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Alexander's 'pothos'

I wanted to understand what made Alexander break so many unwritten laws of the Greeks and adopt all those strange customs of the Asians, that amazed and upset his generals and soldiers. It seems that the Greek word "pothos" might be a clue in this matter.

Pothos means desire, longing for, regret, want. When you first look at this translation you may be surprised to find want, desire and regret all in the same word. But if you try to think about it, you will find this makes sense. Within most of us is a need to learn, to develop, to achieve our potential. It is this painful restlesness that pothos expresses.

Never satisfied...

Alexander was this kind of person; a restless spirit, never satisfied with what he had, always longing for more. He was thirsty for knowledge, amazed at the great spectacle of the world. His face shows passion and energy. He is impulsive and has the will to win. He wants to expand his horizons and live his life to the full. He has a very complex personality, a mixture of light and shadows, impulsivness and calm, selfisness and a great need to be loved, blamable vices and incredible virtues.

The Greeks hate disorder and everything that can't be rationally explained. Alexander is tempted by everything that is unknown, he likes the risk. Unlike the Greeks Alexander was highly imaginative.The Greek soul lacked those feelings that express the restlesness and the will to reach unbounded territories and explore new and unknown things.


The famous traveller of the Greek antiquity, Odysseus, travelled unwillingly and all he wanted was to return home. Reading the Odyssey we find the same word, pothos; the same desire (but not to descover new, unknown things); Odysseus just misses his home land. To have the whole world, even to have immortality is meaningless if you don't have a place to come to, if you don't belong somewhere. Odysseus's journey is a voyage of self discovery. To have a better knowledge of yourself is one of the most cherished ideas of the Greeks. It was even the most important point in Socrates' philosophy: "Know thyself". Knowledge was virtue, and only by knowing one's self, one can become a better person.

Both Odysseus and Alexander want to have a better knowledge: Alexander wants to know and conquer the world, Odysseus wants to return home, to himself. You may believe that they share the same feeling. And yet this is not very exact. Odysseus was away from home (he had been punished by the gods), he didn't travel willingly; while Alexander wanted to do this, he could not rest at home, he wanted more, he felt he deserved more. (And what Phillip once told him is very significant: "My son,look for yourself another kingdom, Macedonia is too small for you.")

Alexander had inside him that urge to win and was this together with a supreme self-confidence that led him to victory.

Written by irina