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Alexander the Great Once Held a Drinking Competition – All the Contenders Perished
Alexander the Great, the man who conquered vast empires and brought in a completely new chapter in the history of ancient times, remains to this day a household name related to glory, conquest and power, but also to youth and pride. Among his peers he was all of this, but also a lot more.
Alexander was, to put it in today’s terms, the life and soul of the party, well known for his hedonistic lifestyle and above all ― an insatiable taste for wine.
Sculpture of Alexander the Great.
The origins of what some consider his excessive use of alcohol are to be found in his family and the culture to which he belonged.
Ancient Macedonians were known to drink wine undiluted with water ― a trait which their southern neighbors in Greek city-states like Athens considered barbaric.
Alexander was a fairly heavy drinker in his youth, partly due to the pressure to which he was exposed by his over-demanding parents.
Aristotle, a philosopher from the Macedonian town of Stageira, tutoring young Alexander in the Royal Palace of Pella.
On the other hand, the young ruler of Macedonia was also known as a wise man, educated by one of the founding fathers of philosophy: Aristotle. So since Alexander was no stranger to philosophy, he was accompanied on his conquest by an entourage of thinkers, who served as his advisers.
While stationed in the Persian city of Susa in 324 BC, one of his advisers, a 73-year-old gymnosophist (literally meaning “a naked philosopher”) called Calanus reported that he was feeling mortally ill and that he planned to commit suicide rather than face a slow death.
The marriages of Stateira II to Alexander the Great of Macedon and her sister, Drypteis, to Hephaestion at Susa in 324 BC, as depicted in a late-19th century engraving.
Alexander reportedly tried to convince him otherwise, but Calanus had already made his decision. He chose self-immolation as his means of euthanasia and followed his decision through.
One of Alexander’s top military officers wrote about Calanus’ death, describing it as a true spectacle:
“…at the moment the fire was kindled there was, by Alexander’s orders, an impressive salute: the bugles sounded, the troops with one accord roared out their battle-cry, and the elephants joined in with their shrill war-trumpetings.”
Alexander the Great Receiving News of the Death by Immolation of the Indian Gymnosophist Calanus by Jean-Baptiste de Champaigne, 1672.
After the philosopher was completely consumed by flame, Alexander was struck with sadness ― he had lost a good friend and companion and felt an urge to honor the late philosopher with an event worthy of his mention.
Related Video: The Drinking Habits of 8 Famous Writers
At first, he considered organizing an Olympic Games, right there in Susa, but had to back down from the idea since the natives knew very little of Greek sports.
It is important to note that the secret to Alexander’s greatness was his ability to merge different cultures, more precisely Greek and Persian, and to represent this cultural and political merging, he married Roxanna, the daughter of a powerful chieftain of the Persians.
Furthermore, it was in Susa that the young Emperor arranged for a massive wedding between members of the Persian nobility and his trusted officers and soldiers be held ― all in the purpose of legitimizing his conquest, and himself for that matter, as the true successor of Persian Shahs.
Detail of Alexander Mosaic, showing Battle of Issus, from the House of the Faun, Pompeii. Photo by Magrippa CC BY-SA 3.0
However, since his attempt to bestow Susa with the honor of holding the Olympics failed, Alexander had to come up with a different discipline, which would both serve as a suitable wake, as well as yet another event that would bring Greeks and Persians together. Well, what better way of bringing two cultures together than organizing a drinking competition?
3rd century BC statue of Alexander the Great, signed “Menas.” Istanbul Archaeology Museum.
That’s what Alexander must have thought as he gathered the crowd to announce the competition. Very soon 41 contenders were chosen, some hailing from the ranks of his army and others belonging to the local population.
The rules were simple. Whoever drank the most wine was the winner and was to be awarded a crown worth a talent of gold. For those unfamiliar with ancient Greek measures, a talent was equal to around 57 pounds, or 26 kg.
So, a prize worthy of the endeavor for sure. The only problem was, the locals weren’t accustomed to alcohol that much ― well certainly not as much as Macedonians who even made the worshipers of Dyonisus, the Greek god of wine, shiver.
Dionysus extending a drinking cup (kantharos), late 6th century BC.
Naturally, the winner was one of Alexander’s foot soldiers by the name of Promachus, who managed to drink 4 gallons of the infamous unmixed wine.
Unfortunately signs of alcohol poisoning appeared during the competition, turning the whole party sour. Around 35 contenders died on the spot, while still trying to drink more wine, and the others, including the victor, died in the following days.
Thus a celebration held to honor the passing of one person soon turned into the burial of 41 people. According to ancient chroniclers of Alexander’s life, all of the contenders died and the entire event was branded a fiasco.
As a bad omen of sorts, the event foreshadowed Alexander’s own death, which happened less than a year after the doomed drinking contest.
The 'Life of Alexander' and West Africa
There is evidence, argues Adrian Tronson, to suggest that the 13th-century Mali empire, and its ruler Sundiata, were strongly influenced by the life of Alexander the Great, 356-323 BC, an influence that was to be capitalised on in the late 1950s.
Accounts of the life of Alexander the Great exist in the literary and oral traditions of societies as far afield as Iceland, Ethiopia and Indonesia: this is well known. However, Alexander's 'afterlife' in the oral traditions of the Mandirika peoples of Senegal, Guinea, Mali and the Ivory Coast should be recognised, since it may be said to have influenced to some degree the political destiny of that region.
In the thirteenth century, Sundiata Keita, a local chieftain of an obscure Mandinke tribe in the north-west corner of what is today Guinea, inspired by the tales of Alexander the Great, which he had heard as a child from traders from across the Sahara, embarked on a programme of military conquest. His campaigns resulted in the unification of the Mandinke tribes and in the foundation of the Mali Empire, one of the most powerful and wealthy African states in the history of that continent. It endured for over two hundred years and was one of the few African kingdoms, apart from Egypt and Ethiopia, which featured on European maps of Africa, in the Middle Ages.
The sources which deal with the life of Sundiata, consist of a brief reference by Ibn Khaldoun, in his History of the Berbers (written in the fifteenth century), and Mandinke oral traditions, of which the most accessible is the so-called Mali Epic .
In the late 1950s a distant descendant of Sundiata, Modibo Keita, a leading figure in the post-war independence movement of the French Soudan, capitalised on the exploits of his ancestor, in order to advance his political ambitions. This propaganda campaign was partially responsible for the foundation, at the end of 1959, of the Mali Federation, comprising the present-day Republic of Mali and Senegal, and named, it should be noticed, after Sundiata's fourteenth-century empire. The Federation was founded through the combined efforts of Modibo Keita and Leopold Senghor of Senegal, but lasted only a few months. Keita was president of the short-lived Federation but continued to hold the presidency of the Mali Republic until 1967.
The Sundiata-propaganda which accompanied the founding of the Mali Federation is not without interest to the classicist and ancient historian. Apart from a gramophone record, issued by a French recording company around 1960, which features a tribal bard (griot ) singing about Sundiata's exploits and comparing him with Alexander the Great, the item which deserves particular attention is the Mali Epic , or Sundiata , which was published in French in 1960 and in English in 1965. Its author- compiler, the West African historian, Djibril Tausir Niane, maintains that it is virtually a transcription of a recitation of one griot, whose family had been closely linked with, and in the service of, the Keita clan in the capacity of praise singers, since the time of Sundiata. The epic, which deals with the hero's birth, childhood, wanderings, battles and triumphs, is alleged to have been handed down, virtually unchanged, since the fourteenth century.
On reading the epic one is struck by the frequent references to Djoula Kara Naini , the Mandinke corruption of Dhu'l Quarnein, the horned Alexander of the Middle Eastern romance tradition, the sixth great conqueror of the world and the defender of civilisation against the forces of Gog and Magog, who is mentioned in the seventh book of the History of the Jewish War of Josephus (ch 7) and in the eighteenth Shura of the Qur'an. On three occasions in the epic, Sundiata is referred to as 'shield', 'bulwark' and 'seventh and last conqueror of the world', excelling Djoula Kara Naini , respectively. There are two explicit references in the epic to Sundiata's admiration for Alexander: as a child, at the feet of his griot, he 'listened enraptured to the history of Djoula Kara Naini , the mighty king of gold and silver, whose sun shone over half the world'. Years later, while on campaign, he listened to the holy men who 'often related to him the history of Djoula Kara Naini , and several other heroes, but of all of them Sundiata preferred Djoula Kara Naini the king of gold and silver, who crossed the world from west to east: he wanted to outdo his prototype both in the extent of his territory and wealth of his treasury'. The latter quotation itself suggests an instance of Sundiata's 'imitation': that is, his preference for the tales about Alexander corresponds to Alexander's preference for the Iliad and for its hero whom he emulated. Indeed, Plutarch, in the seventh chapter of his life of Alexander, relates that Alexander used the Iliad as a vade mecum on his campaigns and kept it in a special casket. Alexander's emulation of Achilles is attested in all the extant Alexander histories.
By examining the contents of the Sundiata epic, the instances where biographical details, the actions and behaviour of Sundiata seem to bear an obvious similarity to those of Alexander, as they are related in the various sources, the reader may detect both the nature and extent of Sundiata's Alexandri aemulatio . Granting that the points of resemblance are deliberate and not coincidental, the epic actually appears to imitate the Alexander romance as regards structure and content.
The points of resemblance are as follows. Both Olympias, Alexander's mother, and Sogolon, Sundiata's mother, were in their time reputed to be sorceresses. The fathers, in both cases, were kings and both received prophecies that their unborn sons would be world conquerors. A lion, gold, the sun, fire and light play a symbolic role in the prophecies. Sundiata and Alexander, as they grow older, are compared to lions and in the Mandinke tradition Djoula Kara Naini is often referred to as 'the king of gold and silver', the light from the east' and 'the star'. The birth of Alexander, according to pseudo- Callisthenes (1, 12), is accompanied by lightning and thunder:
. as the child fell to the ground, lightning flashed suddenly, thunder began to rumble, the ground shook and all the heavens were moved.
The circumstances surrounding the birth of Sundiata are described in remarkably similar terms:*
Suddenly the sky darkened. thunder began to rumble and swift lightning rent the clouds. A flash of lightning accompanied by a dull rattle of thunder burst out of the east and lit up the sky as far as the west.
The youthful precociousness of Alexander is recounted by Plutarch (Life of Alexander , ch 5). The child astonishes the Persian envoys to the court of Macedon with his intelligent questions regarding the roads and military resources of Persia and by 'his eagerness to perform great deeds'. Similarly, Sundiata, at the age of ten, 'had an authoritative way of speaking as of one destined to command'. He shows intelligent curiosity when asking travellers about foreign lands across the desert and about the great tyrant, Soumaoro, the king of the Sosso, who had conquered his home-country and whom he is one day destined to overthrow. Both Alexander and Sundiata, as a result of court intrigues, are forced into exile with their mothers. Sundiata's exile, unlike Alexander's, lasts for ten years, during which time he and his family find refuge with a tribe in the kingdom of Ghana, whose members claimed to be descended from Alexander the Great:
és of Ghana were the most powerful of princes. They were descended from Djoula Kara Naini, the king of gold and silver. At the time of Sundiata the descendants of Djoula Kara Naini were paying tribute to the king of Sosso.
It should be noticed how the epic casts the 'new Alexander' in the role of the avenger of his model's descendants.
Sundiata, in his first military campaign, distinguishes himself in cavalry fighting, in much the same way as the eighteen-year-old Alexander distinguishes himself in his first major battle, at Chaeronea in 338. Both hurl themselves impetuously into action in order to impress their fathers who are in command (in Sundiata's case, his foster father):
Then Alexander, eagerly longing to show off his valour to his father, since his desire for distinction had no bounds. was first to break through the solid front of the enemy line. (Diodorus, 16, 86, 3)
Plutarch, in his account of the battle (Alexander , ch 9) writes as follows:
As a result of these exploits, it seems, Philip loved his son to such a degree that he was delighted to hear the Macedonians call Alexander their king and Philip their general.
The behaviour of Sundiata under similar circumstances resembles that of Alexander, as the reaction of his foster father, Moussa Tounkara, resembles that of Philip:
Moussa Tounkara was a great warrior and therefore he admired strength, When Sundiata was fifteen the king took him with him on campaign. Sundiata astonished the whole army with his strength and his dash in the charge. In the course of the skirmish. he hurled himself on the enemy with such. vehemence that the king feared for his life. The king saw with rapture how the youth sowed panic among the enemy.
As a result the king made Sundiata his viceroy 'and in the king's absence it was Sundiata who ruled'. Alexander too, at the same age, served as regent of Macedonia in Philip's absence.
Sundiata's first major battle, in the capacity of commander, was against the Sosso. This corresponds to Alexander's first battle against the Persians, at the river Granicus (334 BC). Both battles were fought in order to gain access to the enemy's home territory. The Macedonians arrive late in the day at the bank of the Granicus. Alexander is advised not to attempt a crossing because of the lateness of the hour and the large numbers of the enemy.
Alexander contemptuously brushes aside these objections, marshalls his forces and plunges into the river. Plutarch describes the episode as follows (Alex 16, 1-2):
When Parmenio (the general) would not allow him to run the risk, on the grounds that the hour was late, he said that the Hellespont would be ashamed, if after crossing it, he were to be afraid of the Granicus and he plunged into the river with thirteen detachments of Cavalry.
In the Mali epic, Sundiata, after marching all day, arrives in the evening at the head of the valley which leads into the country of the Sosso.
The sides of the valley were black with men. his generals urged him to wait until the next day because the troops were tired and they were outnumbered. Sundiata laughed. no mere men could prevent him from reaching Mali. the battle would not last long. orders were given, the drums began to beat on his proud horse, Sundiata. drew his sword and led the charge, shouting his war-cry.
Arrian commences his description of the battle of the Granicus as follows (Anabasis 1, 14, 6):
Then, with trumpets sounding, Alexander leaped on his horse. and himself leading the right wing, began the crossing.
During the battle, Alexander engages in single combat with the satrap of Ionia, a kinsman of Darius the king. Sundiata, on the other hand, engages with the son of the Sosso king. The main point of the comparison is that Alexander and Sundiata, in the first great battles of their respective careers, do not engage with the enemy king, but with his deputy.
Like Alexander, Sundiata fights three major battles against his arch-enemy. In the second battle, which corresponds to Alexander's battle at Issus (333 BC), Sundiata, like Alexander, fights with the enemy king in personal combat. In both cases the enemy king escapes. Diodorus' account of the battle of Issus (17, 37) corresponds to the epic's account of its African counterpart, in that both mention the large amount of missiles which were expended. The former writes,
The barbarians hurled so great a number of missiles that they collided with each other, so dense was their flight.
while the epic relates that 'The arrows shot into the sky and fell thickly like iron rain'. Diodorus, in his account of the deployment of Alexander's forces at Issus (ch 33) says that Alexander sets his cavalry along the front of his whole army. This unusual formation is not attested in any other source for any other of Alexander's pitched battles. The epic, on the other hand, describes Sundiata adopting for his second battle 'a very original deployment', for he formed 'his infantry into a tight square, with his cavalry drawn up all along the front'. Perhaps this 'imitation' of Alexander's tactics is more than coincidental. There are also similarities in the accounts of Sundiata's third and decisive battle against the Sosso, and that of Alexander at Gaugamala (331 BC). Both battles begin when the sun is already high. Sundiata's and Alexander's forces are both outnumbered, bird omens appear either before or during the fighting and both Sundiata and Alexander pursue the enemy king for a day and a night and fail to take him alive.
There are other points of comparison which deserve attention. Sundiata's life-long friend, Manding Bory, who accompanies him into exile, is his second-in-command on campaign and eventually becomes vizier of his empire, plays a role similar to that of Hephaestion. There is also Sundiata's war horse, Daffeke, who plays a role similar to that of Bucephalus. Sundiata undertakes a pilgrimage to a sacred mountain spring in the desert, just as Alexander visits the desert oracle of Ammon at the oasis of Siwah, and returns invested with a divine radiance and increased magical powers. Alexander returns from Siwah with the oracle's recognition of his divine parentage. Sundiata assumes the robes of a Muslim Mansa when he organises his empire, while Alexander assumes Persian garb after defeating Darius. Both Sundiata and Alexander, in the organisation of their empires, incorporate the young men of the defeated enemy into their armies and train them as cadets.
The 'Romance' of Alexander the Great was widespread in the Middle East in the Hellenistic and Roman eras. The existence of the Mali epic shows how the exploits of the Macedonian conqueror, having been spread to the lands of the Niger by the trans-Saharan traders, captured the imagination of a people, remote from Hellenistic culture, even to the extent that a West African tribe claimed descent from him, that a thirteenth-century chief founded an empire by imitating him, and that his distant descendant by 'imitating' Sundiata and by using as propaganda the 'official history' of the Keita clan, which appeared to have been modelled after the Alexander Romance, somehow involved Alexander the Great in twentieth-century African politics.
* Translations are by G.D. Pickett (Sundiata: an epic of Old Mali by D.T. Niane, Longman, 1956).
- D.T. Niane, Soundjata ou L'Epopeé Mandingue, Paris, 1960 (English translation, G. Pickett, Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali, London, 1964)
- Gordon Innes, Sunjata: Three Mandinka Versions, London, 1974
- Plutarch, The Life of Alexander Arrian, The Anabasis Curtius Rufus, The History of Alexander Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca. All volumes of the Loeb Classical Library (Harvard University Press)
- Pseudo-Callisthenes, Historia Alexandri Magni (W. Kroll, 1926)
- A. Mazrui, 'Ancient Greece in African Political Thought', Présence Africaine vol 22, 1967.
Adrian Tronson has lecturered in ancient history at the Department of Classics at the University of South Africa.
How Alexander the Great Changed the Art World Forever
A major new Met exhibit shows the breadth and richness of Hellenistic art. Prepare for gold-plated head-dresses, and two meter-tall vases.
Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Hellenistic period inspired awe in works both big and small.
That feeling of constant wonder can be found at a massive new exhibition five years in the making at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World—opening Tuesday to July 17—catalogs the breadth, diversity, and richness of Hellenistic art, a period which began with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and ended after the Battle of Actium with the suicide of Cleopatra in 30 BC.
“This exhibition has something for everybody,” Carlos A. Picón, the irrepressible curator of Greek & Roman art at the Met, told me. “Clay, marble, jewelry, glass, and so on.”
The core of the exhibition—one-third of the statues on view—is comprised of works from the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, many of which have never been to the U.S. before.
The Pergamon is named for the city in modern-day Turkey that was the capital of the Attalid dynasty (one of the Hellenistic kingdoms formed from Alexander’s divided empire).
It was excavated in the late 19th century by German archaeologists who brought many of its treasures back to Germany. The Pergamon Museum is now undergoing a renovation, presenting a ripe opportunity for the Met.
One of those pieces here for the first time, which could perhaps be considered one of the exhibition’s centerpieces is the Athena from the Pergamon Altar.
Weighing more than three tons, it was shipped in three pieces, Picón said. Even with its magnitude, the most stupefying thing about the towering work is that it is just one-third the size of the original carved by Phidias that stood in the Parthenon.
The Athena is surrounded by other monumental works, including the captivating Fragmentary colossal head of a youth from the 2nd century BC (gay men, you will understand). There is also the impressive marble head and arm of Zeus from Aigeira from circa 150 BC on loan from the National Archaeology Museum of Greece.
Against another wall can be found the earliest known text of Homer’s The Odyssey from 285-250 BC, preserved because the papyrus it was on was reused for a mummy and buried in hot sand.
The exhibition, featuring many maps, begins with large sculpture portraits of the major Hellenistic rulers found in the Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum, introducing us to some of the men whose wealth and power shaped this period.
Each room in the exhibition has one signature piece. In one it is the Athena, in another the model replica of the Altar of Pergamon. In the final chamber, which focuses on Hellenistic art in the Roman period, stands the Borghese Krater.
Standing nearly two meters high, the vase was made in Athens in the 1st century BC, shipped to Rome and discovered in the 16th century in a Roman garden. Purchased by Napoleon from the Borghese family in 1808, it has only left the Louvre twice.
The fate of many museum exhibitions today rests on their success on social media, particularly Instagram (just see the packed crowds every weekend for Wonder at the Renwick Gallery or The Beach last year at the National Building Museum).
The Loeb Diadem commanded most of the attention from the journalists at the press preview, suggesting it might find itself the social media star.
This gold-plated headdress made in 150 BC and found in Crimea features at its center an utterly captivating Herakles knot of gold and garnet from which hang a series of tasseled pendants of gold, garnet, and carnelian and white-banded pearls. Crowning the piece are two golden sea dragons on either side of a golden Nike, the goddess of victory.
In the same room, the skill of the craftsmen of the period is all too evident, from gold serpentine armbands a number of gold hairnets.
The exhibit’s jewelry section clarifies a wider political history.
When Alexander conquered Persia, six thousand tons of gold were taken from the treasuries of Persepolis and Susa alone. Those fabulous riches combined with Greek skill meant a dawning of a new era in terms of cultural supremacy.
While his empire was split into a number of kingdoms (the Ptolemaic perhaps being the most famous due to its library and Cleopatra), the art and architecture originating in Greek city-states exploded.
The exhibition notes, however, that the wealth also changed Greek culture. Tossed out were the strictures and disapproval from city-states like Athens and Sparta against ostentations displays of private wealth. The result was a period of art that changed cultures across the ancient world.
That influence is perhaps most palpable in ancient Rome, where the craze for copies of famous Greek works are often all we have left of Greek art.
Do not overlook the Sleeping Hermaphrodite Roman, made in the 2nd century AD but as a copy of a 2nd century BC Greek original. Dozens of copies were commissioned by wealthy Romans, and this statue and its subject reflect the varied tastes of those wealthy clients.
The exhibition’s goal of capturing 300 years worth of art history at one of its richest periods is a daunting one, yet visitors will walk away from this exhibition with a far richer understanding of the influence and reach of Hellenistic art. Indeed, one is left wanting to know more about how the art changed and progressed over those centuries, and how it differed in the various kingdoms.
In the final display case is a portrait of Kleopatra Selene. She was the only daughter of Cleopatra and Mark Antony, and for that matter the only child of theirs to survive at all.
She was married to Juba II, the former King of Numidia before they were shipped of to rule Mauretania, in modern day northern Morocco. Inside the case is a Carnelian gemstone ring in which it is believed to be a portrait of her, the offspring of one of history’s most doomed affairs.
Small as a fingernail, yet with a story far more impressive than a giant balloon dog.
The J. Paul Getty Museum
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Portrait of Alexander the Great
Unknown 29.1 × 25.9 × 27.5 cm (11 7/16 × 10 3/16 × 10 13/16 in.) 73.AA.27
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Currently on view at: Getty Villa, Gallery 111, The Hellenistic World
Portrait of Alexander the Great
29.1 × 25.9 × 27.5 cm (11 7/16 × 10 3/16 × 10 13/16 in.)
Head of Alexander the Great (Display Title)
Identified by his mass of leonine hair, his young idealized face, and his deep-set, upturned eyes, Alexander the Great was the first Greek ruler to understand and exploit the propagandistic powers of portraiture. Ancient literary sources say that he let only one sculptor carve his portrait: Lysippos (active ca. 370-300 B.C.), who created the standard Alexander portrait type.
This life-size head, said to have been found in Megara, was part of a multi-figured group, which probably served as a funerary monument for a courtier who wanted to associate himself with the ruler. The Getty Museum has over thirty fragments of this group, which might have depicted a sacrificial scene. The participants include Alexander, his companion Hephaistion, a goddess, Herakles, a flute player, and several other figures, as well as animals and birds.
The head was re-carved in antiquity. The left ear was added, the right sideburn shortened, and the lower eyelids recut.
Robin Symes, Limited, founded 1977, dissolved 2005 (London, England), by partial credit and partial purchase, sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1973.
The Search for Alexander the Great (November 16, 1980 to May 16, 1982)
- National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), November 16, 1980 to April 5, 1981
- The Art Institute of Chicago, May 16 to September 7, 1981
- Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, October 27, 1981 to January 10, 1982
- M. H. de Young Memorial Museum (San Francisco), February 20 to May 16, 1982
The Making of a Hero: Alexander the Great from Antiquity to the Renaissance (October 22, 1996 to January 5, 1997)
Transforming Tradition: Ancient Motifs in Medieval Manuscripts (September 23 to November 30, 2003)
Pergamon and the Art of the Hellenistic Kingdoms (April 11 to July 17, 2016)
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The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Antiquities Collection (Los Angeles: 2002), p. 25.
Grossman, Janet Burnett. Looking at Greek and Roman Sculpture in Stone (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2003), pp. 50, ill.
Queyrel, Francois. Les portraits des Attalides: Fonction et représentation. BEFAR 308 (Athens: École francaise d'Athènes, 2003), p. 170n227.
Spivey, Nigel and Squire, Michael. Panorama of the Classical World (Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2004), p. 176-177, fig. 275.
Reinsburg, Carola. "Alexanderbilder in Ägypten: Manifestation eines neuen Herrscherideals." In Fremdheit - Eigenheit: Ägypten, Griechenland und Rom: Austausch und Verständnis. P. C. Bol et al., eds. (Stuttgart: Scheufele, 2004), p. 324, fig. 8.
Foreman, Laura. Alexander the Conqueror: The Epic Story of the Warrior King (Cambridge, Da Capo Press, 2004), p. 16.
The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Collections. 7th ed. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2007), p. 5, ill.
The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Antiquities Collection. Rev. ed. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2010), p. 25.
Ogden, Daniel. Alexander the Great: Myth, Genesis and Sexuality (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2011), p.157, figs. 8.1-8.2.
Picón, Carlos A. and Seán Hemingway, eds. Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2016), pp. 111-112, no.13a, ill., entry by Jens M. Daehner.
Examining Greek Pederastic Relationships
Pederasty is an ancient Greek form of interaction in which members of the same sex would partake in the pleasures of an intellectual and/or sexual relationship as part of a socially acceptable ancient custom (Hubbard: 4-7). The question of whether the ideal pederastic relationship was the most common form of pederasty in Greece, or whether the reality of ancient same-sex desire involved relationships between males of the same age, is one that has been contested between scholars for many years.
The ideal pederastic relationship in ancient Greece involved an erastes (an older male, usually in his mid- to late-20s) and an eromenos (a younger male who has passed puberty, usually no older than 18) (Dover, I.4.: 16). This age difference between the erastes and the eromenos was of the utmost importance to the scheme of the ideal pederastic relationship. The power dynamics involved in such a relationship, with the erastes always in control, ensured that the erastes kept his dignity as a fully-functioning member of Greek society, while the eromenos grew up under the tutelage of such a man and as such could become a great citizen when he reached adulthood. Both people in an ideal pederastic relationship would have practiced great sophrosyne, or taking no indulgence to excess (Dover, II.C.5.: 97). The erastes shows restraint in his &ldquopursuit&rdquo rather than his &ldquocapture&rdquo of the young boy, and the eromenos would similarly show restraint by not immediately giving into the older man&rsquos sexual desires.
Ideal pederastic couples were ones whose relationship directly benefitted their Greek society. Another important reason for the age difference between the erastes and eromenos was that the older male was responsible for teaching the younger male about Greek politics, military, and social gatherings (Hubbard, Introduction: 12). The ideal erastes was meant to be more of a teacher than a lover. The eromenos would receive this training in exchange for the sexual favors he provided to his erastes. Also important to the ideal pederastic relationship was the fact that the eromenos supposedly did not enjoy the sexual actions that he performed with his erastes, adding to the idea of the older male acting as a teacher: &ldquoBoy, my passion&rsquos master, listen. I&rsquoll tell no tale/That&rsquos unpersuasive or unpleasant to your heart./Just try to grasp my words with your mind. There is no need/For you to do what&rsquos not to your liking&rdquo (Theognis, 1235-38: 40).
There are many examples of the ideal pederastic couple in ancient Greek literature. One of these examples is Harmodius and Aristogeiton, who were known in the ancient Greek world as the ideal pederastic couple. Harmodius was an Athenian youth who at one time was propositioned by Hipparchus, the brother of the Athenian tyrant Hippias. Harmodius turned him down, of course, because he was the eromenos of Aristogeiton, a Greek middle class citizen. When Aristogeiton found out about Hipparchus&rsquo advances, he immediately began plotting to overthrow the tyranny. Hipparchus, in the meantime, had found a way to insult Harmodius as revenge for his inability to attain the young man. The tyrant&rsquos brother enlisted Harmodius&rsquo sister to participate in a sacred procession, then recanted his invitation, stating that she was unworthy. This only enraged Aristogeiton more he put together a small band of men to attack Hipparchus. In the end, Harmodius and Aristogeiton attacked Hipparchus and killed him Harmodius was killed on the spot, while Aristogeiton was killed later after having escaped the bodyguards. Thanks to the daring of Harmodius and Aristogeiton, the tyrant was eventually overthrown and democracy was established in Athens (Thucydides, 6.54.1-4, 6.56.1-59.2: 60-61).
Another example of an ideal pederastic couple was Zeus and Ganymede. Zeus was so taken by the beauty of the mortal Ganymede that he made the boy immortal: &ldquoBoy-love is such a delight, since even the son of Cronus,/King of the gods, once came to love Ganymede,/And seizing him, brought him up to Olympus and made him/Eternal in the lovely flower of boyhood&rdquo (Theognis, 1341-50: 45). The pederastic relationship of Zeus and Ganymede was ideal because of their age difference, but more importantly it was a sign to the Greeks that it was okay for them to participate in the same kind of relationship. After all, whatever was acceptable for the gods (and especially for the king of the gods) was also acceptable for mortals. This also meant that anything outside of the model pairing presented by Zeus and Ganymede was less than &ldquoideal.&rdquo
Another case to be considered when discussing ideal pederastic relationships is that of Agathon and Pausanias. Agathon was a young poet who hosted the dinner party that was the setting for Plato&rsquos Symposium, and Pausanias was his erastes (Plato, 178A-185C: 180-182). Their relationship was ideal in the sense that they differed in age by about 10 years, having started their relationship when Agathon was 18. However, Agathon and Pausanias stayed together far longer than the typical pederastic couple. It seems from the evidence available that neither man ever took a wife or had children. In fact, when Agathon emigrated to Macedonia sometime between 411 and 405 to continue his career as a dramatist, Pausanias went with him (Dover, II.C.4.: 84). While not completely different from the ideal pederastic relationship, Agathon and Pausanias prove that there were forms of same-sex desire and interaction in ancient Greece that went outside the ideal.
The evidence for the ideal pederastic relationship being the most common in Greece is overwhelming, but the case for atypical relationships is not completely lost. There is documentation for the existence of same-sex couples who were of the same or similar ages when they were together. The ideal pederastic relationship was not the only type possible for the ancient Greeks.
The first major example of a pederastic couple that was not ideal was Achilles, the legendary Greek hero, and Patroclus. These two were similar in age, and there is much dissension as to which of them was the erastes and which was the eromenos. In the Greek tragedy Myrmidons, Achilles is depicted as the lover and Patroclus is depicted as the beloved, though Phaedrus presents a good argument for the opposite in Plato&rsquos Symposium, in reference to Achilles exacting revenge on Hector, the person who killed Patroclus:
&ldquoIncidentally, Aeschylus&rsquo view, that it was Achilles who was in love with Patroclus, is nonsense. Quite apart from the fact that he was more beautiful than Patroclus&hellipand had not yet grown a beard, he was also, according to Homer, much younger. And he must have been younger because it is an undoubted fact that the gods&hellipare most impressed and pleased, and grant the greatest rewards, when the younger man is loyal to his lover, than when the lover is loyal to him&rdquo (Plato, 178A-185C: 183).
The fact that Achilles, one of ancient Greece&rsquos most famous heroes, was involved in a pederastic relationship that was anything other than ideal lends credence to the existence of other same-age, same-sex couples.
Another pederastic relationship featuring partners of similar ages was that of Alexander the Great and Hephaestion. The two were lifelong companions, and their relationship is reminiscent of that of Patroclus and Achilles, for whom Alexander held a great respect. Alexander and Hephaestion always traveled together and fought in battles together Alexander even went so far as to refer to Hephaestion as an extension of himself during an encounter with the abandoned mother of the king Dareius:
&ldquoSo at daybreak, the king took with him the most valued of his Friends, Hephaestion, and came to the women. They both were dressed alike, but Hephaestion was taller and more handsome. Sisyngambris took him for the king and did him obeisance. As the others present made signs to her and pointed to Alexander with their hands she was embarrassed by her mistake, but made a new start and did obeisance to Alexander. He, however, cut in and said, "Never mind, Mother. For actually he too is Alexander&rdquo (Diodorus, 17.38).
The closeness between Alexander and Hephaestion, as well as the similarity of their ages, points to their pederastic relationship being one outside of the ideal, and provides more evidence that the ideal was not the only type of relationship practiced in ancient Greece.
There can be no doubt that the ideal pederastic relationship was one of great prominence in many ancient Greek city-states. One could even argue that it was the most common, given all the documents available on the subject. However, accounts and reports of relationships between people in our current society are not always representative of relationships as a whole it is quite possible that the ideal pederastic relationship portrayed in writing may not have been the most commonly practiced form of same-sex interaction in Greece. So, although the ideal pederastic relationship was perhaps the most popular type of relationship in ancient Greece, it was by no means the only one possible.
Dover, K.J. Greek Homosexuality . Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1978.
Hubbard, Thomas K., ed. Homosexuality in Greece and Rome . California: University of California Press, 2003.
Plato, 178A-185C (Hubbard 5.7).
Siculus, Diodorus. Library of History, Volume IV, Books 9-12.40 . 17.38. 4 March 2009.
The companion of brothers
Hephaestion was born, like Alexander, in around 365 BC. He was a son of Amyntor, a noble man of Macedonia. Hephaestion was a friend, companion and a general in the army of Alexander. According to the ancient resources, he had a special bond with the king. He was described as his dearest friend, the person who was witness to the most significant moments in Alexander's life, but also the one with whom the king shared his most personal secrets.
Head of Hephaistion sculpted in marble. Statue is at the Getty Museum in California. ( Public Domain )
Alexander and Hephaestion spent time with each other nearly their whole lives, until the death of Hephaestion in 324 BC. They traveled, fought in battlefields and experienced many adventures together. Alexander is said to have felt a strong bond with him also due to his sensitivity, love of literature and intelligence. When Hephaestion died, Alexander’s life collapsed. As a ruler, he didn't have too many people who he could trust. It seems that he believed in the loyalty his mother Olympias, Hephaestion, and his friend Ptolemy, future pharaoh Ptolemy I Soter. According to some later writings, Alexander felt extreme loneliness after the death of his dear friend, and he himself died just a few months after the burial of Hephaestion.
Alexander The Great’s Boy: A Persian Courtesan
The wounded Darius seated on a collapsed chariot to left being given drinking water contained in a helmet by a soldier by Christian Bernhard Rode , 1774, via the British Museum, London
Bagoas was a Persian eunuch, originally a lover of the Great King Darius III . He is distinguished from another courtier in the court of Darius III, also called Bagoas, who was shamed for his attempt to assassinate the Great King he originally installed on the throne—this is Bagoas the Elder. Bagoas the Younger lived through the betrayal of King Darius III and the conquest of Alexander the Great and was the lover of these two great kings.
Not much is known about the life of Bagoas the Younger prior to his arrival at the court of Darius III, though some theorize that he may have been of higher class due to his eventual position as a eunuch of the king. What is known is that he was brought to the court as a young boy and like most—if not all—eunuchs, he had already had the castrating procedure. Once at court, he was a favorite of Darius III. He was also known as an exceptional dancer and ancient sources claim that he participated in dancing festivals when he traveled with Alexander, notably winning the famous festival in Carmania after the march through the Gedrosian desert.
Invasion of India
In early summer 327 Alexander left Bactria with a reinforced army under a reorganized command. If Plutarch’s figure of 120,000 men has any reality, however, it must include all kinds of auxiliary services, together with muleteers, camel drivers, medical corps, peddlers, entertainers, women, and children the fighting strength perhaps stood at about 35,000. Recrossing the Hindu Kush, probably by Bamiyan and the Ghorband Valley, Alexander divided his forces. Half the army with the baggage under Hephaestion and Perdiccas, both cavalry commanders, was sent through the Khyber Pass, while he himself led the rest, together with his siege train, through the hills to the north. His advance through Swāt and Gandhāra was marked by the storming of the almost impregnable pinnacle of Aornos, the modern Pir-Sar, a few miles west of the Indus and north of the Buner River, an impressive feat of siegecraft. In spring 326, crossing the Indus near Attock, Alexander entered Taxila, whose ruler, Taxiles, furnished elephants and troops in return for aid against his rival Porus, who ruled the lands between the Hydaspes (modern Jhelum) and the Acesines (modern Chenāb). In June Alexander fought his last great battle on the left bank of the Hydaspes. He founded two cities there, Alexandria Nicaea (to celebrate his victory) and Bucephala (named after his horse Bucephalus, which died there) and Porus became his ally.
How much Alexander knew of India beyond the Hyphasis (probably the modern Beas) is uncertain there is no conclusive proof that he had heard of the Ganges. But he was anxious to press on farther, and he had advanced to the Hyphasis when his army mutinied, refusing to go farther in the tropical rain they were weary in body and spirit, and Coenus, one of Alexander’s four chief marshals, acted as their spokesman. On finding the army adamant, Alexander agreed to turn back.
On the Hyphasis he erected 12 altars to the 12 Olympian gods, and on the Hydaspes he built a fleet of 800 to 1,000 ships. Leaving Porus, he then proceeded down the river and into the Indus, with half his forces on shipboard and half marching in three columns down the two banks. The fleet was commanded by Nearchus, and Alexander’s own captain was Onesicritus both later wrote accounts of the campaign. The march was attended with much fighting and heavy, pitiless slaughter at the storming of one town of the Malli near the Hydraotes (Ravi) River, Alexander received a severe wound which left him weakened.
On reaching Patala, located at the head of the Indus delta, he built a harbour and docks and explored both arms of the Indus, which probably then ran into the Rann of Kachchh. He planned to lead part of his forces back by land, while the rest in perhaps 100 to 150 ships under the command of Nearchus, a Cretan with naval experience, made a voyage of exploration along the Persian Gulf. Local opposition led Nearchus to set sail in September (325), and he was held up for three weeks until he could pick up the northeast monsoon in late October. In September Alexander too set out along the coast through Gedrosia (modern Baluchistan), but he was soon compelled by mountainous country to turn inland, thus failing in his project to establish food depots for the fleet. Craterus, a high-ranking officer, already had been sent off with the baggage and siege train, the elephants, and the sick and wounded, together with three battalions of the phalanx, by way of the Mulla Pass, Quetta, and Kandahar into the Helmand Valley from there he was to march through Drangiana to rejoin the main army on the Amanis (modern Minab) River in Carmania. Alexander’s march through Gedrosia proved disastrous waterless desert and shortage of food and fuel caused great suffering, and many, especially women and children, perished in a sudden monsoon flood while encamped in a wadi. At length, at the Amanis, he was rejoined by Nearchus and the fleet, which also had suffered losses.
Public Image/Private Self: Exploring Identity through Self-Portraiture
Long before the social media selfie, artists created self-portraits that converted the inner, private self into an outer, public persona. Robyn Asleson, Curator of Prints and Drawings at the National Portrait Gallery, highlights some of the ways in which artists have used self-portraits to construct versions of themselves that foreground particular aspects of identity, including life experience, artistic affiliation, nationality, and gender.