He was a realist and a romantic, a lover of strong women and beautiful men. And though he was in his day the richest, most powerful man in the world, his most prized possession was a book – Homer’s “The Iliad,” annotated by his tutor, Aristotle.
Most of all, he was as much a myth as a man and a mystery – even to himself.
When Alexander the Great died in Babylon in 323 B.C. – a month shy of his 33rd birthday – after conquering and reordering Persia, he left a sprawling empire and a burning question: What drove him?
It’s a question Georgette Gouveia explores in “Daimon: A Novel of Alexander the Great” (Nov. 30, JMS Books), the latest entry in her series “The Games Men Play” and its first historical subject.
A response to novelist Mary Renault’s sensuous Alexander trilogy and Oliver Stone’s
fascinating, frustrating 2004 film, “Alexander,” “Daimon” gives readers the Greco-Macedonian conqueror at the end of his brief, brilliant life – knowing and ironic – as he encounters the only two enemies he could never defeat, death and time. Surrendering to both, he looks back on a life
that attempted to bridge seemingly irreconcilable opposites – West and East, Greeks and
Persians, a brutal father and a ruthless mother, a wily wife and a male soulmate but above all, a tempered mind and an unconquerable passion.
Gouveia has been fascinated by Alexander since reading Pierre Grimal’s “Stories of Alexander the Great (Myths & Legends)” and other books on the ancient Greeks as a child. The more she delved into his life, the more she realized that it contained not only terrific, cinematic storytelling but also lessons for her own life in surviving difficult parents and leading from the front.
“The latter is of critical importance in a world in which so-called leaders are often tough but not strong, preferring to throw others under the bus and offer the passive ‘mistakes were made’ – implying ‘but not by me’ – instead of accepting the responsibilities that go with the perks of power. The Alexander of history and the collection of myths known as ‘The Alexander Romance’ taught me that to lead from the front, you really have to put yourself last.”
But it’s not only in the area of leadership that Alexander speaks to today, Gouveia says: “Before Alexander, culture flowed East to West. After, it would flow West to East, and we are the heirs of the continuing tension between the two. Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Iran – these were the heart of his empire. American soldiers, fighting our nation’s longest wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, walk daily with him and in his footsteps.”
Ultimately, though she sees Alexander’s story as another in her continuing preoccupation with power, dominance and rivalry – subjects she plumbs in her sports/culture blog at thegamesmenplay.com and in the other novels in her series. “Water Music” (Greenleaf Book Group) considers the personal relationships and professional rivalries of four gay athletes – two tennis players and two swimmers. “The Penalty for Holding” (reissued Sept. 25 by JMS Books)tells the story of a gay, biracial quarterback’s search for identity in the NFL. “Burying the Dead” (published by JMS Books Oct. 30) is about a rising Russian tennis star whose glamorous career masks his real job – agent and assassin.
In January, JMS Books will publish Gouveia’s “Seamless Sky,” a tale of dispossession and revenge set around the events of 9/11.
Planned books in the series include the equestrian novel “Criterion,” told from the viewpoint of the eponymous racehorse trying to be the first since Whirlaway to win the Triple Crown and the Travers Stakes; and “The Magnus Effect,” which returns readers to the characters at the heart of “Water Music,” now older and sadder but wiser.
The genres may shift, Gouveia says, but the dramatic thread remains the same.
“Whether you’re talking about the world of Alexander the Great or Washington, D.C. today, the challenges in the quest to attain – and maintain – power remain the same.”
A 2018 Folio Women in Media Award winner, Gouveia is the editor in chief of WAG, an awardwinning luxury lifestyles publication, as well as the author of “The Essential Mary Cassatt”(Wonderland Press/Harry N. Abrams) and several essays on art historical subjects.