Wu of Han a Very Manly Man – More So Than Alexander

I first ‘met’ Edith Hall in 2011 when she and her then colleagues at the Royal Holloway Classics Department put on some meetings to support the Department against the RHU bean counters who wanted to close it. I wrote about them on my general literary blog, here, here, and here).
Happily, the university eventually decided to keep the Classics Department going. Sadly for her colleagues, though, Professor Hall decided to move on; today, she is professor of Classics at King’s College, London.
Thanks to Blazeaglory, a commenter to this blog, I now ‘meet’ Professor Hall again; this time, I am pleased to say, in more playful mood. On 29th March this year, she posted an entry to her blog with the neatly provocative title Making Alexander the Great Look Like A Wimp.
The man with this honour is Wu of Han, a Chinese Emperor of the second century B.C.
His claim to fame is that he ‘vastly expanded’ China’s borders. This puts him on the level of Philip II. Alexander created and immeasurably expanded the borders of his empire.
He embraced Confucianism and ‘killed tens of thousands’ (in support of it). Alexander, of course, was open to all religions. We must admit though, Alexander was not averse to bloodshed.
Wu also founded ‘an Imperial Music School’, which really puts him on the level of Ptolemy I Soter and Ptolemy II Philadelphus.
Wu ruled for 54 years, and in that time ‘developed weirdness and paranoia’. In respect of the latter, this puts him on the level of those Roman Emperors who wanted to be Alexander but were also mentally unhinged.
Wu executed his magicians who could not make him immortal. Silly man for not following Alexander’s lead and going to Siwah.
He also executed his infertile wife’s attendants after accusing her of witchcraft. This puts him very firmly below Alexander who respected women greatly – even if, as I sometimes think, it was for egotistical reasons.
Wu ‘went on expensive imperial tours with a vast entourage’. This reminds me more of Demetrius the Besieger than Alexander. Wu also ’emptied the national treasury’ which puts him on the level of Harpalus.
Wu ‘suppressed’ peasant revolts. Here, we must again admit that he is the equal of Alexander. And he suffered ‘psychotic delusions’. Alexander was never mad, and neither did he drive anyone to suicide (Wu’s wife and heir both died this way).
On the issue of Alexander’s mental health, since finishing my reading of Arrian for the Letters series, I have been thinking about the view that he became a megalomaniac in later life. I didn’t sense that from Arrian. Though, perhaps that is not a surprise as he is very pro-Alexander, as were his sources. But this is certainly something I’d like to look into more. Through Curtius, for example?
But going back to Edith Hall – obviously a direct comparison between Wu and Alexander is impossible. They lived in different ages with different motivations and circumstances to influence their behaviour.
Apart from the opportunity to learn about another historical figure what makes Professor Hall’s blog post really valuable today is the reminder it gives me to look at Alexander’s mental health. On another day, it might suggest another new line of thought or study. The ability to open doors – the beauty of blogs and books.

Categories: Alexander and... | Tags: , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Wu of Han a Very Manly Man – More So Than Alexander

  1. blazeaglory

    Anything that promotes the discussion of the Antiquities is always healthy. Although I am quite biased towards Alexander, I am still very fascinated by Chinese history as well.

    Very good article and debate!


  2. Yes, discussion is always healthy, but I’m quite embarrassed in confronting Alexander and Wu of Han, and that for a very simple cause: I know very well Greece, Greek language and ancient Greek sources, but nothing of China, ancient Chinese history and sources, not to say Chinese language(s). Therefore it’s impossible for me to compare good knowledge with nil!


    • Silasaila,

      You are not the only one to know so little – I know even less. For that reason, it’s good to see blog posts like this one that present China in a way that we can relate to.



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