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Three Millennia of Greek Literature
 

William Smith, A Smaller History of Ancient Greece

 

 

 

CHAPTER XIX

Phillip of Macedon, B.C. 359-336

ELPENOR EDITIONS IN PRINT

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HE INTERNAL dissensions of Greece produced their natural fruits; and we shall have now to relate the downfall of her independence and her subjugation by a foreign power. This power was Macedonia, an obscure state to the north of Thessaly, hitherto overlooked and despised, and considered as altogether barbarous, and without the pale of Grecian civilization. But though the Macedonians were not Greeks, their sovereigns claimed to be descended from an Hellenic race, namely, that of Temenus of Argos; and it is said that Alexander I. proved his Argive descent previously to contending at the Olympic games.

 

[ Elpenor's note :

 Cf. J. Bury, A History of Greece to the death of Alexander the Great, N.Y., 19132: "the Macedonian people and their kings were of Greek stock, as their traditions and the scanty remains of their language combine to testify". The term Macedonia itself is Greek, the epithet Macednon meaning tall and high. Their names (Philip, Olympias, Alexander, Antigonus, Hephaestion, Polysperchon, Antipater, Parmenio, etc.) are all Greek.

As Errington writes (A History of Macedonia, UCLA, 1990), "ancient allegations that the Macedonians were non-Greeks all had their origin in Athens at the time of the struggle with Philip II". Demosthenes and his followers wanted to diminish Macedonians precisely because they were Greeks and in Greece they had followers of their politics. We can understand it better, remembering that the Spartans said the Athenians were of 'other race'. "Their (Macedonians') fundamental Greek nationality was never doubted. Only as a consequence of the political disagreement with Macedonia was the question raised at all" (ibid).

For similar reasons is raised today, not by historians, but by people who despise historians and history, when it remains common knowledge that Alexander had Aristotle for his teacher, he followed Homer, he honored Achilles and he taught Greek to the people in Asia. (Already about a century ago Euripides had stayed in Macedonia, in the court of king Archelaus, where he composed the Bacchantes, a tragedy in the Greek language and with a Greek themecf. Vernant, Mythe et tragédie en Grèce ancienne, Paris 1985).

The crucial question is not racial but cultural, as Greeks themselves knew, when narrow and inferior interests did not hinder their thinking: whoever honors the values Alexander honored, whether being racially Greek or not, is to be considered a Macedonian, while people ignoring Homer, Plato, Aristotle and all Greek culture, not even taking pride, as Alexander did, in being Greek, should not be considered Macedonian. To be a Macedonian is not a matter of geography - just as living in Constantinople doesn't make the Turks Byzantine...]

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