Alexander the Great:
The Making of a Myth
Alexander the Great: The Making of a Myth (21 October 2022 – 19 February 2023), supported by the Kusuma Trust and Ubisoft, is the first exhibition to traverse the rich history of storytelling about one of the most famous figures of the ancient world.
From astrological clay tablets, ancient papyri and medieval manuscripts to comics, TV series and cutting-edge videogames, the major exhibition reveals how Alexander’s character has been adapted and appropriated by different cultures and religions over 2,000 years.
Featuring around 140 exhibits from 25 countries in over 20 languages, Alexander the Great: The Making of a Myth explores how Alexander’s legacy turned into legend – a transformation that started while he was alive and continues today.
With the oldest item dating from Alexander’s lifetime and the most recent a graphic novel still to be published, the exhibition considers how and why the tales surrounding Alexander became more fantastical as they spread across the cultures of Europe, Asia and beyond.
Highlight exhibits include:
- pamphlet presented to Henry VIII by his teacher Bernard André in the 16th century, which refers to the new king of England as the future Alexander the Great and himself as Aristotle the philosopher, on display for the first time
- letter from author Mary Renault (1972) on display for the first time by kind permission of the Principal and Fellows of St Hugh’s College, Oxford, revealing her inspiration behind the character of Bagaos in The Persian Boy
- an early Indian copy of Iskandarnamah (1460-75) by Nizami, one of the greatest masters of allegorical poetry in Persian literature, recently acquired by the Library
- a lavish sixteenth-century manuscript depicting Iskandar kneeling at the Ka’ba in Mecca surrounded by worshippers (Firdawsi, Shahnamah , Shiraz, Iran)
- 2,300 year old silver coin commemorating Alexander’s victory against the regional ruler Porus (Babylon?, c.323 BC) on loan from The Trustees of the British Museum
- the earliest printed version of the Alexander Romance in Middle English in the Kyng Alisaunder fragment from around 1525
- part of a child’s homework containing an imaginary speech by Alexander after he defeated Darius of Persia (Egypt, AD 150-225)
Adrian Edwards, Head of Printed Collections at the British Library, said: ‘Alexander the Great was the subject of myths and legends during his lifetime and, in the centuries following his death these developed into a complex mythology, often with little resemblance to his historical life. Instead of trying to understand who Alexander was, our exhibition explores who he has become since his death and how the stories continue to evolve even today.’
The exhibition culminates with a replica of Alexander’s supposed sarcophagus from Egypt, 345 BC set within a digital reconstruction created by Ubisoft as part of the Assassin’s Creed Origins video game and projected on three walls.
Thierry Noel, PhD in History and Lead Inspirational Content Advisor at Ubisoft, said: ‘Little is known about Alexander’s final resting place, so our teams drew on a number of sources of inspiration for the design for his tomb in the opus Assassin’s Creed Origins. We’re so thrilled to be able to work with a respected institution such as the British Library to bring Alexander the Great’s tomb chamber to three-dimensional life in this way.’
The Library collaborated with Escape Studios’ School of Interactive and Real Time to commission a group of students and graduates from the institution’s ‘Escape Pods’ incubator to create an interactive version of the largest world map to survive from the Middle Ages until it was destroyed during the Second World War. Based on the original map, which was produced by the sisters of the convent of Ebstorf around 1300, the new digital map enables users to explore the adventures Alexander was purported to have taken in his lifetime.
The British Library is indebted to the Patricia G. and Jonathan S. England – British Library Innovation Fund, as well as the American Trust for the British Library, The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, The Hellenic Foundation, London, and Professor James H. Marrow and Dr Emily Rose for their support towards the development of this exhibition.
About The Kusuma Trust
The Kusuma Trust UK is a family led philanthropic trust established in 2010. The Trust gives grants to organisations based on shared values and mutual interests in the UK, Gibraltar and India. Its current areas of interest are creating access to opportunities, improving health and well-being, and investing in our communities and environment.
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