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The Youth of Alexander the Great


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Prince Hal and Prince Al
Alexander Slashing the Gordian Knot.

From Alexander Slashing the Gordian Knot. 1692-1700, by Augsburg Marx Weinold, silver repoussé. At Warsaw National Museum.

CC Flickr User covilha

It's hard enough living up to the expectations of one's parents, but when one has a great or powerful father whom the whole world admires, it must be very tempting just to throw in the towel. As the son of such a man, the young Prince Alexander (or Shakespeare's Prince Hal) would have had no lack of would-be friends, young men with whom he could relax, get up to mischief, tear out his hair at the latest paternal victory, or get drunk -- although in Alexander's early years, it would have been hard to surpass his father. Drinking to excess, according to John Maxwell O'Brien in Alexander the Great: The Invisible Enemy, was a Macedonian vice to which Alexander's father Philip was particularly devoted.

Prince Hal

Marry, then, sweet wag, when thou art king, let not
us that are squires of the night's body be called
thieves of the day's beauty: let us be Diana's
foresters, gentlemen of the shade, minions of the
moon; and let men say we be men of good government,
being governed, as the sea is, by our noble and
chaste mistress the moon, under whose countenance we steal.

Prince Henry
Thou sayest well, and it holds well too; for the
fortune of us that are the moon's men doth ebb and
flow like the sea, being governed, as the sea is,
by the moon. As, for proof, now: a purse of gold
most resolutely snatched on Monday night and most
dissolutely spent on Tuesday morning; got with
swearing 'Lay by' and spent with crying 'Bring in;'
now in as low an ebb as the foot of the ladder
and by and by in as high a flow as the ridge of the gallows.

Henry IV, Part I, I.ii

Prince Al

Whenever he heard Philip had taken any town of importance, or won any signal victory, instead of rejoicing at it altogether, he would tell his companions that his father would anticipate everything, and leave him and them no opportunities of performing great and illustrious actions. For being more bent upon action and glory than either upon pleasure or riches, he esteemed all that he should receive from his father as a diminution and prevention of his own future achievements; and would have chosen rather to succeed to a kingdom involved in troubles and wars, which would have afforded him frequent exercise of his courage, and a large field of honour, than to one already flourishing and settled, where his inheritance would be an inactive life, and the mere enjoyment of wealth and luxury.
Plutarch Life of Alexander

Education of the Young Alexander

What else did the young prince do while waiting for his turn to rule, besides studying the Iliad and Euripides, absorbing military discipline from his tutor (Leonidas), then music with Lysimachus, and, from the age of 13-16 (along with some of his friends in the Macedonian aristocracy), philosophy and other information from his tutor Aristotle?

There Are Many Legends About Alexander

I haven't counted, but I'm sure there are more legends and anecdotes told about Alexander than almost any other historical figure. Without doing any research, you've probably heard of two: the taming of Bucephalus and the cutting of the Gordian Knot. Of these, only the stallion story belongs to the time of Alexander's youth.

Although pride is there from the beginning, the later anecdotes show sides of Alexander that are invisible in the young equestrian. Reckless and courageous sides that may not be thought of as desirable in a son, but were necessary for him to fulfill his political ambitions.

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