- Who's Who in the Age of Alexander the Great
In Who's Who, Waldemar Heckel has produced a work that is both useful and interesting. Encyclopedic in its format, Heckel's book nevertheless succeeds in being readable. Who's Who is a 'prosopography,' a term familiar to classicists, though not perhaps to a more general readership. It is a study of individuals, an encyclopedic compendium of names, identities, careers, and family connections. As the title of the book [End Page 213] indicates, Heckel's prosopographic study focuses specifically on the several hundred individuals whose lives were intimately entwined with or tangentially affected by the career of Alexander the Great (356–23 BCE). Heckel is very well placed to write such a work: his own scholarship over the last three decades has featured major contributions to the study of Alexander and his times, and has included other prosopographical work such as The Marshals of Alexander's Empire (1992).
In the introduction to Who's Who, Heckel states the principles underlying the selection of individuals to be featured in this work. He casts his net widely, preferring on the whole to be inclusive rather than exclusive. The catalogue therefore incorporates individuals who 'made only brief appearances on Alexander's stage' as well as those who were principal players. This is a wise choice, as it enables the reader to glean largely complete information on obscure persons, in addition to basic information and – perhaps more essential – references for further reading on more famous individuals. For instance, the brief entry on one Hellanicus tells us as much as is known of who he was (a Macedonian 'of unknown family background') and what he did (a relatively minor role in a military engagement in 334). This entry is immediately succeeded by that on the much more prominent Hephaestion, who was Alexander's right-hand man. This individual, a man of great importance in Alexander's life, merits a much lengthier discussion, over four pages in length (and over two pages of additional notes). This is still admittedly an encyclopedia entry, not a biography. Yet within these constraints Heckel is able to provide a balanced assessment of Hephaestion, relating the chief stages of his life and career, and analyzing aspects of his character and its impact on those around him and around Alexander. The picture that emerges is one of a man who, in spite of the devotion he inspired in Alexander, 'had no extraordinary abilities as a general' and whose quarrelsome nature was more than once a cause of grief to his king.
Although males naturally dominate a world that was chiefly – if not exclusively – military in its nature, Heckel's work does not ignore the role of individual women. Entries will be found for (among others) Sisygambis, the Persian Queen Mother, who was captured by Alexander and came to respect and revere him; for Rhoxane, Alexander's beautiful Bactrian bride and the mother of his son, the ill-fated Alexander IV; and for Thaïs, the Athenian courtesan who accompanied Alexander's expedition and was allegedly responsible for inciting Alexander to burn down the great palaces at Persepolis.
The individual entries are clear and concise, cross-referenced and providing citations of the relevant ancient sources as well as modern works. Indeed, Heckel's considerable command of the varied and often [End Page 214] fragmentary primary sources will be particularly helpful to the student or scholar seeking to employ Who's Who as a jumping-off point for further research. Aside from the catalogue entries of individuals, Who's Who features roughly a hundred pages of additional resources: extensive notes (the use of which enables Heckel to keep the catalogue entries from being overwhelmed by discussion of particularly difficult source problems and controversial interpretations), appendices, a glossary of terms (chiefly Greek), a concordance of names enabling readers to identify variant forms, a bibliography, and stemmata of the principal families.
Who will be the audience for this book? Without a doubt, scholars of ancient history will find it a very valuable reference tool...