Sunday, June 23, 2024

Who Would Alexander the Great Be Today?


This post originally answered a query on my Tumblr account, not reproduced here as it was long. But the answer was fun, so I'm sharing it more widely on my blog. The query involved how Alexander [and Hephaistion] would manage if they time traveled to the modern world.

Yes, I think they’d be able to fit in…eventually. There would be a lot of future shock. And no, modern Greek is not that similar; they’d be able to read it before understanding it spoken. 2000 years is a long time in language development. And--depending on where he/they showed up--it could take some while for them to understand what had happened, or for the people around them to identify who they were.

Arriving in the future in the middle of, say, Thessaloniki would be pretty different from landing in modern Bagdad, or Mexico City, or Moscow, or Podunk Middle America. It could be fun to land them somewhere obscure: the middle of Siberia with one of the Samoyed peoples? Or Pine Ridge Indian Reservation? Or somewhere not at all Western: how about the city of Jieshou (界首市) in Anhui, east China? Can you imagine how hard it would be for the locals to figure out what language they were speaking?

It could be quite interesting, putting him/them with a people who were conquered or oppressed. Alexander goes from King of (almost) his known world to living with a Rohingya family from Myanmar forced to flee to Bangladesh, or a Kurdish family in Turkey, or a Darfurian family in West Sudan, or among the Yanomami people of Brazil. Etc., etc.

Hmmm. What lessons…what lessons he could learn....

Wouldn’t it be interesting if the man who conquered so many came back to defend the oppressed?

Aside from where he landed, Alexander’s reaction would probably depend on whether he was alone or with Hephaistion. If he were alone, he’d still be grieving Hephaistion, and now grieving for the loss of everything familiar too. I could see his initial reaction being to retreat and make good on his supposed, “If I weren’t Alexander, I’d be Diogenes” line. How long that would last, I don’t know. But I can’t see Alexander able to become a renunciate permanently. Eventually, he’d return to public life, although it might take a while. Something concrete would drag him back into public spaces.

If he had Hephaistion with him, much of the grief would be mitigated, and he’d be more inclined to try to find a place in modern public life sooner, although obviously…adjustment period.

I really can’t see him content to sail on prior fame, although he very well could decide to write his own history to “correct” what survived. He might even try to be fairly honest about it, although of course, he’d have his own biases. Historians and others would almost surely pester the hell out of him for all the other history he could provide, and even any texts he had memorized, or knew about that we don’t…but I don’t see him putting up with that for long. He’d be willing to help—I do think Aristotle engendered in him a concern for such things—but only as a side-gig. “When I have time for it."

Alexander is not an “expert on call” type of person. (That’s for academics like me, ha.) He’s not going to advise presidents and prime ministers, even if they initially try to shove him into that slot. He’d want to LEAD, do something productive and grand—something nobody had done before.

Yet that wouldn’t be to conquer the world—or not in the way one might assume. After the initial future-shock wore off, he’d cotton on to the fact “world conquest” was so last century.

Even if we ignore Tarn-esque romanticism, Alexander wasn’t motivated by desire for wealth or power. He WAS motivated by desire for fame—kleos. He wanted to outdo the heroes, even the most famous hero of all, Herakles. In his day, that meant fighting monsters, or at least battle and conquest. Leave his mark on the world and be spoken of forever.

He pretty much succeeded. Believe me, the fact his name still shows up in history books and grand stories would convince him his goal was worthy.


There are people more famous than him in the West, dammit! Who is this “Julius Caesar”? Even if Caesar wanted to be Alexander, it would piss off Alexander that Caesar is better known today, and Rome became bigger and lasted longer. King Arthur? He was just king of some rinky-dink island. How is that equal to Alexander’s accomplishments? Then this Jesus guy! He was crucified, for pity’s sake and now he’s at the center of a ginormous world religion? At least Muhammad ruled some cities, but he didn’t do the conquering; that was his kalifs.

(Genghis Khan gets a pass.)

How are all these people now more famous than Alexander?

He has some catching up to do. 😉

Modern autocrats wouldn’t impress him. They think too small and too nationally. And presidents and prime ministers have to get elected, then answer to other parts of their government. He never liked the “governing” part of being king anyway. Business tycoons and tech bros would bore him. He’s not about making money, except insofar as money allows him to do other things. He’d rather woo those with money unless he could figure out a way to make money without having to keep track of anything (like having treasurers to collect taxes for him). He did like being rich enough to be fabulously generous. But money is very much a tool, for him.

He’d be MUCH more intrigued by the global fame of mega-celebrities, although not the likes of the Kardashians. Sports legends, artists…he was interested in such people in his own day: they had an intrinsic talent/gift that made them beloved of the gods.

Yet none of these are heroes with that special aura of respect and admiration. The people I think would fascinate him most are globally recognized religious and civil rights leaders such as Ghandi or Mother Teresa or MLK. Or, more recently, Bishop Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Liu Xiaobo, or Malala Yousafzai. Or the Dalai Lama. He would bend over backwards to meet the Dalai Lama—the man would be total catnip to Alexander. World leader and “philosopher.”

Alexander would recognize that if he wanted to be a world leader again, it couldn’t be through political channels, except insofar as those might offer a stepping stone. Similarly, he’d use his prior fame. But he wouldn’t expect—or want—it to be easy. In fact, the great struggle, including mortal danger, faced by those figures I named is what would set them apart for Alexander. He’d think nothing of putting his life on the line for whatever he chose to do.

Alexander in any era needs a MISSION, something BIG and GLOBAL where he could be the savior, or at least the leader of whatever group ultimately did the saving. Again, depending on where he landed, he might take up a local cause. But he might also find himself facing charges for war crimes. Would Iran try to put him on trial for burning Persepolis? That’s just a start. He did many, many, many horrible things from what is today Uzbekistan to Pakistan and the Gujarat province of India. Countries might line up to take him down, either legitimately for revulsion at historical acts, or as political theatre “against the West” (or both).

How would he deal with accusations of being a monster if he’d decided to recast himself as a savior?

I noted climate change before as a possible interest for the ATG analog, but that’d work equally well for Alexander himself. “I don’t want to conquer the world this time, I want to save it!” Totally be his line. And he’d mean it. He might wake up in the 2020s and be completely appalled at the physical state of the world. But the “I” remains big as part of the “saving.” 😉 The Great White Hero, even if he wouldn't frame it in racial terms. Another thing that might interest him would be world hunger, or gang violence, or the international drug trade….

Supposedly “unconquerable” problems.

He'd still want to be a hero. Yet heroes look different today, so he’d change his spots to match.

(The above sidesteps the fact that if he did come forward to claim he was THE Alexander, he’d be called crazy and challenged to prove it. So he’d have a lot of hoops to jump through before he could do anything. And in our post-truth society, there would still be a large chunk of people who’d never believe he was Alexander, no matter what proof he offered. This would no doubt annoy the ever-loving fuck out of him.)

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