From Alexander of Macedon by Peter Green

“He had the whole body of Greek civilized opinion
behind him. Euripides held that it was proper (eikos) for
‘barbarians’ to be subject to Greeks. Plato and Isocrates
both thought of all non-Hellenes as natural enemies who
could be enslaved or exterminated at will. Aristotle himself
regarded a war against barbarians as essentially j ust.48 Such
theories may well be dismissed as grotesque; but they are no
more grotesque than de Gobineau’s concept of the Aryan
superman. And grotesque or not, they have the power to
compel belief, and thus to affect men’s lives in the most
fundamental way. When Hitler exterminated the European
Jews, he based his actions, precisely, on the belief that
certain categories of mankind could be dismissed as sub-
human — that is, like Aristotle, he equated them with
beasts or plants.

For Aristotle, however, the brute or vegetable nature of
barbarians had a special quality, which must have struck a
responsive chord in his pupil. ‘No one,’ he wrote, ‘would
value existence for the pleasure of eating alone, or that of
sex . . . unless he were utterly servile’ (i.e. slave or bar-
barian). To such a person, on the other hand, it would
make no difference whether he were beast or man. The key example he cites is the Assyrian voluptuary Sardanapalus
(Assurbanipal): barbarians, it is clear, are to be despised
above all because they live exclusively through and for the senses.

The purely hedonistic life, in fact, was something which
Aristotle taught his pupil to regard as beneath contempt.
Such a doctrine must have had a strong appeal for Alex-
ander, who always placed a premium on self-control and
self-denial (at least during the earlier stages of his career),
and whose enthusiastic, impressionable nature reveals a
strong hero-worshipping streak. (It made no odds to him
whether his hero was mythical or contemporary: he may
have modelled himself on Achilles, but he was equally
ready to adopt the quick-stepping gait of his old tutor
Leonidas.) The Alexander who ate so sparingly, who gave
away the spoils of war with such contemptuous generosity,
keeping little for himself, and who said he was never more
conscious of his own mortality than ‘during the time he lay
with a woman or slept’50 — this, surely, was a man whose
debt to Aristotle’s teaching and influence was fundamental.
For good or ill, the years at Mieza left a permanent mark
on him.

Aristotle’s advice on the respective treatment of Greeks
and barbarians is, of course, capable of a more mundane
interpretation: that in order to get the best out of those
whom one intends to exploit, one must humour them far
enough to win their cooperation. Greeks required to be
treated as equals, to have their sense of independence –
however illusory -— fostered with the greatest care. Asiatics,
on the other hand, would only respond to, or respect, a
show of rigorous authoritarianism — the Victorian district
officer’s creed. Whether Aristotle intended this lesson or not,
it was one that Alexander learnt all too well. As we shall
see, he applied it to every individual or group with whom he
subsequently came in contact.

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