Nikos Kazantzakis is no stranger to the heroes of Greek antiquity. In this historical novel based on the life of Alexander the Great, Kazantzakis has drawn on both the rich tradition of Greek legend and the documented manuscripts from the archives of history to recreate an Alexander in all his many-faceted images—Alexander the god; Alexander the descendant of Heracles performing the twelve labors; Alexander the mystic, the daring visionary destined to carry out a divine mission; Alexander the flesh-and-blood mortal who, on occasion, is not above the common soldier’s brawling and drinking.
The novel, which resists the temptation to portray Alexander in the mantle of purely romantic legend, covers his life from age fifteen to his death at age thirty-two. It opens with Alexander’s first exploit, the taming of the horse, Bucephalas, and is seen in great part through the eyes of his young neighbor who eventually becomes an officer in his army and follows him on his campaign to conquer the world.
The book, which was written primarily as an educational adjunct for young readers, is intended for the adult mind as well, and like the legends of old, is entertaining as well as instructive for readers of all ages. It was originally published in Greece in serial form in 1940, and was republished in a complete volume in 1979.
This first focused analysis of veterans’ experiences in ancient Greece offers a fresh, “bottom-up” perspective on important military and political aspects of early Hellenistic history.
Runner-up, PROSE Award, Classics and Ancient History, 2013
From antiquity until now, most writers who have chronicled the events following the death of Alexander the Great have viewed this history through the careers, ambitions, and perspectives of Alexander’s elite successors. Few historians have probed the experiences and attitudes of the ordinary soldiers who followed Alexander on his campaigns and who were divided among his successors as they fought for control of his empire after his death. Yet the veterans played an important role in helping to shape the character and contours of the Hellenistic world.
This pathfinding book offers the first in-depth investigation of the Macedonian veterans’ experience during a crucial turning point in Greek history (323–316 BCE). Joseph Roisman discusses the military, social, and political circumstances that shaped the history of Alexander’s veterans, giving special attention to issues such as the soldiers’ conduct on and off the battlefield, the army assemblies, the volatile relationship between the troops and their generals, and other related themes, all from the perspective of the rank-and-file. Roisman also reexamines the biases of the ancient sources and how they affected ancient and modern depictions of Alexander’s veterans, as well as Alexander’s conflicts with his army, the veterans’ motives and goals, and their political contributions to Hellenistic history. He pays special attention to the Silver Shields, a group of Macedonian veterans famous for their invincibility and martial prowess, and assesses whether or not they deserved their formidable reputation.
Ancestors, Kings, and the Dao outlines the evolution of musical performance in early China, first within and then ultimately away from the socio-religious context of ancestor worship. Examining newly discovered bamboo texts from the Warring States period, Constance A. Cook compares the rhetoric of Western Zhou (1046–771 BCE) and Spring and Autumn (770–481 BCE) bronze inscriptions with later occurrences of similar terms in which ritual music began to be used as a form of self-cultivation and education. Cook’s analysis links the creation of such classics as the Book of Odes with the ascendance of the individual practitioner, further connecting the social actors in three types of ritual: boys coming of age, heirs promoted into ancestral government positions, and the philosophical stages of transcendence experienced in self-cultivation.The focus of this study is on excavated texts; it is the first to use both bronze and bamboo narratives to show the evolution of a single ritual practice. By viewing the ancient inscribed materials and the transmitted classics from this new perspective, Cook uncovers new linkages in terms of how the materials were shaped and reshaped over time and illuminates the development of eulogy and song in changing ritual contexts.
In the third century BCE, Ashoka ruled an empire encompassing much of modern-day India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. During his reign, Buddhism proliferated across the South Asian subcontinent, and future generations of Asians came to see him as the ideal Buddhist king. Disentangling the threads of Ashoka’s life from the knot of legend that surrounds it, Nayanjot Lahiri presents a vivid biography of this extraordinary Indian emperor and deepens our understanding of a legacy that extends beyond the bounds of Ashoka’s lifetime and dominion.At the center of Lahiri’s account is the complex personality of the Maurya dynasty’s third emperor—a strikingly contemplative monarch, at once ambitious and humane, who introduced a unique style of benevolent governance. Ashoka’s edicts, carved into rock faces and stone pillars, reveal an eloquent ruler who, unusually for the time, wished to communicate directly with his people. The voice he projected was personal, speaking candidly about the watershed events in his life and expressing his regrets as well as his wishes to his subjects.Ashoka’s humanity is conveyed most powerfully in his tale of the Battle of Kalinga. Against all conventions of statecraft, he depicts his victory as a tragedy rather than a triumph—a shattering experience that led him to embrace the Buddha’s teachings. Ashoka in Ancient India breathes new life into a towering figure of the ancient world, one who, in the words of Jawaharlal Nehru, “was greater than any king or emperor.”
Aspects of History and Epic in Ancient Iran focuses on the content of one of the most important inscriptions of the Ancient Near East: the Bisotun inscription of the Achaemenid king Darius I (6th century bce), which in essence reports on a suspicious fratricide and subsequent coup d’état. Moreover, the study shows how the inscription’s narrative would decisively influence the Iranian epic, epigraphic, and historiographical traditions well into the Sasanian and early Islamic periods.Intriguingly, our assessment of the impact of the Bisotun narrative on later literary traditions—in particular, the inscription of the Sasanian king Narseh at Paikuli (3rd–4th centuries ce)—necessarily relies on the reception of the oral rendition of the Bisotun story captured by Greek historians. As Rahim Shayegan argues, this oral tradition had an immeasurable impact upon the historiographical writings and epic compositions of later Iranian empires. It would have otherwise remained unknown to modern scholars, had it not been partially preserved and recorded by Hellanicus of Lesbos, Herodotus, Ctesias, and other Greek authors. The elucidation of Bisotun’s thematic composition therefore not only allows us to solve an ancient murder but also to reevaluate pre-Thucydidean Greek historiography as one of the most important repositories of Iranian epic themes.
Authoring the Past surveys medieval Catalan historiography, shedding light on the emergence and evolution of historical writing and autobiography in the Middle Ages, on questions of authority and authorship, and on the links between history and politics during the period. Jaume Aurell examines texts from the late twelfth to the late fourteenth century—including the Latin Gesta comitum Barcinonensium and four texts in medieval Catalan: James I’s Llibre dels fets, the Crònica of Bernat Desclot, the Crònica of Ramon Muntaner, and the Crònica of Peter the Ceremonious—and outlines the different motivations for the writing of each.
For Aurell, these chronicles are not mere archaeological artifacts but rather documents that speak to their writers’ specific contemporary social and political purposes. He argues that these Catalonian counts and Aragonese kings were attempting to use their role as authors to legitimize their monarchical status, their growing political and economic power, and their aggressive expansionist policies in the Mediterranean. By analyzing these texts alongside one another, Aurell demonstrates the shifting contexts in which chronicles were conceived, written, and read throughout the Middle Ages.
The first study of its kind to make medieval Catalonian writings available to English-speaking audiences, Authoring the Past will be of interest to scholars of history and comparative literature, students of Hispanic and Romance medieval studies, and medievalists who study the chronicle tradition in other languages.
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