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    Alexander & the city of women – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Is it true that a Jewish source mentions a city in the time of Alexander the Great inhabited only by women?

    Coin depicting Alexander the Great

    A. The Talmud (Tamid 32a; there are versions in various Midrashim) relates that after the “elders of the south” showed Alexander how to cross the “mountains of darkness”, he found a land somewhere in Africa inhabited only by women. He wanted to start a war against them, but they said, “If you fight us, people will mock you and say that you make war on women; if we kill you, people will say that Alexander was the king who was killed by women”.

    He asked for bread, and they gave him a loaf of gold on a table of gold. He asked, “Do people in your city eat gold?” They replied, “Did you want ordinary bread? Had you no bread in your own country that you had to come here?” When he left the place, he wrote on the gate of the city, “I, Alexander of Macedon, was a fool until I came to the city of women and learned counsel”.

    The story has no specifically Jewish content, though it illustrates the age-old Jewish fascination with Alexander who not only defeated the great Persian empire but is said (the story is told in Josephus’ “Antiquities of the Jews”, Book 11) to have come to Jerusalem, made peace with the high priest, showed respect to God and the Temple, and allowed the Jews to live “by the laws of their ancestors”.

    There are stories in many cultures about a place where there were only women, often called the Amazons. In another Jewish source the place inhabited by women is called Kartagena (“Karta” from an Aramaic word for “city” and “gena” from a Greek word for “woman”).

    In the Greek version of the story, the women’s city was near the Black Sea. The Alexander stories often depict the king as a philosopher who admitted that he learned wisdom from many sources. In the Talmudic passage in the tractate Tamid some of his discussions with the sages echo the fourth chapter of Pir’kei Avot.

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