The close bond Alexander had with his horse Bucephalus is both mythically and historically well documented. Alexander came across him at the age of 12 or 13 while the horse was being presented to King Philip by the horse trader Philonicus. Alexander made a wager: if he couldn’t bring it under his control, he’d pay the money owed to the horse trader on his father’s behalf. If he could, he got to keep the horse. With some horse-whispering and amateur animal psychology (making sure Bucephalus could no longer see his own shadow, the source of his anxiety), Alexander managed to tame him.
Naturally, the fictional Alexander Romance took a slightly different view over Bucephalus’s origins. Rather than sold to the king by a horse trader, legend had it that Bucephalus was bred and reared on Philips royal estate. What’s more, the Greek Delphic Oracle had prophesied to Philip that whoever rode Bucephalus would go on to become the king the world was promised. But it wasn’t just Bucephalus’s origins that the Alexander Romance changed.
The historical horse accompanied Alexander across known world and beyond, serving as his charger in battles ranging from Persia to Pakistan. When Bucephalus eventually died from wounds sustained at the Battle of Hydaspes (326 BC) in modern-day Pakistan, Alexander was devastated. Such was his grief, in fact, that he immediately founded the city of Bucephela at the site of his death, named in his horse’s honor. The legendary horse, while also accompanying Alexander on all his many adventures, met a slightly different end.
Towards the end of the Alexander Romance, the great king is lying in his bed in Babylon, dying from a poison administered by one of his slaves. Everyone around him is howling with grief while Bucephalus is standing at the foot of Alexander’s bed looking longingly at his master. At this point, the slave enters the room and Bucephalusâsomehow blessed with the knowledge of his guiltâcharges towards him.
Grabbing him in his teeth, he drags the slave to Alexander. He then lets out loud whinny, throws the slave to the ground and tears his body apart, so that “bits of him flew all over everyone like snow falling off a roof in the wind.” Bucephalus then lets out one final neigh before collapsing at Alexander’s feet and breathing his last. Through the horrific carnage, Alexander gently smiles at his recently deceased steed before following suit, likewise falling into his eternal sleep.