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Sunday, 11 September 2011

Alexander the Great * 356 + 323 BC

When the film version of Alexander's life was released a few years ago, it was notable that his homosexual love life was largely edited out. Apologists excused this by claiming that his he was "not really gay", as he was married. Of course he was: in the classical world, marriage and sex (for men)did not co-incide as they are assumed to do today. Men from leadership and priviliged classes were expected to marry and produce heirs who would inherit their name and property. Sexual and emotional satisfaction, however, they might seek elsewhere.  Alexander’s own father, Philip, was killed by a slighted male lover, Pausanius. In the classical world, marriage and male lovers were often complementary to each other, not necessarily in conflict.

Alexander, one of the greatest military leaders in all history, was indeed married - but also undoubtedly had passionate, intimate relationships with two men, Hephaestion and the eunuch slave, Bagoas. With Bagoas at least, the relationship was definitely sexual, although the evidence is less clear for Hephaestion.
Nevertheless, the intensity and passion of Alexander’s love for Hephaestion is undeniable, as was obvious to all contemporary observers.
One of them, Hephaestion, was clearly his lover. Alexander, like many ancient Greeks, cultivated an ideal of heroic friendship that did not exclude sexual expression. He carried with him on his conquests a copy of the Iliad, and sought to emulate its heroes. When he first crossed into Asia and reached Troy, he sacrificed on the tomb of Achilles while Hephaestion did the same on that of Patroclus.
So close did Alexander feel to Hephaestion that when the captured women of the Persian King's household mistakenly threw themselves at Hephaestion's feet rather than at his own, he found no offense in this and excused them by saying that his friend was another Alexander. Finally, his grief at the death of Hephaestion, one year before his own, was also--in its intensity and public display--to parallel that of the Homeric lovers.
The homosexual aspect of Alexander's life was so public that it could not be obfuscated, even at times of extremehomophobia. Alexander was a model for other homosexual or bisexual soldier-kings, such as Julius Caesar, Hadrian, and Frederick the Great. His devotion to his lover serves as a counterpoint to the sexual follies and frenzies of other homosexual historical figures such as Nero or Elagabalus.
Yet his undoubted sexual activities with men were no barrier to extraordinary military success, as this extract from the BBC makes clear:
Alexander III of Macedon, better known as Alexander the Great, single-handedly changed the nature of the ancient world in little more than a decade.
Alexander was born in the northern Greek kingdom of Macedonia in July 356 BC. His parents were Philip II of Macedon and his wife Olympias. Alexander was educated by the philosopher Aristotle. Philip was assassinated in 336 BC and Alexander inherited a powerful yet volatile kingdom. He quickly dealt with his enemies at home and reasserted Macedonian power within Greece. He then set out to conquer the massive Persian Empire.
Against overwhelming odds, he led his army to victories across the Persian territories of Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt without suffering a single defeat. His greatest victory was at the Battle of Gaugamela, in what is now northern Iraq, in 331 BC. The young king of Macedonia, leader of the Greeks, overlord of Asia Minor and pharaoh of Egypt became 'great king' of Persia at the age of 25.
Over the next eight years, in his capacity as king, commander, politician, scholar and explorer, Alexander led his army a further 11,000 miles, founding over 70 cities and creating an empire that stretched across three continents and covered around two million square miles. The entire area from Greece in the west, north to the Danube, south into Egypt and as far to the east as the Indian Punjab, was linked together in a vast international network of trade and commerce. This was united by a common Greek language and culture, while the king himself adopted foreign customs in order to rule his millions of ethnically diverse subjects.
Somebody should tell the guys at the Pentagon.

See also:
Matt and Andrej Komaysky LGBT biographies
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