The Nine Worthies: Alexander the Great

He believed the gods of Homer and ancient Egypt were with him, and we know as Christians that the One True God must have been with him; For by his march across the world, Alexander the Great prepared the way for its conversion.

Dr. Warren Carrol, lecture on Alexander the Great

By N.D.C. Wansbutter, Esq.

The Nine Worthies (les neuf preux) are nine historical, scriptural, mythological or semi-legendary figures who, in the Middle Ages, were adopted in a gallery of heroes that were paragons of chivalry in their respective traditions. As will all things medieval, they are divided into three groups of three in honour of the Trinity: the Jews, the Pagans, and the Christian. They were:

Jewish: Joshua, David, and Judas Maccabeus
Pagan: Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Hector
Christian: King Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bouillon

I've studied several of these men over the years, and intend to look at the rest of them before long. History is a great source of inspiration for my writing, and the Nine Worthies especially so.

Alexander the Great

Living from 20/21 July 356 – 10/11 June 323 BC, Alexander was the greatest general of all time. He never lost a battle. To quote Dr. Warren Carrol, “he might have conquered the world, but died before he was forty, with his armies at the border of China. He was a meteor and transformer of history, who created the Hellenistic world through which the Gospel of Jesus Christ spread three hundred years later.”.

He was the son of King Philip II of Macedon, a great warrior and conqueror in his own right, had put all of Greece under his rule. He was assassinated and Alexander King at the age of 20.

Philip desired that Alexander receive a Greek education, and as such, Alexander's teacher was "the supreme Greek intellect", the philosopher Aristotle. Alexander always considered himself Greek first, and considered himself the guardian and champion of Hellenic culture. He combined the skill at arms and political sagacity of his father, blazing passion of his mystic mother Olympias, and the discipline and expansion of mind of his tutor, Aristotle

Having nourished himself on ancient epics, modelled himself after great heroes and deliberately aspired to conquer the entire civilized world. And, returning to the theme of the quote above from Dr. Carroll, herein lies his great contribution to humanity, and the reason that he is worthy of honour on a Catholic blog.

Creating the "Hellenistic world" was, simply, the spread of Greek culture throughout what was then the civilized world. This included the spread of the Greek language which was important to spreading the gospels, but other aspects of Greek culture such as its literature, learning and reason, and arts, thus putting for the first time Jew and Greek in the same cultural orbit and founding the basis for Christendom or "Christian Civilization". For, without first the Hellenisation of the Ancient World, it would not have been possible for the Romans to enjoy their success and thus serve their own purpose as the vessel of the one true Church.

We thus may see in Alexander the Great yet another example of the Lord "writing straight with crooked lines".

How Alexander the Great created the Hellenistic World was through his impressive wars of conquest which will be recounted but very briefly: after putting down rebellions on the Balkan Peninsula, he set out to conquer Greece's ancient enemy, the Persian Empire. In the spring 334 BC his army of 32,000 (less than half Macedonians), including the 1800 companion cavalry which he always led himself, crossed to Asia. He offered sacrifice on the hill of Troy (Iliad) and garlanded the tomb of Achilles, from which took the epic hero's shield for himself. Having identified himself with Homer’s epic, met Persian army head-on at the Battle of the Granicus (near Zelea); his life saved in that battle by his trusted bodyguard Cleitus the Black who he, years later, killed in a drunken rage. Alexander killed or sold into slavery the Greek mercenaries with the Persian army as traitors, but offered the Persians to join him.

His navy was weaker than the Persians so he set about capturing all the ports, thus neutralising that advantage the enemy had. He worked his way through Asia minor and down through the Holy Land. He conquered the hitherto unvanquished city of Tyre by extending the land out to the island city and storming it.

On 1 October 331 B.C. he met the entire Persian army at Al Gaugamela, and, outnumered 2:1 delivered another crushing blow to the Persians. Never hesitating, never making a mistake, he won victory after victory against such odds. By January 330 B.C., his army was at the persian gates (guarding the only road to Persepolis). It presented a narrow valley guarded by thousands; but for Alexander every physical obstacle was but a new challenge and he took half his army over the snowy mountains and struck the Persians in the rear, scattering them. He then took Perseopilis and burnt Xerxes' palace to the ground. From here he continued through modern-day Iran and across more mountains taking Samarkand and establishing there Alexandria the Furthest. From thence he plunged into India where his army finally refused to carry on.

Returning home, he led his men across the Godrosian desert in Iran -- no other army has ever done this. He died soon after, perhaps from Typhoid Fever, perhaps in part from his many injuries he received including an arrow through the lungs while fighting alone inside a fortress in India. After his death, his successors could not maintain such a massive realm and it was split into four.

The prophet Daniel fortold Alexander the Great (Book of Daniel, Chapter VIII), with Fr. Leo Hayrdock comments in parentheses:

"... and behold a he goat (Greece) came from the west on the face of the whole earth, and he touched not the ground, and the he goat had a notable horn between his eyes (Alexander the Great). And he went up to the ram (Persia) that had the horns, which I had seen standing before the gate, and he ran towards him in the force of his strength. And when he was come near the ram, he was enraged against him, and struck the ram: and broke his two horns, and the ram could not withstand him: and when he had cast him down on the ground, he stamped upon him, and none could deliver the ram out of his hand. And the he goat became exceeding great: and when he was grown, the great horn was broken, and there came up four horns (the four kingdoms of Alexander's generals) under it towards the four winds of heaven. And out of one of them came forth a little horn (Antiochus Epiphanes): and it became great against the south, and against the east, and against the strength (Jerusalem and the people of God)."


A Knight of the White Cross (Book Review)

Title: A Knight of the White Cross : A tale of the siege of Rhodes
Author: G.A. Henty
Publisher: Lost Classic Books
My Rating: 3.5 stars our of 5
Summary in a Sentence: An excellent book for young boys which follows the exploits of Gervaise Tresham, a fine role-model and young knight of the Order of St. John at the time of the First Siege of Rhodes (1480); available for free in Amazon Kindle

G.A. Henty wrote a whole slew of books for young boys starting in 1868. I read this book (a) because the Kindle version is free, (b) because my grandfather, a man of good character, grew up with these books, and (c) they are part of Angelicum Academy's Good Books programme which I intend to "indoctrinate" my children with. I found it, on the whole, to be a very good adventure book for young boys (Angelicum has it in the Grade 4 curriculum).

It tells the tale of Gervaise Tresham, son of an honourable knight on the losing side of the War of the Roses. Gervaise's father had promised the Lord God that if he had a son he would pledge him to the Order of St. John, and when his father is beheaded after the Battle of Tewskbury, Gervaise follows his father's wishes and joins the Knights and travels to Rhodes (as an aside, Sir Thomas Tresham was a real historical figure, but his son Gervaise is fictional -- Sir Thomas' real son was John and he did not join the Hospitallers). Once at Rhodes, in true Henty fashion, Gervaise embarks on a series of fantastic adventures, all of which he weathers with courage, humility, and grace.

The best part about this and the other Henty books I've read, is the most excellent example set by the main protagonist. One might argue that the protagonists are too perfect, and too similar (indeed, Gervaise Tresham is basically the same character as Rupert Holiday from The Cornet of Horse) -- but, I think for young boys' fiction this is a good thing. And Gervaise is possessed of, in good measure, all the major virtues: fortitude, temperence, chastity, prudence, justice (and his adventures give him opportunity to rely on these virtues in equal measure). The adventures Gervaise takes part in are fast-paced, varied, and sure to capture the imagination of young readers. I recommend this work almost without reservation to parents with sons.

I say almost without reservation, because some of Henty's Protestantism does show through. Although he's no anti-Catholic bigot like Sir Walter Scott, some conversations during the book between the knights about their vow of chastity belies a complete lack of understanding of the virtue of continence or of such vows. In the end, Sir Gervaise is released from his vows by the pope so that he may marry a wealthy heiress. But it is not egregious and a little bit of discussion will easily nullify this shortcoming of the work.


Bits and Pieces 4

R.I.P. Neil Armstrong

Busy with family in from out of town, so I only have time for some brief thoughts jumbled together rather than a full-blow article, pointing out and musing on a few things I've been thinking about lately.
  • I'd initially heard that Peter Jackson's take on The Hobbit was going to be a two-parter. I thought that was a bit much, but okay, I like The Hobbit and I thought that the L.O.T.R. series was pretty good so I was willing to give the benefit of a doubt. But my father sent me an article that said: The Hobbit is an upcoming film series consisting of three epic fantasy-adventure films directed, co-written and produced by Peter Jackson and based on J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy novel of the same name. The films are, by subtitle, An Unexpected Journey (2012), The Desolation of Smaug (2013) and There and Back Again (2014). Three films. Now that's just a blatant money-grab. Unfortunately this probably won't stop me from
  •  It's been a few weeks already since the death of Neil Armstrong. The Guardian had a pretty good article about how his legacy has been wasted, pretty much echoing some of the things I've written here at Swords and Space -- namely, that the future of space exploration may be with the private sector. I know some readers are not keen at all about the idea, and I agree to an extent. But I think it may be inevitable at this point. Governments surely haven't been getting the job done over the last 50 years.
  • It's a bit of a sad thing for me that given the lack of even a hint of returning to the moon since the early 70s, when my son asked me yesterday if he might fly a space ship one day I had to say I can't make any promises. I know that my parents, who were children in 1969, had good reason to tell me that they thought there might be lots of space exploration by the time I was an adult. But having seen no significant progress in my time, I'm not so sure.
  • Which means my dream of living on Mars will probably never happen. Which is really too bad because I think the cool, dry climate would rather suit me. The Martian day is about 40 minutes longer than an Earth day, which isn't a huge difference but I could definitely handle an extra forty minutes per day. Might actually get some writing done!


The Renaissance and the End of the Middle Ages

 I've been focusing a lot on science and science fiction stuff, without enough talk about the past (the "swords" of "Swords and Space") so I thought it high time to do a post with the history tag. In discussing the HBO rendition of A Song of Rape and Murder, the Renaissance came up in the comments box and I think the point is worth emphasizing a bit more.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of people conflate the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, especially when it comes to negatives. The Middle Ages therefore gets tarred with the crimes of Renaissance, and somehow the Renaissance tends to get a free pass. For example, the favourite slander that Medieval people had poor hygiene actually comes during the Renaissance and the so-called "Enlightenment". There are many more crimes that belong solely to the Renaissance and have nothing to do with the Middle Ages, but I won't be able to get into all of those today. The important thing to keep in mind is that the Middle Ages was the culmination of centuries of the Catholic faith being integrated into society, and the Renaissance was a conscious return to paganism (they may not have started publicly worshiping Jupiter, but they did return to pagan principles).

So G.R.R. Martin apparently used material on The War of the Roses as his "inspiration" for the civil war in his books. Worth noting is that the War of the Roses began in 1455. Without getting into how his depiction of such a war is outrageously ridiculous even in the Renaissance, I note that we're well into that pagan period at 1455. Many historians give the fall of Constantinople as the end of the Middle ages in 1453. I myself prefer the reasoning of Atila Sinke Guimarães, who puts the end of the Middle Ages (or, at the very least, the beginning of the end) was 8 September 1303 a.D.

That day, in the town of Anagni, about forty miles south of Rome, William of Nogaret, councillor and keeper of the seal to King Philip IV of France abducted Pope Boniface VIII. Nogaret had been sent to Italy with the task of kidnapping the Pope and bringing him to France for a show trial to be followed by deposition. Nogaret gathered together a band of some 1,600 rogues and political enemies of the Gaetani family (Boniface VIII's family) and suddenly attacked the town, looted the castle, and took the pope captive. After two days of humiliation and threats, the people of Anagni rose up and expelled Nogaret and his men. The pope died in Rome a month later, however.

This event is significant because it was a terrible blow against supremacy of the Papacy over the temporal monarchs, which was one of the great characteristics of the Middle Ages. That supremacy was important for many reasons, but thinking back again to the discussion of A Game of Thrones, in the real world when nobles behaved even half as badly as Martin's nobles, they would be excommunicated (if they didn't meet another bad end). The role of the Church in the Middle Ages did a great deal to rein-in those few lords who might abuse their powers -- contrasted with the Renaissance where the Church was less powerful (especially after the Protestant Revolt).


Your Bi-Weekly Update #11

Secular "holy" day here in Canada (and the U.S.) today. Planned on going to the office just on principle, but my brother-in-law who I haven't seen in four years is passing through today so, I'm not at work, but only have time for a brief update. As I write these things, it always seems that two weeks has passed in the blink of an eye and I haven't accoplished much since the last one (a constantly humbling experience).

1. Got a couple of the thanks from last week's painting/modelling blog post primed. I was going to do the first base paint (dark grey) but decided I should do some writing instead ...

2. Through force of will I got a solid 600 or so words done on a new short story. I tend to slow myself down by overthinking things and second-guessing what I'm writing. But I am trying to just trust my inspiration and write what the Muse is giving me on the first draft, and hope that in the revision process any errant themes can be picked out. I learned while writing Call to Arms that writing is more about momentum/inertia than anything else so that's why I opted to force myself to write last night.


The Dark Knight Rises (Movie Review)

Title: The Dark Knight Rises
Director: Christopher Nolan
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Starring: Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Excellence: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: An excellent conclusion to the Christopher Nolan trilogy featuring the well-known comic book hero, featuring some surprisingly counterrevolutionary themes

I went to see this film a few weeks ago with my father and was rather surprised at how good it was. Not because I expected it to be bad -- I thought that the other films in the trilogy were also very well done -- but because it exceeded any reasonable expectations I could have for a mainstream film.

The film takes place eight years after The Dark Knight (2008); "a new terrorist leader, Bane, overwhelms Gotham's finest, and the Dark Knight resurfaces to protect a city that has branded him an enemy" (per IMDB). As with the previous Christopher Nolan installments, the film has a dark ambience, but not a bleak one. There is plenty of hope that good will triumph over the evil that threatens to overwhelm everything. The acting is excellent and the plot has plenty of twists and turns. It boils down to a very well-done good versus evil plot.

But what really surprised and interested me, was the heavy use of French Revolution tactics and rhetoric on the part of Bane in his terrorism of Gotham. The storming of Blackgate Penitentiary and release of the criminals therein was a clear reference to the storming of the Bastille, complete with Bane spouting rhetoric worthy of the Tennis Court Oath: "We take Gotham from the corrupt! The rich! The oppressors of generations who have kept you down with myths of opportunity, and we give it back to you... the people. Gotham is yours. None shall interfere. Do as you please. Start by storming Blackgate, and freeing the oppressed!"

The thing that makes it interesting, too, is that it's not totally black-and-white, and takes into account some of the complexities of reality, such that Blackgate, while housing heinous criminals, does so thanks to legislation that violates basic civil liberties. The film does an excellent job of showing the gross excesses of a French Revolution approach to things while acknowledging that the status quo frequently has problems as well. There is more that could be said as the anti-revolutionary tone of the film fascinates me no end.

It's definitely worth seeing, even if you're not specifically a Batman/comic fan as it's simply a good film.
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