2. Hellenism, 2.10 Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, Alexander's Alexandria, Hellenism: Non-Fiction Book

English Book Review/Collaboration: “Menandro il Conquistatore” by Mirko Rizzotto

Versione in italiano: QUI.

Good day everyone, thanks to be here on Alessandro III di Macedonia- your source about Alexander the Great! The day before yesterday I finished to read a book about Hellenism and all the profound cultural changes and fusions that Alexander and the Diadochi brought with the invasion of Asia. I’m talking about:

Menandro il Conquistatore by Mirko Rizzotto

published by italian editor: Graphe.it Edizioni, 200 pages

I’d like to thank the publisher for the free copy! Who was this Menander who was greater than Alexander? Read my review to learn more!

In the second century BC the Greeks began their greatest adventure in faraway India, led by a young and valiant king who had inherited the legacy of Alexander the Great, ready to go to mysterious and distant lands that the Macedonian phalanxes never even had heard of: this young king was Menander.
Son of humble settlers, Menander gained power thanks to his warrior talents, but he knew how to go down in history thanks also to his curiosity and humanity, which led him to a conversion to Buddhism, a herald of great literary and philosophical developments that made him the protagonist of one of the masterpieces of oriental literature, The Questions of King Menander.
Following his astonishing parable, we reconstruct for the first time in a biography the vicissitudes of this great strategist, resorting to the most disparate sources (Greek and Roman historians, Chinese annalists, Indian philosophers) to try to shed light on the path and the legacy of this great, but little known, protagonist of the past.

MIRKO RIZZOTTO WAS BORN IN COLOGNA VENETA, PROVINCE OF VERONA, IN 1976. GRADUATE IN ROMAN HISTORY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF PADUA IS TEACHER OF ITALIAN AND HISTORY AT THE STATE COMPREHENSIVE INSTITUTE OF HIS CHRISTMAS COUNTRY SINCE 2004. HE HAS BEEN CONSERVATOR AND THEN COLLABORATOR TO TEACHING AT THE CIVIC ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM OF COLOGNA VENETA, THE OLDEST OF THE PROVINCE OF VERONA. IT HAS COLLABORATED AS AN EDITOR OF THE BYZANTINISTICA PORPHYRA MAGAZINE, DIRECTED BY NICOLA BERGAMO.
AMONG ITS PUBLICATIONS: MARIO MASSIMO. FRAMMENTI (2006); FLAVIO MAGNO AURELIO CASSIODORO SENATORE. LE CRONACHE (2007); ELEUTERIO, UN EUNUCO SUL TRONO DEI CESARI (2010); XIFILINO. VITA DELL’IMPERATORE TRAIANO (2010); KRUM IL GRANDE NEMICO DELL’IMPERO ROMANO (2011): LUCIO CORNELIO SILLA DITTATORE. LE MIE MEMORIE (RES GESTAE) (2011); TILLEMONT. VITA DELL’IMPERATORE MARCIANO (2011); GAIO SCRIBONIO CURIONE, UNA VITA PER ROMA (2011).

4 Stars.

Reading time: from 17th November to 10th December 2019.

The author begins with an effect sentence that made me doubt: “there was a Greek king who was “greater” than Alexander the Great”, but actually Menander I Soter (born in Kalasi, Afghanistan in 190 BC and died in battle in 130 BC) somehow succeeded where Alexander didn’t make it because Menander created and ruled the largest Greek kingdom in Bactria and India. I believe that even Alexander could have reached such a goal but he was prevented from premature death.

Menander was born in Kalasi, today’s Bagram in Afghanistan, a Greek-Bactrian kingdom’s cleruchy, from a rather modest family of peasants and thanks to the coinage we can say that he had a volitional profile, severe and meditative eyes and slightly hair moved. As a simple farmer, thanks to his ability in battle he managed to become king. The author investigates among the many Greek and Roman, Indian, Chinese, Ceylon and Tibetan sources, so numerous but all incomplete and incomplete: in fact Rizzotto often has to deduce certain information based on similarities and probabilities because the sources don’t report certain data. The author, for example, to talk about the naval forces of Menander’s kingdom compares it to the neighboring Seleucid kingdom which in some respects is very similar but unfortunately deductions such as this must be taken with caution because they aren’t certain. Rizzotto doesn’t fall into the historical novel and says he doesn’t want to write a book of this kind, but it is remarkable his attempt – in my opinion succeeded – to fill the gaps by conjecturing how and why he believes it’s in a certain way rather than another.

An important source of reference for the author, as well as the sources that have come down to us (Megasthenes through Arrian and Strabo, Pataliputra, Polybius, Apollodorus of Artemita, Diodorus Siculus, Pompeius Trogus and epitomator Justin) is in fact the numismatic in the book there are photos of the coins of the author himself.

Menander’s life is often compared to Alexander’s because he too was always at the forefront of battles as captain of his troops that he led and administered himself in full Imitatio Alexandri but we cannot say how much is sought or random. Menander’s Indo-Greek Empire was structured like the Seleucid Empire for its division into satrapies, eparchies and cleruchies. His wife Agathokleia, after the death of her husband Menander, managed to rule the kingdom for five years and then left it to her son Strato I, contrary to what happened with Olympias and Roxane towards Alexander IV.

The book is enriched with numerous images and maps, a beautiful chronology and an extensive final bibliography.

What I really liked about this book is that despite the lack of sources, the author wants to be exhaustive and still analyzes all aspects of Menander’s life, how his birthplace Kalasi was structured and how people lived there at the time, it also analyzes in depth the opponents of Menander with a simple, direct and explanatory writing. It isn’t easy to keep the point of the situation in that historical period full of names that recur between generations and to disentangle from the many events that often in our education are totally ignored and omitted but which represent an important legacy left to us by Alexander the Great and by Hellenism. I recommend this reading to anyone who wants to deepen Hellenism and is also suitable for the less expert because the author helps the reader with photos, maps and a chronology but it is a valid tool to shed light on the Greek-Bactrian kingdom!

For those wishing to learn more about the very extensive bibliography that the author reports to us, I would recommend three titles that recur more often than others but that everyone, for one reason or another, can be difficult to use:

  • Milindapanha. Le domande del re Milinda curated by Maria Angela Falà published by Astrolabio Ubaldini but unfortunately it can no longer be purchased unless used or found in libraries;
  • The Greeks in Bactria and India by William Woodthorpe Tarn published by Cambridge University Press, English text of which there is not yet an Italian translation;
  • Da Alessandro a Menandro. Il regno greco di Battriana by Omar Coloru published by Fabrizio Serra Editore, available in paperback format and bound but both with rather prohibitive prices (what a pity!).

I leave you the index of the book:

I also point out these three videos from Graphe.it’s YouTube channel:

You can find the book both in printed and digital versions in all online stores and bookstores. I leave the link to the page of the publisher’s website: HERE.

You’ll find the quotes from the book: HERE (in Italian).

#copiaomaggio #prodottooffertoda Graphe.it

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