Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum OR Termez, Afghanistan) - 328 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria on the Indus - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Alexander’s near fatal dip in the Cydnus River at Tarsus

Tarsus, in antiquity, was a large and prosperous city but its remains are sadly disappointing since all that is left is a short stretch of Roman road of black basalt with white edges without beginning or end. In a way, this is not surprising as sixteen consecutive layers of habitation have been found on top of the Roman layer. Tarsus today looks like a rather sleepy town with typical Ottoman houses recently renovated and repainted.

Consequently, all my hopes are focused on the River Cydnus. This is a typical mountain river, tumbling down from the Taurus Mountains over rocks and outcrops and meandering between trees and bushes that cling to their footholds along its very banks. It is said to be 200 ft wide but I wonder about the spot where these measurements were taken for the water at times cascades happily over the many rocks through narrow passages, while at other times the river is slowly flowing between wide manmade banks. After some effort, I find a spot where I can dip my hand in the fast flower water. It is early May, about the same time of year Alexander was here. The water is clear and cold, chilly but not exactly ice-cold and certainly not to the extent of causing a convulsive reaction.

What illness struck Alexander remains vague. Arrian speaks of “a bout of sickness”, adding that Aristobulus mentions exhaustion. Alexander was seized by a convulsion, followed by high fever and sleepless nights. Curtius, as usual, is more elaborate, describing how Alexander’s limbs stiffened, how he lost his color and the warmth of his body, making him look more dead than alive. This certainly spread commotion and concern throughout the camp where many started mourning their king, wailing with great anxiety. Alexander’s physicians were at a loss, but one of them, Philip of Acarnia, who knew Alexander from boyhood, promised to treat him with a strong purgative. Alexander agreed to take it when he received a letter from Parmenion who had been sent ahead, cautioning him against the doctor. “Beware of Philip”, he wrote adding that he was informed that Philip had been bribed by King Darius with a thousand talents to poison him. As Philip handed his cup of medicine to his patient, Alexander with the letter in his hand, drank the concoction and handed the document to his physician.  Philip showed no alarm and simply advised Alexander to continue the treatment. There obviously was nothing wrong with the medicine or with Philip who continued to serve Alexander all through his further campaigns. Curtius says that Alexander appeared in front of his soldiers after the third day of treatment – much to everybody’s relief, for sure.

It is near impossible to imagine Alexander’s camp on the banks of the Cydnus. There are simply too many modern houses and streets closing in around the river. In any case, this “illness” had pinned down the Macedonian army for a while and delayed Alexander’s advance. At that time, Darius was waiting to confront Alexander on the plains of Sochi but as soon as he heard the bad news, he set his army in motion in order to safeguard Cilicia. Yet he was not going to take Alexander off guard for the Macedonian king had dispatched Parmenion to hold the Syrian Gates, modern Beilan Pass, in the Amanus Mountains, southeast of Iskenderun

Alexander, as soon as he was strong enough set the remaining part of his army in motion too and marched to Issus.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Libraries in antiquity, a short overview

Talking about a library in antiquity, we automatically have – be it abstract – visions of the famous Library of Alexandria in Egypt. Yet, there were, of course, many more such buildings where literary works, as well as legal and administrative documents, were kept, and where lectures were held by a wide number of philosophers and occasional orators.

The library was, of course, not a Greek invention. The oldest library (2500-2250 BC) was, for instance, the one that was discovered in Ebla, Syria, containing a huge number of clay tablets. More recent are the clay tablets found at Mari (1900 BC) and Ugarit (1200 BC) both in Syria. The Hittites were not lacking behind as shown at Hattusa, Turkey, with some 30,000 tablets going back to 1900-1190 BC.

Among the more recently constructed libraries in Turkey there is The Royal Library of Antioch-on-the-Orontes (today’s Antakya) founded in the third century BC under Antioch III.

Next comes the Library of Pergamon (today’s Bergama in Turkey) founded by the Attalid kings between 197 and 159 BC which with its 200,000 volumes is known as being second only to the Library of Alexandria. When the import of papyrus from Egypt was blocked by the Ptolemies, Pergamon started to use fine calfskin as alternative writing support, creating the first parchment or pergamum. The Library of Celsus in Ephesos also in modern Turkey was built in 135 AD and was closely linked to those of Alexandria and Pergamon.

The oldest Greek library is the one founded by Aristotle in Athens in the fourth century BC which contributed widely to the later collection in Alexandria. After Athens, the libraries of Cos and Rhodes were inaugurated, as well as the Library of Hadrian in Athens, all from the first/second century AD.

The Library of Alexandria has not survived and the few descriptions that reached us leave a lot to our imagination. Among the best preserved and/or best restored, we note the Library of Celsus in Ephesos and the Library of Hadrian in Athens which will help us to recreate an overall image of these interesting structures.

The Library of Celsus in Ephesos is an inevitable landmark to every tourist who walks down the Curetus Street and is beckoning him from the onset. It is indeed a very impressive building with a carefully reconstructed façade, yet it is consistent with the grandeur and wealth of Ephesos. The high Corinthian columns support richly decorated ceiling caissons and frame the statues of four goddesses on their high pedestal, i.e. Sofia, (wisdom), Arete (virtue), Ennoia (intelligence) and Episteme (knowledge). It was Consul Gaius Julius Aquila who built this Library around 105-107 AD for his father, a worthy and most prestigious present no doubt. The inside walls were originally covered with colored marble and still vaguely show traces of the niches where the papyrus scrolls were kept in partitioned wooden cupboards (armaria). The room is quite grand, measuring 11 x 17 meters and reminds me of Ptolemy’s library as shown in Oliver Stone’s movie Alexander.

The Library of Hadrian in Athens was evidently built by the emperor of the same name circa 132-134 AD as part of his ambitious plans for the city. It has been erected close to the Roman Agora and served as a repository for the city’s official archives besides its books. The peristyle-formed library measured 122 x 82 meters and today it is still accessible through an impressive propylon with Corinthian columns of Karystos marble. The large courtyard was surrounded by 100 columns of Phrygian marble and counted a number of semi-circular seating spaces. At its center, there was a garden and a decorative pool now occupied by the ruins of several basilicas built in the 7th and 12th century. The library itself was located at the far end of the courtyard, opposite the entrance propylon and was composed of a central reading room flanked on either side by an auditorium with curved seating resembling a theater. Of additional interest are the remains of the small Agios Asomatos sta Skalia church dedicated to the Archangel Michael built in between the Corinthian columns at the entrance and still showing traces of a Byzantine fresco.

With its high surrounding walls, this library was built to impress – just like elsewhere probably where the remains are not sufficient to show it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

He too is “Alexander”

It is not without reason that I have put “Alexander” between brackets in this title, for there is more to this quote than is suggested at first glance.

The Battle of Issus ended with the fleeing King Darius and Alexander evidently setting off in his pursuit. As darkness fell, he had to abandon his chase and on his way back to camp he picked up the chariot of the Persian king with his shield, mantle, and bow. In the meantimeMeanwhile, Alexander’s royal pages had taken possession of Darius’ tent, ready to welcome him with all the eastern riches that were seen as an omen for the upcoming conquest of Asia. They lit a great blaze of torches, prepared his bath and his meal, and waited for his return. He is said to have arrived around midnight and after a well-deserved bath, he sat down to relax over dinner, but then he was disturbed by lamenting voices of women nearby.

He was informed that Darius’ mother Sisygambis, his wife Stateira and children were in a nearby tent. They just had received the news that Alexander returned with the chariot, bow, and mantle of their king, which led them to believe that Darius was dead and that Alexander had stripped him of his arms. Until then, Alexander had not been aware that the Persian royal family had been captured.

He immediately sent Laomedon, one of his Companions, to speak to Sisygambis and explain that Darius was still alive and that Alexander would treat her and the members of her family with the proper consideration. He would come and visit her the next morning to reiterate his goodwill.

The following day, Alexander came to visit Queen Sisygambis, together with his dear friend Hephaistion. It is said that Hephaistion was taller and more handsome than Alexander and since they were dressed alike, this led Sisygambis to prostrate herself before him instead of Alexander. Hephaistion immediately stepped back and the Queen Mother’s attendants pointed toward Alexander. This was quite an embarrassing situation and with Persian court rules being very strict, one can only imagine what must have gone through the poor woman’s mind. She made a new start and did obeisance to Alexander, who may have been secretly amused by the confusion.

It was here that Alexander pronounced the famous words: “Never mind, Mother, for he too is Alexander”, which has led to many wrong interpretations by modern historians. Interestingly, Arrian is the only one to quote Alexander’s words in a slightly different manner, and writing “he too is ‘an’ Alexander”a “protector of man” (see: Alexander the Great, it’s all in the name). In fact, Alexander is not only making light of Sisygambis mistake but pays a reverence to his dear friend in the presence of the Persian court.

The fact that he addressed Sisygambis as Mother automatically meant that he accepted her as a second mother and that his intentions were friendly. He reiterated the message that had been conveyed the evening before by Leonnatus. Alexander gave back all her servants, returned the royal jewelry, and restored her previous dignity. He also allowed Sisygambis to give the high ranked Persians of her choice who had fallen at Issus a burial in accordance with their own rites and customs. At this point, Curtius also adds that Alexander promised to provide for the marriage of Darius’ daughter and to raise his son as his own. Our sources are less clear when it comes to Queen Stateira, the most beautiful woman in the empire. Some say that Alexander respected her dignity, others that she died in childbirth of a child that could not have been Darius’.

This was Alexander’s first contact with the Persian Royal family and traditions, and I think he handled this extremely well and with great dignity.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

An inspiring aerial view of Delphi

Yes, I know, there is a profusion and an endless supply of YouTube movies of all sorts. I am not always happy with the results but for some of them, I like to make an exception.

This time, it is about a recording made from a drone exploring the ancient site of Delphi. Nothing spectacular by itself but it gives a very clear overview of the layout of this sanctuary. One can easily recognize the modern path that meanders through the site as it passes along the Treasury of the Athenians, the Temple of Apollo where the famous oracle of Delphi was revealed, the well-preserved Theater and the spectacular Stadium

Delphi is one of those places that has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and is a must for every visitor to ancient Greece.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Wartime looting in antiquity

Wartime looting is something we associate with today’s unstable political situations in North Africa and the Middle-East, but looking back into history this is certainly not new although the reasons and the drives were entirely different then from what we are facing now.

Looting can be triggered by warfare in which we have the urge to annihilate the enemy and that includes everything he treasures and cherishes. When it comes to religious wars, like for instance those fought by the Crusaders, looting is translated into the destruction of religious convictions and what they stand for. Looting may also be simple greed, the envy to possess what no one else has either because it is unique or because it is so valuable.

One of the first examples that comes to my mind are the statues of Harmodius and Aristogeiton, two Athenian heroes who stood for the origin of Athenian democracy in 514 BC and whose images were erected in the Agora. They were stolen by the Persians in 480 BC and moved to Susa, where they were recovered by Alexander the Great in 331 BC who sent them back to Athens.

Yet most wide-spread or best-documented lootings happened in Roman times when great Greek works of art were carried home as trophies or as simple spoils of war.

After the sack of Corinth by L. Mummius in 146 BC, many statues were brought to Rome while others were sold to the King of Pergamum who was building up a remarkable collection. Among the statues that arrived in Rome was one of Philip II that was mistakenly labeled as that of Zeus.

Better known for all kinds of not too glorious reasons was L. Cornelius Sulla, who launched a well-remembered attack on Athens and Piraeus. He used the trees from Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum to build his siege towers. When Athens fell in 86 BC, he removed choice pieces from the Temple of Zeus hardly built a century before and these fragments later surfaced in the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximum in Rome. At the same time, an unknown number of manuscripts, paintings, and other precious objects were shipped to Rome. Further, to pay for his expensive wars, he levied heavy contributions on the wealthiest cities to acquire the treasuries of Epidaurus, Olympia, and Delphi – a true sacrilege at the time!

Following Sulla’s example, L. Licinius Lucullus collected works taken from Sinope by L. Aemilius Paullus. Sinope was a great admirer of Greek art and took his time to tour the country to find the most appealing pieces like an Athena by Phidias that he dedicated at Rome, leaving, however, (luckily) the gigantic Zeus of Olympia untouched.

Julius Caesar was another great “collector” acquiring his objects by plunder and purchase.

The most notorious of all looters definitely was Gaius Verres, governor of Sicily, who in 73 BC seized statues, reliefs, dedications, paintings and jewelry from the Sicilians and from other parts of the Greek world. He started by requisitioning the most beautiful objects from private homes, followed by despoliation of the island’s sanctuaries. He stole a statue of Ceres from the temple of Catania; a set of gold and ivory doors from the temple of Athena in Syracuse together with paintings and other effigies of the goddess whose hands supposedly were made of gold; a magnificent bronze statue of Apollo by Myron from the temple of Asclepius at Akragas; and many more. On their way to steal the statue of Heracles from the temple at Akragas, his soldiers were overpowered by furious citizens. Enough is enough! Tensions rose so high that Cicero was called in to defend the Sicilians’ case. He won and Verres went into exile in Marseilles. Unfortunately, none of these works of art were ever recovered.

With the increase of its wealth, Rome developed a kind of refinement where Corinthian bronzes became especially prized (the bronze was of an exceptional quality!). Among those connoisseurs was Novius Vindex, who acquired a bronze statuette of Heracles made by nobody less than Lysippos, paintings by Apelles, and many other objects of marbles, ivory, and precious metal believed to be the work of Praxiteles, Phidias, and Polycleitus.

Even Emperor Nero is to be found among the admirers of Greece, making him one of the major looters of Greek art to adorn the eternal city. He did not shy away from directing his attention towards Delphi from where he took 500 bronze statues and Olympia where he monopolized an unspecified number of statues. Also, on his list is a particularly fine Eros by Lysippos taken from Thespiae that was, later on, destroyed by a fire in Rome. Strangely enough, he left Athens untouched but rampaged through the cities of Asia Minor instead. He concentrated on masterpieces created by artists like Phidias, Praxiteles, and Cephisodotus. Among his masterpieces, the most famous were the Apollo Belvedere, the Borghese Gladiator, and a Venus. With the end of Roman power, the import and looting of Greek art came to a halt.

By this time, the Byzantine Empire took over and Constantine the Great in 324 AD inverted the inflow of art by bringing all the treasures from Rome to Constantinople. Under one of his successors, the pagan Julian the Apostate, we know that the temple of Apollo at Didyma and the sanctuary of Demeter at Eleusis were restored.

The sack of Rome by the Visigoths in 395 was devastating, and many works of art found their way to Constantinople. The ruthless rampage of the barbarians spread as quick as a wildfire and it was at this period that the great chryselephantine statue of Zeus that Phidias made for the temple of Zeus in Olympia was saved at the last moment and transferred to the Palace of Lausus in Constantinople (to be ultimately destroyed by fire in the first half of the 5th century AD). Soon more selected gem pieces joined this collection to include the Athena of Lindos from the 4th century BC, the famous Aphrodite from Cnidos created by Praxiteles, and the Hera from Samos made by Lysippos. Constantine also brought a porphyry column from Delphi to ornate his Forum, while his Senate was enhanced by the statue of Zeus from Dodona and two statues of Pallas Athena. Bellerophon slaying the Chimera was brought in from either Great Antioch or Corinth; the Fortune of the City exchanged the Forum in Rome for Constantinople together with a statue of the Sun God from Phrygia.

Constantinople’s Hippodrome was outrageously populated by no less than sixty statues imported from Rome which, except for a statue of Augustus, came from all over the Greek world: Athens, Chios, Crete and Rhodes, Cyzicus, Caesarea, Sardes, Tralles, Tyana, Antioch, Iconium (modern Konya), Smyrna, Nicaea, Nicomedia and Nikopolis. Just imagine the widespread and cumbersome dragging and lugging of all these artifacts. No wonder we keep recuperating them from the bottom of the Mediterranean!

Today’s visitor to the Hippodrome in Istanbul can still admire the Serpent Column, which is part of a monument that once stood next to the temple of Apollo at Delphi and was dedicated by the cities that defied the Persians at the Battle of Platea in 479 BC. On the same square stands an Egyptian obelisk, originally commissioned by Thutmosis III in the 16th century BC to commemorate one of his campaigns in Syria. It was shipped to Constantinople towards the end of the 4th century AD and broke during its transport. What we see now is only the upper part mounted on a marble base showing reliefs of Theodosius I and his family attending races on this very Hippodrome.

This was also home for the life-size group of four horses we know from Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Venice. They were made of gilded bronze and the horses are said to have been pulling a chariot. It may have been brought in from Chios or given as a present to Nero by the king of Armenia, and closely resembles the group created by Lysippos for the temple dedicated to Rhodes in Delphi during the 4th century BC. According to one theory, these horses are Hellenistic copies, but according to others, it may well be the original that traveled from Delphi to Chios to Constantinople and eventually to Venice.

Time-wise we now reach the construction of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, where today’s visitor can still find many columns, doors and other decoration elements that were taken from different cities all over Asia Minor.

For many centuries Constantinople was a safe-haven for many works of art from antiquity but during the ensuing invasions first by the Arabs in the 7th and 8th centuries, and by the Bulgarians in the 9th and 10th centuries, the city was thoroughly sacked in 1204 when the members of the Fourth Crusades rampaged through the streets of this once so glorious city. Most saddening is maybe the final destruction of so many documents that had survived from antiquity and that are since lost forever. 

In our 21st century, we praise ourselves lucky to have museums to shelter and protect our greatest and most magnificent works of art, although at times even the museums are no longer a safe haven for our culture. We all are aware of the dilapidated museums of Kabul and Bagdad, for instance, and we still don’t know what has happened to the museum of Damascus and so many others in the Middle-east. Looting was and still is omnipresent – most unfortunately.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The challenge of crossing the Cilician Gates

The Cilician Gates is the name of a strategic pass in the Taurus Mountains that was used for centuries. Before Alexander, Cyrus the Great with Xenophon and his Ten Thousand had marched over this pass and after him; we know that the Romans, the Mongols, and even the Crusaders were here. As recent as the 20th century, the railroad engineers working on the train connection between Istanbul and Baghdad had to find their way over the Taurus Mountains at this point.

Xenophon mentions that the pass consisted of a “carriage track” although the road must have been paved at the time. The passage through the Cilician Gates was, however, very narrow saying that it was wide enough for a four-horse chariot, meaning that four horses abreast could move over it at the same time. Yet the road was exceptionally steep and a near natural barrier for any army to pass unopposed. It was and is frequently crossed by streams trickling from the walls on either side.

The width of a four-horse carriage as mentioned by Xenophon is hard to match Curtius’ statement that it was wide enough for four armed men to walk abreast. The landscape is very rugged and inhospitable, even today, and on my first passage, I tried in vain to imagine how an army could manage to move over such a terrain. Curtius says that the natural formation resembles fortifications made by human hands – how true that is!

The route Alexander followed out of Cappadocia must have run past modern Kemerhisan, Çiftehan, and Pozantı to arrive at the Gülek Boğaz Pass as the Cilician Gates are called today.

The Romans, great road builders as they were, have left records of their improvements together with a series of milestone all along the road, like the lonely one standing in front of the local roadside restaurant. The stone carries an inscription stating that Caracalla repaired and improved the Via Tauri as this road was called around 217 AD. Another milestone in this same area was erected by Severus Alexander giving the distance to the Gates, the confines of the Cilicians, which matches the figure mentioned in the inscription at the Cilician Gates further down the road.

It is evidently very exciting to find that wall inscription off the main highway down on the adjacent valley floor knowing that originally it was engraved high above the ancient Via Tauri that led down to the coastal city of Tarsus. It is hard to image that W.M. Ramsay, who visited this area in 1882 had to use a telescope to read this inscription on the cliff above the stream (now tunneled underneath the modern road). The text can be translated as “Caracalla (with the addition of his real full name Marcus Aurelius Antoninus) made the road wider by cutting through the mountains”. It is a miracle that this inscription has survived modern construction works as it now seems to stand on the valley floor, squeezed between the supportive wall of the highway, the narrow stream and the mountain slopes on the other side.

When Alexander arrived at the spot known as Xenophon’s encampment near the Gates (probably less than three kilometres away), he went to investigate the situation. The narrow pass was pretty easy to defend from the high overhang above the road from where a small force could destroy the approaching enemy. It is clear, once again, that Alexander was not taking any chances. He ordered his light-armed Thracians ahead to occupy the different access paths and check them for enemy forces. At the same time, a band of bowmen was posted on the ridges above the access road, ready to attack if needed. It is so easy to see them mentally while moving over this road! Alexander left Parmenion with the heavy infantry near Cyrus’ encampment while he himself marched towards the Gates under cover of darkness in order to take the enemy by surprise. That surprise did not work out as his approach was noticed and the small force that was supposed to defend the Gates, fled at first sight of Alexander and his men. This was much easier than Thermopylae!

The next morning at the crack of dawn Alexander marched his men through the narrows. The operation lasted a full day, but the road to Tarsus laid open to him. Justin is so optimistic as to write that Alexander reached the city in one full day, but this is a distance of some 75 kilometres which Xenophon covered in a four-day march instead.

Before reaching Tarsus, it is still possible to actually walk over a reasonable stretch of said Via Tauri for about five or six kilometres through an unforgiving landscape of rough rocks and spiny bushes. A delicate arch is still spanning the road at the horizon, but this is a mere reconstruction since the original one collapsed after repeated explosions carried out at the mining site in the valley below. The mining company was ordered to rebuild it - thank Zeus for that.

It takes the modern traveller a good deal of imagination since today’s highway across the Taurus Mountains has been widened and levelled compared to the narrow ancient passage although it still follows the same course. Then as now, the road runs downhill from here onwards into the coastal plain and gradually the landscape becomes much friendlier with cultivated fields and blossoming orchards along wide rivers. Xenophon has noticed the difference too saying that once across the pass, Cyrus entered a beautiful and well-watered plain that produced sesame, millet, wheat and barley – easy to picture!

Still marching on the Via Tauri Alexander received notice that the governor of Tarsus no longer wished to hold the city for Persia and was ready to give up the town. The townspeople clearly got scared, not of Alexander, but of their governor who might be plundering Tarsus on his way out. This was something Alexander clearly understood and he immediately rode up at full speed to the people’s rescue, just in time before the man could take any booty with him as he hurried for the Persian court.

Another ancient road has recently been discovered near the village of Anavarza (Roman Caesarea) which during the first and second centuries was the most important city of Cilicia and was larger than Ephesos. The town itself has suffered severely from repeated earthquakes over the centuries, the last one as recent as 1945. The most striking element, however, is a double columned highway, approximately 35 meters wide and 2.7 kilometers long. It has been established that the columns were of the Corinthian order and were erected at 2.15 meters intervals. So far, 1,360 columns have been unearthed and plans are to restore them as well as the entrance gate. I wonder how much and in what shape this portion of the road existed in Alexander’s days.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Aristotle’s 2,400th birthday with an appropriate celebration

The news has not been confirmed yet, but Greek archaeologists have strong indications that they have discovered the tomb of Aristotle at his hometown of Stagira. What a birthday present for such a great man, who was born in 384 BC, exactly 2,400 years ago!

After some twenty years of painstaking excavations at Stagira where the philosopher was born, archaeologists are almost certain to have found his tomb in a domed vault near the ancient agora. The vault has a square marble floor dating from Hellenistic times as indicated by coins of Alexander the Great and ceramics that were found inside. Outside the tomb that is situated in an ideal spot with a panoramic view along the road to the agora, archaeologists also found an altar as referred to in ancient texts.

The location of Aristotles tomb in Stagira may come as a surprise since he died at Chalcis on the island of Euboea in 322 BC, just one year after the death of his most famous pupil, Alexander the Great. Ancient sources seem to indicate that the ashes of the philosopher were brought back by the people of Stagira to his hometown.

Besides being a philosopher in his own right making large contributions to logic, metaphysics, mathematics, ethics, politics, agriculture, medicine, biology and botany, Aristotle was himself a pupil of Plato in Athens who in turn was a pupil of Socrates. It was Philip II of Macedonia who invited Aristotle to become a tutor of his son, Alexander.

At this stage, a team of independent archaeologists will examine the site and hopefully confirm that this tomb is indeed Aristotle's last resting place.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Responses to Oliver Stone’s Alexander

Responses to Oliver Stone’s Alexander, film, history and cultural studies, edited by Paul Cartledge and Fiona Rose Greenland (ISBN 978-029923284-9), what can I say? So much has been said about the Alexander movie – mostly critics in the sense of finding fault – that I fail to see the purpose of this book.

It was recommended to me by an Alexander fan as “quite interesting”. Mmmm, maybe it is just that and nothing more. The many authors contributing to this book have all their own vision, generally their own reasons or arguments to tear down the movie. It is so easy to find fault and to point out the shortcomings that little or no room is left for what Oliver Stone has accomplished.

Renown and lesser known authors have joined forces here to submit the Alexander movie to a close scrutiny. The people contributing to this book are the following:

Joanna Paul, Oliver Stone’s Alexander and the Cinematic Epic Tradition
Jon Solomon, The Popular Reception of Alexander
Robin Lane Fox, Alexander on Stage: A Critical Appraisal of Rattigan’s Adventure Story
Kim Shahabudin, The Appearance of History: Robert Rossen’s Alexander the Great
Marilyn B. Skinner, Alexander and Ancient Greek Sexuality: Some Theoretical Considerations
Elizabeth D. Carney, Olympias and Oliver: Sex, Sexual Stereotyping, and Women in Oliver Stone’s Alexander
Monica Silveira Cyrino, Fortune Favors the Blond: Colin Farrell in Alexander
Jeanne Harrison, The Cult of Hephaestion
Thomas Harrison, Oliver Stone, Alexander, and the Unity of Mankind
Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, “Help me, Aphrodite!” Depicting the Royal Women of Persia in Alexander
Verity Platt, Viewing the Pas: Cinematic Exegesis in the Caverns of Macedon
John F. Cherry, Blockbuster! Museum Responses to Alexander the Great
Oliver Stone, Afterword

Is this book adding anything to the historical Alexander? No. Is this book helping to understand the Alexander movie? No. Is this book bringing some new elements? No. Except for individual contemplations and practical/financial/theatrical elements, I fail to see the purpose of putting this book together. The best part is still Oliver Stone’s own Afterword, although it is far too long as everything is being said half-way through this chapter.

For me, personally, the Alexander movie is the best picture ever made about Alexander the Great. Most people seem to ignore that for once we have here an “entire” image of Alexander, in spite of the historical misrepresentations and incoherencies. One of these, and which is not mentioned by any of the critics, is the fact that the Battle of the Hydaspes is set in the jungle instead of the river banks; another discrepancy is the presence of Cassander through the entire campaign for he remained in Macedonia. Yet, I immediately recognized each and every one of his Companions and was “pulled” into the story from the beginning. The entire “spirit” of Alexander was present although many have expressed complaints about missing parts or aspects. The critics seem to forget that Alexander’s life was far too complex, too active, too magnanimous and too genial to be told in three hours time for a public largely unacquainted with history or with Alexander the Great.

So, for all intents and purposes, I want to stress that I do NOT want to start any discussion about the movie, not here, not now, not later. In the end, it all comes down to our own love/hate relation with the figure of Alexander - one that is going on for 2,500 years and still continues to this very day.