Alexandros by Stanley Barber
Stanley Barber's Alexandros, written as a libretto for a musical, is an ambitious work. Barber admits that and also admits his limitations as a poet in his verse introduction, "On Writing Alexandros": It is written partially in what might pass for verse / . . . rhymes and meters occur occasionally, haphazardly, / . . . If it is to be a play, / It will need vigorous editing . . . / I am not a writer. / I am, after all, a juggler. / If the rings or balls or pins or fire / Occasionally fall and roll this way or that, / Forgive me. I never said I was a good juggler. Barber gets it right there. Alexandros is an uneven work as literature, and perhaps would be more successful, tightened, and re-visioned as an opera.
However, Barber's passion for his subject and his rendering of the passion between Alexander and Hephastian is vividly created even if in an oftentimes overly dramatic, dated, style. Few sources even imply that the two were lovers, but their life-long friendship and Alexander's reticence toward heterosexual relations point toward the likelihood. Aelian in his Varia Historia relates that Hephastian "intimated that he was the eromenos ["beloved"] of Alexander, as Patroclus was of Achilles." Their story is one of the great classical same-sex love stories—one rich with drama—so it's not surprising to find it presented not only in Oliver Stone's film, Alexander (although with astonishing, almost impertinent, reserve), but in Barber's more candid telling.
Barber's extensive research and his imagination work together create an exciting visioning of a love every bit as proud, inspiring, and thrilling as that between Achilles and Paroclus. The two boys fall in love at the age of 13 and remain adoring the rest of their lives, despite Alexander's mother Olympias' determination to make sure Alexander provides an heir. She accomplishes that by marrying him to Roxana who gave birth to a child who was to become Alexander IV of Macedonia. We know the story, replete with Alexander's cultured milieu, travels, and world conquest. Barber's Alexandros proposes the union, in all its splendor, trials, and ardor that fed Alexander's soul and allowed him to fulfill his quest: Remember us, together, / Hand in hand— / How we galloped through Greece, / Stormed into Damascus and Syria, / Brought Persia to its knees.