Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory. — Disraeli

Old World Hero Stories - E. M. Tappan

Alexander The Great

King philip of Macedonia, who was so hated and feared by Demosthenes, found himself a very happy man one day. Three messengers came to him with tidings. The first said, "O king, your army has won a great victory." The second said, "Your horse has taken a prize at the Olympian games." The third said, "You have a baby son." The baby was named Al-ex-and'er. If the stories told of his boyhood are true, he must have been remarkable even as a small boy. When he was only a child, some ambassadors from Persia came to the court of Macedonia. Philip was away, and they were received by the little prince. Imagine their surprise when the child began to ask the kind of questions about their country that a grown man and sovereign would have been likely to ask. He wanted to know about the roads and the distances between places. "What sort of man is your king?" he questioned. "How does he treat his enemies? Why is Persia strong? Is it because she has much gold or a large army?" It is no wonder that the ambassadors gazed at him and then looked at each other in amazement; for they had never before seen a prince like this one.

Another story that is told of the boy is of his taming the horse Bu-ceph'a-lus. It was so vicious that the grooms could do nothing with it, and Philip angrily ordered it taken away. The boy Alexander cried, "What a horse they are losing for want of skill and spirit to manage him!" "Young man," retorted his father, "you find fault with your elders as if you could manage the horse better." "And I certainly could," the boy boldly declared. The king forgot his anger and said, "If you fail, what forfeit will you pay?" "The price of the horse," replied the boy stoutly. Everybody laughed; but Alexander was neither boasting nor jesting. He had noticed something that not one of the others had marked, namely, that the horse was annoyed by his own shadow, which was constantly moving before him. He took firm hold of the bridle and turned the horse toward the sun, he spoke gently and stroked him with his hand, then he leaped upon his back. He let the horse gallop about as much as he chose, then he rode quietly up to his father. Philip did not laugh at him then, but kissed him and said, "Seek another empire, my son, for that which I shall leave you is not worthy of you."

Philip saw that a boy like Alexander would not be satisfied with any ordinary teachers, and he asked Aristotle, a famous philosopher who had long been a pupil of Plato, to come to his court to instruct his son. For a schoolroom, Philip gave them a large garden with many trees and shady, winding paths, much like Plato's garden on the Cephissus. Alexander was an eager student. He wanted to learn everything, but he was especially fond of the Iliad. When he was sixteen, Philip went to war and left his son in charge of the kingdom. One of the subject tribes thought this was an excellent time to rebel; but the young regent called out his troops, drove the tribe out of their city, filled the place with new settlers, and gave it the name of Alexandropolis.


Alexander was only twenty years old when Philip died. "Now is the time to free ourselves from Macedonia," thought a tribe of wild mountaineers. So thought also Demosthenes and the Greeks. But "the boy," as Demosthenes called him, first marched against the mountaineers, then against Greece, and conquered both. The mountaineers had heavy wagons loaded with stone ready to roll down upon Alexander and his men in a narrow pass through which they would have to advance. The quick-witted young commander bade his men lie down on the ground with their shields, over their heads. The wagons rolled over them as over a well-paved road. Greece, too, was promptly subdued.

The young ruler was a very wise man. He was bent upon conquering Persia, and he asked the Greeks to help him. Even though they themselves had been overcome by the Macedonian, they were ready to march against their old enemy, the Persians, with so excellent a general as leader. He was more sensible than Xerxes, for he did not make the mistake of taking an army too large to feed and move; but the thirty-five or thirty-eight thousand men whom he did take were perfectly trained and finely equipped. Alexander was mounted on Bucephalus, the very horse that he had tamed a few years earlier. He led his troops across the Hellespont; and now for the moment he was not a soldier, but an earnest lover of real poetry; and he went first of all to visit Troy. There he offered up sacrifices to Athene and to the spirits of the heroes of the Trojan War. He hung a wreath on the pillar of Achilles's tomb, for he had persuaded himself long before this that he was descended from the Grecian hero.

Darius III, king of Persia, knew of course what this bold young man was attempting; and not far from the Hellespont, his troops were drawn up on the bank of a little river called Gra-ni'cus. "It is unlucky to begin war in the month Dai'si-us" (June), said the Macedonian officers to Alexander. "I have changed its name," declared their king; "it is no longer Daisius, but the Second Ar-te-mis'i-us" (May). They thought it too late in the day to cross; but Alexander plunged into the river, and the troops followed the two white plumes on his crest. The water was rough, the banks were slimy, and at the top were the masses of Persians, drawn up in line of battle; but Alexander won the day. He was generous with the spoils. He had brazen statues made of the men who had fallen, he gave lavish gifts to the Greeks, especially to the Athenians, and he sent home to his mother the purple hangings and the gold and silver dishes found in the tents of the Persians.


Alexander marched on into Phryg'i-a, taking cities as he went. In Gor'di-um he went to see the famous "Gordian knot," made of cords cut from the bark of a tree. There was an ancient prophecy that he who could untie it would conquer the world. Alexander drew his sword and cut it. Then he moved on in a zigzag course from city to city. At Is'sus, he met the Persian forces again. It did not seem possible for them to learn that too many men in a narrow plain were worse than too few; and soon the Persian king and his troops were fleeing for their lives. In the tent of Darius there were quantities of gold and silver and the richest of furnishings. Alexander amused himself by looking at the bath of the Persian monarch with its golden basins, vials, boxes, and vases, and by smelling of the various perfumes. Then he said to his friends, "It seems that to be a king was this!" He was far more interested in a beautiful golden casket that came from the spoils of the Persians. "Darius," he said, "used to keep his ointments in this casket; but I, who have no time to anoint myself, will convert it to a nobler use"; and in it he laid the copy of the Iliad which he was accustomed to place under his pillow when he slept.

After the Macedonian rule was well established in Asia Minor, Alexander set out for Egypt. His welcome in Egypt was somewhat different from that which he had received at the Granicus; for the Egyptians had been conquered by the Persians, and they were delighted with the hope of being free from Persian rule. Near the mouth of the Nile he noticed a broad tongue of land with a lake on one side and a deep, wide harbor on the other. "That is an excellent site for a city," he said, and he ordered the walls to be marked out at once. The soil was black, and the lines were marked out by sprinkling flour. These lines curved around the harbor, and from their ends straight lines were drawn to the shore. Alexander was pleased to see that the figure was in the shape of a Macedonian cloak. So it was that the city of Alexandria was founded.

After the battle of Issus, the wife and daughter of Darius had been captured. Darius now wrote to Alexander, offering him ten thousand talents, all the lands west of the Euphrates, and the hand of his daughter in marriage, if he would make a treaty of friendship with him. Par-me'ni-o, one of the Macedonian generals, said, "If I were Alexander, I would accept this." "So would I," said Alexander, "if I were Parmenio." He had treated Darius's family with the utmost courtesy and kindness, but about this time the queen was taken ill and died. He gave her a most magnificent funeral; and when Darius heard of it, he prayed to the gods that if his kingdom must fall, none but Alexander should sit upon its throne.

Asiatic Campaigns

Darius brought together all his forces, elephants, war-chariots with sharp swords stretching out from the yoke and the hubs of the wheels, and thousands upon thousands of men from wherever he could get them. He even hired some soldiers from Greece. A terrible battle was fought at Arbela, and Alexander was the victor. This battle decided the question who should rule Persia. At the capitals of the kingdom, Babylon and Su'sa, Alexander found enormous amounts of money. What he wanted, however, was to capture the Persian king; but there was a conspiracy among Darius's generals, and he was slain by his own men. "Tell Alexander I gave him my hand," said Darius to a Macedonian soldier who found him where his men had left him for dead.

Alexander had conquered Persia. He had more power and more wealth than any one man had ever held before; but he cared less for power and wealth than for the pleasure of getting them. He seemed to be seized with a perfect frenzy for conquest. He pushed on and on, north, south, north again, then south to the mouth of the Indus, conquering as he marched. Wherever he went, he founded cities. Eighteen of them he named for himself, and one for Bucephalus. He planned to conquer Arabia, then, turning westward, to overpower northern Africa, Italy, and Spain, in short, to become ruler of the whole world. He returned to Babylon to meet fresh troops. Suddenly he was taken ill and died. No one could govern such an empire, and after many years of fighting it was divided into three parts, to be ruled by three of his generals. But a new power was growing up in the west, the Roman; and Alexander's conquests in Asia finally fell into the hands of Rome.


The three messengers. — Alexander receives the ambassadors. — He tames Bucephalus. — He is taught by Aristotle. — He quells rebellions. — He crosses the Hellespont, visits the site of Troy, wins the battle of the Granicus. — He cuts the Gordian knot. — Meets the Persians at Issus. — The casket. — He founds Alexandria. — His reply to Parmenio. — His victory at Arbela. — His further conquests and his death.