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Sun, Nov. 21st, 2004, 06:10 pm
mieza: An Open Letter to the Media (on Stone, Alexander, and sex)

I've about had it with the recent media treatment of Oliver Stone's Alexander.

And no, my irritation doesn't stem from slams at the movie generally (I'm keeping an open mind, but I'd be lying if I said I entertained no doubts).

It also doesn't stem from any misbegotten notion that history is some sacral discipline not to be besmirched by fictional treatments. I write historical fiction, too. They just label it 'history,' print it in journals, and shelve it in non-fiction. ;> (Any historian who won't admit how much supposition goes into her/his theories about the past is rather too precariously balanced on a high horse.)

No, my irritation relates to one thing and one thing only ...


There. I feel better.

Good God, what is with the utter fixation on Alexander's 'sexuality'? (A modern term imposed on the past incorrectly anyway.)

All that says far more about US than about Alexander.

News Flash: Alexander's 'sexual exploits' were a non-issue in antiquity. Nobody much gossiped about it. Why? Because he was regarded as rather boring in the sex department. Yup, really.

What was he critiqued for in his own day?

His drinking. His ambition. His temper.

He had a terrible temper. In a fit of rage, he speared the little brother of his own nurse, a man who'd once saved his life. (And to be fair, he was inconsolable for days -- but that doesn't change the fact he did it.) His drinking was considered a problem even by ancient standards (although how much of that may owe to a difference in Greek and Macedonian drinking traditions is very much a matter of debate).

But his REAL fatal flaw? HUBRIS. The man had an ego the size of ... well, Persia.

Ancient sources tell us he could be enormously charming, the kind of person who draws ALL eyes the minute he walks into a room. (Something I fear Colin Farrell did not capture. Broody alone won't do it.) One of the voice-overs from the film has Anthony Hopkins saying that he's known many great men, "but only one colossus." That's it. Alexander really WAS a colossus, with magnetic charisma, unparalleled perseverance, unbridled ambition, and the (probable) talent of a polymath. (He did a number of things extraordinarily well, imo.)

And all the (especially) American media can fixate on is who he slept with? (Oh, and the dye job. We mustn't forget the dye job! Really, people ... ATG was [probably] blond; Farrell isn't. That requires a little peroxide; too bad they forgot to lighten the eyebrows, too.)

Does all that make him a 'good' man -- a 'hero,' someone to admire? No. These guys were SHARKS, make no mistake. Alexander was just the Great White, and there are a LOT of things we can critique him for, and a lot of things we can discuss about his reign. (See Brian Bosworth's Alexander in the East.)

And what DO we talk about ... endlessly, in almost every article? His interest in both genders.

Er, fixated much?

What's wrong with talking about sex and sexual preference? Why, nothing. And yes, I'm well aware this is the first time such a big-budget film will feature a main character who's predilections ran both ways. But let's be clear that when we seem impelled to note this, it's OURSELVES we're talking about ... not Alexander. Some of the media writeups I've seen would lead one to believe Alexander was some kind of sybaritic debauchee! Yet this is the same man who once quipped, "Sleep and sex remind me I'm mortal." Not exactly a mantra for orgies.

Get it through your heads, [U.S.] Media ... Alexander the Great was a bit of a PRUDE.

He really was. If sex scandals are what we want -- the ancient equivalent of Zippergate -- we're all barking up the wrong historical tree. Go read about Alkibiades, nephew of Perikles, or even Alexander's father, Philip II of Macedon. THEY had sex scandals. Oh, boy, did they! Alexander? Not hardly. The worst they could accuse him of was publicly kissing a eunuch quickly on the lips after a dance. And he was applauded for it. Whee! Definitely hard core scandal there!

(Keep in mind that Philip II was killed by a former lover who'd been replaced by a boy who was the younger brother of Philip's last wife ... And Philip may also have had an affair with Olympias' younger brother ... another Alexandros. 'As the Macedonian World Turns' -- that was Philip's court. One needs a flow-chart to keep up with Philip's affairs. And Alkibiades? The biggest wanker of the ancient world. He's the one Hollywood should make a movie about! Alexander was downright TAME, folks! tame.)

Please, please, please ... stop overdramatizing the WRONG thing.

Or at least be honest and admit we're excited because -- ooooh -- Alexander was emotionally loyal to one person for 19+ years ... longer than the average modern marriage. That gets our (American) panties in a wad these days because that 'person' just happened to be the same gender as Alexander.

The plain turth is Alexander and Hephaistion would have been utterly baffled by all the hulabaloo ... and would probably laugh their heads off, if they knew.
(Deleted comment)

Mon, Nov. 22nd, 2004 01:15 am (UTC)

That may be ... but it doesn't excuse the utter absurdity involved, and that's my real point.

Mon, Nov. 22nd, 2004 01:20 am (UTC)

I think I love you. Excellent rant.

Mon, Nov. 22nd, 2004 01:25 am (UTC)

Thanks. Feel free to pass it on. I'm really, really fed up ... and that takes some doing, and I'm normally pretty even-tempered. ;>
(Deleted comment)

Mon, Nov. 22nd, 2004 01:33 am (UTC)
mieza: Re: I agree..

First, on the Romance ... look for anything by Richard Stoneman, on it. He's the ranking authority. And Penguin publishes a copy (with a foreward by Richard, I think).

And yes, he's a WONDERFUL source for storytelling. He's just complicated.

What would he think of the war in Iraq ...? My own opinion is that he'd tell Bush he doesn't know what he's gotten himself into. My impression is that ATG didn't suffer fools gladly, and I suspect he'd find Bush a fool. But keep in mind that is just my impression. I won't claim to have a direct line to his immortal spirit! LOL! Alexander was also inclined to jump in over his head. He just had the native intelligence to get himself out of it.

Mon, Nov. 22nd, 2004 01:35 am (UTC)


I wrote a similar rant in my blog.

One more thing I'm puzzling about, the Roxane/Alexander one true love violent bedroom scene. THAT's actually been getting a lot of publicity as well.....

Yeah, one thing I can't understand, Philip's debaucheries seem to be curiously missing from this movie.

Mon, Nov. 22nd, 2004 01:47 am (UTC)

Ironically, I can understand why the girl might pull a knife on him. The guy KILLED her countrymen and used her a sop to end a war! But viewing that as *erotic*? No thanks.

Mon, Nov. 22nd, 2004 01:38 am (UTC)

Oh, all the chatting about Alexander'sexuality...
This is what is going to happen when people have too much free time in their hands ( and a good amount of frustration - for good measure)

I've stop reading the endless bla-bla ("Alexander was gay-bisexual-zoophile-feudian-incestuous-feticist-and-more")long ago because I find it oh, so terrigly boring - to say the least.

As you say, there are so MANY more interesting issues and matters to discuss about Alexander than who he bedded and why...
This is a clear result of what happen when people try to translate history in terms of modern thinking...oh my, how much I hate that...
I hate that in historical fiction, go figure how much I hate it when it comes to the so called "real history" (what history is in reality, it's a matter I leave out for another discussion...)

So I just shut my mind off all this hulaboo about his sexuality...I couldn't care any less, in all dued truth...Haven't all these so called expert-reviewers-opinionists anything more interesting to do in their lives?

Maybe just taking a closer look to their *actual* sexual lives for instance, instead of arguing about that of a man dided 2300 years ago?
And then they talk about sexual perversions! *evil grin!*

Mon, Nov. 22nd, 2004 01:47 am (UTC)

LOL! Yeah. Lots of more interesting things, that's for sure.

Mon, Nov. 22nd, 2004 01:40 am (UTC)

Ma'am, that was beautiful.

The reason I'm not going to see Alexander has nothing to do with sex, or dye jobs, even. It has to do with the fact that I think Colin Farrell is the most disgusting man to ever walk the face of the earth. But seriously, all the people who are complainging about the lack of sex in the movie obviously don't know too much about Alexander's life.
(Deleted comment)

Mon, Nov. 22nd, 2004 02:13 am (UTC)

I can't type...;_;
I meant "screen" and not "sceer" (or whatever monstruosity I wrote...)
(Deleted comment)

Mon, Nov. 22nd, 2004 07:41 am (UTC)
mieza: Re: well...

The dude definitely had flaws. That's what makes him interesting. ;>

i think greatness is achieved when people just can't stop talking about you - and when they run out of things to say...they make things up.

I'm not sure I'd call that 'greatness' so much as fame. (I come from a culture that places wisdom over knowledge and ambition.) But otherwise, yes, I think that pretty much summarizes him. We've been talking about him (and making things up) for 2300 years. ;> Alexander has achieved the kleos that he sought.

Mon, Nov. 22nd, 2004 06:52 am (UTC)

Amen, Doctor.

I'll admit that when it was first announced I was impressed that they weren't shying away from Alexander and Hephaistion (and even Bagoas, though *sigh* I'm not as impressed with a eunuch as a *continuous emotional relationship* - I think you're onto something in your last para) but now I'm so sick to death of it all.

As a classicist I can't believe it's suddenly the most important thing when it's actually the least, and when, in fact - you put it so well - it barely even registers in a consideration of Alexander's *vices*. As a Greek, even one safely born and raised in New Zealand, I'm continuously humiliated by the insular, parochial and *moronic* attitudes of my compatriots. Good history has gone by the wayside in the face of individual (and mob) machismo.

Like you, also, I can't believe they're going with *Tarn*! I'm as guilty of romanticising as any Alexanderphile, but I thought the Brotherhood went out with the ark.

If you don't mind I might cut and paste out a couple of my favourite paras into a rant of my own over the next couple of days... I never got around to introducing myself when you asked flist to a while back. I did my degrees in Greek (undergrad) and Classics (post) here in NZ, and I'm Head of Classics at a secondary (Senior High?) school. I wouldn't claim to be an Alexander expert in such illustrious company, but it is a class that I teach, and has always been a favourite area.

Mon, Nov. 22nd, 2004 07:50 am (UTC)

Hi, Victoria ... very nice to 'meet' you. And yes, I simply had to laugh at the Greek lawyers suing. And I can laugh because it's just machismo, as you noted; the case will never make it into court. There's nothing to it and a judge would dismiss it with a roll of eyes, methinks.

I suspect that Tarn overtones are coming in via Mary Renault, who Stone has admitted to admiring greatly. For all Renault rejected some of Tarn's ideas, she bought into the Brotherhood of Mankind business, hook, line and sinker. So I can trace how it GOT there, and Lane Fox isn't the historian most likely to shoot it down ... which I suspect is why Stone invited him to talk in the first place. RLF isn't quite as positive in his imagery as NGL Hammond was, but he definitely swings that way. Imagine if Stone had hired on Peter Green or (worse!) Ernst Badian! LOL! But he never would have because those historians don't really present Alexander as Stone wants to see him.

Btw, you teach a course on ATG? We should talk shop sometime. I'm teaching it again this spring -- must grab movie hysteria. Even if mine is undergrad/grad, I've found it great fun (and very useful) to hear what other people do with their classes in other places and at other grade levels. I'm in the process of moving servers, but my course website is here:

Mon, Nov. 22nd, 2004 07:13 am (UTC)
bagoasalexander: Here here!

You said it, Dr. Reames-Zimmerman! Of course, this is why I usually ignore movie reviews. Half of them have no idea what they are talking about with the movie's subject matter and should stick with cinematic evaluations ... and the other half are idiots.

(sigh) I won't get to see the movie until "official" opening day on Wed. I too am a bit leery of Colin Farrel and I'm not too sure about all these scenes with Roxanne I've been hearing about (she's seems to be awful lippy and bossy to Alexander). Otherwise, I'm greatly looking forward to it. I'm realistic to know that Hollywood will never get history right...I mean, why make a movie about someone or something that has endured for centuries as stories and legends and change it to make it more interesting and realistic...(what? did I miss something?) I can only hope they do it justice. Troy wasn't bad (except the tie-dyed cloth) but it wasn't Homer (Homer without gods is like life without chocolate..is there a point?).

Mon, Nov. 22nd, 2004 07:37 am (UTC)
mieza: Re: Here here!

Actually, Roxanna being 'bossy' to ATG is in keeping with the status of Persian (and related) women in the ancient world. My concern is more what she's 'bossing' him about. I haven't seen it yet, so can't say, but from presentations, all the sexual jealousy flying about seems very out of place in courts that were polygamous. In terms of historical boo-boos, that and the whole 'uniting the world' (Brotherhood of Mankind) are the two things I suspect will irk me the most.

But I want to see the film before I really say anything about these matters, since I have no real idea (beyond clips out of context) how the film portrays these things.

As for Troy, Peterson would have been better off if he'd dropped the "based on Homer's Iliad," and just said "based on the Trojan Cycle." Then he'd have been in good company with poets and playwrights from before Homer to now. Troy was about Troy; it wasn't Homer's Iliad -- not in time frame covered and not in themes.

Mon, Nov. 22nd, 2004 11:12 am (UTC)

I'm curious how the European press is going to go about the movie once it's released more widely. Here in Finland the sexuality thing will probably just be mentioned in passing in reviews, interviews etc.

I've been reading some press reviews online, and it's fustrating to notice after a couple of sentences it's really not a 'review' of the movie but an article (sadly not often even that) on the characters' sexual exploits. And I'm even interested in gender/queer studies! What exactly these reviews tell about US is an interesting subject itself, but right now I'd really just like to talk about other more (at least in my opinion) crucial things about ATG. Not just his personal lfe.

Perhaps not the stuff the press would like to go into, but still. Luckily, it's possibly to find sophisticated reviews like yours on l-journals. ;)

Mon, Nov. 22nd, 2004 02:53 pm (UTC)

Well, hopefully it'll be sophisticated once I get to it, but we'll see. Between the film and trying to get ready for the holidays, I'm about crazy. LOL!

Mon, Nov. 22nd, 2004 12:19 pm (UTC)

I'm in the UK and I haven't really heard much about the movie (but then, I don't really care about the reviews - I'll make up my own mind). A lot of the press hullabaloo seems to be emanating from the US though, with the exception of those suing Greeks.

It's a shame the press can't look past his sexuality because were he alive, I'm sure he'd be baffled. I think Alexander wanted to be an unstoppable conquering machine, without the limits of the human body (sex and sleep right?), but that's not sensational enough and you can't be as morally indignant about it (though really, that's a bigger problem than who you sleep with). I have to say that when I first started reading about him, the most shocking thing was when he killed Cleitus the Black in his drunken rage. Definitely not who he was sleeping with (that didn't come up much).

Like you say, drinking along with hubris was his main problem. As the story of a great historical figure, his myth is worth a look at in any format.

Yes, stop yammering on about the sex already.

Mon, Nov. 22nd, 2004 02:55 pm (UTC)

Yup. His rages were infamous. One could (and probably SHOULD) be morally indignant about that, but it's not as 'juicy.' (g)

Mon, Nov. 22nd, 2004 12:37 pm (UTC)

Fantastic! It's about time someone wrote something like this.

The media in the West seems to have such a bizarre view of sex- they use it to sell absolutely everything but then react like a Victorian minister if anyone is discovered to be actually doing it!

Mon, Nov. 22nd, 2004 02:56 pm (UTC)

Yup, very odd. While it's true that individuals in the country can be most sensible, by in large, the mood of the country as a unit is rather sex-obsessed. (G)

Mon, Nov. 22nd, 2004 01:17 pm (UTC)

Here via a link from someone and all I can say is: thank you! I don't hear much of the scandals because I live a bit far away from all of it, but as someone who has spent years immersing herself in Greco-Italic history, every time I DO see an article or a rant, or what have you, it just makes me want to beat my head against the wall. Which is, unfortunately, very similar to trying to make a point with most people.

Thank you, though. You are much more eloquent than I can be on the subject. I am definitely passing this link out, if you don't mind.

Mon, Nov. 22nd, 2004 02:57 pm (UTC)

I don't mind at all; I more or less meant it to get passed around, if folks saw fit. If I can be nosey and ask, where'd you find it? :-)

Mon, Nov. 22nd, 2004 03:17 pm (UTC)

followed a link, yes i did.

didn't even know this whole thing was up in arms til thismorning, but jesus. you're right. what the hell. and it's not just america.

apparently the greeks are wanking too.

Mon, Nov. 22nd, 2004 04:20 pm (UTC)

Well, I'm not sure if it's up in arms for anyone but me. (g) I just read one review too many yesterday. LOL! But yes, ATG's 'sexuality' is definitely being talked about in the media. Again, and again, and again, and again ...

Where did you find a link? (Just curious; I don't mind there being one.)

Mon, Nov. 22nd, 2004 05:12 pm (UTC)

Actually, the sexuality was an issue back Alexander's time. Buggering someone wasn't that much of a problem. However, being buggered was a major issue - it was seen as infantile, unmanly, and so forth. The Athenians (well Demosthenes at least) had no problem trotting out Alexanders relationship with Hephaestion as being somewhat suspect - especially considering that Alexander was clean shaven (beard growth was sometimes seen as the end of childhood and hence the end of the period of time in which it was acceptable to be the penetrated partner. That he kept clean shaven was noteworthy partly because of this implication). No one was really thrilled about his relationship with Bagoas. Still, I have always wondered if the implication of the relationship with Hephaestion was more of a result of later romanticism trying to draw a closer tie between Alexander and Achilles with Hephaestion playing the role of Patroclus.

I think a lot of this is silly though because we have precious little in the way of direct evidence about anything regarding Alexander's personal life. So much has been lost, rewritten, edited, myth accepted as truth, and purposefully 'spun' at the time (cf. Callisthenes) that almost all of our data is suspect and more of a rorsach test than anything else. Its also silly bvecause you can't say "The Greeks thought this" or "The Greek thought that" because the "Greeks" weren't a monolithic bloc. The different city states had different laws, mores, and ideas regarding sexuality. Some, like Sparta fully promoted (if not mandated) homosexuality in its army (after its defeat at the hand of the Sacred Band I'm not surprised) while other city states, especially to the far north, actually outlawed the practice. Considering Macedonia's geographical location and the inherent frission between the highlanders and lowlanders I wouldn't be surprised if there was grumbling within Macedonia itself. Of course, everyone likes a winner so litle things like that could be overlooked.

Oh, and that story about Phillip being murdered by a spurned lover (though the more amusing tale is that his ex-lover, Pausanias was abused one of Philip's companions (Attalus). Essentialy tied over a barrel and gang raped. When Phillip refused to do anything about this affront Pausanias murdered Phillip). This is kind of bogus though - its just as likely (if not more so) that Olympias had Phillip killed because he just took a Macedonian queen and their offspring - being full blooded Macedonian as opposed to Alexander the halfbreed - would have a better claim to the throne. Considering Olympias' later actions this seems even likely.

Also, the 'drunkeness' is probably overstated. The best sources for that tend to be Athenian - which makes them more thana little suspect. His temper was significant but it was not outrageous. In fact, at the time he was seen as being very gentle (consider how he dealt with the 1st mutiny). Same goes with his ego - his ego was what drove him and it was highly respected. Great men were not supposed to be humble. It was seen as hypocritical.

Mon, Nov. 22nd, 2004 05:49 pm (UTC)

Actually, there's very little direct evidence about ATG's relationship with Hephaistion. It's not until Epictetus that anyone ever out-and-out calls Hephaistion the eromenos of Alexander -- which is one reason most treatments of Greek homoeroticism from Dover to Halperin don't mention Alexander. The most we hear from Demosthenes about it is indirectly, when he visited Egypt to ask H. for his protection -- which implies he knew H. had influence at the court, but he never says of what type. Now, Theopompus does make a crack about Philip's court being 'crazy' for homoerotic activities, still engaging in it "even after they had beards," which is almost certainly S. Greek attitudes. Given what we know of Sparta, it appears relationships there could last equally long, and perhaps also in Thebes. (I happen to know the sources on the topic because I wrote a paper on it: "An Atypical Affair: Alexander the Great, Hephaistion Amyntoros, and the Nature of their Relationship," AHB 13.3 (1999) 81-96.) So I can say with some confidence that ATG's sexual preferences really weren't that notable or remarked on. Aelian later made a little crack about ATG being defeated only once, by Hephaistion's thighs, but the bulk of ancient censure on Alexander seems to be for his drinking, and his rages.

And while yes, I DO think the drinking has been overexaggerated, my main point above is that it WAS something for which he was critiqued in antiquity and on which there was much comment. It would make a far better target for media attention than the bit with Hephaistion and Bagoa. That shocks US ... it didn't shock them (not so much). (And yes, I know the Greeks weren't a monolith, but when reading the sources on Alexander, both Greek and later Roman, a distinct image emerges.)

I don't think his ambition was highly respected. I agree that certainly humility is a MODERN virtue, no question -- but the Greeks still condemned hubris, and ATG was seen as qualifying. He went over the top, and not just from a Greek point of view. I think the army's indiscipline (to use Beth Carney's word for it instead of 'mutiny') in India suggests that even they'd had enough of his 'Lewis and Clark' ambitions. ;>

As for Pausanias, I'm actually quite familiar with the story, but didn't want to go into detail above (it's quite convoluted). But do let me clarify one thing on the ethnicity ... I think that itself is a modern perspective. I've spent some time considering the issue of ethnicity and the Macedonians (somewhat inescapable when working with Gene Borza (g)), and I think our modern reconstructions are a bit too 'essentialist.' The Macedonians were not really concerned with 'blood purity' in the modern sense. Philip's own mother was apparently half Illyrian. They were concerned with what seemed TOO different, too 'outside' -- so Roxane's baby was 'half-barbarian,' but no one was screaming that Philip was a quarter barbarian. And if aspersions were cast on ATG at Philip's wedding banquet by Attalos, it wasn't for being half Epirote. The implication was that Philip wasn't his daddy, and thus, he wasn't an Argead and shouldn't inherit. ;> The only requirement for taking the throne in Macedonia was to belong to the Argead clan.

For the death of Philip, let me recommend two articles by Elizabeth Carney that I think deal quite well with the whole question in Macedonian context: "Regicide in Macedonia," PdP 211 (1983) 260-72, and "The Politics of Polygamy: Olympias, Alexander and the Murder of Philip," Historia (1992) 169-89. I tend to agree with her assessment that Pausanias acted alone, in order to redeem his timae.

Tue, Nov. 23rd, 2004 04:51 pm (UTC)

I wish I had something to add, but you've pretty much said it all.

THANK you for posting this. *applauds*

(By the way, I noticed you added me as a friend recently. Please don't be offended that I haven't added you back! I rarely post anything in this journal - I use it mainly for watching communities that interest me.)

Tue, Nov. 23rd, 2004 08:08 pm (UTC)

Oh, I'm not big on the friending thing. I just tend to friend most anyone who friends megalexandros. I ask those who have theirs friends-locked, if they don't mind (I'm not pushy), to friend me back, as I do sometimes (if time permits) read journals, or at least read entries that might related to history and classics (as I'm interested in how non-academics think about these topics). But if you don't use your journal, there's not much point in friending me. I don't use MINE, either, really. I don't have time for an LJ, alas, and use only the Alexander community, because most of what I created this for was to discuss ATG/Macedonia. :-)

Tue, Nov. 23rd, 2004 06:34 pm (UTC)

You are brilliant.

Tue, Nov. 23rd, 2004 08:10 pm (UTC)

LOL! Thanks. :-)

Wed, Nov. 24th, 2004 06:19 pm (UTC)
sikander356: Oh Jeanne

Greetings Jeanne,

I have been chuckling all day over this commentary and fully agree.
I am afraid both Halil and I posted on the Pothos site a similar plea. Much ado about nothing... but I fear that, in the United States, the uproar will only get worse. I was told by a friend that, apparently, some theatres in the U.S. are deciding not to show the movie due to its "content" (which apparently did not refer to the gore and violence but to the sexual "nature" of some scenes! Odd prioritizing)?

I hope all is well with you and yours and that your classes allow you *some* breathing space.


Thu, Nov. 25th, 2004 09:09 pm (UTC)
mieza: Re: Oh Jeanne

The only 'sexual' content in the film is heterosexual. There is one kiss between Farrell and the eunuch Bagoas. There is implication in another scene that the boy might stay the night, but the editing is such that it's really NOT at all clear, and unless one watched closely and half expected it, one could completely miss whether he's holding out his hand TO Bagoas or just extending an arm. Thus, the only 'sexual content' they're likely objecting to are the expressions of love between ATG and H. Yes "Will and Grace" is a popular TV show.

This reminds me, just a bit, of the uproar over "The Last Temptation of Christ." 8}

Fri, Nov. 26th, 2004 08:31 am (UTC)

I realize this may be a bit late; I just stumbled in here, through random link-hopping. ^^

I have to say: THANK YOU.

It was very refreshing to read that, after the non-stop hounding I've seen/heard about the 'homoerotic content' in Alexander. Thank you very much. =)

Thu, Dec. 2nd, 2004 05:51 am (UTC)

Thanks. :-)

Mon, Dec. 6th, 2004 10:19 am (UTC)
oeilletrouge: Greetings, and thank you

Dear Madam,
yes, you are absoutely right. There are definitely more interesting facts about Alexander than whom he slaked his sexual needs with. But I'm afraid the media won't listen. Sex sells, which in itself is a lamentable state of our culture, but a fact nontheless. Just like the need for the media to earn a profit. A prerequisite for discussing Alexander's hybris is a minimum of knowledge of the very concept, which the vast majority of people doesn't have. Everybody, on the other hand, can imagine what two men/women/eunuchs can do with each others bodies. Sex is quite primitive, philosophy isn't, and there's the rub.

At least those Greek lawyers, who wanted to sue Oliver Stone for having "falsified history", withdrew their charge after having seen the movie. (Great style, anyway: hassle the director before you know what you are talking about!) They got the distributor to insert a warning, however, that the movie was NOT a documentation.

Now I'm miffed, really. Or rather shocked. You mean, no interview with Ptolemy on Larry King? No old black-and-white footage of embedded jounalists reporting live from Issos? No exclusive reports of Alex' boyfriends in the Daily Mirror? Mr. Stone, I'm disappointed.

Joking apart, the lawyers' action forcefully reminds me of one of Einstein's most sagacious observations: "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."


PS: Since this is my first comment, I feel obliged to introduce myself briefly. I am interested in history (in a purely amateur fashion, earning my livelihood as a network administrator), or rather in some specific periods, ancient Europe being one of them. My fascination with Alexander the Great dates back to my childhood, when he joined the company of C. Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, Lev Trotsky, William II Rufus and Robespierre (both of them). Was I strange in my choice of objects of devotion? Nnnnn - yes. Worse, my interests haven't changed much over 20 years. I dropped Napoleon as a jerk, but added Eugene of Savoy. BTW, I'm from Austria and have to wait until December 23d until "Alexander" comes into Austrian movies.

Tue, Dec. 7th, 2004 08:20 am (UTC)
mieza: Re: Greetings, and thank you

Love that quote of Einstein. I've seen it before, but never seem able to remember it. (g) In any case, welcome to the group!

Tue, Sep. 13th, 2005 05:31 am (UTC)
(Anonymous): AMEN!

This is the best comment I have ever read in response to how this picture has been treated. Pesonally, I thought it was a great film. Because of all the hoopla I was prepared to be extreamly disappointed but as I watched on I was plesantly surprised. It was nothing like the critics said it was. People have such a hard time accepting the cultural idosyncrocies. I mean what Alexander did was normal for the time or as you said tame even in comparison to some. People who got their panties in a bunch over a little gay inuendo need to re examine themselves and like get a grip! By focusing such attention on sex you miss the interelationships. I just have to agree with everything you said. Thanks for being intellegent!

Wed, Aug. 22nd, 2007 05:31 am (UTC)
magicmount_24: Bagoas - Alexander's number one "squeeze"

Kissed Bagoas quickly on the lips? That's news to me. Sources say he kissed him repeatedly at the urgings of his troops who obviously knew the relationshop they had and thought it touching that it had endured through all the hardships of the previous seven years.

Bagoas was the only person credibly cited as Alexander's 'eremenos'. The continuing relationship with Hephaistion was like that of best mates. Since it was frowned up to continue an erotic relationship with a male partner over a certain age, such bonds were usually transformed into a close friendship.

Bagoas was a stunning beauty but that wasn't necessarily enough for Alexander who was notoriously fussy about these matters. Bagoas must also have displayed not only charm but also bravery, constancy and integrity. I don't think the troops would have cheered him and the king otherwise.

Hephaistion was his intimate friend. But Bagoas was his hot number one "squeeze" and remained so throughout the remainder of his life!

Wed, Aug. 22nd, 2007 07:47 am (UTC)
mieza: Re: Bagoas - Alexander's number one "squeeze"

No offense, but I'm actually quite familiar with the patterns of Greek sexual behavior, including that outside Athens. This is one of my areas of academic expertise. You must not forget that Greek behavior in city-states could vary enormously. Athenian patterns (that which you've described here) can't be used for other city-states, much less non-Greek (if semi-Hellenized) Macedonia. Ancient Greece was NOT a monolith although it's easy to over-generalize Athenian behavior throughout Greece.

There are a couple of articles that you might be interested in, including one of my own: "An Atypical Affair: Alexander, Hephaistion and the nature of their relationship." In it, I explain why they were likely lovers, based on the actual ancient evidence. Also, please read John J. Winkler's The Constraints of Desire, and Daniel Ogden's "Homosexuality and Warfare in Ancient Greece." Unfortunately, I don't have the time or pace here to go into all the ancient source evidence, much less deal with the variety of homoerotic patterns in various city-states, but my article does, perhaps in more detail than you'd like. (g) We do, in fact, have direct evidence for age-mates as erastes/eromenos in Macedonia. You can find a very brief summary of it all here.

But again, I'd urge reading the full article as it provides all evidence. Don't over-romanticize Bagoas as a result of Mary Renault's novel. ;> We actually no next-to-nothing abut him.

Thu, Aug. 23rd, 2007 06:09 am (UTC)

I am wondering how looking at the description of Bagoas as the eromenos of Alexander in context or out of context will alter in any way what is meant by that term – that Bagoas was Alexander’s lover. (I have no doubt the Hephaistion and Alexander had also been lovers and may have continued their sexual relationship to the end. And I am confident that delving into the context of your quotation will also not alter the meaning of that term.)

Our modern concept of sexuality and what the term lover involves is, of course, influenced by our modern context. I am aware that the Greeks and Macedonians had a different outlook on sexual behaviour and I am sure there are many learned discourses on Greek and Macedonian sexual mores which are highly relevant in this discussion.

Nevertheless there is something about that scene in the theatre that cuts through even the driest of academic discourse.

There they are celebrating together– the survivors of the horrors of the Gadrosian march, the hell of endless guerrilla warfare in the wastelands of Bactria, the terror of massed elephants in the Punjab, the debilitating monsoon and the continuing bloody battles down the Indus.

Now here comes Bagoas in all his finery to receive his victor’s crown; slightly battered but still beautiful enough no doubt to be a sight for sore eyes. Through thick and thin he has come through it all as well – for the moment not just an alien outsider but a survivor just like them – and still by the king’s side after seven long years. At that moment of bonding together the barriers come down and the soldiers feel relaxed enough, bold enough to call out to the king to “give him a kiss!” Alexander is not one to flaunt himself in public but it seems he is going to make an exception this time. He publicly acknowledges Bagoas with a kiss and an embrace. And maybe, as Curtius suggests, he throws caution to the winds and kisses him again and again. The human emotion underlying this scene needs no textbook to bridge the centuries in order to understand.

Fri, Aug. 24th, 2007 02:00 am (UTC)

If I'm understanding what you've said above, it amounts to, "I know it's there, but don't confuse me with historical context and discussion, I'm going to read it the way I want to because I think the real meaning is obvious without any additional looking into it."

Forgive me for being blunt, but that attitude is naive. Despite my repeated suggestion that you might want to study the context in order to better understand how THEY would have seen what Alexander did, you reject that, show no apparent interest in reading further, and assuming that they would see it as you interpret it -- despite 2300 years and a lot of cultural differences between you. As a person who's not only a professional historian but also bi-cultural, this strikes me as absurd. I know how much cultural difference/misunderstanding can exist even between white Americans and American Indians right now in the Twentieth century. Things are NOT always obvious. What you think somebody means is not necessarily what they mean, and unless you learn and understand the cultural context, you can't hear them.

This is about a bit more than Bagoas, I fear. It's about an apparent unwillingness, given what you said above, to realize that culture might have a greater impact than you realize on how you interpret what you read. That isn't an attitude that's conducive to discussion, and I'm afraid I'll have to end it here.
(Deleted comment)

Fri, Aug. 24th, 2007 07:32 am (UTC)


I have at last had the time to read with great interest the websites you directed me to and they have certainly deepened my appreciation of the cultural milieu in which Alexander and his contemporaries lived and loved.
I am particularly interested in the sources for Hephaistion and Alexander's marshals and will read those as soon as I can lay my hands on them.

It is somewhat ironic that in contrast to the paucity of sources re Alexander's sexual relationship with Hephaistion that you mention in your Porthos article, there is a relative abundance of sources attesting to Alexander's intimate relationship with Bagoas (who is seen, and probably saw himself, as very much an "also ran" or even a "never ran" in Alex's affections) than those we can find affirming a similarly intimate relationship with the central person in his life - Hephaistion.

No doubt Hephaistion had many stirling qualities and was the mainstay in Alexander's life. He appeals and attracts the interest of many Alexanderphiles. I will discover more of him.

I nevertheless remain intrigued with that despised "notorious dancing boy" who came through so much and finally emerged from obscurity to win that very public salute from the troops and from the King himself.

My only purpose here has been to assert his presence as a significant person in Alexander's life, a presence well attested in the literature, which has neverthelass been sidelined or ignored by commentators from Ptolemy onwards.