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Plutarch's Alexander.

Much of what today's historians know about Alexander the Great comes through Plutarch (PLOOtark), a Greek writer who lived about 46-120 A.D. This early biographer greatly influenced the development of historical writing. Plutarch's biographies were well researched, but modern historians think that he overly romanticized his Greek and Roman heroes.

Here is an adaptation of Plutarch's description of two episodes of Alexander's life. Read the excerpts, then answer the following questions.

On the day that Alexander was born, the temple of the goddess Artemis at Ephesus burned down. Fortune-tellers of the East interpreted this as a sign that, on that day, the force that would destroy Asia had entered the world.

Alexander had light skin, blond hair, and melting blue eyes. A sweet natural fragrance came from his body, so strong that it perfumed his clothes.

Action and glory, rather than pleasure and wealth, were what Alexander wanted from life. When he heard of the conquests of his father, King Philip of Macedonia, Alexander was sad that there would be less left for him to conquer.

[In the city of Gordium, Alexander was laid low by a mysterious illness.] Alexander's attendants were afraid to try any remedies because, if their remedy failed and Alexander died, the Macedonians might blame the physician. But there was one, Philip the Acarnanian, who dared to try. He risked his own life to save Alexander's.

Alexander received a letter from [his general] Parmenio, warning of treachery by this physician. The letter said that the doctor had been bribed by Darius [King of Persia] to give Alexander poison instead of medicine. Alexander read the letter, then put it under his pillow, showing it to no one. When Philip entered with the potion, Alexander took out the letter and handed it to him. While Philip read the letter, Alexander drank the potion with a smile. In a short time, Alexander was well.

Words to Know

Ephesus (EFF-ih-sus): an ancient city in Asia Minor * physician: medical doctor * remedies: cures * treachery: betrayal

QUESTIONS Write your answers on a separate sheet of paper.

1. Who or what did fortune-tellers consider a force that would destroy Asia?

2. What incident was the basis for that prediction?

3. Who was Plutarch?

4. Who was Philip the Acarnanian?

5. Who was Darius?

6. According to Plutarch, what did Alexander want from life?

7. What message did General Parmenio send Alexander?

8. What statement in the story gives the impression that Alexander did not believe the message?

9. Why were Alexander's attendants afraid to give him any medicine when he fell iii?

10. Which phrase(s) could be used to support historians' claim that Plutarch overly romanticized his heroes?


1. Alexander

2. the burning down of the temple of the goddess Artemis the same day Alexander was born

3. a historian/writer of ancient Greece

4. a physician who gave Alexander a potion to cure him of an illness

5. the King of Persia

6. action and glory

7. that Philip the Acarnanian would try to poison him

8. "Alexander drank the potion with a smile."

9. They were afraid that if Alexander got worse or died, his people would blame the doctor for his death.

10. "Alexander had ... melting blue eyes. A sweet natural fragrance came from his body." Another acceptable answer: "Alexander drank the potion with a smile."
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Title Annotation:SKILLS MASTER
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Date:Oct 31, 2005
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