Blog

The Greek debt crisis: WWATGD? (What would Alexander the Great do?)

  Either a silver coin of Alexander the Great wearing the lion skin of Herakles (Hercules), considered one of his ancestors, or Herakles himself in a coin struck in Alexander’s time. British Museum.

Either a silver coin of Alexander the Great wearing the lion skin of Herakles (Hercules), considered one of his ancestors, or Herakles himself in a coin struck in Alexander’s time. British Museum.

In my debut novel “Water Music” – the story of the rivalries and loves among four gay athletes – Spyros Vyranos is a successful shipping executive in a country whose glory days seem momentarily long behind it.

“The money’s all in Russia and China these days,” Spyros complains bitterly to his son, Alexandros. That the continuing Greek fiscal crisis may be in large part of the Greeks own making is not lost on Alex, who has a strong sense of history and irony.

It’s no accident that Spyros names his son after Alexander the Great – Greece’s national hero. He sees him as Greece’s ticket to renewed prestige on the world stage – burdens him really with that expectation. Nor would it surprise anyone who knows me that an athlete of Greek origin figures in my novel or that my logo consists of my initials, “GG,” arranged in the Greek key pattern. I’ve been fascinated with the ancient Greeks since I was old enough to read. Their mythology was my bedtime stories; Alexander, my childhood hero, who taught me how to survive difficult parents and lead from the front.

It pains me to see the current occupants of Greece struggle so. The photo on the front page of the Sunday, July 12 edition of The New York Times, which shows Greeks with their heads bowed in prayer at a soup kitchen table, humbles me as it should humble all of us. There but for the grace of God….

So I ask myself, What would Alexander (356-323 B.C.) do? It’s no flippant question. At the age of 25, he conquered the Persian Empire, disseminating Greek culture from the Balkans to northern India – an act that resonates today not only in our language but in the continuing tension between East and West, a subtheme of my novel and my series, “The Games Men Play.”

Like many a rich boy – he was the son of King Philip II of Macedon -- Alexander was rather clueless about money. When he succeeded his assassinated father to the throne at the age of 20, he abolished the income tax on his people. Families of soldiers who died were exempt from all taxes. Alexander was generous to a fault. Once asked what he would have left for himself, he replied, “My hopes.”

His prize possession was a book, or rather scrolls of Homer’s “The Iliad,” which his tutor Aristotle – yes, that Aristotle – annotated for him and which he slept with under his pillow.

But an army does not march on dreams – or on dreams alone – and Alexander, a military genius, was nobody’s fool. Even though he and his men often lived off the land, Alexander made sure he had long supply lines – the lack of which would be the undoing of both Napoleon and Hitler in Russia. Alexander also standardized coinage, which made commerce more straightforward. Of course, once he became emperor of Persia and in effect lord of Asia, there was no shortage of gold and silver.

So what would he do today? It’s hard to compare eras and stupid to read history backward. Alexander himself had a treasurer – Harpalus, a boyhood friend – who absconded with a huge amount of silver, was forgiven, took off with loot again and was killed, either by servants or someone acting on behalf of Alexander.

He was a man of action. He wouldn’t be dithering around a bargaining table. He would put bread in his people’s mouths. And then he would expect them to work for it.