Literary Narratives

Caterina Franchi (Bologna)

The legend says that when Alexander was born, the temple of Artemis in Ephesus burnt down to its foundations and that Philip saw in his dreams an eagle dropping a snake egg on his lap. The little snake, after having made a circle around its egg, died. It is also said that, some days before dying, Alexander saw his throne occupied by a fool who wore his garments. When the Conqueror of the World died, the earth itself, was desperate for this loss and trembled, and the stars stopped to shine.

The birth, life and death of Alexander, as those of the great characters of Antiquity, have always been sealed by prophecies, celestial upheavals, alignment of the stars, and all these legends find their apotheosis in the Alexander Romance, a fictional work that influenced the occidental and oriental Middle Ages with its fantastic tales, reports of voyages, strange creatures and fabulous places.

This paper will focus on the attestations in this text of astrology. First it will deal with the natal chart of Alexander as it is calculated by Nectanebus, his real father and magician, which presents textual and logical problems in the first third-century α version of the Romance. Then it will discuss astronomy - the stars Nectanebus shows Alexander in the 7th-century Byzantine version ε. Finally it will concentrate on the series of prophecies related especially to his birth and death that are to be found in all the versions, with a comparison with the prophecies as they are told by historians.


Katherine Olley (Oxford)

Some are Born Great: Childbirth and Astrology in Adonias Saga

The 14th-century Icelandic romance Adonias saga opens with a plot by the evil Duke Constancius to take advantage of an auspicious celestial alignment, which betokens the conception of a great hero. Knowing Marsilius, the King of Syria, intends on the night in question to conceive a son with his wife Queen Semerana (from whom this astrological knowledge has been obtained), the Duke kidnaps him and takes his place in the Queen’s bed, conceiving a son, Constantinus, who is raised as King Marsilius’s heir. Unbeknownst to the Duke, however, the King also secretly conceives a son on the same night by sleeping with the Duke’s daughter, Remedia. Their son, the Adonias of the saga title, becomes a great hero and ultimately succeeds in reclaiming his father’s kingdom from the false prince Constantinus.

The paper would explore the role played by astrology within the saga, where it is depicted as an exotic, feminine, and above all unreliable, form of knowledge: although Queen Semerana is able to use astrology to predict the most fortuitous moment for conception, she is unable to interpret the stars accurately so as to anticipate the Duke’s scheme and ultimately is displaced as the mother to the future king by Remedia. Particular attention will be paid to the saga’s association of astrology with childbirth, a rarity in Old Norse literature, which more commonly features prophetic dreams about an unborn child as a means of foreshadowing future greatness.