Alexander inherited the idea of an invasion of the Persian Empire from his father
November 18, 2004 7:20 PM   Subscribe

"We will come and kill you in your beds, cut your throats, and wipe you from the face of the earth... if Alexander the Great were alive today he would grind you gypsy dogs into the dust, dig your dead from their graves". Since Oliver Stone chose to make his first foray into historical epics with a biopic of Alexander (based on the biography by the Oxford academic Robin Lane Fox), rivers of blood have been spilt -- figuratively at least -- in a propaganda battle between Greek and Macedonian nationalists over who has the right to claim the all-conquering hero as their own. The movie also deals with Alexander's omnivorous sexuality, in particular his fondness for eunuchs. With such treacherous ground to negotiate, and amid thunderous lobbying from both sides, Stone has chosen a middle course (like giving Alexander and the men of the Macedonian phalanxes Irish accents, while the Greeks speak clipped English RP).
posted by matteo (41 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Why did he set out to conquer Persia, but then just keep going?

Alexander inherited the idea of an invasion of the Persian Empire from his father Philip whose advance-force was already out in Asia in 336 B.C. Philip's campaign had the slogan of "freeing the Greeks" in Asia and "punishing the Persians" for their past sacrileges during their own invasion (a century and a half earlier) of Greece. No doubt, Philip wanted glory and plunder. Alexander took over the ambition, but for him, "Asia" meant even more than the existing Persian Empire as far as north-west India. He himself meant to conquer all of it, out to the Outer Ocean, the eastern edge of the world. He had no idea of Burma or China or the "Far East." Perhaps his tutor Aristotle's ignorant lessons in geography had made the world seem mistakenly small to him. But Alexander also wished to excel as the supreme hero, probably in rivalry with his great father's glory: I doubt if Philip's aims ever went so far in Asia as his ambitious son's. To outshine Philip and all previous conquerors, Alexander wanted so much more. And he was supremely good at it: did the taste for victory in battle become self-feeding?
posted by matteo at 7:22 PM on November 18, 2004

Shouldn't Alexander's legacy be though of as Greek (even if he was Macedonian) since he spread the language through out the known world? It became the common thread between countries from India to Greece and probably set the foothold for the Romans.
posted by TetrisKid at 7:50 PM on November 18, 2004

Some recent news on the struggle for the legacy of Alexander in modern politics (about which I blogged).
posted by rustcellar at 7:57 PM on November 18, 2004

I've heard that Stone makes some interesting semiotic choices in the film that have left test audiences less than thrilled overall--more confused than anything else, it seemed -- but I haven't seen it myself.
posted by nospecialfx at 7:58 PM on November 18, 2004

TetrisKid, the current point of contention is that Macedonians claim separate statehood to Greece; some claim a separate ancestry as well. Greece, on the other hand, chooses to view Macedonia as a wayward territory that needs to be brought back under the wing of the parent country.

Recently, the US recognised Macedonia as a separate state, a move which annoyed the Greeks no end.

In regard to the legacy he spread, well ... Greek was the language of scholars and businessmen in the Mediterranean for quite some time. Alexander was certainly a part of spreading that, but he wasn't the only one.

On preview, rustcellar's news link gives more comprehensive coverage than mine.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 8:07 PM on November 18, 2004

Wow. First day in school and there's a history quiz. No one ever said MeFi was going to be hard. But I digress...

(just to get this out of the way) :: Not everyone agrees with Stone on Alexander's choices in the bedroom. And, I - for one - would be hard pressed to believe that such an efficient conqueror, at that point in history, would have had the time for significant drinking and cavorting.

While it's interesting to ask why he kept going, it's even more interesting to ask why he stopped (and it wasn't because he was poisoned/got sick naturally/internally combusted or was abducted by aliens). His empire *was* immense for the time, but he could have kept on going. What really held him back?

(hopefully the next post will be multiple choice!)
posted by hrbrmstr at 8:08 PM on November 18, 2004

What really held him back?
duh, that's got to be the worst commute to work ever, HOE(high occupancy elephant) lane or not.
posted by rocket_skates at 9:10 PM on November 18, 2004

Welcome to Matteofilter, hrbrmstr. It is quite possibly the best class available in the blue. (Fortunately, there are no grades.)
posted by shoepal at 9:10 PM on November 18, 2004

ok, so i've been waiting to join metafilter for a long time now and i just had to make my first comment. ;-) next time it will be more constructive, I promise.
posted by rocket_skates at 9:18 PM on November 18, 2004

"Why did he set out to conquer Persia, but then just keep going?" - simple : Alexander got carried away as he developed a taste for raw conquest.

He was young, and the game still had magic.

Ever played "Risk", Matteo ?
posted by troutfishing at 10:00 PM on November 18, 2004

So, let me get this straight. Greece withdrew its support of the movie because it portrays Alexander as ... ominivorous?

Guess that's why Brad Pitt lucked out in Troy, eh?
posted by WolfDaddy at 10:16 PM on November 18, 2004

Shouldn't Alexander's legacy be though of as Greek

Uh.. not to be partisan but strictly speaking the Macedonians and Greeks were not the same people. In fact, the Macedonians under Alexander father Phillip conquered Greece. They were enemies. It would be like calling Canadians American. Similar cultures, but not the same. The Macedonians were seen as barbarians of the north who borrowed from Greek culture, but not Greek. Macedonia has a history and culture seperate from Greece (more so during the time of Alexander).

..would have had the time for significant drinking and cavorting.

Have you read the extant accounts? These guys partied big time. There is no question about it. For anyone interested in reading a biography I recommend Peter Green's book. which is a classic piece of history writing (see the amazon reviews). Peter was also a featured author on the History Channel 4-hour series, which is not bad for a biography. The Stone film is pure junk.
posted by stbalbach at 10:37 PM on November 18, 2004

This is particularly ironic since contemporary Greeks regarded the Macedonians as barbarians.

time for significant drinking and cavorting

If it [drink] makes fighting men like Grant, then find out what he drinks, and send my other commanders a case! -- A. Lincoln
posted by dhartung at 10:51 PM on November 18, 2004

WolfDaddy: So, let me get this straight. Greece withdrew its support of the movie because it portrays Alexander as ... ominivorous?

Well, the Minister of Culture who did that (not one of my favorite people) is no longer the Minister of Culture. The current Prime Minister decided to take that role on himself, though I certainly can't say that he would have chosen differently. The important thing to note is that it was quote-unquote "some nationalists" that objected - this sort of reaction is par for the course among this element - wherever in the world you find them, and politicians, as we know, tend to choose their battles carefully. Opposing the ultrapatriot is not often top of the list.

In fact, from where I'm sitting at the moment, I can literally look across the way into the office of one of the politicians who probably pushed that outrage agenda, as well as the anti-FYROM/Macedonia thing. Every now and then my husband chants some little obscene ditty and wags his weenie at him though the window - just so you know that these things are not going unprotested!
posted by taz at 10:57 PM on November 18, 2004

Oliver Stone's movies irritate me in the same way that Michael Moore movies irritate me. They seem to be smothered in ego.

It'll still probably be a good movie even with Colin Farrell as the centerfold.

And of course they partied, why else all the conquest for all the plunderous booty?

On Preview: taz, thank your husband for me, no matter the cause, his form of protest is an inspiration to us all.
posted by fenriq at 11:06 PM on November 18, 2004

Greece, on the other hand, chooses to view Macedonia as a wayward territory that needs to be brought back under the wing of the parent country.

I don't think this is the case so much as Greece wants to preserve the trademark and historical legacy of "Macedonia" as strictly Hellenic. Greeks don't even refer to the former Yugoslav republic as "Macedonia," but rather as "Skopjie." (After the capital.) I think the Greeks were hoping this would catch on elsewhere, but it looks like that isn't going happen anytime soon.
posted by Ljubljana at 2:15 AM on November 19, 2004

But dhartung, as the Wikipedia entry noted (and as I've heard before), to the ancient Greeks, "barbarian" just meant "foreigner". So, to them, pretty much any non-Greek was a barbarian.

(Sorry if that's too off-topic or nitpicky. Just thought it bore mentioning.)
posted by fricative at 2:22 AM on November 19, 2004

Regardless of whether the ancient Macedonians were Greek or not (and that is something still debated - whether they were using some rough dialect, whether they spoke a language that was related to Greek or just another language alltogether) the point has nothing to do with current borders (despite the claims of nationalists from both sides) because:

a. That was 2300 years ago for chrissake. Sicily was Greek, Thrace wasn't. Things change. By Roman times the whole region of Macedonia (we safely know) was Hellenized. And by the eighth century AD Greek was spoken only in the cities. Alexander considered himself Greek anyway, but the linguistic status of his people is uncertain.
b. Whether they were Greeks or not they sure as heck weren't Slavs (as are the inhabitants of the Republic of Macedonia), who came to the Balkans around the sixth century AD.
c. There was a very nasty and violent struggle over Macedonia (the self-identification of its people and the actual borders) in the beggining if the twentieth century which is very much more relevant to the current situation than Alex the Great...
(Let me point out that I personally have absolutely no wish to claim ancestry from a militaristic maniac, who slaughtered thousands of people in his - thanfully few- years of life, and destroyed what was a very healthy rejection of absolutism in the Greek world.)
d. I think that national identification at the time was sort of a different kind of process than at present.
e. A thousand tribes and armies passed through the Balkans. No one is a pure *anything*. We are all the ultimate mongrels in this peninsula.

Anyway this time I hope rationality will prevail in Greece and the pathetic shows of nationalist hysteria which characterized the early 90s will not be repeated. Which will keep me out of heated debates with nationalists hopefully. There is probably going to be some sort of compromise on the name (such as Upper Macedonia) since the Republic of Macedonia's road to the EU passes through the Greek veto (and probably a *large* part of the Republic's economy is owned by Greeks).

Taz, is it Papathemelis you're talking about? Tell your husband he has my full support. Thessaloniki is great and all, but the sheer number of nationalists (And conservatives in general) gets annoying...
posted by talos at 2:56 AM on November 19, 2004

You nailed it, talos.
posted by taz at 3:17 AM on November 19, 2004

whether barbarians or sexual omnivores, or if modern greece or macedonia can claim to own the legacy, what cannot be disputed is that alexander and his army were incredible engineers.

during the seige of tyre, alexander made quick work of the mainland city and using it's stones and timbers, built a land bridge one half mile long and two hundred yards wide in eighteen feet of water to facilitate his seige of tyre's island fortress.

the remains of this engineering feat is the peninsula which today connects the modern city of sur to mainland lebanon.

oliver stone's film is certainly unlikely to leave any similar lasting legacy...
posted by three blind mice at 3:27 AM on November 19, 2004

Another Greek (and Macedonian) chiming in here: this is one of those historical mess-ups that I don't think can get cleared up and will linger on for generations. It's true that Greeks would like to claim the legacy of Philip and Alexander for themselves, and I for one agree with the sentiment --I'd argue that Ancient Macedonians were as Greek as the Spartans and other Doric, militaristic Greek tribes; Athens was not all of Greece you know...

The heart of the problem lies in the mess that is the Balkans: the borders around here have changed so many times after so much spilled blood, that the propaganda arguments used in the various wars have been ingrained into the psyche of the people. The FYROM people were told for years (from WWII to the dismemberment of Yugoslavia in '92-93) that they are Macedonians, not Albanians or Bulgarians, or anything else, because that fit the politics of the time --and truth be told, Ancient Macedonia included the region. And from our point of view, the Greek province of Macedonia was the prize of a couple of Balkan wars that Greeks won to a great cost of human life. The name "Macedonia" has a lot of baggage to it for both peoples...

In the end, we can all look back and safely blame the Ottomans: there is no country or region that was once part of that empire that doesn't still have some serious issues to deal with...
posted by costas at 3:34 AM on November 19, 2004

costas: one alternatively could blame the concept of a nation-state when applied to a region that was a mosaic of nationalities. Rigas Feraios, had the right idea, but a pan-balkan cofederation was out of the question, for many reasons, one of which is that the great powers of the time, weren't about to dismantle one empire to create another rival power.
posted by talos at 5:57 AM on November 19, 2004

Chiming in as a first-timer who, nonetheless, had a class on Hellenistic World (read: pre-Alexander, Alexander, legacy of Alexander) on the Macedonian / Greek controversy:

Alexander was certainly Macedonian, but the cultural content of his legacy was wholly Greek; and the ethnicities in both modern Greece and Macedonia are probably genetically more Slavic (thanks to the migrations in the 5th to 7th centuries) than they are related to the ancient Greeks or Macedonians.
posted by graymouser at 6:18 AM on November 19, 2004

a pan-balkan cofederation was out of the question, for many reasons, one of which is that the great powers of the time, weren't about to dismantle one empire to create another rival power.

I'm not so sure that such a rival power could have been created, whatever the wishes of the existing great powers. As Alexander's very own quest to avenge the Persian invasion attests, ethnonationalism is far from being a modern invention, and it is doubtful that Balkan states which had just come out from under the heel of the Ottomans would have quietly acquiesced to being absorbed into yet another multiethnic empire.

Indeed, the great tragedies of the European 20th century stem precisely from Austria-Hungary's refusal to acknowledge as much when dealing with Serbia. Had Serbia been allowed to go its own way unmolested, there'd have been no Gavrilo Princip sparking a World War, no need for the Germans to strike a deal with Lenin to undermine Russia's war effort, no Versailles treaties to spur a resentful Germany on to hypernationalism, no Hitler or Stalin, and no gas chambers, gulags or proxy wars fought out on battlegrounds the world over.
posted by Goedel at 6:19 AM on November 19, 2004

I'd argue that Ancient Macedonians were as Greek as the Spartans and other Doric, militaristic Greek tribes

You can argue that if you want, but the Greeks of the time, who actually knew the Macedonians, didn't agree with you. They didn't see them as anything like the Spartans or Boeotians; they saw them as barbarians. The fact that they spoke a related language doesn't imply fellow-feeling any more than does the fact that Pushto, the language of the similarly wild tribes of southern Afghanistan, is a relative of Persian, the language of Iran and much of northern Afghanistan. I imagine the (Persian-speaking) Tajiks of the north, had you interrupted them in the midst of their desperate battles against the invading Pushtuns to tell them "hey, those guys are as Iranian as you!" would have had much the same reaction as the desperate Greeks trying to stave off conquest at Chaeronea to tell them their enemies were Greeks just like them.

And I wouldn't blame the Ottomans; their rule may have been inefficient and frequently brutal, but they didn't cause the strife between Greeks, Serbs, Bulgarians, and Macedonians (to the extent such a nationality existed a century ago) -- they saw them all as part of the Orthodox community (millet of Rum). It was the subject peoples themselves who chose to see each other as rivals rather than allies. There was the potential for a more communitarian response -- Rigas, for one, wanted it -- but petty nationalism won out. There's an excellent discussion of the whole mess here; its conclusion:
The existence of parties with national affiliations instead of ethnic groups within the Christians of Macedonia and the undeniable fact that around 1900 national loyalties as a rule were not to be taken for granted puts the following vital question: whether in the years preceding nationalism or under the thin layer of nationalism the various Christian linguistic groups (Greek-, Vlach-, Albanian- and Slav-speakers) corresponded to different ethnic groups. In 1903 Noel Brailsford, a British journalist, met in Ochrid (medieval Achris), near the Byzantine ruins, a group of Slav-speaking village boys. When he asked them whether they knew who had built those ancient constructions they replied: 'The free men, our ancestors'. 'Were they Serbs, Bulgarians, Greeks or Turks?' asked the journalist. The boys responded: 'No they were not Turks, they were Christians'.

If the boys' answer represents an impartial or prenationalistic view, then it is most likely that some illiterate, non Greek-speaking peasant members of the Rumi-imillet in Macedonia (certainly not many amongst the fighting bandsmen), had treasured their previous cultural loyalties as late as the early twentieth century. In spite of all the ill digested national ideologies, they had been and some still were Romii (Romans) or Rum (terms which had a strong religious connotation), followers of the Ecumenical Patriarch, members of the genos (i.e. the ethnic group). This was a notion which in many parts (some Macedonian regions included) had not yet developed into that of a modern national identity. They seemed to draw from an Eastern-Orthodox Byzantine cultural tradition which had amalgamated a variety of regional and social subcultures, myths and memories, symbols and values. A tradition which had always disregarded linguistic differences and had created a common mentality based on shared attitudes towards time, space, Muslim oppressors (i.e. the Turks), and `civilized' Europeans. In a troubled region where romantic nationalism was re-discovering and re-describing the communal past, their actions and bloody conflicts were mostly determined by cleavages which reflected real and vital interests, basically the allocation of material resources. At least for the time being some Orthodox Christian rayas in Macedonia, Thrace, and propably in other parts in the Sultan's domains had little, if any, concern for any further ethnic distinctions.
On preview: Goedel, I don't think it's that simple. Austria was basically a cat's-paw for the much more powerful Germany, which encouraged it to attack Serbia in order to set off the war they really wanted, against Russia. Had the Serbian situation been less flammable, I suspect Moltke et al would have found another excuse for their Russian war before the enemy got too powerful to take on.
posted by languagehat at 6:46 AM on November 19, 2004

"Anyway this time I hope rationality will prevail in Greece _________ [ fill in the blank ] and the pathetic shows of nationalist hysteria will......" ( apologies to Talos )
posted by troutfishing at 7:10 AM on November 19, 2004

Taz: your husband has restored my faith in Greece, political protest and satire, and weenie-waggling. Give him a BIG kiss for me.
posted by WolfDaddy at 7:22 AM on November 19, 2004

Goedel: given that much of the dividing lines in the early 19th century were, as languagehat pointed out, religious rather than "national", a balkan confederation referring back to Byzantium was certainly feasible and would have certainly been "sellable" to the christian populations.
This is speculation of course - but I don't think that there would be anything to prevent such a "pan-balkan" nationalism from emerging. Karageorge (the leader of the Serbian revolution) was a member of the Philiki Etaireia a secret society which eventually helped launch the Greek revolution against the Ottomans. Greeks, Bulgarians and Serbs would certainly be very happy circa 1800 to be taken over and become part of the (Orthodox) Russian empire (the Greek folk songs from the 18th century include a call for "Moscovo to come and bring on the hunt").

As for ethnonationalism I believe that, in anything close to its modern form, it's an invention of the 18th century.

Especially where Macedonia is concerned, we know that in the 19th century a majority of the population could not understand the ethnic definitions proposed to them. This -excellent - account of the Macedonian question, includes the following rather illuminating paragraph:
The British journalist H.N.Brailsford, a perceptive observer of conditions in Macedonia shortly after the Ilinden Uprising of 1903, offers many revealing insights into just how superficial a hold national categories had on the rural population of Macedonia. His observations also show very clearly the incredible facility with which villagers in Macedonia manipulated these categories in a constant process of negotiating identities in a manner designed to serve their interests most favorably. For example , Brailsford mentions a man who sent each of his three sons to a different school, one to be educated as a "Serb," one as a "Bulgarian," and one as a "Greek." He describes a village whose population was "Slav in blood and speech," but which belonged "to the Greek [i.e. Patriarchist] party and took no share in the Bulgarian movement". He describes another village that had been "Greek" four years earlier, but which recently became "Bulgarian" because the Bulgarians had sent the village a teacher and a priest, while the Greeks had only sent a teacher. In this way, Brailsford observes wryly, "the legend that Alexander the Great was Greek goes out one road, and the rival myth that Alexander was Bulgarian comes in the other." Brailsford adds that he heard "a witty French consul declare that with a fund of a million francs he would undertake to make all Macedonia French"
Yet in the clash of nationalisms that followed in the early 1900's the slaughters from all sides were truly horrendous, involving frequently close relatives fighting each other. Add to this complex picture that there very few who claimed to belong to a distinct "Macedonian" nation at the time (the concept evolving and gaining credence with the creation of the Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). The Slavic speakers were at the time of the struggle for MAcedonia and the Balkan wars that followed, categorized as either Bulgarian or Serb.

Also Goedel, the gulags hail from Czarist Siberian labour camps
posted by talos at 7:46 AM on November 19, 2004

Also Goedel, the gulags hail from Czarist Siberian labour camps

But at least under a (semi) democratic government of the sort Lenin overthrew, there'd have been more than a fair chance of abolishing them. In any case, the Czarist camps had nothing of the annihilatory character of their Soviet successors; security was often lax in the extreme, explaining the frequent escapes of many Bolshevik activists, not least a certain Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili.
posted by Goedel at 8:05 AM on November 19, 2004

Yeah, much as I deprecate the Czarist autocracy, I don't think it's especially illuminating to look at the Gulag as a Czarist inheritance. Every society has a prison system, but the differences here are too striking to ignore. To take one example, hunger strikes in Czarist prisons actually worked. (To take another relevant difference, you could assassinate a Czarist official and get acquitted by a jury.)
posted by languagehat at 9:02 AM on November 19, 2004

Talos, you really peeled the layers away on the nationalist question. The Greek rebellion against Ottoman rule predated European national movements by fifty years, and the adoption of a classically oriented Hellenism as an identity (as opposed to balkan/byzantine Romios identity) laid a precedent for adopting an ancient, classical history and culture that was taken up in the 1840s by other nationalist movements in Europe.

The worst victims of this kind of politics are families. When I was living in Macedonia (before Yugoslavia became Former...) I lived with a Macedonian (slav) family who had fled to Yugoslav Macedonia as a result of the Greek civil war in 1948. The relatives left behind in Greece used to visit Skopje from Florinna every year, but those residing in Macedonia were not allowed into Greece. After 1990 Greece declared an amnesty for those Greeks (such as the Greek community here in Hungary) who fled Greece in 1948 (and in 1972) but kept restrictions on those whose families came from Epirus or Macedonia. I once met a young Greek woman - the family were 1948 refugees - who had grown up in Romania and who had come to visit Macedonia so that she could at least stand on a mountain top and see Greece - she couldn't enter.

The 20th century. A nice place to visit, but....
posted by zaelic at 10:05 AM on November 19, 2004

languagehat: I am not foolish enough to argue linguistics with you but I am going to say this: Athenians called each other barbarians when the politics fit. The level of political discourse in the Athenian Agora was seldom higher than that of a typical MeFi political thread. So, quotations of various southern Greeks calling Alexander a barbarian or a foreigner have as much validity as other quotations calling some disgraced Athenian general a barbarian.

At the end of the day Aristotle taught (in Greek) a few kilometers from here and Alexander studied under him (in Greek). The Alexandrians brought Greek language and culture to the ends of the then-known world. People (esp. proud militaristic people) do not do such things for a culture they don't feel represents them. I don't see American GIs teaching French in Iraq, fer instance...
posted by costas at 10:20 AM on November 19, 2004

Wrt the Ottomans above: I was only (half-)joking. The mess that are today's Balkans and Middle East isn't the Ottomans' fault, but the disintegration of that empire was certainly a royal screw-up...

On preview: zaelic, the population exchanges of the early 20th century in the Balkans certainly do not help modern politics... Every other family up here (incl. my own) has their own gut-wrenching tale of a homeland lost and migrating to a foreign land at more-or-less gunpoint...
posted by costas at 10:22 AM on November 19, 2004

At the end of the day Aristotle taught (in Greek) a few kilometers from here and Alexander studied under him (in Greek). The Alexandrians brought Greek language and culture to the ends of the then-known world.

As the Romans later studied under Greek philosophers (in Greek). The Roman Empire too brought Greek language and culture to the ends of the then-known world. Doesn't make them Greeks. Furthermore, I remind you that a large chunk of Alexander's army was made up of (non-Macedonian) Greeks, just as a large chunk of Darius's was. Obviously Alex knew and respected Greek culture, but if you think that for Athenians and Thebans to be conquered by Macedonians was much the same as being conquered by each other, we'll have to agree to disagree. I'm not saying the Macedonians were evil barbarian hordes, just that to call them Greeks 1) effaces differences that were very important at the time and 2) gives aid and comfort to a nasty form of modern nationalism.

You are, of course, completely right about the level of discourse in ancient Greek politics, and I'm having a vision of MetaPhiltron circa 400 BC, with areopagiticus and pseudoxenophon arguing with sophistes and brekkekekek: "Persian-lover!" "Toad-sucker!" "Let me remind you of the basics of the syllogism..."
posted by languagehat at 12:13 PM on November 19, 2004

You are, of course, completely right about the level of discourse in ancient Greek politics, and I'm having a vision of MetaPhiltron circa 400 BC, with areopagiticus and pseudoxenophon arguing with sophistes and brekkekekek: "Persian-lover!" "Toad-sucker!" "Let me remind you of the basics of the syllogism..."

That was beautiful, hat.
posted by rustcellar at 12:43 PM on November 19, 2004

....let me tell you about having greeks as advisers....

has anyone placed Philip in this argument? and let us not forget when Alexander went to pay hommage to Diogenes, ya know "gettoutta ma sunlight" That is totally greek, well to me at least.... and was he not to have said "if I were not alexander I would be diogenes" Is that PR, not true, representitive and if he said it, did he mean it? I mean trade all that to be what greek, a philosopher?
posted by clavdivs at 12:45 PM on November 19, 2004

I still can't believe so much is currently being made about the fact that Alexander had male lovers as well. I guess they're making a bigger fit about it because they depict said encounters in the movie. From all historical texts I've heard from the time, it wasn't all that uncommon for men to go both ways. I think it is very stupid that people try to project Christian values on somebody who was dead hundreds of years before Christ was even born. I mean you just as well try to project Christian values on the whole of Iraq....oh wait.....
posted by Numenorian at 12:47 PM on November 19, 2004

Well, obviously a lot is being made of it because it's a hot-button issue in the US at this time. In ancient Greece it was perfectly normal (indeed, expected) for a grown man to have adolescent male lovers (never another grown man!) and to have a wife at home who bore him children. As this site puts it (rather quaintly):
Greek culture celebrated the love of the bearded male for the beardless youth - what is regarded with horror today as Pædophilia. Greeks would have regarded with horror the love of the bearded male for another bearded male, let alone the idea of 'homosexual marriage'. They would have been appalled likewise by the idea of sodomic penetration, since their activity involved mutual masturbation, fellatio and frottage inter-femoral or inter-crural.
posted by languagehat at 1:06 PM on November 19, 2004

languagehat, thanks for the further information. I imagine that much of this is taboo today, or is it something that still persists in Greek culture. I'm not up on Greek history beyond around 1000 AD (and yes I am a Historian).
posted by Numenorian at 1:13 PM on November 19, 2004

Wow, I just finished reading the whole Guardian article and, boy is it full of inaccuracies...:

This very modern ethnic turf war is being fought with tortuously argued historical blogs about which Macedonia Alexander conquered the known world for - a tiny new Balkan republic that has only recently come to see itself as the keeper of his flame, or a province that was officially known as "Northern Greece" until the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia declared itself independent and bagged the name.

The claim that the Greek province was never called Macedonia is pure nonsense. I grew up during the 70s and Macedonia was always referred to as Macedonia. Period. I have the school Atlases and the references to prove it - tucked away somewhere. Not only that, but - during the junta - I vividly remember various patriotic songs about how "we liberated Macedonia from the barbarian Bulgarians", and in every military parade there was a regiment of "Makedonomahi" (Macedonia fighters), people who had participated in the struggle for Macedonia in the early part of the 20th century... until they all died out around 1980 or something.

I repeat, as a Greek born in 1964, there was never a period of my life where the province of Macedonia didn't exist and wasn't universally referred to as Macedonia. I emphasize this because I can't believe that the bloody Guardian, published something so patently incorrect yet so easily checkable... Journalism nowdays...

This part is also rubbish: Alexander's origins were not in dispute. In fact he barely figured in the old Yugoslav textbooks, and even in Greece he was something of a forgotten figure - relegated to the second and third division of Hellenic heroes behind Pericles, the great philosophers, and warriors such as Leonidas.

Nope: Alexander the Great figures in Greek lore from the time of Pseudokallisthenes and the Byzantines through modern Greek popular art and shadow theater characters.

To the horror of its European partners, Athens briefly contemplated carving up its defenceless northern neighbour with the Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic.

That is not accurate. There was an offer by Milosevic but it wasn't about a carve-up and it was sure as hell never seriously contemplated. The then Greek foreign minister in a recent interview, explained what the offer was about.

Numenorian, much of this is still taboo today. Greece remains probably the most homophobic nation in the EU (although things are improving).
posted by talos at 5:24 PM on November 19, 2004

Maybe I've missed it, but I haven't seen any reference yet to this marvelous site with links to all kinds of Alexander resources, including much thoughtful discussion of his sexuality.
posted by mediareport at 10:31 AM on November 25, 2004

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