The Alexandreis

Author unknown
Genre Epic, Poem
Keywords 13th century, 14th century, Alexander the Great, Old Czech
Title (in Czech) Alexandreida
Title (in English translation) The Alexandreis
Editor Andrea Svobodová – Štěpán Šimek
Translator Walter Schamschula
Edited source verses 1-381: Praha, Archiv Pražského hradu, collection Knihovna Metropolitní kapituly u sv. Víta, N X, ff. 157v-159r, 162r-163r, 167r-167v, 168v; verses 382-549: Praha, Knihovna Národního muzea, 1 A c 54, ff. 2r-2v
Introduction Walter Schamschula – Andrea Svobodová
TEI P5 XML Encoding Jitka Filipová – Michal Mocňák – Ondřej Tichý
Summary of content Old Czech verse epic about the life of Alexander the Great.
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Introduction to the Text

In the Middle Ages, the ancient king Alexander was among the most popular figures. In the hierarchically-structured society of that period a powerful ruler was an object of adoration and interest. Accordingly, it appears quite natural that Alexander, the greatest conqueror of all time, whose brilliant career came to a sudden downfall, and who had inspired many works of literature since antiquity, should have been chosen as the subject for a literary work. The Old Czech Alexandreida (‘Alexandreis’) is not only the most significant work of Czech court poetry, but also occupies a prominent place in the tradition of the Alexander epics in various languages.

It is beyond any doubt that the anonymous Czech version, which originated around 1300, is influenced by the most widely disseminated version of the story, the Alexandreis of Walter of Chatillon (Gualtherus ab Castellione, Gauthier de Châtillon, 1135–1200). The Czech author must also have been familiar with the Middle High German version of Ulrich von Eschenbach’s (also Etzenbach) Alexandreis, which was completed around 1280 at the Prague court and was originally dedicated to King Přemysl Ottokar II. The Czech version, however, shows sufficient independence to make a highly original and worthy comparison with the most outstanding examples of courtly epic in the European Middle Ages.

Politically, the author expresses the views of the Czech gentry. He is patriotic and speaks with contempt of the common folk whom he calls chlapi (‘churls‘). For him, Alexander serves as an example to the Czech king of how a good and wise ruler should govern. Thus Alexander has the appearance of a Christian ruler, while his opponent Darius is portrayed as a heathen prince. In the description of manners and life at the court, there is no historical perspective: the ancient ruler reminds us of a medieval sovereign. In addition, some Czech elements creep into the plot in the form of Czech personal names and in the rejection of foreign (especially German) cultural influences.

Introduction to the Sources

The text of the Old Czech Alexandreis, which may have consisted of ca. 9,000 verses, is known to us in 9 fragments with a total of 4,140 lines, of which 691 repeat in several exemplars, so that there are only 3,449 original verses, of which some are barely legible or fragmentary. By far the largest fragment is the Zlomek svatovítský (‘The St Vitus Fragment’, Praha, Archiv Pražského hradu, fond Knihovna Metropolitní kapituly u sv. Víta, N X, ff. 157v–169v), which consists of 2,460 lines and includes the beginning of the work, yet it is relatively late (the beginning of the 15th century). The other fragments are: Budějovický zlomek (‘Budějovice Fragment’, České Budějovice, Státní oblastní archiv Třeboň, Státní okresní archiv České Budějovice, collection Sbírka rukopisů – D 14, č. 1, 2 ff.) and Budějovicko-muzejní zlomek (‘Budějovice-Museum Fragment’, Praha, Knihovna Národního muzea, sign. 1 A c 54, 2 ff.) coming from the same manuscript from the first quarter of the 14th century. There are two fragments from the manuscript dating to the mid-14th century: Druhý zlomek Budějovický (‘Second Budějovice Fragment’, České Budějovice, Jihočeské muzeum v Českých Budějovicích, XXVI.3) and Vídeňský zlomek (‘Vienna Fragment’, Wien, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod. Ser. n. 3431, 2 ff.). The other fragments come from different manuscripts from the first half of the 14th century: Jindřichohradecký zlomek (‘Jindřichův Hradec Fragment’, Praha, Knihovna Národního muzea, 1 A c 53, 3 ff.), Muzejní zlomek (‘Museum Fragment’, Praha, Knihovna Národního muzea, sign. 1 A c 58, 2 ff.), Ostřihomský zlomek (‘Esztergom Fragment’, Praha, Národní knihovna České republiky, XXIV B 144, 2 strips), and Šafaříkův zlomek (‘Šafařík´s Fragment’, Praha, Knihovna Národního muzea, 1 A c 58, 2 ff.).

About this Edition

The edition presents five excerpts: in total there are 549 verses numbered continuously, verses 1-381 come from Svatovítský zlomek (in the numbering of the Vážný´s critical edition verses 1-68 are verses 1-68, verses 69-167 are verses 202-300, verses 168-336 are verses 935-1103, verses 337-364 are verses 1937-1953, verses 365-381 are verses 2241-2258), verses 382-549 come from the Budějovicko-muzejní zlomek (in the numbering of the Vážný´s critical edition these are verses 179-346). The given transcription was made according to the manuscript, taking into account the edition of Walter Schamschula (cf. Schamschula 1991, see Existing editions below).

The present translation has been taken, with the permission of Walter Schamschula, from the text of his edition. No textual changes have been made to the text, and only obvious typographical errors have been removed (cf. Schamschula 1991, see Existing editions below). The introductory information, based on Schamschula´s edition, has been supplemented from new contributions on the topic.

Existing Editions

Nově nalezený zlomek českého Alexandra, Jan P. Koubek (ed.), Časopis Českého museum 15, 1841, pp. 73–90 [Budějovice Fragment; semi-diplomatic transcription].

Zbytky rýmovaných Alexandreid staročeských, Martin Hattala – Adolf Patera (eds.), Praha 1881 [Complete text of these fragments: Budějovice, Budějovice-Museum, Jindřichův Hradec, Museum, Šafařík´s, Svatovítský; standardized transcription].

Die alttschechische Alexandreis mit Einleitung und Glossar, Reinhard Trautmann (ed.), Heidelberg 1916 [critical edition of all the fragments known at that time, i.e. except Second Budějovice Fragment and Ostrihom Fragment; semi-diplomatic transcription].

Ostřihomský zlomek staročeské Alexandreidy, Peter Király (ed.), Studia Slavica 2, 1956, pp. 157–184 [Esztergom Fragment; semi-diplomatic transcription, standardized transcription, and facsimile].

Zu den Wiener Bruchstücken der Alexandreis, Friedrich Repp (ed.), Zeitschrift für Slavische Philologie 1, 1956, pp. 32–38 [Vienna Fragment; semi-diplomatic transcription].

Alexandreida, in: Výbor z české literatury od počátků po dobu Husovu, Bohuslav Havránek a kol. (eds.), Praha 1957, pp. 113-151 [excerpts from Budějovice, Budějovice-Museum, Jindřichův Hradec, and Svatovítský Fragment; standardized transcription].

Alexandreida, Václav Vážný (ed.), Praha 1963 [critical edition of all known fragments; standardized transcription].

Další českobudějovický zlomek Alexandreidy, Karel Pletzer (ed.), Časopis Musea Království českého 132, 1963, pp. 185–194 [Second Budějovice Fragment; semi-diplomatic transcription, facsimile].

Alexandreida/The Alexandriad, in: An Anthology of Czech Literature. 1st Period: from the Beginnings until 1410, Walter Schamschula (ed.), Frankfurt am Main – Bern – New York – Paris 1991, pp. 117-136 [excerpts from Svatovítský and Budějovice-Museum Fragment; standardized transcription].

Existing translations

Alexandreida/The Alexandriad, in: An Anthology of Czech Literature. 1st Period: from the Beginnings until 1410, Walter Schamschula (ed.), Frankfurt am Main – Bern – New York – Paris 1991, pp. 117-136 [excerpts from Svatovítský and Budějovice-Museum Fragment].

Further Reading

Cary, George: The Medieval Alexander, Cambridge 1956.

Kolár, Jaroslav: Alexandreida, in: Lexikon české literatury A-G, Praha 1985, pp. 52-53 [encyclopedic entry listing editions and literature up to 1985]. Available at:


MECZ [online], The Alexandreis, ed. unknown, trans. Walter Schamschula. KREAS Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Retrieved 22.06.2024, from Bibtex citation

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