Sikandar’s steel

He vanquished half the world. But from Hellespont to the Himalayas he was cheered by the very people he conquered. Colourful legends that trail the man to this day reveal one thing in common: wherever he went he was considered great. The desire to possess Alexander, also called Sikander in India, is a kind of inter-continental war in itself. The legend in Alexandria goes that the exiled Egyptian king was also a magician. Olympias, the Albanian princess, heard about him and gave him her horoscope. The magician told her that she would give birth to a hero son born from the seed of Zeus, the Greek god, and Ammon, the Egyptian god. Once he arrived in Egypt, Alexander is said to have saved the people from the dreadful invasion by the Zang, the black-skinned invaders who 'drank blood and ate brains'. A Persian 'legend' claims that Alexander was born of a Persian king and a Macedonian princess. The princess had bad breath and was sent back to Macedonia where Alexander was born. After the victory over the Zang in Egypt, Alexander came to Persia to defeat the king who dies in his arms, leaving his lovely daughter in the care of his killer.In Punjab, Alexander subdues King Puru in single combat, later accepting the surrender of the king of China where he receives a gallant warrior as a gift who turns out to be a woman of dazzling looks, quenching Alexander's curiosity about the legendary strength and beauty of Amazonian women.Back from Asia to Babylon, Alexander is victorious over Russian ‘savages’ all that constantly cross his path in Central Asia. He had a passion for exploration but Alexander marched into the world to save Athens's prestige. Greek colonies in Asia Minor were taken by Persia and had to be rescued. Greek city-states were enmeshed in feuds and could not unite. It took a Macedonian to achieve this. Philip II, king of Macedon, provided single command over the Greeks. However, with their democratic commitment and traditional hatred of monarchy, Athenians saw Macedonians as one of the 'barbaric hordes' to their north. The fear was that after victory the Macedon monarchy would annihilate the democratic culture of Athens. But Philip solemnly burnt the bodies of dead Athenians after the battle and sent the ashes back to Greece in a ceremonial cortege with Alexander, his 18-year-old son, as escort.  This 'non-barbaric' gesture paved the way for Philip to march unopposed into Athens and at Corinth he was voted supreme commander of the Greek forces.Alexander was 16 when he became regent. Philip never wanted war with Athens. His regard for the history and culture of Athens was deep but he despised the politics of the time. Initially, he fought only to defend his frontiers. Philip respected high culture and was at ease with statesman or peasant and could undermine hostility with charm. Above all, he behaved correctly and humanely, fining those defeated instead of throwing them off the cliffs.He even had a sense of humour. He is first credited the classic put down to a chatty barber who wanted to know how would the sir like his hair cut? The reply was, “In silence.”Alexander was born in Macedonia after his father's powers had spread southward. Olympias, his mother, was from Albania, more primitive than Macedonia. Alexander had problems at home too. Athens was weak but its educational standard was still the envy of the world. Aristotle was in his 40s, a scholar with a rising reputation and a student of Plato. Philip invited Aristotle to a country house in Macedonia away from court and family distractions to instruct 13-year-old Alexander with a chosen group of friends.  Aristotle appealed to his practical and inquiring intellect and introduced Alexander to Plato's prayer to Socrates to make him even more beautiful within, teaching synthesis between the outward and the inward. He studied botany, zoology and medicine. On the battlefield, he took care of his wounded soldiers. He prescribed medication personally for friends. During the campaign, he studied animal and plant life and sent specimens to Aristotle.Fear was the first enemy he killed; outside the tyranny of Greek regimes he improvised solutions. He was not convinced that 'only Greeks are men, all others barbarian'. When confronted with 'barbarians' in Persia and India he did what he thought was right and not necessarily what he was taught. Alexander was a great role model. He had a great capacity for friendship. His kitchen cabinet contained not sycophants but friends who felt bound to him for life. “He was flexible steel in an age of iron,” writes Mary Renault in a riveting book, The Nature of Alexander.