Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great: Tracing the Literary Zeitgeist from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance

Julius CaesarJulius Caesar and Alexander the Great: Tracing the Literary Zeitgeist from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance

Bret Bales (Bachelor of Science in Education Oklahoma State University Stillwater, Oklahoma 2003)

Oklahoma State University: Master of Arts, December (2010)


Few men have held more sway over their world than Gaius Julius Caesar and Alexander III of Macedon. They both led vast armies over vast lands to build vast empires, creating footprints that have resonated throughout history, influencing religions, political boundaries, and, especially, literature more than two millennia after their mutually premature deaths. They share many strengths; both are renowned for their rare charisma as leaders of men, their prodigious genius as military tacticians and strategists, their fierce bravery as warriors, and their single-minded drive in becoming two of the most successful conquerors the world has ever known. The two also share many faults; both are notorious for their unquenchable ambition, consuming pride, and occasional cruelty. Alexander and Caesar‟s phenomenal strengths and all-too-human weaknesses, along with the scope of their accomplishments and the nature of their deaths, make them wonderful literary characters, useful as heroes, villains, or victims, perfect for tragedy, romance, or legend.

We can admire them, relate to them, pity them, admonish them, or learn from them. They can and have been used in all these ways, from the days of Plutarch to Hollywood. My purpose here is to examine how English writers viewed and depicted these men in poetry, prose, and drama, beginning in medieval England and on through the Renaissance, in search of a pattern. In all ways, a society or culture is in a constant state of change. The Zeitgeist continuously moves, sometimes quickly, sometimes violently, and sometimes so slowly we cannot sense the direction until we have arrived. On every issue from race to animal cruelty, our collective mind evolves from generation to generation. This phenomenon is just as true in literature as it is in anything else. This paper looks at a sliver of that phenomenon in literature, from the medieval through the Renaissance periods, through the lenses of Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great.

Click here to read this thesis from Oklahoma State University

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