Great in the Egyptian tomb of Hermes Trismegistos (‘thrice-great’), the Greek counterpart of the Egyptian god of wisdom and magic, Thoth. The Emerald Tablet was inscribed with thirteen axioms. Unfortunately, they were rather difficult to understand. The riddle-like language of the fourth is typical: ‘Its father is the sun, its mother the moon; the wind carries it in its belly, its nurse is the earth’. This cryptic style was emulated by the alchemists, who christened themselves sons of Hermes’ or Hermetic philosophers." Another version of the legend suggests that Alexander the Great found the Tabula Smaragdina in the Great Pyramid of Cheops.
Alexander mythology persisted through the entire Near East literally for hundreds of years after his death, and legends of earlier heroes have been subsumed into his mythos: for instance, both Alexander and the Sumerian hero Gilgamesh were supposed to have found the fountain (or rose) of immortality somewhere under the ocean, and both were supposedly unable to bring it back to mankind - foiled by the depth of the waters which kept the treasure safe. Though Alexander's existence is far more documented than (for instance) that of King Arthur, exactly the same sort of folk mythology circulated about both men."
Another quote from Magnus, but the URL has been taken down. "The always victorious Alexander the Great wore a chrysoprase stone in his girdle. One day a snake bit off the girdle and dropped it in the river. From that time forward Alexander never won another battle." (Presumably, these battles were ones fought after Alexander died, as he never lost one in his lifetime!)
The Secret of Secrets
Francis Bacon became immensely interested in a pseudo-Aristotelian text, "Secretum secretorum" (Secret of Secrets), which is thought to have been written by Aristotle for Alexander the Great, his pupil, on kingship. This pseudo-Aristotelian text was one of the most widely read books of the Middle Ages and there were different versions. The first was introduced to medieval Europe by the translator John of Seville in Toledo (Spain) around 1130. The text contained a lot of ethic questions and occult lore ranging from astrology to the magical properties of plants, gems, and numbers, as well as a strange account of a unified science. According to the text, only a person with the proper moral and intellectual background could discover this unified science.
"The ancient Greeks were keen traders and it is believed that palmistry spread there from India. Aristotle wrote on the subject in De Historia Animalium more than 2,500 years ago. Alexander the Great had Aristotle write a book for him on the subject."
"Greek and Roman physicians such as Dioscorides and Pliny the Elder used it (Aloe Vera) to great effect and legend suggests that Aristotle persuaded Alexander the Great to capture the island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean to get its rich supply of aloe to heal his wounded soldiers."
"According to myths persisting to this day, the origin of the game of chess is shrouded in the midst of time. Ever since an archaeologist brought to light a 6,000-year-old Greek manuscript apparently depicting a chessboard, there has been many an overzealous historian eager to date the play of this game to the days of Methuselah. However, modern research suggests that the so-called 'chess board' represented nothing more than a run of the mill battle plan. Today, it is believed that the inspiration for the game dates back to the year 326 BC when Alexander the Great massed his army at the gates of the Orient. Opposing him, stood the four divisions of the Hindu army: chariots, elephants, cavalry and infantry. Almost 1,000 years passed before someone thought to immortalize this memorable battle as a diversion reserved for the rich and powerful."
The Indians Had Firearms!
In the preface to a Code of Gentoo Laws or Ordinations of the Pundits: From a Persian translation, made from the original, written in the Shanscrit language, occurs the following passage: "It will no doubt strike the reader with wonder to find a prohibition of firearms in records of such unfathomable antiquity; and he will probably from hence renew the suspicion which has long been deemed absurd, that Alexander the Great did absolutely meet with some weapons of that kind in India as a passage in Quintus Curtius seems to ascertain. Gunpowder has been known in China, as well as in Hindustan, far beyond all periods of investigation."
It is interesting to note that the same is mentioned by Francis Bacon in one of his essays. He is even more specific, mentioning the Oxydracae as the owners of the guns.
In the US the A&E's Ancient Mysteries television series has claimed that Alexander saw flying "silver shields" in the sky when he embarked on his campaign to Asia and when he was besieging Tyre. It seems just a matter of time before the first story about Alexander's alleged alien abduction will appear.
Alexander's one true love should have been a woman called Melissa. Who ever made that up? There is no personality called Melissa in any of the sources.
Alexander slept with snakes? This new myth has its origins somewhere in the fiction books of Mary Renault.
Apart from epilepsy, left-handedness, diabetic symptoms and fear of cats - according to author Doherty Alexander had a "panic disorder" too, whatever that means.
Alexander Died of Syphilis!
We always suspected this! Quote: "But Alexander was ultimately defeated by epilepsy, syphilis and madness. As his illness progressed, he became more ambitious, greedy and cruel. Bouts of erratic and violent behavior replaced pragmatism. He killed one of his top advisers in a drunken brawl over a trinket or two at a party."
At last: A possible truth here? Hansen's Disease (leprosy) is a good example. This disfiguring bacterium probably originated in Egypt, spreading to India by 600 B.C. But leprosy was apparently unknown in Europe until the return of Alexander the Great's armies from India in 326 BC. Starting in Greece the bacterium rapidly spread throughout the continent. By the time of the Roman Empire leprosy was already considered ancient and was widely feared and discussed.
This page needs updates! Whenever you find a new Alexander myth on the web, please join the Forum and report it. Many thanks to Linda "Amyntoros". And Jona Lendering.