Stories: His, Hers, Theirs, Ours.
“I soon realized that the only way I could uncover the true story of Alexander was to actually experience his journey myself.” -Michael Wood.
A road map is a guide not the road. It does not tell of sun and rain, its construction, repairs, or of the people who drive along it; history books are a lot like maps. Michael Wood did a television documentary entitled In The Footsteps Of Alexander the Great, whereby he traversed over 20,000 miles following the route of Alexander and his troops. Wood had extensively studied Alexander but it was not until he actually walked were Alexander had walked that he got a true sense of what it was like to be there at that time so long ago. He realized that Alexander wasn’t always a brilliant strategist that quiet often he simply had balls big enough to be carried in an ox cart (that or the odd touch of insanity) to go the routes he did, to inspire and coerce his men to traverse the terrain they did when there were better, safer routes to trek. We think we know so much about Alexander yet even though he traveled with an entourage of surveyors, ethnographers, botanists, poets and historians (for he wanted everything recorded), the earliest written source on Alexander that survives today was written more than 300 years after his death, and the main ones—Arrian’s Anabasis and Plutarch’s Life of Alexander—were written in the 2nd century CE, approximately 450 years after his death.
“Trying to make sense of Alexander sources is like wrestling with jello—nothing
to get a firm grip on!” -Professor C.L. Murison, University of Western Ontario,
one of the top 3 Classicists in Canada for Alexander the Great.
I’ve traveled over a large chunk of Asia; people often ask why I’ve never been to Europe. Europe has a lot of culture and history and would be an interesting place to visit but most of North America came from Europe, what we have here can be found over there. Asia is completely different in its art, language, philosophy, and that is today-- try imagining what it was like 1 000 years ago!
Remember studying in grade school? Unless you were lucky enough to have an inspirational teacher history wasn’t alive it was a bunch of facts about people and places you didn’t care about. To care about history you have to care about the people, like the characters in a novel, for ultimately it is people who make history. History needs to be viewed not from a modern perspective, but through the eyes of that particular culture, and that particular time! To understand any one point in time we need to understand what else was happening, and what the mind-set of the people were.
History is of course “his story”; I tend to look at stories in three ways. What are the stories people think they know? What is written down? What are the facts? As an example ask any one what the Christmas story is (most people will tell you what they remember from childhood). Now go to the gospels and read what is actually there. Now go to a few other sources and see why Christmas is celebrated when it is. In our culture (European) stories are generally for children; in most tribal cultures stories are what make you You, they give you identity and belonging. If you don’t know your stories you don’t know whom you are.
In China fairy tales aren’t for children they are for everyone. Chinese operas are like our favorite TV shows gone into syndication, we watch them over and over again. Chinese, young and old, watch opera in the same manner, they know the plot and what’s going to happen next; that’s the joy of it! We all want to believe there’s a little magic in the world, North American culture discards this, we need to explain everything rationally.
In tribal society there is no difference between our world and the spirit world, they explain our world using the spirit world. Daoism came out of tribal Shamanism, and out of this came the great scholar Kongzi, or as the Portuguese styled him: Confucius. The Confucian Analcets on respect and ancestor worship were not purported from its originator to be his, but from the greater past, “the good old days” as it were. Confucianism prioritizes according to the natural order of things, father at the head of the family, older siblings look after younger siblings, peasants look to the ruling class, who look to the emperor who follows the Mandate of Heaven. Even after a father dies his ghost is still respected, then along came Buddhism, circa 60 CE, a foreign ideal from a foreign land, and said father wasn’t a ghost, he was reincarnated. This was just too bizarre a concept for the Chinese and it would be over a hundred years before it was accepted. Ancestor worship is still in abundance up to today. Many Chinese proudly hail their lineage back to a great hero; a hero who like in the operas, did god-like deeds, lived over 100 years and at the end of his life graced the back of a yellow crane and flew into the clouds toward the west. In Japan there is the word sensei meaning “one who came before”, this is from Confucianism. The individual isn’t important, it is those one who came before; I am the son, but it is my father who was great. When Tung Hai Zhuan was asked about the origins of Bagua Zhang he merely replied that he learned it from a Daoist priest in the mountains. He did not take credit for the art but deferred to one who came before, a holy man close to Heaven.
Talk to any traffic cop who’s taken statements at an accident scene and had to delve the truth: three witnesses all saw the same thing from three different perspectives, giving three different stories. History has a lot of information but few answers. Find more questions, think for yourself and find your own answers then pass them on so that others may find questions of their own. It is the journey that is important, not the destination.
BCE- Before Common Era; BC- Before Christ.
CE- Common Era; AD- Anno Domini, Latin: in the year of the Lord.
fact n. 1. Knowledge or information based on real occurrences: an account based on fact; a blur of fact and fancy. 2. A piece of information about circumstances that exist or events that have occurred. 3. A statement or assertion of verified information about something that is the case or has happened. 4. An event known to have happened or something known to have existed; "how much of the story is fact and how much fiction is hard to tell." 5. A concept whose truth can be proved; "scientific hypotheses are not facts"
his·to·ry (hst-r) n. pl. his·to·ries
1. A narrative of events; a story.
2. A chronological record of events, as of the life or development of a people or institution, often including an explanation of or commentary on those events.
sto·ry 1 (stôr, str) n. pl. sto·ries
1. An account or recital of an event or a series of events, either true or fictitious.
- Written by: RJ West