Earlier this month I read a comment on Twitter by someone who, if memory serves, expressed a need for medievalists to stop white supremacists from using the Middle Ages to justify their ideological views.
Unfortunately, I can’t remember who made the comment but this article in The Economist explains the issue fairly succinctly.
One thing I do remember is that afterwards, I thought to myself how fortunate it is that Alexander had not been dragged into this contemporary ideological battle. He would seem to be the perfect candidate, after all, given that his expedition – his crusade, you might say – was carried out against the decedent people of the East.
But then, three days ago, I read an article regarding a meeting between members of the Greek government and Orthodox Church and a representative of Donald Trump during which, the Greek defence minister, Panos Kammenos, gave to Trump’s man ‘a copy of the sword of Alexander the Great’ (see my post here).
Mr Kammenos’ gift is as historically authentic as a quack medicine is useful. This is of little comfort, however, as extremists are rarely known for their commitment to the truth. What to do? Hope that no extremist read about the meeting and move on? Or how about this; take the opportunity to ask myself more deeply, ever more deeply, who was Alexander? Who was he, and what did he stand for?
This question can be asked both negatively and positively. For example, Alexander was not a racial supremacist. Aristotle may have taught him that Greeks were superior to non-Greeks but while Alexander did not intend to create a ‘unity of Mankind’ he did want non-Greeks to be part of his empire and not just subject to it. Alexander was not a Warrior of the West fighting the good fight against the Evil East. Officially, the expedition started out as a War of Revenge. This immediately alloys its moral value but even if we accepted it as something virtuous, the expedition became over time a personal affair as Alexander conquered not to avenge wrongs but to prove himself greater than his Heroic ancestors. As for the idea of the East being evil, let us not talk of the way the Greeks treated each other.
The question of Alexander’s identity is of such importance that it transcends what will in the fullness of time prove to be transitory political concerns. It is of especial importance to anyone who, like me, is an Alexander supporter. Because if we don’t ask the question we risk dwelling only on those parts of his life that are agreeable to us and glossing over, or just plain ignoring, those parts that are less so. And if we do this, we are not much better, in terms of our thinking, than political extremists. They sin by commission, we do so by omission.
So, while I still regret that Alexander’s name was used by the Greek delegation to curry President Trump’s favour (though I can well understand why they did it), now that it has been, it has afforded me an excellent opportunity to think more deeply about him and maybe to share any insights I come up with here with who knows what result. Positive, I hope!