Alexander the Great

     According to legend, Alexander first encountered a Unicorn when he was about thirteen years old and one was presented for sale to his father Philip, king of Macedonia, by a Thessalian named Philonicus. Called Bucephalus on account of its horn (the name meaning literally, if not very poetically, Ox-head), the beast lashed out so furiously at every attempt to mount it that soon Philip's champion riders gave up and it was led away as wholly useless and intractable.

     Alexander protested that they were missing a wonderful opportunity, for want of the skill and courage, to manage the creature properly.

     At first Philip ignored him but, when he persisted, the king finally said a little angrily, 'Do you think you know so much better than all these grown champions?'

      'I could manage this creature better than they have done,'Alexander said stubbornly.

     Now Philip had not made the attempt himself because of a leg injury but he took his son's defiance personally and thought maybe it was time to teach him a lesson in humility, 'And if you fail,' he said, 'what will you forfeit for your rashness?'

     'The whole price of the beast,' Alexander replied.
'Do you have thirteen talentsT the king asked, that being the Thessalian's asking price.

     'No, but I will get it.'

     'Very well, and if you succeed in taming Bucephalus you can have him as a gift.'

     Laughter spread through the assembly with news of this wager and there was much debate over whether Alexander was wonderfully brave or simply mad. Many side bets were exchanged as Bucephalus was led on to the field, and not a few of them were on whether the boy would survive his wager, let alone win it.

     Trumpets brayed for silence as Alexander strode confidently out on to the field. Small for his age, he looked a child beside the large Unicorn, but his confidence was not just bravado. He had taken notice of several ways in which, it seemed to him, previous attempts to tame the beast were misguided. Their biggest mistake was approaching Bucephalus as a horse whose will needed to be broken. In contrast, Alexander recognized that the Unicorn could only be ridden with its own consent. They had also thrown their cloaks over the creature's head before trying to mount it. So to prove he had no intention of doing this, Alexander unfastened his cloak and dropped it on the ground. He also made it obvious to Bucephalus that he carried no weapon, whip or rope on his person.

     Another thing Alexander had noticed was that Bucephalus seemed nervous of the long shadows being cast by those around him. So when he took the bridle Alexander dismissed the handlers and turned so the low sun was directly in the Unicorn's eyes. Then, bowing from the waist, he said, 'Greetings noble beast. I come in friendship. Only permit me to ride on your back today and you may choose your freedom.'

     Thus he remained, totally defenceless. The Unicorn stepped closer and lowered its head so the gleaming horn almost touched the skin over the boy's heart. There was a shifting in the crowd and a drawing of - strings by those bowmen posted by Philip to protect his son, but all knew that should the beast strike, nothing could save Alexander.

     After what seemed a long while, Bucephalus suddenly lowered the point of his horn to the ground and, trembling, allowed the youth to spring on to his back. Once there, Alexander sat still for a while as they accustomed themselves to each other. Then Bucephalus leapt forward in a gallop that carried them away into the distance swifter, it seemed, than the wind. Many in the crowd feared never to see their impetuous prince again, but at last he turned in the distance and came riding back to cheers and rejoicing. The king, it is said, shed tears of joy and pride and, kissing the boy as he climbed down from the beast, cried, 'Oh my son, look out for a kingdom equal and worthy of you, for Macedonia is too small to contain you.'

     Bucephalus remained with Alexander almost to the end of both their lives and was ridden by him into every major battle in his conquest of Egypt and the Persian Empire. Something of the Unicorn's temperament seems to have rubbed off on Alexander too. The young hero became famous for his fairness, restraint and clemency towards enemies who submitted to him.

     In fact, the story of Bucephalus' capture during an expedition near the Caspian Sea is a perfect example of Alexander's noble behaviour. As he was in the habit of only riding the Unicorn when going into battle, Bucephalus was usually transported in style in a cage designed to prevent reckless soldiers from trying their luck in riding him. On this occasion, while Alexander was off exploring with the majority of his army, some raiders from the northern steppes carried off Bucephalus and his escort as prisoners. Alexander was so incensed that he sent word that if they were not returned, every man, woman and child of that nation would be put to the sword. The raiders, who had now seen the enormous size and might of the returning army, realized this was not an empty threat. They returned Bucephalus and his guards immediately, and also surrendered all their cities into Alexander's hands. Alexander's noble response was to treat them with all kindness and even to pay a ransom for Bucephalus.

     Alexander also had connections with other Unicorns. One such beast, notable for the gem at the base of its horn, was presented to him on his travels by Queen Candace. There are also numerous Eastern accounts of him hunting the fierce Karkadarm, usually shown as a one-horned ox or rhinoceros. On occasion he also had to do battle with demonic Unicorns that were the manifestations of hostile spirits. With all these Unicornic associations it is ironic that Alexander should have survived all his battles only to succumb to poison at the tender age of thirty-two, but by then Bucephalus was no longer with him.

     Legend and history agree that Bucephalus died in Alexander's last great battle with King Porus of India on the banks of the Jhelum or Hydaspes, one of the five great branches of the Indus River. Only the cause of his death is disputed, whether it was from wounds, age or simple exhaustion. Whichever it was, his demise marked a change in Alexander's fortunes. His legendary luck seemed to desert him and his character, which had begun to show signs of instability, took a rapid turn for the worse.

     Alexander won the battle against Porus, but only just. It was his last great victory and after it his army refused to go any further. He was forced to turn back, but his decision to explore the coast on the way led to thousands of his troops perishing as they crossed the Makran desert in what is now southern Pakistan. Plutarch puts the number at 80,000 men and, although Alexander faced all hardships on equal terms with his men, the death toll did much to undermine support for him.

     Back in the heart of the Persian Empire he set about restoring order. He employed some of his old magnanimity, but it was tempered by a good deal of new harshness which shocked many Greeks and Macedonians. Then, tiring of administration, he began organizing an expedition to circle Africa round to the gates of the Mediterranean. it was at this point he caught a fever which hardly seemed serious at first, but after ten days of steady deterioration he died.

     After all he had risked it was an ignoble death, and rumours of poisoning soon began circulating, with the finger even being pointed at Aristotle as one of the instigators. Alexander's mother had many suspects put to death, but the full truth of the matter was never disclosed. And, sad to say, not that many people wanted to know For all his astonishing achievements it came as a relief to most of his generals and followers when Alexander died. It meant they could settle down to enjoy the fruits of their labours and carve up his empire just as described in Daniel's vision.