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The once and future king

  Bust of Alexander the Great from the Hellenistic era, British Museum

Bust of Alexander the Great from the Hellenistic era, British Museum

The Greeks – who find themselves once again, or still, in economic straits – were scheduled to go to the polls Sunday, Jan. 25. So should it surprise you that Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who is fighting for his political life, has been busy invoking the name of his country’s hero, Alexander the Great?

Samaras is among those stirred by the excavation in Amphipolis in the region of Macedonia. The site contains the remains of a woman, two men, an infant and someone who was cremated. While they were no doubt figures of importance, they may not be Olympias, mother of Alexander, and various relatives, and the site is certainly not the tomb of Alexander, who may be buried under a mosque in Egypt.

But the presumed lack of a direct connection to Alexander has not stopped Samaras from evoking the memory of a man who set out from Macedonia at age 20 and conquered the known world. Everyone loves a winner. 

The irony is that the ancient Greeks had little use for Alexander. They saw him and the rest of the Macedonians as arrivistes who were hardly the heirs of Pericles and company.

But that was then. In the here and now, a glorious, finite past – however complex – is preferable to a troubled present and an uncertain future.

In my novel “Water Music,” tennis player Alex Vyranos represents the glory that was Greece to his parents, who have named him after Alexander. His father, Spyros, who is bitter about Greece’s economic circumstances, believes Alex will restore Greece to its former excellence through his tennis. It’s a lot to place on the shoulders of one young man. But such is the nature of the games men play.