~ Another Alexander Review
Some excerpts from Ben MacIntyre's review in the Times are definitely worth reading:
Alexander is, indeed, an heroically bad movie, its very worst aspect being Colin Farrell’s hairstyle in the title role: a sort of centre-parted, blond-highlighted man-mane, Farrah Fawcett meets Wham-era George Michael. The long debate over how Alexander died has now been superseded by an argument over how, exactly, Colin Farrell was dyed. Farrell’s Alexander wears eyeliner and a fetching leather miniskirt and makes nudge-nudge eyes at his bosom-buddy Hephaistion. The heavy hint of homosexuality has proved too much for Middle America, which has balked violently at the suggestion that the King of Macedon was also a Friend of Dorothy.
There is little evidence about Alexander’s sexuality, and it is highly unlikely that he and Hephaistion were adult lovers. But in creating his own, controversial image of the conqueror, Stone is merely following tradition, for Alexander has always been a figment, in part, of imagination, even while he lived. No figure from history comes so laden with myth.
Earlier legends, such as those of the Sumerian hero Gilgamesh, were effortlessly absorbed into the Alexander übermyth. Ancient Rome added its own slant of hero-worship and bestowed the title “Great”. For 19th-century empire builders, Alexander was the role model, bringing civilisation to the benighted heathen while slaying and enslaving them in droves. The Sixties version of the hero was acclaimed by Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra as a sort of UN hippie missionary: “One world, one nation, one people living in peace.” Today we emphasise that Alexander adopted the customs and dress of the Persians he had defeated and treated his captives humanely (when he didn’t chop their noses off), making him a slightly uncomfortable model of multicultural conquest. Alexander has even popped up on both sides of the war debate, with Bush supporters lauding Alexander's robust neocon approach to invading the Middle East, and opponents citing his campaigns as evidence of how to win the war and then lose the peace.
Alexander is in the eye of the beholder: a military genius to some, a salutary figure of hubris to others, a despot, hero, visionary or mass-murderer. The prewar Alexander popularised by the influential classical scholar Sir William Tarn was a clean-limbed, almost asexual visionary; the Alexander played by Richard Burton in the 1955 film was a bed-hopping strictly hetero hero; Farrell’s Alexander is bisexual and troubled, a crazy mixed-up Macedonian.
Alexander, then, is partly what you want to make of him, and not just in terms of his sexuality. At various times, and often based on evidence ranging from slim to non-existent, he has been portrayed as a Freemason, a diabetic, a cat-hater, left-handed, the ancestor of the Turkana tribe of northern Kenya, the inventor of chess, an alchemist and a borderline lunatic with an Oedipus complex who slept with snakes in his bed. Alexander’s early death has been variously ascribed to leprosy, murder, syphilis, typhoid, panic attacks, infected monkey bite, West Nile virus, and being, in the words of Rowley Birkitt, QC, from The Fast Show, very, very drunk. Indeed, given the array of ailments he has been diagnosed with over the centuries, it is amazing Alexander survived to the age of 32.
Oliver Stone has a penchant for unsubstantiated conspiracy, as demonstrated in his egregious JFK, and in light of this his decision to portray the hero merely as Alexander the Probably Slightly Gay seems quite restrained: he might easily have given us Alexander the Left-Handed Cat-Hating African Syphilitic Booze-hound and Freemason. [the whole thing]
::Saturday, January 08, 2005 7:06:17 AM::
Comment on this post @ Classics Central
~ Cleopatra v. Messalina
A piece in the Spectator ponders the fate of femmes fatale and along the way contrasts Cleopatra's 'legacy' with Messalina's:
To descend into tedium is the destiny of most femmes fatales. St Mary Magdalen, one of my favourite female saints and the patron of courtesans, escaped this fate by becoming a holy camp-follower of Jesus and thus the heroine of painters for two millennia. There is no evidence that she was beautiful or a fallen woman — just devout and tearful, and extravagant. What happened to Helen of Troy? Merely the usual disaster of age. In the 1860s a hideous and ragged hag, scrabbling around the Acropolis, was pointed out to an English traveller: ‘Behold — Byron’s Maid of Athens.’ Do such ladies, once notorious for their beauty, prefer to live on into a decrepit seniority, as walking object-lessons in the transience of worldly delights, to the merciful release of an early death, albeit a violent one? Messalina, third wife of the Emperor Claudius and an egregious strumpet, was executed in the Lucullan Gardens, aged 26. I suspect she would have preferred to live. Not so Cleopatra, who chose the venomous asp rather than survive ‘with Phoebus’ amorous pinches black, and wrinkled deep in time’. But then she was a classy dame, a queen by right (officially Queen Cleopatra VII) who spoke the Greek of Thucydides, or at least of Plutarch. But was she, as Plutarch himself and Dio Cassius insist, a supremely beautiful woman? Dio says she also had a most seductive voice. That old French windbag, André Malraux — now undergoing a revival in Paris — once coined a saying, in a speech to Unesco, ‘Nefertiti is a face without a queen, Cleopatra is a queen without a face.’ Not true, actually. She reigned for 21 years, and constantly issued silver and bronze coins with her image on them, of which ten are in good (but not mint) condition. They do not suggest beauty. On the other hand, a marble head in the Vatican Museum, identified as hers in 1933, has been described by Guy Weill Goudchaux, the great expert on her appearance (see his chapter in the magnificent British Museum volume Cleopatra of Egypt: from History to Myth ), as ‘conveying an idea of a young, fresh, wilful woman’. The nose is missing, however. It is shown as aquiline in a stone head, now in the BM, described as of Cleopatra VII but lacking the royal diadem.
Nothing in history is more irrecoverable than a witty man’s conversation or a woman’s sex appeal. But there are probably good reasons why Cleopatra has inspired endless painters and poets, whereas Messalina survives merely as a term of opprobrium. Some strumpets appeal to our sympathies; others repel them. [the whole thing]
::Saturday, January 08, 2005 6:59:22 AM::
Comment on this post @ Classics Central