What Would Alexander Do?

Posted by Barry Strauss under on March 11, 2012

He was short and well built. You would call his face strong rather than handsome. His neck was cocked slightly to the left; his eyes gleamed. Long blonde hair framed his head and even when he stood still, it appeared windblown. There was something catlike about his posture, as if he longed to uncoil by jumping on a horse and riding away. He was the ghost of Alexander the Great.

Born King of Macedon, died King of Asia, he lived barely to his 33rd birthday yet he was one of history’s greatest conquerors. Everything between the Balkans and the Punjab fell to his sword. He walked as if surrounded by a retinue, as if despite all the centuries he was still not used to being alone.

“Hail, O king,” I said.

If you could describe someone’s look as a cross between a CEO’s “I’m too busy” stare and a teenager’s wink – well, that’s how Alexander replied.

I decided to take a chance and toss him a question. “Do you have any advice, O King, for today’s Greeks and the economic challenges they face.”

“Yes,” said Alexander. “Cut the Gordian Knot.”


“In the city of Gordium, Turkey, early in my career,” said Alexander, “I executed a bold move. I ‘fulfilled’ a prophecy that I would conquer the Persian Empire by untying a hugely intricate knot: I ‘untied’ the knot by cutting it with my sword. There is a lesson here for today. In response to stories that Greece’s stifling bureaucracy makes opening a new business a nightmare, abolish all bureaucratic controls on new businesses for the next five years.”

“An excellent start, o King,” I said. “What else?”

“Get ready to be attacked. The French and Germans are probably just dragging things out long enough to be ready to dump Greece from the Euro – and their balance sheets – when they feel confident that they can absorb the aftershock.”

“What can the Greeks do to prepare?”

“As I said at the end of my reign, ‘Victory goes to the strongest.’ I also once said that ‘those who outwork their opponents sleep more sweetly.’ Greece has never lacked for courage or sweat. It’s time to bring both to bear.”

“Really?” I said.

“And while we’re at it,” said Alexander, “I’ve got some advice for you Americans. Stop blaming Greece. If I had a tetradrachm for every American op-ed or blog piece that says America is in danger of ending up like Greece, then, well, I’d be even richer than I am.

“You Americans ought to stop picking on a country of 11 million people and put your own house in order. Or, if you have real courage, take on someone bigger than you, like China. I didn’t get to be “The Great” by attacking a pipsqueak – I went after the world’s biggest empire, Persia.”

I wanted to push back against this alarming and bellicose advice but Alexander had already turned and gone striding off into the asphodel of the Underworld.

Barry Strauss’s new book, Masters of Command: Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, and the Genius of Leadership, will be published in May (Simon & Schuster).

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