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Week 7 - Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great (1955): Introduction

“one of the most historically faithful of all movies about the ancient world and perhaps one of the most intelligent, too”—Solomon (2001) 42

‘“Shall one man claim the trophies won by thousands?” I quote from Euripides — your favourite poet’.—Cleitus, to Alexander

Previous versions of the story: (where are they all?...)

Basic information:

  • Directed, written and produced by Robert Rossen, a Hollywood veteran with a background in theatre.
  • Filmed on Spanish locations in CinemaScope.
  • Stars Richard Burton.
  • Supporting cast includes Barry Jones (Aristotle), Michael Hordern (Demosthenes), Harry Andrews (Darius), Stanley Baker (Attalus), Peter Cushing (Memnon).
  • Plot reflects ancient sources, esp. Plutarch’s Life of Alexander (characterisations of family, account of early life, penchant for Homer, incidents inc. Gordian Knot).

A ‘literary’ Alexander:

  • Citations of classical authors: Plutarch, Euripides, Sophocles.
  • Shakespeare: Al as Hal (with hams).
  • Too clever by half? (‘Who will be my Hector?’)

Possible problems with Alexander the Great (1955)


  • Architectural and decorative bricolage: Macedonia recycling Greek cast-offs? (Or Rossen reusing theatrical flats?)
  • ‘Pontus Euxinus’: HRH Prince Peter of Greece and the vellum map.
  • My Big Fat Grssk Epic: ‘ALSXANDSR THS GRSAT’ and the problem of transliteration.

‘Wonderful physiques’: bowdlerisation and homophobia.

  • The statues of Athens.
  • Macedon’s Herms.
  • Alexander’s gym trunks.
  • Hephaestion.