What would most Americans think if a Greek film showed George Washington performing oral sex on one of Thomas Jefferson’s runaway slaves? Not much, would be my guess, except, of course, for the likes of Oliver Stone, a man who would probably begin casting for a sequel. Stone has been pulling our leg for years. He has built his reputation by portraying American fighting men in Vietnam as callous murderers, chiefs of the FBI involved in the assassination of JFK, and young killer punks as existential American heroes. It works, at least in the blue states. Alas, I have had the bad luck to meet (and play tennis with) Stone. He’s the real McCoy—at least as far as slobs are concerned. Only Michael Moore comes close.
His latest extravaganza has my fellow Greeks up in arms. Call it Greeks bearing writs, as a bunch of Greek lawyers are threatening to sue over Stone’s depiction of Alexander the Great as bisexual. Actually, the lawyers’ letter is very funny in itself. “We cannot come out and say that President John F. Kennedy was a shooting guard for the Los Angeles Lakers and so Warner cannot come out and say Alexander was gay,” says their patriotic, Orlando Furioso epistle. (Mind you, the reason they won’t call JFK a nose guard is that NBA players are viewed in Greece as preening, vainglorious blowhards, actually less than human. For once the Greeks have it right.)
Though a Hellene, I cannot side with the Greek lawyers. I’d much rather have our greatest king depicted as gay than have one of those thuggish halfwits foisted upon us by the NBA and the networks. I have not seen the movie, nor do I plan to. I also gave “Troy” a miss once I heard that in that particular stinker Menelaos is killed by Paris, as egregious a paraphrasing of the classics as Hollywood is guilty of. It’s as if Santa Ana was shot dead by David Crockett.
Basically, all of Stone’s movies are publicity stunts, injecting fiction into fact, as in “Nixon,” “JFK,” and now “Alexander.”
For the record, here’s the real deal on Greek homosexuality. Ancient Greeks are often produced as evidence by the gay lobby, but the truth is that sex between adult males was laughed at by polite Greek society, although there was no shame in desiring beautiful boys. (Buggery was strictly forbidden and punishable by exile and perhaps death.) Indeed much love poetry was devoted to boys, and sexual conduct had to be “proper”—i.e., no sign of arousal by the boy and certainly no penetration by the man.
Alexander was no bugger. He was the most extraordinary warrior the world has seen. He accomplished almost incredible deeds. He brought East and West together in the mightiest clash of cultures history had ever known. He never lost a battle. He founded many cities and razed many, many more. He straddled the known world like a colossus. His sexuality played a minute part in his short, tumultuous 32 years.
He grew up in a drink-swilling court where rivals were routinely murdered. (A bit like Hollywood today, or at least Disney.) His beloved mother Olympias and he were suspected of having had a hand in the assassination of his father, King Philip. Total rubbish. His tutor was Aristotle. He was the first to integrate information for the purposes of specific problem-solving. He first brought all the Greek city-states under his rule, then used spin managing to present his war against Persia as a new Trojan war and therefore a pan-Hellenic affair. This served him well. Homer’s epics—the closest the ancient Greeks came to a Bible—were not only widely known but read and revered throughout the Greek world, and they helped inspire the troops in his successful campaign in Asia fought by Greeks standing united under Alexander. He became a unifier, champion, and avenger of Hellenism against the barbarians.
This is why Hollywood can never get it right: lack of culture and much too much cocaine. It cannot envision the big picture—pun intended. John Stuart Mill wrote that if the Athenians had not won the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC, the Western world would never had existed. Hear, hear!
Alexander’s only failure was that he bungled his succession. Yes, he did get drunk and killed his friend, and yes, he did hang out with Hephaistion, his childhood buddy and ablest general perhaps too much, but what was he supposed to do in the steppes of Afghanistan, go clubbing with Bianca Jagger? He offered a hand of friendship to Darius, married the Persian Roxane (scandalizing Greeks in the process—it would be as if George W. Bush took one of Saddam’s daughters as a mistress), and died in the summer of 323 BC in the very same spot our valiant troops are fighting right now on the banks of the Euphrates. It was the tenth of June, and he was 32. Unlike today’s old men who send young men to fight and die, he always led from the front. After his death, his Greek soldiers insisted on filing past him, some committing suicide. Within 20 years his empire had fallen apart. Alexander’s “vision thing” about a united world died with him. The White House should read this and forget about the movie.
December 20, 2004 issue
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