Dancing with the Lion: Becoming - Discussion Questions

Want to learn more about Alexander the Great? Consider these discussion questions from the author, a history professor and Alexander the Great expert.

  • What is Hephaistion’s concern/problem at the beginning of the novel? Why does he run away from home? By the end of the novel, has he found resolution for that, and in what way? How has he grown as a character? What role does Alexandros play in that?
  • In what fundamental ways does Alexandros mature and change from the novel’s start to its end? What roles do Aristoteles and Hephaistion play? Or his other friends, especially his half brother Ptolemaios? Even his mother and sister Kleopatra?
  • How do the siblings, Alexandros and Kleopatra, offer a reader different views on life at the court, and their parents, especially their mother, Myrtalē-Olympias?
  • Alexandros and Hephaistion are very different personalities. How do they complement each other? What makes Hephaistion want to befriend the prince, and why is Alexandros fascinated by Hephaistion? How do they handle—or do they handle—sincere and serious differences in view, particularly with regard to religion?
  • What are Hephaistion’s virtues and faults? What are Alexandros’s?
  • How do the two fathers, Philippos and Amyntor, function in the novel as literary foils (contrasting personalities)?
  • While the ancient Greeks constructed the rules of proper sexual behavior quite differently, they did still have rules. What rules prevent Hephaistion from pursuing/courting Alexandros, even though Greeks allowed same-sex relationships, especially between youths and young men? How does Alexandros justify their liaison? And what are Aristoteles’s objections?
  • Aristoteles contrasts akratia (intemperance) with sophrosune (self-mastery), wanting to instill the latter in Alexandros (and the other boys). Aside from the well-known tendency of the Makedonians to drink their wine “a-kratos” (without the krater, e.g., without mixing in any water—neat), in what other ways might Makedonian society seem to display akratia?
  • Philippos was the most successful king Makedonia ever had until Alexandros, utterly transforming the army even as he gave a master class in political manipulation and social reconstruction of Makedonian society. Yet his handling of his personal life and role as a father might leave much to be desired. As a boy, he lost his own father young, saw his eldest brother murdered by a rival cousin who then forced his mother into marriage, and served twice as a hostage (in Illyria and in Thebes). How might all of that affect his treatment of his own son, Alexandros (and Arrhidaios, for that matter)?
  • When writing the character of Myrtalē-Olympias, most novels about Alexandros draw heavily from the negative portrait of her in Plutarch’s Life of Alexander, portraying her as jealous of Philippos’s other wives and too ambitious for a proper woman. Some authors even suggest Freudian overtones to the relationship between mother and son. In this novel, what seem to be Myrtalē-Olympias’s chief concerns, both with regard to Alexandros, and with regard to her own role at the court? How would being part of a polygamous court affect both her worries/fears as well as her attachments? What are Myrtalē-Olympias’s chief strengths and faults, in this novel?


  • How do Philippos and Myrtalē-Olympias fail their son, and how do each of them support and/or strengthen him? (What do they do wrong and what do they do right?)