I started writing this blog, I think, in 2011. Back then, I was still getting to know the main sources for Alexander the Great’s life: Arrian, Curtius, Diodorus, Justin, and Plutarch. I don’t know what the percentage is, but in my memory, I feel that a lot of the posts I wrote then were connected to my reading of them. That was great as the writing allowed me to soak up what I had read better than if I had just read and then put the book away.
However, there came a moment when I realised that I had now read the sources once or maybe twice in a row, all the time writing about them as I did so, and, as a result, it was now time to move on, to find other things to write about Alexander. But what? I never could quite figure it out.
Ever since I ‘discovered’ the great conqueror, I had been happy for my reading and writing to be at the level of a ‘private passion’. Looking back at the last four or five years, though, as the blog slowly ground to a halt because I didn’t know what to say, I wish that I had, after all, signed up to a course to study him in a more formal setting. That would surely have given me ideas. Well, there’s no use crying over spilt milk. I never did sign up to anything, and that’s that.
As a result of my indecision, the blog finally came to a proper halt last August. Perhaps I should have deleted it. Not that I knew last summer that it would be six months before I wrote another post. The problem, though, is that I remain passionate about Alexander. I know this because, even though my blogging, and, I must admit, my reading, had pretty much stopped, I remained very happy – in real life – to talk people’s socks off about him given half the chance.
I always felt a bit guilty, though, because I knew I was using old knowledge. I wasn’t keeping myself fresh through (re)reading books or watching videos on YouTube, listening to podcasts, etc.
That aside, passion is why I am writing this post now.
Passion is a funny thing. I wrote my last post in August ’22 but for most of the time since – even though I haven’t known what to write – I’ve wanted to write. I’ve thought of ideas but none have stuck long enough for me to set them down on the screen, and then press publish.
What has changed? ‘Passion’ aside, why am I writing this post now? Well, it isn’t because I have had a revelation and now am full of ideas. I think it really is just that passion driving me to write something/anything. Maybe it will lead to renewed posting, maybe not. We’ll see.
I say I’m not full of ideas. I did have one. I am writing this post on 19th March 2023. It is Mothering Sunday today in the UK. A very happy Mothers’ Day to you if you are a mother of any description. I heard Mass at my local parish church this morning, and while there, I got distracted – it usually happens – and it occurred to me that I could write something about Olympias, Alexander’s mother.
Ideally, I would have liked to have researched her a little first, but because the desire to write and, I guess, explain my blog absence, was stronger, here I am now. So, I will just say this: Olympias was a very driven person. She was probably not a tremendously likeable one. She undoubtedly (in my mind), though, gets a very bad rap from the sources. Maybe she was as vile as they make out, but I suspect they just didn’t like a strong woman who knew what needed to be done and got on with it, even if to the nth degree. Even today, we as a society still aren’t overly keen on women who speak up, who are strong: and we live in a supposedly more accepting world. No wonder Olympias gets both barrels from the far more mysoginistic world in which she lived, and which came after in the form of the Roman empire.
That aside, Olympias may still have been a nasty piece of work, but one anecdote about her speaks very loudly to me in this regard. It comes from Plutarch’s Life of Alexander (Chapter 3). There, he talks about how, according to an author named Eratosthenes, when Alexander set out,
… on his eastern campaign, Olympias accompanied him during the procession [and] told him in private the secret of his birth…
i.e. that he was not Philip’s son but the son of Zeus-Ammon. However, according to other sources, Olympias,
… repudiated the idea [that Alexander was Zeus-Ammon’s son] on religious grounds, and said, ‘I wish Alexander would stop getting me into trouble with Hera.’
Even if at the expense of Alexander’s ego, I hope that this anecdote is true. It would give us a glimpse of a woman who was devout and had a good sense of proportion, of someone who was not totally hell bent on her and her son’s success. Maybe I’m clutching at straws but it’s better than nothing.
Well, there we are. I’m back. I hope to write another post next Sunday when I get home from Mass. It would be wonderful if I could make late morning – early afternoons on Sundays my Alexander writing time. Before I finish, though, I will mention this: a few days ago I started reading again. I picked up my copy of Alexander the Great: Myth, Genesis and Sexuality by Daniel Ogden. I read the introduction and a couple of pages of Chapter One. Let’s challenge myself to make good progress in the week ahead so that, even if I have nothing else to say, I can talk about the book!
Plutarch Hellenistic Lives including Alexander the Great (tr. Robin Waterfield) (OUP 2016)
Olympias, Roman Medallion Wikipedia
Angelina Jolie as Olympias – Reddit