The Alexandreis
A Twelfth-Century Epic
  • Publication Date: October 16, 2006
  • ISBN: 9781551116761 / 1551116766
  • 284 pages; 5½" x 8½"

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The Alexandreis

A Twelfth-Century Epic

  • Publication Date: October 16, 2006
  • ISBN: 9781551116761 / 1551116766
  • 284 pages; 5½" x 8½"

Walter of Châtillon’s Latin epic on the life of Alexander the Great was a twelfth- and thirteenth-century “best-seller:” scribes produced over two hundred manuscripts. The poem follows Alexander from his first successes in Asia Minor, through his conquest of Persia and India, to his progressive moral degeneration and his poisoning by a disaffected lieutenant. The Alexandreis exemplifies twelfth-century discourses of world domination and the exoticism of the East. But at the same time it calls such dreams of mastery into question, repeatedly undercutting as it does Alexander’s claims to heroism and virtue and by extension, similar claims by the great men of Walter’s own generation. This extraordinarily layered and subtle poem stands as a high-water mark of the medieval tradition of Latin narrative literature.

Along with David Townsend’s revised translation, this edition provides a rich selection of historical documents, including other writings by Walter of Châtillon, excerpts from other medieval Latin epics, and contemporary accounts of the foreign and “exotic.”


“In 1996, David Townsend published a very free but also very good verse translation of the Alexandreis by Walter of Châtillon, one of the most influential poems of the ‘Twelfth-Century Renaissance.’ This new volume improves upon the earlier translation; it also provides additional materials to shed light on Walter’s other writings, the twelfth-century Latin epic tradition in general, and the medieval Alexander tradition. Townsends elegant and readable English could be used with other translations in a course on medieval epic and romance. It could provide a focal point for students and general readers in understanding the image of Alexander the Great across time. The possibilities are legion.” — Jan. M. Ziolkowski, Harvard University

“While the Alexandreis did much to shape the medieval attitude to history, this translation helps to define it.” — The Times Literary Supplement

A Note on the Text

The Alexandreis

Appendix A: Other Works by Walter of Châtillon

  1. Satirical and Moral Poems
  2. A Treatise Against the Jews (Tractatus contra Judaeos)
  3. The Rhythmical Life of Thomas Becket

Appendix B: Latin Epic of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries

  1. Bernard Silvestris, Cosmographia
  2. Alan of Lille, The Plaint of Nature (De planctu Naturae)
  3. John of Hauville, The Arch-Lamenter (Architrenius)
  4. Joseph of Exeter, The Ylias of Dares Phrygius
  5. Henry of Avranches, The Metrical Life of St. Francis (Vita sancti Francisci)

Appendix C: The Medieval Alexander Tradition

  1. Quintus Curtius Rufus, The History of Alexander the Great (Historiae Alexandri Magni)
  2. The History of Alexander’s Battles (Historia de preliis)
  3. The Letter of Alexander to Aristotle
  4. Anecdotes of Alexander from John of Salisbury’s Policraticus

Appendix D: Twelfth-Century Images of the Foreign, Strange, and Exotic

  1. William of Tyre, A History of Things Done in the Territories across the Sea (Historia rerum in partibus transmarinis gestarum)
  2. Gerald of Wales, The Description of Wales (Descriptio Cambriae)
  3. From Wonders of the East (De rebus in Oriente mirabilibus)

Select Bibliography
Index of Proper Names

David Townsend is Professor of Medieval Studies and English at the University of Toronto.