Monday, 5 May 2014

Historical revisionism

I'm really not a fan of historical revisionism. Rewriting history to take account of new facts and plausible theories is one thing, but seeking to impose modern morality, social norms or geographical boundaries is quite another.

The Wikipedia page for Alexander the Great claims he was a king of the Greek Kingdom of Macedon. That's a steaming pile of horse manure. His mother was Olympias, an Epirot (from Epirus) and his father was Philip (a Macedonian). Macedon had a Hellenistic religious perspective but it was not Greek.

Now, ancient Macedon doesn't exist anymore. Lots of countries can lay claim to bits of it (Macedonia is technically called the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia because the northernmost political division of Greece is called Macedonia). Albania also has a claim. But you can't superimpose new political divisions to ancient maps.

Consider Constantine the Great and his mum, Helen (who found the True Cross). She was from 'Yorkshire' (or the bit of England now called Yorkshire), and he was made emperor there, so could be considered an 'honorary Yorkshireman'. But here's the thing: neither are from Yorkshire. Because you can't impose modern maps onto ancient lands.

Ancient Macedon is partly in modern Greece. But back in the 4th century BC Macedon was a separate, distinct kingdom. And it's no good claiming it was just one more city state. Leaving aside the fact that it was of comparable size to the whole of Greece (naturally the size of Macedon varied quite a bit over time), the two lands were distinctly different. So different, in fact, that Eumenes of Cardia, the excellent and very capable secretary to Alexander, was unable to gather much political support after Alexander died because he [Eumenes] was a Greek, not Macedonian like Lsyimachus, Seleucus, Antigonus or Ptolemy.

Alexander was not Greek and his kingdom was not a Greek kingdom. Claiming he was is even less sensible than when Jacques Chirac, president of France, claimed England winning the rugby world cup was a victory for 'Europe'.

BCE and CE are perhaps even more irritating. For those blissfully unaware, BCE and CE are attempts to expunge Jesus from the Christian dating system. The years are identical to BC and AD (ie based around the approximate birth of Jesus), but instead the letters stand for Before Common Era and Common Era.

It's politically correct idiocy.

There is no 'common era'. The world didn't send representatives to sit around a campfire singing Kum Bay Ya and all agree to a diverse and lovely new calendar. It's dated from the birth (more or less) of Jesus, so not referring to him and trying to rebrand the Christian calendar as some sort of secular, neutral thing is palpable nonsense.

I should stress I'm an atheist, so I don't have a Christian dog in this fight, but I loathe revisionism and this is just PC nonsense. You can't use a Christian calendar and yet remove references to the central figure upon whom both the religion and the calendar is based.

Likewise, we cannot judge gladiatorial combat by modern standards of health and safety. The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.


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