Alexander the Great was not a good or nice man. He was an imperialist warmonger. Thousands of innocents died because of his megalomaniac desire to rule the world. Nowadays, he is romanticised by epic Hollywood movies such as Alexander (2004), starring Colin Farrell.
Funnily enough, Alexander has been romanticised throughout history. There is even a body of central Eurasian mythology actually called ‘The Alexander Romances’.
The various versions of these fanciful histories of Alexander the Great have been absorbed and retold by many cultures and peoples across the centuries. Each has reinterpreted them in some way to serve their own agenda, thereby using already highly dubious legends as propaganda.
The particular Alexander story that is drawn upon allegorically in the novel I Am Not Gog is common to many manifestations of his ‘histories’, usually with some variance. I will summarise the main thrust of that story in my own words in one paragraph:
Alexander is on a long journey. He might be surveying his empire, exploring the wider world, or working to expand his empire. He reaches an area at the lowlands of the southern side of the Caucasus mountains. The people there complain to him that they are constantly being troubled by tribes from the north, called Gog and Magog. To solve the problem and stop the attacks, he builds them some giant brass and iron gates at the pass through which the marauders had been coming to harass the locals. They agree to pay him tax for this and so effectively become part of his empire. That’s it, in a nutshell.
Scholars today generally doubt that Alexander had ever actually been in the region. The romances can be quite florid and fantastical, with such things as people with no heads but eyes and mouths in their chests, giants, and fountains of life, so you really would have to be a bit daft to take them as real history even if they might contain some other things that tally with what scholars would agree as being probably true.
The point of its allegorical use in I Am Not Gog is two-fold. First, we have a form of literature that presents itself as true when it is not true and is being used by the writers to manipulate the reader into seeing history the way they want them to. Second, within the Romances’ narrative, we see a particular instance of a story that probably originated from an impulse to propagandise. I will unwrap that second point.
There are several ways to look at the Caucasus-gate story. It sells Alexander as a benevolent emperor, for one thing. For another, the leaders of the people who now find their state absorbed into a huge empire paying taxes to a foreign emperor can justify capitulating to this external rule. Also, importantly, how do we know – how did the people of the lowlands know – that Alexander hadn’t previously encouraged the marauders to harass the people of the lowlands so that he could ‘save’ the lowlanders from a problem he had created? Remember: Alexander was a bad man.
He studied under the philosopher Aristotle, who is known to have taught that rulers should pretend to believe in the faiths of those they rule because they would be more inclined to accept their governance. Alexander, apparently devout in the faith of the Greeks, is known to have worshiped Egyptian gods while in Egypt. All the historians I have read on this don’t seem to see this as devious in any way, the gullible lot. I do.
Therefore, if the Romances’ Caucasus-gate story were true (but it isn’t), then it would be perfectly in character for Alexander to have secretly engineered the problem from which he then ‘saves’ the lowlanders with his giant gates. It is, therefore, a doubly-devious bunch of propaganda that is drawn upon in the novel to help interrogate the target of the allegory, which is our unnamed modern-day international phenomenon (UMDIP).
This blog is the second in a small series of five discussing the four strands of allegory running between Lydia’s story (source) and UMDIP (target). The third is here, the fourth is here, and the last is here. The first, a general overview of the allegorical scheme, can be read here.