An Open Letter to the Media (on Stone, Alexander, and sex)
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 ...
SHUT UP ABOUT THE SEX ALREADY!
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.