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Friday, November 9, 2012

“Alexander's Tomb: The Two-Thousand Year Obsession to Find the Lost Conqueror”, by Nicholas J. Saunders

320 pages, Basic Books, ISBN-13: 978-0465072026
Saunders does a good job in laying out the facts in the mystery of what became of one of the Holy Grails of Archeology, the search for the Tomb of Alexander the Great. He gives us a brief history of the life and death of Alexander and how his General Ptolemy used possession of his body to legitimize his claim to the throne of the Pharaohs of Egypt. He gives us a glimpse of how the building of the Tomb by Ptolemy and his descendants built the Conqueror's namesake city Alexandria into one of the marvels of the ancient world. People traveled from all points of the Hellenic then Roman World to view the Tomb. The location of the tomb was lost during the dark ages. Saunders postulates several possible scenarios for what became of the grave. He also records several incidents over the years involving people obsessed with its discovery.
The first couple of chapters of this book briefly present the highlights of Alexander's life, accomplishments and ultimately his death. The remainder is about Alexander's corpse, mummy and tombs (he had more than one) and what has and may have happened to them throughout the ages. The story is quite fascinating and full of uncertainty, speculation, false leads and wishful thinking; this is mainly due to the lack of ancient documents that clearly describe what happened to Alexander's body and his "final" resting place during the course of time. The writing style is quite engaging, clear and authoritative. However, for some, the many ancient names and places that are mentioned in the earlier parts of the book can be a bit confusing. Fortunately, the author has included glossaries at the end that the reader may refer to as needed. This intriguing book will likely be of most interest to history and archaeology buffs.
Entertaining book, no doubt. How the remains of Alexander, his mummy and the place where it lied trough centuries until it disappeared of common knowledge and historic testimonies, are and were very alive through old and current politics, but also how the obsession to find his body still pervades the mind of scholars and laymen, all of that is certainly a tale worthy of a book and this one fulfill the task very well. Saunders delivers the merchandise. We see a parade of scholars, amateurs, crazy or deranged people of all description, fake histories, rumors and archaeological discoveries trying to say the last word, but we also see the politics of his age, all kind of kings messing around this famous corpse, making use of it to legitimate patched kingdoms with an artful mixing of myth and legend. A worthy reading and at last the thought that the aura of Alexander's tomb will vanish (as happened with the Titanic) the very same day it is discovered. A tomb of famous people only lives in imagination if far from museum life.

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