~ Today's Alexander Roundup
A few items of interest popped up in today's scan. The major focus today appears to be how 'accurate' the portrayal of things other than Alexander's sexulity are. Most interesting is a piece from the San Francisco Chronicle about Dale Dye's challenges when he became a technical adviser for the flick:
"What would you do if you were confronted with a war chariot?"
That, says retired Marine Capt. Dale Dye, was just one of the questions he had to answer when he signed on as technical adviser for "Alexander." Oliver Stone's biopic stars Colin Farrell as the Macedonian conqueror who died at age 32 after leading his army across 22,000 miles on foot and horseback to vanquish most of the known civilized world.
In 1986, Dye trained actors to behave like Marines for Stone's "Platoon." But for "Alexander," Dye couldn't draw on his own experiences as a Vietnam veteran, nor could he rely on the reams of firsthand accounts and archival film footage available when he consulted on Steven Spielberg's World War II movie "Saving Private Ryan." In re-creating the look and feel of battles that took place 2,400 years ago, Dye this time turned to ancient Roman scholars Plutarch, Arrian, Diodorus Siculus and Quintus Curtius Rufus.
But he felt something was lacking.
"Of course you consult the ancient Roman sources, but there were so many practical questions that were unanswered," says Dye, a white-maned, square- jawed 60-year-old with a trash-compactor handshake and a presence so commanding that Farrell spent three weeks in a desert tent with him in order to soak up the captain's leadership qualities.
"There's been a lot of speculation from academics about how Alexander's army actually fought these battles," Dye says. "I was convinced that in order to find out what really happened, we had to presume that Alexander and his Macedonians had the same sort of soldierly mentality as they do today in Baghdad or anyplace else."
In his research, Dye gained new respect for a military formation invented by Alexander's father, King Philip (played by Val Kilmer) called the syntagma, a square-shaped 256-man battalion. Arrayed together, hundreds of syntagma formed the famous phalanx, Alexander's precision fighting machine that never lost a battle.
"No one ever put a full syntagma in the field before, equipped the way Alexander's Macedonians were," Dye says. "As we got a syntagma together, 256 men, carrying 16-foot spears, I'd look at situations as a combat veteran."
By putting boots -- or sandals -- on the ground, Dye believes he corrected a few false assumptions. For example, Alexander's most formidable foe, King Darius, used camel-driven chariots equipped with scythe-bearing wheels that literally cut down enemy infantrymen at the knees.
"We knew that in one of the ancient sources, Arrian, there's a reference to chariots being allowed to pass. Does that mean the syntagma opened up and allowed the chariots to come through? We think not, because that would make the flanks vulnerable.
"So we experimented with the words 'open up' and came up with a mousetrap, in which the center syntagma sidesteps and opens a hole. The chariot comes into the hole. The soldiers lower their spears, the horses rear back and they come in to kill the horses and kill the men. It took weeks and months of studying this stuff before we put 256 men in a syntagma, including 11 principal actors, and tried it. It was an extraordinary eye-opening situation. Robin Fox, our historical consultant, was saying, 'That must be it -- that must be how they did it!' We were trying to realize Oliver's vision, but what we also did, I think, was that we taught the academics a few things about how it was really done."
To prepare his phalanx for the film's big battle scenes, Dye set up tents in the Moroccan desert and subjected cast members and 1,000 Moroccan soldiers to three weeks of grueling workouts.
"We trained the men using whatever techniques we thought Philip and Alexander would have used," Dye says. "They ran five miles every day and did wrestling and body-contact drills, which means you stand over there about 20 feet away and I'm going to run right smack into you with my head as hard as I can, and you accept my attack.
"In those days, fighting, to a major extent, was hand to hand. We needed the actors to understand that, and to go through the conditioning of a Macedonian soldier. We worked sunup to sundown. We cooked our own food, we ate in the field, we lived under canvas out in the desert and we pushed as hard as we could."
Farrell eventually assumed command of the rehearsal "army" and was addressed as "the Regent.''
"We all made obeisance to him," Dye says. "Colin lived with me in my tent so he could pick up command bearing, leadership presence, that sort of thing. As we moved through the training syllabus, I sort of allowed Colin to take over. I would have loved to have had him in one of my outfits in the Marine Corps. He's an extraordinary kid who's got a huge heart, and I think Alexander must have had a big heart, too. There was nothing we would do to Colin that would beat him down."
Jared Leto plays Alexander's lieutenant and longtime lover, Hephaistion. "In boot camp, you're forced to live with a bunch of strangers," he says. "When you're stuck in the middle of nowhere, starving, eating rotten cheese and maggot-filled raisins, you can't help but form an instant bond."
Dye's grueling regimen bore fruit in "Alexander's" re-enactment of the Battle of Gaugamela. The epic contest took place in Iraq near what is now Fallujah, where 47,000 Macedonian soldiers defeated Darius and his Persian army of 250,000. Dye, serving as second unit director, coordinated those battle scenes.
"If you look at the Battle of Gaugamela in this movie, those are trained, disciplined soldiers who know what they're doing," Dye says. "We had 1,361 men on the field, 102 horses and 10 camels, four war chariots, and we were controlling all of it, moving as a disciplined unit. That's where training pays off."
The film's second big action sequence compresses Alexander's two-year military campaign in India into a surreal, 15-minute bloodbath wherein the Macedonian army fights Indian soldiers mounted on battle-trained elephants. Here, Stone took a few liberties, according to consultant Fox, the Oxford University historian whose "Alexander the Great" biography served as primary source material for the film. Poetic license notwithstanding, Stone pushed his departments to craft historically accurate detailing wherever possible. The silver drinking cups seen in the film are exact replicas of ancient goblets discovered in an archaeological dig, while the unearthing of King Philip's grave in 1977 gave the makeup department specific cues when it came to transforming Kilmer's visage into a likeness of Alexander's one-eyed father. [more]
Elsewhere, an item from the Edmonton Sun shows that Robin Lane Fox continues to be sought out:
Despite the liberties it takes to tell its story, Oliver Stone's Alexander is the most historically accurate film ever made about the ancient world, according to hyper-critical English historian Robin Lane Fox. "I say firmly," Fox declares in an interview, "this was the right team at the right time. And I can say that as an outsider. I have no stake in whether the thing is a success or not."
Fox, an Oxford University professor, wrote a definitive biography of Alexander the Great in 1973. He has lectured extensively on the ancient world and wrote the book The Making of Alexander after working with Stone during the development of the film. He and Stone are now friends.
Fox says that, while Stone compressed facts, shifted some events in time and made up some characters and all the dialogue, the filmmaker adhered as closely as possible to the historical record of the life and times of Alexander, the Macedonian king who ruled 90% of the world that was then known to Greeks, 2,330 years ago.
For example, says Fox, key battle scenes are accurate. The film shows how, in 331 BC, Alexander's 47,000 troops defeated more than 500,000 Persians under Darius III in the desert near the town of Gaugamela in what is now Iraq. "You could send out the Battle of Gaugamela to every university and school in the land and they should have great fun for two hours and it would be a really creative dialogue," Fox says of historians reacting to parts of Stone's film. "Now, I cannot name another piece of filming of the ancient world of which you could do the same."
On the 1956 version of Alexander the Great, starring Richard Burton, Fox says: "I find it very poor. Burton takes a pseudo-Shakespearean tone. He's exclaiming like a big actor the whole time. There's no drama."
Troy, starring Brad Pitt, is even worse, says Fox. "I find Troy a travesty which is one damned thing after another. It doesn't have the same reference to history."
Fox also read the script for Baz Luhrmann's version of Alexander the Great, which is now shelved. "The script version that I read was fake and plastic."
Over the years, Fox himself has negotiated with various filmmakers over rights to use his original book for their films. Gregory Peck, Steven Spielberg and indirectly George Lucas were all involved at certain stages.
"I had come to believe that the project was under an ancient Greek curse," Fox says in his making-of book.
Stone restored the historian's faith in filmmaking. "This one is unusually direct," Fox says in the interview, "and gains hugely from a relationship to history."
A general piece from the San Bernardino Sun inter alia gives a hint at what you might expect if you haven't seen it yet:
Stone knows his movie isn't going to be the last word on a controversial figure who's viewed by many historians as a destroyer who didn't care a whit about spreading Hellenism. He burned Persepolis, the capital of the Persian Empire, wiping out many sacred books in the process. He leveled Thebes, crucified those who resisted him and engaged in wholesale slaughter when invading new areas.
All true, says Stone. But there's more. And the man who made "JFK," "Nixon" and "Born on the Fourth of July," no stranger to having his cinematic interpretations parsed and dissected, isn't afraid of taking a view many see as romantic and contrarian.
"People see Alexander in starker terms: conqueror, tyrant, bloodthirsty vs. generous visionary," Stone says. "But they miss the larger issue. The Hellenic world did spread. Greeks never achieved that. Alexander created the true Hellenic revolution and exported it to the East, to the West, to Rome. So what you have is an empire. First time.
"I think young people today should see what Alexander did at the age of 26, see it and feel it," he adds. "Remember the time when young people could do that, to be leaders. Now they're demographics to be sold to. It's a joke. There's so much more available to them."
If you're looking for book reviews, the Globe and Mail and/or the Toronto Star have the most recent releases covered.
::Sunday, November 21, 2004 10:37:57 AM::
~ A New Forum Near the Forum?
I wonder if there will be any protests raised about this ... from the Washington Business Journal:
Arlington-based Mills Corp.'s latest mega-mall project will be at an historical site near the Roman Forum and Coliseum in Rome.
Mills says it has been hired by the City of Rome to redevelop the site of the former Mercati Generali, an historic food market, into an urban retail, entertainment and cultural center. It would be the first re-use of an historical site in Rome, Mills says in a statement.
Development is scheduled to start in summer 2005. Mills did not disclose financial terms of the project.
The 860,000-square-foot development will have indoor and open-air theaters, spas and sports clubs, restaurants, markets and nightclubs.
Mills (NYSE: MLS) owns or has a stake in about three dozen shopping centers totaling 47 million square feet, with six other projects under construction or development. The company had $100.7 million in revenue last quarter. Net income was $63 million in the quarter, up from $23.7 million a year ago.
There's a bit more info (in Italian) at the Comune di Roma site. I can't quite figure out which Mercato this is ... perhaps some spectacular discoveries will come out of this.
::Sunday, November 21, 2004 10:25:11 AM::
~ Powell and Thucydides Update
T'other day (and in this a.m.'s Explorator), we referenced an article at Crikey.com which, in turn, cited Classicist Shifra Sharlin's article trying to track down the source of Colin Powell's supposed favourite quotation from Thucydides. Shifra Sharlin has since written to me with a bit of a corrective/clarification (which is doubly useful since the original article is not online) and has given me permission to post it:
Thanks for citing my essay on Thucydides and the Powell Doctrine. There are a few corrections I feel obliged to make.
In my essay I argue that Powell's favorite quote ("Of all manifestations of power, restraint impresses men most.") could well have been uttered by the Spartan general, Archidamos. Archidamos shares not only Powell's caution but also his concern for the opinion of his allies. Restraint matters only when relationships do. Unfortunately, Powell also resembles Archidamos in the unpopularity of his advice. It is, of course, surprising that an American general would sound like a Spartan and not the oft-glorified Athenians.
There has been a reassessment of the Athenians both in Thucydidean scholarship and (for a moment anyway) in American foreign policy. Henry Kissinger got in trouble for carrying the popular analogy between the Americans and the Athenians a little too far for Reagan's comfort, making the point that the Athenians did lose to the Spartans. I completely agree that the fascination with the Greeks is itself fascinating, witness the popularity of even a bogus Thucydides quote - which has made its way onto two pornographic websites.
::Sunday, November 21, 2004 10:12:41 AM::
~ Cleopatra Through Arab Eyes
Interesting item at Radio Netherlands about the medieval Arabic perception of Cleopatra ... here's the incipit:
It is said that history is written by the winners, which perhaps accounts for our persisting perceptions of Cleopatra as a kohl-eyed man-eater who committed suicide with the aid of a snake; the Romans who defeated her in 31 BC wrote the accounts which now underpin our historical perspectives of the period. But an alternative view has emerged from research to be published in early December: Cleopatra as a woman of superior intellect who actively pursued philosophical and scientific debate with her peers. According to Okasha El Daly, an Egyptologist with the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology at University College London (UCL) in the UK, this was how Arabic scholars perceived the ill-fated queen more than 800 years after her death.
"Cleopatra is a scientist, a medical doctor, a woman who had invented a theory of mathematics and, above all, a well-known philosopher," Dr El Daly recalls from the many medieval texts he's read, which talked of how she "used to hold courtly seminars almost every week in which she sat with fellow scientists and philosophers and would discuss with them, on the same level, all sorts of philosophical and scientific issues." He adds that whenever they refer to Cleopatra, the medieval Arab scholars "always refer to her as a great eminent scholar and philosopher" and says they "thought very highly of that famous queen". [the rest ... a bit slow to load]
::Sunday, November 21, 2004 10:04:46 AM::
~ Elgin Marbles Again
The Elgin Marbles haven't been in the news of late, but it appears the efforts to get them returned to Greece continue ... from the New Zealand Herald:
Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser yesterday sought the support of New Zealand parliamentarians in urging the British Government to return the Parthenon marbles to Greece.
Know as the Elgin Marbles, half of the figures of the Parthenon have been in Britain since they were sawn off the ancient monument in 1801 by the seventh Earl of Elgin, Bruce Thomas.
The Parthenon marbles are one of the biggest collections of ancient art, consisting of more than 200 pieces. The other half remains in Athens' Acropolis Museum.
Mr Fraser, Australia's second-longest serving Prime Minister, was invited by New Zealand for the Return of the Parthenon Marbles to visit Wellington and talk with political leaders.
"It's not just a matter for the British Government and Greece," Mr Fraser said.
"We all owe a great deal to ancient Greece as part of our democratic heritage going back not hundreds of years, but two or three thousand years," he told reporters.
"Their contribution to civilisation has been enormous and that in a sense creates a wider obligation."
The Elgin Marbles are housed in the British Museum after being bought by the British Government in 1816.
"Whatever way you look at it, the marbles were taken by the Elgin family improperly, wrongly, illegally, whatever words you want to use. Those events set them apart from most cultural matters."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said it was a matter for the British Museum, not a matter for the Government, Mr Fraser said.
"It's not a matter for the British Museum, it's a matter for the British Government."
The return of the Parthenon marbles was a one-off situation because they were so culturally and symbolically important. "I'm confident it will take place because it is intrinsically right. But I cannot tell you it will happen in my lifetime."
Mr Fraser, along with fellow former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, is a patron of the Australian arm of the International Organising Committee which has branches in 14 countries.
The New Zealand organisation wants Parliament to pass a motion recommending the British Government return the artefacts to Greece.
"I very much hope the New Zealand committee will gather strength and support." The motion would have moral force, he said.
The Canadian parliament passed a similar resolution last year.
In Australia, 44 of 148 signed a petition which was presented to Prime Minister John Howard, who then raised the matter with Mr Blair.
New Zealand for the Return of the Parthenon Marbles spokesman and former Labour MP Gerald O'Brien said Health Minister Annette King would put a motion to the House when enough support had been gathered.
A symbolic petition containing 1070 signatures was yesterday presented to Speaker of the House Jonathan Hunt.
All but two political parties had offered to support the motion, Mr O'Brien said.
::Sunday, November 21, 2004 9:59:26 AM::
~ CFP: Technology, Knowledge, and Society
THE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON TECHNOLOGY, KNOWLEDGE AND SOCIETY
University of California, Berkeley, Friday 18 - Sunday 20 February 2005 http://www.Technology-Conference.com
This conference takes a broad and cross-disciplinary approach to technology in society. With a particular focus on digital information and communications technologies, the interests addressed by the conference include: human usability, technologies for citizenship and community participation, and learning technologies. Participants will include researchers, teachers and practitioners whose interests are either technical or humanistic, or whose work crosses over between the applied technological and social sciences.
As well as an impressive line up of international main speakers, the conference will also include numerous paper, workshop and colloquium presentations. We would particularly like to invite you to respond to the conference call for papers. Papers submitted for the conference proceedings will be fully peer-refereed and published in print and electronic formats in the new International Journal of Technology, Knowledge and Society. If you are unable to attend the conference in person, virtual registrations are also available which allow you to submit a paper for refereeing and possible publication in this fully refereed academic journal, as well as access to the electronic version of the conference proceedings. The deadline for the first round call for papers is 30 November 2004. Proposals are reviewed within two weeks of submission.
Full details of the conference, including an online call for papers form, are to be found at the conference website.
... seen on the ANE list
::Sunday, November 21, 2004 9:57:33 AM::
~ AWOTV: On TV Today
9.00 p.m. |DISCU| Alexander
It is 332 BC.- Alexander the Great conquers the Persians and changes the face of warfare. Generations before, the Persian Empire had conquered the Greek colonies throughout Asia Minor, and Persia's power stretched all the way to the Mediterranean.
10.00 p.m. |DISCU| Becoming Alexander
This new biography format will provide a different way of exploring the life and times of some of history’s greatest figures. Follow Colin Farrell as he prepares to play one the most influential individuals of his day. Farell discusses Alexander’s traits.
DISCU = Discovery Channel (US)
::Sunday, November 21, 2004 9:52:43 AM::