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Alexander and the Man in the Tub

The quarrel with Sparta had destroyed the glory of Athens. When the civil war ended, the mountain people of Macedon, to the north of Greece, were ruled by a clever king, Philip. He despised the constant quarrels of the Greek cities, and determined to unite Greece under him, and then to conquer the old enemy, Persia.

But this great task was left to his son, known as Alexander the Great, the pupil of Aristotle. This Alexander is one of the greatest soldiers and conquerors of the world. In a series of battles, extending over seven years, he won a great empire, destroying Phoenicia -- the ancient rivals of the Greeks -- conquering Egypt, and making his way across Asia even to the Indus.

But Alexander was much more than a conqueror. Wherever he went he built Greek cities and spread Greek ideas, so that the whole of the East, as far as India, became a great brotherhood of Greek-speaking peoples. And all this he did, though he died at the early age of thirty-three in the old palace of Hammurabi at Babylon (323 B.C.).

Plutarch, the biographer of famous Greeks and Romans, tells some delightful stories of the wisdom of Alexander. He once went to see the philosopher Diogenes, who lived in a tub. When the wise man saw so many coming towards him, he sat up a little and looked full upon Alexander. Alexander courteously spoke to him, and asked him if he lacked anything. "Yea," said he, "that I do; that thou stand out of my sun a little." Alexander was so pleased with this answer, and marvelled so much at its boldness, that he said, "Say what you list; truly if I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes."

At another time and place "there was brought to him a little coffer, which was thought to be the preciousest thing and the richest, that was gotten of all the spoils and riches taken at the overthrow of Darius. When he saw it, he asked his friends what they thought the best thing to do with it. Some said one thing, and some said another; but Alexander said he would put the Iliad of Homer into it as the worthiest thing."

After Alexander's death his generals divided the great empire. One of them became King of Egypt, and made the famous Museum of Alexandria (named after the emperor). The museum was a great library and university, where pupils from all parts of the civilized world went to study under famous teachers, like Euclid, who wrote the famous books on geometry.

Thus Greek ideas and cities continued to flourish. Greece had become the teacher of the East. And when Rome, two centuries later, conquered Greece and the East, then Rome continued the task of spreading the rich culture of the East to the West, even to our own country, Britain.

And the Romans, in due course, spread many of the Eastern religions with them, above all the new Christian Church, at first the least of them, but finally supreme over them all.

So the Old Testament of the Jews, and the New Testament of the Christians written in Greek, became the great religious books of Europe, and then of America and the British Dominions overseas.