Jewish Fairy Tales and Legends | Annotated Tale

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King Alexander's Adventures


MORE than two thousand years ago there lived a king in the land of Macedon who was a great conqueror, and when his son, Alexander, was born, the soothsayers and the priestesses of the temples predicted that he would be a greater warrior than his father. Alexander was a wonderful boy, and his father, King Philip, was very proud of him when he tamed a spirited horse which nobody else could manage. The wisest philosophers of the day were Alexander's teachers, and when he was only sixteen years of age, Philip left him in charge of the country when he went to subdue Byzantium. Alexander was only twenty when he ascended the throne, but before then he had suppressed a rebellion and had proved himself possessed of exceptional daring and courage.

              "I shall conquer the whole world," he said, and although he only reigned thirteen years and died at the age of thirty-three, he accomplished his ambition. All the countries which were then known had to acknowledge his supremacy.

              King Alexander was a drunkard and very cruel, but he treated the Jews kindly. When they heard he had been victorious over Darius, king of Persia, who was their ruler, and that he was marching on Jerusalem, they became seriously alarmed. Jadua, the high priest, however, counseled the people to welcome Alexander with great ceremony.

              All the priests and the Levites donned their most gorgeous robes, the populace put on their holiday garb, and the streets of the city were gaily decorated with many colored banners and garlands of flowers. The night before Alexander arrived at the head of his army, a long procession was formed of the priests, the Levites, and the elders of the city, each carrying a lighted torch. At the gates of the city they awaited the approach of the mighty warrior.

              In the early morning, before the sun had risen, Alexander made his appearance and was astonished at the magnificent spectacle which met his gaze. At the head of the procession stood the high priest in his shining white robes, with the jewels of the ephod glittering on his breast. To the surprise of his generals, Alexander descended from his horse and bowed low before the high priest.

              "Like unto an angel dost thou appear to me," he said.

              "Let thy coming bring peace," replied Jadua.

              Parmenio, the chief of Alexander's generals, had promised the soldiers rich store of plunder in Jerusalem, and he approached the king and said:

              "Wherefore do you honor this priest of the Jews above all men?"

              "I will tell thee," answered Alexander. "In dreams have I often seen this dignified priest. Ever he bade me be of good courage and always did he predict victory for me. Shall I not then pay homage to my guardian angel?"

              Turning to the priest, he said, "Lead me to your Temple that I may offer up thanksgiving to the God of my guardian angel."

              It was now daylight, and the priests walked in procession before King Alexander past cheering multitudes of people. At the Temple the king removed his sandals, but the priests gave him a pair of jeweled slippers, fearing that he might slip on the pavement. The king was pleased with all that he saw and desired that a statue of himself, or a portrait, should be placed in the holy building.

              "That may not be," replied the high priest, "but in honor of thy visit all the boys born in Jerusalem this year shall be named Alexander."

              "It is well," said the king, much pleased; "ask of me what you will, and if it be in my power I shall grant it."

              "Mighty monarch," said Jadua, "we desire naught but to be permitted to serve our God according to our laws. Permit us to practice our religious observances free and unhindered. Grant also this privilege to the Jews who dwell in all thy dominions, and we shall ever pray for thy long life and triumph."

              "It is but little that ye ask," replied the king, "and that little is easily granted."

              The people cheered loudly when they heard the good news, and many Jews enrolled themselves in the army.

              Alexander stayed some time in Jerusalem, and messengers arrived from Canaan to ask him to compel the Jews to restore them their land.

              "It is written in the Books of Moses," they said, "that Canaan and its boundaries belong to the Canaanites."

              Gebiah, a hunchback, undertook to answer.

              "It is also written in the Books of Moses," he said, "'Cursed be Canaan; a servant shall he be unto his brethren.' The property of a slave belongs to his master, therefore Canaan is ours."

              Alexander gave the envoys of Canaan three days in which to reply to this, but they fled from Jerusalem.

              Messengers from Egypt came next, asking for the return of the gold and silver taken by the Israelites from the land of Pharaoh.

              "What says Gebiah to this?" asked Alexander.

              "We shall return the gold and silver," answered the hunchback, "when we have been paid for the many, many years of labor of our ancestors in Egypt."

              "Truly a wise answer," said Alexander, and he gave the Egyptians three days to consider it. But they also fled.

              When Alexander left Jerusalem he sought the advice of the wise men of Israel.

              "I desire," he said, "to conquer the land beyond the Mountains of Darkness in Africa; it is also my wish to fly above the clouds and behold the heavens, and also to descend into the depths of the sea and gaze with mine own eyes on the monsters of the deep."

              How to accomplish these things he was instructed by the wise men, but they warned him never to enter Babylon.

              "For shouldst thou ever enter the city of Babylon," they said, "thou wilt assuredly die."

              King Alexander thanked them for the advice and the warning, and set forth on his adventures.


AFTER many days King Alexander came to the Mountains of Darkness. Acting on the advice of the wise men, he had provided himself with asses from the land of Libya, for they have the power of seeing in the dark, and also with a cord of great length. Mounted on the asses, he and his men plunged into the realms of darkness, unwinding the cord as they went, so that they might find their way back with it.

              Around them was blackest darkness and a silence that inspired the men with awe. The asses, however, picked their way through the tall trees that grew so high and so thick that not the least ray of light could penetrate. How many days they traveled thus they knew not, for day and night were alike. The men slept when they were tired, ate when they were hungry and trusted to the asses and the cord.

              At last when they emerged into the light they were almost blinded by the sun, and it was some time before they could see properly. Then, to their great astonishment, they found that there were no men in the land, only women, tall and finely proportioned, clothed in skins and armed with bows and arrows.

              "Who are ye?" asked Alexander.

              "We are the Amazons, women who are skilled in war and in the art of hunting," they answered.

              "Lead me to your queen," commanded Alexander, "and bid her surrender, for I am Alexander, the Great, of Macedon, and conqueror of the world. I fight not by night, for I scorn to steal victories in the dark, and my men are armed with magic spears of gold and silver and are therefore invincible."

              The queen of the Amazons appeared before him, a beautiful woman, with long raven hair.

              "Greeting to thee, mighty warrior," she said. "Hast thou come to slay women?"

              "Perchance it is you who will triumph over me," replied Alexander.

              The queen of the Amazons smiled.

              "Then shall it be said of thee," she replied, "that thou wert a valiant warrior who conquered the world, but was himself conquered by women. Is that to be your message to history?"

              King Alexander was a man of learning and of wisdom, as well as a great soldier, but the words of the queen of the Amazons were such that he could not answer. He bowed low before the queen and with a gesture indicated that he had naught to say.

              "Then it is to be peace," said the queen. "At least, before thy return, let me prepare for thee a banquet."

              In a hut made of logs and decorated with skins, a rough wooden table was placed before Alexander and on it was laid a loaf of gold.

              "Do ye eat bread of gold?" asked the king, much surprised.

              "Nay," replied the queen. "We are women of simple tastes, but thou art a mighty king. If thou didst but wish to eat ordinary bread in this land, why didst thou desire to conquer it? Is there no more bread in your own land that thou shouldst brave the dangers of the dark mountains to eat it here?"

              Alexander bowed his head on his breast. Never before had he felt ashamed.

              "I, Alexander of Macedon," he said, "was a fool until I came to the land beyond the Mountains of Darkness and learned wisdom from women."

              With all haste he returned through the land of eternal night on his Libyan asses. But in the flight the cord was broken. He had to trust entirely to the asses, and many long and weary days and nights did he journey before he saw the light once more.

              Alexander found himself in a new and beautiful land. There were no signs of human beings, nor of animals, and a river of the clearest water he had ever seen, flowed gently along. It was full of fish which the soldiers caught quite easily. But a strange thing happened when, after having cut up the fish ready for cooking, they took them to the river to clean them. All the fish came to life again; the pieces joined together and darted away in the water.

              At first Alexander would not believe this, but after he had made an experiment himself, he said: "Let all who are wounded bathe in this river, for surely it will cure every ill. This must be the River of Life which flows from Paradise."

              He determined to follow the stream to its source and find the Garden of Eden. As he marched along, the valley through which the stream flowed, became narrower and narrower, until, at last, only one person could pass. Alexander continued his journey on foot with a few of his generals walking behind. Mountains, thickly covered with greenest verdure, towered up on either side, the silent river narrowed until it seemed a mere streak of silver flowing gently along, and there was a delicious odor in the air.

              At length, where the mountains on either side met, Alexander's path was barred by a great wall of rock. From a tiny fissure the River of Life trickled forth, and beside it was a door of gold, beautifully ornamented. Before this door Alexander paused. Then, drawing his sword, he struck the Gate of Paradise with the hilt.

              There was no answer, and Alexander knocked a second time. Again there was no reply, and a third time Alexander knocked with some impatience.

              Then the door slowly opened, and a figure in white stood in the entry. In its hand it held a skull, made of gold, with eyes of rubies.

              "Who knocks so rudely at the Gate of Paradise?" asked the angel.

              "I, Alexander, the Great, of Macedon, the conqueror of the world," answered Alexander, proudly. "I demand admittance to Paradise."

              "Hast thou brought peace to the whole world that thou sayest thou art its conqueror?" demanded the angel.

              Alexander made no answer.

              "Only the righteous who bring peace to mankind may enter Paradise alive," said the angel, gently.

              Alexander hung his head abashed; then, in a voice broken with emotion, he begged that at least he should be given a memento of his visit.

              The angel handed him the skull, saying: "Take this and ponder o'er its meaning."

              The angel vanished and the golden door closed.

              The skull was so heavy that, with all his great strength, Alexander could scarcely carry it. When he placed it in a balance to ascertain its weight, he found that it was heavier than all his treasures. None of his wise men could explain this mystery and so Alexander sought out a Jew among his soldiers, one who had been a student with the rabbis.

              Taking a handfull of earth the Jew placed it over the eyes and the skull was then as light as air.

              "The meaning is plain," said the Jew. "Not until the human eye is covered with earth--in the grave--is it satisfied. Not until after death can man hope to enter Paradise."

              Alexander was anxious to hasten away from that strange region, but many of his soldiers declared that they would settle down by the banks of the River of Life. Next morning, however, the river had vanished. Where all had been beautiful was now only a desolate plain, bounded by bare rocky mountains, reaching to the clouds.

              With heavy hearts Alexander's men began their march back.


ONE day a strange rumbling noise was heard, and toward evening the army halted by the side of a river even more mysterious than the River of Life. It was not a river of water, but of sand and stones. It flowed along with a roaring sound and every few minutes great stones were shot up into the air.

              Alexander asked the Jewish soldier if he could explain.

              "This," said the Jew, "is the Sambatyon, the river which ceases to flow on the Sabbath."

              "And what lies beyond?"

              "The land of the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel," was the answer. "None have seen this country."

              "Cannot the river then be crossed?" asked Alexander.

              "Not by all who wish to cross."

              The next day was Friday, and Alexander waited until the evening to see what would happen.

              An hour before sunset, at the time of the commencement of Sabbath, the river ceased to flow. The rumbling died down and the Sambatyon appeared like a broad expanse of shining yellow sand.

              "To-morrow I shall cross with my army," said Alexander, but next morning the Sambatyon was enveloped in dense black clouds.

              Alexander could not see a yard in front of him, and when he ventured on to the sand, the horses sank into it. Flames were also seen in the clouds. After the sun had set and the Sabbath had ended, the clouds cleared away, the rumbling began again and the sand flowed once more like a river.

              Alexander was disappointed for a while, but at last he consoled himself with the thought that he had conquered the whole world.

              "Now must I carry out my project of ascending above the clouds and afterward descending into the sea," he said, and he proceeded to carry out the instructions given to him in Jerusalem.

              Four huge eagles were caught and chained to a big box. At each end of the box was a pole, and on the end of each a brilliant jewel was placed. When all was in readiness, Alexander entered the box and carefully closed the doors.

              "Thus did Nimrod ascend into the sky," he said, "but he was a fool. He shot arrows into the air, and when the angels returned them stained with blood, he thought he had killed God. I desire only to see the heavens, not to conquer them."

              He gave the signal, and the heads of the eagles chained to the poles were uncovered. The moment they saw the dazzling jewels they tried to snatch them, but could not. So they continued to rise higher and higher until the box was carried above the clouds. By looking through the windows at the top and bottom of the box, Alexander could see how high he was. For a long time he saw nothing but clouds, which appeared like a vast sea beneath him, but when these cleared away, he saw the earth again.

              So high was he that the world looked like a ball. Until then he had not known the earth was round. The seas enveloping the greater part of the globe looked like writhing serpents.

              "Now I can understand," he said, "why the wise rabbis say that the great fish, the leviathan, surrounds the world with its tail in its mouth."

              Then he looked above. The sun seemed further away than ever.

              "Heaven is not so near as I thought," he said, and seeing himself but a tiny speck miles above the earth and still further away from the heavens, he grew afraid for the first time in his life. With a stick he knocked the jewels from the poles outside the box, and the eagles, seeing them no longer, began to descend. Alexander breathed more freely when he was safe on the ground again, but he would not tell his generals what he had seen.

              "Wait until I have descended into the sea," he said.

              Under his orders, a diving bell of clear thick glass, bound with iron, had been constructed. Alexander entered the bell, all the joints were then tightly secured with pitch, and the bell lowered from a ship into the ocean by means of chains.

              Before he entered, Alexander took the precaution to put on a magic ring, which his wife, Roxana, had sent him. This, she said, would protect him against the monsters of the deep.

              Down, down into the watery deep sank the bell, and for some time Alexander could see nothing. When his eyes grew accustomed to the strange, greenish light, he noticed multitudes of queer fish darting round about the bell. Many were of a shape never conjectured by man, some were so tiny that he could scarcely see them, and others so large that one of these monsters actually tried to swallow the bell. But Alexander showed the magic ring which glowed like a blazing star and the monster darted away.

              So deep down sank the bell that no light could at last penetrate from the sun. Most of the fish, however, were luminous, and Alexander was almost dazzled by the changing of the brilliant lights as the denizens of the deep swam swiftly around the bell. Shells of wondrous beauty did he see, together with pearls of great size. The treasures of the deep were revealed to him, and he saw that the riches on land were as nothing compared with them. He saw the coral insects at their work of building, and of entrancing beauty growing in the oozy bed of the ocean.

              "I wonder," said Alexander, "if I dare venture forth and take some of these beautiful gems back with me. The ring will protect me."

              Alexander was one of the bravest men that ever lived, and he immediately set about trying to open the bell. In doing so, he rattled the chains by which it was lowered, and Robus, the officer in charge, took this as a signal to raise the bell.

              In his excitement he dropped the chains into the sea, and they fell with a big crash on the bell and smashed it to pieces. When Robus saw what had happened, he cast himself into the sea in a gallant endeavor to rescue his master.

              Down below in the glittering depths of the ocean, Alexander saw the fish hurrying away in great fear and he heard the rattling of the chains as they dropped through the water. He looked up and saw them crash on the bell. A terrible, buzzing sound filled his ears, a thousand dazzling colors danced before his eyes and made him giddy.

              With great presence of mind he remembered his ring, and immediately a big fish swam underneath him, raised him from the wreckage of the bell and rose swiftly to the surface. Alexander emerged just as Robus dived into the sea. At once he showed the fish his ring and it dived and brought his gallant officer safe to his side.

              "I have seen enough," said Alexander, when he was safe on land, "more than mortals should see. I have learned that the earth is for man and that the air above and the waters beneath are for the other and more wonderful creatures of God."

              He made preparations to return to Macedon, but his army was wearied with long marching and begged of him to let them rest. Accordingly, he halted outside Babylon. Sickness seized him, but he remembered the warning of the rabbis and would not enter the city. For days he wandered around until his soldiers showed signs of mutiny. Then, throwing caution to the winds, Alexander entered Babylon.

              At once his illness took a serious turn, and in a few days he died. When the Jews heard the news, they mourned him sincerely, for they knew that they had lost a good friend. All that remains as a memorial of Alexander is the city of Alexandria, which he founded in Egypt. It stands to this day.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: King Alexander's Adventures
Tale Author/Editor: Landa, Gertrude
Book Title: Jewish Fairy Tales and Legends
Book Author/Editor: Landa, Gertrude (Aunt Naomi)
Publisher: Bloch Publishing Co.
Publication City: New York
Year of Publication: 1919
Country of Origin: Jewish
Classification: unclassified

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