Posts Tagged ‘October 1’

Chicken a la Shah

Posted in General, On This Day on October 1st, 2011 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

October 1, 331 B.C.:  Alexander the Great Justifies His Adjective

Darius III no longer underestimated Alexander the Great.  He had lost almost half his empire by doing so.  In 334 B.C., when the 22 year-old Macedonian invaded the Persian Empire, the Persians first tried to stop him with the equivalent of the Asia Minor National Guard.  And that is how they lose Asia Minor.  The following year, the Persians mustered an army twice the size of Alexander’s.  And that is how they lost Syria, Judea and Egypt.

It turned out that mere numbers were no strategy against Alexander.  The Persian army was little more than a badly equipped mob.  Facing the better-armed and brilliantly led Greeks, the Persians had one of two choices.  To patiently wait to be impaled by the Macedonian phalanx or run, hoping that the Greek cavalry would tired of slaughtering them.  (That was the one advantage of Persian numbers.)    Darius, himself, had proved an embarrassment.  He led the army into battle but was foremost in the retreat, even abandoning his family to the Greeks.

Over the next two years Alexander toured the provinces of his new empire.  Some of the Persian governors and local populations attempted to resist.  Megalomaniacs hate to take no for an answer, and Alexander was not adverse to massacres.  What was left of the populations of Tyre and Gaza was sold into slavery.  Perhaps the people of Egypt heard; they decided to proclaim Alexander a God.  Megalomaniacs like that.

In the meantime, Darius prepared for his next battle.  He summoned the forces from the remaining half of his empire.  We can only guess the total.  Ancient historians, either employees or fans of Alexander, said that Darius had amassed one million men.  Modern historians have ventured estimates ranging from 100,000 to 250,000 men.   However, there is a consensus that this army was largely composed of cavalry.  Unlike the infantry, the Persian horsemen were only slightly inferior to the Greeks; a three-to-one advantage would make up for any disparity.  Furthermore, Darius chose a battle site that would allow his 40,000 horsemen, 200 chariots and 15 elephants to dominate the field: the plains of Gaugamela.

The battle was on this day in 331 B.C.  For all of Darius’ careful preparation, there was one flaw.  Alexander was still a military genius who could perceive any weakness in the Persian array and immediately improvise a devastating exploitation of it.  Furthermore, Alexander knew the panicky personality of Darius.  The Macedonian began the battle by ordering some of his cavalry to threaten the left wing of the Persian force.  The Persian cavalry set out after them and inadvertently exposed their king to a frontal assault.  Alexander considered that an invitation;  his best cavalry had been held in reserve for such an opportunity.  When Darius saw the Macedonian elite about to ride him down, guess what he did?

The Persian infantry joined in the panic.  The Persian cavalry thought it was winning the skirmish only to discover the battle was over.  Darius survived the battle but his reign did not.  No one wanted to follow him anymore.  The surviving Persian governors decided that Alexander would make a better Shah, and those who promptly grovelled found the young Macedonian to be quite generous.  Gods can afford to be.

As for Darius he lasted another year, a wandering fugitive, until his last remaining courtiers got tired of being loyal.  Alexander gave him a royal burial.

Gliberal Translation

Posted in General on October 1st, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

October 1, 1891:  Leland Stanford Opens a Sober Version of Dartmouth

And now for today’s lesson in linguistics…

After an edifying summer working as an intern at my wife’s place of employment, the college student refrained from killing anyone. On the contrary, he actually wrote thank-you notes and my wife received one. (His script was legible, his writing grammatical, and his prose articulate–it is hard to believe that he was born within the last 30 years.) If you were not amazed by his anachronistic literacy and courtesy, you had to be impressed by his stationery–embossed with the name and logo of his college: Stanford.

The logo included the school motto: “Die Luft der Freiheit Weht.” I knew that Stanford was conservative but this was intimidating. Being a prurient intellectual, I had to learn what that Teutonism meant. The translation is “the wind of freedom blows.” Since it is German, it could be an expletive.

My next question was “Who first said it?” The answer is Ulrich von Hutten–a 16th century poet who now is so obscure that he really was a $2000 question on Jeopardy. Hutten’s quote was a reference to the Reformation. Ironically, Hutten said it in Latin: “videtis illam spirare libertais aurum.” The Latin was good enough for Hutten–and everyone else for 350 years, but then a Stanford president translated it into his linguistic specialty–German–and made it the school motto.

In 1891, German seemed a respectable if unorthodox choice for a school motto. However time-honored, Latin was effete and archaic; German was the language of modern science and philosophy. On the other hand, Caligula did not sink the Lusitania. Yes, Julius Caesar had invaded Belgium and France, but he did not violate any treaties in doing so. So in 1917, Stanford claimed that it did not have an official school motto; that German garble was just a 26-year-long misimpression.

(Actually, I am surprised that Stanford did not simply claim that “Die Luft der…” is not German but Northern Swiss.)

In 1923, Stanford resumed using that misimpression as its school motto. Of course, 18 years later the school again had to explain its motto. This time it did not deny some acquaintance with the phrase. Yes, it was German–but it was good German. Ulrich von Hutten had never been a Nazi; that certainly was an advantage of dying in 1523. (And he died of syphilis–which is quite a democratic disease.) So anyone who criticized Stanford’s school motto was siding with the Germans!

Yes, you can see why Stanford is the Republican think tank.

p.s.  And have some more history: