British Library Exhibition - Alexander The Great: The Making of a Myth

Posted on: 19 January 2023 by Guendalina Daniela Maria Taietti in 2023 posts

Official image for Alexander the Great: The Making of a Myth exhibition

Dear ACE & Creativity blog readers,

It is my great pleasure to write the first blog for 2023, in which I will discuss a topic dear to my heart: Alexander the Great and his reception(s).

Alexander (356-323 BC) was the son of Philip II, the king of Macedon famous for having reorganized the Macedonian phalanx and having united all the Greek city-states under his power, and of the Epirote Olympias, a strong-willed and highly religious woman. After the assassination of Philip II in 336 BC, Alexander was immediately proclaimed king and in 334 BC he set out for Persia. Thanks to his strong leadership and military genius he achieved the unprecedented: he conquered the Achaemenid Empire, reached India, and set forth the Hellenistic period, in which Greek culture came to contact with, and was enriched by, Eastern cultures. Alexander himself realized the grandeur of his enterprise, insomuch that he claimed divine status for himself and emulated his ancestors Heracles and Achilles in order to be seen as a god-like figure by his contemporaries. Thus, the myth of Alexander, originated during his lifetime, was further developed in the following centuries, especially thanks to Pseudo-Callisthenes’ Alexander-Romance, a legendary account of the Macedonian campaign in Persia which was composed in Egypt between the third century BC – third century AD.

From the Middle Ages onwards the Alexander-Romance was translated into several languages, such as Latin, Syrian, Coptic, Armenian, Hebrew, Persian, English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Ethiopic, and Malay! Every translation bears new elements to the story, as it is the product of a different culture. Seeing the richness and the value of this material, the British Library curators – Peter Toth, Ursula Sims-Williams, Adrian Edwards, and Yrja Thorsdottir – decided to organize the first ever exhibition about the storytelling around Alexander, rather than the historical one. Undoubtedly, Alexander III was an important historical figure who set forth a new era, but the mythological Alexander had an even greater impact: as Greeks say, he still ‘lives and rules’, and his impact has been ongoing for over 2300 years, permeating Islamic, Asian and European cultures.

The British Library exhibition on the mythmaking of Alexander opened in October 2022 and will run until February 2023; it is a story-led exhibition arranged in six sections:

I) The Man and the myth
II) A conqueror in the Making
III) Building an Empire
IV) Alexander’s Relationships
V) Mythical Quest
VI) Journey’s End.

As the mythical Alexander is a hero with no chronological or geographical borders, the curators’ approach is multicultural and the visitor will be able to see 122 objects in 22 languages from 25 countries.

On January 27th, in addition to the exhibition, it will also be possible to attend a conference on the Monsters of Alexander. Moreover, should you wish to ask questions about the organization and the takeaway of the exhibition to the curator Peter Toth, you can join the online Forever Alexander international conference on January 23th at 4:30 pm (Spain time).

I am sure that the mythological Alexander is looking forward to meeting you all and that the exhibition will give you lots of food for thought!