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Alexander the Great

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Alexander the Great
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Item Code: IDH071
Author: Kireet Joshi
Publisher: Indian Council of Philosophical Research (ICPR)
Language: English
Edition: 2004
ISBN: 8185636842
Pages: 93(Color Illus : 6, B & W Figure: 11, Map : 1)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 8.9" X 5.8"
weight of the book: 180 gms

About the Book

Illumination, heroism and harmony are three major powers that can uplift to higher and higher levels. It may be useful to explore and illustrate the meanings of these three terms by giving examples of those qualities through appropriate stories. This monograph offers a few glimpses of the life of Alexander the Great. In Alexander we find an extraordinary personality whose life was so brief that his great qualities did not have the time to mature the way they should have. But a study of Alexander the Great is instructive in several ways. Firstly, it shows us what the life-force in man can achieve under circumstances and conditions as Favourable as Alexander's and yet what failures attend unbridled adventure. Secondly, it shows us that the human personality has far richer potentials than is normally suspected. Thirdly, it gives us a chance to understand ourselves better, for though we have a hundred and more limitations, we may discover, deep within ourselves, the same life-force as we find in Alexander. Character is also marked by great heroism. No deed, no ambition seemed too high for him. Equally, if he had had more time-he died at 33!-, he might have been able to develop a high level of illumination, for in many tricky situations he showed a great capacity for intuition. One can even perceive a potentiality for harmony in the fact that he was able to show many fine qualities as general, king and administrator of a vast empire. He disappeared too fast from the world's scene, like a comet in the sky, leaving a trail of glory unparalled to this day. He truly was, as Sri Aurobindo said, a poet on a throne.


The task of preparing teaching-learning material for value-oriented education is enormous.

There is, first, the idea that value-oriented education should be exploratory rather than prescriptive, and that the teaching- learning material should provide to the learners a growing experience of exploration.

Secondly, it is rightly contended that the proper inspiration to turn to value-orientation is provided by biographies, autobiographical accounts, personal anecdotes, epistles, short poems, stories of humour, stories of human interest, brief passages filled with pregnant meanings, reflective short essays written in well-chiselled language, plays, powerful accounts of historical events, statements of personal experiences of values in actual situations of life, and similar other statements of scientific, philosophical, artistic and literary expression.

Thirdly, we may take into account the contemporary fact that the entire world is moving rapidly towards the synthesis of the East and the West, and in that context, it seems obvious that our teaching-learning material should foster the gradual familiarisation of students with global themes of universal significance as also those that underline the importance of diversity in unity. This implies that the material should bring the students nearer to their cultural heritage, but also to the highest that is available in the cultural experiences of the world at large.

Fourthly, an attempt should be made to select from Indian and world history such examples that could illustrate the theme of the upward progress of humankind. The selected research material could be multi-sided, and it should be presented in such a way that teachers can make use of it in the manner and in the context that they need in specific situations that might obtain or that can be created in respect of the students.

The research team at the Sri Aurobindo International Institute of Educational Research (SAIlER) has attempted the creation of the relevant teaching-learning material, and they have decided to present the same in the form of monographs. The total number of these monographs will be around eighty to eighty-five.

It appears that there are three major powers that uplift life to higher and higher normative levels, and the value of these powers, if well illustrated, could be effectively conveyed to the learners for their upliftment. These powers are those of illumination, heroism and harmony.

It may be useful to explore the meanings of these terms -illumination, heroism and harmony - since the aim of these monographs is to provide material for a study of what is sought to be conveyed through these three terms. We offer here exploratory statements in regard to these three terms.

Illumination is that ignition of inner light in which meaning and value of substance and life-movement are seized, understood, comprehended, held, and possessed, stimulating and inspiring guided action and application and creativity culminating in joy, delight, even ecstasy. The width, depth and height of the light and vision determine the degrees of illumination, and when they reach the splendour and glory of synthesis and harmony, illumination ripens into wisdom. Wisdom, too, has varying degrees that can uncover powers of knowledge and action, which reveal unsuspected secrets and unimagined skills of art and craft of creativity and effectiveness.

Heroism is, essentially, inspired force and self-giving and sacrifice in the operations of will that is applied to the quest, realisation and triumph of meaning and value against the resistance of limitations and obstacles by means of courage, battle and adventure. There are degrees and heights of heroism determined by the intensity, persistence and vastness of sacrifice. Heroism attains the highest states of greatness and refinement when it is guided by the highest wisdom and inspired by the sense of service to the ends of justice and harmony, as well as when tasks are executed with consummate skill.

Harmony is a progressive state and action of synthesis and equilibrium generated by the creative force of joy and beauty and delight that combines and unites knowledge and peace and stability with will and action and growth and development. Without harmony, there is no perfection, even though there could be maxirnisation of one or more elements of our nature. When illumination and heroism join and engender relations ofmutuality and unity, each is perfected by the other and creativity is endless.

Heroism can easily be seen in Alexander's character. No deed, no ambition seem too high for him. Equally, if he would have had more time-he died at 33!-, we may think that he might have been able to develop a high level of illumination, as in many difficult situations he has shown a great capacity for intuition. One can also perceive a potentiality for harmony in the fact that he was able to show many fine qualities as general, king and administrator of a vast empire. But he disappeared too fast from the world' scene, like a comet in the sky, leaving a trail of glory unparalled to this day, truly, as Sri Aurobindo said, a poet on a throne.


But Alexander of Macedon and Napoleon Buena- parte were poets on a throne, and the part they played in history was not that of incompetents and weakling. There are times when Nature gifts the poetic temperament with a peculiar grasp of the conditions of action and irresistible tendency to create their poems not in ink and on paper, but in living characters and on the great canvas of the world. Such men become portents and wonders whom posterity admires or hates but can only imperfectly understand. Like Joan of Arc or Mazzini and Garibaldi, they save a dying nation or like Napoleon and Alexander they dominate the world. They are only possible because they only get full scope in races which unite with an ardent and heroic temperament, a keen susceptibility to poetry in life, idealism and hero workship.

Alexander was born in 356 B.C. His father, King Philip of Macedonia, had united Greece and had intended to free the Asiatic Greeks from Persian control. He also coveted the riches of the Persian Empire to pay for his professional army. At Philip's death, Alexander first quelled rebellions in Greece and then crossed the Dardenelles to start, at the age of twenty years, his 2800 mile journey into Asia.

During his Asian campaigns, Alexander founded or refounded many cities to administer the conquered territories. The greatest of these was Alexandria in Egypt. From these cities, in territories later ruled by Alexander's successors, Greek culture spread and for the next three centuries was dominant throughout much of the Middle East. This hellenisation process lasted until the spread of Roman power towards the end of the first century B.C. It all stemmed from the brief career of one man, who died at the age of 33.

Who really was the man known as Alexander the Great? In only thirteen years, between 336 and 323 B.C., he earned enough fame to fuel legends down through the ages. Thirteen years of unrelenting drive, of amazing deeds. Here was a young man able to inspire large troops of men to follow him in a whirlwind of conquests that looks like a race against time. Perhaps he knew that fate would not grant him years enough to conquer the whole world, as he could well have attempted. In fact, it has been said that the greatest blessing in Alexander's life was his early death, and his greatest good fortune was that the practical common sense of his followers prevented him from crossing the Ganges. Had Napoleon been similarly forced to recognise his limits, his end might have been as great as his beginning.

In Alexander's case, it is remarkable that one of the greatest thinkers in world history, Aristotle', was his teacher. It can safely be assumed that Aristotle gave his pupil an enormous wealth of information and some degree of intimacy with the teachings of Socrates? and Plato. Alexander surely must have known that man could attain his highest well-being only by acquiring a knowledge that would lead him to do the right action voluntarily. This was the very teaching of Socrates: "Virtue is knowledge." Alexander also must have learned the ethical doctrine of Aristotle himself, according to whom virtue meant a mean between extremes. A ristotle was the first logician of the Western world and he must have taught his pupil the art and science of reasoning as applied to metaphysics, science and mathematics. The vast encyclopedic knowledge that Aristotle could have put at Alexander's disposal would have made Alexander, if he so chose, a great master of knowledge. Why, we may ask, did this not happen? What exactly was the determining factor that made Alexander a conqueror of lands and men instead of an expert scholar or an illumined sage? Did Alexander ever ask himself, consciously and reflectively, what his aim of life should be? We do not know with any certainty. Considering, however, that he had access to wide fields of knowledge, such a question could hardly have escaped him. But even if he asked this question, did he set about to find an answer?

Physically, he was an ideal youth, good in every sport. He possessed a wild energy that would make him shoot arrows at any passing object, or alight from and remount his chariot at full speed. During campaigns, if the going was slow, he would go hunting alone and on foot and do combat with wild animals, however dangerous. He liked hard work and hazardous deeds. He was usually sober and, apparently, in very good health, since his body was credited with a pleasant fragrance. Beyond the exaggerations of fit me and legend, Alexander was certainly quite handsome, with expressive features, soft blue eyes and luxuriant auburn hair.

Alexander is a striking example of what life-force can do in a man. More often than not, human beings are led to their career or their life's work by temperament, by likes and dislikes, and by their inner drives. The life-force in man seeks acquisition, possession, enjoyment, relationship, battle and conquest. It is often instinctive and therefore irresistible. Accordingly, it is not easy for a human being driven by an extraordinary executive power and force of accomplishment to become intellectualised. This does not mean that the intellectualisation of life energy is impossible, but it is evident that the tasks involved in such a process are enormous and extremely difficult.

Alexander was primarily interested in adventure. He was verily a Prince of Air, ready to fly on the wings of time just to discover novelties and unexpected experiences. His ambitions were deep-seated and illimitable. In fact, it seems that his aim of life was determined by the pressure of his ambitions rather than by any rational system of thought or any ethical discipline. He was probably so prodigious that he found it difficult to contain his energy. He brings to mind quicksilver: pursue as you may, he is always one step ahead. He did not like the idea of rest and said that sleep only served to remind him of his mortal condition. So many things to do, so much to learn, so many possibilities .... He brings to mind too the echo of a perpetual galloping on the quickest of horses .... The bursting life-force inside him was quite evidently overwhelming, as was the call of the sirens of adventure and ambition.

  Preface 7
  Introduction 11
  Alexander the Great 17
  Alexander as a general, leader of men and kin of Asia 57
  After Alexander's death 68
  Three anecdotes of Alexander's life and conquests
The Battle with Porus
  Crossing the Gedrosia Desert 73
  Uprising at Opis 77
  The Soul of a Conqueror (A portrait of Alexander by Will Durant) 83
  Ancient Greece and Alexander: A brief outline 90
  State of the civilized world in Alexander's time (around 330 B.C.) 91
  What happened after Alexander 92
  Suggestions for further reading 93
  A few dates 93

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