Using the Past, Shaping the Present

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Main building, auditorium A1, address: Kalevantie 4

Jaakkojuhani Peltonen

Doctoral defence of MA Jaakkojuhani Peltonen

Using the Past, Shaping the Present: Alexander the Great in textual imagery 150 BC - 600 AD

The field of science of the dissertation is History.

The opponent is professor Hugh Bowden (King’s College, London, Great-Britain). Docent Katariina Mustakallio acts as the custos.

The language of the dissertation defence is English.

Use of history and the stories of Alexander the Great

Until today, the western civilization has been conscious of its history. Historically orientated individuals have used historical stories and myths in order to justify and reason one’s own behaviour and goals. The way history is used in a given period by contemporaries, is like a window to the respective value-systems of that era. Each era – including ours – includes and excludes the historical stories that are told and, moreover, decides how these stories are valued. For over 2000 years politicians, authors, military commanders, writers and painters have used the story of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC.) as a tool to in consolidating their own value systems, political agendas or purposes.

My dissertation deals with the use of history in ancient world. I explore the literary presentations of Alexander the Great and the different argumentations behind these presentations. The source material contains Latin and Greek texts of over 70 authors written in 150 BC – 600 AD. In my thesis, I analyze how the different myths and traditions of Alexander were harnessed to serve different philosophical, pedagogic, political or religious views. The figure of Alexander was used to build identities – Roman, Greek, Jewish and Christian authors used Alexander to define themselves in relation to other groups. In Classical literary tradition, it was common to use comparatio Alexandri (comparing to Alexander) or imitatio Alexandri (imitation of Alexander) as a rhetoric tool. Also, in some occasions, referring to Alexander was motivated by a goal of appealing to someone in a superior position and, thus, aiming to enhance one’s social status.

Besides contributing to the general academic discussion of the use of history in classical antiquity, my dissertation aims to present new methodological aspects when researching widely used literary sources. Traditional historical approach is interested in historical events per se, instead of asking why and how these events are used. However, my approach highlights the very function of history in western thinking; how the past has been used to build argumentations. My goal is to explore the rhetorical and ideological possibilities of a given historical event or tradition, and to underscore the instrumental value of history.

The dissertation is published in the self-publishing, 2017.

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