“Stay with me. I will teach you to be a king.”
–King Porus to Alexander, in India
Alexander’s tutor was Aristotle. Alexander’s father Philip brought the great philosopher to Macedonia to be a teacher to his son and other sons of nobles. We know that the young Alexander was exposed to, and embraced with passion, the loftiest concepts of honor and integrity. Alexander slept with a copy of the Iliad beneath his pillow. He embodied in his actions and his ideals the best of Greek warrior culture from Achilles to Leonidas. He himself traced his ancestry to Achilles and to the sons of Heracles, the great hero himself.
Alexander burned the great Greek city of Thebes to the ground. His army massacred tens of thousands, leveled and looted cities, displaced peoples, and depopulated entire regions.
In other words, in Alexander’s conquests we witness the Warrior Archetype pushed far beyond the pure Spartan ideal embodied at Thermopylae. He carried this forward into the realm of conquest, domination, subjugation, enslavement and worse.
The moral issue has become conquest.
The idea of conquest itself.
Alexander and his army justified the overthrow of the Persian empire as payback for Persia’s invasion of Greece generations earlier. Marathon. Thermopylae. Salamis.
Okay. Fair enough.
But clearly Alexander’s ambition was not satisfied with the burning of Persepolis or the death of Persia’s King Darius.
He wanted to keep going.
He wanted to conquer the world.
The issue reached its crisis for Alexander in India, on the banks of the Hydaspes River, when he came to the borders of a mighty king named Porus
The ancient texts declare that Porus was so tall that he seemed like a man mounted on a horse. He was also a great and benevolent king, renowned for his wisdom, whose lands were prosperous and whose people were free.
Porus parleyed with Alexander on a great barge in the middle of the river that bounded his kingdom. He welcomed Alexander and offered to adopt him as his son and to cede to him, upon his death, all his lands and kingdoms. Then, with the loftiest of intentions, he invited Alexander to live with him under his roof. “Stay with me,” Porus said. “I will teach you to be a king.”
Alexander’s face went dark with fury. He was a king! The mightiest on earth!
Porus responded, still with kindness and goodwill.
“You are not a king, my young friend. You are a conqueror.”
“Observe my kingdom,” Porus explained, “governed with wisdom and justice. The people prosper and are happy. The land flourishes and yields its bounty. Men are free to speak and to exercise their ambition.
“Now compare this to the lands whose freedom you have taken. The nations you have conquered–Egypt, Persia, Media, Babylonia, a hundred others–how have their peoples fared beneath your rule? You simply turn them over to the same princes who oppressed them before, while you take their treasure and move on. Is any man happier or wiser because of your rule? Is any more prosperous or more free? Have even those of your own forces seen real profit from their toil? Your army is like a fleet at sea, which controls only that patch of ocean over which it passes, while the rest of the main remains wild and subject to all manner of evils.”
Finally, Porus’ spoke his deepest truth. “What law of heaven gives you the right to invade my country, which has done you no wrong and which only wishes to honor you and be your friend? You would do what to my people? Murder and enslave us, destroy our homes and ruin our families? For what? The vain exercise of conquest? You and your army bring evil only. You are like savages who know no better.”
The fascinating thing about this exchange, to me, is that it’s the clash of two archetypes–the Warrior and the King. Clearly, the King is the superior, morally, ethically, and spiritually.
This leads us to the moral dilemma at the heart of the Warrior Archetype.
What if the warrior virtues of courage, obedience, brotherhood, unity, the willing embrace of adversity, etc. are used for evil?
Surely Hitler’s Gestapo or Stalin’s secret police organized themselves internally along principles not dissimilar from, and even inspired by, the Spartans and Athenians and Macedonians. And let’s not let ourselves as Americans off the hook either. The catalog of our own “dark side” endeavors began when the first slaveholder’s foot touched these shores and hasn’t abated since.
What we are up against here are the limits of the Warrior Archetype. To be strong and brave, to be self-disciplined, to love one’s brothers is not enough. A moral dimension must be identified and integrated or the Warrior is nothing but a butcher. The qualities of self-restraint, of justice and empathy and inclusion, must somehow be added to the basic, raw energy and power of the Warrior Archetype.
Let’s not leave Alexander yet. Let’s examine how he (or at least my own imagining of him in fiction) addressed this issue.
It’s good to speak to this aspect, something that may not always be readily apprehended. Carry on.
“What we are up against here are the limits of the Warrior Archetype. To be strong and brave, to be self-disciplined, to love one’s brothers is not enough. A moral dimension must be identified and integrated or the Warrior is nothing but a butcher. The qualities of self-restraint, of justice and empathy and inclusion, must somehow be added to the basic, raw energy and power of the Warrior Archetype.”
Sadly, Alexander didn’t take Porus’s words to heart. Indeed, he engaged him anyway and was ultimately victorious. He not only slaughtered a great king, but he also slaughtered wisdom and an opportunity to truly change the world. Porus was right. Alexander was no leader. He was a murdering monster.
Porus and his men fought valiantly but did not win. According to various sources online, “The Battle of the Hydaspes was the closest one Alexander ever came to losing. He was reportedly so impressed by Porus’s valor that he asked him how he wished to be treated.”
The warrior archetype is a trojan horse for those enamored by it, as Alexander was. Strong and manly on the outside, but carrying deceit and death on the inside. While it’s necessary to have that warrior mentality in a war in order to survive, where is there a place for it in modern society? The police agencies across the country were chastised for this mentality and many departments have decided to change their culture to that of “Guardian,” rather than a warrior, as a warrior mentality pits police against the people rather than encouraging them to protect the people, as a guardian would.
We see the warrior mentality in politics too. My question, is the warrior archetype so ingrained in us that it IS our DNA, rather than IN our DNA? Why do humans feel the need to destroy, conquer, and decimate each other? It’s not all humans of course, but those who seek control? Interesting questions all around.
Porus was absolutely correct! But don’t tell that to the authors of thousands of books claiming to know the secrets of leadership – they don’t realize how this level of leadership needs to be learned from watching, instead of through academics.
While using the Iliad as a pillow serves to inspire young LCPL’s, Lt’s and just-graduated MBA’s everywhere, Alexander surely learned more from observing Porus interact with his troops and citizens. Be it on a King-level or further down the chain of command, leadership is recognizing that people respond differently, and dealing with them accordingly.
I’m fully convinced leaders aren’t made, they’re born, and a combination of life experiences, interpersonal skills and and ugly circumstances brings it out. Ernest Shackleton saving his men in the Antarctic comes to mind, as opposed to Robert Falcon Scott who led his men to a frozen death. It’ no wonder most world leaders today except Angela Merkel are gutless wonders; they’re duplicitous and over-educated, while she grew up in East Germany and (thank you Brian!) knows what is was like to be cold. Maybe that’s the secret recipe; Kingly leadership is a mix of empathy and intelligence?
Leadership as an innate quality vs training is an interesting question. I think it is both. Like athletics, or any of the other types of intelligences–I think we come with baked-in tendencies, talents, proclivities pointed at particular human capacities. Leadership is pretty broad word for hundreds of characteristics and behaviors. The experience of athletics, drama, clubs, and responsibilities all are the ‘leadership academy’ beyond books.
In the Army’s professional evaluations, we try to break apart leadership into constituent parts–then evaluate the Soldier/Officer under these discrete components. I don’t think we are actually measuring leadership in that moment.
One thing for sure, the Director of HR, is generally NOT the person to determine leadership values.
I think we’d be a happier and healthier society if we killed HR departments, and put a cap of 3 law schools in the country. Let’s make more engineers…
Brian- oh it’s absolutely both nature and nurture! But while a soldier or Marine can be trained to move, shoot, and communicate; that initial first step towards the sound of the guns is instinctive. It’s simple, really: which way will you run?
What comes to mind is taking these young boys from their mothers and training them to be good obedient brave killing machines has wrought only death and trauma on humankind over the centuries. Had these boys learned kindness, helpfulness, cooperation, and how to grow things at their morhers’ side, along with some military training at an older age, imagine how different would be the course that humanity charted over the course of time. It seems to me that perhaps emphasizing one virtue to the exclusion of all others is worse than a man with no virtue at all…
Fascinating! I am really enjoying this series. Thank you.
This comment is not about this particular episode. It is to show my appreciation for this entire series. There are few emails that I anticipate each week. The one from Steven Pressfield is one for sure. Thanks for producing such concise and entertaining stories each week. There is no doubt, I will watch as long as you post new content.
So now we truly begin…how to integrate the Warrior Archetype into our lives as we continue to mature and grow? I’m re-listening to “Virtues of War” now that this series has moved to Alexander the Great.
As I was listening this morning, I thought about Jung’s ‘integrating the shadow’. Does the Warrior Archetype contain some of the Shadow? Jordan Peterson mentions how the definition of meek has changed throughout time, initially meaning, “Competent Warrior who chooses to tame his sword.
I just did an online search, and Webster’s first definition is, “enduring injury with patience and without resentment.”
Maybe that is part of it, part of what the King, Mystic, Sage learn is to endure injury with patience and without resentment. The enemy is not responsible for one’s unhappiness or injury.
It was early in my tour in Afghanistan, when I read a book called, “A Bookseller in Kabul”, “Ghost Wars”, and watched a the first Afghanistan film created post Taliban rule. The movie is called ‘Osama’ — the BLUF (bottom line up front) from those books and movie was how brutal/savage Pashtunwali truly is. Honor killing of daughters was the tipping point for me. I don’t really care how generous one is to strangers (hospitality is one of Pashtunwali’s corner tenets), if you decide to choke out your daughter for holding the hand of another teenage boy….
So it was in this mindset we lost one of our Soldiers to an EID. I was filled with rage and disgust. The young man who died, CPL Bernard Corpuz, was such a talented, noble, and kind young man–and that his life was lost to a people who kill their own daughters made me very angry for a while.
My roommate was the company commander for CPL Corpuz, and we talked all night the day Bernard was killed. Matt had to call Bernard’s mother in the morning. We asked all the questions, “Is there a God…” to “Is there any point to this war…” “What does it mean…” “Did I train him enough…”
Anger/rage is a potent fuel, but that fuel is too hard on the engine long term. We need a more consistent and less flammable fuel for most of life’s struggles.
When I left the Army, I did a gratitude list. I had been passed-over, and was upset. Feelings were hurt. I was angry. I did not want to retire angry, it wasn’t an accurate description of my entire career.
About six lines down in my gratitude list I wrote, “Had the chance to fight in combat for my country.”
I am not sure if a civilian would understand that I was grateful to deploy and fight, and would have wondered my entire life if I had ‘it in me’. Having ‘it in you’ also means the ability to suffer pain/loss, and not let it destroy you.
Wow, this touches on the exact question and thoughts I’ve had in my head the last couple days. Thank you!
I love watching out for the locations in this series – and often they seem to be chosen to match the content. (It was clearly a horse training yard in the last one, with the stories about Alexander taming Bosephalus). This time, however, you have me stumped. Cabbages? Why a field of cabbages?
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