Composed by an anonymous Greek alexandrian author and sometimes attributed to Callisthenes, this marvel-packed Bios of Alexander the Great was destined to huge poplarity. There are five main recensions: α (the oldest version, transmitted solely by the 11th century Parisinus gr. 1711); β (5th century); λ (late-Byzantine variant of β preserved in five 14th-16th century manuscripts); ε (8th – 9th century, transmitted by the 13th century codex Bodleianus Baroccianus 17); and γ (a mosaic made from β and ε between the 8th and the 14th century). There are also a 14th century Poem of King Alexander and several reworkings in vernacular Greek, such as the higly christianized version ζʹ (a re-translation from Slavonic into vernacular Greek of a lost 14th century recension – ζ* – based on ε); the “antiquated” 15th-16th century poem called Tale of Alexander, better known as Rimada, published in Venice, in 1529; and the Phyllada (Φύλλαδα τοῦ Μεγαλέξανδρου), a reworking of ζʹ published in Venice, in 1750. The Life of Alexander was translated in many languages, its popularity being surpassed in Europe only by the Bible. For example, recension α was translated in Latin and Armenian. The lost recension δ was translated into Syriac, the Syriac translation was translated into Arabic and the Arabic translation was translated into Ethiopian. Recension ζʹ is preserved in many manuscripts, the earliest of them dating from the beginning of the 16th century; it was translated in several languages, such as Slavonic, Bulgarian, Romanian, Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian, and Arabic. The Romanian translation survived in Codex Neagoeanus, a 1620 manuscript copied by priest Ioan Românul of Sâmpetru (BAR ms. rom. 3821) and in a 1790 manuscript by Năstase Negrule (BAR ms. rom. 869; full text – see link below). Version γ survived in three manuscripts: codex Bodleianus Baroccianus 20 (R – 14th century), codex 5 of the Hellenic Institute in Venice (D – 14th century), and Parisinus Suppl. gr. 113 (R – 1567). The richly illustrated codex Venetus – 250 miniatures – is particularly interesting. According to Nicolette S. Trahoulia, it was commissioned by emperor Alexios III Komnenos of Trapezunt († 1390) and shows the importance of the Alexander model for the imperial rhetoric. This hypothesis did not convince Corinne Jouanno. However, the late 15th century Ottoman captions appended to the images studied by Giampiero Bellingeri and Dimitri Kastritsis reveal a desire to transform Alexander into an Ottoman Sultan, probably Mehmed II. The “flexibility” of the legendary biography of Alexander (Faustina C.W. Doufikar-Aerts) – a conqueror turned exemplary king, be it “pagan”, Christian, or Islamic – proved appealing for Greeks and Ottomans alike.
Istituto Ellenico di Studi Bizantini e Postbizantini | codex Gr. 5