I have just got home through sun and rain from the Hellenic Society’s 2012-13 AGM in London’s West End. I was alerted to the meeting yesterday by a very kind soul, and was persuaded to attend by the fact that Robin Lane-Fox, Alexander scholar and Companion Cavalry extra in Oliver Stone’s film about the king, was giving a lecture on “Alexander and the Gods – and the early Successors’.
I took notes as RLF spoke, but as mine are never good enough to form a cohesive account of lectures, I will just give my impressions of some what I heard. I hope I have represented what Lane-Fox said accurately, but please be aware that I do not write shorthand!
A Little (Big?) Revelation
First and foremost, Lane-Fox told us about a pedestal that was discovered in the Bahariya Oasis, near Siwah, and taken to Cairo’s Museum of Egyptian Antiquities before being forgotten about until a few years ago when it was discovered in the basement. The photograph that he showed us revealed the pedestal to be about a metre high and the colour of sandstone. The top, probably where a dedicatory object would have been placed, is missing. The pedestal has Egyptian hieroglyphs and Greek letters carved into it, but is notable because the writing details all five of Alexander’s pharaonic titles. Apparently inscriptions usually only contain three or so of them. The following text also appears on the pedestal,
The king Alexander to Ammon (his) father
It’s either this dedication or the titles that proves that the pedestal was made in Alexander’s lifetime as it/they would not have been written posthumously. What Lane-Fox suggested might have happened is that after being ‘confirmed’ as the son of Ammon-Zeus at Siwah, Alexander passed through the Bahariya Oasis where he stopped at the temple. Following this visit, the pedestal was made. I can’t remember if Lane-Fox said if it was made as part of a new temple or not.
Either way, the pedestal is still not known about by most Hellenists, which, given its apparent important seems extraordinary. If you want to know more about it, the man who found it and – I hope – is writing about it for publication is Francisco Bosch-Puche of Oxford University.
In fact, no sooner had I written the above, I found this; I would certainly like to read Bosch-Puche’s paper!
Before moving on, I’d like to refer back to the above quoted inscription. Apparently, there is controversy over whether Macedonian kings were called King such-and-such. The pedestal proves that they were. Roof tiles have also been discovered referring to Basileus Philip.
Whenever I read anything about Alexander, I am always very aware that I am very probably pronouncing at least some of the Macedonian/Greek names wrongly. It was good, therefore, to hear Robin Lane-Fox’s pronunciation – even if, as in the case of Hephaestion, his name is pronounced so differently as to make it seem almost a different name. Here are some of the names I wrote down and their phonetic pronunciation:
Aegae Ay – gay
Aristobulos A – ristoh – bu – los
Barsine Bar – sy – nee
Delos Dee – los
Gaugamela Gor – go – meh – la
Gonatas Gone – atas
Hephaestion Heh – fee – stee – oh*
Philippi Fy – li – pie
Phryne Fry – nee
Samos Say – mos
*I’m pretty sure RLF said ‘oh’ and not ‘on’
Facts and Comparisons
As mentioned above, Robin Lane-Fox appeared in Oliver Stone’s Alexander. He was a consultant, and if I remember correctly, his price for helping Stone with the historical authenticity of the film was to be able to mount a horse as an extra, and ride into battle alongside Colin Farrell. During the talk, Lane-Fox brought up a slide of Angelina Jolie, who played Alexander’s mother, Olympias. In one of the slides, she is holding a snake – Olympias had a cultic passion for them. “Yes, that snake,” he said, “she put that down my trousers!”
Later on, Lane-Fox came to Demetrius Poliorcetes. How would you describe him? He was certainly dashing, also daring; glamorous? Yes. Long maned? Possibly. Lane-Fox looked no further than Michael Heseltine! From Hezza to Dezza! On a roll, he than said that you could say that Alexander was as controversial a figure as a certain Margaret Roberts-! Finally, Lane-Fox reached his zenith when he began talking about tarts (prostitutes) and super-tarts (Harpalus’ courtesan girlfriend). I wonder what he would have called Thaïs who ‘dated’ the next pharaoh of Egypt.
Lane-Fox’s talk had three strands. i. The precedence for divine honours being paid to living men before Alexander’s time (I think those paid to Lysander of Sparta were after he died?) ii. What happened during Alexander’s life (If nothing else, there is no evidence that he demanded anyone pay him divine honours) iii. What the Successors did (Seleucus made an issue of his divine ancestry but Ptolemy, despite being pharaoh, didn’t). The talk was recorded, so I hope it is uploaded to the Hellenic Society’s website or You Tube in due course. In this post, I have really skirted round the talk; it was a good one, though, and whether in written form or on video will be well worth checking out.