The Life and Motives of Alexander the Great

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  • Topic: Alexander the Great, Philip II of Macedon, Battle of the Granicus
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The Life and Motives of Alexander the Great

Many people around the world have heard of Alexander III of Macedon, better known as Alexander the Great. One does not have to be a historian to know of his near deity-like status among the Greeks and other cultures in his time, as there have been books, movies, and other forms of media that tell of his conquests and his rise to prominence as a military commander. This paper will focus on two biographies of Alexander the Great written by two different authors, W. W. Tarn and J. R. Hamilton, and their personal thoughts on Alexander’s characterizations and motives.

Alexander was born in the summer of 356 BCE and was the son of Philip II and princess Olympias. When Alexander was thirteen his father invited Aristotle, a profound Greek philosopher, to be his son’s tutor (Tarn 1). According to J.R. Hamilton in his biography of Alexander he appears to believe that Tarn stresses Alexander’s Greek education as the motive in which Alexander thinks and carries out his actions, whereas he (Hamilton) believed it to be more of a result of Alexander’s heredity and background, which was Macedonian descent. Hamilton justifies his thinking by pointing out Alexander’s predisposition to heavy drinking (especially in his later years) and his ruthlessness at times when conquering his rivals, which were typical characterizations of the Macedonians and his father Philip II (Hamilton 9). Also pointed out by Hamilton was the fact that Tarn significantly denies Alexander’s alcoholism and that to Tarn, Alexander was just what you would call, a “social drinker,” drinking only when keeping his companion’s company (11).

Both authors briefly cover Alexander’s early life, as Hamilton himself mentions that little is known for certain about Alexander’s childhood (31). Tarn tells a story as if it were fact about how Alexander was found, as a boy, “entertaining some Persian envoys by questioning them about the routes across Asia” (1). Hamilton however, regarding the same story, mentions that “some of the anecdotes told about him (Alexander)… may be picturesque rather than true,” and proceeds to cite this happening as one of those stories (31). Hamilton, while giving Alexander credit for likely being “an intelligent and inquiring child,” also concludes that if Alexander was as intelligent as other biographers made him out to be, then he most certainly would have left those types of inquiries to other refugees in his father’s court at the time (i.e. Artabazus or Memnon)(31). Both Tarn and Hamilton attribute Alexander’s mother Olympias as the dominant influence in his early life, as his father Philip was usually fighting in distant locations and not home much except for between battles. Each author, using different but similar words, uses the phrase “she (Olympias) kept her son’s love all of his life.”

In 336 BCE, Philip II was assassinated while attending a wedding party. Alexander and his mother Olympias were the chief beneficiaries of Philip’s death, but neither were charged for the murder of the king. Tarn says Antipater’s (a general serving under Philip) attitude regarding the assassination was enough to exonerate Alexander of a conspiracy against his father (3). What Tarn means by Antipater’s “attitude” must be that Antipater was the one who brought Alexander to the assembly of people and was one of Philip’s generals that declared for Alexander to be Philip’s successor as king. Interestingly, Hamilton in his biography says this on the matter: “But, even if this is true… we cannot be sure that Antipater was not privy to the plot” (42). He goes on to say that Antipater was an advisor for Alexander four years prior to Philip’s murder in 340 BCE, and was also a close friend to Alexander’s childhood tutor Aristotle (42). For Hamilton to include this in his writings it seems that he questions the true nature of the assassination, but since Philip’s bodyguard and murderer was himself...
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