FFFMM III - Alexander: Divine Defender.
From optional to integral: Alexander’s rise in Final Fantasy.
Despite being one of Final Fantasy’s most popular and recognisable summoned creatures, Alexander’s usage in the series has been rather restricted, but he has gradually been given more prominence, even becoming important to the plot in some games (a rare honour for a summoned creature). Alexander’s first true appearance isn’t until FFVI where he is simply an esper (one of 27 - or 32 for the GBA version – the largest cast of summoned creatures to date) obtainable as a reward after defeating Wrexsoul and saving Cyan’s sanity. The PSX re-release FMV of FFVI affords him more importance by depicting him destroying Kefka, but this is hardly canonical and is possibly a joke in that Alexander uses the move ‘Divine Judgement’ against Kefka whose nihilistic reign of terror as a god was enforced through his misuse of a similarly named attack.
Like the FFVI Alexander, the FFVII and FFVIII Alexanders are also picked up either after or during a battle. In FFVII Alexander is obtained in the Great Glacier by touching the Hot Springs and then defeating an icy temptress, Snow, found in a cave. In FFVIII an alert player has the option to draw Alexander from Edea during a boss fight in Galbadia Garden.
It isn’t until FFIX, where he is unsummonable, that Alexander attains more relevance to a game’s plot. Here Alexander is summoned by Garnet and Eiko to defend the city of Alexandria from the fiery destruction unleashed by Bahamut. The colossal guardian succeeds to defend the whole town only to be swiftly razed by the villainous Garland’s airship The Invincible.
Despite Alexander’s rather limited appearances in FF, he has become a popular icon for the franchise. Yet who or what Alexander is requires examination.
It’s all in the name: Alexander and his identity.
The personal name Alexander derives from a combination of the Greek words alexein (‘to defend’ or ‘ward off’) and andros (‘man’). Alexander’s name literally means ‘Defender of Man’, and is therefore an appropriately attributed proper name considering that Alexander’s primary role in the FF universe is to act as a powerful defending force for the party.
There is a human character named Alexander Highwind Tycoon (appearing in FFV), but he shares no characteristics with the later colossal robotic entity (save for, perhaps, an association with castles), and so he will not be considered here.
Is the Final Fantasy Alexander supposed to be representing any particular Alexander? To answer that let us examine the counterparts from our world named Alexander.
Historically speaking, numerous figures have gone by the name Alexander.
Allegedly the first traceable appearance of this name is in the form of ‘Alaksandu’, king of Wilusa (the settlement associated with Ilios / Troy in Greek tradition), and records reveal that he sealed a treaty with the Hittites in 1280 BC. Some suggest that Alaksandu of Wilusa was Greek in origin, or held a Greek name; Alexander. Scholars who wish to locate characters of the Trojan War historically (rather than keeping their mythical contexts) sometimes like to equate Alaksandu with Alexander of Troy (more popularly remembered as Paris – the man who took Helen), but 1280 BC is too early, the war too mythical, and Paris was not a king. At best this evidence may suggest that the name Alexander was circulating at the royal court of Wilusa, but not Alexander/Paris.
The mythical Trojan prince Alexander/Paris might, however, have some relevance to our FF summon. Paris-Alexander gained the prize of Helen when he was confronted by the goddesses Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite. Paris was asked to judge which of the trio was more beautiful (or whose rewards he preferred). Of course, Paris chose Aphrodite for her offer of the most desirable woman in the world, Helen, and so Alexander’s judgement sparked the Trojan War. Was this a sort of divine judgement, as represented by the FF summon’s signature attack?
(The Judgement of Paris by Adriaen van der Werff, 1716).
The most famous Alexander is, of course, King Alexander III of Macedonia (Alexander the Great). Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) was responsible for creating for Greece the most massive empire seen up to his day, conquering the Persian Empire, and gaining Egypt and parts of North India. This ushered in the so-called Hellenistic Age where Greek culture (already widespread) exploded in impact and spread, dominating the then-known world.
(Alexander the Great as depicted in the ‘Alexander Mosaic’, 2nd-1st Century BC, from the House of the Faun at Pompeii but typically thought to have been a copy of a Greek painting from the 4th Century BC).
In FFXIII Alexander appears as Hope Estheim’s personal eidolon. In Alexander’s default (non-gestalt) mode we get him in his most human incarnation in the FF universe. Here Alexander is not a walking castle, but instead a humanoid machine wearing subtle hints at an ancient Greek origin (though many other things could also be seen in it).
This is not to say that architectural elements are entirely absent from this design, but they become subtly restrained. The tops of his thighs look like the capitals of columns. Interestingly they’ve even decided to put a marble-like block resembling (though not quite) a triglyph to cover his crotch, and so he wears an architectural element from an ancient Greek temple as a sort of codpiece to cover his modesty, if one wants to look at it that way…
At the top of the torso there is also some patterning. The placement of FFXIII’s Alexander’s flower is in keeping with the usual placement of apotropaic symbols on ancient Greek armour, such as the very familiar gorgon head, or sometimes lions or other symbols of significance.
(Mid-5th Century BC red-figure vase of a Greek hoplite, wearing a linothorax with a Gorgon head).
(A tree filled with blue glass representations of eyes to ward off the ‘evil eye’).
A final aspect of the FFXIII Alexander’s design worthy of noting is that on his shoulders he appears to be supporting a row of what at some angles (not all) look like snakes poised to strike. Perhaps he is carrying the Hydra on his back in the way that Heracles (claimed as an ancestor to Alexander the Great’s family!) wore the skin of the Nemean Lion. Alternatively, these could be individual snakes, and though unlikely deliberately referencing anything, bear relevance in that Alexander’s mother, Olympias, had a particularly famous affinity with snakes and Dionysian mysticism. There even circulated an obviously fabricated story that Olympias conceived Alexander after making love to a snake (or Zeus in the form of a snake – see, for example, Plutarch, Life of Alexander: 3.1-2).
FFXIII’s form of Alexander may have been created with Alexander the Great in mind. Having seen these design choices it is difficult to look at this version of Alexander without seeing parts of Alexander the Great embedded in its structure. Even if FFXIII’s Alexander is loosely drawing inspiration from Alexander the Great then what, or who, are the other Alexanders in FF?
In history there were also many medieval kings named Alexander (typically named after the fame of Alexander the Great). These included kings from a whole host of cultures such as Scotland, Georgia, and even Ethiopia. Furthermore the name continued to be used by royalty into the modern period, being a common name amongst emperors of Imperial Russia and various European royal houses. Queen Victoria was christened as Alexandrina Victoria as well.
Aside from royalty, there have also been numerous figures of other importance in history bearing the name. Religiously speaking multiple popes have used the name, and there are fourteen Saint Alexanders too. Alexander is, therefore, quite a relevant name choice for a giant robotic entity which casts divine judgement and holy magic.
In short, there are myriads of historical Alexanders, and it is not immediately apparent whether FF’s Alexander is based on any particular historical figure, or if the name itself is the only important thing. Perhaps we could picture this as the souls of all important historical Alexanders being stored in the shell of a mechanised fortress, representing a unified idea of what Alexander should stand for; a great and powerful defender of man. Maybe, therefore, more can be gleaned from his physical appearance about what is really important to the identity of FF’s Alexander.
Holding the fort: Alexander as architecture.
Architecture is integral to the physical appearance of Alexander. In most representations of him he looks like a combination of a robot and a castle or tower. Expanding on this, in FFXI parts of the colossal Alexander even serve as a dungeon (and this shall soon also be the case in FFXIV).
In some incarnations of Alexander he resembles a plain medieval castle but with metallic properties replacing a stone construction, although he retains the aesthetics of a stone built castle. His legs typically resemble towers, and sometimes he carries a town, towers, or a fortified structure on his back.
(Alexander in FFXI).
(Alexander in FFVII).
Three examples of Russian Orthodox churches:
St. Basil’s Cathedral (Moscow), San Basilio (San Remo), and St. Nicholas’ Cathedral (Nice).
Alexandria the town: From Hellenistic Egypt to Shakespeare.
Having looked at Alexander as architecture it is also worth viewing Alexander as a place. In FFIX Alexander is closely tied to the city of Alexandria (for which it acts as a guardian). Some of the concept artwork for Alexander in FFIX suggests that the town Alexandria was originally intended to be built onto Alexander himself, but nevertheless the two cannot be separated. In our world historically speaking there were many towns founded by Alexander the Great during his conquests which took the name Alexandria (the most famous and culturally important of all being in Egypt).
The FFIX Alexandria is a renaissance themed locale, but it draws some elements from the Alexandria of Egypt in that both towns have a great library of immeasurable cultural significance. Both towns are symbols of wisdom and learning. The Egyptian Alexandria was a major centre for ancient scholarship, containing works spanning centuries, and its eventual destruction by fire saw the loss of innumerable works, most of which will never be rediscovered. Similarly the FFIX library contains works over 500 years old, including an original manuscript of the play ‘I Want To be Your Canary’ by Lord Avon (a nod to Shakespeare from Stratford-upon-Avon). FFIX’s Alexandria has a Shakespearian air about it, and this becomes stronger with the scenes that play out there (such as a love letter misunderstanding scene which draws from such a scene in Twelfth Night: Act II Scene V), and also the characters encountered (as examples Queen Brahne is the nightmarish lovechild of Queen Elizabeth I and the Red Queen of Lewis Carroll, and Puck brings Shakespeare’s Puck from Midsummer Night’s Dream to mind). FFIX’s Alexandria is perhaps how Shakespeare may have reimagined Egypt’s Alexandria if he took the same liberties that he did when he plonked his Athens in the middle of an English woodland in Midsummer Night’s Dream. This is Alexandria with a twist.
The destruction of Alexandria by fire is important. The library of the historical Alexandria was destroyed by fire (or maybe several fires over history), and FFIX’s Alexandria was burned by Bahamut’s and The Invincible’s destructive flames. Looking at this the other way perhaps Alexander the character could sometimes be viewed as a mobile Alexandria. However, this seems to only be an association specific to FFIX’s Alexander, and should not be considered for any other incarnation of the character.
A palette swap for Babil?
It would be more honest to consider the development history within Square’s team, and to investigate the construction of the character Alexander before he became Alexander. It is critical for this discussion to consider the design of Alexander which grew, it seems, from Amano’s design for the Giant of Babil in FFIV.
Babil draws from the biblical story of the Tower of Babel where humanity lived together in one giant city, constructed a tower which aspired to reach to the heavens, but this plan was halted by God and humans had to scatter and spread across the Earth (Genesis: 11.4-9). Perhaps FFIV’s sinister Babil represents the divine judgement of God on the planet below. These religious elements (such as a divine judgement) have transferred into Alexander as well.
(The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1563).
For some reason or another the FF creators decided to turn the Giant of Babil (and its protagonist descendant, Alexander) into colossal robots. Babil has AI and is controlled by a CPU (which is eventually fought as a boss by the player’s party). It is not apparent if the Alexander robot follows the same rules, or if a sorcery induced sort of sentience should be imagined instead.
Alexander’s mechanical properties likely result from the fascination with mecha in Japanese popular culture and further afield (an interest which has grown since the 1950s). Alexander is also not alone where mecha is concerned within the FF franchise. FF Tactic’s Construct 8 and numerous ‘Weapons’ in numbered FF games could also be grouped in this category.
While it is probable that the FF Alexander is merely the symptom of this fascination with mecha, the idea of a robotic guardian is older than many would think. Mankind has contemplated the concept of artificial life since it started to produce images and statues with realistic traits. The principle of a being with a metallic body tasked with acting as a guard is seen in the figure of Talos in Greek mythology. Yes, Greek mythology had robots! Or, at least what we may categorise as robots today.
(Talos as he appears in the 1963 film Jason and the Argonauts).
(A winged form of Talos throwing rocks on a didrachma coin from Phaistos, Crete, 3rd Century BC).
Conclusions: Square’s construction of Alexander.
There are myriads of ways to interpret the character Alexander. Different incarnations of the character draw from different aspects, different architectural styles, and different historical characters. The concept of a giant metallic being as a guardian (friend or foe) is ancient, but the idea expanded and became exponentially more popular in recent times, particularly in Japanese popular culture. It seems that the destructive Giant of Babil of FFIV, originally designed by Amano as a mechanised fortress entity (but in the actual game his sprite was redesigned), captured the imaginations of the team at Square who then later returned to the concept. Babil’s design formed the basis of a protagonistic summonable character when appropriated by the side of good. Few names could be more apt to use for such a machine than Alexander, a ‘defender of men’, calling to mind the various historical Alexanders of significance without directly being any of these.
What are your thoughts on Alexander? Do you have a favourite Alexander? Anything to add? Discuss!
For other current articles in the FFFMM series see:
Issue 1: The Carbuncle.
Issue 2: Ultros
Issue 4: Wedge and Biggs.
Issue 5: Red XIII.
Issue 6: Shiva.
Halloween Special: Phantom Train / Doomtrain.
A special thanks goes to Six for providing the header graphic and resizing images, and to Galadin for additional advice.