Posts Tagged With: Peter Green

Dancing With The Lion – an interview with Jeanne Reames, Part One

Today, on the 2,375th anniversary of Alexander’s birth, I am delighted to welcome Jeanne Reames to The Second Achilles for the first of a two part ‘interview’ to discuss her part one of her new novel Dancing With The Lion: Becoming, in which she tells the story of how Alexander became the Great.

You can find Dancing With The Lion: Becoming on Amazon in the U.K. here and U.S.A. here or from all good bookshops. Jeanne’s book website is here.

To celebrate Dancing With The Lion: Becoming hitting the bookshelves, I caught up with Jeanne in the most twenty-first way possible, via e-mail, to discuss the novel and its characters.

What was your inspiration for writing Dancing with the Lion?
When I was in grad school for the first time at Emory, this guy, “Alexander the Great,” kept popping up in my Early Church history classes, yet I knew nothing about him. Deciding I might learn something, I trekked off to the library and grabbed two biographies off the shelf, somewhat at random. They happened to be Peter Green’s Alexander of Macedon (the original 1974 Thames-on-Hudson edition with images), and N.G.L. Hammond’s 1980 Alexander the Great: King, Commander, and Statesman (his more measured bio). I couldn’t have picked more divergent visions of Alexander if I’d tried.

So I became fascinated by this young man who literally changed the face of his world, then died before 33, leaving behind such varying analyses from heroically positive to viciously negative. The novelist in me took note, as we love a complicated character. I kept reading, and fell in love with Macedonia itself, as well.

What was it like writing about Alexander himself? Did he come with a lot of baggage – given to you by other authors and historians – or does he travel lightly, so’s to speak?
Oh, he comes with a freight-load of baggage, which is why I chose to use his real (Greek) name—Alexandros—to cut off some of it. In addition, I wanted to write him from a Macedonian perspective, as best I could. He’s too often viewed through a Greek (and later Roman) lens.

Much of that owes to our surviving sources, none of which were written during his own lifetime; Diodorus (arguably the earliest we still have) dates to the first century BCE. That would be like trying to write on John F. Kennedy with nothing more recent than bios 200 years in the future. Lord knows what they’d actually understand about the 1960s.

Fortunately, modern archaeology is producing amazing new insights, especially about early Iron-age, Archaic, and Classical Macedonia, rewriting our understanding of the Argead Macedonian kingdom. Never mind the royal cemetery at Aigai, what’s coming out of Aiani (ancient Elimeia), Archontiko (Pella), and Methone is stunning. But unfortunately, most of these reports are in modern Greek. I’ve tried to include at least references to our new discoveries in the novel, although the bulk of the text was written well before 2000. Again, all this contributes to my goal to show a non-Athenocentric, Macedonian Alexander.

Mieza, where Aristotle taught Alexander, Hephaestion et al

Did Alexander surprise you by his actions in the course of writing this book or did you feel you always had him under control?
If your characters are real, they always have a life of their own. Non-writers can be baffled when novelists talk about characters as if they were real people with whom the author has regular conversations. But if the author can’t do that, her characters aren’t 3D.

That said, Alexander was a bit harder to write my way into than Hephaistion. Hephaistion winked into existence when I (re-)read Peter Green’s bio and hit the line that describes him as, “Tall, handsome, spoilt, spiteful, overbearing, and fundamentally stupid” (p. 465, U. Cal ed., 1991 reprint). And in my head, this little Hephaistion sat up and said, “No, I wasn’t like that at all.” That gave me both a character and a dissertation, so I thank Peter for it.*

I’m sure some of my reaction was a gelling of what I’d read, leading me to a different opinion about Hephaistion. Yet from that moment, Hephaistion’s book character has been firmly formed and hasn’t changed much. Also, I’d like to note that I do see a distinction between my character and the historical person. If the former is certainly based on my research into the latter, I’m not confused about where the lines are.

The character who morphed the most during the writing was Myrtalē-Olympias. When I began, I had a fairly traditional, negative view. Then I read Beth Carney’s work, which fundamentally altered how I understood her and her motives, creating (I hope) a more nuanced character.

The historical Hephaestion did not live to write his memoirs and appears only episodically in the works of the Alexander historians. This makes him a rather elusive personality. Was that a blessing or curse for you in writing about him?
I consider it a blessing, as it left me a lot of freedom. Yet I’ve spent so much time with this fellow, I do feel as if I have some sense of what the historical person must have been like.

With Hephaistion, we must avoid too simplistic a reading. It can be easy to slam him into certain pre-made categories. The first is a yes-man without genuine ambition or much of a mind of his own, just beauty and a steadfast loyalty to Alexander. A second is more sinister: an ambitious man of limited ability, using Alexander’s affection for him to climb the socio-political ladder at the Macedonian court, and targeting his enemies along the way. He may (or may not) have felt genuine affection for Alexander.

To me, the evidence from the ancient sources doesn’t support either of those. First, he actually was capable (both Sabine Müller and I have written academic material about this). Second, all his clashes are late in his career, once he’d risen to very high rank, and in at least the case of Krateros, he may have been the target rather than the targeted. Earlier, he had no obvious enemies (aside from, perhaps, Olympias). In the novel, in fact, I’ve made him a bit more testy than I think he actually was. If Curtius (who was no fan of Alexander) paints a mostly positive picture of Hephaistion, perhaps we should pay attention.

He appears to have been deeply—and genuinely—attached to Alexander, and Curtius observed that he was diplomatic enough to avoid pushing his place. Yet he may also not have cared for personal advancement to the same degree as his fellows. That said, we must be careful not to make him passive; the evidence suggests that if insulted, he’d strike back. Remember, a virtuous Greek didn’t turn the other cheek; one was expected to help friends and hurt enemies, not ignore them, an important difference between now and then. In fact, showing clemency could be a backhanded insult, one Julius Caesar later used to great political effect. One could show clemency only to one’s social inferiors, after all.

I’ve come to think of Hephaistion as a “gamma male”; in pop culture, there’s little agreement as to what these men are like, but originally the term was coined to define those who disengage from the whole alpha-beta dynamic. They neither attempt to lead (although may be capable of doing so), nor do they willingly follow, unless they agree on the direction. While it might seem that alpha and gamma males should naturally clash, gamma males may also be the only true friend a strong alpha can have (and trust).

I find three aspects of Hephaistion’s personality mostly consistent according to our sources: he was honest with Alexander but diplomatic about his status in public, he seems to have agreed with Alexander’s policies in general and supported them, and last—and most importantly—Alexander wasn’t the least threatened by him. Add to that a friendship that quite probably spanned two decades and it suggests he was more complex than some would allow.

In writing Hephaestion did you ever find yourself in dialogue with previous interpretations of him? For example, in authors such as Mary Renault and film makers like Oliver Stone?
Very little, actually. First, this novel is now 30 years from its inception, and Hephaistion was among the earliest solid characters I had. I wrote the first line in December of 1988. I hadn’t even read Renault yet, and all of that was long before Stone came on the scene. Not to mention Stone’s Hephaistion is really Renault’s Hephaistion.

So while some of my characters owe to the influence of others (say, Beth Carney’s impact on my view of Olympias), Hephaistion is solely mine, unless you count Curtius and the other original sources.

***

*(Important note: scholars can like each other very much while still disagreeing on evaluations of the evidence, and Peter gave me one of the best edit jobs I’ve ever had for “The Mourning of Alexander the Great” [Ed’s Note: Which you can read here] which I also think is probably the best article I’ve published to date. So be aware that our scholarly disagreements in no way reflect our personal opinions about our colleagues. Also, we may disagree vehemently with one point, but agree substantially on others.)

***

Check back tomorrow for Part Two of the interview in which, among other things, we discuss Alexander’s mother, Olympias and his sister, Cleopatra and I get some advice on how to write (historical) fiction.

***

For more information about Dancing With The Lion, visit Jeanne Reames’s website here.

Coming this October…

All the images used in this blog post belong to Jeanne Reames and are used with her permission

Categories: Alexander Scholars, Books | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Strategy, Leonnatus, and Selective Sourcing

This week’s Alexanderland post is a day late. That’s because yesterday, I spent a bit of time on Tumblr answering an enquiry about Alexander’s relationship with his mother, Olympias; did he love or hate her? If you would like to read the Q & A, you can do so by clicking here.

***

For the second half-week in a row I have managed to read a little more of Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy by Partha Bose and The Marshals of Alexander’s Empire by Waldemar Heckel.

In the sub-chapter ‘Defenders Are Toast’, Bose states,

Napoleon, too, believed in the principle ‘When possible, always attack’. The function of strategy, according to generals like Napoleon and Alexander, was to make decisive contact with the enemy as soon as possible; everything would fall into place once that was done.
(Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy, p.151)

There are two senses in which this statement can be understood – once the armies meet on the battlefield and as a general military principle. I am not quite certain which sense Bose has in mind. If he means ‘on the battlefield’, I agree with him. In his four major battles, Alexander never waited for either the satraps, Darius’, or Porus’ armies to come to him. He went to them. In doing so he took the initiative and never lost it. To give Porus his due, he at least managed to neutralise the advantage that taking the initiative gave Alexander, as may be seen by the scrum that developed between the two armies following the opening movements.

However, if Bose’s statement applies to Alexander’s general strategy, I disagree. After Issus, Darius fled east and Alexander headed south to Tyre and Egypt. After Gaugamela, both kings repeated this move. After the battles at Issus and Gaugamela, Alexander knew that Darius was in no position to fight him so he had time to pursue his other expedition aims – it was not all about fighting – namely, the securing of the Mediterranean seaboard, the taking of Egypt after Issus, and the securing of Babylon, Susa and Persepolis after Gaugamela.

***

In the sub-section titled ‘The Killing of Cleitus’, and in the context of a discussion of Black Cleitus’ murder, Bose says that Alexander,

… was now suffering from the powerful man’s conceit that he had seen engulf his father, according to which anyone who disagreed with him must be morally flawed.
(Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy, p.163)

I haven’t read nearly enough about Philip II to confidently dispute this statement, but I have read enough to feel uncomfortable with this statement. As I sit here and write these words, the only time that I can recall Philip ‘suffering from the powerful man’s conceit’ is in the placement of a statue of himself alongside those of the Olympian gods (Diodorus XVI.95). I don’t know of any occasion when he regarded those who held different views as ‘morally flawed’.

***

Moving on to The Marshals of Alexander’s Empire. I am still in ‘Chapter ii: The ‘New Men”. Earlier today, I read about Leonnatus. I have to admit, not much really jumped out at me while I read this; with that said, two statements did make an impression on me.

Firstly, that after Alexander’s death, Leonnatus was nominated along with Perdiccas as joint-regent for Roxane’s (hoped for) son. I had forgotten this. Why so? Because when I read about the succession crisis, I always turn to Diodorus, and he does not mention Leonnatus at the Babylonian conference (see Diodorus XVIII.2). However, Curtius also mentions the conference, and he says,

Pithon began to follow Perdiccas’ strategy, designating Perdiccas and Leonnatus, both of royal birth, as guardians for Roxane’s future son.
(Curtius X.7.8)

This passage is, therefore, a reminder to me never to limit myself to just one of the sources. If I can I always need to look up what the others say.

As for Leonnatus at Babylon, Weckel says that the reason Peithon nominated Leonnatus was to keep Perdiccas’ ambitions ‘in check’ (p.104), which sounds about right.

***

Heckel quotes Helmut Berve in his summary of Leonnatus. According to the latter, he ‘was a potential unfulfilled’ (p.106). He was a late comer, too, not being promoted into the senior ranks of the Macedonian army until 332/1 when he became a somatophylake and did not receive his first ‘military command’ (p.98) until early 327 when Alexander put him in charge of the night crew as the Macedonian army worked round the clock to bridge the rock of Chorienes. Leonnatus reminds me of Ptolemy, whose rise through the ranks was also delayed – for the son of Lagus, it did not begin until late 330 when he, too, became a royal bodyguard.

However, though Ptolemy joined the senior ranks later than Leonnatus, he enjoyed his first solo command earlier – the pick up of Bessus in 329. Both Ptolemy and Leonnatus had blue blood in them, although I believe Ptolemy was minor nobility. Leonnatus was a member of the Lyncestian royal house and related to Alexander through the latter’s grandmother. Ptolemy’s and Leonnatus’ paths definitively diverged in the Wars of the Successors. Leonnatus died at the start after falling in battle against the Athenian general Antiphilos in 322 B.C. while Ptolemy secured himself in Egypt and very nearly outlived the wars, dying in 283 B.C.

***

My continued thanks go to Shiralyn Mayon who linked to the following two videos on my Alexander Facebook page. The first is a short clip from a History Channel documentary about Alexander. It focuses on his relationship with Hephaestion.

The video claims that Alexander met Hephaestion in early adulthood. To the best of my knowledge, we do not know when they met. They could have been boyhood friends. The rest of the video is is concerned, firstly, with how Philip II and Olympias feared that their son was a ‘femme (?) homosexual’ and so introduced him to ‘call girls’ to man him up some. And secondly, Peter Green wonders what do you do if you are a ‘feminine youth’ and your father is an ‘ultra masculine, heavily bearded, militarily successful, hard drinking, dominant alpha-male’. The answer, of course, is you never stop being slightly feminine, nor reject the one you love but play the same military game as your father and beat him at it.

Plaudits go to the commenter who tries to convince us that Alexander was anti-homosexual when the Macedonian king’s sexual relationship with the eunuch Bagoas is a matter of record. That’s what you get when you quote your sources selectively,

The second video is an advert for a 2012 exhibition based on Alexander. I don’t have much to say about it except that it does a great job of making the exhibition worth going to see.

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Getting the Rub of the Green

For the last three or so years I have concentrated on reading the five ancient Roman/Greek accounts of Alexander’s life.

Having now read Arrian, Curtius, Diodorus, Justin and Plutarch all the way through and more than once I now feel ready to engage with the modern historians once more.

Unfortunately, I do not at the moment have half as much time as I should like to do this. Never mind, I told myself, I’ll limit myself to reading previously unread historians all the way through. I’d like to say hello to old friends, though, so I will just read a chapter of their books in order to re-acquaint myself with the author again.  It’s not perfect but is better than nothing.

p_green

In that spirit, I opened up Peter Green’s Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C. A Historical Biography. It was one of the first books about Alexander that I read and second only to Robin Lane Fox’s in how much I enjoyed it.

This time round I read the chapter titled The Captain-General and I am delighted to say that I enjoyed it just as much as I did in memory. What I appreciated most was the way Green combined his historical account of Alexander’s life with his own comments and analysis. The two seemed to me to be in perfect balance and harmony. Perhaps as a result of this, or just on account of Green’s superior penmanship, the chapter flowed really well and before I knew it I had reached the end.

I didn’t think the chapter was perfect. Green makes unsupported statements*. It is only recently that I have begun to realise that scholars do this, and in my opinion – even if you are writing for a general audience – this is a bad habit. Why do they do it?

But what is positive about this chapter far outweighs the negative. For example, another good thing about it is its judicious use of graphics; here a map of Alexander’s route through Asia Minor, there a map of the Persian satrapies – and in the middle a table showing the make-up of the Macedonian army when it left Macedon.

I would like to end by praising Green’s analysis. Useful, valuable, and interesting. Here are some of the things that I highlighted as I read,

  • Parmenion and Antipater may not have been acting in an entirely disinterested fashion when they told Alexander he should marry and father an heir before beginning his expedition. Both had unmarried daughters
  • 12,000 of Alexander’s men remained behind to defend Macedon against her enemies after he left for Asia Minor. This tells you a great deal about how reconciled Greece was to Macedonian control
  • The ‘scientific knowledge’ that Alexander brought back with him after his return to Babylon formed the basis of the West’s understanding of the East for centuries afterwards

I came away from Alexander of Macedon feeling enriched by it. I had learnt new knowledge, or relearnt old, dared to disagree and been encouraged by Green’s professionalism to continue my own study. I really can’t ask much more from a book than that.

So, if you are looking for a book about Alexander to read, I strongly recommend this one. Peter Green has been there and is a great teacher to listen to and debate with, to ponder and use as a springboard to further study.

* For example, ‘Alexander himself often derived malicious amusement from playing [his court writers] off against each other’. Really? This is a juicy bit of gossip – and not information I recall seeing anywhere else – it must be worth an explanation, or at least a footnote. Sadly, neither is forthcoming
Categories: Alexander Scholars | Tags: | 6 Comments

Alexander: November / Autumn Chronology

Alexander’s Chronology

336
Nov-Dec Corinth. Alexander wins Greek support for war against Persia (Livius)
Nota Bene
Peter Green* states that this takes place in late summer

335
Nov-Dec Alexander holds festivals in Dion and Aegae (Livius)
Nota Bene
The Landmark Arrian** states that the Aegae festival takes place in Autumn

333
c. 5th November The Battle of Issus (Livius)
Nota Bene
Peter Green suggests that the battle took place in September-October
The Landmark Arrian states that the battle took place in Autumn
Michael Wood*** places the battle in November but doesn’t give a specific date

332
Alexander’s legendary visit to Jerusalem (Livius)
Alexander arrives in Egypt (Livius)
c. 14th November Memphis. Alexander is (possibly) crowned pharaoh (Peter Green)
Nota Bene
Livius states that Alexander visits Memphis in January 331 B.C.
The Landmark Arrian and Michael Wood state that Alexander entered Egypt in winter

330
Alexander in Drangiana (Livius)
The Philotas Affair (Livius)
Alexander in Ariaspa (Livius)
Parmenion is assassinated in Ecbatana (Livius)
Nota Bene
Peter Green has the ‘march to Drangiana’ and Philotas affair take place in or after ‘Late August’
The Landmark Arrian states that the Philotas Affair and Parmenion’s assassination take place in Autumn
Michael Wood states that the Philotas affair and Parmenion’s assassination take place in October

326
Macedonian fleet begins its journey down the Hydaspes River (Livius, Green, Wood)
Birth and death of Alexander’s and Roxane’s first son (Wood)
Nota Bene
Peter Green has the fleet’s journey beginning early in November
The Landmark Arrian states that the fleet sails down the ‘Hydaspes-Akesinos Rivers’ in the Autumn

* Alexander of Macedon 356 – 323 B.C. A Historical Biography (University of California Press 1991)
** The Landmark Arrian Ed. James Romm (Pantheon Books 2010)
*** In the Footsteps Of Alexander the Great A Journey from Greece to India (BBC Books 2004)

This chronology is part of an on-going work. If you see any mistakes or omissions please feel free to let me know.

At the moment, Livius‘ chronology is the one by which I test the others. That may change; I’ll note it if it does.

Categories: Chronology of Alexander's Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Alexander: October / Autumn Chronology

Alexander’s Chronology

336
Livius Philip II is assassinated
Livius Alexander III becomes king of Macedon
Michael Wood* and Peter Green** place Philip II’s assassination and Alexander’s accession in the summer
The Landmark Arrian*** places Philip II’s assassination and Alexander’s accession in autumn

333
Livius Parmenion is sent to the Syrian Gates
Livius Alexander campaigns in ‘West-Cilicia’
Michael Wood places Alexander’s Cilician operations in the summer
The Landmark Arrian has Parmenion’s departure and Alexander’s operations in Cilicia take place in the summer (TLA not specific about which area of Cilicia Alexander is in; MW refers to Alexander being in central Cilicia)
Peter Green ‘?September-October’ The Battle of Issus

331
Livius, Michael Wood 1st October The Battle of Gaugamela
Livius 22nd October Mazaeus surrenders Babylon to Alexander
The Landmark Arrian Arrian makes no mention of Mazeus surrendering the city (he has the Babylonians in general surrendering it).
The Landmark Arrian and Michael Wood state that the Battle of Gaugamela took place and Babylon surrendered in Autumn
Peter Green ’30 September or 1 October’ The Battle of Gaugamela
Peter Green ‘Mid October’ Babylon falls

324
Livius Alexander arrives in Ecbatana
Livius Late October Hephaestion dies at Ecbatana
The Landmark Arrian and Michael Wood state simply that Hephaestion died in Autumn

* In the Footsteps Of Alexander the Great A Journey from Greece to India (BBC Books 2004)
** Alexander of Macedon 356 – 323 B.C. A Historical Biography (University of California Press 1991)
*** The Landmark Arrian Ed. James Romm (Pantheon Books 2010)

This chronology is part of an on-going work. If you see any mistakes or omissions please feel free to let me know.
At the moment, Livius‘ chronology is the one by which I test the others. That may change; I’ll note it if it does.

Categories: Chronology of Alexander's Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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