A Conversation with Prof. James Romm, Editor of “The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander”
I almost titled this posting: MESSIAH? MANIAC? OR MERELY…THE GREAT?
It fascinates me that someone who died twenty-three hundred years ago still generates so much interest. How is it possible that each year more than a handful of new biographies/histories of this man’s life and accomplishments are published? What could someone write about him that hasn’t already been written?
Many years ago I helped someone who was working on an “Alexander” project and spent many a night delving into book after book and article after article about Alexander–by the end of it I felt I knew less about him than I did before the project and I wondered why that was. Of course there was the problem of there being very little material available from the time when he lived…and most of what was available was most likely propaganda either pro or con. It wasn’t until Arrian, more than four hundred years after Alexander’s death, that we get the first comprehensive “history” of Alexander. Of course Arrain, living four centuries after his subject, needed to rely on other sources for his information and it is thought he leaned heavily on the work of Ptolemy, one of Alexander’s generals and later the king and pharaoh of Egypt. In all probability he also used the works of Callisthenes, Aristobulus and Nearchus–none of which have come down to us.
But after reading so much about Alexander and coming out of the experience feeling I knew far less about him then before I started, I realized that the biggest problem, far greater than the lack of source material, was that so many of his biographers had an agenda or a “take” on Alexander that they wanted to get across. Their bias or slant was often based on what they had be taught, or what the prevailing “wisdom” of their culture was, or on some “romantic” notion. Before the project my own knowledge of him was based on what I’d read in my High School textbook: “Founder of Western Civilization”, “Greatest General”, “Golden Boy”, etc., etc., etc. Back then there was never any mention of Ammon or the mutilation of Bessos or the executions of Philotas and Parmenion or the murder of Black Kleitos. Things might be different now but I doubt it?
Since that time I’ve come up with another possible reason why we have trouble “knowing” Alexander: Translation. I’m not sure this is that great a problem when it comes to Alexander but having read many different translations of modern Greek poets I’ve found that one person’s interpretation of what someone is trying to say varies greatly from another’s understanding of the same line or verse.
Tonight I’ll get to talk to Professor James Romm about this new edition of Arrian. Let’s be clear though–this is far more than just a new translation. The maps, annotations, pictures and appendices makes this THE Arrian of our generation and probably for many more generations to come.
In a week or so you’ll be able to come here to listen to our conversation.
But for now: