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Myths revisited: Three untold stories about Alexander the Great

Mythologist Utkarsh Patel takes us through some lesser known stories about Alexander the Great

HT48HRS_Special Updated: Dec 04, 2015 13:23 IST
As told to Poorva Joshi
As told to Poorva Joshi
Hindustan Times

Alexander the Great was as good a storyteller as a king. He rallied men to war and constructed a global empire by perpetuating Greek myths. Mythologist Utkarsh Patel shares a few.

> Alexander tempted his troupes with wine to get them to cross the Hindu Kush.

He motivated his team to travel far East by convincing them that Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and ecstasy came from that region. He could even name one of the first towns he would visit, Nysa, after the imaginary hamlet where the Greek god Hermes is said to have brought Dionysus for his upbringing. He would motivate his troops to climb the snow-capped Hindu Kush mountain, separating India from Afghanistan, by leading them to believe that, just on the other side of the mountain, was the cave where the Titan Prometheus was chained, for the eagle to fly in and feed on his liver — till Hercules was to arrive and set him free.

> He cut the Gourdian knot.

A Turkish legend, the story of the knot, revolves around Gordias, a peasant ruler rumoured to be chosen by the Greek god Zeus to lead the people of Asia. As an ode to his king, Midas (the man whose touch turned everything into gold) gifted Gordias an ox-cart and attached it to a wooden post with an intricate knot of cornel tree bark. The knot symbolised a puzzle that could be solved by a man worthy to be Gordias’s successor. When Alexander reached Turkey in 333 BC, he simply cut through the knot in the dead of the night and declared himself king. Coincidentally, the same night, the weather turned turbulent with heavy rain and lightning. Alexander also used these weather conditions to propagate himself as Zeus’s son (Zeus is the god of thunder) who was destined to rule Asia.

> Alexander identified the most with Achilles.

Alexander designed his personality as per Achilles. The central character of Homer’s Iliad, and the Trojan war’s greatest hero, Achilles avenged his brother’s death by killing the prince of Troy — Hector. Achilles was his hero and he emulated him in many ways.

Busting myths

The Talking Myths Project is an online archival platform dedicated to documenting, conserving and deciphering folk and mythological stories. “The project is open to anyone who can share knowledge about how certain myths came to be and their cultural and social connotations. Our aim is to keep alive the traditional myths, that hold the essence to Indian culture,” says Patel.

Utkarsh Patel is a faculty member of comparative mythology at Mumbai University. He is the co-founder of The Talking Myths Project.

As a part of this project, Patel and his colleagues, Dr Vidya Kamat (also a faculty at MU) and author Arundhuti Dasgupta Singhal, are hosting a series of talks, comparing Indian and Greek mythology.

*Alexander’s Journey: How history’s hero used mythology to perpetuate his reign, by Utkarsh Patel

When: December 5, 5.30pm onward.

*Cults of mother goddesses in ancient Greek and Indian mythology, by Dr Vidya Kamat

When: December 19, 5.30pm onward.

* Thunder benders: Similarities between Indra, Zeus and Thor by Dr Vidya Kamat, Utkarsh Patel and Arundhuti Dasgupta Singhal, on January 2.

Where: All talks will be held at Trilogy, Raghuvanshi Mills Compound, Lower Parel.

Price: Rs 250 per session


First Published: Dec 03, 2015 00:00 IST