Posts Tagged With: Paul Cartledge

A Grave Matter


As I write this post, we are just ninety minutes away from the start of the World Cup final. Sadly, football will not be coming home for England as the national team were knocked out on Wednesday by Croatia. It’s hard to be too upset by this as football hasn’t come home for an awfully long time.

On Twitter a few days ago, I considered (as one does) who else never went home. The best answer, of course, is Alexander. After leaving Macedon in 336 B.C. he never looked back. It looks like he didn’t even want to return home in death, either. Michael Wood states that Alexander wished ‘to be buried with his ‘father’ in Siwa’ (In the Footsteps of Alexander, p.217). Of course, his body never made it there; after hijacking the cortege, which under Perdiccas’ instructions was on its way to Macedon, Ptolemy took the coffin, first to Memphis and then to Alexandria a few years later, once the city had been built.


On the subject of coffins, there has been a great deal of interest in a large black coffin that has been discovered in Alexandria, Egypt. You can read about it here. The coffin dates to the Ptolemaic period so naturally there has been speculation that the body inside is Alexander’s.

Well, the size of the coffin certainly indicates that it belonged to someone of great wealth, and therefore importance, and it has been found in Alexandria – Alexander’s last known resting place – so… However, the Macedonian king was not the only important person to be buried there. Maybe the coffin belongs to one of the Ptolemys. I would be very happy for it to be Ptolemy I’s. We just don’t know who was laid to rest inside it and will have to be patient and wait for the Egyptian archaeologists to open it. Let’s hope they find enough evidence inside to solve the mystery.


A link to Alexander: Gay or Straight? appeared on my Twitter timeline earlier today. It is a 2011 blog post on the Forbes website. The post is quite short but still worth your time as it features Paul Cartledge and James Romm – two classicists who know all about Alexander. James Romm is particularly worth paying attention to as he co-edited the lovely Landmark Arrian book. On a personal note, I like Paul Cartledge, too, as he signed a book for me after a talk once and was very friendly.

Anyway, back to Alexander: the title of the blog post is, of course, unhelpful as it imposes a modern understanding of sexuality on someone who lived in the fourth century B.C. The highlight of the post for me was learning that some scholars doubted the existence of Alexander’s eunuch, Bagoas.


I have finally started reading Mary Renault’s The Nature of Alexander. I’m commenting on it as I read over at the Facebook Alexander the Great Reading Group. I may post them on this blog after I have finished the book but for now, you can read them, here.


One last point – I first found out about the Alexander: Gay or Straight blog post when someone I follow retweeted the original post containing the link. The retweeter was none other than @Olympias_Epirus. Alexander was very fortunate to live in an age where he never had to come out as gay, straight, bisexual, etc. Instead, however, Olympias or Philip II worried about their son’s apparent lack of interest in sex. Athenaeus (Deipnosophistae X.435) states that Olympias hired a courtesan to sleep with him; ‘they feared he might prove to be a womanish man’, which perhaps means a eunuch? Unfortunately for Olympias it would be a little longer before Alexander set her mind at rest.


It is now 3:37pm. Kick-off is in 23 minutes. Time to get ready for the game!

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Paul Cartledge on the Oath of Plataea

Paul Cartledge’s talk at the Hellenic Centre (on 12.11.13) in London, which I wrote about here. Unfortunately, it does not include the Q and A at the end.

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Paul Cartledge at the Hellenic Centre in London

Last night I visited the Hellenic Centre in London for the first time to hear Professor Paul Cartledge speak on the subject of the oath of Plataea. The event was sponsored by the Hellenic Society, which  hosted a talk on Alexander by Robin Lane Fox (and which I wrote about here) a few months ago. It is a real privilege and joy to be a member of the society and attend talks by these great scholars. I hope that one day I can follow them to Greece. By the bye, I don’t think you have to be a member of the Society to attend the talks – I wasn’t when I went to the RLF one – so if you see one that you are interested in get in touch with the Society to find out if you can go along.
Cartledge’s talk was recorded so I imagine (as with Lane Fox’s) it will appear on-line soon. As and when it does, I shall post a link or ’embed’ the video on this blog. I didn’t take any notes last night, so instead of writing a report here are three things that made an impression on me, and which are still on my mind.
When Xerxes crossed the Hellespont in 480 BC his passage was impeded by violent weather. It even destroyed the temporary bridge he had constructed to facilitate the crossing. Enraged, Xerxes ordered the sea to be whipped and branded, and for fetters to be thrown into it.
To you and me today this sounds like absurd behaviour, comical even. In 480, though, Xerxes’ actions were deadly serious. The ancients regarded the seas – as well as many other parts of the natural world – as being gods. For them, Xerxes wasn’t impotently lashing the sea, but demonstrating his authority over a divinity. And even more than that, he was treating the god of the Hellespont like a slave – for branding was a punishment for misbehaviour by slaves. Talk about hubris.
In light of the above, I no longer think Xerxes absurd but blasphemous. Indeed, his action really rather takes my breath away. People say that Alexander became a megalomaniac towards the end of his life but at least he loved the gods.
This is as trivial as (α) is serious. During his talk, Cartledge referred to ‘Byzantion, later called Constantinople, which some today call Istanbul’. This happily called to mind Patrick Leigh Fermor’s preference for calling Istanbul Constantinople in A Time of GiftsBetween The Wood and the Water and The Broken Road!

Speaking of Leigh Fermor, have you read this good news about his headstone?
During the post talk Q and A a questioner asked Cartledge what he thought of the famous quotation that the Battle of Marathon was a more important event in English history than that of Hastings. Cartledge didn’t agree with that. In his view, history is not a linear sequence of events, there is no thread that connects us to the ancient Greeks and Romans. In his view, we appropriate history and take from it what interests us. I agree with him – to a point (I don’t mean this in the Lord Copper sense). Yes, we fashion history in our own image. This can be seen very clearly today with many historians’ emphasis on gender relations and how ‘ordinary’ people lived. However, isn’t western morality founded on the Jewish Law? And doesn’t our legal system originate – at least in part – from the Roman code of law? Unfortunately, I just don’t know enough to answer these questions. If the answer was ‘yes’ to either one, though, it would show that there is a point of connection between us and those who came before.
As you can see below, Cartledge’s book is titled After Thermopylae. This, he said, was the publisher’s title. In 2006, Cartledge wrote a book about Thermopylae itself. It sold 20,000 copies. In hardback. Why? Because of a certain film titled 300, which came out in the same year… Next year, the sequel to 300 is released. It picks up what happened, as you might guess, after Thermopylae…! I applaud Paul Cartledge’s publishers for their Odyssean cunning!

Paul Cartledge After Thermoplylae

Paul Cartledge After Thermoplylae, and this writer’s glass of wine

Following the talk, I bought a copy of Cartledge’s book, above, which he kindly signed for me. I mentioned Patrick Leigh Fermor to him and was treated to a short discourse about how the word ‘Istanbul’ has (or may have?) Greek origins. I was bucked by his friendliness and preparedness to share his knowledge.
Having spoken to the man himself and got my book signed all that was left to do was swig my (unmixed) wine. This I did with aplomb and made my way home, a very happy man.
NB (Is there a Greek version of Nota Bene?) As at the Lane Fox talk, I learnt how to pronounce one or two ancient Greek words.
Nike Nee – kay
Venus Veh (short e) – nus
Ares A (short a) – res
Plataea Pla – tee – a

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