Alexander's conquests skillfully traced in biography, exhibition; The Search for Alexander, by Robin Lane Fox. Boston: Little, Brown & Co. $24.95 . The Search for Alexander: An Exhibition. Boston: The New York Graphic Society.
Some talk of Alexander, and some of Hercules," begins one of the British Army's marching songs. As Robin Lane Fox's fine, copiously illustrated biography indicates, the linking of the 4th-century BC king of Macedon and a mythological godhero is appropriate.
In fact, Alexander identified closely with the figures of Greek legend, and influence which helped mold his grand ambition. Emphasizing the military legacy of his father, Philip, and his mother, Olympias's, stories of his divine ancestry, Fox skillfully traces Alexander's conquests from Greece to India, and the influence his march left on world history.
Fox's masterful treatment draws on contemporary sources and a profound knowledge of related art, archaeology, and literature, as well as his own experiences traveling along Alexander's route. Fox combines narrative and analysis to provide as complete an account of Alexander's life as we are apt to have without the discovery of new evidence.
In fact, his inclusion of new material from the excavations at Vergina helps set the new book apart from earlier biographies, including Fox's own.
"The Search for Alexander" reads as compellingly as a novelistic treatment, and its many fine photos and maps enhance a reader's enjoyment.
Published simultaneously with Fox's biography, the catalog for the art exhibition "The Search for Alexander: An Exhibition contains both detailed photographs of the collection of Macedonian artifacts now on display in the United States, and brief but informative essays on Alexander and on Macedonian history and art. One by archaeologist Mandis Andronikos describes his excavation of a treasure-filled tomb, probably King Philip's, at Vergina.
"His father's genius at home remains the prime reason why Alexander ever became so great," writes Fox. Part of Philip's brilliance was seen in his uniting the men of northern Greece in a single, masterfully adaptive army comprising both cavalry and infantry. By the time Alexander, aged 20, became king in 336 BC, the once weak, diffuse kingdom dominated all of Greece.
With his home base secure, Alexander turned to the east. "From childhood he took it for granted that Asia was Macedon's grand ambition." That ambition became a dream to unite the whole world in one integrated society. It would drive him and his men halfway around the world.
Alexander's journey made him master of a million square miles of territory, ruler of all the Greeks, Pharaoh of Egypt, and king by conquest of Asia. All before his 26th birthday.
His dream of world conquest was frustrated, however, at the river Beas in the Punjab. There, after an unbroken series of victories lucidly described by Fox, his troops -- tired, homesick, suffering from the brutal Indian weather -- refused to go on. Alexander attempted to shame them into reconsideration, but at last he capitulateD. The great columns wheeled back toward Babylon. There at age 32 Alexander died, planning a campaign in unknown Arabia.
Although his empire soon crumbled, Alexander's march built the foundation on which Hellenic civilization would grow. And largely because of him Greek culture was able to exert its tremendous influence on the West.