THE BLOG
11/12/2014 02:39 pm ET Updated Jan 12, 2015

Alexander the Great through Jean Racine's eyes

It was no accident that the great Hellenist French dramatist of the 17th century studied and worked on Alexander! He is one of the unique writers and poets who wrote a theater play in order to exalt the virtues of this huge historical figure.

Jean Racine lived in the 17th century (1639-1699) and had been one of the greatest dramatists in France. A few things are known about Racine's character. He is reported as a weird and mysterious person. Nothing very special had been written about his personality by his contemporaneous writers. One thing dominates upon him: his love for classic Greece due to the air of his time that was the Renaissance in Europe, through the humanism and the humanistic sciences that had been the evolutionary link between the mind and knowledge of the ancient Greeks as also, through the "come back" to the letters and ideals. The literary people spoke Greek and Latin while the gaulic classicism appears with Racine as enthroner. The good manners become important and the so called gallantry takes a definite place. The Hellenist poet was inspired and extracts his subjects sometimes from the Greek mythology and some other times from history itself. He adores the Greek tragedy and especially adores Euripides whom he considers the most tragic of all poets. He is inspired by him keeping him as his initial model however he develops his tragedy differently ending to a non tragic end. He was sponsored by the Royal Court and he achieved to be one of the most important people in the Academy of Letters holding the title of the historian and author of the Court, titles that took off his carrier.

He was only 26 when he wrote his poetical play "Alexander the Great" out of enthusiasm he had towards this big historical figure, but he was also inspired by Cannibal, Cesar and Napoleon. There was no comparison to Alexander who was a discerned genius in all levels: education knowledge, music and military talent, he was disciple of Aristotle. All that, while Alexander was very young. That is the reason he was placed by Racine on the mythical heroes of Pantheon, though he was a historical person. Alexander considered himself "Jupiter's son" as he had anticipated his mission and his work to accomplish... Racine wanted to extol Alexander by his inspired poetical word.

The play was written in 1665, it belongs to tragedies, but essentially is an epic work of 1548 Alexandrine verses which, as he says, is totally based on historical facts with some lyric elements when it is about Alexander's love to his beloved Cleophile. Racine does not use love as a tool of passion but it is the power penetrating the human soul in order to soften situations. "There are barely few tragedies where history has been literally followed as in this one..." Racine says sententiously in his introduction because he wants to point out that in this play nothing is inventive, on the contrary, he followed exactly history in one of Alexander's campaign to India. His resources had been his deep study and research to the ancient Greeks like Arrianus, Quinte Curce, and Justin etc. The campaign to India is the most important campaign of Alexander as it is here where Alexander's goal is focused: to civilize people following the steps as Alexander said, those of Bacchus and Hercules's (previous civilizers). Those were gods and semigods and could only reach up to the Aornos Petra (the Rock unapproachable even by birds), though Alexander achieved to pass it.

Alexandra Symeonidou is a best-selling author in Greece and has published 10 novels, translated three French theater plays from old French to Greek and two children's books. "Nightmares in the Saudi Arabian Desert" is her autobiography and her first translation from Greek to English. It is available on Amazon.com.