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Guns & Politics: Alexander The Great

Susan Smith Columnist
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Is what we are doing in the Presidential race of 2016 looking to elect an alpha male to try to make up for the weak and tragically unsuccessful policies of the last 7+ years?  Is it strength and independence in a candidate that we are looking for?

As is so often the case, it is frequently best to look to the proven past to guide us in our future choices, and in our search for a true alpha-male, perhaps we should start by directing ourselves to the best of the best, or more aptly, the greatest of the great, and that would be the man known by the world as Alexander.

This was the man to whom the god-equivalents and/or the god-like figures of the ancient world, from Julius Caesar, to Cleopatra, to Augustus, to Caligula, to Hadrian and later to Charlemagne, among many others, paid homage.  Alexander had been grandly entombed in Egypt in a mausoleum in the shape of a temple, as he was considered by many to be a god at his death, upon his unexpected demise, and thousands in the ancient world made the pilgrimage to honor the great hero.  Unfortunately, the tomb of Alexander went missing in the year 49 AD, though through the ages there have been many who claim to have discovered and/or unearthed it.  None of these claims has yet been proved accurate, and the search for Alexander’s tomb continues.

Alexander not only achieved what no other living being had accomplished before his time, he accomplished these heretofore unachievable goals while he was still pretty much an adolescent.

He did all this despite having had a brutal pig of a father, a mother who gave new definition to the term domineering, and an all too often reluctant and sometimes outright mutinous military.  This does not even take into account the often somewhat negative response of the various peoples he happened upon who might not have wanted to be conquered and/or enslaved by the young man and his army.

Alexander the Great, as he is now known, was born in 356 BC in Macedonia, a country just north of Greece at the time, to Philip, who was then king of that nation, and his wife, Queen Olympias, who came from the neighboring nation of Epirus.

There was no love lost between these two; they actually loathed each other.  They also made sure everyone knew it, especially their only child, their son, Alexander.

Philip died when Alexander was a young man, and upon succession to the throne, Alexander, at age 20, not only took over the Macedonian army, a truly fierce group of fellows, but also quickly disposed of all those he perceived to be his domestic enemies, by execution, at the same time.  He then proceeded to conquer Persia and Egypt, and just about all the nations, both small and large, in between, in the ensuing years.  This was a feat not accomplished by anyone before in history up to that time.  Though winning battles (it is said that he never lost a battle) all the way through his campaign east, Alexander’s army eventually mutinied after winning several fights, and retaining substantial losses, at what was then the Indian frontier, and refused to march further east.  Alexander had no choice but to turn back in the direction from which he had come, with his recalcitrant army.

Alexander is considered one of the greatest military geniuses of all time, as well as being outstanding in numerous other areas.  He had as his tutor for three years in Macedonia the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who provided training in science, medicine and philosophy for the young man.   He was known for his bravery as well as his beauty, and though he was ruthless in dealing with those who opposed him, he inspired most of those who served him.  He was known to have had a prodigious temper, which was demonstrated rarely, but most often during periods of heavy drinking, which was a ‘cherished tradition’ at the Macedonian court.  The conqueror was also intensely loyal, devoted primarily to his horse Bucephalus, and his best friend, Hephaestion.

After Bucephalus’ death in battle, for example, the grief-stricken Alexander founded a city in his horse’s honor, which he named Bucephalia.  When Hephaestion died in a conflict in the nation of Ecbatana, Alexander ordered an entire mountain tribe, who were thought to be responsible, massacred, and declared Hephaestion a demigod.  Alexander had already declared himself a higher level of the species, an ‘invincible god,’ and was worshiped as such in many of the territories the great man had conquered.

There was some question as to Alexander’s divinity, as his mother had always claimed that her son was a direct descendant of Achilles, (a near-indestructible Greek demi-god), until, at a strategic time in his young life, Olympias revealed to Alexander that he was in fact a son of Zeus.  According to the Queen, this parentage occurred when the king of the gods, known as quite a randy fellow, assumed the form of a snake in order to demonstrate his affection for the Queen.  Further credence was later leant to this claim when Philip, the Queen’s husband and until then thought to be the father of Alexander, reported that Queen Olympias would often sleep with a snake in her bed.

Though Alexander was never quite sure what exactly to believe re: his parentage and its divine or non-divine aspects, what his mother told him, and subsequent related reports from his father,  did feed into his belief that he was deserving of divine status.

During his astounding trek eastward Alexander founded some 70 cities in the lands he conquered, and aside from those for his horse and his friend, he ordered them named after himself. Most famous, of course, is the coastal city of Alexandria in Egypt, which exists and flourishes to this day.  In his extraordinary journey of 11 years, from 335 B.C. to 324 B.C., Alexander and his army battled their way across 22,000 miles, and for most of Alexander’s army these miles were traveled on foot. There is speculation that some of these grueling miles weren’t actually necessary, but they worked nonetheless to confirm Alexander’s status as a military genius and hero.

Alexander had incurred a serious lung wound in a battle in India toward the end of his trip east, and though he seemed to have recovered, it has been speculated that this eventually led to his developing a fever that caused his death at the age of 32.  This was an entirely unexpected development, for Alexander as well as everyone else, (he was basically planning his next campaign into Arabia at the time, never giving up hope that he could change the mind of his army). He was quoted as having said early on that he “would rather live a short life of glory than a long one of obscurity.”

Having achieved this, Alexander’s death was nonetheless cataclysmic in the ancient world.

There are those who still investigate what really happened to the great man, claiming that he was poisoned, or died by some other murderous means, or simply succumbed to malaria or typhoid fever.

One of the more intriguing murder speculations was that water from the River Styx, the river of the dead according to ancient mythology, was carried to where Alexander was in a hollowed out mule’s hoof, the only substance that could satisfactorily contain such a virulent substance, and administered to him not just once by plotters, but twice, to ensure his death.  The second method, interestingly, was to coat with the Styxian liquid a feather that might be used to induce Alexander to vomit should poison be suspected once the appropriate symptoms be detected.

This would have covered both bases, as it were.

There are many different versions of who the plotters could have been (they rather shockingly include his former tutor, Aristotle), and their reasons for the ingenious murder, but the truth will never be known.

Alexander’s rise, and tragic end, were indeed meteoric, and made an indelible stamp on the ancient world.  Unfortunately, this did not last much longer than the great man’s life, as his death was so unexpected that neither he nor anyone who served with him, nor even his descendants, had developed workable provisions for succession to his throne, nor to perpetuate what the great man had wrought.

Let us hope that should the alpha male predominate in the 2016 US election, that he (I simply cannot contemplate that it will be a she) will be better at making plans for the future of the United States of America than Alexander the Great did for his nascent nation.

Click on the link to read Susan’s Guns & Politics column.

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Susan Smith brings an international perspective to her writing by having lived primarily in western Europe, mainly in Paris, France, and the U.S., primarily in Washington, D.C. She authored a weekly column for Human Events on politics with historical aspects.. She also served as the Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Children, Family, Drugs and Alcoholism, and Special Assistant to the first Ambassador of Afghanistan following the initial fall of the Taliban. Ms. Smith is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University and Georgetown University, as well as the Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris, France, where she obtained her French language certification. Ms. Smith now makes her home in McLean, Va.

Susan Smith