ALEXANDER, the son of Philip of Macedon, became king in 336 B.C. The queen-mother adored her brave son and dreamed of the great things he would do when he became a man. She did all she could to awake his ambition, telling him that he was descended from Achilles, the hero of Troy, and bidding him, when he was older, strive to do nobler deeds than his great ancestor had done. One of his tutors called the young prince Achilles, while he named himself Phoenix, after the tutor of the old Greek hero.
The Iliad of Homer, which tells of the deeds of Achilles, Alexander knew by heart. When he was a man he always carried a copy with him on his campaigns. It is said that he slept with it as well as his sword beneath his pillow.
Alexander might almost have been a Spartan boy, so simple was his training. He learned to ride, to race, to swim, but he never cared to wrestle as did most lads of his time. Nor would he offer prizes for such contests at the games which were held each year.
When the prince was asked if he would run in the Olympic Games, for he was fleet of foot, he answered, "Yes, if I could have kings to race with me."
Even as a lad he was eager to win glory, and when he heard of a great victory gained by his royal father, or of a town that had been subdued by him, he was more sorry than glad, and said to his companions, "My father will make so many conquests that there will be nothing left for me to win."
One day, while Alexander was still a boy, a Greek from Thessaly arrived at the court of Macedon, bringing with him a noble horse, named Bucephalus, which he offered to sell for £2600.
Philip went with his son and his courtiers to look at the horse and to test its powers. But when any one approached or tried to mount, Bucephalus reared and kicked, and became so unmanageable that the king, growing angry, bade the Thessalian take the animal away.
The prince had been watching the horse keenly, and as he was being led away, the lad exclaimed, "What an excellent horse do they lose for want of skill and courage to manage him!"
Philip heard what his son said, but at first he took no notice of his words. But when the prince said the same thing again and again, he looked at Alexander, and saw that he was really sorry that the horse was being sent away.
Then, half mocking, the king said, "Do you reproach those who are older than yourself, as if you knew more and were better able to manage him than they?"
"I could manage the horse better than others have done," answered the prince.
"And if you fail what will you forfeit?" asked the king.
"I will pay the whole price of the horse," said Alexander quickly.
The courtiers laughed at the confidence of the prince, but paying no attention to them, he ran toward the horse and seizing the bridle turned Bucephalus, so that he faced the sun. For the prince had noticed that the steed was afraid of his own shadow as it flitted backward and forward with his every movement.