Posts Tagged With: Julius Caesar

A Caesarian Section

Ancient Rome has been much on my mind this week.

Last Monday, I watched Mary Beard’s overview of the life of Julius Caesar on the BBC iPlayer. At the time of writing, it is still there for another 24 days.

The programme is a one hour long one off special; Beard, so the blurb says, ‘is on a mission to uncover the real Caesar, and to challenge public perception’ of the Roman general.

As for ‘the real Caesar’, he turned out to be rather similar to the general that I already knew from past reading. I say ‘rather’ in the English sense of ‘very’, meaning, just the same.

As a result of this, my perception of him was not challenged. In terms of shedding new light on Caesar, the programme was at its best when Beard looked at his influence on world leaders since – with special reference to President Trump. Both present(ed) themselves as the champion of the people, both set themselves against the ruling elite (while in one way or another being part of it). Both make/made use of catchy slogans – Veni, vidi, vici (I came, I saw, I conquered) and Make America Great Again.

Personally, I feel Julius Caesar was a much smarter man than Donald Trump and may even have been more sincere in his efforts to improve the life of Romans but apart from Caesar’s Footprints by Bijan Omrani (a book that I can whole heartedly recommend) it has been a long time since I really engaged with ancient Rome so take my opinion with a pinch of salt.

Mary Beard is quite a mumsy figure, she has an impish smile and a lot of enthusiasm. She reminds me a lot of Michael Wood. She is now in her 60s and if I have her happy spirit when I reach her age I shall consider myself very fortunate.

The one criticism I have of the programme is that it was too short. One hour. One episode. For a life as rich as Caesar’s that’s no time at all. Therefore, if you are a student of ancient Rome and know about him already, Mary Beard’s documentary will not likely reveal anything new to you. If, however, your knowledge of him goes as far as the tourists she interviews at the start of the programme – they knew Caesar was assassinated and that was about it – then the programme will be an ideal introduction.

Now, on a blog about Alexander, why do I mention Julius Caesar? Well, there is a point of connection between the two:

… in Spain, when he was at leisure and was reading from the history of Alexander, he was lost in thought for a long time, and then burst into tears. His friends were astonished, and asked the reason for his tears. “Do you not think,” said he, “it is matter for sorrow that while Alexander, at my age, was already king of so many peoples, I have as yet achieved no brilliant success?”
(Plutarch Julius Caesar 11)

Mary Beard not only mentions this anecdote but says that writers and artists have ever since used it to mark the turning point of Caesar’s life – the moment when he ceased to be Caesar the man and became Caesar the mighty figure of history that we know today.

There is also another reason why I mention him. After watching Beard’s documentary, it occurred to me that perhaps there is also a point of connection between what happened after Alexander’s and Julius Caesar’s deaths.

Caesar was assassinated. Alexander may have been, but either way, he died and his generals were left to pick up the pieces. If I remember correctly, in Rome, Brutus et al had no programme at all for what to do after Caesar’s murder; they simply expected things to go back to how they were before. Unfortunately, they reckoned without the guile of Octavian and cunning of Mark Antony. Alexander’s phalanx wanted the old (Argead) order to continue and a few of the generals tried to ensure that it did but after the latter had been eliminated, the past was finally over; now, it was a fight, either to the death or until a settled order could be achieved. Three hundred years later, the same thing happened. The old order, as represented by Brutus and Cassius died at Philippi, and with the removal of the irrelevant Lepidus it was a fight to the finish between Octavian and Mark Antony. But whereas Alexander’s generals eventually managed to come to an understanding with each other that allowed the ‘funeral games’ to end, Octavian and Mark Antony were two suns who, as Alexander knew, could not both exist. In both cases, the deaths of Alexander and Caesar, and the subsequent bloodshed, led to the creation of a new order – the Hellenistic Age and the Roman Empire.

In writing the above, I am mindful of the fact that – as I said earlier – it has been a long time since I read about Rome, especially the post-Caesar period, so forgive me if I have got anything wrong (and feel free to provide a correction in the comments).

Categories: By the Bye, Theatre | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alexander’s Sexuality

The Bay Area Reporter of San Francisco has published an article titled Alexander the Great & Greek Love on its website. You can read it here.

By the standards of most on-line articles concerning Alexander, the article is a really good one; the writer has clearly looked more deeply into the topic than plenty of other journalists. Occasionally, however, he lets himself down.

Paragraph 1
This is an excellent introduction to Alexander. It’s the kind of passage that I wish I had written. I would dispute that Alexander ‘in the West, [is] probably the best-known ancient ruler’. In my opinion that honour belongs to Julius Caesar.

Paragraph 2
Another good paragraph. Unfortunately, it does contain one mistake: contrary to what the writer asserts, Philip II did not ‘subjugate’ Sparta. He threatened the Spartans but never invaded their country. Ultimately, he had no need to do so. On the positive side, the writer makes a nice point about Olympias, one that is always worth remembering: ‘Olympias must have been remarkable, or else little would be known about her’.

Paragraph 3
Again, a good paragraph. The line ‘Philip was assassinated, perhaps by a former male lover’ (my emphasis) stood out for me. Diodorus (XVI.93) says that that a man named Pausanias was ‘beloved by [Philip] because of his beauty’. In English, to be beloved of someone is not necessarily to be their lover, which is perhaps the reason for the writer’s caution in describing Pausanias. However, Diodorus goes on to describe how he – Pausanias – bad mouthed another man of the same name when he – Pausanias the assassin – ‘saw that the king was becoming enamoured’ of them. Pausanias accused his namesake ‘of being a hermaphrodite and prompt to accept the amorous advances of any who wished’. If Pausanias the assassin was not Philip’s lover I don’t think he would have had any reason to speak to the second Pausanias in that way.

Paragraph 4
This paragraph opens with some excellent questions regarding Alexander’s empire that we will debate until the end of time. The writer then states that Alexander ‘married an Afghanistani chieftain’s daughter’. Roxane, of course, was not from Afghanistan. The country did not exist then. She was Bactrian.

Paragraph 5
It’s hard to judge this paragraph one way or the other as the writer dives into history too early and late for me. However, I like very much that he recognises that it is anachronistic to talk of Alexander being homosexual on the grounds that ‘”homosexuality” and “heterosexuality” as social constructs didn’t exist before the 19th century’. For the record, I have no idea when homo- and hetero- sexuality were invented so I take him at his word that it was indeed in the nineteenth century.

Paragraph 6
The writer points out that ‘many writers’ believe Alexander and Hephaestion could not have had a sexual relationship as they ‘were the same age’ (Curtius III.12.16 says they were the same age) and points to evidence in James Davidson’s The Greeks and Greek Love to show that peers could be lovers. He cites Davidson’s example of Harmodius and Aristogeiton. They lived in the sixth century B.C. It would, I suppose, have been more helpful to use an example from Alexander’s own time as times do change but given how slowly this seems to have happened in the past I doubt much changed between the late sixth century and the middle of the fourth.

Paragraph 7
The following two quotations contain the whole of this paragraph. The writers states,

Most ancient sources agree that Alexander was attracted to young men.

This is more than I know. I know that he was certainly attracted to one young man – Bagoas; I am not aware of any others with whom he had an affair. It would be interesting to know who the writer’s source was, or who his sources were, for this statement.

According to Plutarch, Hephaestion was the man whom “Alexander loved most of all.”

This quotation doesn’t appear in my Penguin Classics (2011) edition of Plutarch’s Life of Alexander but I think it comes from Chapter 47. In my edition, the text there reads ‘In general [Alexander] showed most affection for Hephaestion’.

Their relationship was all-encompassing. They drank, hunted, and campaigned together. Hephaestion acted as Alexander’s Chief of Staff. It was most likely sexual. 

Really? It is equally likely that they were simply very close friends. In terms of how the writer sees Alexander’s and Hephaestion’s relationship, I am on his side, but here I think the last sentence is an example of his wish for the two to have been lovers rather than because the facts he mentions prove it to have been so.

Paragraphs 8 – 9
Here, the writer turns to the best ‘evidence’ to my mind for Alexander and Hephaestion being lovers: their imitation of Achilles and Patroclus (Arrian I.12 cf. Plutarch Life 15)who in their day were believed to be lovers. As a side note, I like that the writer acknowledges that Homer doesn’t call Achilles and Patroclus lovers. It’s this attention to detail which really sets the article above any other I have read on Alexander.

Paragraph 10
The writer now turns to the famous moment when Sisygambis mistook Hephaestion for Alexander (Arrian II.13, Curtius III.12.16-17) only for the king to reply “This one, too, is Alexander.” in support of his case that they were lovers. When considering this passage, I feel that I am at the limit of my understanding of what Alexander meant with those words. Was he implying that the two were one as lovers are or was he referring to a very deep and platonic friendship?

Paragraph 11
The writer refers to Bagoas as Darius III’s ‘boyfriend’ which is a wholly inaccurate and misleading way to describe him. Bagoas was a eunuch, a slave. There was no equality between Darius and Bagoas, such as exists between lovers of the same or opposite sex. The writer goes on to say that Bagoas ‘soon found his way into Alexander’s bed’ as if he managed to inveigle his way there. Far more likely that Alexander told or asked him to come to him. Finally, he writes ‘Bagoas’ presence doesn’t rule out physical intimacy between Alexander and Hephaestion. In any case, they remained inseparable.’ Both these statements are surely and certainly true.

Paragraph 12 – 13
This paragraph begins ‘Nothing demonstrates Alexander’s passion for Hephaestion more than his reaction to his death.’ I could not agree more. The writer goes on to give an account of Alexander’s response to Hephaestion’s death, to which I can only say that even if they did not share a bed, if there is an ounce of truth in account, it is proof positive that Alexander loved Hephaestion very deeply indeed.

Paragraph 14
This paragraph begins with the admission that ‘Unless new evidence is uncovered, the exact nature of Alexander’s sexual orientation (to use an anachronistic term) will never be known.’ It concludes,

Nonetheless, a reasonable interpretation of extant sources, studied within the context of the sexual mores of Classical and Hellenistic Greek societies, leads to the conclusion that his erotic feelings were primarily directed at males.

This I disagree with. Alexander had three wives – Roxane, Stateira II and Parysatis. But these were dynastic marriages, one may say; this is true, but what of his mistresses: Barsine, Pancaste/Callixeina, Thalestris, Cleophis and perhaps Thais, later Ptolemy I’s lover? Some of these relationships may be legendary (e.g. Thalestris) but all? I doubt it. My conclusion to all that I have read is that Alexander was sexually attracted to both men and women, and of them both he liked Hephaestion most.

Categories: Of The Moment, On Alexander | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

30. 3. 14

Alexander the Epileptic
I knew that Julius Caesar suffered from epilepsy but not that Alexander did. This, though, is the premise of this excellent poem by Charles Bane, Jr. How typical of Alexander that even as he writhes upon the ground he is thinking of war and warlike things. I am being a little unfair, for as you’ll see there is more to the poem – and Alexander – than that. I appreciated the presence of the dolphins, which put me in mind of Herodotus’ story of Arion, the poet’s use of parenthesis as means of defining what Alexander finds important in his account of the seizure, and the final two lines, which very evocatively prove Alexander did not only think about war.

Thank you to World of Alexander the Great for mentioning the poem on Twitter this week.
Rory Stewart
If you live in the U.K., you may be interested to know that there is a programme at eight o’clock on BBC 2 tonight (i. e. 30th March) in which Rory Stewart discusses Roman Britain and what happened after the Romans left. Today, Stewart leads the ‘sedate’ life of a Member of Parliament for Penrith and the Borders. In 2002, however, he walked across Afghanistan around the same time as America and her allies were invading the country. A year or so later he became a Deputy Governor in Iraq following the invasion of that country. His books The Places In Between and Occupational Hazards give exciting accounts of his walk and tense diplomatic career and I thoroughly recommend them to you. If I recall correctly, Stewart is an admirer of T. E. Lawrence. He certainly has his spirit of adventure.

A Macedonian Yankee 
We love our national stereotypes, and one of my favourites is this idea that everything is done bigger in America. I have never visited the USA but unless American television series are lying to us, their cars are definitely a whole lot bigger than ours. They also have a reputation for serving larger portions of food as well, though I don’t know if this is the case. Anyway, given that Alexander liked to do things bigger than everyone else, I wonder if a case can be made for him being the first American? At any rate, I’m sure he would have approved of America’s cultural unity in diversity.
Seleucus and Apama
In 324 B.C., Alexander a number of his senior officers married Persian wives at the Susa Weddings. Of those officers, only one – Seleucus – did not put his wife aside after Alexander’s death in 323. To the best of my knowledge, he remained married to Apama, daughter of Spitamenes, until his death in 281. Did Seleucus genuinely love her? Let’s hope so, but we must also accept that she was useful to his political ambitions. Apama came from Sogdiana, which was part of Seleucus’ satrapy and, after 306, his kingdom. The reason I mention this is because I have just come across this brief You Tube video of a tourist’s visit to Apamea (in Syria).

As of today, I’m going to try and make more of an effort to watch You Tube videos on Alexander and his men so if you know any good quality ones do let me know. Feel free not to let me know about those that claim that Ptolemy I Soter is or invented Jesus Christ. Yes, they are out there.

Categories: Of The Moment | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

23. 4. 14

By-the-bye No. 2

Giles Milton is a writer by trade but also a dab hand at the art of repousse. Readers of this blog will know that his recently published book, Russian Roulette, was the inspiration for my occasional spy stories. Looking at these examples of Milton’s metalwork, however, it is hard not to get inspired about ancient Rome. Here is the great emperor, Trajan.
TrajanAnd below is Caracalla – the last Roman emperor known to have seen the body of Alexander (c. A.D. 215). 
CaracallaBoth works evoke the images of the kings and I have already asked Milton if he will create an image of Alexander. Here’s hoping!
Giles Milton’s web page is here and is well worth a visit. You can also follow him on Twitter @survivehistory.
Further to Friday’s blog post about Bactria, here is one from a Classical Wisdom on Cyrus the Great. He was one of Alexander’s heroes, whom the Macedonian king hoped to outdo in his exploits. If my memory serves he certainly did so in one respect – while Cyrus was killed fighting the Massagetae, Alexander – through Craterus – defeated them during his campaign in Bactria-Sogdia.
Speaking of heroes I could not let this blog post go by without mentioning one of mine: Patrick Leigh Fermor. His fame rests upon two great events in his life – his capture of General Kreipe during the Second World War (which I wrote about here) and his walk across Europe between December 1933 and January 1935. The reason I mention it here is because a writer named Nick Hunt has just published an account of his own walk across Europe in Leigh Fermor’s footsteps. The book is called Walking the Woods and the Water. I have just started and must confess to not being impressed. Not by Hunt’s writing but the drab nature of the part of Holland he has just walked through. Capitalism has given us many good things but we just doesn’t know when to stop and have used it tear the soul out of our cities. Indeed, we continue to do so. I hope very much that, as Hunt continues his journey well see more of what makes Europe beautiful.
2014 marks the 2000th anniversary of Augustus’ death. If you have an interest Ancient Rome why not visit Commemorating Augustus? Octavian was to administration what Alexander was to military conquest, and it is such a shame that his autobiography has not survived.
Speaking of Rome, I will never understand why we speak of Pompey the Great. Not in a million years did he deserve that title. Julius Caesar and Augustus did but Pompey? Never.

Categories: By the Bye | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

14. 3. 2014

By-the-Bye No. 1
Tom Holland and Mary Renault’s Alexander Trilogy
A few weeks ago on my Alexander Facebook page I mentioned that Virago Books are re-releasing Mary Renault’s Alexander Trilogy. I started reading one of them, The Persian Boy, I think, a while ago but got nowhere with it. Not the book’s fault – the story was being told from Bagoas the eunuch’s perspective, and I’m not really interested in him. I might have another go with the new editions, though, especially as they will come with an introduction-or-three by Tom Holland.
Alexander the Fourth… Version
Did you know that Oliver Stone is releasing a fourth version of his ‘biopic’ of Alexander? It will be called Alexander The Ultimate Cut and is due for release on 3rd June this year. Here it is at Amazon. I will buy it, if only to see what changes Stone has made. Unfortunately,  I don’t expect to come away thinking ‘Finally, Oliver Stone has made a great picture’. This is because, to my mind, his Alexander is fundamentally flawed; for example, in silly mistakes such as the absurd accents or the insipid interpretation of Hephaestion, but also in the more serious errors such as the hatchet job done on Philip II. This is not to say that the film is and always will be unwatchable – I enjoyed watching Alexander Revisited for my scene-by-scene series and appreciated the film more as a result – but I do think it means that no matter what Stone does to the film he will never get the first class picture that he craves.
And yet, he must clearly love it to come back to it time and again. If only he would move on and, perhaps, direct or produce a documentary series on Alexander. That would be worthy of his devotion and give him a new chance to write the story he obviously wants.

300 Rise of an Empire
300 Rise of an Empire has just come out in Britain. Lucky us. I am being a little unfair. 300 was immensely silly but enjoyable in its own silly way; I daresay that Rise of an Empire is more of the same. I enjoyed reading Pop Classics’ review of it; particularly as it taught me a new word – parallelaquel, being a sequel that takes place before, during and after the original movie!

Forgotten Dynasties
A couple of days ago I opened the Livius website and started reading about the Attalid and Antigonid dynasties. Before doing so you could have summed up my knowledge of both as – the Attalids? Who? Where? And, Antigonids? You mean the ones defeated by the Romans? So it was good to learn a little more about them both. Next, I should do the same for the Seleucid kings. My heart will always be with the Argeads and Ptolemies but it is good to fill in the blank spaces in one’s knowledge.
Well Done to The Last of Us et al
The British Film Academy held its annual video game awards this week (Here is the Daily Telegraph’s report). Am I the only one who would love to see a game based on the Macedonian phalanx. It could be a First Person… what? Shooter obviously won’t do; I am going for Stabber and Slasher. I believe there are strategy games based on Alexander’s conquests but the FPS&S would allow the player to get up close and personal at the front of the phalanx. Blood, gore and mayhem. Brilliant.

Pi in the Sky
Happy Pi Day to this blog’s American readers.
The official (??) website claims that this day is celebrated ‘around the world’. Alas, not in Britain where – as you can see from the title of this post – we place the day before the month. Still, the sentiment – that we use the day to celebrate maths – is a good one. As I am as good with numbers as Ptolemy I Soter, though, I fear I will use our different method of dating as an excuse to ignore all things mathematical until tomorrow (and thereafter).
2058 Years of Hurt
Speaking of anniversaries – tomorrow is, of course, the Ides of March. Had I been around in First Century BC Rome I would definitely have been on Julius Caesar’s side* so it will naturally be a sad occasion for me. I may have to take a little wine to assuage the pain. If so, I shall raise a glass to the other great man. 

* Well, okay, I would probably have been a peasant but I’m sure we have all harboured thoughts of being a patrician. Haven’t we?

This blog uses the WordPress “Adventure Journal” theme. I would like to replace it with one that looks more professional without being totally smooth and soulless. Can you recommend one? All ideas are welcome! On this point, if you have any comments about the content of the blog, I am very happy to receive them – this applies not only to what you have read but also anything that you like or dislike about the blog or would like to see etc. I may or may not act upon what you say but I will certainly take your thoughts into account in deciding what to write in the future.

Categories: By the Bye, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

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