Athens in an Uproar as Anna Wintour and ‘Alexander’ (as in, the Great) Upend Some Cherished Greek Myths

A trifecta of cultural collisions in or about Greece this month includes a faux pas from the New York fashion guru and a typical shot of European disdain for Hollywood.

Jeff Spicer/Getty Images
Models walk the runway during London Fashion Week February 2024 at the British Museum. Jeff Spicer/Getty Images

ATHENS — The only thing Alexander the Great loved more than conquest and his horse Bucephalus, the historical record shows, was his general Hephaestion — but did that make him gay? The Parthenon sculptures on display in the British Museum are stunning — but does that make them a suitable backdrop for a crowded fashion show?

Such are the questions rocking Greece in the same month, to the ongoing dismay of the priestly class, that the country legalized gay marriage. None of these are particularly terrible problems to have, but they underscore how not everybody celebrates when a country built on millennia of traditions is dragged through the crucible of modernity. 

The flap over Alexander’s amorous preferences is the stuff of the usual tug-of-war between Hollywood and history. At issue is a new Netflix dramatized documentary called “Alexander: The Making of a God,” which not only has the Macedonian king speaking a crisp English but also in a romantic relationship with Hephaestion. There is no question that the bond between Alexander and his fellow Macedonian was strong, but the depiction of it as homosexual is raising hackles in Greece. 

In response to a question from the head of the Christian Orthodox party, Greece’s minister of culture, Lina Mendoni, said the film was “replete with historical inaccuracies” and that “there is no mention in the sources that it goes beyond the limits of friendship.” Ms. Mendoni, though, also proffered that “the concept of love in antiquity is broad and multidimensional. We cannot interpret either practices or persons who acted 2,300 years ago by our own measures, our own norms and assumptions.”

In one episode of “Alexander,” a professor at Cardiff University in Wales, Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, says, “The Greeks did not have a word for homosexuality, or to be gay. It just wasn’t in their vocabulary whatsoever. There was just being sexual.” Be that as it may, for the flaming liberals of Hollywood, the gayer Alexander the Great is the better, the blacker Cleopatra is imagined to be, the  greater chances for an Oscar, and so the culture wars go on. 

What might also raise a few questions is all that gold lamé Alexander apparently wore to battle — but kidding aside, a fashion show that took place the other day in, of all places, the esteemed British Museum has triggered a maelstrom. Fashion’s top warrior, Anna Wintour, the Vogue editor, was in the front row of designer Erdem Moralioglu’s show that unfolded in the museum’s Duveen Gallery, among the Elgin Marbles, as part of London Fashion Week.

As the Sun has reported, the ancient statuary is at the center of a disagreement between Greece and Britain. The quarrel over whether the sculptures belong in London or in Athens just grew more acrimonious, as Ms. Mendoni made clear. In a statement soon after the show, she said that “the directors of the British Museum have trivialized and insulted not only the monument but also the universal values that it conveys.”

Ms. Mendoni clarified that statement in comments reported by Greek newspaper Kathimerini, saying that the “sculptures were used as a decorative element, without there being any correlation between the values they represent and the fashion show.” Now, if one were to take Ms. Wintour to task about the frivolity of having a fashion show inside the world’s greatest cultural institutions — well, things could get cinematic. Some Greek academics, though, have raised the fair point that ancient monuments can be more fragile than they are commonly perceived to be. 

The  polemics over Alexander and the mashup of fashion and cultural treasure are likely to recede, but the ruckus over newly legalized gay marriage in Greece portends more discontent. 

While it was Prime Minister Mitsotakis’s center-right New Democracy party that tabled the legislation, some critics on the left claimed that it only did so to not run further afoul of the European Court of Human Rights. Some members of his own party abstained from the vote, and a former prime minister, Antonis Samaras, thundered in front of parliament that “same-sex marriage is not a human right.”

The Greek Orthodox Church shares that opinion. The Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus even said that “if we baptize the children of homosexuals, they too will become homosexuals.”

The new recognition of same-sex marriage does not legalize surrogacy, and legal battles therein loom.

For the moment, there is some calm. The head of Greece’s faltering leftist Syriza party, Stefanos Kasselakis, feted the passage of the law by going to a gay bar (extending a hand to embittered Church higher-ups might have been a better idea). Yet Mr. Mitsotakis, surging in opinion polls, is already forging a path to a conservative triumph in European parliamentary elections during Pride Month —  er, that is to say, June. 


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