Who killed Alexander the Great? Did he die from poisoning, from arsenic or strychnine, or from malaria, acute cirrhosis, or encephalitis?
Certainly, he had more enemies than he did troops at the end of his career, including the resourceful Ptolemy in Egypt who clearly wanted to do in his orientalizing master.
For that matter, who really killed President John F. Kennedy? Americans love murder conspiracies, but, in the cases cited above, both were done in by Oliver Stone's movies.
Deadly dull and tendentious, they took all the mystery out of some of the greatest enigmas of history.
What a pity, especially since the ancient world has been on a Hollywood roll lately. Who could forget Russell Crowe in "Gladiator" or Brad Pitt in "Troy"?
How many chances do you get to see Hollywood hunks in skirts shouting and running around slaying all the bad guys in sight?
On the historical accuracy meter, "Gladiator" more or less got it right, while "Troy" murdered poor Homer along with Achilles and a host of other dysfunctional Greek cousins.
How could Stone possibly lay an egg with Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie and Sir Anthony Hopkins in starring roles?
He could have produced a seasonal "Lord of the Rings" - style epic with blood-soaked battlefields, graphic violence, not-so-closeted homosexuality and florid drunkenness.
He also had Alexander the Great, one of history's four- star perverts and pickled psychopaths, at its center.
Yet with pouty 27-year-old Jolie as Olympias, mother of 28- year-old Farrell's "Alexander," all hope for Stone's scruples and accuracy in unraveling one of history's greatest mysteries ended.
Instead, Stone fell back upon his inability to rule out anything and everything that could have or might have happened.
Like most of his movies, Stone's "Alexander" failed at the level of empty entertainment, resorting instead to pretentious pomposity and solemnity.
Still, Val Kilmer, playing Alexander's dad, Philip II of Macedonia, in reality a shuffling, one-eyed hoodlum who behaved more like a Mafia boss than a king, almost stole the show.
Notwithstanding all this, the rash of movies like "Alexander the Great," "Troy" and "Gladiator" tell us more about the modern world than they do the ancient.
At 23, the younger-than-Farrell Alexander invaded Afghanistan, and within a decade, conquered ancient Persia and most of the world known to Westerners, in all some one million square miles and 50 million subjects.
His greatest victory came at Gaugamela in modern-day Iraq, not far from Irbil and Mosul where American soldiers daily fight and die. Even a morbid curiosity about the first western invasion of Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan should have helped ticket sales. It didn't.
When faced with uprisings and rebellions in these ancient Persian provinces, Alexander purportedly told the insurgents to "bring it on." They did, and subsequently mass death followed him everywhere.
He leveled the ancient city of Thebes, executed 6,000 of its inhabitants and enslaved 20,000 others.
At Guagamela, near Mosul, and at Tyre and Gaza he dispatched tens of thousands who resisted his encirclement and sieges, all the while leading up to the climax of his "tough guy" persona, the incineration of the ancient capital of Persia in southern Iran, Persepolis, known by its the Greek name, and the cremation of its inhabitants.
Alexander destroyed so many cities that he created others bearing his name all around the known world. Imagine, for example, renaming the capital of Iraq "Bushdad" and having it around for the next 2,300 years.
Alexander did all this for a "good" cause, to create a "Brotherhood of Man," an early version of the United Nations but based upon Greek democratic ideals.
Alexander also wanted to bring about a "peaceful, multi- ethnic coexistence" in the region, albeit with a little touch of cruelty.
Not surprisingly, we love "Gladiator," "Troy" and "Alexander" for equally ambiguous reasons. They all involved the clash of great civilizations, in this case Western and Near Eastern, won by great ideals, terrific technologies, indomitable soldiers in phalanxes or divisions, and visionary leaders.
Of course, today we do this for the preservation of moral values and the extension of democracy, not for any overarching "Brotherhood of Man." Who needs the United Nations or even Napoleon today?
All these classics have other appeals to moderns. For one thing, they occurred before the advent of Christianity or of Islam, thus conveniently leaving religion out of the picture.
Remember Crowe in "Gladiator" grasping clay figurines of his family in his hand even as he died, his last thought that of being reunited with them in a Roman-like heaven?
He had admirable heterosexual, monogamous family values that reinforced his proto-Christian beliefs.
Alexander, the pervert, didn't, but he also came to a bad end in a debauched place called Babylon, not surprisingly located on the Euphrates River in modern Iraq.
Then, too, Alexander might be described as a half-educated youth, equipped with his daddy's army, who conquered and killed with impunity even as he disdained the advice of those around him.
If you disagreed with Alexander, he booted you out of his inner circle, and, in those days, either stabbed you or had you beheaded.
Only the cranky state advisor and philosopher Callisthenes ever wrote a book about Alexander. He paid for that with his life.
I look forward to the next classic making it to the big screen, perhaps a mix between the ecumenical Ben Hur and a nutty Nero and starring Billy Bob Thornton and Britney Spears.