Alexander's languages

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athenas owl
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Re: Alexander's languages

Post by athenas owl »

Mandarin and Cantonese as being mutually unintelligible; I met a Chinese lady the other day who insisted that Cantonese should not be referred to as a language but as a dialect.
I do think that politics or nationalism can be seen in the insistence that Mandarin and Cantonese are the same language. Belonging to the same language family does not make it the same language.

Frisian (actually there a few) and English are from the same family, but they are not the same language. Though it seems that Frisian and English are quite close at times. I can't tell if that's just obvious or that high school German I took. :)

One of those asides... :oops: I remember reading that Gong Li does not speak one of them, and when she did a role in the other language, she had to learn the lines by rote, just as she did for her English language roles, like Miami Vice. She had the lines translated into her native tongue so she would get the charcterisation right and then learned the lines by sound.
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Re: Alexander's languages

Post by Nikas »

catharine wrote:It is indeed an odd passage - odder the more you think about it. It certainly looks as though Alexander regarded Macedonian as a different language, otherwise why ask the question? Obviously it was sufficiently different for non-Macedonians not to understand it. Does that make it another language or a dialect (I'm no expert on this - I suppose there is a scholarly definition somewhere)? I'm also a native English speaker but there are very few dialects of the language (very broad Glaswegian perhaps) which I think I would have significant difficulty in understanding. On the other hand you mention Mandarin and Cantonese as being mutually unintelligible; I met a Chinese lady the other day who insisted that Cantonese should not be referred to as a language but as a dialect.

And if Macedonian was a version/dialect of Greek which was as different from Attic as for example Irish or Glaswegian from "standard" English, then would Alexander have referred to it twice as his "native tongue", given that he was a wannabe Greek (wasn't he?).

I looked up Curtius, who has Alexander use the term "sermo", qualified by either "patrius" or "noster", both of which strongly identify him with it. Philotas uses "lingua". Doesn't really help much since both words can be used to mean either a language or a manner of speaking, dialect. Quintilian (according to Lewis & Short) in talking about the Greek language(s) seems to use "lingua" in the sense of a dialect.
Well, for many varied reasons, I do not believe Alexander considered it as a different language, and I suspect he asked the question in an effort to portray Philotas in the worst light possible. It is extremely unlikely that Alexander would not already have known that Philotas could not speak Makedonisti after all those years that they had known each other, from boyhood at Pella to considering that as a senior military commander in all the general operations and campaign meetings, to just old same social circles at court. Which begs the question then, if Philotas couldn't speak this "language", how amongst the senior Macedonian military commanders did he manage to keep abreast of what was going on? Was Alexander then speaking only Attic Greek? To senior Macedonian military commanders? Remember, Philotas wasn't some peltast. "Native tongue" could easily mean native way of speaking, or dialect if you will, and since I hold that Alexander was not a "wannabe Greek" as you put it, we may not deduce a language/dialect inference from that assumption. If the difference in English dialects does not convince you (you must all have a better ear than I), there are certainly enough examples out there between High and Low German, or the Italian dialects to not need to belabour this point.
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Re: Alexander's languages

Post by Nikas »

athenas owl wrote:I do think that politics or nationalism can be seen in the insistence that Mandarin and Cantonese are the same language. Belonging to the same language family does not make it the same language.

Frisian (actually there a few) and English are from the same family, but they are not the same language. Though it seems that Frisian and English are quite close at times. I can't tell if that's just obvious or that high school German I took. :)

One of those asides... :oops: I remember reading that Gong Li does not speak one of them, and when she did a role in the other language, she had to learn the lines by rote, just as she did for her English language roles, like Miami Vice. She had the lines translated into her native tongue so she would get the charcterisation right and then learned the lines by sound.
And yet, Mandarin Chinese is a northern Chinese dialect as Cantonese is a southern one.
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Re: Alexander's languages

Post by athenas owl »

Nikas wrote:
And yet, Mandarin Chinese is a northern Chinese dialect as Cantonese is a southern one.
It depends on who you ask. Some call them languages within a super Chinese language family. It is a source of controversy. :)

I could just as easily say that English is a western Germanic dialect as Swedish is a northern Germanic dialect.

But you know what they say: "A language is a dialect with an army and navy"
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Re: Alexander's languages

Post by Semiramis »

Hi Nikas,

I'm with Catherine on this one, although I don't find the passage odd. It only becomes odd if one presumes from the outset that Macedonian and Greek are only accents on the same language, in which case none of what Alexander says makes sense.

To go through your points - Alexander hadn't been speaking Macedonian up to this point because there were (as Philotas stated) non-Macedonians in the room. It appears they would not have understood him if he spoke Macedonian. He had been speaking Greek up to this point and Macedonian upper classes understood the language, most likely because they were educated in Greek. The Lebanese elite for example are often educated in French and fluent in the language, but it does not make Arabic and French the same language.

Speaking of a 'Hellenic' language family - Hindi and English both belong to the Indo-European language family. But that doesn't really indicate a great degree of affiliation. Given the geographical proximity, it can't be too surprising that if two separate languages were spoken in the Balkans, they would link back in the language tree at some point.

My sympathies on your problems with the Irish and Australian accents. I have seen many a Colin Farrel interview on the TV channels in the US, Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Asia etc. (used to be a bit of a fangirl :oops: ). Not once did they have subtitles for the my favourite Dublin boy. Similarly, Hugh Jackman, that singing dancing Aussie, hosted the Oscars recently. It was beamed all around the world but I can't recall anybody complaining that they could not understand his Australian accent.

Yes, Manarin and Cantonese speakers don't understand each other at all. The differences are apparently at least as great as those between Italian and Spanish - a friend who speaks both languages and lives in China assures me of this. You can label Italian and Spanish two Latin or European dialects. But I think most people would class them as different languages. I don't feel that languages are strictly tied to political unity. For example, China and Hong Kong seem to get along well now but China and Taiwan are another matter. I think Athena's Owl's point is a most cogent one. The definition of language and dialect is often politically influenced.

So, without going into any modern day silly nationalist nonsense, I'm going to stick with my original take that the differences between Greek and Macedonian as they were spoken during Alexander III's time are not comparable to different English accents. It appears they were at least mutually unintelligible dialects if not different languages.

Catherine,

I think it was not just Alexander III, but many of the Argead kings previous to him who were wannabe Greeks. Argeads claimed to descend from figures in Greek mythology but then so did everybody from Molossians to Illyrians. What the common people thought of these royal pretensions is anybody's guess. I think it's telling that the Argead claim of ancestry is first recorded in the context of a highly politicized situation where the Maceonian King had just switched Macedonia's loyalty to Persia from the Greeks. It would have solidified Graeco-Macedonian alliance and allowed him to enter the Olympics. It's also notable that there were serious Greek objections to his participation but realpolitik prevailed. But somehow that status quo didn't seem to last (one exception from memory). There appears to be no record of Macedonians winning anything in the Greek Olympics after that well into Alexander III's reign. They even had their own Olympics. I think if the Greeks accepted Alexander's ancestors' wannabe attempts, they would have allowed Macedonians to play with them. :D

Do you think Alexander III was a bit of a wannabe Persian as well?
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Re: Alexander's languages

Post by Nikas »

athenas owl wrote: It depends on who you ask. Some call them languages within a super Chinese language family. It is a source of controversy. :)

I could just as easily say that English is a western Germanic dialect as Swedish is a northern Germanic dialect.

But you know what they say: "A language is a dialect with an army and navy"
Well, sure… I guess then we are all part of a "super Human language family" since we put it that way :)
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Re: Alexander's languages

Post by catharine »

Semiramis wrote:Catherine,

I think it was not just Alexander III, but many of the Argead kings previous to him who were wannabe Greeks. Argeads claimed to descend from figures in Greek mythology but then so did everybody from Molossians to Illyrians. What the common people thought of these royal pretensions is anybody's guess. I think it's telling that the Argead claim of ancestry is first recorded in the context of a highly politicized situation where the Maceonian King had just switched Macedonia's loyalty to Persia from the Greeks. It would have solidified Graeco-Macedonian alliance and allowed him to enter the Olympics. It's also notable that there were serious Greek objections to his participation but realpolitik prevailed. But somehow that status quo didn't seem to last (one exception from memory). There appears to be no record of Macedonians winning anything in the Greek Olympics after that well into Alexander III's reign. They even had their own Olympics. I think if the Greeks accepted Alexander's ancestors' wannabe attempts, they would have allowed Macedonians to play with them. :D

Do you think Alexander III was a bit of a wannabe Persian as well?
Yes, this would account for why he wanted to own everything they owned (as well as for a lot of his behaviour which got up Greek noses)! On the Olympics, didn't Philip have a horse in the Games once, or is this just a myth?
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Re: Alexander's languages

Post by Semiramis »

Apologies for spelling your name wrong Catharine. I don't think I know the account of Phillip's horse, but I'm sure someone on the forum can find a source. :)
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Re: Alexander's languages

Post by Nikas »

Semiramis wrote:Hi Nikas,

I'm with Catherine on this one, although I don't find the passage odd. It only becomes odd if one presumes from the outset that Macedonian and Greek are only accents on the same language, in which case none of what Alexander says makes sense.

To go through your points - Alexander hadn't been speaking Macedonian up to this point because there were (as Philotas stated) non-Macedonians in the room. It appears they would not have understood him if he spoke Macedonian. He had been speaking Greek up to this point and Macedonian upper classes understood the language, most likely because they were educated in Greek. The Lebanese elite for example are often educated in French and fluent in the language, but it does not make Arabic and French the same language.

Speaking of a 'Hellenic' language family - Hindi and English both belong to the Indo-European language family. But that doesn't really indicate a great degree of affiliation. Given the geographical proximity, it can't be too surprising that if two separate languages were spoken in the Balkans, they would link back in the language tree at some point.

My sympathies on your problems with the Irish and Australian accents. I have seen many a Colin Farrel interview on the TV channels in the US, Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Asia etc. (used to be a bit of a fangirl :oops: ). Not once did they have subtitles for the my favourite Dublin boy. Similarly, Hugh Jackman, that singing dancing Aussie, hosted the Oscars recently. It was beamed all around the world but I can't recall anybody complaining that they could not understand his Australian accent.

Yes, Manarin and Cantonese speakers don't understand each other at all. The differences are apparently at least as great as those between Italian and Spanish - a friend who speaks both languages and lives in China assures me of this. You can label Italian and Spanish two Latin or European dialects. But I think most people would class them as different languages. I don't feel that languages are strictly tied to political unity. For example, China and Hong Kong seem to get along well now but China and Taiwan are another matter. I think Athena's Owl's point is a most cogent one. The definition of language and dialect is often politically influenced.

So, without going into any modern day silly nationalist nonsense, I'm going to stick with my original take that the differences between Greek and Macedonian as they were spoken during Alexander III's time are not comparable to different English accents. It appears they were at least mutually unintelligible dialects if not different languages.

Catherine,

I think it was not just Alexander III, but many of the Argead kings previous to him who were wannabe Greeks. Argeads claimed to descend from figures in Greek mythology but then so did everybody from Molossians to Illyrians. What the common people thought of these royal pretensions is anybody's guess. I think it's telling that the Argead claim of ancestry is first recorded in the context of a highly politicized situation where the Maceonian King had just switched Macedonia's loyalty to Persia from the Greeks. It would have solidified Graeco-Macedonian alliance and allowed him to enter the Olympics. It's also notable that there were serious Greek objections to his participation but realpolitik prevailed. But somehow that status quo didn't seem to last (one exception from memory). There appears to be no record of Macedonians winning anything in the Greek Olympics after that well into Alexander III's reign. They even had their own Olympics. I think if the Greeks accepted Alexander's ancestors' wannabe attempts, they would have allowed Macedonians to play with them. :D

Do you think Alexander III was a bit of a wannabe Persian as well?
Hi Semiramis,

The point is that it is odd regardless of what whether you hold that Macedonian is just another dialect of Greek or if not and that is the point.
Firstly, it bears pointing out that your argument also lies in presupposing that they are not the same language at the outset and that cannot be shown by this passage because as stated elsewhere, the original Latin does not allow for this exclusive interpretation. In any case, it doesn't matter even if you don't allow for a presupposition that Greek and Macedonian are the same "language". Let's go back to the points. If I understand you correctly, Alexander has been talking Greek up to this point, to a body of predominately Macedonians. I would point out that "many here" is not necessarily "most" especially if we are going to judge a Macedonian in front of Macedonians, and I am not sure why you believe it was just the "upper classes" here. Curtius in fact tell us it is "6,000 soldiers and camp followers" and it was the "Macedonian custom for the army to act as jury". Yet he is speaking Greek. Is it for the benefit of some of the Greeks or Persians could understand a Macedonian trial? Yes, it must be, but we cannot assume that he would then disregard the entire body of Macedonians who presumably could not understand, or Philotas who could not present his case to said Macedonians. No, it makes more sense that it would have to be a way of speaking that would enable all to understand, Macedonians and other Greeks, and that is where the "standard" Greek would come in. It was indeed the educated way of speaking Greek and not just a regional dialect. I totally fail to see the analogy between the French speaking Lebanese in this type of situation. Indo-European branches are certainly quite divergent after, oh say a guess of anywhere 6,000-8,000 years of divergence over vast geographical areas, again, not a good comparison for the Greek dialects of antiquity. There was a different way of speaking for sure amongst them, say Florentine and Calabrese, but they were one language nonetheless. I won't deny the politics of the time, as now, however.,
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Re: Alexander's languages

Post by Semiramis »

Nikas wrote: Hi Semiramis,

The point is that it is odd regardless of what whether you hold that Macedonian is just another dialect of Greek or if not and that is the point.
Firstly, it bears pointing out that your argument also lies in presupposing that they are not the same language at the outset and that cannot be shown by this passage because as stated elsewhere, the original Latin does not allow for this exclusive interpretation. In any case, it doesn't matter even if you don't allow for a presupposition that Greek and Macedonian are the same "language". Let's go back to the points. If I understand you correctly, Alexander has been talking Greek up to this point, to a body of predominately Macedonians. I would point out that "many here" is not necessarily "most" especially if we are going to judge a Macedonian in front of Macedonians, and I am not sure why you believe it was just the "upper classes" here. Curtius in fact tell us it is "6,000 soldiers and camp followers" and it was the "Macedonian custom for the army to act as jury". Yet he is speaking Greek. Is it for the benefit of some of the Greeks or Persians could understand a Macedonian trial? Yes, it must be, but we cannot assume that he would then disregard the entire body of Macedonians who presumably could not understand, or Philotas who could not present his case to said Macedonians. No, it makes more sense that it would have to be a way of speaking that would enable all to understand, Macedonians and other Greeks, and that is where the "standard" Greek would come in. It was indeed the educated way of speaking Greek and not just a regional dialect. I totally fail to see the analogy between the French speaking Lebanese in this type of situation. Indo-European branches are certainly quite divergent after, oh say a guess of anywhere 6,000-8,000 years of divergence over vast geographical areas, again, not a good comparison for the Greek dialects of antiquity. There was a different way of speaking for sure amongst them, say Florentine and Calabrese, but they were one language nonetheless. I won't deny the politics of the time, as now, however.,

Incidentally, the Molossians were also a Greek ethnos, but where exactly did the Illyrians themselves claim to be descended from Herakles and where exactly did the Helllanodikai recognize them as such? Or did they participate in Greek congresses, say like Amyntas, Alexander's III grandfather? Or some of the other Hellenic festivals outside of Olympia? Where exactly does Herodotus and Thucydides validate the Illyrians claim to be Greeks? You would think in his travels to Macedonia Herodotus might have figured it out? Didn't Archelaus and Philip II (before he was "great") win with their horses? Are you certain that every single area of Greece can claim an Olympic victor? Come now...
Hi Nikas,

I sense that we are moving from throwing about academic possibilities to that modern day silly debate which shall not be named. For the sake of our sanity, I shall make this my last post on this specific topic with my thoughts on both.

I agree that if Macedonian and Greek were two languages, it's likely that they were related given the geographical spread (as I've stated previously). I don't find the rest of your arguments convincing. Why wouldn't the Macedonian soldiers understand Greek if the mode of training and instruction for them was in Greek? From memory, those were the details of Alexander's order for the half-Asian half-Macedonian boys to be trained to become part of the army. I doubt the camp followers (ie. people who were not soldiers) got a say in the execution of high-ranking officials, so they are not really of consequence in the matter of Philotas' trial.

You're welcome to look up the Illyrian and Mollosian royal families' claims. I never stated that the Illyrians were accepted by the Greeks. In fact I was drawing parallels between the Illyrians and Macedonians. To me, it seems neither were accepted by the Greeks , despite the foundation myth for the royal families being drawn from Greek myth. I think there is some debate regarding whether the Molossians were so wholeheartedly accepted as Greek as you suggest. But I guess that's another debate.

I thought it was pretty well established that Macedonians weren't allowed to compete in the Greek olympics. Some exceptions having been made for the King only - with a strong possibility of political considerations coming into play. I guess I overestimated the degree of scholarly consensus on the issue. The records that historians have of Olympic winners is reasonably thorough for something of that antiquity. Maybe the Macedonians never won anything because they were just bad at sports? That would just go to confirm my belief that standing armies are a rubbish idea at any age. :)

In my opinion, the topic of identity is such that simple scenarios are not adequate. The evidence isn't really there to conclusively propose one for this discussion anyway. Ulimately we are discussing the self-perception of people whose worlds and ideas about identity no longer exist in that form. These were beliefs that were polymorphous, conflicted and mutable even in ancient times. Then we have the spin we put on the issue because we only having the ability to percieve it through the lenses of our own age and agendas.

I tire of this topic very quickly as often there's an amount of ridiculous chest-beating about national acheivements and glorious ancestors coupled with a disdain for the percieved Other that accompanies any discussion. Being a geneticist, this is patricularly frustrating to me. Genetically and culturally, given the mating and migration habits of our species, most of us are best described as... mongrels. This holds true especially for the Mediterranean region. Any and all claims of ancestry that stretch back thousands of years are questionable to say the least. Then again, I guess there was never any logic to basking in reflected glory in the first place. I'm glad we didn't go down that path on this thread but having pushed it this far, it's probably best to leave it here, don't you think? :)
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Re: Alexander's languages

Post by Nikas »

Semiramis wrote: Hi Nikas,

I sense that we are moving from throwing about academic possibilities to that modern day silly debate which shall not be named. For the sake of our sanity, I shall make this my last post on this specific topic with my thoughts on both.

I agree that if Macedonian and Greek were two languages, it's likely that they were related given the geographical spread (as I've stated previously). I don't find the rest of your arguments convincing. Why wouldn't the Macedonian soldiers understand Greek if the mode of training and instruction for them was in Greek? From memory, those were the details of Alexander's order for the half-Asian half-Macedonian boys to be trained to become part of the army. I doubt the camp followers (ie. people who were not soldiers) got a say in the execution of high-ranking officials, so they are not really of consequence in the matter of Philotas' trial.

You're welcome to look up the Illyrian and Mollosian royal families' claims. I never stated that the Illyrians were accepted by the Greeks. In fact I was drawing parallels between the Illyrians and Macedonians. To me, it seems neither were accepted by the Greeks , despite the foundation myth for the royal families being drawn from Greek myth. I think there is some debate regarding whether the Molossians were so wholeheartedly accepted as Greek as you suggest. But I guess that's another debate.

I thought it was pretty well established that Macedonians weren't allowed to compete in the Greek olympics. Some exceptions having been made for the King only - with a strong possibility of political considerations coming into play. I guess I overestimated the degree of scholarly consensus on the issue. The records that historians have of Olympic winners is reasonably thorough for something of that antiquity. Maybe the Macedonians never won anything because they were just bad at sports? That would just go to confirm my belief that standing armies are a rubbish idea at any age. :)

In my opinion, the topic of identity is such that simple scenarios are not adequate. The evidence isn't really there to conclusively propose one for this discussion anyway. Ulimately we are discussing the self-perception of people whose worlds and ideas about identity no longer exist in that form. These were beliefs that were polymorphous, conflicted and mutable even in ancient times. Then we have the spin we put on the issue because we only having the ability to percieve it through the lenses of our own age and agendas.

I tire of this topic very quickly as often there's an amount of ridiculous chest-beating about national acheivements and glorious ancestors coupled with a disdain for the percieved Other that accompanies any discussion. Being a geneticist, this is patricularly frustrating to me. Genetically and culturally, given the mating and migration habits of our species, most of us are best described as... mongrels. This holds true especially for the Mediterranean region. Any and all claims of ancestry that stretch back thousands of years are questionable to say the least. Then again, I guess there was never any logic to basking in reflected glory in the first place. I'm glad we didn't go down that path on this thread but having pushed it this far, it's probably best to leave it here, don't you think? :)
Hello Semiramis, as long as we stick to ancient history and leave out the modern politics I think we are ok, but you are probably right, it usually inevitably heads there. I will put my final two cents and then we will have to agree to disagree :)

For the Macedonians being instructed in Greek, why would they if they had a viable living "language"? Not just the upper class that is, as we can plausibly grant that hypothetically, but the common bulk of the people? The army? The epigoni? That doesn't make sense at all and if as you say the "camp followers are of no consequence" then why pander to them at all and not just speak in your own language?

We will leave the Molossi out of it, but no, I wouldn't dispute that they were wholeheartedly accepted by all Greeks, just like Thucydides thought that the Ambraciots were barbarians, but that is another topic altogether. The only scholarly consensus on the Olympics that I aware of is that Alexander I was the first Macedonian to compete, and when he did show up some thought he was a barbarian, but ultimately he passed the "test". I believe any suggestions of political overtones are overstated, Alexander I, and Macedonia, was of almost no consequence at this time to the southern Greeks and they wouldn't have lost to much sleep over rejecting this recent Persian vassal. Maybe they were bad at sports, maybe being on the wild frontiers they just didn't have the chance to train, maybe they just didn't have an athletic culture and didn't give a damn, who knows I suppose.

In any case, yes, I think that's enough on this subject :) Next time we can debate the dental hygiene of Alexander ;)
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Re: Alexander's languages

Post by amyntoros »

One little note on Macedonian pronunciation - the only one I know of, although there could be others in more obscure sources.
Plutarch’s Moralia. Volume IV. 292 E. (The Greek Questions.)
The month “Bysios,” as many think, is the month of growth (physios); for it begins the spring and during it many plants spring up and come into bloom. But this is not the truth of the matter, for Delphinians do not use b in place of ph (as Macedonians do who say “Bilip” and “balacros” and “Beronice”), but in place of p; thus they naturally say “broceed” for “proceed” and “bainful” for “painful.”
Could this mean that Beronice was originally written as Pheronice? And that the Macedonians pronounced Hephaistion as Hebaistion? And what about "King Bilip"? :lol:

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Re: Alexander's languages

Post by athenas owl »

And then there's the Macedonian "Brygoi" who changed their name to "Phryges" or something like that... :D

Herodotus. Histories, 7.73.

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Hdt.+7.73
As the Macedonians say, these Phrygians were called Briges as long as they dwelt in Europe, where they were neighbors of the Macedonians; but when they changed their home to Asia, they changed their name also and were called Phrygians.
I always found it odd that the Briges would up and change their name when they migrated east into Anatolia...but it does again show that "ph" versus the Macedonian "b".
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Re: Alexander's languages

Post by agesilaos »

The Greeks did not accept the Macedonians as Hellenes but only the Temenid/Argaead Royal Family which is why there are only the two Olympic Victories Alexander I in the foot-race (probably before the Persian invasion) and Philip II's horses which coincided with Alexander's birth and was celebrated on the coinage.
When you think about, it free-choice is the only possible option.
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Re: Alexander's languages

Post by Callisto »

Nikas wrote:
athenas owl wrote: I know I have mentioned elsewhere recently, but ALexander spent several months in Illyria when he was a teenager...how did he communicate then? And his relationships with Iranian speakers seems to have been somewhat intimate, so who knows what he picked up in language from those relationships.
I would suspect he used a translator:
It was not uncommon at the time, the royal families of Epirus and Macedonia to connect with Illyrian royal members through dynastic marriages. Maybe the presence of an Alexander's relative could have been the reason he chose to find shelter in Illyria. Certainly this became true later for Pyrrhus who escaped from Epirus to the court of the Illyrian Glaukias, because his wife was a Molossian Noble.

Regarding the Macedonian speech, Greek earlier accounts identified Macedonians as Greek-speaking people. Probably during the 7th century, Hesiod placed them inside the Greek-speaking world and later in the 5th century, Hellanicus, who visited himself Macedonia, grouped them as speakers of the Aeolic branch.
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