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Time Commanders: The Battle of Marathon

Time Commanders - The Battle of Marathon by AlexanderMacedon

The battle of Marathon is one of history's most famous military engagements. It is also one of the earliest recorded battles. Their victory over the Persian invaders gave the fledgling Greek city states confidence in their ability to defend themselves and belief in their continued existence. The battle is therefore considered a defining moment in the development of European culture.

In September of 490 BC a Persian armada of 600 ships disgorged an invasion force of approximately 20,000 infantry and cavalry on Greek soil just north of Athens. Their mission was to crush the Greek states in retaliation for their support of their Ionian cousins who had revolted against Persian rule.

Undaunted by the numerical superiority of the invaders, Athens mobilized 10,000 hoplite warriors to defend their territory. The two armies met on the Plain of Marathon twenty-six miles north of Athens. The flat battlefield surrounded by hills and sea was ideal for the Persian cavalry. Surveying the advantage that the terrain and size of their force gave to the Persians, the Greek generals hesitated.

 One of the Greek generals - Miltiades - made a passionate plea for boldness and convinced his fellow generals to attack the Persians. Miltiades ordered the Greek hoplites to form a line equal in length to that of the Persians. Then - in an act that his enemy believed to be complete madness - he ordered his Greek warriors to attack the Persian line at a dead run. In the ensuing melee, the middle of the Greek line weakened and gave way, but the flanks were able to engulf and slaughter the trapped Persians. An estimated 6,400 Persians were slaughtered while only 192 Greeks were killed.

The remaining Persians escaped on their ships and made an attempt to attack what they thought was an undefended Athens. However, the Greek warriors made a forced march back to Athens and arrived in time to thwart the Persians. 

Sculptures of Stoa of Attalos in ancient Agora to be showcased

The magnificent sculptures of the Stoa of Attalos in the Ancient Agora in central Athens will be showcased in the upper floor of the two-storey 159 BC structure, which will reopen to the public after remaining closed for three decades.

Dozens of stone antiquities will be put back on display, together with a plethora of antiquities that have not been previously exhibited.

The 1,440 square meter upper floor has up to now served as a storage space for artifacts, archives and offices of the American School of Classical Studies that is conducting excavations in the area.

The Finance Ministry has approved a joint proposal by the School and the First Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities for showcasing the rich antiquities of the site in a more 'museum-like' concept, which was also endorsed by the Council of Museums.

A total of 56 stone-made antiquities will be on display again, while the exhibition will also be enriched with ancient findings never exhibited before.

The study for the rearrangement of the exhibits takes place within the framework of the project called "Reviving the Ancient Agora, the place where Democracy was born".

The proposal suggested that the presentation of sculptures takes place in thematic sections and chronological succession allowing the visitors to witness the evolution of sculptural art during the Classical, Hellenistic and Roman Times highlighting the course from the Ancient Greek idealism to the Roman realism.

The Stoa of Attalos houses the Museum of the Ancient Agora. Its exhibits are mostly connected with the Athenian democracy.


I know what you're all thinking: "What's this about Greeks and jars and shit? None of this was in Avatar." Well, you're about to get schooled in Greek mythology.

Just The Facts

1. Pandora's Box is a Greek myth that tells the story of how a woman called Pandora was inadvertently responsible for Mankind's suffering.
2. Despite what you may have learned from God of War, it does not enable you to have a duel with Ares by making you giant.
3. The Greek word 'pithos' actually means 'jar' but was mistranslated as 'box'. So the story should really be called 'Pandora's Jar'.
4. Of course, that doesn't leave as many opportunities for jokes about female genitals.
5. E.g. "Man, I opened Pandora's Box so hard last night."

The Story Itself

So, in this place called Greece (you may have heard of it), there was a dick called Zeus. It was very unfortunate that Zeus was a dick, because he was, you know, King of the Gods. Zeus was such a big dick, that he didn't want mankind to have fire. It could better their lives by warding off dangerous beasts and helping them not freeze to death. And that's terrible.

But there was a Titan, Prometheus, who was much less of a dick. He thought; "It's kind of unethical for Zeus to hog all this fire. I know! I'll be a good egg and give it to the humans to improve their overall quality of life." So Prometheus stole the secret of fire and gave it to mankind. And so, in a rare moment of compassion, Zeus realised what a douchebag he was, and resolved to only do good deeds from now on, to set a better example for humanity to follow...

Nah, I'm just kidding. He chained Prometheus to a rock and had an eagle tear his liver out every day for all eternity.

But that wasn't enough for Zeus (whose name, interestingly enough, was a colloquial term in ancient Greece for "complete cockbag"), who decided that mankind needed to be punished for Prometheus' act of kindness (no it doesn't make any sense. Just roll with it.). So he got Hephaestus to make the first woman, Pandora. Which is a bad thing, apparently. All the Gods helped in her creation. Of particular note were Hermes' contributions: "A shameful mind and a deceitful nature" and he also put "lies and crafty words" in her mouth.


I can hear the Feminist Extremists knocking on my door already.

So, moving on from these horrific implications, the Gods gave Pandora to Prometheus' brother Epimetheus as a present, probably sniggering and making up excuses about jokes they'd been told earlier all the while. When the two got married, Zeus gave Pandora a jar for a wedding present which he told her never to open. It isn't mentioned whether or not he placed a giant neon sign on the jar which said "PLEASE OPEN ME", so we'll have to assume that he did.

So one day, when Epimetheus was nowhere to be found, Pandora thought "Hey, Zeus gave me that jar. And then he said not to open it. OMG LETS OPUN IT." , or something to that effect. So she did, in a move that probably gave Jedi all around the galaxy a massive headache.

So instead of jewels or dresses or whatever Pandora thought would be inside the jar, it turns out it contained bad things. That's not comedic frankness, it actually contained what can best be described as bad things. Greed, poverty, death, misery, the Star Wars Holiday Special and Justin Bieber.

In what must have been the most intesnse "Ohshitohshitoshitoshitoshit" moments ever, Pandora slammed the lid back on the jar. But there was still a little voice in the jar still begging to be set free. Pandora reasoned that nothing could be worse than what she'd just let out, and so she removed the lid, and a little thing called Hope (you may have heard of it) fluttered out.

Shamelessly copied from


Alcibiades was an ancient Greek who made the rest of the ancient Greeks look like little sissy retard babies. Including the Spartans.

Just The Facts

1. Athenian orator, commander, and flamboyant aristocrat during the Peloponnesian War. Lived about 451-404 BCE.
2. Had a golden shield made for himself with Eros (i.e. Cupid) holding a thunderbolt on it. If there's a better way of saying "I will kill you and bone your wife," we'd like to hear it.
3. Was accused of failing on purpose if he didn't succeed immediately at anything he tried. We did not make this up.
4. Yes, he was that guy in Plato's Symposium who really wanted to bone Socrates. Cut him some slack, he was a little drunk at the time (a "symposium" being an ancient Greek frat party).

Psychopathic Violence

From an early age, Alcibiades was gifted with amazing physical prowess, which he made a point of abusing. For example, as a teenager, he decided one day he felt like reading some Homer (this was much cooler in ancient Greece). He found a schoolteacher and asked him for a copy. When the teacher said he didn't have anything of Homer's, the young Alcibiades promptly punched him out and walked away.

Not that he needed a reason to beat people up. He once assaulted some rich, important Athenian dude purely for lulz. The rest of Athens became understandably outraged, but Alcibiades made it all better by heading over to the person's house and inviting the man to scourge him as he thought fit. This is kind of like being attacked by a UFC fighter, then him showing up later at your front door and asking you to punish him.

How would you respond?

How about "No, that's okay, please don't hurt me again, you can marry my daughter oh God don't hurt me"? Because that's what happened. Alcibiades walked out unscathed, and soon married the man's wealthy heiress. (More on her later.)

Another time, Alcibiades decided he wanted some nice paintings decorating his house. Rather than "paying money" or "not kidnapping someone," he opted to kidnap a painter and keep the poor bastard there until he was done adorning the place. The painter apparently received a handsome gift upon his release, which we're guessing was something like "no longer being imprisoned in the house of a violent lunatic."

Alcibiades could, however, channel his insane physical abilities for more constructive purposes, like when he had to flee to Sparta after receiving a death warrant in Athens (on false charges). Despite having lived his entire life in luxury and ease, in order to impress his new allies he immediately embraced the famously harsh Spartan lifestyle. In fact, he was so fanatical about it that the actual Spartans thought he was overdoing it.

When those guys tell you to tone it down a bit, you can probably tone it down.
Hilarious Wealth

Alcibiades was born into an old aristocratic Athenian family at a time when Athens was at the height of its imperial power, making him wealthier than a dirt magnate in the little-studied Dirt Age. Instead of wasting this money on things that weren't ridiculous, he decided to make a mockery of one of his society's most important and sacred institutions: the Olympic Games.

The ancient Games were much like today's Summer Games, only the athletes wore less (read: no) clothing and more olive oil.

However, oddly enough, the most prestigious event did not involve nudity. This was the four-horse chariot race. Rich people would buy a team of extremely expensive horses and a professional driver (who participated fully clothed), pay for their training and upkeep, and enter them in the Games. The winning sponsor would bring his city tremendous honor, even though no skill or effort was involved on his part, only vast sums of cash. This was a holdover from Greece's aristocratic past, when the wealthy openly dominated society due to their being able to afford things like weapons, armor, horses, and chariots.

That all sounded good to Alcibiades. He wasn't about to risk losing, though, so he made the surprise decision to enter seven fucking teams, even though nobody had entered more than one in the entire three-and-a-half-century history of the Games. Presumably fearing a swift and devastating punch (see above), nobody stopped him. He didn't go cheap, either-- depending on which source you believe, his teams either won the first, second and fourth prizes, or swept the top three. This made him a hero in Athens and a giant douchebag everywhere else.

Possibly at these same Games (416 BCE), one of his friends, named Diomedes, asked Alcibiades to buy him a chariot owned by the nearby city-state of Argos. Alcibiades agreed... and then entered the chariot in the Games under his own name, "bidding Diomedes go hang." (We're pretty sure that's fancy translator-speak for "telling his friend to fuck himself.") Diomedes sued him, but Alcibiades probably didn't give a shit, for reasons we're about to discuss.

Persuasive Powers

Not content with being rich and jacked, Alcibiades was also a brilliant orator (possibly because he was tutored by fucking Socrates). This was in spite of his silly lisp, which we are told only made his speech more endearing. Even the comic playwright Aristophanes riffed on it in his play Wasps:

SOSIAS: Then Alcibiades said to me with a lisp, said he,

"Cwemahk Theocwus! What a cwaven's head he has!"

XANTHIAS: That lisp of Alcibiades hit the mark for once!

(Hilarious! Ha ha... no, just kidding, we have no fucking clue what this means. It's probably much funnier in ancient Greek. Either way, we prefer Aristophanes' poop jokes.)

Anyway. In the middle of the long and brutal Peloponnesian War, the Athenians and Spartans, who led the warring alliance systems, realized they were both suffering horribly from the 10+ years of relatively pointless fighting. Therefore, they called a truce. This did not sit well with Alcibiades, who had recently reached the minimum age to become a general and wanted to make a name for himself as a commander.

As such he decided to convince the Athenians to ally with Sparta's longtime rival Argos, which had remained neutral. Therefore, when some Spartan ambassadors came to Athens to help clear things up, Alcibiades tricked them into saying they hadn't come with the power to actually do anything (even though they had). They didn't realize this meant they were just wasting precious Athenian time-- but the Athenians sure did. Led by Alcibiades himself, the Athenians shouted the ambassadors down before they could say anything else, then voted for the alliance with Argos.

Immediately after this bit of douchebaggery, Alcibiades was promoted to general. Either the Athenians didn't realize they had all been tricked, or they did but he threatened to beat them up and steal their wives.

Later, when he had to flee Sparta (yes, this was after he had to flee Athens), he went to the court of Tissaphernes, the Persian governor of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Still wanting to be on Sparta's good side, Alcibiades convinced Tissaphernes to support the Spartan navy with money and ships-- well, kind of. The pay was erratic and the vast fleet he promised never showed up, even though Alcibiades assured the Spartans it totally existed and he'd totally seen it himself.

Really though, he was covering all his bases. He buddied up with Tissaphernes while seeming to help Sparta, and simultaneously aiding Athens by making their enemy's war effort more confused and inefficient. We don't know if being a devious mastermind was on Socrates' syllabus, but if so, Alcibiades aced the fucking course.

A couple years afterward, following one particularly ass-kicking victory (he happened to be fighting for Athens at this point), he headed back to Tissaphernes' court to show off. The Persian, however, wanted to be on Sparta's good side, so he had Alcibiades arrested. Naturally, Alcibiades escaped within a month, then had the balls to accuse Tissaphernes himself of helping him flee, just to slander him.

Strategic Genius

From before he was elected Athenian general, almost right up until his death over fifteen years later, Alcibiades controlled the tide of the Peloponnesian War, seizing the initiative for whichever side he happened to be fighting for at the time.

The naval Battle of Abydos proved a miniature of the entire conflict. The Athenian and Spartan fleets remained deadlocked all day, but then Alcibiades showed up with a few ships. Neither fleet knew who he was supporting until he raised Athenian colors, at which point the Athenians immediately stormed to victory.

He had such a reputation for military brilliance that sometimes he didn't even have to fight. When he led an Athenian army against the rebel town of Chalcedon, he found that the citizens had lent their possessions to the Bithynians, a neutral tribe nearby, for safe-keeping. Not in the mood to deal with that shit, he marched over and terrified the Bithynians into giving up all the loot. They also signed a treaty of friendship with him, just to be safe.

After he was done with Chalcedon, he conquered another rebel town, Selymbria, using the size of his balls alone.

The plan was for him to lead an advance guard of thirty men into the city at night, followed by the rest of the Athenian army. Insiders would open the gates for him, then signal the main force to come up in support. The first part went fine, but the signal guy chickened out, leaving Alcibiades and thirty soldiers stranded inside a town full of angry rebels. Too badass to surrender and unable to retreat, he simply commanded the Selymbrians that they "must not bear arms against Athens."

To put this in contemporary terms, it's like if a beloved four-star U.S. general walked into a base of Iraqi insurgents which the army was about to attack. By himself. ...And then told them they best not be shooting at America. They already hate him, they're already at war with his country, and his loss would have a major impact on the conflict.

The Selymbrians were stunned. While they were deliberating, presumably about how to remove Alcibiades' titanic man-nuggets from the city once they had killed him, the rest of the Athenian army finally showed up. Realizing they were now thoroughly dicked, the townspeople surrendered.

Eventually the Athenians seemed to get tired of not losing the war, which meant Alcibiades' presence was a problem, since he kept winning spectacular victories. Fearing for his life, he used his vast personal fortune to buy himself some mercenaries, then fled to a few nearby forts he happened to own (because, you know, whatever). He then started raiding and plundering the local tribes. In other words, at this point he was basically a pirate captain, and also his own state.

Sexual Exploits

Alcibiades was universally agreed to be the best-looking Greek man of his generation, and the Greeks aren't exactly known for being dumpy.

He was married for a time, to the daughter of that guy he punched for no reason (see above), but it should be no surprise by now that he didn't really give a shit about the whole "marriage" thing. In fact, he had so many mistresses that his otherwise affectionate and loyal wife decided to sue for divorce. He said that was fine, but she had to show up in court herself, instead of sending a proxy. She agreed.

When the couple showed up for the proceedings, Alcibiades simply picked her sorry ass up and carried her back to their home. We're not sure if this was legal or if he was just above the law, but we have a guess. As it happens, she remained at home until she died, shortly thereafter. We're not saying she definitely perished of wounds sustained during a beating of mythical proportions, but we have a guess about that too.

During his later stay in Sparta, Alcibiades seduced Queen Timaea, both because he was feuding with her husband, King Agis, and because he wanted his offspring to rule Sparta. This was no ordinary seduction either-- rather, she became so obsessed with him that she bore his child and privately called the kid Alcibiades, though to be fair, she did have to give him a different official name.

Now, given that he was an ancient Greek, it's pretty safe to assume Alcibiades had both male and female lovers. However, the ancient accounts agree that one sexy old man in particular escaped his charms.

In both Plato's Symposium and the ancient biographer Plutarch's account of Alcibiades' life, Socrates repeatedly rejects his amorous advances. That said, he was one of Socrates' favorite students, they saved each other's lives on the battlefield, and they even slept in the same tent on campaign. Even if, as we're told, Socrates could drink like Keith Moon without being affected, we have to imagine he gave Alcibiades a little play for his battlefield heroics.

Because really, otherwise Socrates is just a cold-hearted dick.


After the Athenians lost the war-- which only happened because they refused to listen to him and change their retarded strategy at Aegospotami-- Alcibiades headed back into Asia Minor, hoping to reach the court of Pharnabazus, the new local Persian governor. However, the bright new Spartan admiral Lysander decided he was sick of Alcibiades' shit and sent a message to Pharnabazus, demanding that he hunt down and kill Alcibiades, who was traveling with only his latest mistress-- no guards. Pharnabazus agreed to send a band of armed men on that terrifying mission.

The troops tracked him down to a house in Asia Minor. Attacking by night, they stormed the place and, using their tremendous numerical superiority, they mercilessly cut him down.

...nah, just kidding. The men were too scared to enter the house, even though Alcibiades was probably naked, asleep, and exhuasted from a long night of hot sex.

Instead, the soldiers set fire to the house. Alcibiades wasn't about to burn to death like a bitch, though, so he threw on a cloak, grabbed his mistress in one hand and his sword in the other, and charged out of the house. Where he was mercilessly cut down by the large band--

Ha, yeah right. Alcibiades, alone and half-naked, single-handedly scattered the armed soldiers like tiny children. They fled to a nearby grove, where they finally worked up the man-nugget juice to turn around and shoot arrows and javelins at him until he died. History is unclear as to whether his vengeful ghost impregnated all of their wives, but we have a guess about that as well.

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Win an Olympic Event! (eventhough you are dead)

Arrachion was an Olympian who spent his days practicing the fine art of Pankration. Literally, this translates to the spiritual-sounding "all forces," but in practice, it means something closer to "choke the shit out of everybody (while naked.)"

In 564 B.C., Arrachion entered the Olympics hoping to secure the Pankration title for a third consecutive time. And damn it all, he did it: Roundly besting his opponent thoroughly and completely, though he did happen to be dead when he was declared the victor.

Wait, What?

On the verge of defeat and pinned by his opponent in a stranglehold position, Arrachion unleashed a spectacular Kamikaze-style kick attack that had three very important consequences: The first was that it looked just totally fucking sweet; the second was that the impact of the kick dislocated his opponent's ankle; and the third was that the force put into the kick, combined with the arm-around-the-neck stranglehold, resulted in the instant snapping of his own neck.

Presumably drunk on olive wine and boy-meat, the Greek referee didn't notice this happen, so when his opponent conceded defeat, he proclaimed Arrachion the winner. It was only when he held up Arrachion's hand in a victory salute and it fell sharply backwards into his junk that the judge realized he had just pronounced a dead man the winner of an Olympic competition.

Pretty impressive. Still, it's not like he killed his opponent or anything...

Shamelessly copied from Cracked

Greek Statues Were Brightly Painted and Kind of Stupid Looking

The Perception:

Quick, what do you picture in your head when we say, "Ancient Greece"? If you're like most people you either picture lots of dudes standing around in togas, or white marble statues with no pupils in their eyes:

Those ornate statues made of pure white marble, depicting the austere beauty and power of epic gods and heroes, have made quite an impression on history. Renaissance sculptors carved their own marble statues based on the belief that that's how the ever wise Greeks did things.
The Reality:

Ancient Greece looked more like someone crashed their LGBT pride parade into a Mardi Gras Festival.
Recent studies using the awesome powers of lasers and shit (no, seriously!) have found that once completing the iconic marble statues and buildings we know today, the Greeks covered them head to toe in bright primary colors. Greek sculptors worked together with painters to come up with psychedelic patterns and colors to make their statues and buildings pop.

So in the midst of all that theorizing and philosophizing, the Greeks were also really focused on making sure their day to day life looked like the album cover of Magical Mystery Tour. Oh, and you know the iconic Parthenon? Based on the way buildings were painted back then, it was most likely an eye-searing mash of bright yellow, red and blue.

Why We Picture it Wrong:

As years passed, like with the Pyramids, the primitive paint used on the statues chipped and wore off, so when they were rediscovered by later civilizations, they appeared in their all white form. And frankly people just liked the idea of the all white marble look.

Even so, archaeologists knew that the statues used to be painted, since there were ancient records showing people painting the damned things. However, people simply preferred to display the plain white statues, since they looked more like something made by the founders of Western civilization should look like, in the minds of many scholars. Pure, clean, capturing the shape and essence of scientific accuracy and artistic beauty--whereas the painted versions kinda looked like something you might have made during middle school art class.

Shamelessly copied from Cracked

Ancient Greek Lessons About Gay Marriage

The dizzying spectrum of same-sex relationships.

The status of same-sex relationships is a central problem for modern Westernized societies. Many countries allow same-sex couples the right to a "civil union" but withhold from them the name of marriage. The Netherlands was the first modern nation to legalize marriage proper for gay people, in 2001. Since then, seven U.S. states have also legalized gay marriages, although one, California, has just backtracked.On May 26, California judges upheld a constitutional amendment banning same- sex marriages in the state—one year after a court decision that had made such unions legal.* The ban is based on the idea that there is—or should be—something fundamentally different about sexual and romantic relationships between people of the same sex and those between a man and a woman. Since history is so often invoked, either implicitly or explicitly, on both sides of the debate, now is a particularly good time to look back at the history of same-sex relationships. Opponents of gay marriage argue that it threatens the "traditional" (i.e., historical?) family, while defenders—like Speaker of the California Assembly Karen Bass—often look to the "tide of history" to overturn the ban.

James Davidson, a British classicist, has just published a fascinating, meandering, funny, and thought-provoking study of how ancient Greek men loved one another, which ought to be required reading for anybody curious about the antecedents of the current impasse. His book is a landmark study that challenges earlier historical interpretations of the evidence. For instance, scholars working in the tradition of Kenneth Dover (author of Greek Homosexuality, 1978) have argued that the Athenians were obsessed with anal sex, which they saw as an act of domination and humiliation. Davidson brilliantly shows that this interpretation is largely a projection on the part of modern historians, who have been reluctant to imagine a world where gay relationships could be expressions of love, affection, and appreciation, rather than deeply skewed power arrangements.

Davidson draws our attention to the variety of social conventions surrounding male same-sex relationships, even within the geographically small area of ancient Greece. The very idea of "Greek love" or "Greek homosexuality" as a single social institution comes to seem somewhat misguided as Davidson shows how very differently people behaved in, say, Sparta, Elis, and Athens. The Athenians—who have bequeathed us the most evidence—were very unusual; citizens of other Greek cities were puzzled by the Athenian practices of "paederasty," or "boy-love," which involved the courtship of young men but which were also associated with the boys' education.

Davidson emphasizes that we should not think of these relationships in terms of child abuse. He argues, more vigorously than other historians have done, that the Athenians themselves were very much concerned to mark the distinction between those who were underage (i.e., under 18) and those who were not. As Davidson portrays it, same-sex relationships—which seem to have generally taken place between youths in their late teens and young men in their early 20s— were an important part of a boy's journey to manhood. Upper-class Athenian men usually got married at around 30, often to a much younger girl. Of course, many men continued to be interested in "boys" even after marriage; happily married poet Sophocles and unhappily married philosopher Socrates both flirted with young men at drinking parties and caused no scandal in doing so. (The amazing thing about Socrates' sex life, according to Plato's Symposium, was not that he fancied the gorgeous Alcibiades but that he resisted having sex with him, even when snugglng under the same blanket.) Long-term same- sex partnerships did exist (for instance between the tragic poet Agathon and his lover Pausanias), but these seem to have been rare and less socially accepted. The assumption was that men grow less crazy for boys as they approach middle age, and that boys would remain attractive to men only until their first beard began to grow— perhaps at around 20, since adolescence came later for ancient people.

Athenians, in turn, were puzzled by the sexual practices of other Greek societies. In Sparta, for instance, a curious kind of sex seems to have been the custom between well-behaved men and chaste teenage boys.Apparently the lover was supposed to relieve himself only by rubbing against the boy's cloak: The cloak had to remain on at all times, as a sort of all-body condom. Cretan rituals were equally strange, from an Athenian perspective. There was a ceremony that Davidson identifies as a form of gay marriage, involving carefully choreographed, public "abductions" of pretty male teenagers by their male lovers. This seems to have been something that happened not to every reasonably attractive boy but only to the very cutest. The boys who were chosen in this way were treated as special thereafter and won the dangerous honor of serving in the front lines in battle. These ceremonies were a way of forming public same-sex
bonds and of conferring a public blessing on the most attractive youngsters in a generation.

In short, there was no single "traditional" way to conduct same-sex relationships in ancient Greece. This fact in itself might make us leery of any claims about what a "normal" or "traditional" domestic setup might look like. Love comes in many guises and gets culturally legitimized in many ways, and that has been true since antiquity. Any claim about "the way things have always been" is liable to be false.

Sweeping claims about the social impact of sexual arrangements should be made with caution, too. Instead, history can usefully complicate contemporary assumptions. Opponents of gay marriage often express concern that legalizing such relationships will somehow damage our communities. Davidson's book argues convincingly that in ancient Greece, at least, socially accepted relationships between men actually worked to create greater cohesiveness within the city-state. Men whose lovers or ex-lovers were in a different parish, a different social class, or from a different age group had a connection that in turn helped bind the larger community together. In Athens in 514 B.C., for example, the tyrant Hipparchus tried to steal the aristocratic boyfriend of a middle-class young man named Aristogeiton; the boy refused, and the lovers banded together to assassinate the tyrant and his brother. Aristogeiton and his beloved Harmodius were much celebrated in later poetry and art. Their love, which overcame the boundaries of both class and tyranny, became an emblem for the democracy that developed in Athens six or seven years later.

Greek Love provides an important invitation to open our eyes to the multiplicity of ways in which people loved one another in ancient Greece. Davidson's perspective blurs the long-running debate over the theory, associated with Foucault, that "homosexuality" is a category of modern vintage; his emphasis on relationships, rather than sexual identity, helps us see that on many levels, it really doesn't matter much whether any Greeks thought of themselves as "gay." And if labels matter less than love in its many guises, that in itself is an argument against the claim that there is anything unnatural about extending the option of marriage—of public acknowledgment of a sexual, domestic, and romantic partnership—to homosexual couples

But looking back to Greece should also make us cautious of claims about "the tide of history." History comes in waves, not tides. There is, unfortunately, no reason to expect that time by itself will lead to progress. History is always a weak argument for social change. The fact that the Greeks recognized a wide variety of same-sex bonds, and the Victorians did not, tells us nothing about what ought to happen in California, or in the rest of the United States for that matter. We should remember a simple truth known to anybody who has taken Philosophy 101: You can't get an ought from an is (or even a was). Whatever public legitimacy was, or was not, granted to same-sex relationships in any previous culture, it would still be entirely unjust, within the terms of our own society, to deny homosexual couples the legal status available to heterosexual relationships.

Correction,Sept. 29, 2009: This article originally stated that California lawmakers upheld a ban on same-sex marriages on May 26. The author meant California judges. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Emily Wilson teaches classical literature at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of a book about tragedy.

Originally Posted Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009

The Woman Behind Alexander the Great: Olympias

The Figurehead:

Alexander the Great was, well, great (there was very little tendency towards sarcastic monikers in ancient times). By the time he died, he was the proclaimed king of Asia, with a kingdom which stretched from Greece and Egypt to modern India--comprising one of the largest and most culturally diverse empires the world has ever seen. Intelligent, courageous and a leader of men; Alexander the Great was a man's man.

The Woman Behind the Scenes

He was also a momma's boy. You may already be tangentially aware of the existence of Alexander's mother thanks to the frighteningly boner-inducing depiction of Olympias by Angelina Jolie. Never has an audience been given so much reason to forgive an Oedipus Complex than the movie Alexander.

Beautiful, powerful and heavily involved in a snake-worshiping cult of Dionysus, Olympias is regularly depicted as sleeping with snakes. Hell, Olympias was the Angelina Jolie of 4th century B.C.

When questions came up about Alexander's claim to the throne, she claimed that the god Zeus himself impregnated her under an oak tree, a legitimate claim to any damn throne Alex could point a finger at. Knowing Olympias, that is strangely plausible.

When her husband, Phillip, took a new wife and divorced Olympias, she had him assassinated. Well, we don't know for sure she was behind it, but let's just say she is said to have placed a golden crown on the murderer, dedicated a memorial to him and hung the sword he used to kill Phillip in a temple of Apollo, elevating it to the status of a legendary weapon. She then forced her replacement wife to hang herself and had the two children she had with Phillip killed, assuring Alexander's claim to the throne was unrivaled.

When the now-king Alexander was gone (read: the entire time he was king), Olympias wielded great influence and power, often contradicting the efforts of the guy who was supposed to do that, the regent Antipater. Antipater's many official complaints on the matter went unnoticed by Alexander, who was happy to let his mother do as she wished. Hell, between wanting to fuck her and being scared to death of her, who wouldn't?

The Final Bitchslap

After Alexander's death, Olympias remained a prominent world figure, waging wars on behalf of her grandson's failed claim to the throne. Most telling is the last message from Antipater to his beloved Macedonian people. On his deathbed, with Olympias eager for the opportunity his vacant seat would provide, Antipater coughed out a warning to the Macedonians to never let a woman rule over them. Not a hot one, anyway.

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Alexander @ Cracked

Alexander the Great was the king of Macedon during the 4th century B.C. who saw the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and Asia and decided they would make a really bitchin' backyard.

Alexander on a typical Thursday

Just the Facts
  • Alexander was born in 356 B.C. in Macedon.
  • In creating the Pan-Hellenic Empire, Alexander arguably created the world's first superpower.
  • Used complex, long-term strategies to win land, riches, and conquests through methods other than killing everyone. This philosophy was later termed grand strategy.
  • When it did come time to knuckle down and kill everyone, he turned out to be pretty good at that too.

  • Youth
    Alexander was the son of King Philip II of Macedon and his fourth wife Olympias. On his father's side of the family, he boasted to be descended from Heracles (more commonly Hercules to modern audiences). On his mother's side, he claimed descent from Achilles, the great warrior who fought and died in the siege of Troy. As if he needed something else to brag about, his mother and father both claimed to have prophetic dreams the night of his conception that led them to believe that Zeus was involved in creating the child. Talk about winning the genetic lottery.

    Some serious shit went down the day of Alexander's birth. Philip's army defeated the combined forces of their neighbors the Illyrians and the Paeonians. Philip's horses also won in the Olympic games. And the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, burned down. There's a joke in there somewhere, but honestly we're still not entirely sure how to react to that.

    Realizing that they had a child on their hands whose birthday seemed to be directed by Roland Emmerich, Philip and Olympias did the only reasonable thing two parents could do: they had him tutored by the smartest son of a bitch in all of Greece. Philip appointed Aristotle as Alexander's personal teacher. For a classroom, they used the Temple of the Nymphs at Meiza. Yeah, take a moment to think about that.

    Further cementing his reputation as the coolest dad in the ancient world, Philip also allowed Alexander a crack at taming the meanest warhorse he'd ever seen. Despite being 10 at the time, little Alex succeeded. He named the horse Bucephalus and would take the horse with him on his military campaign all the way to India. When the horse finally passed away from old age, Alexander named one of his many new just-conquered cities after him as Bucephala, which stands to this day. Nothing like a pet getting a city named after it to make you feel inadequate, don't you think?

    Teenage War Hero
    No that is not the title of a retro 80's-style romantic comedy. At least, not until we finish the screenplay. Alexander really was 16 years old when he started commanding Macedonian armies to crush the nuts of whoever looked at him funny. He fought a long campaign afterward with his father that established the Hellenic Alliance. Keep in mind that Alexander did all this by riding in the front lines with his armies so that he could show them the proper way to kill.

    Despite the father/son bonding that military conquest usually entails, a rift was fast growing between Philip and Alexander largely over the fact that Philip took yet another wife who was herself a Macedonian, meaning that any heir she produced would have a greater claim to the throne than Alexander who was only half Macedonian. At a banquet Alexander made his father look like a drunken buffoon and went to live in Illyria for a little while before continuing to dick with his father's plans to produce a pure Macedonian heir.

    It should be noted that the Illyrians treated Alexander as a respected guest. And the memory of him kicking their asses in battle was still fresh in the mind. So if this story teaches us nothing else, it's that you can totally beat favors and respect out of people.

    Alexander Becomes King (Through a Shitload of Violence)
    In 336 B.C. Philip was assassinated by one of his bodyguards during his daughter's wedding. Which as dick moves go is pretty spectacular. The assassin was caught and killed on the spot, but Alexander, 20 years old at the time, saw opportunity and moved quickly. Before the dust had settled, the Macedonian army named him king. And in the ancient world, you tended not to argue with the guys who had all the weapons when it came to appointing government officials.

    Also par for the course in the ancient world, Alexander consolidated his power through murder. Lots of it. Of the people who were potential threats to his claim to the throne, he only spared two of them. The first he simply put into custody (to be murdered a few years later) and the second was too mentally disabled to be considered a credible threat. Some speculate that the source of his brain damage was Olympias botching an attempt to poison him. Did we mention that she was stone cold crazy and kind of a bitch?

    In the wake of Philip's death, most of the Greek citystates decided they had had enough of that Hellenic Alliance shit and tried to rebel. Alexander was advised to use diplomacy but it turns out he just wasn't in the mood for that. Instead he took his cavalry and went to go brutalize the rest of Greece back into line. Seeing the writing on the wall, most of the Greek armies chose to just surrender, including Athens. What really caught them off-guard was that he pardoned everyone involved in the revolt. We imagine he did so with a conspiratorial grin and a sinister laugh just to fuck with them.

    Where shit got complicated was when Alexander went to secure the northern border by finding everything that didn't like Macedonians and relieving it of those pesky rebellious tendencies via violence. Illyria hadn't learned from past mistakes, tried to rebel and soon found themselves being smacked down like an uppity ho. But they got off light compared to Thebes. Thebes wouldn't surrender, so Alexander burned the city to the ground and killed almost everyone in it. He let the neighbors who were smart enough to surrender divide up what was left of the land. After Athens finished soiling themselves, they dropped that revolt bullshit and agreed that living under a Macedonian was better than dying under the hooves of his warhorse.

    Now that Alexander had finished either terrifying or slaughtering his enemies into submission, it was time to put his gigantic balls to the wall and go after the real prize: the Persian empire.

    Persia II: This Time it's Personal
    This might require a little background. Empires trying to kick the crap out of each other wasn't really all that uncommon back in those days. Understand that if you were part of one empire and learned of another one, it was on. You were pretty much obligated to go to war and stomp on each other's faces because that's just what empires do. And the Greeks and Persians took that shit seriously. Greece wasn't even an empire proper, but they and the Persians still loved to mix it up.

    The fighting had come to a stalemate because the Persian navy pretty much dominated the Mediterranean, but on land the Greek army were the superior fighters. Their respective strengths made them veritable opposites while being evenly matched. This was comic book superhero stuff centuries before comic books were even invented.

    With all this in mind, no one was particularly surprised when Alexander decided now that he had an empire that he should get all up in the Persians' grill. The generals advised him to build up the strength of the Greek navy so that they could take the Persians on at sea. But Alexander, like the loose cannon cop on the edge of the law who doesn't play by the rules, told them to fuck off because he had a plan.

    He took the Greek army into Asia minor and proceeded to take every town he crossed from whatever poor schmuck was ruling them at the time. When he came to the town of Gordium, he found the Gordian Knot, a giant mass of rope so tangled that no one had ever figured out how to untie it. Prophecy said that whoever could solve the Gordian Knot would become the king of Asia. Alexander took his sword and hacked it apart in a manner that would be immortalized in analogies for years to come. We like to imagine this was preceded by him saying, "Check this out."

    After that display of smugness and creativity, he went on his asskicking tour of the coast slowly winding his way down. The Persians offered some resistance, but for the most part he was having a relatively easy time of it. Whatever town he conquered was incorporated into the Hellenic empire, allowed to keep their local customs, and all of the unpopular Persian policies were done away with. After a while, the towns saw what a sweet deal they'd be getting so they just started surrendering and asking to join the Greeks. By the time Alexander reached Egypt, they greeted him as a liberator and gave Persia the finger.

    At this point, the plan came together. The Persian navy no longer had any strategically viable ports to dock at and was rendered useless. And without the stores of grain and wealth coming from Egypt, the empire's economy started to suffer as well while Alexander used it to strengthen his own army. That's like bullying a guy at the beach only to learn that when your back was turned he slept with your girlfriend.

    With all of that taken care of, Alexander marched on and captured Assyria, Babylon, and finally the capital Persepolis itself. He now had the largest empire in the world.

    India: Because It Was There
    You know how we just said that Alexander controlled the largest empire in the world? After remembering the whole Gordian Knot thing, he decided it wasn't largest enough. His next target was India. Strategically it made sense as it would provide a route into Asia that didn't involve dealing with those batshit psychos in what would later become Afghanistan. India was also attractive for its vast agricultural resources and exotic goods.

    Feeling gracious (and pompous), Alexander offered the Indian chieftans the chance to come and submit to his authority. Since he offered a reasonably high standard of living for that time period, some of them thought this to be a good deal and decided they could put up with taking a few orders here and there from a foreign megalomaniac. Those that didn't give in... well, you probably know where this is going.

    Long story short, the Greek army proceeded to ruin a bunch of Indians' shit over a series of lengthy and bloody battles, including chasing one tribe across the land and engaging them in four different sieges. After an epic battle with the armies of the Punjabi ruler Porus, Alexander was pretty damn impressed by how much harder these guys fought than the Persians and made an alliance with Porus, appointing him ruler of one of the new Hellenic Indian satrapies.

    Alexander himself was wounded from fighting and his armies were weary. Finally figuring he had kicked enough ass (for now), Alexander sent his men home on the return to Persia. Naturally, when he got back he killed everyone who became corrupt and traitorous in his absence. That's just how he rolled.

    While staying in Persia, Alexander was planning a new campaign starting with the invasion of Arabia. Maybe he just really wanted a new horse. It doesn't matter because he never got around to it due to the fact that he rather inconveniently died at the age of 32. Yes, you heard that right. All of these accomplishments and he was only 32. If you are in your 30's and reading this, you may go ahead and start your mid-life crisis ahead of schedule.

    He fell ill after drinking one night, which wasn't all that suspicious. The fact that it lasted almost two weeks before he croaked was. Some have speculated that he was poisoned. If you have been at all paying attention through this topic, you probably can imagine why they would think that. There was no political disagreement that you couldn't solve with murder back then and the Macedonians in particular loved to get their assassin on. The main argument against this is the fact that it took 12 days for the bastard to die. That's not a particularly efficient poison.

    More likely, he died of malaria. It's very War of the Worlds-esque that history seems to turn on the activities of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are bastards.

    After Alexander's death, he was interred in a gold sarcophagus. His remains were later taken to Memphis, then Alexandria, and then... well honestly nobody knows where the fuck he is right now. After a long history of Mediterranean rulers filing past his corpse thinking that they could catch some of that Macedonian mojo (including Caligula stealing Alexander's breastplate so that he could wear it back home for a creepy motherfucker contest), we're inclined to believe his ghost finally got sick of that shit and just hid the body so he could get some fucking sleep.

    Today he is one of the most legendary figures in history. His spread of Greek culture had a geometric effect on the development of the modern world and he changed both politics and warfare. He was the role model for the Roman empire and his formation of the Indian satrapies indirectly led to the creation of the most powerful royal dynasty in Indian history... So what have you done today?

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