Clas 0810A, Alexander the Great and the Alexander Tradition Suggestions for term paper projects

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CLAS 0810A, Alexander the Great and the Alexander Tradition

Suggestions for term paper projects


• Your term paper is due to be handed in to me no later than the last class meeting, on Wednesday 9 December. It counts for 30% of your final grade.

I will accept no late papers.
• I see this as a project, developing during the middle and late stages of the course, to which both I and your class mates can contribute by making suggestions and comments — not a rushed job in the last few days before the deadline. For this reason, I want to see a short summary of your research to date (probably, posted to the class wiki) by the end of the week prior to Thanksgiving (Friday 17 November). If time and class enrollment allow, we will discuss these together.
• You should aim to write at least 10-12 pages, which in my terms means approximately 3000-3500 words. But I am open to forms of presentation other than a traditional typed paper (e.g., a website). I will penalize incorrect spelling, poor grammar, and sloppy presentation. Sources (whether published or on-line)must be clearly identified via footnotes or bibliographic citations. I have a zero-tolerance policy concerning plagiarism, as follows: All forms of plagiarism are in contravention of the University’s regulations, and this applies to Web resources as much as it does to traditional printed material. Do not suppose that, simply because you found something on the Web, you are free to cite or paraphrase it, without appropriate citation of the source. Your term paper should contain no unacknowledged or disguised quotations, passages, or opinions taken from secondary sources, electronic or otherwise.
• Most importantly, the suggestions below are intended only as that — suggestions, not prescriptions. If you have a good subject or idea of your own, by all means go ahead. But you should come see me in office hours to discuss your idea, and I can offer my ideas about sources.

Some possible topics:

1 Read some accounts by modern travelers following in Alexander's footsteps. Why do this? What insights, if any, have come from travel (albeit under different conditions) through the same landscapes that Alexander had to deal with? Has there been a similar impetus to follow in the steps of any other historical figures?

Starting points: You have already read Michael Wood’s In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great for this class. The classic works in this genre are Sir Aurel Stein, On Alexander's Track to the Indus, and Freya Stark, Alexander's Path (1958); but there are others in the same vein which you should seek out. You could also check out a more "pop" account by H. & F. Schreider, "In the footsteps of Alexander the Great," National Geographic Magazine 133 (1968) 1-65; comparing it to an earlier paper such as Sir Aurel Stein's, "On Alexander's route into Gedrosia: an archaeological tour in Las Bela," Geographical Journal 102 (1943) 193-227 could be interesting.
2 There are five major extant ancient Alexander-historians, of which you have read only one (Plutarch) as a whole. Read any of the others in its entirety. What are the chief distinguishing characteristics of this author’s treatment of Alexander, in terms of details, tone, and overall judgement? Why?

Starting points: For Arrian, use the Penguin translation. For Diodorus Siculus, you need his Books 17 and 18, which form vols. VIII and IX of the Loeb Classical Library edition; for Quintus Curtius, use Penguin translation of his History of Alexander; for Justin, use Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, Vol. 1, Books 11-12, edited and translated by J.C. Yardley and Waldemar Heckel (1997).

3 In the arrangement of the Parallel Lives, Plutarch's Life of Alexander (which you have read) is paired with the Life of Julius Caesar, but the synkrisis [i.e., the comparative evaluation] he normally appended to each pair at the end is missing in this case. Write one.

Starting points: The most convenient translation of the Life of Julius Caesar is in the Penguin edition. You will also need to read a few examples of the synkrisis from other pairings of Plutarch's to see what they look like.

  • 4 Literally hundreds of different versions exist of the Alexander Romance, in dozens of languages, and with many variants of the story. Read another one in translation (Medieval English? French? Armenian? Persian?) and compare it with the Greek version you have read as a required text for this class.

Starting points: Get on the library catalog and and look up the Library of Congress subject-heading "s=Alexander the Great, 356-323 B.C. --Romances". It's a long list to choose from. Also, re-read the "Introduction" in R. Stoneman, The Greek Alexander Romance, one of your required texts for the course.

  • 5 Mary Renault's Alexander-novel The Persian Boy is written from the perspective of the Persian eunuch Bagoas, who is an historically attested figure. If you have not done so, read this novel. The research what we really know about him from the ancient sources. Did Renault do a good job?

Starting points: Start with "Author's Note" at the end of The Persian Boy; also check with the index in M.Renault, The Nature of Alexander; read the relevant passages in the Alexander-historians; finally, look at a scholarly study by E. Badian, "The eunuch Bagoas," Classical Quarterly n.s.8 (1958) 144-157. (See also readings noted at the end of the separate document on novels about Alexander.)

  • 6 One of Alexander's more significant acts with far-reaching consequences was the founding of the city of Alexandria, which developed as the major center of book-learning in the Hellenistic world; its famed library burned down in antiquity, and has been the subject of curiosity ever since. What do we know of the Alexandria Alexander founded? What do we know about the library? To what extent does the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina, which opened recently in the city, mirror the objectives of the original?

Starting points: There is a wonderfully imaginative recent book about the library: L.Canfora, The Vanished Library: A Wonder of the Ancient World (1987); P. Green, Alexander to Actium: The Hellenistic Age (1990), chapters 6, 10; E. Badian, "Ancient Alexandria," History Today (1960) (reprinted in E. Badian, Studies in Greek and Roman History (1964). For the history and atmosphere of the city (and for fun!), try reading Laurence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet. E.M. Forster also wrote a book on Alexandria’s history.

  • 7 Alexander and his Macedonian army sacked the great Persian city of Persepolis; but the accounts of the sack, and how it came to happen, vary substantially between the various ancient sources. How and why do they differ? What is known from archaeology of this city and its destruction?

Starting points: Perhaps the most accessible and enjoyable reading on this topic is Sir Mortimer Wheeler's Flames over Persepolis; any standard book about Persian (or "Achaemenid") art and archaeology will deal with this site (I can provide you with some pointers). Take a look also at E.N.Borza, "Fire from heaven: Alexander at Persepolis," Classical Philology 67 (1972) 233-45.

  • 8 Coins were the postage stamps of the ancient world - handled and seen by virtually everyone, and therefore an important medium of communication and propaganda. How was Alexander's image used and manipulated on the coinage of his immediate successors and/or later Hellenistic monarchs? More generally, what reminders of Alexander would the common man receive from visual imagery?

Starting points: Excellent pictures in N.Davis and C.Kraay, The Hellenistic Kingdoms: Portrait Coins and History (1973), and M. Price, Coins of the Macedonians (1974); thoughtful text in J.J.Pollitt, Art in the Hellenistic Age (1986); for the more scholarly, A.R.Bellinger, Essays on the Coinage of Alexander the Great (1963); also, check index for coin portraiture in P. Green, Alexander to Actium: The Hellenistic Age (1990).

  • 9 Plutarch wrote two short youthful rhetorical exercises entitled On the Fortune or Virtue of Alexander. Read them. Do they have much basis in fact? Do they add significantly to Plutarch's later portrayal in his Life of Alexander? Or are they just empty rhetoric?

Starting points: You'll find them most easily in the Loeb Classical Text edition of Plutarch's Moralia. There's a summary and some discussion of them to be found in the lengthy introduction to J.R.Hamilton's Plutarch, Alexander: A Commentary (1968). Consult D.R.Russell's Plutarch.

  • 10 What do we know from archaeology, art, inscriptions, coinage, city-foundations, traditions, legends ... etc. about the impact and consequences of Alexander's presence in Afghanistan or Bactria or India?

    • Starting points: The classic work is W.W.Tarn's The Greeks in Bactria and India (2nd edn., 1951); F.L.Holt's Alexander the Great and Bactria (2nd edn., 1989) brings the picture up to date, and offers a good bibliography to work from; also interesting, and quite hostile, is A.B. Bosworth, Alexander and the East (1996). How about looking at Holt's article "Discovering the lost history of ancient Afghanistan - Hellenistic Bactria in light of recent archaeological and historical research" Ancient World 9 (1984) 3-28? Most recently publioshed are two books, again by Holt, Thundering Zeus: The Making of Hellenistic Bactria (1999) and Into the Land of Bones: Alexander the Great in Afghanistan (2006). For a weird instance of Alexander' alleged influence on modern headgear: B.M.Kingsley, "The cap that survived Alexander," American Journal of Archaeology 85 (1981) 39-46.

  • 11 Arrian wrote a short work (the Indika), based on Nearchus' account, of India and the return journey of Alexander's fleet. How does it differ from, and what does it add to, the accounts of Nearchus' voyage to be found in Arrian's history of Alexander and in the other surviving sources?

Starting points: Translation of the text of the Indika in vol. II of the Loeb Classical Library edition of Arrian. You will find translations of all the surviving fragments of Nearchus' lost work in C.A.Robinson (ed.), The History of Alexander the Great vol.1 (1953). E.Badian, "Nearchus the Cretan," Yale Classical Studies 24 (1975) 147-70 might be useful.

  • 12 One of the best-known images of Alexander is the floor mosaic found in the House of the Faun at Pompeii. How did an (expensive) representation of a battle between Alexander and Darius fought centuries earlier come to decorate a Roman house, and what would it have "meant" in a Roman (rather than Greek or Macedonian) cultural context? Why is it usually supposed that this mosaic is based on a much earlier painting?

Starting points: There's a recent definitive study by Ada Cohen, The Alexander Mosaic: Stories of Victory and Defeat (1997). For the best pictures, see B.Andreae, Das Alexandermosaik aus Pompeji (1977); but you will find it illustrated and discussed in almost any book about Greek and Roman art, such as J.J.Pollitt, Art in the Hellenistic Age.

  • 13 Alexander died in Babylon, but his body, en route back to Macedonia, was hijacked by Ptolemy to Alexandria, where Augustus (among many others) made a point of viewing it centuries later — remember the scene with Rex Harrison and Elizabeth Taylor in front of the dead Alexander in the movie Cleopatra? Write about some aspect(s) of the circumstances of Alexander's death. Did he die of natural causes? What do we know about his elaborate funeral cortège (a favorite theme of Renaissance and later painters -- see your text P. Briant, Alexander the Great, p. 127 for an example)? What exactly were the political and ideological implications of possessing Alexander's mortal remains? Why has is proved so difficult to locate Alexander’s tomb?

Starting points: Any historical study of Alexander, such as Peter Green's Alexander of Macedon or A.B.Bosworth's Conquest and Empire: The Reign of Alexander the Great, will have a section towards its end on his death. Have a look at A.B.Bosworth, "The death of Alexander the Great: rumour and propaganda," Classical Quarterly 21 (1971) 112-136. Or S.G.Miller, "Alexander's funeral cart," Archaia Makedonia 4 (1986) 401-412. Or F.L.Holt, "The missing mummy of Alexander the Great," Archaeology 39 (1986) 80. Among the spate of new books prompted by the movie Alexander are several on his death and tomb: A. Chugg, The Lost Tomb of Alexander the Great (2004), N. Saunders, Alexander’s Tomb: The Two-thousand Year Obsession to Find the Lost Conqueror (2006); G. Philips, Alexander the Great: Murder in Babylon (2005); P.C. Doherty, The Death of Alexander the Great: What – or Who – Really Killed the Young Conqueror of the Known World (2004).

  • 14 One of Alexander's court artists was the sculptor Lysippus, and the "official" images of Alexander that he created were hugely influential on the directions that royal portraiture later followed. How much do we know of Lysippus' work from written sources, from surviving original statues, or from later copies? What sort of image of Alexander did Lysippus foster?

Starting points: A. Stewart, Faces of Power: Alexander's Image and Hellenistic Politics (1993) is the authoritative work. M.Bieber, Alexander the Great in Greek and Roman Art (1964) is also a basic source on its subject; A.Stewart, Greek Sculpture (1990) is good on individual sculptors, and ancient texts about them, as well as for pictures (in vol.ii); try also the following: M. Robertson, A History of Greek Art (1975); T.B.L. Webster, The Art of Greece: The Age of Hellenism (1966); C. Havelock, Hellenistic Art: The Art of the Classical World from the Death of Alexander the Great to the Battle of Actium (1971)

  • 15 How many ideas did Alexander 'steal' from his Persian (Achaemenid) predecessors? Think about issues such as: imperial administration, warfare, artistic styles, religion, personal habits, clothing, and court ceremonial (proskynesis?).

Starting points: Start with J.M. Cook, The Persian Empire (1983) or L. Allen, The Persian Empire (2005). For proskynesis, have a look at R.N.Frye, "Gestures of deference to royalty in ancient Iran," Iranica Antiqua 9 (1972) 102-107]; F.T.von Straten, "Did the Greeks kneel before their gods?" Bulletin Antieke Beschaving 49 (1974) 159-189; P.Green, Alexander of Macedon (1991), 372-376; R.Lane Fox, Alexander the Great (1974), 320-325; A.B.Bosworth, Conquest and Empire [1988), 117-118, 284-287.

  • 16 Examine the so-called 'Alexander Sarcophagus' and discuss the scenes represented and their significance. Relate this monument to other art works of the Hellenistic age. What does this sarcophagus actually have to do with Alexander?

Starting points: J.J. Pollitt, Art in the Hellenistic Age (1986); also T.B.L. Webster, The Art of Greece: The Age of Hellenism (1966); C. Havelock, Hellenistic Art: The Art of the Classical World from the Death of Alexander the Great to the Battle of Actium (1971); M. Robertson, A History of Greek Art (1975). For pictures, K. Schefold, Der Alexander-Sarkophag (1968). Take into account what P. Cartledge, Alexander ther Great (one of your textbooks), has to say about the signifiance of hunting imagery in the worlds of ancient Macedonia and the Near East.

  • 17 The 'Royal Tomb' (Tomb II) at Vergina in Macedonia: is it (or isn't it) the tomb of Philip II? Choose (and defend in detail) a point of view. Then try to decide if it really matters.

Starting points: The literature is huge and very bad-tempered. M. Andronikos, Vergina: The Royal Tombs (1987); E.N. Borza, "The Macedonian Royal Tombs at Vergina: some cautionary notes," Archaeological News 10 (1981) 73-87; 11 (1982) 8-10; P. Green, "The Royal Tombs at Vergina: a historical analysis" and N. Hammond, 'The evidence for the Royal Tombs at Vergina', both in W. Adams & E.N. Borza (eds.), Philip II, Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Heritage (1982); N. Hammond, '"Philip's Tomb" in historical context', Greek Roman and Byzantine Studies 19 (1978) 331-50; J.A. Prag et al., "The skull from Tomb II at Vergina: King Philip II of Macedon," Journal of Hellenic Studies 104 (1984) 60-78.

  • 18 Discuss any historical figure who, in your opinion, explicitly or implicitly emulated Alexander the Great. In what respects? From what motives?

Starting points: There are some obvious candidates here: the Roman general Pompey; Julius Caesar; Augustus; Nero; the Severan emperors Caracalla and Severus Alexander; Pope Alexander III; Louis XIV. But think broadly, since there are doubtless others for whom a case could be made. Readings for this topic will obviously need to be tailored for the individual in question.

  • 19 Discuss the roles of women in the life of Alexander the Great. Are female voices very prominent in our extant sources? If not, why not?

Starting points: For background reading on women in antiquity, consult at least one of the following: E. Cantarella, Pandora's Daughters: The Role and Status of Women in Greek and Roman Antiquity (1987); M. Lefkowitz and M. Fant, Women's Life in Greece and Rome (1982); S. Pomeroy, Goddesses, Whores, Wive and Slaves (1975); A. Cameron & A. Kuhrt (eds.), Images of Women in Classical Antiquity (1983); E. Fantham et al., Women in Classical Antiquity: Image and Text (1994); N.B. Kampen (ed.), Sexuality in Ancient Art (1996). There are useful articles by E.D. Carney, "Alexander and Persian women," American Journal of Philology 117 (1996) 563-83; and “Women in Alexander’s court,” in J. Roisman (ed.),Brill’s Companion to Alexander the Great (2003), 227-252; also her book Women and Monarchy in Macedonia (2000). A new book by A. Chugg, Alexander’s Lovers (2006) might be helpful.

  • 20 Alexander had a very long life in western art (painting and sculpture), being especially popular in the 16-18th centuries. Locate and discuss in detail one or two representations of Alexander in later (post-medieval) art. Why do you think he was such a popular figure to depict?

Starting points: For this topic, you will need to do some browsing and index-searching in the History of Art library. Some very well known examples of the sorts of paintings I have in mind are: Albrecht Altdorfer, 'Alexander's Victory over Darius'; Jan Brueghel, 'Battle of Issus'; Paolo Veronese, 'Darius's Family before Alexander'; Charles Le Brun, 'Alexander's First Entry into Babylon'. Your text P. Briant, Alexander the Great reproduces a sample of these paintings, the sources for which you can look up on pp. 171-74.

  • 21 Explore representations of Alexander in a non-western artistic tradition, such as in Coptic textiles, Mughal miniature paintings, or Persian illustrated manuscripts.

Starting points: You will need to use initiative in making use of the resources of the library system. Several of the standard historical studies of Alexander published in recent years have included numerous illustrations of these sorts, especially the illustrated versions of P.Green, Alexander the Great (1970), and Robin Lane Fox, Alexander the Great (1980). Your textbook P. Briant, Alexander the Great includes a number of relevant color illustrations. The images of Alexander section of the Alexanderama website (see Web links on the wiki) can also point you in useful directions.

  • 22 Alexander's (frustrated) wish to travel beyond the Indus into India and on towards Ocean, or the very edge of the world, became transformed in later tradition into the story that he actually went. Read and write about some of these legends and traditions. Where did they first arise, and how were they transmitted into the Middle Ages? How do they relate to Greek and Roman ideas about geography, ethnography, the edges of the earth...?

Starting points: Two recent books on this very subject: R. Stoneman (translator and editor), Legends of Alexander the Great (Dent, Everyman edition paperback, 1994); J.S. Romm, The Edges of the Earth in Ancient Thought: Geography, Exploration and Fiction (1992); also R. Stoneman, "Romantic ethnography: Central Asia and India in the Alexander Romance," Ancient World, 25.1 (1994) 93-107.

  • 23 The poet Dryden wrote an ode Alexander's Feast, or The Power of Music: An Ode, in Honour of St. Cecilia's Day for performance at the 1697 festival for the patron saint of music in the city of London; the composer Handel later set Dryden's words to music for performance at Covent Garden Theatre in London in 1736. What is the point of Dryden's poem and how successful is Handel's setting of it? To what historical event(s) in Alexander's life is Dryden referring, and what sources did he use? Why would such a seemingly arcane subject have been popular in the early 18th century? (See refs. for topic #27(b), below.)

Starting points: You can locate Dryden's text in any complete edition of the works of John Dryden. Handel's Alexander’s Feast has recently been recorded on CD by The Sixteen, under Harry Christophers, on the Collins Classics label. For general background, see G.C. Brauer Jr., "Alexander in England: the conqueror's reputation in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries," Classical Journal 76.1 (Oct.-Nov. 1980) 34-47.

  • 24 Handel wrote a full-scale opera about Alexander entitled Poro, Rè dell'Indie (Porus, King of the Indies), first performed in 1731. The libretto, by Pietro Metastasio, was in fact set to music by nearly 80 composers between 1729 and 1824. Listen to the opera, and read the libretto. How historically accurate is the treatment of Alexander and Porus? What were the themes that made this a suitable subject for an operatic treatment that would appeal to 18th century sentiments (hint: other settings of this libretto appeared under the title The Triumph of Clemency and Fidelity, or, Cleophis, Queen of the Indies)?

Starting points: Locate and listen to the 1994 CD recording of Poro by Europa Galante (Opus 30-113-115), with the exceptionally informative analytical accompanying booklet. Look up this opera in any study of Handel and his operas (for which, use the resources of Brown’s library system). You should, of course, re-read what Arrian and the other ancient sources on Alexander have to tell us about Alexander's Indian campaigns against King Porus, and then read relevant parts of A.B. Bosworth, Alexander and the East (1996). And perhaps also bring into play the various post-Renaisance paintings treating the theme of Porus’s encounter with Alexander.

  • 25 Handel also wrote another opera on Alexander, Alessandro (1726). On what sources is this based? How successful is it dramatically? And again, what were the themes that made this a suitable subject for an operatic treatment that would appeal to 18th century sentiments?

Consult books about Handel and/or opera. Also: R.G. King, "Classical history and Handel's 'Alessandro'," Music and Letters 77 (Feb. 1996) 34-63. For general background, G.C. Brauer Jr., "Alexander in England: the conqueror's reputation in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries," Classical Journal 76.1 (Oct.-Nov. 1980) 34-47.

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