Exhibit | October 20, 2022

Medieval Manuscripts and Comics Tell Story of Alexander the Great

British Library/Justine Trickett

Alexander the Great: The Making of a Myth at the British Library

London, British Library - Alexander the Great: The Making of a Myth (October 21 2022 – February 19 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.

A fictitious letter from Aristotle to Alexander composed by the tutor of Henry VIII
British Library

A fictitious letter from Aristotle to Alexander composed by the tutor of Henry VIII

Homework of a child to create a speech for Alexander over the corpse of Darius
British Library

Homework of a child to create a speech for Alexander over the corpse of Darius

Aristotle instructing Alexander, with a full bar border
British Library

Aristotle instructing Alexander, with a full bar border

Highlight exhibits include:

•    one of the most elaborate secular manuscripts to survive from the Byzantine empire: a 14th-century manuscript of the Greek Alexander Romance with 250 coloured illustrations, on display in the UK for the first time from the Museum of the Hellenic Institute for Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Studies
•    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 Bagoas in The Persian Boy
•    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
•    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
•    the earliest printed version of the Alexander Romance in Middle English in the Kyng Alisaunder fragment from around 1525
•    a lavish sixteenth-century manuscript depicting Iskandar kneeling at the Kaʻba 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
•    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.