The Gods Rule by Acclaim
Did you see Oliver Stone’s 2004 movie, Alexander, about Alexander the Great? Indeed it was not one of Mr. Stone’s best, as I suspect he himself would admit if we got him drunk enough.
But the film did have a great one-sheet promo line:
Fortune favors the bold.
(The phrase comes from a Latin proverb, variously rendered as audentes Fortuna iuvat and Fortuna audaces iuvat among others.)
Here’s a true story of Alexander from Diodorus and other ancient sources:
When he was preparing to march out from Macedonia to commence his assault on the Persian Empire, Alexander called the entire army together, officers and men, for a great festival at a place called Dium on the Magnesian coast.
When all the army had assembled, Alexander began giving away everything he owned. To his generals he gave great country estates (all properties of the Crown); he gave timberlands to his colonels and fishing grounds, mining concessions and hunting preservers to his midrank officers. Every sergeant got a farm; even privates received cottages and pasturelands and cattle. By the climax of this extraordinary evening, his soldiers were begging their king to stop. “What,” one of his friends asked, “will you keep for yourself?” “My hopes,” said Alexander.
When you and I launch ourselves upon a new book or screenplay or videogame or TV series, we are like Alexander.
We are invoking Fortune (a goddess, remember, and thus divine), just as he did.
And we must do it like he did.
Here’s another way of putting it:
If you build it, he will come.
L’audace! L’audace! Toujours l’audace!
In other words, the bigger the idea, the bolder the venture, the better.
Write what you don’t know.
Pick the idea that’s craziest.
Write the book you can’t write.
Alexander believed that the gods rule not by power but by acclaim. Remember that for all the great conqueror’s rationality (his tutor as a boy, after all, was Aristotle) he remained at heart a wild northern highlander and a warrior of primal, even primitive origins. The gods were not fancies to him. They existed. They were real.
Man bows before the immortals, Alexander believed, because of their greatness, their beauty, their transcendent majesty. Beholding Athena or Apollo (or even demi-gods like Herakles and Achilles) we humans have no choice but to respond with awe and veneration … and to follow and obey, if these beings should so charge us.
But Alexander drew a further corollary from this faith.
He believed that the gods would take our side if only we acted with enough courage, audacity, and defiance of death. In other words if we acted like them.
Alexander believed that we mortals could compel heaven’s intercession by our own actions, if they possessed sufficient thrasytes, boldness, and andreia, martial valor.
Not only would the gods intercede in such cases, but they had no choice.
Why did Alexander—not the myth but the actual historical man—lead his Companion cavalry from the very front in their charge at the enemy? Why did he wear a double-plumed helmet and distinctive armor, so he could be recognized at any distance on the field?
Yes, he took the lead to act as an example. To fire his men to emulate his valor.
But more critically, to his mind, Alexander was acting for an audience on Olympus.
He believed that when heaven beheld him aboard his warhorse Bucephalus striking the foe before any other, it would be powerless to resist interceding in his aid.
“Fortune favors the bold” is a mighty truth, even if it can’t be proven empirically in a laboratory or on a blackboard by mathematics.
Start before you’re ready.
Write what you don’t know.
Pick the idea that’s craziest.
Write the book you can’t write.
Another good one today. Man, I look forward to Wednesdays.
To this idea of audacity and the seemingly insane actions — the RISKS — of giving it all way, burning your ships on the beachhead, mowing down your corn to build a baseball field… can I add the quote that’s been attributed to Ray Bradbury, and rendered a couple different ways:
** “You have to jump off cliffs and build your wings on the way down.” **
Same deal. And here’s something else that I think fits with what we’re talking about today. If not “fortune favors the bold” or “the gods being powerless to do other than bring their aid in support of audacity,” this Ben Kingsley thing feels like another example of “our actions or thoughts precipitating some movement, some non-local effects, in the world around us.” Somehow bringing us aid or putting us right where we were supposed to be, as if we’re pieces being moved around a board (and a chess example follows):
Have any of y’all watched a series that GQ has on their channel? Actors sit down and talk about their most iconic roles. Right before coming here and reading today’s Writing Wednesdays, I watched this one featuring Sir Ben Kingsley:
He tells a couple stories that seem to illustrate external events aligning themselves with something happening internally (the gods? the muse? fate? destiny?):
On the film “Gandhi”: Kingsley tells it: “Richard Attenborough invited me to have lunch with him. The extraordinary coincidence that I was reading an illustrated biography of Mahatma Gandhi the week he invited me to his house. So I was looking at photographs of this beautiful, great man. And then Attenborough called me and invited me to consider playing him. I remember telling him that I’m reading the biography of Mahatma Gandhi, while we’re talking. And he said, ‘Of course you are.’ He was surrounded by sublime coincidences.”
On the film “Schindler’s List”: Kingsley was working on the film “Searching for Bobby Fischer.” In one of the scenes, he was mixed in among some great, elderly middle-European chess players. One of those old chess players had a worn paperback in his hands, and at one point, handed it to Kingsley and said, “I want you to read this.” The book was “Schindler’s Ark,” by Thomas Keneally. “He handed it to me like it was some holy relic.” Three days later, screenwriter Steve Zaillian came to Kingsley and said, “I want you to read this,” and handed him the script for “Schindler’s List,” to be directed by Steven Spielberg.
I don’t know. WH Murray has been quoted here before, from “The Scottish Himalayan Expedition” (1951):
“…the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves. too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would otherwise never have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have believed would have come his way.”
Thanks so much for those Ben Kingsley stories, Joe. Lovely.
Thanks so much for your comments. The stars do seem to align when we’re willing to take bold steps.
I love that GQ series of most iconic roles. Great insights.
Glad to be in the conversation with all of you.
Audacity at its finest! There is and has always been greatness inside. We received it when at once God breathed the breath of life into Adam. Gigi, how dare you go and be great! How dare you indeed! #chutzpah
Wonderful! Thank you again.
I do look forward to Writing Wednesdays or as I like to call them “Weekly Wednesday Writing Whoop Ass”.
Very Inspiring Thanks.
Always timely advice. Thank you, Steven.
Amen, Steve. And Alexander wasn’t the only stud “leading from the front.” Footnote: please refer to Steve’s own body of work to see the meat of this blog entry put into ACTION over an entire career. And Steve has been well aware of who was looking over his shoulder–the Muse. Semper Fi.
Inspiration at a moment of cross currents pulling and repelling and the confusion and resistance of the future. Buckle-up and step out one more time or not. Of course Buckle-up is usually the choice. The Resistance is always present although it changes shape over time. It can be managed. And too, the Reward is never as it was imagined. It’s always different and usually better.
Thanks Steven! Very inspiring! I’m going to be launching my business/website/movie this month & if/when I reach the goals in my life, I’ll have all your books to thank for it. You’re books have completely changed my life for the better. Thanks for all the great work you do. I really appreciate it! “Fortune favors the bold” indeed; also my other favorite quote about boldness is from Shakespeare, “Boldness be my friend.” Happy writing everybody!
Thank you for these wise words.
Fortune favours the bold – we are far more resourceful than we know, but those resources are only called up when we set a great goal. I love a phrase from Alden Mills “if you have a dream and you know all the steps required to achieve it: you don’t have a dream, you have a task list”
even if it can’t be proven empirically in a laboratory or on a blackboard by mathematics >> thank you so much
At work, where everything has to be “data driven” and have numbers to back it up, it’s so great to hear somebody say this ^
Super thank you for keeping my faith in these mighty truths alive! I don’t want to become jaded in my old age (which is now) ^^
Everyone who knows anything about the movie business will tell you that Hollywood favors the 16-25 year old male audience. Thrillers are the most popular genre right now, in addition to horror and sci-fi. My first original screenplay, which I’m writing now, is a love story featuring a black middle-aged couple who’ve been married for 35 years. It’s a highly unusual story told with humor and pathos and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a movie. I am terrified a lot these days and the timing of your essay on boldness is just what I needed right now. Thank you, Steve.
It’s no coincidence – your timing is impeccable. Just what I needed to read after a long day’s work rewriting my novel. Thank you for your books. I’m reading the War of Art for the second time every day, and I just received my copy of The Artist’s Journey. Thanks to Shawn Coyne & Story Grid for the introduction.
William Blake wrote, “If the Fool would persist in his folly, he would become wise.” It’s been a roadmap for decades and I confess I’m a bit closer to the wisdom than to the folly of my youth. I don’t regret the journey.
This is my favorite email this year. Thank you. I sat down to work on my WIP, which is so much bigger than anything I’m capable of, decided to open my email inbox instead and got this, a little kick in the rear. Back to work. Thank you.
In the past I have been pleased to have lived by the quote of Dorothy Parker (imagine it with commas): And sweet’s the air with curly smoke from all my burning bridges.
This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”
― William Hutchison Murray
Write the book you can’t write! For many years I have toiled over a title that was presented to me by the gods. To that title, I have added one story. It has haunted me night and day. This is the book that I can’t seem to write, but I will! Watch for it!
I see only one small problem, if the gods forget to intercede while you build your wings on the way down, your bold move is a one shot wonder.
Lovely thought! This is only a problem if we forget that WE are “the gods”! It is so,! Our Brains, Our Hearts, Our taking action IS THE GOD WITHIN ALL OF US…so do not await gods in chariots to arise with what is sitting withIn your mind,, heart and hands. Ultimately, YOU ARE YOUR GOD! Get to work and keep at it until you achieve your dream. No one can write what is in YOUR heart and mind. So, we’ll never get to read it unless YOU step out of the chariot and GET TO WORK!
Do Not Stop Until you have completed your Dream…..we’re waiting.
Steve how do you just keep getting better and better.
Your brilliant writing has inspired me today.
Just what I needed.
Your ideas, energy and beautiful writing are gifts that you so skillfully share to help us win the War of Art!
All the best,
Great read, thanks.
Thanks once again for your helping hand.