Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE), king of Macedonia, overthrew the Persian Empire, conquered most of the Near East and Asia, and laid the foundations for the Hellenistic world of territorial kingdoms. Many legends about Alexander are preserved in the Talmud and in medieval Hebrew literature.

On the top of his head Alexander had two horns that he hid under his hair. Each week he hired a barber to cut his hair, but he was so ashamed to reveal his secret to the barber that he had the man killed as soon as he had finished cutting his hair. Soon only one barber, an old Jew, remained in the city.

"I cannot kill him, for then who will cut my hair?" said Alexander.

So Alexander the king made the barber swear an oath not to reveal his secret to anyone. If word of the secret reached the king's ears, Alexander warned him, the barber would lose his head.

For weeks the barber kept the secret to himself. Finally he could keep it no longer, so he went to a cave and shouted at the top of his lungs, "Alexander has horns! Alexander has horns!" Relieved at last of his terrible burden, he returned home to his family, certain that the secret was still safe.

Through this cave ran a stream, beside which reeds grew. One day a shepherd entered the cave and cut a reed to make himself a flute. When he began to play the flute it sang out, "Alexander has horns! Alexander has horns!"

Others overhead the flute's song, and word of it soon reached the king's ears. Enraged, Alexander sent for the barber to order his execution. But when the barber told the king the truth, the king forgave him and let him go.

For just as kings may have horns, caves may have ears.


Iraqi Jewish legend; Edoth I: 184-185 (A. Ben Yaakov). English language source: Patai. In : The Classic Tales: 4,000 Years of Jewish Lore. Ed. Ellen Frankel (NJ: Jason Aronson Inc., 1989)



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