The Medieval Alexander

Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Bodl. 264, fol. 66r (detail)

Alexander was a great military leader, but the Middle Ages saw him as much more than a soldier.

Alexander the Great was a figure who fascinated medieval writers and audiences.  He is the subject of a Latin epic poem, several retellings in French verse (including one which is over 16,000 lines long), a very popular French version in prose, and three poems in English alliterative verse.  One of these, known as Alexander and Dindimus (or as it used to be called Alexander B), exists only in Bodley 264.  It shows how Alexander was perceived by medieval audiences, and why he was important to them.

Although medieval readers and listeners probably regarded most, if not all, of the things that the stories about Alexander told them as being reliable history, they weren’t just interested in what we would now think of as the ‘historical’ Alexander the Great.  For them, he was an exemplary figure, famous for his bravery, his victories, his leadership, his wisdom, and his ability to go further and do better than ordinary men. That meant his story attracted additions that medieval people thought appropriate to his character.  For medieval Europeans, he represented the best that their culture was capable of, and perhaps how medieval audiences like to imagine they might be themselves.

Click here to find out what happens when this great European figure comes to the edge of Europe.

(Images reproduced by kind permission of the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

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