[FOUNTAIN]East and West riffs replay past strugglesWhy did Alexander the Great go to the East? Filmmaker Oliver Stone answered the question in his 2004 movie, “Alexander.” The king, played by Colin Farrell, wanted to build an “empire not of land and gold but of mind.”
Alexander the Great might have actually tried to propagate the advanced civilization of Greece to the East. His father, Philip of Macedon, had invited Aristotle, the most respected scholar of the time, to educate his son. His Hellenistic tendency was confirmed in the course of suppressing the rebellion of Thebes. When they refused to surrender, Alexander’s army completely destroyed the city. About 6,000 were massacred and 30,000 citizens were made slaves. However, the house of the poet Pindar was unharmed for Alexander had a great respect for his work.
Greece, at the time, was a politically advanced city-state with experience in direct democracy. The Athenians had a legacy of electing their own leaders, and their leaders would listen to the opinions of the citizens. Meanwhile, the East was the stronghold of tyranny by kings who enjoyed semi-god status. Alexander the Great wished to conquer the East, oust the absolute monarchies and transplant the Greek civilization. He arranged a group wedding of Macedonian officers and local women and trained tens of thousands Persian young men in a Macedonian-style military program. He created 70 Greek-style cities, including Alexandria in Egypt, and forced the locals to move there and live like Greeks.
The defeated Asian country at the time was the Persian Empire, now modern day Iran. Before the Persian Empire, the Mesopotamian region had been ruled by Babylonia for a millennia. The heart of ancient Babylon is today’s Iraq. Phoenicia, now Syria, used to be the gateway between the East and the West, where Western civilization moved into the Orient and Mesopotamian civilization moved to the Mediterranean.
The United States has triumphed in wars against Afghanistan and Iraq and now is eyeing Iran and Syria. Cornered by Washington’s pressure, Iran and Syria have bonded to stand against the United States together. Just as Iran and Syria are no longer Persia and Phoenicia, President Bush is not Alexander the Great. However, history seems to repeat itself after two millennia. Freedom is certainly a Hellenistic slogan.
by Oh Byung-sang
The writer is the JoongAng Ilbo’s London correspondent.