OSR: Iron Gates - Quotes from the Greek Alexander Romance

The Alexandrian Dark Souls pointcrawl I'm working on is based on the myths, legends, and lies available to a 10th century traveler. One of the main texts is the Alexander Romance.
The narrative and correspondence in the Romance seem alike to have been devised by authors familiar with Alexander's history but with no interest in using it other than as a starting-point for romance. The historical element, therefore, is often as fanciful as such Hollywood epics as Spartacus; charters who lived centuries apart meet cheek by jowl (for example, the ten orators in Athens), or fictional characters (Alexander's friend Pheidon) mingle with real people (Ptolemy, Callisthenes) and join in remarkable adventures. One cannot overstress the aspect of popular entertainment in the Romance.
These models provide us with all the fundamental features of the apocryphal lives of the Apostles: a prolonged wandering by the hero, the performance of miracles, the regular presence of a companion as a foil, sea journeys, fights with dragons, discovery of sunken cities and great treasures, the worship of the hero as a god, the encounters with cannibals and monsters, wondrous plants, strange races and talking animals, struggles to escape erotic entanglements, the help of God given at crucial moments, and the incidence of oracles, prophetic dreams, and divine orders. 
-Richard Stoneman, The Greek Alexander Romance, introduction
The greek texts of the Alexander Romance are extremely interesting and remarkably incoherent. They were compiled by Egyptian messianic popular writers, Jewish nationalists, Rhodian separatists, nostalgic Romans, and a people who just like a good old tall tale. Letters switch from first person to third person and back again. Tales are repeated. When all the texts are put together Alexander meets and acknowledges half a dozen supreme deities in his travels: Zeus, Sarapis, Yahweh, Providence, etc. His parentage is traced to Ammon (both as Zeus-Ammon and Ammon-Ra), Nectanebo, and of course Philip of Macedon. His ancestors include Achilles, Hercules, and Dionysus.
But especially do Deïmachus and Megasthenes deserve to be distrusted. For they are the persons who tell us about the "men that sleep in their ears," and the "men without mouths," and "men without noses"; and about "men with one eye," "men with long legs," "men with fingers turned backward"; and they revived, also, the Homeric story of the battle between the cranes and the "pygmies," who, they say, were three spans tall. These men also tell about the ants that mine gold and Pans with wedge-shaped heads; and about snakes that swallow oxen and stags, horns and all; and in these matters the one refutes the other.
-Strabo, 2.1.9

Themes of the Iron Gates

Back in this post, I set up a few themes for this setting before doing a thorough re-reading of the Alexander Romance texts. Here are a few Dark Souls-esque quotes. In some places I've mixed Haight's 1955 translation with Stoneman's 1991 translation. Don't rely on these quotes to write your thesis. Go track down the source texts.
Igor Krstic

"For Gold, and Crowns of Gold"

For they say that Nectanebos, the last king of Egypt, after whom Egypt lost its great glory, surpassed all men in the use of magic.

There he saw the gods of Egypt steering the ships of the barbarians, and the armies under the command of the same gods. He realized that the end of the Egyptian kingdom was at hand. He shaved his head and beard to disguise himself, and, putting in his robe as much gold as he could conceal, he fled from Egypt.

"For what is more glorious than gold, with which we make our  honours to the gods?"

But Darius sat still, wearing his crown set with precious stones, his silk robes woven with gold thread in the Babylonian style, his cloak of royal purple, and his gold shoes studded with gems which covered his shins. He held a scepter in either hand, and the troops around him were innumerable.

Alexander saw that the tombs of the Persians were adorned with a great deal of gold. He saw the tomb of Nabonasar, who is called Nabuchodonosor in Greek, as well as the dedications of the Jews and the golden mixing bowls, so large as to be the work of heroes. Nearby he saw the tomb of Cyrus. It was a twelve-sided free-standing tower, and Cyrus lay on the topmost floor in a golden coffin roofed over with glass, through which his hair and every feature could be seen.

"You shall know no other king but Alexander. Keep to your ancestral customs, festivals, sacrifices, and holy days, as you did int he days of Darius. But if anyone leaves his own city or region to dwell in another, he shall be given as food to the dogs. Each of you shall retain all his own possessions, except his gold and silver."

[Alexander questions the Brahmans, the naked philosophers]. Then Alexander asked, "What is kingship."
"Unjust power used to the disadvantage of others; insolence supported by opportunity; a golden burden."

"And then we made another journey, arriving at the pillars of Heracles in ninety-five days. The local inhabitants told us that Heracle, in order to mark the limits of the lands he traveled, had set up two columns, one of gold and one of silver, each of them 20 feet high and 3 feet broad. I did not believe that they were solid, so I decided to sacrifice to Heracles and to make a hole in one of them. Then I discovered it was solid gold. So I filled up the hole again, which turned out to contain the equivalent to 1,500 gold pieces.

Alexander took his seat on high, surrounded by Macedonian children who were dressed in silk robes and golden girdles. Alexander himself was dressed in the garments of the sun; on his head was a crown of gold, precious stones and pearls, with a victory on top of it. He resembled no one so much as Zeus himself.

"Iron Must be Quenched in Blood."

Every house was pulled down and the whole city put to the torch. The hand of the Macedonian did not tire of bloodying it's greedy iron; and the helpless, deluded Thebans were destroyed by Alexander.

"Enter if you are pure, make obeisance, and receive an oracle. And Alexander," they went on, "no iron may be brought into the sanctuary."
Hubert Robert

A Cycle of Civilizations

There will be hints of past cycles in my setting. Not obvious ones, but they will slowly build.
Marquis (of hmmmarquis.blogspot.com) is working on a Bronze Age Dark Souls setting as a sort of prequel to mine. It looks very good.

Throughout the Alexander Romance, the name of Sesonchosis (or Sesostris) appears over an over.  Sesonchosis was the world-conquering King of Egypt who came before Alexander. He has his own romance and his own mythic history (see: Diodorus Siculus 1.53).

From there he traveled again for several days through the uninhabited world: after ten days he reached a wide plain of immeasurable breadth and extent. He decided to halt his army there, and look around in search of water. he saw a lake: as he approached it, he saw a huge statue set in a pile of stones. The statue was inscribed with Greek letters; the writing on it said that it was of Sesonchosis, ruler of the world. It represented a young man strongly resembling Alexander. It was inscribed: "He who has traversed the whole world may reach this far, but beyond this he may not go, just as I was stayed here and went no further. Here I, Sesonchosis, ruler of the world, turned back and departed from this life."

"We were exalting about finding the lake when we saw on a cliff a stone statue with this inscription: 'Sesonchosis, the ruler of the world, made this watering-place for those who sail down the Red Sea.' "
Yuri Hill

Prophecy and Dreams

And the god in the sanctuary of the Serapeum spoke an oracle to them. "The king who has fled will return to Egypt not as an old man but as a youth, and he will overcome our enemies."

"For there are interpreters of dreams, translators of ciphers, watchers of birds; one may utter oracles from the belly or prophesy from the fleece of the lamb; and there are students of horoscopes, magicians, astrologers. Now I have studied diligently all these arts, for I am a distinguished Egyptian prophet, and I am a magician and an astrologer."

After these words, he brought forth a tablet, very elegant and regal, which language cannot describe. It was made of ivory, ebony, gold, and silver. The symbols on it were in three zones: on the first circle the thirty-six decans, on the second the twelve signs of the zodiac, in the centre the sun and the moon.
"It is better for a mortal man, and more honourable
And less painful, not to know in advance
The time appointed for his life to end.
Men, being mortal, do not understand
That this rich, varied life is endless, as long
As they have no knowledge of its misfortunes.
You too I think will find it better
To choose not to know the future in advance.

But since you ask to learn about your fate
You may: I will tell it you in brief.
After death you shall be deified and worshiped
And will receive the gifts of kings. You shall live in Alexandria
For all time, dead and yet not dead.
The city you have built will be your tomb.
Darius was sitting on his bed, deeply disturbed. Then he saw an evil omen. A statue of King Xerxes, of which he was particularly fond because of its high artistic quality, suddenly fell through the ceiling.

"How many years have I left to live?" asked Alexander.
"It is best for a living man not to know when his end will come." was the reply. "As soon as he learns the hour of his death, from that moment he is as good as dead. But if he remains in ignorance, this helps him forget about his death, even though he must die one day."
Alex Konstad

Size and Appearance

Dark Souls games play with size. Humans can be as small as pygmies or grow to enormous sizes. Everyone seems to think this is perfectly fine. Generally, kings and powerful humans grow to 9 or 10' tall. In the game I'm writing you'll get bigger as you level up. This won't have any effect on stats (or gear; armour and weapons resize themselves somehow.) Incidentally, Sesonchosis is mentioned as being seven and a half feet tall.

In shape Alexander was a man, but his hair was that of a lion and his eyes were asymmetrical - the right one being dark and downward slanting and the left one white and clear, his teeth were as sharp as nails, and his movements were as violent and swift as a lion's. And his personality very clearly indicated what the boy would be like.

"There were also people in the wood, called Phytoi, who were 36 feet tall, their necks alone being 2 feet in length, and their feet of equally enormous size. Their forearms and hands were like saws. [...] Then we set out and came to a green country where there were wild men like giants, spherical in shape, with fiery expressions like lions. After them were another people, the Ochlitae, who had no hair at all on their bodies and were 6 feet tall. They were dressed in lion skins, very strong, and ready to fight without weapons."

[Alexander challenges Porus, King of India, to single combat.] Porus was delighted - he had noticed that Alexander was no match for himself in physical size - and promised to fight him single-handed. Porus was 8 feet tall and Alexander less than 5.

The next day Candace came out resplendent in a royal diadem. She was above normal human size and almost godlike in appearance.
Artem Demura

The Land of Darkness and the Fountain of Immortality (Greek version)

"After we had advanced for another two days, we came to a place where the sun does not shine."
"We came to a place where there was a clear spring, whose water flashed like lightning, and some other streams besides. The air in this place was very fragrant and less dark than before. I was hungry, so I called the cook Andreas by name and said, 'Prepare some food for us.' He took a dried fish and waded into the clear water of the spring to wash it. As soon as it was dippped in the water, it came to life and leapt out of the cook's hands. He was frightened and did not tell me what happened; instead, he drank some of the water himself, and scooped some up in a silver vessel and kept it. The whole place was abounding in water, and we drank from its various streams. Alas for my misfortune, that it was not fated for me to drink from the spring of immortality, which gives life to what is dead, as my cook was fortunate enough to do."
"After we had re-emerged, the cook told us what had happened at the spring. I was consumed with misery when I heard it, and punished him severely. But then I said to myself, 'What use is it, Alexander, to regret what is past?' I did not of course know that he had drunk some of the water, or that he had kept some of it. He had not admitted this, but only how the dried fish had come to life again. But then the cook went to my daughter Kale, who one of my concubines, Unna, had borne to me, and promised to give her some of the water of immortality, which he did. When I heard of this, I will admit, I envied them their immortality. I called my daughter to me and said, 'Take your luggage and leave my sight. You have become and immortal spirit, and you shall be called Neraida because you have obtained immortality from the water. Then I ordered her henceforth to live no longer among men but in the mountains. She left my presence weeping and wailing, and went to live with the spirits in the desert places. As for the cook, I ordered that he have a millstone tied around his neck and be thrown into the sea. He thereupon became a spirit himself and went away to live in a corner of the sea, which is called Andreas after him."

[Much later, Alexander speaks with the Brahmans, the naked philosophers.] Then Alexander said to them all, "Ask me for whatever you want and I will give it to you." At once they all burst out, "Give us immortality." But Alexander replied, "That is a power I do not have. I too am mortal."
Alexandru Negoiță

General Murderhoboing

Stealing Anything Not Nailed Down
[Alexander has entered the court of Darius disguised as a messenger]. As they began to drink more deeply, Alexander had an idea: he concealed every cup that he was given in the folds of his cloak. Those who saw him mentioned it to Darius. Darius stood up and asked him, "My good man, why are you concealing those cups as you dine at my table?" Alexander thought quickly and replied, "Great king, whenever Alexander holds dinner for his officers and body-guard, he gives them the cups as presents. I assumed you would do as he does, and I supposed that this was the right thing to do." The Persians were quite astounded when they heard what Alexander said. Any old tale can carry its listeners, if it is told with conviction.
Checking Corpses for Treasure
[The fish's] size was spectacular. He ordered it to be cut into sections, so he could see the arrangements of his internal organs. When this was done, a gleaming stone was seen in its belly, as bright as a lantern. Alexander took the stone, set it in gold and used it at night instead of a lamp.
Being Tricked by NPCs
When the army was resting, little men came out of the bushes growing near by. They had one foot rather like a sheep's, but the other foot, as well as the hands and head, were like a man's. They went very lightly on their feet as they approached. The soldiers ran and surrounded them, and with some difficultly captured a few and brought them to Alexander. Alexander told his men to go and fetch some more. When these creatures were brought near to him, they addressed him plaintively: "Have mercy on us, lord, because we are men like you. It is because of our timidity that we in this lonely place." At this, Alexander relented and ordered them to be released. When this was done, they went up to some high cliffs and began to mock Alexander. "Silly fool," they cried. "How inept you are. See how we have escaped. You cannot even touch us in judgement. Because your wits are inferior to ours, you were unable to capture us." So they jumped about and danced and made sport of Alexander. But when he heard and saw them, he laid aside his anger and began to laugh. And since he received the oracle, we have not seen him laugh again until this present moment. Yet what they said deserved a good laugh.
Ancient Flamethrowers and Massive Loot Piles
"Candace, queen of Meroe, and all her vassal kings, greet King Alexander. [...] We are to defend ourselves against all comers and treat them as as enemies. We have eighty flame-throwers ready to do harm to those who attack us. My messengers will bring you 100 solid-gold ingots, 500 young Ethiopians, 200 sphinxes, an emerald crown made of 1,000 pounds of gold, 10 strings of unweighed pearls, 80 ivory chests, and all kinds of animals that are common among us: 5 elephants, 10 tame panthers, 30 bloodhounds in cages, 30 fighting bulls; also 300 elephant tusks, 300 panther skins, 3,000 ebony wands. Send immediately people to collect all these goods, and send further news of  yourself, when you have made yourself king of the world. Farewell."
The Random Encounter Table
"A great variety of races dwelt there. We saw dog-headed men, and men without without heads who had their eyes and mouths in their chest, others with bulls' heads, and troglodytes and the wild strap-legs; still others were hairy like goats and had heads like those of lions. There were strange-looking animals of every kind.
There were scorpions 18 inches long, sand burrowers, both white and red. We were very frightened. Some of the men were killed; there was tremendous groaning and wailing. Then four-footed beasts began to come out to drink. Among them were lions bigger than bulls - their teeth alone were 2 feet long - lynxes, panthers, tigers, scorpion-tails [?], elephants, ox-rams, bull-stags, men with six hands, strap-footed men, dog-partridges and other kinds of wild animals. Our alarm grew greater. We drove some of them off with our weapons. Night foxes leapt out of the sand, some 8, some 12 feet long; and crocodiles emerged from the wood and killed the baggage-carriers. There were bats larger than pigeons, and they had teeth. Night crows were perching by the lake; we hunted them down and cooked a large dinner.
Poison to Kill A Man Who Would Be A God
So he laid a plot, and prepared a poison which could not be carried in any vessel of bronze, glass, or clay, because such a vessel would shatter instantly. Antipater put the poison in a jar of lead, and placed his in another jar of iron; then he gave this to his son and sent it to Babylon to Alexander's cupbearer Iolaus.


  1. I never really looked into the Alexander Romance before these posts, and I love the unabashed fun of the whole thing. Dump everything in, let no dial drop below 11, consistent canon only slows us down. It's great.

  2. What a top-level OSR challenge - We have this poison that can kill a god, but it dissolves anything it sits in. Trick them into eating or drinking it.