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Monday, September 9, 2013

“Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C.: A Historical Biography”, by Peter Green


617 pages, University of California Press, ISBN-13: 978-0520071650

Mr. Green is possibly the best historian among novelists and the best novelist among historians. His book, Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C.: A Historical Biography, is very reader friendly and transforms the dry history of events into coherent, polished stories. Mr. Green portrayed a very dark Alexander the Great. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that Alexander cannot be debated or criticized, but rather that history should not be distorted. In this book, we see too much Mr. Green’s personal opinions and judgments. In essence: if Alexander did not do things up to the standards of the present day then that is due to Alexander’s grotesque flawed character; if he did, then it was for propaganda purposes alone.

Amongst his many sins, Green failed to address the situation before Alexander’s expedition and the results and effects after. He claimed that the reason for the expedition was that Macedon badly needed money, and that was all and concluded that the financial difficulty and the profit were the only reasons for the expedition without giving proper credence to Alexander’s (and Philip of Macedon’s) stated purpose: to punish and remove the Persian Empire as an enemy of Greece.

Green further failed to make any proper reference of Alexander to other historical figures. Who in history did better than Alexander? Until today we still cannot find anyone who is remotely comparable to Alexander in politics, military, and contribution to human civilization. If Green reserved such harsh judgment for Alexander, what would he comment on the figure of 1500 years after, Genghis Khan, who did nothing more than destruction in Asia and Europe. Alexander was rather different in that his respect to science and knowledge made him uniquely outstanding in the history. Also, if one refers the politicians of our own time, which one is more sincere than Alexander on any issue being criticized by Green? Green did not make any horizontal comparison (at Alexander's time with other figures) or vertical comparison (with other figures at different eras). This would be a fatal ignorance by any historian.

If a historical figure should be judged by Green's way, every one of them would be convicted in today's court. Green used the saying in Animal Farm to ridicule Alexander's so-called “brotherhood of mankind”. How sincere Alexander on this issue is not an issue: it could be a slogan, a mean for his political purpose as well as genuine as other historians concluded, but when we see the results that Alexander left behind him, an empire that covered Europe, Asia and Africa that produced so many great scholars and the knowledge that still is taught in our time and inspired great scientists since, should we give some credits to Alexander's means and achievements? But Green, claiming every nation and culture is equal, on the other hand he is so sure that his time and his theories are so superior (or “more equal” as he ridiculed Alexander) to others that he can use them to judge a figure living in 2300 years ago. There has been a movement of political correctness claiming every culture is equal. However, we have to realize that Greek culture was far more superior to the others. It is the only culture that created science and democracy. After Alexander, Greek culture entered another golden era.

Green’s book is reinventing history and jumping to conclusions: Green tried to make things favor his theory when there is a clue or even there is no clue. The battle of the River Granicus did not weigh much in the career of Alexander, but since the records about it had some vacancies and inconsistencies, Green jumped to it to dig out something that was not there to conclude that Alexander lost a battle over there and lied to the world. He ignored the records by reliable sources and made his assumption sound as what really happened there with vague sentences in the book and then in the Appendix he made more theories to justify his assumption; however, at the end of the Appendix, after all claims that he made, he said maybe the issue of the battle of is indeed “insoluble”. I saw an irresponsible gossiper who made many rumors and at the end, afraid of being liable for the rumors, he said “after all I did not say anything or at least I did not mean what I said”. Such attitude and action can hardly lead to anywhere but failure.

Mr. Green spent almost an entire chapter denouncing Alexander in the fashion of human right tribunal of our time. History is not the business of fashion, which should not be styled to suit our time or our political purposes. I know it is difficult to put a person’s passions and political views aside when dealing with history, but an historian is supposed respect the facts and base his arguments set within the frame of reference of the era he is studying, rather than his present-day opinions or viewpoints. Green failed do so.

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