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The Medieval Romance of Alexander

The Medieval Romance of Alexander: The Deeds and Conquests of Alexander the Great

Jehan Wauquelin
Translated by Nigel Bryant
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    The Medieval Romance of Alexander
    Book Description:

    The figure of Alexander the Great haunted the medieval imagination - as much as Arthur, as much as Charlemagne. His story was translated more often in medieval Europe than any work except the Gospels. Yet only small sections of the Alexander Romance have been translated into modern French, and Nigel Bryant's is the first translation into English. The Deeds and Conquests of Alexander the Great is Jehan Wauquelin's superb compendium, written for the Burgundian court in the mid-fifteenth century, which draws together all the key elements of the Alexandrian tradition.With great clarity and intelligence Wauquelin produced a redaction of all the major Alexander romances of the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries - including the verse Roman d'Alexandre, The Vows of the Peacock and La Venjance Alixandre - to tell the whole story of Alexander's miraculous birth and childhood, his conquests of Persia and India, his battles with fabulous beasts and outlandish peoples, his journeys in the sky and under the sea, his poisoning at Babylon and the vengeance taken by his son. This is an accomplished and exciting work by a notable writer at the Burgundian court who perfectly understood the appeal of the great conqueror to ambitious dukes intent upon extending their dominions. Nigel Bryant has translated five major Arthurian romances from medieval French, including Perceforest in which Alexander features prominently. He has also translated the fourteenth-century chronicles of Jean le Bel.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-030-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-xviii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)

    As much as Arthur, as much as Charlemagne, the figure of Alexander the Great haunted the medieval imagination. His story indeed ‘was translated more often in medieval Europe than any work except the Gospels’.¹ And this version by Jehan Wauquelin is arguably the single most important French Alexander text.

    That may seem a surprising claim – as it may seem presumptuous to give the present book the generic title The Medieval Romance of Alexander – when Wauquelin’s work is a late (indeed, almost the last) component of the vast corpus of medieval French literature on the great conqueror. But both...


    • Prologue
      (pp. 29-29)

      The glorious exploits, the deeds of arms, conquests and feats of courage performed by the valiant, mighty, noble men of ancient and former times are an inspiration. Recalling and recounting them rouses the hearts of their counterparts in the present day who yearn to scale the heights of prowess and fame; it inspires them to achieve ever greater experience, honour and perfection. The hearts of young knights and squires, especially, are sure to be stirred and filled with thoughts of glory and prowess when they hear such deeds recalled, and be ever fixed upon winning high renown.

      And so it...

      (pp. 30-39)

      Now, then: to explain who this most noble King Alexander was, so mighty and so valiant, and where he came from, these are the facts.

      There was once a king in the land of Greece named Philip. He was king of Macedon, of all Alania,¹ of part of Greece and all of Slavonia. In his youth he was much feared and respected, and loved and esteemed by all his neighbours – save a few who envied him, such as King Nicolas, of whom we’ll speak in due course, who so resented Philip of Macedon’s qualities and renown that he was...

      (pp. 39-49)

      Alexander and his fellow new knights, having enjoyed this sport till dinner, went to take their seats at the tables. And twelve of his closest friends and companions, all of them high princes, took it upon themselves to serve at table that day out of the love and affection they felt for the young King Alexander: the first was Antigonus, the second Danselin, the third Ariscé, the fourth Ptholomer, the fifth Festion, the sixth Perdicas, the seventh Leones, the eighth Abilla, the ninth Caulus, the tenth Licanor, the eleventh Philotas and the twelfth Emenidus. And there’s no need to ask...

      (pp. 50-57)

      So, then, having conquered all the lands and cities of Armenia and Turkey and placed them in the hands of Ptholomer, and after seeing King Nicolas buried with all honour, Alexander set off with his whole army and headed for Athens, for he’d been told it was one of the noblest cities in the world, the most ancient and abundantly rich. And it paid no homage to any lord at all: its people were entirely self-governing;¹ Alexander resolved to make them his subjects if he could. At this point master Aristotle – Alexander’s tutor – was in the city, being...

      (pp. 57-62)

      Once King Alexander had arranged all these affairs he set his army on the march once more. On he rode till he left behind the land of Arcaige and entered the land of Syria. It was rich, level, fertile, abundant; and its people judiciously came to him and presented him with all their wealth along with the keys of their city. The king greeted them most kindly and approvingly and took them into his care and protection; and he stayed there for several days to rest and take his ease, and to resupply and provision his troops and men-at-arms with...

      (pp. 62-73)

      While this castle was being built before Tyre, Alexander realised his army’s supplies were running out.³ So he ordered Emenidus of Arcadia, Perdicas, Leones, Caulus, Licanor, Philotas and Sanson, along with seven hundred of the army’s best-mounted and bravest men-at-arms, to go and forage for fresh supplies for their men and horses and to ward off the risk of starvation.

      These captains set off as bidden, and kept riding till they entered the valley of Josaphat, which at that time was a populous and prosperous land, rich in all manner of crops and livestock. But the men of those parts...

      (pp. 73-91)

      After conquering the aforesaid lands and cities, Alexander set out for the kingdom of Tradiaque² in the hope of seeing the lady of his heart, Queen Candace.

      As he was leaving the land of Chaldea and about to pass into Africa, he came upon a mighty city in a deep defile: it was called Damere, and its captain and governor was a noble baron of the highest renown by the name of Fauvel. As soon as Alexander appeared, this Fauvel received him with the greatest honour and yielded to him his city and all he possessed, and Alexander rewarded his...

      (pp. 91-134)

      According to the history it was in the month of May – though it doesn’t say in which year after the Creation – that Porus, as you’ve heard, was captured outside the city of Ephesus and found himself a prisoner of the ladies upon his word as a gentleman. I’ve an idea he’d have been happy to stay there! Among the ladies of the palace he found himself surrounded by all the love and courtly refinement he could have wished, both in entertainments and diversions and in talk of love and its effects; and truly, he was as enamoured of...

      (pp. 134-143)

      But here we’ll leave Alexander for a little and tell of the death of his presumed father King Philip of Macedon, as recorded by the historian Vincent le Jacopin¹ (who, in his treatment of the story of Nectanebus, suggested that Nectanebus was Alexander’s true father).² His version of events is this:

      Not long after the noble King Alexander left his father Philip of Macedon and his mother the lady Olympias, there was a king in Bithynia named Pausanias, a most valiant warrior, bold and daring and wise and shrewd in all his deeds, who, according to Vincent’s history, was afire...

      (pp. 143-176)

      After staying awhile in Jerusalem Alexander mobilised his army and departed, making his way to the other cities of the land which all surrendered to him without the slightest resistance. And because of their friendly reception he graciously took them into his favour: from some, it might be said, he took a little and to others he gave as he saw fit.

      It was at this point that some men who’d escaped from the city of Tyre⁴ took refuge at the court of King Darius, and told him how the great conqueror Alexander was advancing towards him and bringing every...


      (pp. 179-184)

      At the behest of my aforesaid esteemed lord¹ I have undertaken to record in our mother tongue the deeds and conquests of that mighty and feared emperor Alexander. Now, it is universally recognised that his prowess won him lordship and kingship over all the earth, both East and West, and so it follows that he was lord of the whole of France and all neighbouring lands. But in none of the sources I’ve consulted in compiling this work of mine – such as Vincent le Jacopin² or Guillaume,³ both of whom wrote records of Alexander’s deeds – have I found...

      (pp. 184-191)

      At this time there lived in a land to the East a people of hideous appearance and inclined to all manner of foulness: they ate every kind of meat including the flesh of dead humans. Word of them spread throughout the world; and when Alexander heard about these evil people he resolved to rid the land of them if he could.

      So after his conquests of the Western lands he set out with his whole army and made his way to the land of Yraine, which he swiftly subdued, and then to Arcanie;² here he faced many stern battles but...

      (pp. 191-195)

      After all this sharing of spoils King Alexander commanded two of his barons, Ptholomer and Philotas, to take ten thousand troops and go and reconnoitre the surrounding cities and find out if they were inclined to surrender or meant to resist his majesty; those that intended to rebel they were to attack and destroy utterly.

      But in the event the two barons found no resistance in any city, fort or castle; everywhere they went the people surrendered to Alexander and placed themselves and their possessions under his dominion and lordship. And they, valiant knights that they were, in the manner...

      (pp. 195-205)

      At this point our history says that after the queen of the Amazons had gone, Alexander learned that Porus of India had fled with a large company into the Indian desert, where he was gathering all his forces to do battle with him again. So Alexander took forty knights of the region to act as guides in the desert, and set out with his whole army.

      They marched on until, at the beginning of August, when the sun is extremely hot, they entered a sandy, barren land where they found the going very tough, especially with the blazing heat of...

      (pp. 205-248)

      After conquering these men and their mountain refuge Alexander rode on, and he hadn’t gone far before he came upon strange and massive stones which the people of those parts called the Bounds of Hercules. Determined to surpass Hercules’s feats, Alexander resolved to go beyond these bounds and rode on past with his whole army.

      There he found a people whom he subjugated with ease, for they were feeble and unarmed.

      Then he entered the land of the Orasinis and the Dasques and overcame them likewise, for they were all but savages. And as he passed through the forests and...

      (pp. 248-266)

      When Alexander had seen all he wished of the palace’s wonders he rode out and rejoined his army. Then he began his onward march, riding on till he reached the edge of Babylonia. It was a land to which he’d long desired to come; but I think if he’d known what was to befall him there he would never have gone.

      As they came to the edge of that land they had to cross a desert; and here in this desert they found huge and terrible serpents, strong and vicious, with two heads, each with a pair of eyes that...

      (pp. 266-280)

      With all the peoples of the world now obeying him without demur as their sovereign king and emperor, Alexander promptly dictated letters and sent them to his mother and his master Aristotle, telling them of the battles and trials he’d faced in conquering all the world’s kingdoms, and of the strange peoples and creatures he’d found in many distant parts of India and elsewhere. To prove his words he sent his mother gifts of some of his most amazing discoveries: men with no head or one foot or one eye and other extraordinary things. And he told her, too, how...

      (pp. 280-287)

      When the burial of the noble King Alexander was complete, the barons began to leave the city of Alexandria and set out to take possession of the lands allotted and bequeathed to them by their master Alexander.

      But once they’d been welcomed and installed, and worthily served and honoured by their men, then, despite Alexander’s gracious deathbed plea and entreaty that they should always strive to live together in peace and harmony – and despite the clear and true examples he’d given of the dangers of doing otherwise – they paid little heed and spurned his warnings, and were soon...

      (pp. 288-298)

      A previous part of our history – which we’ve woven together from a number of sources, but principally from one whose author’s name we don’t know, as we’ve mentioned at several points – told how the noble King Alexander once visited the lady Candace, queen of Meroe.¹ But we haven’t mentioned that he fathered a son upon the lady, though the aforesaid source refers to the matter at some length.²

      Now, however, since we need to explain how Alexander’s poisoners were put to death, we should certainly relay what one source suggests, whose author gives his name as Jehan le...

  6. Appendix 1 How Nectanebus fathered Alexander [from the 13th-century Prose Alexander]
    (pp. 299-301)
  7. Appendix 2 Aristotle’s advice to Alexander [an interpolation into Wauquelin’s text]
    (pp. 302-304)
  8. Appendix 3 Jacques de Longuyon’s excursus on the Nine Worthies [from Les Voeux du Paon (‘The Vows of the Peacock’), c.1310]
    (pp. 305-306)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 307-307)