It was 4 AM the other night -- naturally, I found myself reading about Alexander the Great on Wikipedia. I started to read about Cleitus the Black, one of Alexander's commanders who saved his life in an early battle. After many of the conquests, Alexander gave Cleitus an assignment that he didn't want, Cleitus gave Alexander a piece of his mind, they got into a drunken fight, and Alexander stuck a lance threw Cleitus and killed him.
Then I read this:
"In all of the four major texts we possess, it is shown that Alexander grieved greatly for the death of Cleitus. His grief could be genuine or contrived. Cleitus was a member of the generation of Philip II and Alexander had been systematically killing off that generation to keep his generation in power. Alexander may have genuinely not wanted to kill Cleitus, making it possible that this was one of many examples of post-traumatic stress disorder."
Say what? So I google PTSD and "Alexander the Great" and find this site (full article here):
"Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE): At the age of 22, Alexander crossed the Hellespont with an army of just over 30,000 men to conquer the “known world.” After 10 years of bloody battle, enduring near-fatal wounds and seeing legions of comrades perish, Alexander subjugated the Persian Empire of Darius III, becoming “Lord of Asia.” Upon reaching Western India, Alexander’s exhausted troops refused to march further, forcing him to return to his new capital at Babylon. During his return from India, Alexander began to experience disturbing changes in his character. The once brave, adventurous, adaptable, ingenious and considerate leader drove his army through the Gardosian Desert, where two-thirds of his troops perished from dehydration, starvation and hypothermia. Alexander then began executing lieutenants and satraps who had served him as middle managers of the empire during his conquests to the east. Alexander spent the last months of his life drinking heavily and had become pathologically suspicious and easily alarmed."
You can't possibly be serious. PTSD in Alexander the Great? Spare me. Are you to have me believe that one of the most militaristic, aggressive, and successful warriors of all time was...traumatized by his conquests?
If Alexander was unhappy or anxious, it's probably because his conquering days were over. That is to say, his symptoms were the result of too little violence, not too much. A life of not subduing your enemies is just soooooo boring. Look, if someone is used to regular surges of status and prestige -- from, say, conquering every enemy you've ever faced -- and suddenly that goes away, then you probably get a little irritable. It's widely known that Alexander wanted to keep conquering, but he faced a mutiny by his soldiers, who wanted to party, have sex, and be rich.
You also probably don't take it kindly when subordinates disagree with you publicly, especially when you're drunk. And if that subordinate also happens to be someone who saved your life in battle, then you probably mourn him heavily when you sober up. As for paranoia -- powerful alphas have always been paranoid, and justifiably so! They usually faced repeated challenges to their power. Alpha male mustangs get far less sleep than non-alphas during their season or two in charge, since they are guarding the females and fending off threats. It takes a physical toll.
What this author doesn't seem to realize is that Homo sapiens is a naturally violent species, particularly the males. Needless to say, that doesn't make it morally right -- but it doesn't make a lot of sense to pathologize species-typical behavior. And if your goal is to reduce violence, then you're probably better off having a realistic view of human nature and actually try to understand how it works.
Here's an alternative hypothesis for PTSD. Imagine you're a pig farmer -- you probably don't lose any sleep from slaughtering those pigs. Now imagine you've never seen anything die in your entire life and you step into a slaughtering house -- pretty traumatizing, right? People in past ages were completely desensitized to violence and death. Plus, here's how the human mind copes with violence: by dehumanizing enemies to the point where they are vermin or inhuman, and thus can be wiped out without losing any sleep. If you deactivate this dehumanizing mental module, it probably becomes more traumatizing to kill other people.
The author also describes alleged symptoms of PTSD in Captain James Cook, Florence Nightingale, and Emily Dickinson. What a list. Here is the entry for Emily Dickinson, the great poet:
"Emily Dickinson spent virtually her entire life in Amherst, Massachusetts, sheltered from the outside world among her socially prominent family. As a child, she was "one of the wittiest girls in [her] school, a self-proclaimed free spirit," and by the time she reached her middle teens, she was brimming with self-confidence, exclaiming, "I am growing handsome very fast indeed! I expect I shall be the belle of Amherst when I reach my 17th year. I don't doubt that I shall have perfect crowds of admirers at that age." However, in <2 years, she underwent a striking metamorphosis, retreating into the world of a recluse. An accumulation of PTEs coincided with her withdrawal from society and might have precipitated the change in behavior.
During her 14th year, there were the deaths of four intimates in rapid succession, whose funerals she was forced to attend. One of these deaths was that of a cousin of the same age, Sophia Holland, into whose room Dickinson stole moments after the girl died; Dickinson reportedly remained staring transfixed into her dead cousin's face "until others pulled her away." During this same time, Dickinson developed intermittent fever, cough, and possibly hemoptysis, which would plague her for decades and force her to withdraw from Mount Holyoke College at age 17. Her mother had a similar illness that relatives feared was hereditary. Emily was her mother's primary caregiver for nearly three decades.
In the late 1850s, Dickinson began secluding herself from most social contact, refusing to come downstairs even to meet close friends, no longer attending church, fleeing from the room or from the garden at the approach of outsiders, meeting visitors at the foot of the backstairs by moonlight alone, conducting conversations from behind an ajar door or screen, and permitting her doctor to examine her only by observing while seated in the next room as she walked by an open door. At age 35, she began to recover, to become more interactive socially, and to write poems less morbid than the earlier ones for which she is remembered. She died at age 56, most likely of hypertension complicated by a massive stroke."
Alexander the Great and Emily Dickinson. PTSD. You've got to be f***ing kidding me. This is probably the dumbest social science that I have ever read in my entire life. I find it hard to imagine how someone with a functioning brain could actually believe this drivel.