Greek lawyers agree to watch new film about Alexander the Great before judging

Alexander the Great, who carved out a vast empire east of Greece before his death at age 32, is idolized in this nation as a symbol of its ancient glory. No less than 29 streets in Athens are named after him. So when Oliver Stone’s new epic about the conqueror’s life depicted him as a bisexual who has a fling with his childhood friend Hephaestion, the portrayal hit a raw nerve in a nation where homophobic attitudes remain widespread. A group of 25 Greek lawyers has threatened to sue the movie’s producers over what they describe as a distortion of history – but insist the protest is not aimed at gays. «I want to stress we have nothing against gays or lesbians. We respect their rights as (we do) everybody else’s,» said Yiannis Varnakos, the head of the lawyers’ group. «We would have reacted the same way if the issue didn’t involve homosexuality,» he said. «We just don’t want a distortion of historical facts.» The lawyers are calling on the filmmakers, Warner Bros., to carry a disclaimer that the movie is a fictional portrayal of Alexander’s life. Yesterday, they withdrew a request to delay the movie’s release in Greece, agreeing to suspend the action until they watch a preview screening of «Alexander» before it opens in Greece on December 3. Gay rights campaigners have condemned the lawyers’ campaign, contending it is a clear case of homophobia disguised as a quest for historical truth. «When it comes to these sorts of matters, Greece is stuck in the Middle Ages,» said Athanassios Vessis, manager of the only gay bookstore in Greece. «Everyone knows homosexuality was something natural in ancient Greece,» he said. «I don’t see the reason for all the fuss.» The debate centered mostly around his homosexuality. In Stone’s 173-minute film, Alexander has an intimate relationship with childhood friend and cavalry commander Hephaestion. Historians say ancient Greek men often had sexual partners of either gender and many argue Alexander was no exception. Stone’s consultant on the movie, British historian Robert Lane Fox, wrote in his 1973 book, «Alexander the Great»: «Alexander was only defeated once, the Cynic philosophers said long after his death, and that was by Hephaestion’s thighs.» Varnakos challenged Fox to explain his conclusions, since none of the sources of Alexander’s contemporaries survive. Suggestions that Alexander had male lovers, he said, are based on accounts given more than 300 years after his death. «There is absolutely nothing in the sources that supports the idea that Alexander was bisexual,» Varnakos said. «I can’t just claim that JFK was a basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers… so likewise Stone cannot say Alexander was gay.»