Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Alexander the Great's Mountain

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Alexander the Great's Mountain

Article excerpt

In the summer of 2002 an eclectic Greek American sculptor made headlines in the international press. He launched a campaign to carve a 73-meter-tall likeness of Alexander the Great into a Greek craggy cliff--"four times the size of the presidents of Mount Rushmore" (VRC 2002). At a time when Greek pride was smarting over the Macedonian question, Anastasios Papadopoulos and his supporters presented the colossal project as a true mission to render justice and honor to the memory of the man who "brought Hellenism [and thus civilization] throughout the known world" (Alexandros Foundation 2002) and to proclaim once and for all Macedonia's Greekness. (1) Although nothing came of it, the "Mountain of Alexander the Great" was the object of an animated dispute. Besides the noble ideals of Papadopoulos's Greek American supporters, economic promises allured the mayor of Agios Georgios, a resort town on the Chalcidic peninsula. He hoped the project, complemented by a museum, an amphitheater, and a parking lot, would give new impetus to the area's declining tourist industry (Tzimas 2002). Environmental groups, however, threatened legal action "to protect the pine-clad province from turning it into a theme park" (VRC 2002). Aligned with them were Greek archaeologists and conservationists who defended the Classical ideal of equilibrium and saw in the project a monstrosity--"the quintessential example of what Greek tradition is not about: big" (VRC 2002). Other Greek opponents, responding to Papadopoulos's patriotic claims, evoked the specter of a cold war--like rush to the biggest Alexander Mountain, a nonsense titanic competition: "should the neighboring country decide to start a similar project, where would that lead?" (VRC 2002).

In its boldness, Papadopoulos's project is by no means original. From the top of Mount Kerdyllion, the craggy hill selected by the sculptor, one can distinguish the dark outline of a far more majestic cone looming on the horizon of the Singitic Gulf. According to the first century B.C. Roman architectural writer Vitruvius (2004, 2: 1-2), the peak of Athos, the mountain peninsula today occupied by the world's largest Orthodox Christian monastic community, captured the imagination of an even more ambitious and eclectic artist. Dinocrates, Alexander the Great's architect in the fourth century B.C., proposed to carve Athos into a colossal human figure (by implication that of his patron), holding in the left hand a very extensive city (Alexandria) and in the right a bowl to receive the water of all the rivers in the mountain. Like Papadopoulos's, Dinocrates' project was never realized. Alexander's wisdom and rationality won out over the megalomania of the young architect. And yet the "Dinocratic myth" remained a powerful vision circulating across space and time: from the Classical world to the Italian Renaissance; from Revolutionary France to modern Greece. The "mountain of Alexander the Great" has been subject of not only treaties, satires, and poems but also engravings, paintings, and, more recently, proposals for its realization. If on one hand it outraged ancient thinkers, Renaissance artists, and present-day environmentalists, on the other it has never ceased to stir imagination and desire. The image of Dinocratic Athos has been exploited in the construction of national discourses, to exalt papal power, or simply to impart moral lessons. But why did Dinocratic Athos disturb and lure so much?

This article investigates the complex intertwining of rock and imagination, between geographical objects and moral values. More specifically, it speculates on the aptitude of "durable" physical objects such as mountains to be turned into metaphors and circulated. Metaphors, Alison Blunt argued, are "inherently spatial in connecting two seemingly disconnected ideas to illuminate meaning with the term itself originating from the Greek word meaning transfer or transport" (Blunt 1994, 64). The metaphorical power of natural landscapes has been object of increasing numbers of publications, especially in the context of nation making (Nash 1994; Warnke 1994; Schama 1995; O Tuathail 1996; Peckham 2001; Olwig 2002), but less attention has been paid to the "transportation" of metaphors themselves across space and time. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.