1. Alexander’s Education
Would you refuse to tutor the son of a King?
Philip of Macedon has a young son named Alexander. When Philip announces that he is looking for the best private teacher in the entire kingdom to tutor his prince son, there is a huge beeline of teachers outside his palace.
Isocrates, who had studied with great philosophers such as Socrates and Gorgias puts his name forward. But is rejected.
Speusippus, who succeeded Plato at the Platonic Academy, puts his name forward. And is willing to quit his position at the Academy to teach Alexander. But he is rejected too.
Philip rejects many other teachers. Because he wants the best teacher for his son. And he has heard that the best teacher in the entire kingdom is Aristotle. But Aristotle does not put his name forward.
What’s more, when Aristotle is approached to be the tutor of the young prince, he flat out refuses!
Philip dangles a carrot in front of Aristotle: along with unimaginable riches, Philip would also rebuild Aristotle’s hometown of Stageira, which had been razed down. He would also free all the slaves who were citizens of Stageira before it was destroyed – so as to repopulate the town. But yet Aristotle rejects the offer.
Philip than uses the stick: Aristotle would be exiled if he did not teach young Alexander. And yet Aristotle stubbornly rejects the offer.
So finally Aristotle is asked: what are his demands? What would it take for him to accept the position of a tutor to young Alexander?
And Aristotle says: he wants complete control without interference in how he teaches Alexander. He would not come to the palace to teach Alexander. Alexander would have to come to him. And most importantly, he would not teach Alexander alone and in private. He would only teach the young prince if other students are in the same classroom as his.
This is unheard of. Not focusing your entire attention in teaching the next king? Giving other kids equal status as to the prince? But no matter what is done to persuade Aristotle, he does not budge from his demands. Let him teach Alexander with other students, or not at all.
Aristotle knows that without competition and challenges from fellow classmates, he would not be able to bring the best out of Alexander.
Everyone knows the greatness Alexander achieved. But not many know the greatness his fellow classmates achieved.
Ptolemy, Cassander and Seleucus were all Alexander’s classmates. They became Alexander’s generals and helped him in his conquests. But what happened to them after Alexander’s untimely death?
- Ptolemy founded the Ptolemaic Dynasty in Egypt.
- Seleucus re-united Persia and created the Seleucid Empire.
- And Cassander, perhaps the classmate who challenged Alexander the most, went on to rule Macedon and Greece.
Moral: Greatness rots in isolation. You need competition to bring the best out of you.
2. Alexander’s Quest to Find the Safest Path in an Uncharted Territory
Alexander’s generals are arguing over the best course of action to cross a hilly terrain. The path is uncharted. And the enemy could be lurking in hidden crevices anywhere. Or even worse, what if Alexander and the army came out just to find the enemy soldiers waiting for them on the other side?
So the generals are debating as to which uncharted path to take to reach an unknown territory. Everyone is disagreeing with everyone else. And Alexander’s usually smart generals can’t come to a decision.
So Alexander disregards all of his generals suggestions. Instead, he simply calls a poor sheep herder from that region and bribes him to show the safest route.
Moral: when in doubt, go to the the folks who have expertise in that particular problem, no matter how lowly they are thought of.
3. Alexander Earns His Soldiers Loyalty
Alexander is crossing the fatal Gedrosia dessert in Asia. This is the same desert where, legend has it, Queen Semiramis had lost 20,000 of her men. The desert is unforgiving. Scorching heat. Lack of food and water. It makes men drop like flies.
Even Alexander’s brave men are not spared. They start dying of dehydration in the 60 day march.
On one very hot tiring day, some soldiers find a little bit of water in a ravine in the desert. They fill it up in a helmet and take it to Alexander. But before drinking the water, the thirsty Alexander asks them: is it enough for all the soldiers?
The soldiers reply that no, it is not enough.
And so Alexander drains the water to the ground.
Moral: Do what is in the best interest of other people. Sacrifice for them and they will follow you.
4. Alexander and the Prophecy of the Gordian Knot
Alexander, along with his armies, reaches the city of Gordium in Phyria. There he is shown the chariot of the ancient founder of the city, its pole lashed to the yoke by means of an intricate knot. The knot doesn’t have any loose ends.
The Oracle has prophesied that he who unravels the knot will go on conquering entire Asia. Many have tried, and all have failed to unravel the Gordian knot.
At first, Alexander attempts to untie the knot like everyone else – by trying to find a loose end. But while others before him gave up when they could not find the loose end after hours of attempt, Alexander has different ideas. When it becomes apparent that there is no loose end, Alexander draws his sword and slices the knot in half.
Shortly afterwards Asia is united for the first time under his rule.
Moral: Sometimes it’s better not to get too tied up in a problem. Leap for a bold solution!
5. Alexander vs Darius
The year is 331 b.c. Alexander is still to become “Alexander the great.” Alexander has to fight a war against the king of Persia – Darius.
The war is very unbalanced and tilted in the favour of the Persian king Darius. Alexander’s army is outnumbered 20:1 in the battle against Darius. Furthermore, the Persian army is better equipped too. They have chariots and fancy weaponry.
Alexander realizes that it would be very hard to win against the Persian army. There is no way that Alexander could take on the might of Darius’ forces. So Alexander gives just one simple order to his soldiers:
Every soldier in Alexander’s force has one clear mission, one clear target: Darius. They go after that one target in full force when the war begins.
Their focus takes the Persian wing that protects Darius by surprise and Darius soon realizes what Alexander is up to. He flees to save his life. Seeing their commander and king run away, the other generals and soldiers flee too. And Alexander, with poor equipment and outnumbered soldiers, wins against the mighty Persians.
Alexander becomes “Alexander the great.”
Moral: Focus your energies. And you can move mountains.