This criticism of Martis’ work does not arise from a desire to participate in current controversies surrounding the origin of ancient Macedonia’s people and kings, or whether Macedonians were Greek or not, or what the geographic limits of the Macedonian state were. Answers to these questions are contested by reputable academicians whose research and judgments are presented in scholarly journals and books, and critically evaluated by their peers. Neither is this an attack on, or defense of Alexander the Great. Nor is it to take a side on the current argument about the use of the name, Macedonia. It is enough that contemporary politicians on either side of the arguments exploit conflicting historical claims to distract their constituents from far more urgent matters.
The purpose of this article is to contest Martis’ questionable scholarship and propagandistic rhetoric.
The first quotation used in Sui Generis is taken from text close to the end of Arrian’s history, and is part of a long peroration. A better translation, by Aubrey De Sélincourt, is as follows: “… never in all the world was there another like him [Alexander], and therefore I cannot but feel that some power more than human was concerned in his birth; …”5
Arrian, a highly educated Greek from Bythnia, lived in the first and second centuries A.D. and wrote one of the early histories of Alexander. His served as military officer and government administrator; was a historian; and occupied the pagan priesthood of Demeter and Kore in his native city.6 A warrior and member of the Roman elite, he was sympathetic to Alexander’s military success.
A.B. Bosworth analyzes the peroration in his From Arrian to Alexander,7 summing up his evaluation as follows: “Arrian’s work ends in a carefully contrived panegyric, extended and fulsome (vii. 28. 1-30. 3).”8 The superlatives Arrian used to describe Alexander’s virtues are bountiful, and he offered extended apologies to excuse the hero’s less desirable qualities.
One can, incidentally, make anything one wants of Alexander by choosing supporting quotations from one or another historian, biographer, scholar, and even modern day historical novelist. Perhaps that is why the phrases “The Search for Alexander” and “In Search of Alexander” are so often used. Ulrich Wilcken makes this comment:
“Ever since he emerged from a somewhat backward Macedonian nation to claim much of Greece and Asia as his own, Alexander the Great has exercised a secure hold on the human imagination. The nature of this attraction is a complex phenomenon. It is enough to say that there are many Alexanders, perhaps as many as there are those who profess a serious interest in him.”9
J.B. Bury and Russell Meiggs state:
“Alexander, like Caesar and Napoleon, invites partisanship. In modern times he has become a philosopher king, a military adventurer; a dedicated Hellenist more Hellenic than the Hellenes; a half-civilized Macedonian; a generous idealist; a ruthless tyrant.”10
The next quotation in Sui Generis is from De Alexandri Magni Fortuna aut Virtute, one of the orations in Plutarch’s Moralia.11 Martis uses this wildly exuberant quotation as evidence that Alexander excelled as a philosopher. Peter Green puts forward the position that many contemporary scholars hold about the De Fortuna. He terms it a “rhetorical treatise,” and explains, “… Plutarch wrote it when very young, as an exercise [emphasis added] devoted to proving the highly dubious proposition that Alexander, by his deeds, showed himself a true philosopher of action. By the time he came to compose the Life, Plutarch had discreetly abandoned this unprofitable paradox; …”12
A.B. Bosworth wrote: “… it is to be hoped that his [Plutarch’s] rhetorical extravaganza in the first treatise, On the Fortune or Virtue of Alexander, will no longer be taken as the basic explanatory text for Alexander’s treatment of subject peoples.”13
Later in Sui Generis Martis employs another quotation from De Moralia. It contains what Alexander is alleged to have said to Diogenes about his intention to merge nations, civilize continents, and convey Hellenic justice and peace. It is a myth, nothing more. Peter Green’s assessment of De Moralia, quoted above, applies.14
Martis includes a reference in Sui Generis to President Clinton’s writing — without any citation; and an assertion “that the Romans were the first to name Alexander ‘Great’,” — without any citation; and the statement: “Chateaubriand wrote ‘If someone was compared to a god, that was Alexander’”— also without citation. To be taken seriously, an author is obligated to provide his reader with citations for both paraphrases of and direct quotations from source material. How else can the veracity, applicability, and import of material presented in support of an argument be reasonably judged?
The questions that follow (there could be more) are
asked to make the general point that Martis’ references are
Other arguments put forward by Martis deserve scrutiny. Take for example the paragraph about Alexander’s visit to Jerusalem. Little more need be said than that most scholars believe the story told by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus in his Jewish antiquities, is not true. To quote Green: “… the tradition that Alexander made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem is mere pious legend.”15 Bury and Meiggs write: “Josephus … records a visit by Alexander to Jerusalem, but since there is no other mention of the visit in our surviving sources we can dismiss it as patriotic fiction.”16
Martis’ most egregious attempt to substitute
mythology for historical fact is in what he attributes to Alexander
as “Alexander’s speech at Opis in 324 BC, otherwise known
as Alexander’s Oath …” He writes:
Martis offers no source for the Oath in Sui Generis,
nor, incidentally, is one cited by the Pan-Macedonian Association
Website, nor can a reference for it be found on any of the myriad
websites that have copied and published the Oath as historical fact.
The Oath is substantially the same on all websites, though some have
introduced minor changes. (See below for the source Martis claims
in The Falsification.)
Arrian was the only one of the five secondary historians
generally used as sources for Alexander studies (Diodorus Siculus,
Flavius Arrianus, Justin, Plutarch, and Quintus Curtius Rufus) who
wrote about the feast at Opis.19
In his book, Martis writes the following about the Oath: “This oath is given by Zolakostas in his book Alexander the Great, Precursor of Christ (p. 235, in Greek text), who quoted the 3rd book of Pseudo-Callisthenes and the philosopher Eratosthenes.”21
The Oxford Classical Dictionary entry for Pseudo-Callisthenes is: “Pseudo-Callisthenes, the so-called Alexander-Romance, falsely ascribed to Callisthenes, survives in several versions, beginning in the 3rd cent. AD. It is popular fiction, a pseudohistorical narrative interspersed with an ‘epistolary novel’, bogus correspondence …”22 Is this really the source for the Oath? ? It is not found in Penguin Classics Edition of The Greek Alexander Romance.23
Eratosthenes of Cyrene (c.285-194 BC) was a mathematician,
literary critic, chronologist, philosopher, poet, and geographer.
His works are for the most part lost.24
The Oath has no basis. It is not documented by ancient
historians or biographers, and is not consistent with what happened
at Opis: a mutiny on the part of Alexander’s Macedonians. Waldemar
Heckel and J.C. Yardley provide an excellent summarization of the
events at Opis.
W. W. Tarn was one of the most highly regarded Alexander scholars of the early twentieth century. In his Alexander the Great27 he portrays Alexander as a philosopher-warrior-king ennobled by the concept of the “Brotherhood of Man.” Tarn projected near Judaic-Christian values into Alexander’s motivations. More recent scholarship has all but demolished Tarn’s notions.
Following are quotations from the writings of five scholars about the events at Opis.
H.G.L. Hammond : “Alexander did not let his victory dwindle.” The victory is probably that over his mutinous Macedonians. For the most part Hammond’s prose is a paraphrase of Arrian. He adds very little analysis of the banquet at Opis, except for the comment: “Alexander ‘prayed especially for concord and for the sharing of rule between Macedonians and Persians’”28
A. B. Bosworth: “Alexander had acts of his own to expiate. He had deliberately played on the deep hostility between Macedonian and Persian and the deliberate promotion of Persians had inflicted a profound shock on the rank and file. To salve the wounds he held an enormous banquet of reconciliation, allegedly attended by more than nine thousand guests. … but on this occasion the preferences shown to the Macedonians was emphatic and significant. … The prayer indicated that both peoples figured in Alexander’s imperial projects and that they should coexist peacefully. There was no deeper hint that he envisaged a hybrid master race fused from both nationalities or that he saw humanity as a brotherhood under his universal rule.”29 [Emphasis added.]
Ulrich Wilcken: “The actual prayer makes it most plain that the ideal which was before him was simply the fraternisation [sic] of Macedonians and Persians. There is no trace whatever of Alexander’s treating all mankind as one brotherhood.”30 [Emphasis added]
Peter Green: “There is no hint here of that international love-feast, that celebration of the Brotherhood of Man [emphasis added] which at least one scholar61 has professed to find at the banquet at Opis. Persians were placed firmly below Macedonians in order of precedence, and other races, again, below them. When Alexander made his famous prayer at the feast for ‘harmony [homonoia] and fellowship [koinonia] of rule between Macedonians and Persians’ he meant precisely what he said, and no more — nor is there much doubt which race he meant to be senior partner.”31
Ernst Fredricksmeyer: “Within this monarchy … the Macedonians were to be the leading component, but all subjects would be equal with respect to Alexander as their absolute master.”32
This paper has focused on Sui Generis, as presented on the HCS Website, and on pages 56 through 71 of The Falsification (only fifteen pages of the two hundred and one page book). The content of these pages is sufficient to bring into serious question Martis’ other publication on the HCS Website, The Participation of Ancient Macedonians in theOlympiads and their Contribution to Greek Cultural Heritage,33 and the balance of TheFalsification.
I conclude that Nicholas Martis’ understandable passion for Macedonia, the region whose people he clearly served with distinction as a patriot, soldier, professional, and government official, led him into an unfortunate and wrongheaded set of arguments in his presentation of Alexander the Great. His assessment of Alexander is one-sided, exaggerated, and supported by quotations taken out of context from a wide variety of sources, most without citation. He advances a chauvinistic glorification of Alexander the Great with assertions that convey a romantic mythology of Alexander. The work is an encomium so inflated that it casts doubt on the credibility of the rest of the case Martis makes for a Hellenic Macedonia in The Falsification.34
In Sui Generis Martis writes: “Mankind today needs a positive projection of Alexander’s deeds …”
I suggest that mankind needs and deserves truth, as much of it as can be determined through thorough, systematic, dispassionate, and scientific inquiry.
The Campaigns of Alexander. [Harmondsworth, Eng., Baltimore: Penguin
1 I am neither an academic, nor in any way a specialist in classical
or Macedonian history. The study of Classical, Hellenic, Roman, and
Byzantine history, and of the history of Greece, Bulgaria, and the
Balkans is my hobby in retirement. My father was a Greek Macedonian
born not far from Argos Orestikon, in Mavrohorion, Kastoria, and I
am proud of my heritage.
(Posted March 2005)
For more information about the author, see his biographical sketch under the Contributing Authors' section of HCS, or visit the author's website at http://www.goldenfleecepublishing.com. Mr. Mavrovitis has written a number of fine articles for HCS which readers can browse or read at the URL http://www.helleniccomserve.com/archivemavrovitis.html.
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