My name is Fred and I am a gay conservative living in Ottawa. This blog supports limited government, the right of the State of Israel to live in peace and security, and tries to expose the threat to us all from cultural relativism, post-modernism, and radical Islam. I am also the founder of the Free Thinking Film Society in Ottawa (

Friday, October 28, 2011

Alexander the OK?

In a consideration of five books about Alexander the Great, Mary Beard asks “Alexander: How Great?”

In one of the first known attempts at counterfactual history, Livy raised the question of who would have won if Alexander had decided to invade Italy. Predictably, Livy concluded that the Roman Empire would have proved as invincible against Alexander as it had against its other enemies. True, Alexander was a great general, but Rome at that period had many great generals and they were made of sterner stuff than the Persian king, with his “women and eunuchs in tow,” who was by any reckoning “an easy prey.”

Besides, from early on, Alexander showed signs of fatal weaknesses: witness the vanity, the obeisance he demanded from his followers, the vicious cruelty (he had a record of murdering erstwhile friends around his dinner table), and the infamous drinking. An invasion of Italy would have been a tougher test than the invasion of India, which “he strolled through on a drunken revel with an intoxicated army.”

If you're interested in Alexander, the best place to start may not be with any of the histories Beard reviews but with Mary Renault's magnificent novels Fire from Heaven, The Persian Boy, and Funeral Games. Renault not only knew every detail about how people lived then, but she seemed to have an intuitive, preternatural understanding of how they thought.

(Ha, I notice I also used the word “preternatural” in this 17-year-old review of a biography of Renault.)


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