Too Great?

29 Jun

Some time ago I promised that I would write a post in my series “Ancient History – Just the Best Bits” on Alexander the Great. This is not it.

I actually started writing the piece on my nice wee smartphone. I wasn’t really happy with it. It’s near impossible to do Alexander justice in a short piece. Without me actually standing there, all flashing eyes, breathiness and enthusiastic hand gestures, it comes across as an over-abridged history lesson. Perhaps I was being too harsh or perhaps I could have improved it. It’s all moot now; my smartphone has come to a watery end, and the post with it.

It’s probably for the best. You can’t (or at least, I can’t) sum up such an amazing man in a couple of pages, or even a couple of books. I’m reminded of the verse at the end of John’s Gospel about Jesus: “[He] did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

So perhaps I will never write that post, or perhaps one day I’ll add to the ridiculously large number of books that have been written about Alexander. Either way, I’m going to take the smartphone incident as a sign and abandon the topic for now. If you do want to find out more about Alexander, you could do worse than read The Alexander Trilogy by Mary Renault. Those were the books that made me fall in love with Alexander originally, over the summer holidays before studying him in A-Level Classical Civilisation. They’re fiction, but the kind of really good historical fiction that tells you more about the subject, in some ways, than a pure history book would.

Anyway, in lieu of a proper post about Alexander the Great, I’ll leave you with the verdict of Arrian, my favourite of the four major historians of Alexander:

Anyone who belittles Alexander has no right to do so on the evidence only of what merits censure in him; he must base his criticism on a comprehensive view of his whole life and career. But let such a person, if blackguard Alexander he must, first compare himself with the object of his abuse: himself, so mean and obscure, and, confronting him, the great King with his unparalleled wordly success, the undisputed monarch of two continents, who spread the power of his name over all the earth. Will he dare to abuse him then, when he knows his own littleness and the triviality of his pursuits, which, even so, prove too much for his ability?

It is my belief that there was in those days no nation, no city, no single individual beyond the reach of Alexander’s name; never in all the world was there another like him.

(Quotation from the Penguin edition, 1971, translated by Aubrey de Selincourt, pp397-8)
Alexander the Great


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