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Imperial Fictions (2020-)

Few historical characters had such an impact on the premodern imagination as Alexander the Great. Indeed, the fourth-century Greek Alexander Romance, a highly fictionalized account of Alexander's conquests and adventures, was probably the world's most widely read secular text between the 4th and the 16th centuries. Translated into Latin, Coptic, Ge'ez, Syriac, Arabic, Byzantine Greek, Armenian, Hebrew, Persian and Mongolian, as well as the majority of the European vernaculars, this text – and the many adaptations it spawned – enjoyed an unrivalled popularity for more than a thousand years. But even before the Alexander Romance was written, Alexander had long been transformed into the hero of myriad legends, bridging the divide between history and fiction, inhabiting and often conflating such diverse generic and conceptual spaces as fairy tale, imperialist propaganda and religious prophecy. He appears in the Qur'an and the Shahnameh and his name was appropriated by European rulers such as the Popes, the medieval kings of Scotland and the 19th-century Czars. The Alexander-material displays a supreme capacity for realigning cultural, political and ideological boundaries and for making the peripheral central and vice versa, but also for establishing new traditions and the concomitant temporalities.

Imperial Fictions examines this remarkable adaptability with a special emphasis on the ways in which the tensions between the historical and fantastical inherent to so many Alexander narratives generate ever new approaches to the issue of temporality. The project investigates how these temporalities are exploited for the purposes of imperial self-fashioning, how they participate in ideological projects to legitimate, but also to subvert, power by exoticizing it. As the temporalities of history and romance, prophecy and fairy tale, chronicle and travelogue clash, jostle and converge in premodern but also in modern Alexander-adaptations, the Macedonian conqueror becomes a cultural crucible in which new temporalities are generated, and in which the politics of temporality is staged, questioned and redefined in a sheer endless succession of ideological appropriations.

Participating Researchers

Student Assistant