Philosopher-king or narcissistic tyrant? Visionary strategist or ruthless opportunist? Alexander the Great stands tall in our imagination as a figure larger than life, and in fact, larger than legend. From Rome to Persia, and from Arabia to Armenia, stories and histories have been told and re-told about the (in)famous man. But where does fact end and fiction begin? Who is ‘the real’ Alexander, and what does that even mean? In this course, we explore the blurry boundaries between history and legend, tracing Alexander’s footsteps and the meta-narratives he leaves behind as he travels across lands and languages.
Tracking Alexander is like finding our way through a labyrinth of different sources and strange cultures. He is a Macedonian army general, and an Egyptian Pharaoh; a founder of cities, and an inventor of mirrors; a Christian hero who discovers Paradise, and a Qur’anic saint who finds the Waters of Eternal Life. To untangle the problematic strands of the historical and the legendary Alexander, we will draw on such disciplines and methods as historiography, literary theory (especially postmodernism), intertextuality, and source criticism. We will read (and watch) both primary and secondary sources (all in translation), from historians like Arrian to the fantastical “Alexander Romance,” and from marvelous illustrations in the Persian “Book of Kings” to Colin Farrell’s often-ridiculed portrayal of Alexander in the 2004 Hollywood movie. We will engage critically with these various sources through a variety of exercises, including response papers, in-class group discussions, and annotation exercises.
This course has three main goals. First, our goal is to study Alexander the Great, and we will learn much about him (or, at least, the idea of him). Second, the course is about questioning the categories ‘literature’ and ‘history’ and dispelling some of the myths about what we think each of them is. Third, the course is an introduction to college-level thinking: by the end we will have become familiar and comfortable with academic standards of creative thinking and analytical writing so as to ease the transition from high school to college.
Prerequisites: There are no prerequisites for this course, and high school juniors and seniors from all backgrounds are encouraged to enroll.