Alexander and Olympias
It is not always wives and lovers who molded and fashioned the great men to whom they were attached, but mother’s too. One such was Olympias, the mother of none other than Alexander the Great. Notwithstanding the phenomenal achievements of Alexander, most historians agree that without the behind the scenes machinations of his mother, he would never have even become king.
History tends to portray Olympias as a powerful cult figure of supernatural birth, engaged in the worship of Dionysus and proficient in the handling of snakes. She married Philip II, King of Macedonia, in a political arrangement typical of the times, and from the onset, it seems that she was a handful. Although she was not at all well disposed to her husband, she certainly was utterly devoted to her son Alexander.
She and Philip divorced, and Phillip remarried from within the Macedonian kingdom, and in an effort to legitimize a claim to the throne by the firstborn of his new family, he tried to disown Alexander. Son and father did not in slightest care for one another, and indeed, during Philip’s second wedding, the two nearly came to blows. In 336 BCE, Phillip was assassinated, and it can be fairly reasonably inferred that Olympias was behind the act, since his second wife and her children met the same fate soon afterward. Alexander duly ascended to the throne, and a monumental episode of human history commenced.
The Alexandrian myth has it that, as Alexander prepared to enter Asia Minor, Olympias told him that his father was Zeus, who had seduced her under an oak tree, and that he was to act in a manner that did justice to his divine origins. And, of course, along with gods, snakes and kings, it was rumored that she and Alexander enjoyed a brief sexual liaison before his departure into immortality.
Alexander, as we all know, died on campaign in 323 BCE, without an heir, and Olympias tried to invade Macedonia to have her grandson placed on the throne. The campaign failed, and in a reply to karma, she and her surviving grandchildren were put to death.
Olympias has been described as ‘arrogant, meddlesome, and headstrong’, which is probably erring on the side of caution, but she was, without doubt, the most influential woman in the life of one of history’s most influential men.