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A work of Historical Fiction, not History
on June 28, 2001
Green's "Alexander of Macedon 356-323 B. C. : A Historical Biography", is a famous book which has had a great influence on not only general readers but also on serious scholars. I have much admiration for Green's lucid style and would accept his assertion that he wanted to discover the historical Alexander of flesh and blood stripped away from the accreted myth but I think he has miserably failed in this objective. Green rightly presents Alexander as the most incomparable general the world has ever seen but is not aware of the silent role Sasigupta played in many of his victories. He is totally unaware that Orontobates of Caria was none other than Diodotus of Erythrae of Caria and Tiridates who was at Persepolis. Throughout the work there is a deplorable tendency to carve out an Alexander from the most ghastly and detestable stories that one can lay hands on without for a moment bothering about the probity of the sources or the general scenario. Green mocks at Alexander's idea of Brotherhood of man and at the end what he offers us is essentially an unenlightened Elizabethan perspective. Unfortunately this propaganda has swayed the opinions of many unsuspecting modern historians of Alexander. About himself Prof. Green has recently written, "Professor David Halperin, rather flatteringly, has credited me with being a provocateur, a mischief maker-rather, one gathers, in the spirit of Sherlock Holmes, of whom it was said, in A Study in Scarlet, that he was quite capable of trying out the latest poison on his friends, not out of malice, but in the disinterested pursuit of scientific knowledge". From the recent Scotland Yard reports we now know a little more about the disinterested pursuit of Sherlock Holmes, but this spirit of frolic hardly befits the subject under study. As the great historian J.B. Bury stated, History, after allowing for all its uncertainties, remains a scientific pursuit of Truth and has some relation to the now-forgotten concept of morality. Through the Gedrosian desert Alexander was chasing the all- powerful Moeris (Chandragupta of Prasii). Green has no idea that the navy was carrying provisions for the army which was engaged in a grim and protracted battle. As a general Alexander can hardly be blamed for imposing a levy in order to arrange for the supplies for his army. This is why the people of Pattala had fled. Badian had totally misjudged the situation and had foolishly compared Alexander with Chengiz Khan and Green follows suit and turns history writing into a reckless propaganda exercise. Green's grasp of Indian or Iranian religion or society is extremely meagre. He has almost no time to reflect over the true nature of the Hellenistic miracle or eastern religions like Buddhism which benefited enormously from Alexander's intervention. In my opinion the book is famous for the wrong reasons.