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Re: Power and Terror

Post by amyntoros »

marcus wrote:All very true; but that wasn't really my point. Although this was not what Kenny was saying (I think), there is a great danger that people will read a comparison with Octavian/Augustus and say "Oh, so Alexander was not as bad as Octavian, because he didn't kill Demosthenes"; when (i) everything was very different, and (ii) Alexander was responsible for the deaths of far many more people than Octavian ever was. That doesn't mean that Alexander was particularly bad, or that he was particularly good - it's just a useless comparison to make.

More to the point was my other example - who was worse, Hitler or Stalin?

I don't think there's any disagreement here; I was merely pointing out the dangers of comparisons, and how they might be perceived.
Am in agreement with you here, except that I don't believe there’s much in the way of "danger" in making such comparisons – it’s more an issue of "what’s the point?"

Now, I can see the logic in making comparisons within Alexander's own time frame – comparisons between Alexander and Philip (which are rarely done); between Alexander and other conquerors of Persia; between Alexander and those Greeks in power on the mainland; even between Alexander and his heroes and gods. Each of these may tell us something about the way Alexander thought and may give us insight into what made him exceptional in his own time. For instance, John Maxwell O'Brien says that Alexander's attitudes towards women and animals was exceptional for the times. However, there would be no point in comparing these attitudes with those of a different period. The same applies to comparing Alexander to various Romans, or Napoleon, or even Hitler, as has unfortunately been done by an academic I shall not name. For a start, two different individuals from two different cultures and time frames cannot be compared in isolation, yet an in-depth analysis of social and cultural influences on each person would tell us as much about the societies as it would about the men. And when one ends up with a better than or worse than conclusion we're still no closer to understanding what made Alexander tick. All that it can really tell us is perhaps why so many people are drawn to Alexander in that in their comparisons they usually fail to come up with a better warrior/conqueror. I don't object to such comparisons, by the way. They simply don’t interest me.
alejandro wrote:Consider the "Alexander was short" debate. Was he short compared to a present-day person? One of his own time? If the latter, should we compare him to other Greeks or other Macedonians (assumed to have been taller than the Greeks)? After all, what is behind a concept as “short”? You may say, “he was so-and-so meters high, and that is a fact: numbers don’t lie” (assuming you knew exactly how tall A was). But then, you’re still comparing his height to something else: that iridium-platinum bar kept under special conditions in Paris (or the foot/arm of a living/dead king/queen if using the English system).
There shouldn't BE any debate as to whether he was short compared to a present day person. What would be the point? The sources are very clear that Alexander was (a) shorter than Hephaistion; (b) shorter than the Persian king; (c) of moderate size. And both the Scythians and the Amazons (!) are recorded as perceiving Alexander's stature as less than expected. I think it's safe to conclude from this that Alexander's height did not excel those around him.

What we would need to know is the average height of Greeks/Macedonians before we might come to an understanding as to Alexander's stature. Yes, it's still necessary to use comparisons, but only in considering information given in the sources. If we knew for certain the average height of various peoples within Alexander's own time and culture we might be able to reach a conclusion. It would, however, be impossible and futile to compare Alexander's height with those of people today - or of any other period for that matter.

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Re: Power and Terror

Post by marcus »

amyntoros wrote:There shouldn't BE any debate as to whether he was short compared to a present day person. What would be the point? The sources are very clear that Alexander was (a) shorter than Hephaistion; (b) shorter than the Persian king; (c) of moderate size. And both the Scythians and the Amazons (!) are recorded as perceiving Alexander's stature as less than expected. I think it's safe to conclude from this that Alexander's height did not excel those around him.

What we would need to know is the average height of Greeks/Macedonians before we might come to an understanding as to Alexander's stature. Yes, it's still necessary to use comparisons, but only in considering information given in the sources. If we knew for certain the average height of various peoples within Alexander's own time and culture we might be able to reach a conclusion. It would, however, be impossible and futile to compare Alexander's height with those of people today - or of any other period for that matter.
Agreed, 100%.
8)
And what is more, Alexander's height is important in the study of Alexander himself, without worrying about comparisons with modern people, because ... what? :? Personally speaking, I can think of few "issues" to do with Alexander that are of less importance - in fact, scratch that ... I can think of no issues that are of less importance. (Although I understand totally why Alejandro chose this to use as his example.) :wink:

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Re: Power and Terror

Post by alejandro »

Hi Marcus and Amyntoros,

A few comments:
marcus wrote:All very true; but that wasn't really my point. Although this was not what Kenny was saying (I think), there is a great danger that people will read a comparison with Octavian/Augustus and say "Oh, so Alexander was not as bad as Octavian, because he didn't kill Demosthenes"; when (i) everything was very different, and (ii) Alexander was responsible for the deaths of far many more people than Octavian ever was. That doesn't mean that Alexander was particularly bad, or that he was particularly good - it's just a useless comparison to make.
It may be a simple matter of having different perceptions about what I think other people is capable of thinking when they read a statement like that. I tend to believe that people are intelligent and realise that the "not having killed Demosthenes" is not a reasonable argument. But again, I may expect too much of other people!
amyntoros wrote:Am in agreement with you here, except that I don't believe there’s much in the way of "danger" in making such comparisons – it’s more an issue of "what’s the point?"
Now, I can see the logic in making comparisons within Alexander's own time frame – comparisons between Alexander and Philip (which are rarely done); between Alexander and other conquerors of Persia; between Alexander and those Greeks in power on the mainland; even between Alexander and his heroes and gods. Each of these may tell us something about the way Alexander thought and may give us insight into what made him exceptional in his own time.
I totally agree that not all comparisons are equally good, as I already mentioned in my first post. There I complained that many people considered A a “murderer” and the like. I criticised the implicit benchmark used: the archetypal currently ubiquitous “politically correct” person. I said that rather than comparing A to that archetype, I would compare him to Julius Caesar or Cyros, who shared what is (for me) the dimension that defines the personality of Alexander: conqueror. I never said that they were “the” benchmark to use. Of course there could be better (and worse) benchmarks, and I totally agree that Philip is probably the best one, together with his (alleged) role models (Achilles, Heracles, Cyros).
amyntoros wrote:For a start, two different individuals from two different cultures and time frames cannot be compared in isolation, yet an in-depth analysis of social and cultural influences on each person would tell us as much about the societies as it would about the men.
But that’s exactly my point: you cannot make any analysis in isolation. Which implies that for gaining understanding you need to compare his actions and those of the society he lived in. The problem with Alexander is that he was the only king of Macedon at the time, and that he was the only one who managed to annihilate the superpower of the time in a period of 10 years. Now, if you want to suggest someone that lived at the time and can be used as a proper benchmark, I’d be glad to hear it. And if you want to know what makes him tick you’ll probably also need to consider what made Philip, Achilles and the like so outstanding that A wanted to emulate/surpass them. And they were not contemporary of A.
amyntoros wrote:There shouldn't BE any debate as to whether he was short compared to a present day person. What would be the point?
marcus wrote:And what is more, Alexander's height is important in the study of Alexander himself, without worrying about comparisons with modern people, because ... what? Personally speaking, I can think of few "issues" to do with Alexander that are of less importance - in fact, scratch that ... I can think of no issues that are of less importance. (Although I understand totally why Alejandro chose this to use as his example.)
Of course it doesn’t matter! That’s why I chose this example! (as Marcus noted). It intended to show that even the most irrelevant matter does require comparisons! But then the same is true of any other dimension of Alexander’s personality: was he a loving person? A passionate one? Jealous? Megalomaniac? Resilient? Good-humoured? All of them beg the question: compared to what? And it doesn’t have to be other person, it could be a thing, an animal, an ideal, whatever. The only thing I demand from a study is that it should clearly indicate which dimension is used for comparison and what/who is used as the benchmark. It’s just methodological honesty, I think. If the author fails to say so, I can either think that he/she is unable to pin down his analysis logically or, worse still, he/she is deliberately hiding those element in order to further an agenda.
amyntoros wrote:If we knew for certain the average height of various peoples within Alexander's own time and culture we might be able to reach a conclusion. It would, however, be impossible and futile to compare Alexander's height with those of people today - or of any other period for that matter.
Once again, you missed my point. I never said that the relevant comparison was with the people of today or any other period (not even his own), but I can bet that the “conclusion” you’ll get in any case, would not be something like “he was tall” or “he was short”, but “he was shorter/taller than …”


Sorry for the length of the post.

All the best,
Alejandro

PS: I believe I didn't "tailor" the quotations to my advantage, but let me know if you feel I did.
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Post by amyntoros »

alejandro wrote: I totally agree that not all comparisons are equally good, as I already mentioned in my first post. There I complained that many people considered A a “murderer” and the like. I criticised the implicit benchmark used: the archetypal currently ubiquitous “politically correct” person. I said that rather than comparing A to that archetype, I would compare him to Julius Caesar or Cyros, who shared what is (for me) the dimension that defines the personality of Alexander: conqueror. I never said that they were “the” benchmark to use. Of course there could be better (and worse) benchmarks, and I totally agree that Philip is probably the best one, together with his (alleged) role models (Achilles, Heracles, Cyros).
Now, I don't get this. I think we should be able to draw our conclusions or express our opinions without having "implicit" benchmark comparisons thrust upon us. And I certainly know that comparing Alexander with Julius Caesar wouldn't give me a better or different understanding of Alexander. You could spend hours mapping out the life of both people and it wouldn't make a halfpenny's worth of difference to how I feel about Alexander. I don't need to understand Caesar to "define" Alexander’s personality. That's why I don't see the point in using comparisons as methodology.
But that’s exactly my point: you cannot make any analysis in isolation. Which implies that for gaining understanding you need to compare his actions and those of the society he lived in.
Why? Why isn't it enough to understand the culture and society; to study it and know it to the very best extent possible? To comprehend Alexander's actions within the framework of his society and upbringing should be sufficient - why the need to compare him with others who came later?
The problem with Alexander is that he was the only king of Macedon at the time, and that he was the only one who managed to annihilate the superpower of the time in a period of 10 years. Now, if you want to suggest someone that lived at the time and can be used as a proper benchmark, I’d be glad to hear it. And if you want to know what makes him tick you’ll probably also need to consider what made Philip, Achilles and the like so outstanding that A wanted to emulate/surpass them. And they were not contemporary of A.
But they were major influences on Alexander and are therefore of relevance. As was Xenophon, Euripides, Cyrus, etc. Caesar, Augustus, and even Hannibal cannot ever be considered influences! I still don't, however, see why either Philip or anyone of the period must be used as a "proper benchmark." A comparison between Philip and Alexander could tell us where Alexander emulated his father and where his behavior was the opposite. This would give us some insight, perhaps, but neither Philip nor any other individual is a benchmark on which my "judgment" of Alexander depends.
The only thing I demand from a study is that it should clearly indicate which dimension is used for comparison and what/who is used as the benchmark. It’s just methodological honesty, I think. If the author fails to say so, I can either think that he/she is unable to pin down his analysis logically or, worse still, he/she is deliberately hiding those element in order to further an agenda.
Or maybe the author just doesn't have one! Some authors may, but some may not. You do not allow for this. Frankly, you could expect me to be somewhat irritated if it was insisted that my thoughts on Alexander, as expressed on this forum, depend on my using another individual (or period) as a benchmark for comparison. And that if I deny use of a benchmark then my words are not based on logical analysis, or that I am hiding something to further an agenda, or that my methodology is dishonest. :roll: :wink:

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Amyntoros

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Post by Paralus »

Comparisons are, as they say, odious. Ditto with any form of "benchmarking".

That said, the benchmark is already set: "The Great" and for many that is alpha and the omega.

In the end, Alexander like many others before and after, was a conqueror. He was, in fact, the living embodiment of Caesar's utterance: I came, I saw, I conquered. Other than the rather untimely and fateful intervention of death, he will have continued on this path. It is why he got out of bed in the morning.

Perhaps a reworking of that line: I saw, I was gripped by a pothos, I conquered.
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Napoleon?

Post by jan »

O.K. I read most all of the posts through and one caught my attention, as I also notice that John Maxwell O'Brien insists also upon mixing apples with oranges too in the Alexander/Napoleon debate. Was Napoleon under the influence, or as I just read in a book by A.T.Mann, the reincarnation of Alexander which he, Napoleon, is supposed to have believed. Mann's book is called Divine Life, and I just looked up his website through google search engine. The book is available online.

Mann even goes so far as to compare the horoscopes of Napoleon to that of a supposed Alexander horoscope.

Rather fascinating to learn then why one would compare Napoleon to Alexander which even Peter Green mentions in certain battle tactics in his famous book.

I personally do not believe that one can compare one military leader to another, as it is nonproductive anyway. Both do what they have to do at the time of their individual life. Each responds to his own environmental conditions, and Rome clearly is not he same as Greece/Macedon or Persia.

I do think though that the magnitude of Alexander's crushing defeats has certainly inspired and influenced successors. There is no doubt about that. His policy of total annihilation is probably the cause for Hitler's as well. But has Hitler ever admitted to that? I have not ever read that yet.
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Re: Napoleon?

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jan wrote: His policy of total annihilation is probably the cause for Hitler's as well. But has Hitler ever admitted to that? I have not ever read that yet.
Hmm, not sure about this one, Jan. Could be getting into very sticky waters.

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Re: Power and Terror

Post by alejandro »

amyntoros wrote:Why isn't it enough to understand the culture and society; to study it and know it to the very best extent possible? To comprehend Alexander's actions within the framework of his society and upbringing should be sufficient
Because you also need comparisons to understand cultures and societies. When you say a society was "advanced" you are implicitly making a comparison with an unnamed backward society. When you say an economy was "based on agriculture" you're implicitly saying that the bulk of its production is agricultural. Whan you say a culture is a "warrior culture" you are implicitly saying that in an imaginary line/segment going from "never fought" in one extreme to "fought all the time" in the other, the culture lies close to the latter one. No matter what dimension of the personality of a person or a characteristic of a society you want to analyse, it requires defining it, which is another way to say you need to measure it. And every measure is a comparison: length against metre, capacity against litre, weight against kilogram, and so on. It's not that I am capricious and want to impose the "comparison method". It's that there is no other one: we make comparisons every time we utter a "falsifiable" proposition (a la Popper).
amyntoros wrote:I still don't, however, see why either Philip or anyone of the period must be used as a "proper benchmark." A comparison between Philip and Alexander could tell us where Alexander emulated his father and where his behavior was the opposite. This would give us some insight, perhaps, but neither Philip nor any other individual is a benchmark on which my "judgment" of Alexander depends.
Comparing one person to another with similar characteristics may help to outline the personality of the first one. It is not a perfect method because there is no perfect benchmark (not even a twin brother/sister would be), but it is what we have and it’s better than nothing. At the end of the day, you were drawn to A because he was “special”, “different”, no? Certainly you would not spend time writing on a forum about an unknown, ordinary farmer that lived in Eastern Thrace in 300BC, would you? But why are you interested in A and not in the farmer? Whatever your answer, I bet that it will boil down to something like “A was relatively/comparatively more important than the farmer”. Comparisons, comparisons … And resorting to your argument that you just want to learn his society also reflects the same kind of discrimination (why not the contemporary Thracian society then?)
amyntoros wrote:Or maybe the author just doesn't have one! Some authors may, but some may not. You do not allow for this. Frankly, you could expect me to be somewhat irritated if it was insisted that my thoughts on Alexander, as expressed on this forum, depend on my using another individual (or period) as a benchmark for comparison. And that if I deny use of a benchmark then my words are not based on logical analysis, or that I am hiding something to further an agenda, or that my methodology is dishonest.
I did not intend to give my analysis this gist. What I meant was that we are always implicitly making comparisons. It’s the logical consequence of the definition/measurement argument I mentioned above.
I think that our differences arise from the fact that I am attacking the problem from a general methodological perspective, while you always come back to the issue of comparing Alexander to another individual or time period.
I say that we cannot avoid making comparisons (NOT necessarily to other individuals or time periods, but to SOMETHING) if we want to analyse something scientifically, and this applies to every scientific endeavour, not only the study of historical figures.

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Post by alejandro »

Paralus wrote:Comparisons are, as they say, odious. Ditto with any form of "benchmarking".
That said, the benchmark is already set: "The Great" and for many that is alpha and the omega.
But “the great” has no meaning unless there exists at least someone else who is “not so great”. So “great" does not really mean anything but “greater than the others”.
In a vacuum nobody can be great.

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sticky yes, I agree...

Post by jan »

The problem is that the Hitler horoscope was also compared to a Mann horoscope, and at this writing, I am forgetting most of it. Yet I think that Hitler is overused in this day and age simply because he is such a recent important person in modern day times.

It appears to me that Alexander was used as a role model by the
Romans since most of the information we have about Alexander seems to be based upon their copying all the Greek and Macedonian materials.

I am currently reading Peter Green whose book I really appreciate so much. My first introduction to Alexander was with Arthur Weigall, and I notice the difference in presentations about Alexander so much more noticeably. Green is a very hard critic, and very fair yet quite opinionated. He, too, likes to refer to later battles in his discussion.

It just seems to me that probably Napoleon studied Alexander in his military education and patterned himself after him. I meant that I don't know nor have ever read that Hitler was ever influenced by Alexander. Yet I can see since reading Green's book why anyone would make a natural comparison.

In my opinion, for what it is worth, I believe that modern day warfare is far more destructive and cruel than anything that Alexander ever did. Yet his attacks on both Halicarnassus and Tyre are very decisive. Thebes probably set the tone for all later battles.

Marcus, are there discussions here on Green's book? I woud love to read comments if there are. Thanks a lot. Jan
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Re: sticky yes, I agree...

Post by marcus »

jan wrote:Marcus, are there discussions here on Green's book? I woud love to read comments if there are. Thanks a lot. Jan
Hi Jan,

Sorry about the delay - I've been away.

There aren't any specific discussion on Green - but feel free to start one. From the general feelings about Green on Pothos, I'm sure plenty of people will want to have their say - mostly good! :D

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Post by Efstathios »

His policy of total annihilation is probably the cause for Hitler's as well
Wow! Hold on a minute! His policy of total annihilation?

Alexander did not go on concetrating women and children and mass killing them. He sold them as slaves in the occassions like that of Thebes and Tyr. Of course there might had been side losses of women and children too, but not intentionally by Alexander.

Hitler exterminated millions of people perfectly knowing what he was doing, and of course in no way he was inspired by anyone.
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Post by Semiramis »

Efstathios,

The history of antisemitism in Europe didn't exactly start with Hitler... The crusaders always got pumped up by going on pogroms against local Jewish populations before setting off in their journeys... Then there's the mass extinction of native populations by European colonist , justified by the very similar language and "science" of eugenics and natural selection. Modernity.. progress.. civilization... all those wonderful words...
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Post by Efstathios »

Yes, but Alexander didnt have a policy of total annihilation.
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Post by marcus »

Semiramis wrote:Efstathios,

The history of antisemitism in Europe didn't exactly start with Hitler... The crusaders always got pumped up by going on pogroms against local Jewish populations before setting off in their journeys... Then there's the mass extinction of native populations by European colonist , justified by the very similar language and "science" of eugenics and natural selection. Modernity.. progress.. civilization... all those wonderful words...
And, let's be fair: Hitler (and the Nazis - it wasn't all down to him) were the first ones who turned genocide into an industry. What they did was very, very different from other odious historical events.

And, as Efstathios says (and I completely agree, which is why I pulled Jan up on this in the first place) Alexander had no policy of total annihilation, much less was it directed at any particular racial group. To make that comparison is incorrect, and ideologically very dodgy.

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