The Nine Worthies: Alexander the Great

He believed the gods of Homer and ancient Egypt were with him, and we know as Christians that the One True God must have been with him; For by his march across the world, Alexander the Great prepared the way for its conversion.

Dr. Warren Carrol, lecture on Alexander the Great

By N.D.C. Wansbutter, Esq.

The Nine Worthies (les neuf preux) are nine historical, scriptural, mythological or semi-legendary figures who, in the Middle Ages, were adopted in a gallery of heroes that were paragons of chivalry in their respective traditions. As will all things medieval, they are divided into three groups of three in honour of the Trinity: the Jews, the Pagans, and the Christian. They were:

Jewish: Joshua, David, and Judas Maccabeus
Pagan: Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Hector
Christian: King Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bouillon

I've studied several of these men over the years, and intend to look at the rest of them before long. History is a great source of inspiration for my writing, and the Nine Worthies especially so.

Alexander the Great

Living from 20/21 July 356 – 10/11 June 323 BC, Alexander was the greatest general of all time. He never lost a battle. To quote Dr. Warren Carrol, “he might have conquered the world, but died before he was forty, with his armies at the border of China. He was a meteor and transformer of history, who created the Hellenistic world through which the Gospel of Jesus Christ spread three hundred years later.”.

He was the son of King Philip II of Macedon, a great warrior and conqueror in his own right, had put all of Greece under his rule. He was assassinated and Alexander King at the age of 20.

Philip desired that Alexander receive a Greek education, and as such, Alexander's teacher was "the supreme Greek intellect", the philosopher Aristotle. Alexander always considered himself Greek first, and considered himself the guardian and champion of Hellenic culture. He combined the skill at arms and political sagacity of his father, blazing passion of his mystic mother Olympias, and the discipline and expansion of mind of his tutor, Aristotle

Having nourished himself on ancient epics, modelled himself after great heroes and deliberately aspired to conquer the entire civilized world. And, returning to the theme of the quote above from Dr. Carroll, herein lies his great contribution to humanity, and the reason that he is worthy of honour on a Catholic blog.

Creating the "Hellenistic world" was, simply, the spread of Greek culture throughout what was then the civilized world. This included the spread of the Greek language which was important to spreading the gospels, but other aspects of Greek culture such as its literature, learning and reason, and arts, thus putting for the first time Jew and Greek in the same cultural orbit and founding the basis for Christendom or "Christian Civilization". For, without first the Hellenisation of the Ancient World, it would not have been possible for the Romans to enjoy their success and thus serve their own purpose as the vessel of the one true Church.

We thus may see in Alexander the Great yet another example of the Lord "writing straight with crooked lines".

How Alexander the Great created the Hellenistic World was through his impressive wars of conquest which will be recounted but very briefly: after putting down rebellions on the Balkan Peninsula, he set out to conquer Greece's ancient enemy, the Persian Empire. In the spring 334 BC his army of 32,000 (less than half Macedonians), including the 1800 companion cavalry which he always led himself, crossed to Asia. He offered sacrifice on the hill of Troy (Iliad) and garlanded the tomb of Achilles, from which took the epic hero's shield for himself. Having identified himself with Homer’s epic, met Persian army head-on at the Battle of the Granicus (near Zelea); his life saved in that battle by his trusted bodyguard Cleitus the Black who he, years later, killed in a drunken rage. Alexander killed or sold into slavery the Greek mercenaries with the Persian army as traitors, but offered the Persians to join him.

His navy was weaker than the Persians so he set about capturing all the ports, thus neutralising that advantage the enemy had. He worked his way through Asia minor and down through the Holy Land. He conquered the hitherto unvanquished city of Tyre by extending the land out to the island city and storming it.

On 1 October 331 B.C. he met the entire Persian army at Al Gaugamela, and, outnumered 2:1 delivered another crushing blow to the Persians. Never hesitating, never making a mistake, he won victory after victory against such odds. By January 330 B.C., his army was at the persian gates (guarding the only road to Persepolis). It presented a narrow valley guarded by thousands; but for Alexander every physical obstacle was but a new challenge and he took half his army over the snowy mountains and struck the Persians in the rear, scattering them. He then took Perseopilis and burnt Xerxes' palace to the ground. From here he continued through modern-day Iran and across more mountains taking Samarkand and establishing there Alexandria the Furthest. From thence he plunged into India where his army finally refused to carry on.

Returning home, he led his men across the Godrosian desert in Iran -- no other army has ever done this. He died soon after, perhaps from Typhoid Fever, perhaps in part from his many injuries he received including an arrow through the lungs while fighting alone inside a fortress in India. After his death, his successors could not maintain such a massive realm and it was split into four.

The prophet Daniel fortold Alexander the Great (Book of Daniel, Chapter VIII), with Fr. Leo Hayrdock comments in parentheses:

"... and behold a he goat (Greece) came from the west on the face of the whole earth, and he touched not the ground, and the he goat had a notable horn between his eyes (Alexander the Great). And he went up to the ram (Persia) that had the horns, which I had seen standing before the gate, and he ran towards him in the force of his strength. And when he was come near the ram, he was enraged against him, and struck the ram: and broke his two horns, and the ram could not withstand him: and when he had cast him down on the ground, he stamped upon him, and none could deliver the ram out of his hand. And the he goat became exceeding great: and when he was grown, the great horn was broken, and there came up four horns (the four kingdoms of Alexander's generals) under it towards the four winds of heaven. And out of one of them came forth a little horn (Antiochus Epiphanes): and it became great against the south, and against the east, and against the strength (Jerusalem and the people of God)."

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