Canto the First

It is agreed by all that Alexander
On the father's side
Descends from Hercules by Caranus
On the mother's side from Aeacus
By Neoptolemus.

His father Philip
Being in Samothrace when he was quite young
Fell in love there with Olympias
Her father and mother being both dead
With the consent of her brother
He married her.

The night before consummation
Of their marriage
She dreamed that a thunderbolt
Fell upon her body
Which kindled a great fire
Whose divided flames
Dispersed themselves all about
Then were extinguished.

Some time after he was married
Dreamt that he sealed up
His wife's body with a seal
Whose impression
As be fancied
Was the figure of a lion.

Some of the diviners
Interpreted this as a
Warning to Philip
To look narrowly to his wife;
But Aristander of Telmessus
Considering how unusual it was
To seal up anything that was empty
Assured him the meaning of his dream
Was that the queen
Was with child of a boy
Who would one day prove
As stout and courageous
As a lion.

A serpent was found lying
By Olympias
As she slept
Which more than anything else
Abated Philip's passion for her;
And whether he feared her
As an enchantress, or
Thought she had commerce
With some god
And so looked on himself as excluded
He was ever after
Less fond of her conversation.

Others say
That the women of this country
Having always been extremely addicted
To the enthusiastic Orphic rites
And the wild worship of Bacchus
Imitated in many things
The practices of
The Edonian and Thracian women
About Mount Haemus
From whom the word threskeuein
Seems to have been derived
As a special term
For superfluous and over-curious
Forms of adoration.

And that Olympias
Zealously, affecting
These fanatical and enthusiastic inspirations
To perform them with more barbaric dread
Was wont
In the dances proper to these ceremonies
To have great tame serpents about her
Which sometimes
Creeping out of the ivy
In the mystic fans
Sometimes winding themselves about
The sacred spears
And the women's chaplets
Made a spectacle
Which men could not look upon
Without terror.

After this vision
Sent Chaeron of Megalopolis
To consult the oracle
Of Apollo at Delphi
By which he was commanded
To perform sacrifice
And henceforth pay particular honour
Above all other gods
To Ammon and was told
He should one day lose that eye
With which he presumed to peep
Through that chink of the door
When he saw the god
Under the form of a serpent
In the company of
His wife.

Says that Olympias
When she attended Alexander
On his way to the army
In his first expedition
Told him the secret of his birth
And bade him
Behave himself with courage
Suitable to
His divine extraction.

Was born the sixth of Hecatombaeon
Which month the Macedonians call Lous
The same day the temple
Of Diana at Ephesus
Was burnt.

The temple he says
Took fire and was burnt
While its mistress
Was absent
Assisting at the birth
Of Alexander.

All the Eastern soothsayers
Who happened to be then at Ephesus
Looking upon the ruin
Of this temple
To be the forerunner
Of some other calamity
Ran about the town
Beating their faces
Crying that this day
Had brought forth
Something that would prove fatal
And destructive to all Asia.

Just after Philip had taken Potidaea
He received these three messages
At one time
That Parmenio had overthrown the Illyrians
In a great battle
That his race-horse had won the course
At the Olympic games
And that his wife had given birth
To Alexander.

Being naturally well pleased
As an addition to his satisfaction
He was assured by the diviners
That a son whose birth
Was accompanied with three such successes
Could not fail of being

© 2004 by Michael J. Farrand

Story taken from the life of Alexander found in Plutarch's Lives, written originally as Parallel Lives by the Greek historian Plutarch, who lived roughly 50-125 A.D.

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