It is a little less common for travelers in Greece to go north from Athens, passing the monument to Leonidus at Thermopylae, and viewing Mount Olympus in the distance. At the other end of this journey is Pella, the homeland of Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE). Alexander’s father was Philip II, King of Macedonia. Only since its discovery in 1977, has it been possible for visitors to enter a tunnel and gaze upon the underground tomb of this great king. It is also possible to stand among the scattered stones of the small theater where Philip was assassinated in 336 BCE (above). In that year, Alexander became King of Macedonia and began his campaigns to conquer the known world.
In the story of Alexander is the triumph of human ambition independent of the will of the Gods. For the dominator, religion was not a matter of devotion but of social control. He imposed Greek culture and religion on those he conquered as a way of “Hellenizing” them. The Hellenic period lasted for 300 years from the death of Alexander to the death of Cleopatra in 33 BCE.
Of the two Hollywood movies made about Alexander, my preference is for the earlier one, Alexander the Great (1956), starring Richard Burton. Part of the reason for this is the poetry in Burton’s definitive film portraits of both Alexander, who died at age 32, and Antony at the time of the death of Cleopatra. Antony was 53. This definitiveness derives not so much from historical accuracy as it does from the fact that Burton’s personal life so closely mimed the lives of both Alexander and Antony.
The second movie, Oliver Stone’s Alexander (2004), was a notable failure at the box office. The reasons for this disappointing performance are complicated and will be discussed at greater length in my blog on the subject. The Hellenic period saw the peak of Greek influence on the ancient world and the almost complete undermining of that influence by the Romans. The Romans had no use for the Greeks with their heads in the clouds, and they established a cultural standard that emphasized action over reflection. Perhaps it can be said that the Oliver Stone movie simply failed to measure up to the Roman standards still operating today in Hollywood filmmaking.
One undeniable benefit in the Oliver Stone film, however, is the opportunity to briefly watch Aristotle tutoring Alexander and his classmates in the court at Pella.
Photo Above: visitors at the assassination scene in Pella.