Read Alexander: Child of a Dream Online

Authors: Valerio Massimo Manfredi

Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #General

Alexander: Child of a Dream (10 page)

The Queen returned to her chair once more and sat there motionless for a long time, staring into space.
As soon as Cleopatra saw her brother she burst into tears and put her arms around his neck.
‘Hey!’ exclaimed Alexander. ‘I’m not going into exile, I’m only off to Mieza. It’s just a few hours’ march away and you’ll be able to come and visit sometime Father
has said so.’
Cleopatra dried her tears and blew her nose. ‘You’re just saying that to keep my spirits up,’ she sobbed.
‘Not in the slightest. And then there are the boys here at court. I’ve heard that one or two have started showing an interest in you.’
Cleopatra shrugged her shoulders.
‘You mean you don’t like any of them?’
She made no comment.
‘Do you know what I’ve heard?’ asked her big brother.
‘What?’ she asked, suddenly full of curiosity.
‘That you like Perdiccas. Others are saying that you like Eumenes. I find myself wondering whether you don’t perhaps like both of them.’
‘You’re the only one I love!’ and she threw her arms around his neck once more.
‘That’s a fine lie,’ said Alexander, ‘but because I like the idea so much I’ll pretend it’s the truth. Anyway, even if there is someone you like there’s no harm in it. You mustn’t get any strange ideas of course it’ll
be Father who decides on your marriage and your husband, when the right time comes, and if you happened to be in love with someone else you would suffer terribly.’
‘I know.’
‘If it were up to me I’d let you marry whoever you wished, but if I know our father he won’t let any political advantage to be drawn from your marriage slip past him. And there is no

man alive who would not do everything possible to marry you. You really are so beautiful! So, will you promise to come and visit me?’
‘I promise.’
‘And you won’t start crying as soon as I walk through that door over there?’
Cleopatra nodded while the tears streamed silently down her cheeks. Alexander gave her one last kiss and left.
He spent the rest of the evening with his friends who had prepared a farewell celebration and he got drunk for the first time in his life. All the others followed suit, but, not being used to drinking, they all felt ill and vomited. Peritas, so as not to be left out of the debauchery, cocked his leg and peed on the floor.
When Alexander tried to make his way to his bed chamber, he realized that walking was no easy venture. But at some stage someone appeared in the dark with a lamp, gave him a shoulder to lean on and helped him into bed. This person wiped his face with a damp cloth, and moistened his lips with pomegranate juice before leaving. She reappeared shortly afterwards, this time bearing a steaming cup, and made him drink a camomile infusion before tucking the blankets around him.
And in a glimmer of awareness Alexander recognized her it
was Leptine.
Mieza in itself was an enchanting place, nestling in the foothills of Mount Bermion in the greenest of hollows, crossed by a stream and surrounded by woods of oak. The residence that Philip had prepared was so beautiful that Alexander wondered if the gardener hadn’t learned some secrets from their Persian guests, so as to create here in Macedon a ‘paradise’ like their Elam or Susiana.
An old hunting lodge had been completely restored and altered so as to create within it living quarters for guests, together with study rooms communicating with the libraries, an odeon for music and even a small theatre for dramatic performances. Everyone knew how highly Aristotle thought of the dramatic arts tragedy
in particular and comedy too.
There was a study room for the classification of plants and a pharmaceutics laboratory, but what amazed Alexander more than anything else was the drawing and painting studio and the foundry communicating with it. It was equipped with all the latest tools and materials arranged in an orderly way on its shelves: clay, wax, lead, copper, silver, all with the Argead sixteen-point star hallmark guaranteeing weight and provenance.
Alexander knew he was quite good at drawing and he had been expecting a small, bright studio with a few white-lead slates and some charcoal sticks. But these impressive facilities seemed to him to be somewhat excessive.
‘The guest we’ve been expecting has arrived,’ explained the custodian, ‘but your father has given me strict orders to tell you nothing. It’s to be a surprise.’
‘Where is he?’ asked Alexander.
‘Come.’ The custodian led him to a ground-floor window that looked out into the building’s internal courtyard. ‘There he is,’ said the custodian, pointing to the eldest of a group of three people walking under the eastern wing of the portico.
He was a man of about forty slim,
erect in his gait and measured and contained, almost studied, in his bearing. His eyes were small and lively and followed every gesture of his companions and it seemed even the movements of their lips, but at the same time he missed nothing of all that existed and happened around him.
Alexander was immediately aware that this man was observing him without having looked at him directly even for an instant. He went outside and stood in front of the door waiting for the guest to finish a half-circuit of the portico before reaching that spot.
Soon Alexander found himself facing Aristotle: his eyes were grey, nestling under a high and broad forehead, marked by two deep frown lines. His cheekbones were prominent and were further accentuated by his lean face. His mouth was regular and

shaded by a thick moustache and a very neat beard which functioned as a sort of frame, granting his expression an aura of thoughtful intensity.
Alexander could not help but notice that the philosopher combed his hair up from the back of his neck to cover the considerable baldness afflicting the top of his head. Aristotle realized what Alexander was looking at and for an instant his gaze turned icy cold. The Prince immediately lowered his eyes.
The philosopher offered his hand and said, ‘I’m pleased to meet you. I would like you to meet my assistants: my nephew Callisthenes who studies literature and cultivates history, and Theophrastus,’ he added, indicating the companion who stood to his left. ‘You will perhaps already have heard of his ability in zoology and botany. The first time we met your father at Assus, in the Troad, Theophrastus was immediately taken with the fine shafts of the sarissae. And when the King had finished speaking, Theophrastus whispered in my ear, “Cut from a strong cornel tree in August by the light of the new moon seasoned,
polished with pumice and beeswax. What harder and more flexible material can there be in the plant world?” Isn’t that extraordinary?’
‘Indeed it is,’ confirmed Alexander as he let go of Aristotle’s hand and then shook hands with the assistants, first Callisthenes, then Theophrastus, respecting the order in which his tutor had named them.
‘Welcome to Mieza,’ Alexander continued. ‘I would be honoured if you were to have lunch with me.’
Aristotle had not stopped studying the Prince from the first moment he had seen him and he was deeply impressed. ‘Philip’s boy’, as he was known in Athens, had an intense depth to his gaze, a wonderful harmony in his features, and a vibrant, sonorous timbre to his voice. Everything in the young Prince declared a burning desire to live and to learn, a great capacity for commitment and application.
At that moment Peritas’ celebratory barking erupted into the courtyard and the dog began biting at the strings of Alexander’s sandals, interrupting the wordless communication between tutor and pupil.
‘He’s a beautiful puppy,’ Theophrastus remarked.
‘His name is Peritas,’ said Alexander, bending over to pick him up. ‘My uncle gave him to me as a present. A lioness killed his mother in the last hunt we took part in.’
‘He is very fond of you,’ Aristotle noted.
Alexander made no reply and led them to the dining room. He had them all take their places comfortably and then he too stretched out gracefully. Aristotle was opposite him.
A servant brought the jug and basin for washing and passed them a towel as well. Another began serving the meal: hard-boiled quails’ eggs, broth and boiled hen, bread, roast pigeon meat and wine from Thasos. A third servant placed a bowl containing Peritas’ food on the floor near Alexander.
‘Do you really think Peritas is fond of me?’ asked Alexander, watching his puppy happily wagging his tail as he ate eagerly from the bowl.
‘Most certainly,’ replied Aristotle.
‘But wouldn’t that mean then that a dog has feelings and therefore has a soul?’
‘That question is bigger than you,’ remarked Aristotle, peeling an egg. ‘It’s bigger than me too. A question which has no certain answer. Remember one thing, Alexander, a good teacher is one who gives honest answers.
‘I will teach you to recognize the characteristic features of animals and plants, to subdivide them all into their species, to use your eyes, your ears, your hands to recognize the depths of the nature that surrounds you. This means that you must also recognize, as far as is possible, the laws that govern nature.
‘Look at this egg. Your cook has boiled it and thus has put an end to its future, but within this shell there was a potential bird able
to fly, nourish itself, reproduce, migrate distances of tens of thousands of stadia. As an egg it is none of all this, yet it

carries within itself all the features of its species, its form we might say.
‘Form works in matter with various results, or consequences. Peritas is one of those consequences, just as you are, just as I am.’
He bit into the egg. ‘Just as this egg would have been had it been allowed to become a bird.’
Alexander looked at Aristotle. The lesson had already begun.


‘I’ve brought you a present,’ announced Aristotle as he entered the library. In his hands he held a wooden box which appeared to be very old.
‘Thank you,’ said Alexander. ‘What is it?’
‘Open it,’ the philosopher suggested as he handed it to him.
Alexander took the box, placed it on a table and opened it: inside were two large scrolls of papyrus, each one complete with a small white card tied to the scroll batons and bearing lettering in red ink.
‘The Iliad and the Odyssey,’ exclaimed Alexander enthusiastically. ‘It’s a wonderful present. Thank you so much. It’s just what I’ve wanted for so long now.’
‘Rather old editions, among the first copies of the Athenian version by Pisistratus,’ explained Aristotle, showing him the headings of the scrolls. ‘When I was at the Academy I had three copies transcribed at my own expense. I am glad to make you a present of one of them.’
The custodian, who was well within earshot, found himself thinking that indeed Aristotle could well afford it with all the money Philip was giving him, but he kept his thoughts to himself as he went on preparing the materials the philosopher had requested for the day’s lessons.
‘To read of the heroes of days gone by and their deeds is an essential part of a young man’s education, and so too are the tragedies,’ Aristotle continued. ‘The reader, or the spectator, cannot help but admire the great and noble deeds as they bear witness to the generous behaviour of those who suffer and even

give their lives for their communities and for their ideals, or pay high prices for their own mistakes, or those of their ancestors. Don’t you agree?’
‘Yes, of course,’ Alexander concurred, carefully closing the box. ‘There is one thing, however, which I would like to know from you: why do I have to be educated in the Greek manner? Why can’t I simply be a Macedonian?’
Aristotle sat down. ‘That’s an interesting question, but in order to answer it I have to explain to you what it means to be Greek. Only in this way will you be able to decide whether you really want to apply yourself and to learn from my teaching. To be Greek, Alexander, is the only truly worthy way of life for a human being. Do you know the myth of Prometheus?’
‘Yes … he was the Titan who stole fire from the gods to give it to men and free them from their misery.’
‘That’s it, that’s the myth. Now, when mankind freed itself from the darkness, attempts were made to organize life in communities and in essence three ways of doing this developed: with one person only in command, a system which goes under the name of monarchy; with more than one but only a few people in command, known as oligarchy; and then the system by which all citizens exercise power, known as democracy. And this is the greatest manifestation of what it means to be Greek.
‘Here, in Macedon, your father’s word is law; those who govern in Athens, however, have been elected by the majority of the citizens, so that in this way a cobbler or a stevedore can stand up in the assembly and ask that measures already approved by the government of the city be withdrawn, if they find enough people to support their motion.
‘In Egypt, in Persia, and in Macedon too, there is only one free man the
King. All the others are slaves.’
‘But the nobility…” Alexander made an attempt to get a word in.
‘The nobility too. Certainly, they have more privileges, they have more pleasant lives, but they too must obey.’ Aristotle fell silent then because he saw that his words had struck their mark and he wanted to make sure there was sufficient time for them to work their way into the boy’s soul.
‘You have given me the works of Homer as a present,’ Alexander replied eventually, ‘but I already know them in part. And I well remember that Ulysses made a speech in the assembly of the warriors just before Thersites took the floor and offended the gods and earned himself a hiding from Homer’s hero. Ulysses had this to say:
Shall we all wield the power of kings? We can not,
and many masters are no good at all.
Let there be one commander, one authority,
holding his royal staff and precedence
from Zeus, the son of crooked-minded Cronos:
one to command the rest.
These are Homer’s words.’
‘Yes… you are right. But Homer recounts tales of ancient times, when kings were indispensable and they were so because things were different back then. In those times there were continuous attacks from the barbarians, wild beasts and monsters in a natural world that was still wild and primitive. I made you a present of Homer’s poetry so that you might grow by reading and developing your noblest feelings friendship,
value, respect for your word once given. But today’s man, Alexander, is a political animal. There is no doubt of that. The only context in which man can grow is in the polis, in the city as conceived of by the Greeks.
‘It is freedom that allows each and every soul to express itself, to create, to generate greatness. You see, the ideal state would be one in which everyone knows how to lead as they grow old, after having obeyed diligently as young men.’
‘That is what I am doing now and what I will do in the future.’
‘You are just one person,’ replied Aristotle. ‘I am speaking of the many thousands of citizens who live as equals under the protection of law and justice, that protection which grants

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