Time’s Top 25 Political Icons

Not sure why humans seem to have obsessions with producing ‘top however-many lists’ of ‘whatever’. This time, it Time Magazine using the format to mark what would have been Ronald Reagan’s 100th anniversary. The ‘common thread’ is “world leaders whose legacies have stood the test of time”. Coming in at number two (after Gandhi) is Alexander the Great … here’s their blurb:

The world knows no more precocious or proud a conqueror than Alexander the Great. According to legend — and legends are legion about this fellow — the young Macedonian prince carried the blood of the Olympian god Zeus in his veins and overcame a bullying father and cloying mother to lead a triumphant army across the Bosporus to the near ends of the earth. He defeated the mighty Persian Empire, ever the scourge of the Greeks, razed its once mighty capital of Persepolis to the ground and tried to stitch together an incredible cosmopolitan empire from the Indus to the Hellespont — all while he was in his 20s. He died from an arrow wound at the tender age of 32, still harboring dreams of finding greater shores and nations to bring under his yoke. His imperial project proved too great for his followers, who soon set about warring with each other soon after Alexander’s death.

In the European tradition, Alexander has always been a talisman of western dominance and countless colonial adventurers in the 18th and 19th centures voyaged through what’s now the Middle East and South Asia while very self-consciously styling themselves as latter day Alexanders. Yet, according to most sources, Alexander “went native” over the course of his campaigns, assuming the trappings of the Persians, Soghdians and others whom he encountered and mingled with. Unsurprisingly, the Muslim world has a whole canon of Alexander literature, particularly in Persian, depicting the irrepressible conqueror as a champion of Islam riding to its defense.

Whoever he was, Alexander left behind cities in his name that would last centuries, not least two that are currently in the news: Alexandria, Egypt, the great trading center of the ancient world that’s now the site of turbulent protests against the ruling regime in Cairo and Afghanistan’s Kandahar, derived from the Persian “Iskandar,” or Alexander, and a longstanding stronghold of the Taliban.

Number 11 on the list, right after Ronald Reagan himself and no doubt riding a wave of popularity due to a recent book, is Cleopatra (I’ve never seen the sculpture that accompanies this one):

The Egyptian Queen Cleopatra is remembered for the luxuries of her fabled kingdom, her dazzling beauty and, above all, her death. Immortalized by Shakespeare, her alleged suicide was the stuff of romantic legend — despairing after the defeat in battle of her lover, Marc Antony, she succumbed to the venomous bite of an asp rather than be taken captive by the victorious Roman Octavian, nephew of Julius Caesar, another one of her many paramours. Over the centuries, Cleopatra has become synonymous with seduction, her feminine wiles aligned alongside an image of the East as decadent, debauched and ready to be taken.

Recent scholarship, though, has done much to bring the real Cleopatra into the light, showing how the ancient monarch was a shrewd politico bent on defending the land her family’s dynasty had governed for some two centuries, while expanding her influence into the Roman world. Scholars still puzzle over the true extent of beauty and debate her racial origins — some say she was more African, others point to the decidedly Greek character of dynastic line. Most recently, Egypt’s archaeologist in chief, the controversial, flamboyant Zawi Hawass, unveiled an extensive mission to unveil her and Antony’s supposed tomb, a find that could shed more light on the tragic couple’s last moments. But, thus far, the search has gone cold and the legendary queen remains still ensconced in myth.

Not sure the Cleopatra description fits the ‘test of time’ criteria, but whatever the case, no one else from our purview cracked the top 25, alas …

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