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C O U R S E 
Alexander the Great
Guy MacLean Rogers, Wellesley College
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
Alexander the Great, the Terrible, or the Insignificant
Notes taken on February 10, 2014 by Edward Tanguay
throughout history, Alexander the Great has been seen as a hero, or even more than a hero
as a Platonic philosopher king (Willian Tarn)
or even a Messianic figure like Jesus, sent on a mission to be the reconciler of the world
since the mid 20th century, however, a far less flattering portrait of Alexander has been drawn
an unstable alcoholic given to wine-fueled rages and violence
some say that he had no lasting effects on the ancient world or that if he had any, they can be compared to that of Cortes and the Conquistadors had on the Aztecs from 1519 to 1522
while the popular view of Alexander remains a favorable one, a new scholarly orthodoxy about him has emerged
some think he should be rechristened Alexander the Terrible or Alexander the Insignificant
two reasons for this new orthodoxy
consciously reconstructing a more accurate and less mythological picture of who he was
these scholars are writing in the long, dark shadows cast by ruthless 20th century rulers such as Hitler and Stalin
why have wars played so much of a role in history?
our evidence of recorded human activity goes back to 3,000 BCE and we find accounts of warfare in all kinds of different forms through history
you could ignore it but then you really wouldn't be doing your job as an historian
why it's the case could be a philosophical or scientific question
the fact that every single society that we know about since written history has practiced some form of warfare would suggest that this is more than just a cultural phenomenon, that it has to do with our species, actually
more study could be devoted to this
Alexander was very good at the practice of war, if also morally condemned
Alexander believed that the gods play favorites
he clearly thought that the gods favored him to win victories
before every battle he would give sacrifices to a group of deities
afterwards he would make sacrifices thanking them for giving him victory
Greeks believed that certain gods were helpful in warfare
believed the gods were helpful to some people and not so helpful to others
*** they didn't believe that there was a god or gods that loved and favored us equally, they strongly believed that individuals were favored by individual gods or groups of them
*** Alexander thought that he had been chosen by specific gods, particularly by Zeus, for successes that were unprecedented
Hoplite warfare
one of the most striking things about it was its ritualistic element
it usually didn't start out chaotically the way much combat in world history does
a typical Hoplite battle started out with two different sides making sacrifices and then marching out in order into an open field to the sound of music being played, then stopping, and then rushing across the field and clashing, someone winning, and someone losing
then after the battle, the winning side going out onto the battlefield and literally setting up a trophy that said, we won here today
this shows a motivation for a lot of warfare in ancient Greece, which was to take ahold of land that was so essential to their economies
Alexander's parents
brought to Pella in Macedon great teachers to educate th 13 year old Alexander, including Aristotle
what does Alexander have to teach us?
he's such a large, complex figure, but one aspect that he can help us understand is that there aren't easy answers to interpretations of complex characters or complex events
one of the great fascinations of Alexander is that he can't be easily resolved, he can't be simplified,
he will be on the list of anyone's top two or three warriors in history
as long as human beings are going to be involved in warfare, then they will come back to Alexander to try to learn about someone who probably was, overall, the most successful warrior in history
ah-KEE-mah-nid, empire