Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Some Persians find Alexander not so 'great'

Hollywood's rendition of the legendary king angers Iranians

From The Daily Star

Some Iranians are up in arms again at the U.S. - this time due to Hollywood's version of Alexander the Great's conquest of ancient Persia. According to Hassan Moussavi, who teaches history at Shiraz University, Oliver Stone's latest blockbuster is merely the latest in a long line of affronts to the national esteem of the Persians.

"There is not even any proof that this Alexander even existed," asserted Moussavi, who said he was "fed up" with history's ongoing fascination with the Macedonian king, who died in 323 BC at the age of 32 after capturing most of what was then the known world.

"We should be clearer about which Alexander we are talking about. There are 300 of them in our history books, but no archaeological relic proves the existence of this particular one," said Moussavi.

The movie "Alexander" has yet to appear in Iran, but here in Shiraz - not far from the ancient city of Persepolis that Alexander destroyed along with the Persian empire of Darius III - it is likely to upset a people who prefer to see their Persian forefathers as the founders of civilization and a matter of national pride.

Furthermore, Iranians have so far had to make do with a one-sided account of Alexander's exploits, given that historians say that Darius III - who while on the throne was proclaimed the "king of kings" - left little in the way of historical documents.

So viewers will have to make do with watching the Persian king suffering defeat at the hands of the lesser-numbered Macedonian forces, and then flee in his chariot from the young blond-haired conqueror played by Irishman Colin Farrell.

For Moussavi, Oliver Stone's film "is built on a biased and partisan vision of history, and will only add to centuries of distrust toward the West. Another Iranian historian, Kaveh Farrokh, has also complained of "grave historical errors," in the film.

In a report in the Internet site of Iran's National Heritage Organization, he complained that "the ancient Iranians are portrayed in a way that is comical, if not insulting."

Roxana, the Persian wife of Alexander portrayed in the film by African-American actress Rosario Dawson, "was not black just as Alexander was not a Scandinavian," Farrokh complained over what he sees as the film's depiction of a Nordic blond defeating dark-skinned people.

"It seems that when it comes to the Iranians and their identity, we are permitted to rewrite history to entertain," he said, adding he was hoping for the day when a film would tackle the life of Sassanid king Shapour I (241-272 AD) who "defeated three Roman emperors."

But Shahryar Adle, an Iranian archaeologist, says Iranians should stop worrying about Alexander and instead embrace him as a man who came, married and never went back.

"The Europeans and the Greeks have seized on Alexander as a champion of the West against the East," he said. "But it was not Europe which won, because he was transformed into a Persian prince."


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