Thursday, December 09, 2004

An Azerbaijani weighs in on "Alexander"

"For those of us who spend most of our time reading old books about ancient figures and events, movies like ?Alexander? offer a breath of fresh air by taking us away from the dusty pages of books and into thrilling theaters. Historical sagas like ?Alexander? make us reflect on how and why certain figures continue to intrigue our imagination and pique our curiosity. Alexander the Great of Macedonia (356-323 BC) is certainly one such figure. His mythical and factual persona has entered into oral narratives and written literatures of peoples of Central Asia and the Middle East ever since his arrival to the region in the spring of 334 BC, provoking thoughtful historical, literary, intellectual, and linguistic debates. Take the name of our homeland, ?Azerbaijan,? for instance. Does this astounding name originate from the name of our ancestors, the Azerler, or is it derived from the name of Atropathena, a general of Alexander?s who became the governor of Azerbaijan after Alexander?s death? Our historians and linguists are still debating this issue.

Narrated through the voice of Anthony Hopkins (as Greek historian Ptolemy), the film takes us on a journey through Alexander?s childhood, teens, youth and adulthood by way of some sporadic episodes, reaching its climax when Alexander defeats the Akhaemanian king Darius III in a long bloody battle in 331 BC. Having beaten the army of what the Greeks referred to as Persia, Alexander and his generals march into Babylonia. With all its splendor and grandeur, even Babylonia cannot contain the wild spirit of this restless figure. He keeps on marching and marching.

It is through Alexander?s encounters with local peoples that we come to witness a phenomenon in the movie that has captured the imagination of generations of historians for centuries: Why is this young conqueror greeted by local peoples throughout the vast Achaemenid Empire as a liberator? Why do we not find any semblance of revolt and revulsion against this man on the part of local peoples and communities? After all, who would want to be conquered and dominated by an outside force? These questions take us back not so much to Alexander?s tolerance and respect for other cultures (which he possessed to an admirable degree) but to the nature of the enemy that he defeats: the warlike tribe of Achaemenians. "