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ISSUE 119 VOL 19 PUBLISHED 5/5/2006

Borza reveals 'true' Alexander

By Jared Wall
Staff Writer

Friday, May 5, 2006

St. Olaf students and faculty gathered in Holland Hall, Room 501, Thursday, April 27 to learn the true history of Alexander the Great, as well as why the movies about his “dynamic” and “exciting” historical epics are failures.

Eugene Borza, professor emeritus of ancient history at Pennsylvania State University, stepped in to fill the gaps. Borza, who the American Philological Association refers to as "the Macedonian specialist," is considered one of the foremost authorities of ancient Macedonian archaeology and history.

Borza, once a visiting professor at Carleton College, was brought in by the Society of Ancient History to give a lecture called "Alexander the Great: Images in Modern Culture, Film and Politics." He addressed the evolution of Alexander’s myth and reputation from ancient times to the present, with a special emphasis on popular culture.

Borza said that one is hard pressed to find such a compelling figure as Alexander of Macedon. Arguably the most famous person in secular history, "there is hardly a people from America to India who has not formed a conception, however misaligned, on Alexander’s exploits," said Borza.

This is particularly true for modern filmmaker Oliver Stone, whose 2004 release "Alexander" received a good chunk of Borza’s commentary. Stone, with much historical research and money at his disposal, became "obsess[ed] with Alexander’s sexual exploits" and let "trivial historical inaccuracy" overshadow character development. This presentation of Alexander caused an outcry upon the film’s release in Greece, where Greek lawyers threatened Stone with litigation if he did not claim that "Alexander" was purely a work of fiction.

"Historical knit-picking is not the appropriate demonstration of American films," Borza said. He continued, saying that "all dramatic films … begin with historical compromises" in language, artistic vision, and entertainment value. Borza pointed out that arranging "Alexander" like Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" was not conceivable, and the film should not be held to the same standard. Dramatic movies by their very definition have historical inaccuracy built in.

"What he [Alexander] believed, personally, died with him," Borza said. "If we want evidence of Alexander’s personal ambitions, we must look elsewhere." We can only hope that modern day entertainment culture can convey the experience of a time and place to an audience far removed from it, for which Borza praised the 2004 film "Troy" and the 1960 "Spartacus.” When searching for the true Alexander, however, one must search for him in the "mythical status represented in his mythical aspirations," according to Borza.

Borza, who said that he will never write a book about Alexander, has nevertheless made his mark upon the Alexander mythos. His modern insights into the convoluted historiography lend credence to the adage that the more you learn, the less you know, which is an undeniable truth when studying the life of Alexander. But it is also true that the more you know, the more you want to know. Such is the appeal of Alexander the Great.

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