The plot thickens

There’s an explanation of Alexander’s exploits in the bathysphere on the Getty Museum’s website in connection with another picture of Alexander’s aquatic derring do in their collection (artist unknown).

.According to their description, Alexander the Great, was a student of Aristotle and wanted to explore underwater. Accompanied by a dog, a cat and a cockerel, he had himself lowered into the water, according to this story which was apparently popular in Germany in mediaeval times. So far so odd but here the plot thickens. Alexander’s mistress is sitting in the boat entrusted with the chain holding the bathysphere. However, she is not alone but holding hands with her new lover who persuades her to elope with him, whereupon she casts the chain into the sea, leaving Alexander to work out his own escape (no info on how A achieves this). I can’t see the animals in my pic but they were part of the story. The social situation seems more complicated in my pic (which is at the Bodleian in Oxford) than in the Getty Museum’s version where there is not just a couple simpering and cooing but a whole gang of people, two of whom are holding the chain.

This seems remarkably naïve of a man who must have had a considerable intellectual capacity, Hardly a fitting end for a warrior. He certainly wouldn’t have been let into Valhalla if he’d arrived with such a lamentable tale (the guards on the gate would have laughed until they choked on their mead).

The name “bathysphere” comes from bathytroctes, a genus of the slickhead fish from the depths of the ocean. On this occasion, Alexander was anything but a slickhead. This may, however, be a fishy story or popular etymology rather than scientific as “bathos” means deep in Ancient Greek, bathysphere and the name of the fish are related therefore but they may well be cousins rather than parent and child. The picture of the fish shaking its head (or fin perhaps) at the dechained Alexander and thinking that this ain’t no slickhead is hard to resist.

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