Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Alexander the Great

King of Macedonia (a state of Ancient Greece) and eventual conqueror of most of the world known to the Greeks, Alexander III (365–323 BCE) famously overthrew the Persian Empire and extended his rule from Greece to Egypt to India and the Himalayas. Alexander's achievements laid the foundation for the Hellenistic world, the Roman Empire, and even the spread of Christianity: all the New Testament writings are in Greek as a result of Alexander's influence.

Alexander had the reputation for being handsome and stood out among his peers by being clean shaven. Many portraits and sculptures were made in his lifetime, so we can be fairly convinced of his appearance. He was a prodigious athlete and loved strenuous exercise. He loved to show off by jumping off and back onto a chariot moving at full speed. Alexander was rather short and stocky, with one blue and one brown eye. His male lover Hephaestion was taller and even more handsome, so much so that the Persian queen bowed to Hephaestion instead of Alexander when she was presented to them. Alexander said to the mortified queen "Never mind, Hephaestion is also Alexander".

At the time Alexander lived, it was common for Greek men to have wives as well as lovers of either gender; wives were merely for procreation. Alexander, who had become King of Macedonia at the age of twenty  when his father was assassinated, did not marry and produce an heir before he set out from Macedonia to conquer the Persians. He was not known to show much interest in women. Even at the height of his power, historians recount that he used his harem “sparingly.” However, Alexander loved his boyhood friend, Hephaestion. Both brilliant adolescents, they were tutored by Aristotle by arrangement with Alexander’s father. Aristotle instilled in the lads a great desire for knowledge and a love for philosophy. Thus Alexander became an avid reader. Hephaestion started off as a regular cavalry soldier and rose through the ranks on merit, carrying out important military and administrative assignments. Later, Alexander also took as a lover a male courtier from the conquered Persian court, scandalous not because the courtier was male, but because he was Persian, since most Greeks thought that all other people were barbarians.

Hephaestion and Alexander wanted their children to be cousins, so Hephaestion married the sister of Alexander’s new wife, who was the daughter of the defeated Persian emperor Darius III (a purely political marriage).

A coin depicting Alexander the Great.

Greece enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity during Alexander's campaign in Asia. Alexander sent back vast sums from his conquests, which helped stimulate the economy and increased trade between the new areas of his empire.

However, soon after Hephaestion and Alexander conquered Asia, Hephaestion died suddenly of typhus. Alexander's grief was boundless and devastating. He ordered an official observance of public mourning for his lover. It was recorded that for two days Alexander neither ate nor drank, cut his hair short and ordered that the horses in his army should have their manes cropped, as well. Alexander resolved that his lover should begin his life in the Unseen World with unstinted wealth, and the precious things he ordered stacked upon Hephaestion’s funeral pile represented a sum of nearly two million and a half pounds sterling. Alexander declared publically that his relationship with Hephaestion was like that of Achilles to Patroclus, male lovers and bothers-at-arms mentioned in the Iliad – Hephaestion and Alexander had been inspired by them in their youthful studies with Aristotle. Alexander asked the Oracles of Egypt if Hephaestion was a god, because in those days a person could become a god through achievements. Alexander was told that Hephaestion was indeed a hero, albeit a lesser type of god. Alexander, who had no doubt about his own divinity, then knew that he would meet his beloved again in the Blessed Realm, where gods and heroes lived in eternity.

Within eight months of Hephaestion's death, Alexander died in Babylon, twelve days after contracting a fever. Historians propose that his death was the result of poisoned wine or contaminated water. In any event, he had yet to realize a series of campaigns that would have begun with an invasion of Arabia and the eventual conquering of the entire Mediterranean basin and all of Africa. It was his desire to conquer the entirety of the known world. He was 32 years old at the time of his death, and never defeated in battle.

Alexander's lasting legacy was not his reign, but the cultural diffusion his conquests afforded. His establishment of Greek colonies (among them Kandahar in Afghanistan) and culture in the conquered lands resulted in a new Hellenistic culture, which was still evident in the traditions of the Byzantine Empire until the mid 15th century. Alexander became the measure against which generals, even to this day, compare themselves, and military academies throughout the world still teach his tactical exploits.

Alexander according to Hollywood:
Colin Farrell (at left, with hilariously highlighted hair) played Alexander and Jared Leto portrayed Hephaestion in Oliver Stone’s 2004 film Alexander, a major box office flop ($34 million domestic gross against costs of $155 million). The public hated it, critics hated it, and historians hated it. Even though the film depicted a sanitized version of the relationship between Alexander and Hephaestion, it proved too much for the American public. Roxana’s attempt to kill her husband Alexander after her discovery of his relationship with Hephaestion, included in the 2004 theatrical release, was deleted from the Director’s Cut (2005 DVD). Alexander’s wife, Roxana, was played by Angelina Jolie. Likewise, the scene in which Roxana is prevented from entering Alexander's tent by Hephaestion was also excised. In part due to damning by historians and critics, Stone released a third version, titled Alexander Revisited: The Final Unrated Cut (2007 DVD, three hours and thirty-four minutes!), in which the deleted scenes were restored and unreleased footage included. Nobody liked that version, either. In response to historians, who howled at his misrepresentation of the Persians, Stone commented that he could not let historical facts get in the way of telling his dramatic story. Right. At least Jared Leto had his musical career to fall back on.

Note: During the Middle Ages, Alexander was included in the group of Nine Worthies, heroes who personified the ideals of chivalry. Representatives of soldierly courage and generalship, the study of the life of each of them formed a good education for those who aspired to chivalric status. They nine were Hector, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Joshua, David, Judas Maccabeus, King Arthur, Charlemagne and Godfrey of Bouillon. All brought glory and honor to their nations and were noted for their personal prowess in arms. As individuals, each displayed some outstanding quality of chivalry, which made them exemplars of knighthood.

In later years Julius Caesar wept upon seeing a statue of Alexander, since he himself had achieved so little by the same age.
Alexander the Great is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost (1598) and in Cervantes’s Don Quixote (1605).
Napoleon Bonaparte encouraged comparisons with Alexander, whose fame as a commander and conqueror was unequaled.

1 comment:

  1. I believe that in Plutarch's Lives, Alexander is said to have tried to assassinate Aristotle. He was quite murderous, in fact, even on a personal level. Of course, with someone this great, we don't stop seeing their glory, but still..and I think a friend had to tell him to quit crying about the one he did murder if he was really going to be Alexander the Great, who should be answerable to no one and no law. Plutarch was usually reliable, but he is the one pointed out by Foucault as having determined that homosexuality was 'graceless'. That haunted me for many years, and a big dose of Sade will convince otherwise, although clearly Foucault took too many doses. Sodomy is IT.