Monday, July 9, 2012

Fortune Favors the Brave: Alexander and Bucephalus - How to Tame a Horse

The following story is a dramatic retelling of an account found in Plutarch, Life of Alexander 6.1-8.

How to Tame a Horse

“Phoneicus!” the king shouted from a distance. “I hope you’ve brought me a better horse than that last mangy mare.”
 The Macedonian princes laughed at their king’s joke, but fell suddenly silent as the Thessalian merchant drew close enough for them to see the steed locked in the carriage. It was a tall animal, defined muscles rippling under a luxuriantly shiny brown coat.
The young prince Alexander smiled gently as he looked at the horse.
“That is one beautiful creature,” King Phillip said.
“But one problem,” Phoneicus said. “This thing hasn’t let anyone ride him yet.”
“Take him down into the plain,” King Phillip said, giving the signal to some attendants.
“He’ll cost thirteen talents,” Phoneicus said, following the wagon into the low plain beside the palace.
“That’s a steep price for a horse no one can tame,” the king replied.
One of the king’s attendants walked alongside the horse and jumped atop his back. “I’ve got him!”
With one sudden kick, the attendant flew seven feet into the air and landed in front the horse. The animal reared up and was about to crush the man when he rolled out of the way.
“Good gods!” the attendant shouted, jogged up to the king, panting and out of breath. “That thing’s the devil!”
Alexander watched the horse carefully as a second attendant crept up beside the animal. Just as he was about to mount the horse, it turned and suddenly reared again, neighing and threatening the ground below with flailing hooves.
“The horse is afraid of his own shadow,” Alexander whispered to himself.  “And no one else sees it.”
“Alright,” Phillip finally said. “Get this horse out of here. We don’t have time to waste on this savage.”
Alexander took a few steps toward the animal. “It’s too bad such a wonderful horse has to be lost just because none of you has the skill or courage to manage him.”
The king’s attendants gasped at what seemed impertinence toward the king himself.
“You find fault with your elders,” the King said sternly. “And you think you can do better?”
“I can,” the young man replied.
The gathering crowd burst into laughter.
“What will you give if you are wrong?” Phillip asked him.
“How about the asking price for this steed?”
With that, Alexander broke into a sprint toward the horse. He grabbed the reins and pulled the animal’s face toward the direction of the sun. Unable now to see his shadow, the horse jerked just slightly and then calmed to the touch of Alexander’s hand gently stroking the smooth fur of his neck. Alexander moved his face close to the horse and continued the pet the animal and whisper soothing words.
The crowd watched in bewilderment as Alexander carefully unfastened the clasp of his coat and let the garment fall off his shoulders. And with a smooth movement, Alexander leapt upon the back of the proud animal. He gently snapped the reins and the horse walked slowly. Then, as the horse seemed to desire more, Alexander finally kicked with his feet and it ran with a speed the crowd had never seen.
Alexander rode at a full gallop around the ring of the plain. The crowd saw a billowing cloud of dust rising behind them as their speed seemed to ever increase.
Alexander pulled the horse to a stop directly in front of the crowd, the king standing shaking his head in a combination of surprise and pride. A roaring cheer erupted as Alexander reared the animal on to its back legs, raising his hand in a fist to the air.
After he had dismounted, Phillip pulled Alexander into an embrace and kissed his forehead. With tears streaming down his cheeks, Phillip smiled. “My son,” he said. “You need to find a kingdom equal to yourself. Macedonia is just not big enough for you.”
Alexander named his new horse Bucephalus, which means “Ox-Head” (because of the animal’s stubbornness). He would ride that horse as he later set out to conquer the Persians. And Bucephalus would finally die of old age (at thirty, old for a horse even today) in far away India (Arrian, Anabasis 5.19. In gratitude to the service this animal had performed, Alexander built and named a whole city after him, Bucephala, situated near territory in modern-day Pakistan.
Alexander saw the solution to taming that horse by studying the tiniest details of his surroundings. Look closely around your life. A large success may be found in a small observation.

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