7 things you (probably) didn’t know about Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great! His name still echoes in the corridors of time. Deified and vilified, his legend exists in nearly every language on earth and in the four major religions. We know he was born in Pella in 356 BC and succeeded his father Philip II to the throne at the age of twenty.  Ten years later, he’d created one of the largest empires of the ancient world. He was undefeated in battle and is widely considered one of history’s most successful military commanders, and he died just before his 33rd birthday. But do we really know him?

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Alexander the Great

1- Alexander played polo. Legend has it that when Alexander the Great was about to invade Persia in 334 BC, Persian King Darius III sent him a polo mallet and ball. Either he was inviting the Macedonian to a game or suggesting that he stick to games and avoid war. Whatever the intention, Alexander is said to have replied, “I am the stick and the ball is the Earth,” before going on to conquer Persia. But since polo had been around for at least a thousand years and Alexander was no stranger to Persia, he most likely saw polo games, and perhaps he even played the “sport of kings”.

By Arifi (d.1449) – The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, Public Domain.

2-  He may have been in a glass diving bell, his fleet was hit by a tidal wave, and he struck oil. Almost immediately after his death in 323 BC legends began to accumulate about his exploits and life which, over the centuries, became increasingly fantastic as well as allegorical. Collectively this tradition is called the Alexander Romance and some stories feature such episodes as Alexander ascending through the air to Paradise, journeying to the bottom of the sea in a glass bubble, and journeying through the Land of Darkness in search of the Fountain of Youth.

It’s possible that he saw, or was in, a glass diving bell. There are several accounts of him going to the “bottom of the sea” in a glass bell. Aristotle describes sponge divers using a diving bell in his Problematum as early as 360 B.C., so it is concievable that Alexander, who was curious to learn about everything, tried it himself.

As for the tidal wave, according to some accounts, the Macedonian fleet (of Alexander the Great) was anchored for some time in the Indus river delta. The fleet was damaged by a tsunami generated by an earthquake off the Makran Coast in 325 BC.

He could have found an oil well. In another story, supposedly taken from a letter to his mother, he speaks about a fountain of olive oil that sprang from the ground although there were no olive trees nearby! He also mentions trees that sing. Most likely the oil was mineral oil, but the singing tree was from too much wine…

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Underwater diving of Alexander the Great, painted by Flemish illuminator Jehan de Grise, 14th century.

3. We know what he looked like: the Azara herm is a Roman copy of a bust of Alexander the Great that was almost certainly made by the Greek sculptor Lysippus. Thanks to its original antique inscription, this figure can be definitely identified as Alexander the Great, son of Philip II of Macedon.  It’s in the Louvre in Paris. Now, since this is a Roman copy, it was made a few centuries after Alexander’s death, and because it was a copy, it’s most likely not as precise as the original. According to Plutarch (more about him later…) Alexander made Lysippus his “official” portrait artist. Now exhibited in the Louvre, this bust was unearthed in 1779 during an excavation at Tivoli organized by Joseph Nicolas Azara, the Spanish ambassador to France. Azara gave the sculpture to Napolean Bonaparte. For a time, this was the only known portrait of Alexander the Great. It is most likely the surviving portrait that looks the most like him.

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Portrait of Alexander the Great. Pentelic marble, Attic copy of the 1st-2nd century AD after a Greek original

4- Plutarch’s writings about Alexander are mostly fiction. Plutarch wrote a whole book about Alexander, but he had some major faults. He lived 400 years after Alexander, and by that time, even contemporary writings were scarce. He was Greek – and the Greeks would always see Alexander as an upstart barbarian.  He starts off his book by saying he’s not writing “history”, but rather “a life story”, because, as he goes on to explain, it’s better to get to know a guy from his jokes than from the endless battles he’s fought and won. He pretends to glorify Alexander beyond reason, saying things like, “On his father’s side, he was descended from Hercules.” However, since Alexander had claimed the title of “son of Zeus-Amun”, this was definitely taking him down a peg. He  he has some fascinating tidbits of information, such as the battle of Gaugamela was fought during an eclipse, and that Alexander spent the night before in his tent with his diviner Aristander, performing certain mysterious ceremonies and sacrificing to the god, Fear.

5. Alexander’s favorite weapon was the phalanx. The phalanx was developed by Alexander’s father, Philip, and was a formidable fighting machine. No other army had such thing. It was uniquly Macedonian. According to Arrian’s Anabasis, “Alexander drew up his army in such a way that the depth of the phalanx was 120 men ; and […] he ordered them to preserve silence, in order to receive the word of command quickly.” The spears were 5 meters long (18 feet!) and made of sharpened wood or metal-tipped wood. Interestingly,  Polyaenus (in Stratagemata) says that Alexander spitefully armed his men who had previously fled the battlefield with the so-called hemithorakion – a half armor system that only covered the front part of the body. This punitive experiment made sure that the soldiers wouldn’t turn their backs on the enemy.  But, the soldiers in a phalanx would not require much armor, since coordinated, fast movement was what made the phalanx so effective. So Polyaenus was probably exagerating somewhat. In fact, the soldiers were lightly armored with only helmets (kranos), light shields (pelte), greaves (knemides) and a long pike (sarissa). I think the shields were more like leather plastrons, and I have a feeling most of the men fought naked (despite the drawing below of the men wearing cheerleading skirts).


6 – The funeral pyre for his friend, Hephaestion, was astounding.  When Hephaestion died, Alexander went into a frenzy of mourning. He wrote to the Oracle of Siwa and asked if Hephaestion should be honored as a god or a hero. The Oracle replied that he should be honored as a hero, and so Alexander went all out for a mausoleum/funeral pyre that would knock the socks off everyone. He settled on a simple monument. According to Diodorus, it was: “seven stories high […] The first story had 240 ships painted gold with red flags flowing in between. In the second one the columns resembled flaming torches surround by golden wreaths, serpents and eagles. Above mounted a hunting scene, towered by a battle of centaurs and mythological creatures. The fifth story was a golden jungle of lions, bulls and elephants, shining like planets in the dawning light. The next tier presented the arms of Macedon and Persian, while the seventh level bore sculptures of sirens with a hollow interior where women would chant in lament. On top of it all rose the sarcophagus of Hephaestion.”  It was so huge that Aleander had to break down one of the walls of Babylon to get it into the city. Then he set it on fire, and it must have made life absolutely miserable for everyone as it smoked and smoldered. He plundered the treasories of all his cities to pay for the monstrosity, and it has been estimated to have cost the modern equivalent of two billion dollars! It was most likely the most expensive funeral in history.

7 – He’s associated with a prophecy about the end of the world. The Caspian Gates was the narrow region at the southeast corner of the Caspian Sea, through which Alexander actually marched in the pursuit of Bessus, although he did not stop to fortify it. Somehow, the Caspian Gates, Alexander the Great, the Caucasus Mountains, and the tale of Gog and Magog became mixed up in a fanciful romance of Alexander dating from the 6th century AD.

The tale of Gog and Magog is Biblical in origins with elements in Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions. They will supposedly appear at the end of time to destroy humanity. Revelation 20:7-8: “… And when the thousand years are finished, Satan shall be loosed from his prison, and shall go out to seduce the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, and shall draw them to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea…”

According to the legend, Alexander the Great, while conquering the world, came to the Caucasus Mountains where Prometheus the Titan had been chained long before. Here, the Macedonians discovered the evil hordes of Gog and Magog laying waste to the peaceable tribes around them. The country of these wicked raiders lay beyond two great mountains named Ubera Aquilonias, the Breasts of the North. Alexander forged gates of iron and brass to seal the narrow way. These Caspian Gates were further strengthened with a magic metal called asiceton, which was proof against fire and steel; steel shattered upon asiceton, and whatever fires which touched it were instantaneously quenched. And further, Alexander built a mighty wall spanning the entire Caucasus range, closing off the civilized south from the forces of darkness. This wall became known as the Alexander wall. But at the end of time, the gates will open and the wall will break down, and Gog and Magog will burst forth to destroy the world.

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Alexander building the Caspian Wall (from a Persian manuscript)

Some further reading:

A Passion for Polo. The American museum of Natural History. https://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/horse/how-we-shaped-horses-how-horses-shaped-us/wealth-and-status/a-passion-for-polo/

Alexander the Great – Imact of the 325 BC Tsunami in the North Arabian Sea upon his fleet, George Pararas-Carayannis.  Copyright © 2006. All Rights Reserved.


The Anabasis of Alexander or, The History of the Wars and Conquests of Alexander the Great, Arrian of Nicomedia, Translator: E. J. Chinnock. Project Gutenberg [EBook #46976]


Library of History, Book XVII, (Funeral for Hephaestion: Sections 114 – 115) Diodorus Siculus,  Vol. VIII
of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1963


Some Passages in Polyaenus Stratagems concerning Alexander, N. G. L. Hammond. (N.b.: Polyaenus or Polyenus was a 2nd-century Macedonian author, known best for his Stratagems in War, which has been preserved.)


A Discourse Composed by Mar Jacob upon Alexander, the Believing King, and upon the Gate which he made against Gog and Magog,” E. A. W. Budge (translator), ed. (1889). “, in The History of Alexander the Great Being, the Syriac Version of the Pseudo-Callisthenes (in Syriac).



Review of “Storms Over Babylon” by Jennifer Macaire

via Review of “Storms Over Babylon” by Jennifer Macaire


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4/5 stars…… Review: An intriguing time-travel novel set in the time of Alexander the Great. For fans of this time period and setting, this must-read adventure is a great summer pastime as the main character, Ashley, travels back in time to meet up with the man himself, Alexander, and is mistaken for the goddess Persephone. If you love the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, then take a journey with Jennifer Macaire into ancient Greece where her MC entangles herself in history, literally.

Check it out here: https://www.amazon.com/Storms-Over-Babylon-Jennifer-Macaire-ebook/dp/B07535RPYC


It’s Roland Garros now in France – tomorrow is the men’s finals. It made me think of the last time I played tennis – it was with my son on an abandoned tennis court.

We had a perfect Indian summer weekend – the boyscouts were camped in the woods across the valley, the sun shone with all its might, and I went to play tennis with my son and got sunburn!

We went to the tennis court that used to belong to someone in the village – now abandoned for at least 25 years.

The tennis court is surrounded by an orchard. The wire fence has collapsed under the weight of vines, and the small apple orchard that once must have been part of a quaint garden is now overgrown and unkept. The court itself must have been excellent quality when it was built, for although gravelly and with a couple weeds poking through, the lines are still visible and the footing isn’t too bad. The net is tied to a fence pole at one end with nylon rope, and at the other end it’s attached to the sagging doorpost with the rest of the metal wire running through the top. It’s held up in the middle by a large crate, which is handy when you hit it with a ball – it bounces the ball back at you.

From the village, the court is invisible. You can only catch sight of it at a certain angle from the dirt road that leads out of the village past the crest of the hill – the road that runs parallel to the golf course on the other side of the valley. And you wonder as you see the tennis court in the middle of a rampant tangle of wild grape vine and long grass – “how do you get there?”

I call it the “Beam me down, Scotty” tennis court. In fact, there is a small path that dips steeply down from the dirt road, a path that you can easily miss if you’re not looking.

My son and I played for about 45 minutes – long enough to give me a nice sunburn on my nose. We don’t keep score. We just hit back and forth and are careful not to hit the balls out, because once it leaves the court, a ball is irrevocably lost. Usually we bring our dog along to find lost balls. But today we went alone – and we lost a ball. Since we only had two to start with, it made things tense at the end.

When I got back home, my husband asked who won the game. I forget that he’s a professional athlete and a game is something with a beginning, middle, and ending complete with score, winner, and losers. I replied that I (Venus Williams) did very well against my son (Rafael Nadal) and that there was no score – we just played. My husband does not ‘get’ playing for fun. My son and I are not competitive, and fun, for us, is hitting the ball back and forth and getting all out of breath and laughing when the ball hits a rough patch or plant, and bounces crazy.

The tennis there is sort of a obstacle tennis, where you’re never sure what kind of bounce you’ll get, and you have to be on your toes (and careful not to slip). The neighborhood kids use the court for a clubhouse, for goofing around, and for playing tennis and so far, no one has damaged the court and the net is treated like some antique, religious relic. It’s strung and unstrung with care, the frayed rope replaced when broken. The crate in the middle is never moved. Sometimes I wish the village would buy the property and turn it into a proper public tennis court. That would make the games better, but take some of the magic away.

Time Travel

If I had a superpower, it would be the ability to travel through time. It’s no coincidence my favorite show is Dr. Who… I’d love to be able to have a TARDIS! 

My passion for time travel started with a Kodak Brownie camera and a roll of 127 film.  I got my first camera when I was 7 years old, and my father would buy me a roll of film every month. The first batch of pictures came back with everyone’s heads cut off. My Brownie camera had a primitive viewfinder that exaggerated the lens’s reach – but after the “attack of the headless monsters”, as my dad jokingly called my first photo attempts, I was more careful. I continued to take pictures, buying my first reflex camera with my first paycheck (if I couldn’t afford a horse, at least I could get a camera). I continued to freeze time on shiny paper, fixing everything in place in chunky albums. I love to take photographs. It’s a way to stop time.

When I started writing the Time for Alexander series, it was obvious I was going to have to do a lot of research in order to make the history believable. I wished for a time machine to send me back to the past so I could meet the enigmatic conqueror, and I wished for a tradi-scope that would enable me to understand and speak in any language, (my Christmas list is getting longer…) but instead I had the library and the Internet. I haunted the Louvre – I’m lucky, I live near Paris, and there is an amazing section in the Louvre devoted to ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Mesopotamian art and daily life. Little things like combs,Résultat de recherche d'images pour "Louvrre ancient greece mirror" mirrors, chairs, beds, mattresses, lamps helped make my book come alive. In one part, Ashley looks at herself in a mirror, and thanks to the Louvre, I knew just what the mirror looked like, what it was made from, and even what the perfume bottle and makeup was like back then. Museums are like time machines.

While researching ancient Greece, I was also reading fiction and biographies about Alexander the Great. I’d read Mary Renault’s books as a teen and had loved them. Alexander’s biographies were fascinating too, but frustrating. Hardly anything contemporary to him remained. On the other hand, it made writing fiction easier. Books are like time machines; they take us anywhere we can imagine. My journey took me back to ancient Greece, and I hope you’ll join me! Continue reading

A time-travel interview



My guest today is Jennifer Macaire.  I invited her to join me on this blog after reading her novel The Road to Alexander, a timeslip novel about a journalist in the distant future who travels back in time to interview Alexander the Great.

EJ  I must confess, Jennifer, that I do not usually read time-travel novels.  They make it all seem too easy, with no technical or philosophical problems.  But time travel in The Road to Alexander seems worse than a major operation, complete with pre-op and anaesthetic.  It was so realistic I am convinced you are a time-traveller – but I suppose you can’t admit it or you will be ‘erased’.  Is that so?

JM Actually, I’m free to tell anyone. Nobody so far has believed me! As long as I don’t do anything to change the future, there’s no risk.

EJ  I believed you arrived in the present era in the United States but have since lived in many places.  Can you tell me something about this and what you did in all these settings?

JM I arrived in NY, in 1960. I next stopped in California, and after that, Samoa in the Pacific. During that time, I masqueraded as an infant. My parents were teachers and loved to travel. We  lived for a while in the Caribbean, then I flew to NYC where I posed as a model. I travelled to Paris, where I hooked up with a polo player. The polo circuit took us from Florida to England to France to Argentina for a while. When our children were born, we decided to settle in France and that’s where we are now – well, except for a few voyages from time to time – or to some time or another.

EJ   That all seems too glamorous to spend your time writing.  What moved you to become a novelist?

JM It isn’t easy to hold a job down when you’re travelling so much, so I started writing when we were in Argentina. We were hours away from any town, in the middle of the pampa, and the twins were small. I had a lot of free time because my husband was often gone days at a time looking for horses. I wrote my first stories there – on the back porch, watching the twins play in the garden in the shade of the eucalyptus trees. At night we slept in a room room heated by a softly crackling fire and lit with oil lamps. We had no electricity, but we had running water. On the estancia were ponies, sheep, and cattle; and we could see deer, burrowing owls, and wild ostriches in the plains. It was magical, like time travelling to a different century. Nowadays, while working on my writing,  I work part time as an assistant in a dental office here in France and, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, part time as an assistant to a researcher in Australia.

EJ   Did you have difficulty finding a publisher?

JM I did! It surprised me, because I’d been writing and selling magazine articles and short stories, and I’d naively thought that a time travel book would be easy to sell. It might have been, but it wasn’t “romantic” enough, oh, and there is a threesome because Ashley falls in love with Alexander’s lover, Hephaestion. It’s not serious enough for a history book, and it’s kind of funny. So, yes, it was rejected by at least ten publishers and twice as many agents. One agent asked for the full series. I printed it up and sent it in a box the size of a volkswagen. I never heard from her again. I suppose she used the manuscript as a table for a while. It seemed odd that she asked for the whole series and never wrote back until I re-read her letter and saw she just wanted a full manuscript – of book one. Did I mention there are seven books in the series? I sold the series to a terrific outfit in Australia, which published books 1-3 and then folded. Meanwhile I kept writing and sold a few more books. I have a pen name and write erotica. But this series has always been my favorite, so I was thrilled when it was accepted by a publisher in the UK last year.

EJ   Have you always been interested in the Ancient World?  Did you know a  great deal about Alexander before you started work on your trilogy?

JM My mother is a history teacher and I’ve always been interested in history. I didn’t know much about Alexander the Great, but I’m keen on research, so when I decided to write about him, I researched for nearly a year. I had piles of information, most of which I didn’t use or got chopped in editing (note from editor: Jennifer, you’re being pedantic again…)!

EJ    Do you think you would have fallen in love with Alexander had you met him  – indeed did you fall in love with him?

JM When I met him, he was just starting his “great adventure”, as he calls it. He was young and brash, and had an incredible charisma. I think, if I were Ashley, I would have fallen under his spell. It’s undeniable that he was someone special – I often wonder what the world would have been like had he lived to govern Persia, Egypt and Greece. What would have happened with Rome? Would he have gone to Africa, as he’d dreamed of doing? He was quite simply capable of anything. It’s hard to resist someone with such energy and optimism.

EJ   Your books are quite playful in the sense that they play with history rather than re-living it.  Have you ambitions to be a more serious historical novelist?

JM I would love to try my hand at a more serious historical novel, but I’m afraid I’m more of a science fiction writer. I did write a book set in the time of the Crusades, but again, it’s a time slip. I can’t seem to get around that. Putting a modern person back in time is an interesting way to perceive the distance that separates us. One author I admire immensely is Connie Willis. Her “The Doomsday Book” is one of my favorite time slip novels. She’s a science fiction/history/romance writer, which is more in line with what I love to write.

EJ  What are you planning to do after the Alexander trilogy?

It’s not a trilogy. It’s a septology! Book III is due out in September, and book IV will appear in December if all goes according to plan.

EJ   Can you tell my readers where they can find out more about you?

JM My blog is here (https://jennifermacaire.wordpress.com/) and my author showcase is here (https://authorjennifermacaire.wordpress.com/) the Facebook page for my series is here (https://www.facebook.com/TimeforAlexander/) You can write to me at jennifermacaire@gmail.com – at least until my next time slip – although I usually try to come back ahead of time. My twitter handle is @jennifermacaire

EJ    Thank you, Jennifer.  My review of The Road to Alexander should appear in the November issue of Historical Novels Review and on the Historical Novel Society website.

JM    Thank you, Edward! It was my pleasure! 

That spider was so big…

I love the end of summer, except for one thing. In the fall, the spiders appear. And it’s the survival of the fittest here in our lovely countryside. Only the biggest, strongest ones make it until September. And the biggest and the strongest are the ones you notice the most – especially if it’s climbing up your white curtain.

We have loads of spiders here – from taratula-sized brown house spiders to spindly daddy long-legs (that we all played with as children – you don’t find out how poisonous they are until you start reading scientific journals, and the reasurance that ‘they can’t possibly inject their poison into a human’ is scant comfort) to brightly-colored crab spiders of yellow, pink and bright green (depending which flower it’s crouched in), to tiger-striped orb spiders, and the huge, gray web-spinners that scare you silly until you realize ‘That’s Charlotte of Charlotte’s web!’ (they still scare me silly).
I have arachnephobia, and even though I try my hardest to convince myself that spiders are ‘Our Friends’ – whenever I see one I want to sprint away, and if one accidently lands on me, I swear I could beat Bolt’s best 100 meter dash time with no problem, probably running backwards with my eyes shut.

Today I saw a huge house spider (perfectly harmless I Know that!) Crawling up my curtain.

That spider was So big – it didn’t fit into the vacuum-cleaner tube. It’s legs hung way out and I had a fit of the willies as I tried to cram it down the tube and vacuum it up.

Other spiders that were so big…

That spider was So big I thought it was my son’s plastic toy spider and almost reached over to pick it up. It moved. So did I – levitating to the ceiling then flying to the kitchen where I grabbed the first thing (a flyswatter on the chair) I managed to kill the creature minutes before the real estate agent walked in to show the house.

That spider was so big it was drinking out of the dog’s dish in the kitchen. A St. Thomas tarantula. When it’s sitting on your homework, you get a note from your mother explaining to your teacher why you didn’t bring your homework in – and the teacher understood.

That spider was so big it covered a whole paragraph of the book I was reading. My son had just tipped it onto my book with a pleased “Look what I found mommy!” I slammed the book shut before it skittered off onto my lap. It was just nerves. My son, who loves spiders, never did forgive me.

That spider was so big that when it fell into my sister-in-law’s suitcase, she slapped it shut then looked at me. We were staying with our inlaws for the weekend. “I’ll lend you clothes,” I said. She gave the suitcase, still shut, to her concierge to unpack. (along with a huge tip).

That spider was so big that when I saw it, I ran back down the stairs, and it took me a week to use the stairs again. (I used the elevator to go up one floor).

Dialogues of the Dead by Lucian: Alexander the Great and…lol

You cannot deny that you are my son this time, Alexander; you would not have died if you had been Ammon’s.
I knew all the time that you, Philip, son of Amyntas, were my father. I only accepted the statement of the oracle because I thought it was good policy.
What, to suffer yourself to be fooled by lying priests?
No, but it had an awe-inspiring effect upon the barbarians. When they thought they had a God to deal with, they gave up the struggle; which made their conquest a simple matter.
And whom did you ever conquer that was worth conquering? Your adversaries were ever timid creatures, with their bows and their targets and their wicker shields. It was other work conquering the Greeks: Boeotians, Phocians, Athenians; Arcadian hoplites, Thessalian cavalry, javelin-men from Elis, peltasts of Mantinea; Thracians, Illyrians, Paeonians; to subdue these was something. But for gold-laced womanish Medes and Persians and Chaldaeans,—why, it had been done before: did you never hear of the expedition of the Ten Thousand under Clearchus? and how the enemy would not even come to blows with them, but ran away before they were within bow-shot?
Still, there were the Scythians, father, and the Indian elephants; they were no joke. And my conquests were not gained by dissension or treachery; I broke no oath, no promise, nor ever purchased victory at the expense of honour. As to the Greeks, most of them joined me without a struggle; and I dare say you have heard how I handled Thebes.
I know all about that; I had it from Clitus, whom you ran through the body, in the middle of dinner, because he presumed to mention my achievements in the same breath with yours. They tell me too that you took to aping the manners of your conquered Medes; abandoned the Macedonian cloak in favour of the candys, assumed the upright tiara, and exacted oriental prostrations from Macedonian freemen! This is delicious. As to your brilliant matches, and your beloved Hephaestion, and your scholars in lions’ cages,–the less said the better. I have only heard one thing to your credit: you respected the person of Darius’s beautiful wife, and you provided for his mother and daughters; there you acted like a king.
And have you nothing to say of my adventurous spirit, father, when I was the first to leap down within the ramparts of Oxydracae, and was covered with wounds?
Not a word. Not that it is a bad thing, in my opinion, for a king to get wounded occasionally, and to face danger at the head of his troops: but this was the last thing that you were called upon to do. You were passing for a God; and your being wounded, and carried off the field on a litter, bleeding and groaning, could only excite the ridicule of the spectators: Ammon stood convicted of quackery, his oracle of falsehood, his priests of flattery. The son of Zeus in a swoon, requiring medical assistance! who could help laughing at the sight? And now that you have died, can you doubt that many a jest is being cracked on the subject of your divinity, as men contemplate the God’s corpse laid out for burial, and already going the way of all flesh? Besides, your achievements lose half their credit from this very circumstance which you say was so useful in facilitating your conquests: nothing you did could come up to your divine reputation.
The world thinks otherwise. I am ranked with Heracles and Dionysus; and, for that matter, I took Aornos, which was more than either of them could do.
There spoke the son of Ammon. Heracles and Dionysus, indeed! You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Alexander; when will you learn to drop that bombast, and know yourself for the shade that you are?
Dear me, Alexander, you dead like the rest of us?
As you see, sir; is there anything extraordinary in a mortal’s dying?
So Ammon lied when he said you were his son; you were Philip’s after all.
Apparently; if I had been Ammon’s, I should not have died.
Strange! there were tales of the same order about Olympias too. A serpent visited her, and was seen in her bed; we were given to understand that that was how you came into the world, and Philip made a mistake when he took you for his.
Yes, I was told all that myself; however, I know now that my mother’s and the Ammon stories were all moonshine.
Their lies were of some practical value to you, though; your divinity brought a good many people to their knees. But now, whom did you leave your great empire to?
Diogenes, I cannot tell you. I had no time to leave any directions about it, beyond just giving Perdiccas my ring as I died. Why are you laughing?
Oh, I was only thinking of the Greeks’ behaviour; directly you succeeded, how they flattered you! their elected patron, generalissimo against the barbarian; one of the twelve Gods according to some; temples built and sacrifices offered to the Serpent’s son! If I may ask, where did your Macedonians bury you?
I have lain in Babylon a full month to-day; and Ptolemy of the Guards is pledged, as soon as he can get a moment’s respite from present disturbances, to take and bury me in Egypt, there to be reckoned among the Gods.
I have some reason to laugh, you see; still nursing vain hopes of developing into an Osiris or Anubis! Pray, your Godhead, put these expectations from you; none may re-ascend who has once sailed the lake and penetrated our entrance; Aeacus is watchful, and Cerberus an awkward customer. But there is one thing I wish you would tell me: how do you like thinking over all the earthly bliss you left to come here—your guards and armour-bearers and lieutenant-governors, your heaps of gold and adoring peoples, Babylon and Bactria, your huge elephants, your honour and glory, those conspicuous drives with white-cinctured locks and clasped purple cloak? does the thought of them hurt? What, crying? silly fellow! did not your wise Aristotle include in his instructions any hint of the insecurity of fortune’s favours?
Wise? call him the craftiest of all flatterers. Allow me to know a little more than other people about Aristotle; his requests and his letters came to my address; I know how he profited by my passion for culture; how he would toady and compliment me, to be sure! now it was my beauty—that too is included under The Good; now it was my deeds and my money; for money too he called a Good—he meant that he was not going to be ashamed of taking it. Ah, Diogenes, an impostor; and a past master at it too. For me, the result of his wisdom is that I am distressed for the things you catalogued just now, as if I had lost in them the chief Goods.
Wouldst know thy course? I will prescribe for your distress. Our flora, unfortunately, does not include hellebore; but you take plenty of Lethe-water—good, deep, repeated draughts; that will relieve your distress over the Aristotelian Goods. Quick; here are Clitus, Callisthenes, and a lot of others making for you; they mean to tear you in pieces and pay you out. Here, go the opposite way; and remember, repeated draughts.


Libyan, I claim precedence of you. I am the better man.

Pardon me.

Then let Minos decide.

Who are you both?

This is Hannibal, the Carthaginian: I am Alexander, the son of Philip.

Bless me, a distinguished pair! And what is the quarrel about?

It is a question of precedence. He says he is the better general: and I maintain that neither Hannibal nor (I might almost add) any of my predecessors was my equal in strategy; all the world knows that.

Well, you shall each have your say in turn: the Libyan first.

Fortunately for me, Minos, I have mastered Greek since I have been here; so that my adversary will not have even that advantage of me. Now I hold that the highest praise is due to those who have won their way to greatness from obscurity; who have clothed themselves in power, and shown themselves fit for dominion. I myself entered Spain with a handful of men, took service under my brother, and was found worthy of the supreme command. I conquered the Celtiberians, subdued Western Gaul, crossed the Alps, overran the valley of the Po, sacked town after town, made myself master of the plains, approached the bulwarks of the capital, and in one day slew such a host, that their finger-rings were measured by bushels, and the rivers were bridged by their bodies. And this I did, though I had never been called a son of Ammon; I never pretended to be a god, never related visions of my mother; I made no secret of the fact that I was mere flesh and blood. My rivals were the ablest generals in the world, commanding the best soldiers in the world; I warred not with Medes or Assyrians, who fly before they are pursued, and yield the victory to him that dares take it. Alexander, on the other hand, in increasing and extending as he did the dominion which he had inherited from his father, was but following the impetus given to him by Fortune. And this conqueror had no sooner crushed his puny adversary by the victories of Issus and Arbela, than he forsook the traditions of his country, and lived the life of a Persian; accepting the prostrations of his subjects, assassinating his friends at his own table, or handing them over to the executioner. I in my command respected the freedom of my country, delayed not to obey her summons, when the enemy with their huge armament invaded Libya, laid aside the privileges of my office, and submitted to my sentence without a murmur. Yet I was a barbarian all unskilled in Greek culture; I could not recite Homer, nor had I enjoyed the advantages of Aristotle’s instruction; I had to make a shift with such qualities as were mine by nature.—It is on these grounds that I claim the pre-eminence. My rival has indeed all the lustre that attaches to the wearing of a diadem, and—I know not—for Macedonians such things may have charms: but I cannot think that this circumstance constitutes a higher claim than the courage and genius of one who owed nothing to Fortune, and everything to his own resolution.

Not bad, for a Libyan.—Well, Alexander, what do you say to that?

Silence, Minos, would be the best answer to such confident self-assertion. The tongue of Fame will suffice of itself to convince you that I was a great prince, and my opponent a petty adventurer. But I would have you consider the distance between us. Called to the throne while I was yet a boy, I quelled the disorders of my kingdom, and avenged my father’s murder. By the destruction of Thebes, I inspired the Greeks with such awe, that they appointed me their commander-in-chief; and from that moment, scorning to confine myself to the kingdom that I inherited from my father, I extended my gaze over the entire face of the earth, and thought it shame if I should govern less than the whole. With a small force I invaded Asia, gained a great victory on the Granicus, took Lydia, Ionia, Phrygia,—in short, subdued all that was within my reach, before I commenced my march for Issus, where Darius was waiting for me at the head of his myriads. You know the sequel: yourselves can best say what was the number of the dead whom on one day I dispatched hither. The ferryman tells me that his boat would not hold them; most of them had to come across on rafts of their own construction. In these enterprises, I was ever at the head of my troops, ever courted danger. To say nothing of Tyre and Arbela, I penetrated into India, and carried my empire to the shores of Ocean; I captured elephants; I conquered Porus; I crossed the Tanais, and worsted the Scythians—no mean enemies—in a tremendous cavalry engagement. I heaped benefits upon my friends: I made my enemies taste my resentment. If men took me for a god, I cannot blame them; the vastness of my undertakings might excuse such a belief. But to conclude. I died a king: Hannibal, a fugitive at the court of the Bithynian Prusias—fitting end for villany and cruelty. Of his Italian victories I say nothing; they were the fruit not of honest legitimate warfare, but of treachery, craft, and dissimulation. He taunts me with self-indulgence: my illustrious friend has surely forgotten the pleasant time he spent in Capua among the ladies, while the precious moments fleeted by. Had I not scorned the Western world, and turned my attention to the East, what would it have cost me to make the bloodless conquest of Italy, and Libya, and all, as far West as Gades? But nations that already cowered beneath a master were unworthy of my sword.—I have finished, Minos, and await your decision; of the many arguments I might have used, these shall suffice.

First, Minos, let me speak.

And who are you, friend? and where do you come from?

I am Scipio, the Roman general, who destroyed Carthage, and gained great victories over the Libyans.

Well, and what have you to say?

That Alexander is my superior, and I am Hannibal’s, having defeated him, and driven him to ignominious flight. What impudence is this, to contend with Alexander, to whom I, your conqueror, would not presume to compare myself!

Honestly spoken, Scipio, on my word! Very well, then: Alexander comes first, and you next; and I think we must say Hannibal third. And a very creditable third, too.

LUCIAN OF SAMOSATA was a Greek satirist from the region of Commagene near Syria in the C2nd A.D. He was the author of numerous works of which the Dialogues of the GodsDialogues of the Sea Gods and Dialogues of the Dead are of particular interest in the study of myth.
The Works of Lucian of Samosata. Translated by Fowler, H W and F G. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. 1905.

Just say no

“Why can’t women just say ‘no’?” 
I heard that from another woman. She was speaking about the #metoo movement. She was an intelligent woman, independent, with a good job, and she was financially solid and had been all her life. She was attractive. Had been married. Had children. When she said “No”, people respected her.
I wasn’t in the mood to argue. Besides – too many people feel this way. Just say no, they sneer. Look at those movie stars, rolling in dough, owing their whole careers to a serial rapist. If they didn’t want to sleep with him, they should have just said ‘no’. What’s more important? A career or your pride?
I don’t know what to say to these people.
I don’t know everyone’s situation.
Sometimes, you can’t say no.
Sometimes, when you say no, you put your career on the line.
Sometimes, when you say no, you put your life in danger.

The first time I said no to a boy, he beat me up. I don’t know what the question was. After the first beating, my mother wanted to teach me to fight back. She got a cardbard box and had me punch it. “What do you do when that boy comes back again?” she said.
“Hit the box,” I replied.
I don’t remember any of this – this is my mother’s story. She tells it half laughing, half furious. I must have been only two or three – the boy was a neighborhood bully.

The next time I stood up to a boy, he was teasing a friend. He’d tossed her bike on the ground and kicked it. I had no idea what the fight was about, but I kicked his bike over then put myself between her and him. He punched me and gave me a black eye. Our parents called his parents, and I remember standing in the living room, explaining what happened, my eye swollen shut.
“You shouldn’t have kicked his bike,” said the boy’s father. I was eight years old, but even then, I knew enough to look at the floor and say, “I’m sorry.” That the boy was punished too didn’t tilt the scales back. The boy was two or three years older than I was, a foot taller, and twenty pounds heavier. But he struck me, and got away with a scolding. I was struck, and got away with a scolding, a black eye, and a healthy fear of bullies.

I said no in highschool to a boy who wanted to date me. He got all his friends to pressure me. When I still said no, he spread rumors about me. I walked into the café where I used to hang out with my freinds. One of his friends was there, playing the guitar that evening. When I walked in, he said into the microphone, “I”m not playing anymore until She leaves.” I was ostracized from the group for weeks – until he fell for another girl. To an adult, this might seem trite. To a teen, it was agony.  All I did was refuse to date a boy.

I said no to a boy who came to the house where I was babysitting. I was surprised to see him. I didn’t invite people over when I was caring for children. But this young man had been chasing me for a while, I went on a few dates with him. He was good fun. He liked music, and bought me a record album. This must have seemed like a golden ticket to him. He walked into the house and remarked that the parents were gone – the kids were alseep – it was the perfect time. The perfect time for what?I wasn’t buying it. I didn’t want to make out or sleep with him. I said no. He’d been drinking. He picked me up and threw me across the kitchen. I was stunned, bruised, frightened. I said no again, and he hit me. I crawled under the table. He cried for a while, then left. He pretended nothing happened afterwards. He was older than I was, but he was immature. I told myself it was just that he was immature. But I didn’t return his calls.

I graduated and started working in a jewelry warehouse. One night, my boss sent me on an errand and when I came back, the office was empty except for him and me. He locked the door and told me I was beautiful, that he was unhappy with his wife, and that he’d really like to just cuddle for a moment. Maybe take it further – who knows? He smiled at me like a jolly Santa. I ran. I ran away from him. He ran after me, cornered me, I hid behind a jewelry display, he lunged at me, knocked everything over. Started screaming at me to get out. I was fired. I lost my job. I had an apartment. I had bills to pay.
I lost my apartment.
I moved in with my boyfriend. He was a nice person – one of the good ones. There are men out there who are beautiful, kind, and who can take no for an answer. This isn’t about all men. Maybe that’s part of the problem – maybe some women only meet the nice ones – maybe the others are not as common – or maybe it’s something in my personality that brings out the worst in some people. That’s why you can’t put the #metoo movement in a file and use it as proof.

I found work as a model. Money was tight. I owed money, the city was expensive. I had no degree, no education to speak of – modelling was my ticket out of poverty. Let’s admit it – we were poor. So I was glad to find a job that I could do without having to go nto debt for college – a job that I didn’t need any qualifications or experience for. The second or third job I got was with a famous photographer. I was thrilled; until he started trying to feel me up. Then I told him no. I just said no. He just fired me. The next day, I was told to go home. I’d never work again, he threatened. I was numb. Saying no had so many consequences. How much easier to just go along with men – just agree – close your mouth – don’t argue. Don’t say ‘no’. I nearly lost my career. Thankfully, my agency sent me to Europe – far away from Mike and his roving hands. In Europe, I continued to say no, and I got fired from a job for refusing to let someone cut my hair. A no is a no- if it’s about sex or a haircut – someone is trying to control your body, so Just Say No. But I got fired. I started getting a reputation of being “difficult”.  I was called in “for a talk” at the agency. I learned my lesson the hard way. After that, I was more inclined to say yes. Yes, go ahead, fondle me. Yes, go ahead – cut my hair, dye it if you like, touch me where it makes me uncomfortable, laugh, get too close. I smile. I move away subtly. I learn to deflect better, see things coming and react before I actually have to say No.

What happens when a girl starts saying yes? She faces a new barrage of problems – her reputation suffers, her family can cast her out, some religions are exceedingly cruel to a woman who says ‘yes’ too often. Some societies are built on bullying women so they dare not say no, but they dare not say yes. Where does that leave us, the ones who navigate in the middle – trying not to make anyone angry enough to hit you or fire you, trying not to lose the last shreds of dignity left.

Thank goodness for the good people. Thank goodness for the ones who take “no” gracefully, who are not threatened, who are not violent. Thank goodness for the ones who care what you feel, who are careful, who are thoughtful and kind. Girls, boys – look for these people. Avoid the others if you can. But I won’t say “Just say ‘no'”, because sometimes you just can’t.

The Hermaphrodite

The first time I went to the Louvre, in Paris, I came across a statue of a woman lying on a mattress. As I walked around the sculpture to admire it, I saw that the woman was in fact a hermaphrodite. That wasn’t what impressed me most. Most of all, I was in awe of the bed, which had seams, sheets, a pillow, and looked for all the world like a modern mattress.  According to the Louvre, the figure is ancient – dating from the 2nd century BC. But the mattress was sculpted by Bernini, a flamboyant italian master, in 1619.

Theatrical it is – the figure is at repose, yet one foot is lifted in the air, giving the statue an unexpected movement. The line of the body is curved, showing the softeness of his bed, one leg is bent, the other straight. The arms are tangled in the sheets, as is one leg. Is he dreaminng? Just awakening? The sculpture is shown at first from the back, and the museum has taken care to place it in a stratigic spot, facing a window. As you walk into the room, your eye is drawn to the languid pose, the long graceful back, the round buttocks. Then you circle to the front, and the male sex of the statue is immediately, almost crudely, shown. There is a shift in perception – it’s erotic, but also surprising.

From the Louvre: “Hermaphroditos, son of Hermes and Aphrodite, had rejected the advances of the nymph Salmacis. Unable to resign herself to this rejection, Salmacis persuaded Zeus to merge their two bodies forever, hence the strange union producing one bisexed being with male sexual organs and the voluptuous curves of a woman.” 

When my daughter’s class went to the Louvre in the fifth grade, they had a list of artworks to “search for”. They were divided into teams, and off they went on a gorgeous treasure hunt. One of the artworks was this statue. I asked Julia what she’d thought of it, and she replied, “The mattress was amazing!” 

One of the funniest things I saw in a museum happened next to the statue. I was with my cousin and we had just finished examining the sculpture, when an American family came in – father, mother, three kids. The father entered the room first, cast an admiring eye on the statue, and walked to the side where the penis was – and stopped. His expression turned from lacivious to horrified in an instant. His family was heading towards him, and he rushed over, literally grabbed his son who was already halfway around the statue, and dragged his family out of the room declaring loudly, “No, no! Nothing to see here – let’s go find the Mona Lisa!” 

Image result for hermaphrodite statue Louvre


Image result for hermaphrodite statue Louvre

Note that a Roman copy dating from around 150 AD has no pillow or mattresss. Bernini was given free rein to sculpt a base for the statue, and he created an incredible, comfortable, sensual bed. 

Image result for Hermaphrodite, copie romaine d'un "Hermaphrodite endormi" Vers 130-150 après J.-C.