Alexander's Divinity

Topics: Alexander the Great, Zeus, God Pages: 8 (3367 words) Published: April 3, 2005
What evidence is there that Alexander may have believed that he was of divine descent? And how convincing would this evidence have appeared to one of his followers?

From studying the sources of the ancient world that talk about Alexander The Great, it is clear that many of them present Alexander as being some type of heroic figure or Demi-god. However you could question whether Alexander believed this himself. Only by studying his actions and the actions of those around him can we draw any type of conclusion on this matter. This can be done through the use of sources that exist from the time of and around his death. Most of these sources have been lost or are incomplete however, so I feel that it would be best to mainly consult the sources of Arrian and Plutarch Although both of these were written a couple of hundred years after Alexander's death they are still the most complete. Plus Arrian would seem to have many sources to consult in his writing, all from Alexander's time. His main two sources were Ptolemy and Aristobulus, both of whom were on Alexander's campaigns. Plutarch's account is more a biography than a history since it is full of stories and anecdotes, however it contains some information that Arrian doesn't so it is still a worthy source to consult. In this it would first be prudent to study all those events in Alexander's life, which would seem to suggest that he did have some belief that he was of divine origin. The primary example of this would appear to be his visit to the shrine of Ammon. While in Egypt, Alexander had an urge to visit the temple since he wanted to consult the oracle there, which had a ‘reputation for infallibility'. Arrian also states that both Perseus and Heracles had consulted it at some point. And since it is clear from Arrian's account that Alexander longed to duplicate, if not surpass, the feats of both Perseus and Heracles, so surely he must consult this oracle too. Arrian (book 3) claims that ‘the blood of both flowed' within Alexander, which suggests that Arrian was of the opinion that Alexander did have some divine heritage since Heracles was supposedly the son of Zeus. In any case, Arrian also states that Alexander also visited the temple because he himself felt that he might be descended from Ammon in some way. If this is true then it would certainly seem that Alexander did in some way believe that he was of divine descent. However according to Arrian Ptolemy says that after being enthroned as Pharaoh at Thebes Alexander, like every Pharaoh, automatically became a son of Ammon. So this may be why he visited the temple, not out of any personal belief that he was descended from Ammon, but instead, out of a sense of duty or to appear to be taking the fact that he was made Pharaoh by the Egyptian people as being a great honour. More over by visiting the temple he would be making his Egyptian subjects happy. Arrian further states that other accounts say that Alexander went to the temple so that he could gain Ammon's approval before founding Alexandria. This would seem plausible since, although there is question whether or not Alexander believed that he was of divine descent, it cannot be doubted that he took worship of the gods very seriously. And he would most certainly want a god of Ammon's statures approval on something as important as the founding of Alexandria. Later Arrian states that when Alexander arrived at the temple, the priest answered the question of his divinity by greeting him as ‘son of Ammon'. This is, by Arrian's wording, what ‘his heart desired'. This would once again indicate that both he and others around him did truly believe that he was of divine descent. Although Arrian is somewhat sceptical as to whether Alexander truly did crave this answer or if that is just what he said because it is what other people wanted to hear. Plutarch writes that some accounts say that when Alexander entered the temple the priest wished to greet him by saying ‘O, paidion'...
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