Visualization of Classical Architecture from Literature: Cultural Motifs and the Case of Alexander’s Monument

By Sarah Buchanan.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Alexander the Great, who achieved widespread domination in land areas of Egypt, Greece, Asia Minor, and India prior to his return journey to Babylon, commissioned the building of an elaborate seven-tiered funeral pyre to honor the memory of one of his closest officers, Hephaestion (357-324 BCE), a member of his Cavalry Corps. At Ecbatana (modern Hamadan, Iran), following taxing military campaigns and months short of the army’s due march into Babylon in April 323, Hephaestion fell ill and died. Alexander’s extravagant grief is manifest in several accounts by Diodorus Siculus and Arrian (two Roman historians who referenced the earlier work of the biographers Cleitarchus and Aristobulus). The pyre is notable for its evocation of the accomplishments of the Macedonian army through specific motifs which resourcefully document local culture (Diodorus 17.115). A symbol of power and military might, the Babylonian structure furthered Alexander’s efforts to assert his own similarity to the peoples he conquered. Through hunting motifs, military weapons, and mythological figures on a monumental scale, a distinct social identity is revealed through the political and military symbols chosen as embellishment. An architectural model rendered by close reading of literary accounts supports the present effort to understand visually the structure’s artistic and political relevance. The pyre functions aesthetically and programmatically as “spectacle art,” yet literary accounts facilitate our understanding of ancient structures as forms of cultural expression. Discussion of analogous structures in the ancient and modern world, and reflection on the possible utility of visual and historical reconstructions are also presented.

Keywords: Culture, Literary Sources, Classical Architecture, Visualization, Architectural Model, Historiography, Epigraphical Representation, Alexander the Great

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 8, Issue 5, pp.77-94. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 8.509MB).

Sarah Buchanan

University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA

Sarah Buchanan is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests include historical and contemporary recordkeeping, and bibliographic knowledge contexts.

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