In the opening lines of his preface to The Image of Governance (1541), Elyot tells his reader that he came across his subject while
seeking some reading to “recreate my spirits.” He finds a book about the rule of Alexander Severus, the later Roman emperor, written in Greek by “Escolpius”, his Greek secretary. So “marvelously ravished” is Elyot by reading this book that he resolves to translate it, “whiles I had leisure”, remembering that he had promised to produce work on good governance in “my book named The Governour”. Elyot recognizes that there will be readers who do not appreciate his book, “dispraising my studies as vain and unprofitable”, “ingrate persons” who “requite ill my labours”. He also claims that he has been prevented from doing the job as well as he might, because the owner of the book asks for its return before he has finished, leaving gaps which “which I made up as well as I could”.
As Greg Walker and others have noted, this story may seem plausible, but on closer inspection is likely to be false. The seeming spontaneity of Elyot’s rediscovery of the Life of Alexander is undermined by the fact that it takes places a calculated nine years after the publication of The Governor, exactly the time that Horace recommended a book should be left in order to permit “reflection and amplification before publication”. Moreover, the book written by “Escolpius”, and indeed, the Greek secretary himself, appear to have been fabricated by Elyot. In fact, The Image of Governance is a translation from a Latin work, Historia Augutae, in which Alexander’s biographer is named as Encolpius.