Alexander of Myndos

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Alexander of Myndos

(b. Myndos, Caria; fl. Ca. A. D. 25–50)


Nothing certain is known of Alexander’s life and his dates are conjectural, but internal evidence indicates that he flourished in the first half of the first century. None of his writings has survived intact, although he seems to have been widely read in antiquity and is cited by Aelian, Athenaeus, Diogenes Laertius, and Photius. He was essentially a compiler, but with wide interests ranging from animal lore and medicine to dream analysis and mythology.

Alexander’s princpal work in natural history was entitled IIερì ζψων (On Animals). A second work, IIερì τη̂ς τω̂v πτηvω̂v ìστ0ρìας (Inquiry on Birds) may have been an alternate title of Book II of his On Animals. The extant fragments from his zoological writings are a mixture of fact and fancy, in which the strange, unusual, or fabulous behavior of land animals and birds is emphasized. Unable to explain certain observed and authenticated data, such as the annual migration of birds, Alexander resorted to analogies with human behavior or to religious and mythological symbolism. Despite his apparent lack of originality, he wisely followed Aristotle in reporting on zoological matters and provided, in turn, one of the principal sources for the account of birds in Book IX of Athenaeus’ Deipnosophistae. There the size, behavior, and feeding habits of about a dozen identifiable species of birds are recounted, although most of the passages derive ultimately from one of Arisototle’s lost writings. Additonal remarks deal with the color of the plumage and the external differences between males and females of the same species. The description of the internal organs of a female quail (Coturnix sp.) probably derives from Aristotle as well. The only evidence of independent reserch concerns Alexander’s inability to hear the legendary song of a dying swan. Another zoological fragment describes an unusual animal that has been tentatively identified as a gnu. His interest in animal behavior tends to merge with the fabulous in his moralizing tales about the tranformations of storks after death and the semihuman intelligence of chameleons and goats.

Only one identifiable fragment exists from Alexander’s Περì θηριακω̄v (On Theriac), which may have been an account of the miraculous curative properties of theriac as a drug and as a universal protection against poisons. He may have written a separate book on plants, but the title is not known.

The combination of natural history and an interest in miracles is further evidenced in Alexander’s “Dream Book,” whose exact title is not recorded. In the few surviving fragments, predictions are based upon the behavior and properties of plants and birds.

No certain opinion can be formed of Alexander’s study of early myths. His Tὰ μvθικά (Mythical Stories), originally in nine books, is represented by only two fragments. He may also be the author of Περìπλovς τη̂ςʾερvθρᾱς θαλάττης (Voyage Around the Red Sea), of which a fragment that deals with monstrous snakes and their symbolic associations with Poseidon is preserved by Aelian.


For further information on Alexander, see Eugen Oder, “Das Traumbuch des Alexander von Myndos,” in RhienischesMuseum fü;r Philologie, 45 (1890), 637–639; Max Wellmann, “Alexander von Myndos,” in Hermes, 26 (1891), 481–566, a fundamental study containing an edition of the thirty–four identifiable fragments, and “Alexandros von Myndos” [Alexandros 100], in Pauly-Wissowa, Real-Encyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft.

Jerry Stannard

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Alexander of Myndos

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