Alexander the Great is widely considered to be the most influential secular figure of all time. Nearly twenty years ago, I set out to explore why.
In my writings here, I cite back to my books; instead of linking to their Amazon pages, I prefer to discuss the context and rationale behind each book. Thus, recently I touched on the story behind my first book, Course to Success: Everything You Need To Succeed Beyond School. I wrote that in 2002 as a 24-year old after writing thousands of articles at AskMen on management, relationships, business, sports, entertainment and interviewing hundreds of successful newsmakers and celebrities. While the book had four major themes, it ultimately focused on Balance.
Today, I want to touch on my second book, The Confessions of Alexander the Great: 33 Lessons in Greatness. I’d say the central themes of Alexander’s life were Drive and Ambition.
So, why Alexander?
What would compel a then 26-year old Iranian-born, Canadian business graduate working in the media industry to pen a biography – autobiography, in fact – on arguably the most influential secular figure in history, and the individual who defeated the mighty Persian empire.
I’d studied Ancient Persia & Ancient Greece ever since I was 8 after my dad ordered the World Book Encyclopedia collection. As many Muslim-born Iranians who left for greener pastures, eventually you study your history. The juxtaposition of a “pariah state” post-1979 Revolution (and the hostage taking and subsequent Iran/Iraq war) with the one-time mightiest empire in the world in the 6th century BC is quite stark. Invariably, you study the history books and are left both amazed and disillusioned with what was once the Persian empire, in particular during the the Achaemenid Empire. The First Persian Empire was founded by the king Cyrus the Great, who died in 530 BC. The empire reached its greatest extent under king Xerxes I, who conquered most of Northern and Central Greece, including Athens, in 480 BC – which it burned down. More on that later.
As you study the Persian Empire, you learn of Cyrus and before long, you come across the prophet Zoroaster and the religion of Zoroastrianism, which according to Wikipedia is:
“one of the world's oldest continuously practiced religions, based on the teachings of the Iranian-speaking prophet Zoroaster (also known as Zarathustra in Avestan or Zarthost in modern Farsi). Zoroastrianism’ monotheism, messianism, judgment after death, heaven and hell, and free will may have influenced other religious and philosophical systems, including Second Temple Judaism, Gnosticism, Greek philosophy, Christianity, Islam, the Baháʼí Faith, and Buddhism.”
While I consider myself atheist/agnostic, like many young Iranians living abroad who grew disillusioned with the effect of religion and state being blurred post-revolution, I was drawn to Zoroastrianism’s core teachings which include:
– Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds.
– Charity is a way of maintaining one’s soul and to spread happiness.
– The spiritual equality and duty of men and women alike.
– Being good for the sake of goodness and without the hope of reward.
I’ve referenced Taarof (my Nature) and servant leadership (Nurture), but Zoroastrianism had a profound influence on me, as it allowed me to accept parts of my roots without necessarily embracing it all. That interest started at the age of 8, but its influence grew during my teen years (a vivid memory was sitting in my room listening to Bryan Adams’ 1992 hit “Thought I’d Died and Gone to Heaven”) and reading about Zoroaster, Cyrus, and Ancient Persia. I was always fascinated with both Ancient Times and 20th Century history.
From Zoroaster to Alexander
Like many great empires, eventually the size, scale and scope of the Persian Empire grew too unwieldy. As you navigate through time from Ancient Persia’s peak might in the 6th century BC, eventually you follow the weakening of one empire and the rise of a new one.
Under Alexander’s leadership, During his time of leadership, he united Greece, reestablished the Corinthian League and conquered the Persian Empire.
Alexander the Great had many influences: his father Philip, his mother Olympias, Homer’s Iliad, his teacher Aristotle, and (originally somewhat surprising to me) Cyrus the Great.
As you read the history of Ancient Persia, you could not help but become a bit frustrated to see a once-mighty empire fall to Ancient Greece (let alone its fate post-1979), but that Alexander – the most influential secular figure of all time – cited Cyrus as an influence was a consolation prize of sorts.
Cyrus (600-530BC) ruled two centuries before Alexander (356-323BC), who took over as leader of the Greeks after his father Philip was assassinated in 336BC and then sought to avenge the Persian empire’s destruction of Athens in 480 BC.
The Great One
Cyrus, along with Egypt’s Ramses and later on Alexander, were all deemed Great for many reasons. I won’t pretend to be an expert in Ramses, but while Alexander was deemed “the Great” for never having lost a battle in military combat (despite being constantly outnumbered), Cyrus was considered great for his sense of generosity, wisdom, fairness and sense of justice – he also had better temperament than Alexander. As an Iranian/Muslim growing up in Montreal, I went to school with predominantly Jewish kids, but regardless – you’re always an outsider. So when the Torah references Cyrus and praises him for liberating the Jewish captives in Babylonia, you take notice: when my Jewish friends would taunt me, I would remind them of Cyrus’ largesse! While pop culture references King Solomon as the wise lord (you may have heard of the legend of suggesting to cut a baby in half to see which of two women who claimed to be the rightful parent was in fact the true mother), I grew up viewing Cyrus as such.
The Confessions of Alexander the Great
Thus, from around 1986 (when I was 8 and cracked open the box of encyclopedias) all throughout my teenage years, I grew up thinking I’d go on to become a history professor. I was increasingly drawn to both the Ancient Times and 20th Century History (everything in between seemed a bit, well, boring and uneventful) but to me, those were the two eras that really shaped the world as we knew it today. Alexander is cited as the most influential secular figure of all time (on the basis that prophets like Jesus were more influential), and the reason why Western cultures overtook Eastern ones in terms of global influence.
Hollywood Enters the Chat
In 2004, when I heard of Oliver Stone and Baz Luhrmann‘s feature films in development, I was in year 4 of 5 at AskMen, increasingly angsty, impatient, restless and seeking new challenges. I’d published Course to Success but now sought a bigger challenge. One day, I decided to write my second book on Alexander but not being officially a historian (i.e. with a PhD in the field) I wanted something unique. Whenever I would read about Alexander, I felt it lacked the real drive, ambition and restlessness of his character.
Respectfully, I felt:
i) writers lacked Alexander’s persistence, resolve and insecurities, and sometimes didn’t appreciate the full historical context of the Persians and Greeks;
ii) historians fully understood the stakes of the times, but couldn’t feel Alexander’s drive, restlessness, blind ambition… which explained his volatile emotions, erratic behavior and bold actions;
iii) psychologists who may understand what drove him, but lacked the historical context let alone synthesize the leadership and management required to command the loyalty of his troops who followed him across the then-known world.
As such, subconsciously, I wanted to nail Alexander’s voice but couldn’t put my finger on it. One day back in 2004, my then-girlfriend (and current wife, who happens to be Greek) suggested that I write the book from his perspective, in the first person narrative. I thought it was brilliant and with that, I’d found my inspiration: an “autobiography” where he tells his life story. The book was broken up into 33 chapters – he died one month short of his 33rd birthday. Why I felt that was interesting was because:
“Apart from a few inscriptions and fragments, texts written by people who actually knew Alexander or who gathered information from men who served with Alexander were all lost. Contemporaries who wrote accounts of his life included Alexander's campaign historian Callisthenes; Alexander's generals Ptolemy and Nearchus. Their works are lost, but later works based on these original sources have survived. The earliest of these is Diodorus Siculus (1st century BC), followed by Quintus Curtius Rufus (mid-to-late 1st century AD), Arrian (1st to 2nd century AD), the biographer Plutarch (1st to 2nd century AD), and finally Justin, whose work dated as late as the 4th century.Of these, Arrian is generally considered the most reliable, given that he used Ptolemy and Aristobulus as his sources, closely followed by Diodorus.”
Indeed, in Oliver Stone’s Alexander, the story begins around 285 BC, with Ptolemy I Soter (367 BC – January 282 BC) narrating the opening. For me, one line in Arrian’s references stood out, which I featured on the back cover:
Having researched him all of my life, I spent a month re-researching and gathering facts and figures… then one evening, in the middle of the night, I woke up and proceeded to write the first draft of the manuscript in a week. Why a week? Why the rush? It’s not that I planned to write it that quickly, Alexander’s life story just came out. I’d bottled it up for twenty-plus years.
The Confessions of Alexander the Great: 33 Lessons in Greatness was something Random House showed an interest in it, but then based on the tepid reaction to Mr. Stone’s movie (starring Colin Farrell and Angelina Jolie), once the Baz Luhrman movie (with Leonardo DiCaprio and Nicole Kidman) was shelved, Random House lost a bit of interest and so I proceeded to publish the book. If there’s one thing about me, is I have always been impatient.
The first print run of 1,000 sold out. I printed a second run of 1,000… I have a couple of dozen copies left. In the end, it sold some 5,000 copies: just under 2,000 in paperback and the rest via eBooks – all via online marketing when the movie was in the news.
The idea was to hold on to it, to eventually adapt it into some kind of derivative project, but the reaction to Stone’s feature film always made people pass on the concept when I would meet development executives or producers.
Love/Hate Relationship: Why Granicus Group?
One of the smarter guys I know – an agent in LA – asked me:
"Just out of curiosity, given that you are from Iran, why the fascination with Alexander the Great? And why name your investment company Granicus? Do you hate Persians??"
Granicus is a river in Turkey where Alexander the Great’s first crossed into Asia Minor – representing the pursuit of one’s goals and the point of no return. And, by virtue of being married into Greek culture, as an Iranian-born Canadian, Granicus also represents a symbol of collaboration, partnership, compromise, diplomacy, and understanding.
As such, I replied:
"Great question, you’re one of the smartest guys I know. But no, not at all. It’s more about my obsession with Balance - or the Chinese principle of yin-yang - and if anything, in more literal terms, a peace offering, like bridging the two great empires... And not specifically these two one-time great empires, but merely, bringing different people together, reaching consensus. After all my wife is Greek, I’m Persian. Personally, maybe it's a subconscious way to make people guess/wonder (as you did) like an olive branch to people who always assumed - for lack of better word, so to speak in jest - that I’m the 20th hijacker.”
Alexander was a fascinating person, but he was like all humans a flawed individual and more of a cautionary tale. The person I have always earnestly tried to base my worldview on was Cyrus the Great, though granted, he may be a bit more boring than Alexander.
In the near future, I’ll expand on the back-story of The Ten Year Overnight Success: An Entrepreneur’s Manifesto – How WatchMojo Built the Most Successful Brand on YouTube. You can find all of my books on Amazon pages, but if you want a free copy, just hit me up and I’ll gladly share an eBook, pro bono.