I stared at this phrase hanging above my 7th grade History teacher’s whiteboard for 9 months, until the next year when it was hanging over the assembly hall.
By that time he had become the principal, and I abhorred him with a passion. It was the second year in a row my favorite teacher had become the principal of the whole school, and I felt the sharp twinge of betrayal.
He was the first to teach me about Alexander the Great. The man who told his father, King Philip II of Macedon, at the age of 10 he would supersede his greatness, and by the age of 24 Alexander had conquered most of the known world of his day.
Alexander’s mother was Olympias. From her he inherited not only his love of learning but also his fiery nature, strength of character and as one historian put it, “his thirst for blood.”
By the age of 14, Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, had become his private tutor and it was by his influence Alexander learned to deal with those he conquered. He never forced the culture of Greece upon the inhabitants of the various regions but merely introduced it, the same way Aristotle used to teach his students.
By 331 BCE. Alexander had conquered Egypt, where he founded the city of Alexandria. He was never interested in imposing his own ideas of truth, religion, or behavior upon the people as long as they were willing to keep the supply lines open to care for the needs of his troops.
However, Alexander was not known for tolerating personal opinions that differed from his own, and would go on to murder both Callisthenes and Cleitus, two close friends, in separate incidents, for treason and questioning his authority, respectively.
In 326 BCE. Alexander met King Porus of Paurava at the Battle of the Hydaspes River. King Porus charged Alexander’s forces with elephants and fought so bravely with his troops that after defeating Porus, Alexander made him ruler of a larger region than he had previously held.
By 324 BCE. Alexander had returned back to Macedonia after failing to persuade his men to move further. Upon his return he found that many of those he had entrusted to rule had abused their power and so executed them as well as those who had vandalized the tomb of Cyrus the Great.
About this time, his second-in-command and life long friend, Hephaestion died from a fever, though some reports suggest he may have been poisoned. Alexander’s grief was so insufferable it was recorded he slaughtered the Cossaeans of a neighboring town as a sacrifice to his friend and had Hephaestion’s doctor executed for failing to cure him. The manes and tails of the horses were cut as a sign of mourning, and Alexander abstained from food and drink while he declared a period of mourning throughout his empire and carried on funeral rites reserved for a king.
A year later, Alexander would die at the age of 32 after suffering 10 days of high fever. When asked who should succeed him, his reply was “the strongest.”
So, what was it that made Alexander so great? Was it his blood thirsty appetite, the guidance he received from Aristotle, or maybe the ever present influence of his adoring and fiery mother?
Maybe I will never know, but perhaps it was his ability to recognize and honor the greatness he saw in others.
The day my teacher announced his “promotion” he called out each student one by one and cited what he saw in them that he admired. I was the last of course, and I could barely look him in the eye as he told me, “Never stop questioning, your thirst for knowledge will never be satisfied.”