Monday 22 January 2018

Around the World in Another 80 Gays : Part 4) Controversial Achievement

[Achievement – the name given in heraldry to the full pictorial representation of a coat of arms.]

Previously : 4) Count Albrecht von Bernstorff (1890-1945) studied at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, named after 5) Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902), who made his fortune in diamonds, said to have been first introduced into Europe by 6) Alexander the Great (356 BC-323 BC).

A controversial achievement and a confusing one, which is why this particular heraldic article has a different format to my previous ones. When heraldry was in its early stages of development many kings and nobles adopted coats of arms. Once heraldry became popular, spreading across Europe and developing its own rules, a new trend emerged in which long-dead kings and nobles from history had coats of arms designed for them, even if heraldry didn’t exist in their life time. It was assumed in the Middle Ages that if a contemporary king can had a coat of arms then so can a historical one. It didn’t matter to the medieval heralds how far back in time anyone lived. These coats of arms are called attributed arms.

Among the many historical people to whom coats of arms were attributed were King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, the Three Kings, Achilles and even Satan. Nine men in particular were to become symbolic of chivalric ideals and had coats of arms attributed to them. They are called The Nine Worthies. Among the Three Worthy Pagans in this group (with Julius Caesar and Hektor of Troy) was 6) Alexander the Great.

Unfortunately, throughout the medieval period the attributed arms of each of the Nine Worthies were often interchanged, whether by mistake or intention is never clear. Below I’ve gathered together images from medieval documents which show some of the various attributed arms of Alexander the Great. Like 5) Cecil Rhodes the legacy of Alexander is still causing controversy in the modern world in the nation of his origin, and one of Alexander’s coats of arms are at the centre of it.
GRIFFIN : The oldest representation of Alexander the Great’s coat of arms appears in a series of statues of the Nine Worthies at the city hall in Cologne, Germany. Alexander holds a shield bearing the image of a griffin. The statues date from the 1200s. Legend has it that Alexander captured two griffins and harnessed them to his throne. Then, like a carrot on a stick, except that he used meat, he enticed the griffins to fly up towards Heaven with him seated on his throne. After a week of flying upwards an angel appeared (a bit like a celestial traffic cop stopping someone going the wrong way down a one-way street!) and scolded Alexander for wanting to see the wonders of Heaven before he’d seen all the wonders of Earth. This fabulous flight was very popular in medieval art.

The 1459 image comes from “Die Wappenbücher Herzog Albrecht VI von Österreich”, also referred to as the Ingeram Codex after the herald Hans Ingeram who compiled it.

The 1519 image (it should read 1516, sorry) comes from a series of woodcuts depicting the Nine Worthies by Hans Burgkmayr the Elder.
LION : The earliest depiction of a lion in the attributed coat of arms of Alexander the Great appears in 1394. It appears in a manuscript referred to as “Chavalier Erant” and was produced in Paris. The lion is carrying an axe. Alexander’s association with the lion goes back to his own time. The lion hunt was a popular royal pastime and king’s like Alexander wore lion’s skins. Like his hero Herakles, you see him wearing a lion’s scalp on coins.

In 1581 “Le Blason des Armoiries” by Jérôme de Bara showed the lion without an axe. These are the arms which appear quite a lot in heraldry books as those of the kingdom of Macedonia, claiming to date from as early as 1340 (as shown in the image from the Fojnica Armorial, a Bosnian manuscript whose title page gives this date but which may only date from about 1680). The lion was proposed as the national coat of arms of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in 1992. As with other traditional Macedonian symbols and names the Greek government protested against their use by Yugoslav Macedonia, which they do no recognise as being of traditional Greek Macedonian heritage. The controversy continues.
LION ENTHRONED : Another version of the lion reintroduces the axe and adds the royal throne on which the beast is seated. This is the attributed coat of arms often given to Prince Hektor of Troy. It may have been mis-assigned to Alexander the Great because of his association with the lion. Here are three depictions of Alexander with the enthroned lion. The arms in the 1520 engraving are difficult to make out, but they are on the elephant’s caparison (cloth covering its body).
THREE CROWNS : Like the enthroned lion the three crowns are also often attributed to another of the Nine Worthies, King Arthur, as they are on 13th century Nine Worthies statues in Cologne. The crowns of Alexander appear in “Wernigeroder Wappenbuch” which may have been produced as early as 1475. Ten years later in appears in “Chronik des Konstanzer Konzils” published by Anton Sorg in Augsburg.

While Alexander’s lion arms may remain as a point of dispute between Greek and Yugoslav Macedonia it remains a popular symbol of his reign and power in the ancient world.

One of his greatest early successes was by the side of his father King Philip II at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC. To honour his fallen enemies Philip placed a lion statue over their communal burial site. This site marked the last resting place of an elite fighting corps of 150 same-sex partners, the Sacred Band of Thebes.

The Sacred Band had been the top fighting troop in Greece for 30 years and history suggests that their success can be credited to a former cavalry officer called 7) Gorgidas of Thebes (pre 400 BC-c.375 BC?).

We look at Gorgidas and the Sacred Band next time.

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