Alexander: The Making of a God

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Alexander: The Making of a God

A new approach to history should be interesting for the younger generation.

A few days ago, I saw a headline on the Internet proudly announcing that Internet users – as always, no one knows who – are protesting because Netflix made a documentary about an icon such as Alexander the Great and turned him into “GAY“. This headline was part of a broader context that could be called “I DON’T WATCH NETFLIX“. Some people boast about it, even using it as a verbal banner on the Internet to emphasize that this platform spoils the so-called good cinema, and they belong to a more mentally formalized group that guards the quality of world cinematography. However, each generalization contains a logical error in inference – it results from an individual assessment justifying the general rule. Having a classical education, I decided out of curiosity that I would check out this “hated” Netflix and see, as a lover of ancient history, what actually happened to Alexander the Great. I felt that it wasn’t that bad, and the great Macedonian wasn’t turning over in his lost grave, and although I’m not a fan of fictionalized historical documents, I was drawn into this story from my school days, as if all over again. And, surprisingly, it is not about gays at all, but about a great, characterologically complex leader whose vision of the state left its mark all over the world. If the creators had paid even more attention to historical details, it would have been a great material to display at school, but this requires a comment from someone who specializes in the contemporary reception of those times.

Teaching history is not easy – you need to have great talent in coming up with a way to convey information about past history so that the recipient feels moved by it and understands that these past events also influence him today. So I turned on the first episode of the series How Alexander: The Making of a God and after a while I reached for the shelf in my bookcase where there are books that are rarely taken out – they might seem old, unnecessary, kept only out of sentimentality. I found a textbook on ancient history by Julia Tazbirowa and Ewa Wipszycka, from which I studied in high school. I leafed through it to find the chapter on Alexander the Great – it wasn’t easy because the pages fell out. And I was surprised that these were pages from 129 to 134. I remembered from school that there were more of them, but it was probably a false impression, now I know why. So I read these few pages – extremely boring. Now, after watching it, I know that boredom is more or less accurate in terms of facts, and even the Netflix documentary is much more detailed, although not perfect (no siege of Thebes). A lot was omitted, some facts were sensationally tweaked, which changed Alexander’s motivation to attack Persia into a more personal one, and these divisions, battalions and generals are grating unpleasantly, because these are not those times. However, the production does not have the ambition to discover any news about Alexander the Great – anyone who did not sleep in history classes must know this. However, there is an important difference between these messages, which has enormous pedagogical significance. Netflix rather encourages you to get to know this character. This fascination should naturally lead to the biography of Alexander by Peter Green, as well as several other interesting works. However, these are the next levels. First you need this initial willingness, although in the context of parascientific terminology I prefer to call it intellectual desire.

I was lucky to have two excellent history teachers in high school who, unlike the textbook I found, were able to tell a story. It was similar with physics and chemistry teachers. However, I know that not all students were and are lucky today. That’s why educational films are so important, including: historical ones that tell the past in a vivid way, substituting visualizations for verbal descriptions. This is how the Netflix documentary about Alexander the Great is done. Thanks to him, this character comes alive, and the recipient learns not only about detailed historical facts and the process of their mutual transformation into one another, creating what we call history, but also about the people who hide behind the facts, along with their personalities, emotions, doubts, because undoubtedly they had them, since they co-created such events. This model of learning about history gives a chance that someone will actually fall in love with it, and not just memorize a few dates, memorize bland descriptions of facts, pass a test and forget about it all after a week. Knowledge of history is the basis of our identity. For centuries, tyrants have been destroying human freedom, depriving members of the communities they want to conquer the opportunity to get to know and understand the past, both local and global history. The initiative of Netflix, as well as other film producers, to give a fictional look to the most important facts from our past, especially those that happened at a time when there were no media recording images and sounds, is always very necessary.

Alexander the Great’s journey to power, so short but violent, has already appeared on big screens. Oliver Stone has already made a film about him. He managed to do it quite well, but it was entertainment, not a documentary. Now Netflix has gone further. He presented a fictionalized historical document based on the story told by the priestess of Amun from the temple of Siva, where Alexander went to finally ascertain his divine origins. It tells the story of a son returning from exile to his father who does not believe in him, but the father dies unexpectedly and the son must become king. However, he does not expect that the role of the king in his case will be the role of the God of the world of that time. This is how the story of Alexander (Buck Braithwaite) begins, as absorbing as the best thriller film, with well-planned suspense, executed on a grand scale, although not without mistakes, which is especially visible in the limited film sets of Babylon, when Darius III gives orders to his “generals and advisors. The music is also not of the highest quality – sometimes you get the impression that it was bought from a stock store. But on the other hand, it is a historical document, and it fulfills its pedagogical task perfectly – it draws us in, gives dry facts a personalized meaning, and Alexander finally remains in our imagination in a way that encourages us to get to know the history of those times more thoroughly than we wanted to learn mechanically and instilled without flair at school. The reference to today’s Alexandria and the search for the ruler’s tomb by a team of archaeologists led by Dr. Pepi Papakosta was also cleverly played.

As for Alexander’s alleged homosexual orientation, or perhaps better to say, his non-binary nature. The documentary doesn’t focus on this at all. A slight mention of the relationship with Hephaestion is made in episodes 1 and 6. We can learn more about the ruler’s sexuality from the writings of Quintus Curtius Rufus and Plutarch. Alexander had many faces, including sexual ones, and reducing his character to being gay and, on that basis, giving a negative rating to the entire documentary to indirectly prove his dislike for Netflix is ​​an expression of a very short, limited judgment. And even if we had some truly irrefutable proof of Alexander’s specific non-heteronormative sexual orientation, could a question of a different nature be asked online? How could it be that such a type could be considered God at all? Did his orientation help him? Is this related, and not just in ancient times? Maybe one day I’ll have a chance to discuss this topic again as part of a movie story.

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