Alexander's Education

Leonidas, Aristotle, Lysimachus

Introduction to Alexander's Education


Tutor 1 - Leonidas

His first tutor was Leonidas, a cousin of Olympias. Leonidas was a strict teacher who employed many of the harsh methods that we have seen associated with the education of the Spartans. The programme of education included hard exercise, music, poetry, hunting, riding, weapons training, light clothing, poor food - not a luxurious lifestyle for the young prince. His relationship with Leonidas was so close that he was referred to as Alexander’s foster father (Plut. Alex 5.7) It was during this period that Alexander acquired his trusty horse Bucephalus:

There came a day when Philoneicus the Thessalian brought Philip a horse, which he offered to sell for thirteen talents. The king and his friends went down to the plain to watch the horse’s trials, and came to the conclusion that he was wild and quite unmanageable, for he would allow no one to mount him, nor would he endure the shouts of Philip’s grooms, but reared up against anyone who approached him. The king became angry at being offered such a vicious animal unbroken, and ordered it be led away. But Alexander, who was standing close by, remarked, ‘What a horse they are losing, and all because they don’t know how to handle him, or dare not try!’ Philip kept quiet at first, but when he heard Alexander repeat these words several times, and saw that he was upset, he asked him, ‘Are you finding fault with your elders because you think you know more than they do, or can manage a horse better?’ ‘At least I could manage this one better’, retorted Alexander. ‘And if you cannot,’ said his father, ‘what penalty will you pay for being so impertinent?’ ‘I will pay the price of the horse’, answered the boy. At this the whole company burst out laughing, and then as soon as the father and son has settled the terms of the bet, Alexander went quickly up to Bucephalus, took hold of his bridle, and turned him towards the sun, for he had noticed that the horse was shying at the sight of his own shadow, as it fell in front of him and constantly moved whenever he did. He ran alongside the animal for a little way, calming him down by stroking him, and then, when he saw he was full of spirit and courage, vaulted safely onto his back. For a little while he kept feeling the bit with the reins, without tearing or jarring his mouth, and got him collected. Finally, when he saw the horse was free of his fears and impatient to show his speed, he gave him his head and urged him forward, using a commanding voice and a touch of the foot.

At first Philip and his friends held their breath and looked on in an agony of suspense, until they saw Alexander reach the end of his gallop, turn in full control, and ride back triumphant and exulting in his success. Thereupon the rest of the company broke into loud applause, while his father, we are told, actually wept for joy…[1]

[1] Plutarch, ‘Alexander’ in The Age of Alexander - Nine Greek Lives by Plutarch Trans. I. Scott-Kilvert (Penguin, 1973) pp. 257-258.