As soon as Alexander died, scores of legends and myths surrounded his name, and attempts continue to this date to differentiate between the person and the myth.
There has been an age-old practice of associating the kings with divine characters to legitimize their rule and orders. But seldom did the kings believe in them in reality. But Alexander was one of the rare kings who believed in delusional prophecies and suffered from a god complex which even said to have turned his childhood teacher, Aristotle against him towards the end.
Myths around his birth
His father, Philip is said to have dreamed about sealing his wife’s womb with the waxed image of a lion signifying the coming of a son who would be bold and fierce and bold like a lion.
His father is also believed to have reviewed three pieces of good news on the day of his birth. Firstly, he took Potidaea, then his horse won at the Olympic games and lastly one of his generals, Parmenion managed to defeat the Illyrians making him believe that a son born on a day consisting of three victories will always be victorious.
His mother’s family was said to have the descendants of Achilles, the tragic hero of the Trojan war according to Homer and according to legend, his mother was struck by lightning on her womb before marriage, signifying Alexander as the son of the Greek God, Zeus.
The Persian campaign
Alexander believed in himself to be destined for defeating the Persian empire which explains many of his risky and even reckless activities during his campaign in Persia.
He is supposed to have visited the Oracle at Delphi which was closed but forced the priestess to appear by force who prophesied him to be invincible to which he is supposed to have replied that this was the only prophecy he needed.
In an incident, the queen of Amazon, Thalestris had brought 300 women to be consummated by Alexander for breeding a race of strong and intelligent children.
The wise men of India
Alexander’s campaign to India is filled with legends and myths. It is said he went searching for a group of Indian aesthetics referred to as the wise men. Some say he went in search of Dandamis, an Indian aesthetic about which he was made aware by Aristotle.
These men of Dandamis are said to have defied his orders to meet him and when the king came up himself to meet the naked wise men they are said to have performed miracles and many acts. They impressed Alexander a lot with their knowledge and wisdom and he is even said to have asked them to join him in his quest which their leader, Dandamis had refused in spite of the riches offered.
Dandamis is said to have influenced Alexander a lot and where he said to the Emperor that quests around the world are actually without any meaning.
There is another legend that one of the Hindu Naga Sadhu, Kalyana (Calanus), had accompanied Alexander from Punjab to Persia. on his way back home, asked to be burnt on a pyre, as he didn’t want to live a disabled life, being seventy three years already. He himself walked into his brurning pyre himslef. It is said that as he burnt he did not scream at all, and his last words to Alexander were, “We shall meet in Babylon”. The significance of these words was not understood till Alexander died in Babylon.
Alexander’s mermaid sister
Philip, the king of Macedon and the father of Alexander was notorious for a lot of marriages and one among them was the mother of Thessaloniki, which made her Alexander’s sister.
According to legend, when Alexander went in search of the fountain of youth during his campaign to Asia, he found it after facing a lot of dangers. But instead of using it which would have made him immortal, he used it on his sister’s hair which made her immortal. After his death, Thessaloniki is said to have been grief-stricken and tried to take her life by throwing herself into the Aegean sea. But instead of being killed, she was transformed into a mermaid who was a great threat to the sailors.
According to a Greek folklore, the mermaid stopped every sailor that crosses her path, and asked him if her brother is still alive. If the sailor, knowing the truth that Alexander lives no more, repeats that fact, then he is doomed to die as she will not let him cross and will cause uproars in the seas that will lead to him drowning and dying.
But on the other hand of a sailor answers by saying, “He lives and reigns and conquers the world”, then she would make the sea calm for his passage.
Divinity of Alexander
Alexander is many times referred to as the son of Zeus-Ammon, Ammon being a local deity of Thebes, who had become the patron deity of Thebes by the 21st century BC. The inhabitants of Sparta used to consult the oracle of Ammon in Libya more than any other Greeks and since much before than the others.
Ammon had a great reputation with the Classical Greeks, so much so that after the Battle of Issus, during his occupation of Egypt, Alexander visited his temple, and was declared the son of Ammon. From then onwards he was known as the son of Zeus-Ammon.
According to some historian, Alexander has been mentioned in various religious works as well, The Quran being one of them. It mentions a certain “Dhul-Qarnayn” (the “Two-Horned One”), who had been given great powers by Allah, and had travelled the place of both the rising sun and the setting sun.
Myths around Alexander’s death
It is said that before Alexander entered Babylon, Bel, the Babylonian deity had warned against Alexander coming at that time as it would be fatal for him. This was because his direction would be toward west, and he would see a setting sun, a symbol of decline.
There were attempts to use another path, which failed, and then Babylonian astrologers tried to find a way to save him from this misfortune. They said that someone of a lesser status should be put on the throne before Alexander, so he could bear the brunt of the omen, but this was not done.
The reason for his death has been debated for a long period of time and it consists of many legends and anecdotes which further complicated the story of death.
He is said to have died suddenly around Mesopotamia by illness and some even speculate the case of being poisoned as he had drunk a glass of wine before getting ill, which ultimately killed him.
Even his childhood teacher, Aristotle was accused of being in the conspiracy to kill Alexander as he was against tyrants and had criticized his god complex openly.
Many have even pointed out to his drinking habits as a cause of his early death.
On his bed, he was supposed to have been asked for a successor to his empire as he did not have a natural heir to which he is rumored to have replied `the strongest one’ which seems to have caused a civil war between his generals for being the successor to Alexander’s Empire.
There are a lot of myths and legends surrounding Alexander the Great which is very normal for a legendary historical figure. But historians have always been suspicious about their authenticity.
In many cases, groups, religions and kingdoms have tried to associate Alexander with themselves to enhance their prestige like the Hindu sadhus of India. Many Greek scholars have also associated divine myths around him to enhance the attraction of Greek culture.
For example, in the Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus mentions Alexander to have the high priest in Jerusalem. Similarly, he was claimed to be the ancestor of the rulers of a small principality of modern day Pakistan. This seems to be nothing more than legitimizing and enhancing acceptable by using myths and legends around Alexander.