The Mythical Motif of Alexander’s Flight in Medieval Literatu ...

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  • Title: The Mythical Motif of Alexander’s Flight in Medieval Literature, Art, and Architecture: From Byzantium to Western and Slavic Lands
  • Author(s): Enrique Santos Marinas
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: Religion in Society
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society
  • Keywords: Pseudo-Callisthenes, Alexander Romance, Medieval Slavic Literature, Medieval Slavic Art, Medieval Slavic Architecture
  • Volume: 14
  • Issue: 1
  • Date: October 06, 2023
  • ISSN: 2154-8633 (Print)
  • ISSN: 2154-8641 (Online)
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.18848/2154-8633/CGP/v14i01/41-52
  • Citation: Santos Marinas, Enrique. 2024. "The Mythical Motif of Alexander’s Flight in Medieval Literature, Art, and Architecture: From Byzantium to Western and Slavic Lands." The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society 14 (1): 41-52. doi:10.18848/2154-8633/CGP/v14i01/41-52.
  • Extent: 12 pages

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Abstract

The “Alexander Romance,” known as “Pseudo-Callisthenes,” is one of the most popular Late Antique works, mostly because of the figure of Alexander the Great, who had become a myth. Dating back to the third century AD, it was reworked many times during the Middle Ages, being translated into almost every vernacular language. The Slavic languages were not an exception, and several versions of the so-called “Aleksandrija” are attested among the South Slavic and East Slavic Medieval Literatures. That the “Alexander Romance” was quoted in the Epistle sent by the Metropolitan of the Kyivan Rusʼ, Klim Smoljatič (1147–ca. 1154, 1158/1159) to the Presbyter Foma of Smolensk, as part of an intellectual polemics between them is clear proof of its popularity. Concretely, he quoted the passage referring to Alexander’s flight through the air on the wings of huge birds or of legendary animals such as griffins, depending on the version of the story. In Western European Medieval works, it was shown as a symbol of human arrogance, the sin of “hubris.” However, the motif is ambivalent, and its meaning among the Eastern Slavic lands is not that clear. Besides, the great popularity of this episode was not limited only to the written word, but it also attained the image. This way, the motif of Alexander’s flight can be found in several Medieval Slavic works of art and architecture, like a relief on the façade of Saint Demetrius Cathedral in the Russian city of Vladimir or a gold enamel tiara that was found in the Ukrainian village of Sakhnivka, both dating from the second half of the twelfth century. In this presentation, we intend to show the different variants of their representations, while trying to trace their origin and meaning.