Because he was Egyptian and from Alexandria and was an academic, Mahmoud Manazalaoui's attack on the veracity, the honesty, of Lawrence Durrell's portrait of Alexandria has largely gone unchallenged in the academic world since he wrote his paper Curate's Egg: An Alexandrian Opinion of Durrell's Quartet in 1962. Shamefully his views are still cited by uncritical academics today. In fact Manzalaoui's opinion is nothing more than an ignorant rant written by a man who clearly knew next to nothing about the city he claimed as his own.
Click here to read my rejoinder, Egg on His Face, to Manzalaoui (sometimes misspelt Manzaloui).
[adapted from: Plutarch, Alexander, Lives, Vol. VII, Loeb Classical Library translated by Bernadotte Perrin Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1919.] - from An Alexandria Anthology
edited by Michael Haag
The Persians overran the Middle East, including Egypt, and twice attempted to invade Greece but were repulsed. Alexander the Great launched a counterattack, and in 331 BC, after driving the Persians out of Egypt, he founded a new city on the Mediterranean shore.
After his conquest of Egypt, Alexander wished to found a large and populous Greek city which should bear his name, and by the advice of his architects was on the point of measuring off and enclosing a certain site for it. Then, in the night, as he lay asleep, he saw a wonderful vision. A man with very hoary locks and of a venerable aspect appeared to stand by his side and recite these lines from Homer’s Odyssey –
There is an island in the surging sea, which they call Pharos, lying off Egypt.It has a harbour with good anchorage, and hence they put out to sea after drawing water.
Accordingly, he rose up at once and went to Pharos, which at that time was still an island, a little above the Canopic mouth of the Nile, but now it has been joined to the mainland by a causeway. And when he saw a site of surpassing natural advantages (for it is a strip of land like enough to a broad isthmus, extending between a great lagoon and a stretch of sea which terminates in a large harbour), he said he saw now that Homer was not only admirable in other ways, but also a very wise architect, and ordered the plan of the city to be drawn in conformity with this site.
There was no chalk at hand, so they took barley-meal and marked out with it on the dark soil a rounded area, to whose inner arc straight lines extended so as to produce the figure of a chlamys, or military cloak, the lines beginning from the skirts (as one may say), and narrowing the breadth of the area uniformly. The king was delighted with the design; but suddenly birds from the river and the lagoon, infinite in number and of every sort and size, settled down upon the place like clouds and devoured every particle of the barley-meal, so that even Alexander was greatly disturbed at the omen. However, the seers exhorted him to be of good cheer, since the city here founded by him would have most abundant and helpful resources and be a nursing mother for men of every nation, and so he ordered those in charge of the work to proceed with it.
I am a writer, historian and biographer who lives in London, England. My books are published by Yale University Press, Profile Books, Harper Collins, The American University in Cairo Press, and others. Also see my website.