Sunday, May 25, 2003

Roman politicians and the Alexander Legend

Alexander the Great has been both glorified and villified by Roman politicians and philosophers seeking to effect a particular public personae. I found this interesting paper on the topic by Diana Spencer, St. Johns College, Cambridge:



She points out the dilemma of using this "legend" to interpret and formulate governmental structure "during periods of political flux":

"Alexander can never be as effective as a consul because he is a king, and kings have no checks placed upon their whims; paradoxically, this detrimental lack of struggle is also represented as an advantage: the monarch does not follow in the train of circumstance, he controls the destiny of his state." (referring to Livy IX.18.13-16).

During the civil war between Octavian and Antony, Octavian actively sought to portray himself as an Alexandrian image-conscious ruler:

"The need to create a political and visual vocabulary for the emerging post-Caesarian power structure was initially defined as much by emphasis on what Antony was not, as by what Octavian sought to introduce. Alexanders control of his own image--or at least, his reputation as an image-conscious ruler--serves as a boundary to acceptable Roman-ness in terms of Antony versus Octavian, but also as a potential intellectual model for how an emperor might want to be portrayed, and how to comment on this scenario."

Senecas view of Alexander was more villainous but this became a problem using Alexander as the example when evaluating the behavior of Nero in comparison.

"Senecas involved voice is characterised by this question: what man would destroy the source of his own education?; the overt subject is Alexanders treatment of Greece, but beneath the surface simmers a sub-text, dealing with the madness of a pupil who robs his tutor of the voice and attributes with which he was taught [Ep. ad Luc. 94.62-63]. Because the Roman image of Alexander shows him as excessive (and unsuccessful) in his eastward campaign, there are inherent difficulties for Seneca in his use; Romans also seek eastern dominion, and Nero had Alexandrian hankerings; this parallel could also be read as a comment on the prince who exceeds the teachings of his mentor and ends by ascribing to contradictory views. How suitable a model is this Alexander for a Roman emperor when (even though his youth is seen in terms of pupillage and education) potential madness and self-destruction haunt visions of his later career? "
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