Alexander the Great and Mali

History Today pulled an interesting and timely piece from its archives t’other day … here’s a taste in medias res:

[…] On reading the epic [sc. the Mali Epic/Sundiata] one is struck by the frequent references to Djoula Kara Naini , the Mandinke corruption of Dhu’l Quarnein, the horned Alexander of the Middle Eastern romance tradition, the sixth great conqueror of the world and the defender of civilisation against the forces of Gog and Magog, who is mentioned in the seventh book of the History of the Jewish War of Josephus (ch 7) and in the eighteenth Shura of the Qur’an. On three occasions in the epic, Sundiata is referred to as ‘shield’, ‘bulwark’ and ‘seventh and last conqueror of the world’, excelling Djoula Kara Naini , respectively. There are two explicit references in the epic to Sundiata’s admiration for Alexander: as a child, at the feet of his griot, he ‘listened enraptured to the history of Djoula Kara Naini , the mighty king of gold and silver, whose sun shone over half the world’. Years later, while on campaign, he listened to the holy men who ‘often related to him the history of Djoula Kara Naini , and several other heroes, but of all of them Sundiata preferred Djoula Kara Naini the king of gold and silver, who crossed the world from west to east: he wanted to outdo his prototype both in the extent of his territory and wealth of his treasury’. The latter quotation itself suggests an instance of Sundiata’s ‘imitation': that is, his preference for the tales about Alexander corresponds to Alexander’s preference for the Iliad and for its hero whom he emulated. Indeed, Plutarch, in the seventh chapter of his life of Alexander, relates that Alexander used the Iliad as a vade mecum on his campaigns and kept it in a special casket. Alexander’s emulation of Achilles is attested in all the extant Alexander histories. […]

… plenty of comparanda and Classical Reception things in this one to keep you busy on a cold day …