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What evidence is there that Alexander may have believed that he was of divine descent? And how convincing would this evidence have appeared to one of his followers?From studying the sources of the ancient world that talk about Alexander The Great, it is clear that many of them present Alexander as being some type of heroic figure or Demi-god. However you could question whether Alexander believed this himself. Only by studying his actions and the actions of those around him can we draw any type of conclusion on this matter. This can be done through the use of sources that exist from the time of and around his death. Most of these sources have been lost or are incomplete however, so I feel that it would be best to mainly consult the sources of Arrian and Plutarch Although both of these were written a couple of hundred years after Alexander's death they are still the most complete. Plus Arrian would seem to have many sources to consult in his writing, all from Alexander's time.
His main two sources were Ptolemy and Aristobulus, both of whom were on Alexander's campaigns. Plutarch's account is more a biography than a history since it is full of stories and anecdotes, however it contains some information that Arrian doesn't so it is still a worthy source to consult. In this it would first be prudent to study all those events in Alexander's life, which would seem to suggest that he did have some belief that he was of divine origin. The primary example of this would appear to be his visit to the shrine of Ammon. While in Egypt, Alexander had an urge to visit the temple since he wanted to consult the oracle there, which had a 'reputation for infallibility'.
Arrian also states that both Perseus and Heracles had consulted it at some point. And since it is clear from Arrian's account that Alexander longed to duplicate, if not surpass, the feats of both Perseus and Heracles, so surely he must consult this oracle too. Arrian (book 3) claims that 'the blood of both flowed' within Alexander, which suggests that Arrian was of the opinion that Alexander did have some divine heritage since Heracles was supposedly the son of Zeus. In any case, Arrian also states that Alexander also visited the temple because he himself felt that he might be descended from Ammon in some way. If this is true then it would certainly seem that Alexander did in some way believe that he was of divine descent.
However according to Arrian Ptolemy says that after being enthroned as Pharaoh at Thebes Alexander, like every Pharaoh, automatically became a son of Ammon. So this may be why he visited the temple, not out of any personal belief that he was descended from Ammon, but instead, out of a sense of duty or to appear to be taking the fact that he was made Pharaoh by the Egyptian people as being a great honour. More over by visiting the temple he would be making his Egyptian subjects happy. Arrian further states that other accounts say that Alexander went to the temple so that he could gain Ammon's approval before founding Alexandria. This would seem plausible since, although there is question whether or not Alexander believed that he was of divine descent, it cannot be doubted that he took worship of the gods very seriously.
And he would most certainly want a god of Ammon's statures approval on something as important as the founding of Alexandria.Later Arrian states that when Alexander arrived at the temple, the priest answered the question of his divinity by greeting him as 'son of Ammon'. This is, by Arrian's wording, what 'his heart desired'. This would once again indicate that both he and others around him did truly believe that he was of divine descent. Although Arrian is somewhat sceptical as to whether Alexander truly did crave this answer or if that is just what he said because it is what other people wanted to hear.Plutarch writes that some accounts say that when Alexander entered the temple the priest wished to greet him by saying 'O, paidion' meaning 'O, my son' as a mark of courtesy. However due to his barbarian origins he pronounced it as 'O, pai Dios' meaning 'O, son of Zeus'. Alexander was delighted at this and this is how the legend that the priest had addressed him as 'O, son of Zeus' came about.
Plutarch goes on to say that Alexander felt that God is the father of all man-kind and that it is the noblest and best who he makes especially his own. This would seem to suggest that he wanted to be view as the son of a god, if not that he already thought he was one.Another piece of evidence that seems to suggest that Alexander did believe that he was of divine descent was his wish for people to prostrate themselves in front of him after he was declared king of Persia. This was because at this point, it is believed by many, that he held the notion that his father was not Philip but Ammon. He had already referred to this earlier in his campaign. However Arrian also (in book 7) speculates that his attempt to introduce prostration as a court practice was merely, like his adopting Persian dress, an attempt to put Macedonians and Persians on equal standing, since his conquering of the Persian people would have most likely made it so that they felt they must prostrate themselves in front of him. And in saying that they did not have to do this may have made his rule over them much harder to maintain. So in making both his Macedonian followers and his Persian subjects prostrate themselves in front of him, he kept his rule over the Persians strong whilst still not making them feel too inferior.
If true, this was a political masterstroke, although afterwards his Macedonian followers grew to resent that they were on the same level as the people they had fought against and conquered.It is not only Arrian who presents views contrary to the idea that Alexander believed himself to be divine. Alexander himself also occasionally showed this view. One thing was his constant need to sacrifice to the gods. This is present throughout his campaigns; whenever he could he would try to get blessings from the gods by offering sacrifices to them and praying at their temples. Even when he was near to death he would get up to offer sacrifice to the gods. This would seem to suggest that he felt inferior to the gods, since he needed to ask them for help.
It is not likely that, if he truly believed that he was of divine birth, he would have looked to other gods for help, apart from Ammon, his father as some thought. However it could be said that he did this to show honour to the gods that he believed he descended from, and to encourage his subjects to do the same. And also when it came to the time that he was near death, it could be the case that he was simply asking his father Ammon for help since he knew that he was dying and he did not want to. This idea that he constantly sacrificed to the gods shows how faithful Alexander was to them. When you see this you can argue for his belief in his own divine descent by saying that he himself would not have wanted some of the things he did if he did not see himself on a par with, or equal to the gods, since he would be dishonouring them if he did not.
For example he would not have tried to out do the feats of Heracles, who he claimed was his ancestor, or of Dionysus, an actual god if he did not believe this because his piety would have stopped him. And he states this desire to surpass them in the speech he gives to his troops when they want to turn back. At another point in his life Alexander did certainly show signs of his disbelief that he was truly of divine descent. This was when he was wounded in battle and when he looked at the wound he proclaimed that it was blood and not ichor that ran through his veins. As this is what he would have consisted of if he truly were a god. On the other hand, in saying this he may only have been declaring that he was not an actual god.
He could still have believed that he was of divine descent since Heracles, who he idolised was human but of divine descent. Also the hero of the Iliad, Achilleus, the book, which Alexander treasured and carried with him wherever he went, was mortal and bled, although he to was of divine descent. So his cry may have been more a proclamation of his mortality, rather than a denunciation of his divine heritage. Since it was more than likely that he was aware that descendants of the gods could still die mortal deaths and that they still bled rather than leaking ichor. The last piece of evidence for Alexander's disbelief of his own divinity comes when he requests for his long-term friend, Hephaestion, to be honoured as a Demi-god.
This shows the lack of belief that Alexander had in his own divinity in two ways; the first is that he had to ask Ammon if he would permit this. It can be claimed that if Alexander truly believed that he was divine that he would not feel the need to consult any other god, even Ammon, as to whether or not he could make his deceased friend a Demi-god. Once again though this only seems to suggest that Alexander did not believe that he was an actual god. He still could believe th ...
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