Alexander the Great 9
"Public Image": Fashioning an Image
by CTCWeb Editors
"You Hide Behind This Public Machine" - Public Image Limited
Much like the rich and famous of today, ancient kings had little or no privacy. In the case of Alexander, his every action, or inaction, was scrutinized by his court, his army, and the citizens of his country. Alexander realized that he had to create and nurture a public image that would support his retention of power. He recognized that his public image was not defined only by his actions but also by the attitudes and beliefs of others in important positions that reinforced his public persona. So, he cultivated opinion leaders, impressing them with his sobriety and soldierly lifestyle.
Alexander also cultivated divine support. While on his way to Athens to solidify the Athenian’s alliance with Macedonia, Alexander stopped at the Oracle at Delphi to have his illustrious fate prophesied. The prophetess of Delphi was unavailable on the day Alexander arrived. Alexander paid no mind to the prophetess’ schedule and forced her to appear so that the Greek god of music and prophecy, Apollo, could foretell Alexander’s fate through her. While in her prophetic trance, the priestess cried out, “My son, you are invincible!” Satisfied with this pronouncement from Apollo, Alexander believed his success was assured.
Alexander lived up to his public image. He did not live a double live. He behaved in public as he did in private. He did not give in to excess despite possessing the resources to support a life of surfeit and debauchery. Instead, he led a simple, ascetic life. The ancient Greek biographer Plutarch highlighted Alexander’s stoic lifestyle and emphasized that Alexander did not like to indulge himself or his body. Instead, Alexander lived a life of moderation and strict discipline, which he learned early in life under the tutorship of his uncle Leonidas.
The army approved of their king’s lifestyle. His soldiers witnessed Alexander as he suffered the same hardships, weathered the same adversities, and shared their victories. This strengthened their allegiance to him. This public image of a disciplined general served Alexander well in his early years as the leader of the Macedonian army. However, this approval did not last throughout his life. Opinions changed, because Alexander changed.