Thursday, April 12, 2012

Alexander the man and the legend


Unknown in the West really until the Middle Ages, Alexander the Great, Sekander, Sikander, Eskander... Son of God, King of Kings, Lord of the World, Light of the World, Greek Orthodox Saint Alexander... Iskander Giuste (Alexander the Accursed One), "Two Horned Alexander," the Third Beast in Revelation's "Book of Daniel," perhaps even The Whore of Babylon or Satan, Alexander has been invoked by many names, down to the present day; in countries we know as Yugoslavia, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan.

Alexander, in a way which myth and legend interweave with great historical figures, is thought by some to be a precursor of, or at least an influence on, our understanding of figures in the Old Testament, of the biblical Jesus (certainly the Christ of Constantine, undoubtedly the Militant Christ of the Crusaders), "the Evil One" in the Koran, the Hindu holy men, the Buddha, and Genghis Kahn ("the Scourge of God"). He was an inspiration to Augustus Caesar, Constantine the Great, Napoleon, Lawrence of Arabia and Hitler. And everywhere Alexander went he built cities - nearly a dozen in his name, from Alexandria in Egypt to Kandahar in Afghanistan.

And at the places he paused, before or after each of the 70 battles he fought, clearly in an effort to fulfill his destiny, Alexander consulted oracles, joined arcane cults, and built altars to the gods he had adopted. In the Spring of 324 BC, before he turned back, exhausted from his crusade, north of what is now Karachi in Pakistan, he had altars built to all his gods, twelve in number. One is said to have been a brass obelisk, perhaps 70 meters high, which was inscribed simply: "Alexander stopped here."

He was loved for his generosity and vision; hated, more so with passing years, by those who rejected his multiculturalism, laughed at his occasional blunders, loathed his easy acceptance of other religions and races, derided his attempt to unite his World, and were revolted by his destructive and self-destructive acts. Among his Macedonian followers, however, and to the faithful across all the Subcontinent - for an indeterminate amount of time -- there was but one king, one god, and Alexander was his name.

Within a few years of his death in 323, however, Alexander's Empire had broken up. His Mother Olympias or his splendid generals killed Alexander's wives, his legitimate heirs, and each other. Increasingly, he was remembered only in myth, legend, story or on the face of coins. Alexander was everywhere but nowhere. Despite the letters of Aristotle, the journals of *Callisthenes (Aristotle's nephew, the expedition's official historian, one of "The 12 Companions") and other accounts used by Historians Aristobulis, Arrian, Curtius, and Plutarch, Alexander became something of a mystery. His posthumous fame spread into Northern Europe (contributing to the Legend of King Arthur), took over the imagination of the Renaissance, became a model for the British Grenadiers in the 19th Century, was studied for his tactics by the Generals of World War II, was worshipped in the Nazi SS for his Ayrian mystical qualities, but the mystery of Alexander the man only deepened.


Alexander travelled with "The Companions," who were his advisors and generals. In the beginning, twelve of them (a recurring number in our story) were his closest friends. His Companion Cavalry was made up of Macedon's nobility, led by experienced generals like Parmenion or young officers like Black Cleitus, and supported by his late father, the one-eyed Philip II's new model army, featuring six phalanxes, eight deep, bristling with Alexander's innovative secret weapon: newly lengthened 15 foot spears.

As he moved east from Babylon, he adopted the religions and cultures of the peoples he met; polymorphed them back along his lengthening supply lines to the Hellenic States; brought Greek ideas to Central Asia and India; sent goods and food stuffs back to Greece; gathered (with the advice of his mentor, Aristotle) samples of flora, fauna, minerals; intermarried with the royal families he encountered; and incorporated conquered armies, administrators, generals into his own forces.

His basic army of 40,000 included "special forces" with mountain training for "instant response." His engineers dragged "Siege Trains" (the first ever) - towers capable of sheltering archers, catapulting rocks and flinging javelins. And along with his intellectual corps of scientists, botanists, astronomers, philosophers, priests, poets, seers, and official historians, he had an elaborate medical unit, which (adopting such "wonder drugs" as quinine, for instance, in Far Eastern jungles) kept his soldiers alive and fit to fight for the dozen years many of them accompanied him.

In the beginning, besides glory and treasure, the goal of Alexander's preemptive invasions of Central Asia was to bring Greek justice to Darius III of Persia (today's Iran/Iraq). King Darius was blamed by some Macedonians for the assassination of Alexander's Father, and by many as the successor to those who had perpetrated the Peloponnesian War against the Hellenes, but after Darius was found bloodless and rotting in the dirt, and when fabled Babylon had been occupied, the best of historians can't really explain why Alexander drove on.

A partial explanation is that he was very religious, in an eclectic fashion, conscious of a bloodline which connected him to Hercules, Achilles, the mythical Perseus, and like most great leaders he was a bit of an egomaniac. The gods Alexander communed with -- at least several supreme beings a day (including himself, latterly) - told him to continue.

The Gods were speaking to him.

One of the mysteries, a major fascination, is that Alexander could be remarkably generous one day, but capricious, brutal and vengeful (always vengeful) the next; especially toward the end of his brief life, when he was run-down from fevers, infection, alcoholism, wounds, pain and depression; increasingly unstable and less predictable.

An early instance of his capriciousness: When not yet 22, by a diplomacy which would have made his one-eyed Dad proud, or failing that, by use of massive "shock and awe," Alexander unified the Hellenic States. After directing a legion to massacre the insurgent populace of Thebes for their perfidy in earlier aiding Xerxes' Persians, he idiosyncratically reached down and plucked to safety the family of the Classical Poet Pindar, whose work he admired. He did things like that, again and again, over tens of thousands of miles; he would, with equal suddenness, murder several of his best friends and most able companions - such as Cleitus, in the middle of a celebration.

He would be an enigma not easy for Oliver Stone to explain or dramatize to a modern American audience, which wants its heroes to be obvious, of comic book simplicity, and lumps a petty dictator of Iraq with terrorists from Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. In other words, Alexander lived up to all his names. He could be a saint, he could be a charmer, he could be a military tactician of genius, he could be a butcher, and he was, by most accounts, brilliant if sometimes quixotic in all of those roles.

But he remains a handsome, blond enigma.

Author: macresarf1 (76th in Epinion's list of top authors.)


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