Thursday, March 25, 2010

Alexander the Great and his Time by Agnes Savill

An excellent overview of the military campaigns of Alexander of Macedonia (Part I) and then an examination of his character and life in ancient Greece and its influence on our world (Part II). Savill has been accused of being an apologist for Alexander (and perhaps Greece) but I only found this to be overtly true in a few instances (admittedly, I would have to do a lot more research to know otherwise). Taking what Savill wrote as mostly true, I believe Alexander honestly deserves the “the Great” that follows his name. It is extraordinary that a man could conquer so much of the world before the age of 33 with a volunteer army - ever more so when it consisted of those he vanquished. Further, he did not offer women as the spoils of war and attempted to follow a rule of law. It is likely the fact that Alexander sought to improve the lives of those he defeated and allowed his men access, and the freedom, to address their concerns to him that enable such loyalty.

Despite the death and destruction and the basic problem with notions of conquest and domination, I was heartened by the (exceptionally rare) practice of not treating women as property to be sexually abused. Additionally, I was impressed at his attempt at a rule of law and a public space where people could address their grievances. I found myself admiring this man, leading his troops into battle with tactical brilliance time and time again. Similarly, one can see how easy it is to get seduced by the Greek notions of excellence in all aspects of life and accidentally ignore the various problems with the state.

I found the brief overview of the Greek polis and primary players in it to be quite useful. Sure I’ve heard much of it before, but a few more details about exactly how slaves were treated (better than I thought), the prevalence of and attitude towards homosexuality (much variance), Aristotle and the ideals of which Ancient Greece held in esteem.

Finally, I shall mention that Savill’s usage of Jung and his notions of the subconscious to analyze Alexander the Great were not only unnecessary but unwelcome. Such an examination was confused at best and I believe brief excursions into mysticism have little place in serious scholarship.

Recommended for those seeking an overview of Alex’s life and his time.