Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Alexander the Great Fabulous: the Man Who Brought the World to its Knees, by Michael Alvear and Vicky A. Shecter (Advocate Books, 2004). Having read just about every last bit of biographical material on everyone's famous Macedonian, I wasn't sure how this 169-page pseudosatire was going to sit with me, but how can you not love a book with passages like this:
Nothing was ever done in Greek life without consulting the gods. You were either favored or cursed by them, depending on your actions. The gods were churlish, petulant, jealous, and petty. They were said to live on Mt. Olympus, but their pure bitchiness leads many historians to believe they actually lived on Fire Island.

That's gold, Jerry -- gold!

I'm about halfway through this book, and absolutely loving it. With perhaps the exception of Mary Renault's fantastic -- or are they fabulous? -- Alexander novels (Fire From Heaven, The Persian Boy, and Funeral Games) or her more serious history The Nature of Alexander, those who have attempted to write about the life of Alexander the Great have either denied his preference for his own gender or attempted to minimize or apologize for it. Not this book, however. Alvear and Shecter embrace Alexander for who he was, not who we have so desperately wanted him to be:
There is no question that Alexander was at the top of the Most Wanted list at police headquarters, Drama Division. His gift for the overly dramatic gesture has never been equaled. Yet there was something unique about Alexander's histrionics -- something that set him apart from all the divas that would come after him. Yes, he cried easily. Yes, he threatened suicide if he didn't get his way. Yes, he liked to punctuate every phrase he uttered with an exclamation mark. Yes, he loved to wear outrageous clothes. Yes, everything was an emergency.

But Alexander was a different kind of drama queen. Usually we think of them as the pumped, plucked, and pickled Boys in the Band. But as over-the-top as Alexander could be, he was no Liberace in fatigues. If you're thinking Paul Lynde leading 400,000 men across the desert, think again. If you're thinking Steven Cojocaru in hand-to-hand combat, you're deluded. If you're thinking Michael Musto slitting his enemy's throats with a nail file, stop thinking -- please, you're giving us a headache.

Instead, think Patton taking bubble baths or MacArthur in moo-moos or Schwarzkopf with fag hags or Vin Diesel elbowing Aretha Franklin off the stage at a VH1 concert.

Of course this is a backwards projection as well, an attempt to recast Alexander the Great as "history's most fabulous queer personality", but as appropriations go this is a pretty darned good one, as it squares with the available historical evidence we have much better than many most of the sober monographs which have been written about the man. That the world's greatest conqueror could have embodied everything which modern Western military culture has demonized for centuries has lead to some fairly contorted and/or distorted portraits of Alexander (look no further than Oliver Stone's Alexander, which was de-gayed for its release on DVD after depictions of the Macedonian's same-sex relations in the theatrical release ignited controversy among more conservative circles and even prompted the threat of a lawsuit by 25 Greek lawyers). Alexander the Fabulous makes for a welcome antidote to all of this unnecessary moralizing and hand-wringing, and at under 200 pages it's a fun and easy read -- even for the historically challenged!

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