One of my heroes of the past is Alexander the Great. This is due in part to Plutarch, whose portrait of Alexander, in his Parallel Lives, is arguably one of the reasons I became a historian. Plutarch’s story of the taming of Bucephalus is a classic, and I have, if you will indulge me, put it into verse:


Bucephalus—unlikely name,
unlikely horse.
Of flashing mane, the powerful one,
the source
Of pride for the man of the north,
a king,
Macedonian warrior of whom
bards sing.
Philip, bred of horse-flesh.

The day arrived, not any day, a
trading day;
Impatient traders waited on the king
whose say
Was law in the mountain kingdom.
“Thirteen talents?” the king roared, a
king’s roar;
“The horse is worth but a drachma–
no more.”
For none of his grooms could mount him.

An ox-head watched an ox-head, the
stubborn one;
Young in years, not knowledge, Philip’s
kingly son.
Taunting the king and his men.
“Questioning your elders? Why do
you annoy?”
Asked the king to the boy, not
a boy.
When it came to horses.

The boy made challenge
to mount
The horse, if he did he
could count
Bucephalus as his own.
They boy knew something—he showed
no fear;
He had a secret no one
could hear;
Save the giant horse.

He turned the horse to
the sun,
A blind steed, impatient
to run,
For Alexander.

Who gently called the horse
by name,
And onto his back clutching
the mane,
He vaulted.

They raced away the two ox-heads,
now one,
Alexander the king and Bucephalus, the horse he
had won.

About theamericanplutarch

Writer, thinker, historian.
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