Historiography Saturday: Philip II of Macedon

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Before Alexander the Great forged his continent-spanning empire, there was his father, Philip II of Macedon. While not as flashy of a military boy wonder, Philip had his own share of sizable military victories, triumphing over the Sacred Band of Thebes and coining the phrase “divide and conquer”; he even perfected the phalanx, a formation instrumental to his successes. His grip on mineral resources gave him the wealth to elevate his rule into a full monarchy, then unusual for Greece. Alexander inherited and executed his plans after Philip fell to assassination, the details of which make for a historiography question.

Accounts of Philips death are consistent (he was murdered by a former bodyguard) but the motives vary from one account to another. Aristotle, Philip’s contemporary, claims that Philip’s father-in-law offended the assassin, and other historians believe that Alexander and his mother were involved. The third prevailing theory (and the reason Philip is included in this blog) is a complicated story of revenge, wherein Philip and the bodyguard had once been lovers. If true, it would suggest that Philip was as bisexual as his son.

 

Historiography Saturday: Caligula

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Caligula (“little soldier’s boot”) was the nickname of Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, one of the more notorious Roman emperors. While the firsthand accounts of his reign have nearly all been lost to history, the surviving contemporary and posthumous accounts do not paint a flattering picture: over a short period the new emperor went from a beloved favorite of the army to a leader known for irresponsible spending habits and wanton cruelty. When he planned to move to Alexandria from Rome, a political play that would have crippled the Senate, he was assassinated.

From the initial biographies to an infamous film adaptation, Caligula’s story has been used as a morality play for the past two millennia, making it difficult to discern what his reign was really like. The more outrageous claims, like his relationship with his favorite horse, were likely rumors, but broader accusations of sexual deviancy (incest and homosexual relations, for example) are more difficult to address, along with the assertion that he was insane, in part due to a Roman cultural meme that paired perversity and madness with poor governorship. (Seneca’s description of Caligula as appallingly ugly and pale might be a more accessible ad hominem to a modern audience.) It is possible that Caligula was bisexual, but not impossible that accounts of him as the passive partner in same-sex intercourse were intended as slander given the Roman expectations for adult male sexuality.

Ludwig Wittgenstein

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The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein lead a tumultuous life of both creative and temperamental outbursts. He was a student of some of the most famous names in his field, Bertrand Russell included, but always left their company feeling disillusioned. His own linguistic take on philosophical questions was groundbreaking and earned him recognition as one of the 20th century’s most important philosophers. Outside of academia he was decorated for his bravery during the first World War, and briefly taught at a school for young children where he gained a reputation for his corporal punishments and obsession with mathematics. He also studied mechanical engineering.

Despite being described as a gay philosopher, Wittgenstein had several female lovers interspersed with his male ones, including one he proposed to, indicating that he may be more accurately described as bisexual. He avoided sex itself, claiming that it got in the way of love; for that reason he is also (tentatively) tagged here as asexual.

While it should not be taken as biographical fact, Wittgenstein has received the high honor of a dedicated Uncyclopedia page.

Alan Turing

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British mathematician Alan Turing is credited with both laying the foundations for modern computer science with his hypothetical Turing machines and with cracking the German Enigma code during World War II (which was not, as the phrase implies, a one-time event, but an ongoing war on several fronts). His Turing test to determine the intelligence of a machine was a foundation for the philosophy of artificial intelligence. Due to a combination of gag orders surrounding intelligence collection and Turing’s conviction for “gross indecency”, he was not widely credited for his achievements until decades after his death.

Turing was issued an apology from the then-Prime Minister of the British government in 2009 and a royal pardon in 2014. The Turing Archive for the History of Computing, an online database for original documents from the history of computers, is named in his honor; on a more artistic front, pop group The Pet Shop Boys premiered an original operatic biography of Turing at the BBC Proms.

Mrs. Nash

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The woman remembered only as Mrs. Nash was a 7th Calvary fixture. Officially a laundress for the US army regiment, she was also a well-liked seamstress, baker, and midwife who befriended the wife of the now-infamous Captain George Custer (and received paychecks from him for her services). She married a series of soldiers, the first two of which ran off with money she had saved. Sources disagree on whether she married three or four total, but what is certain is that she and her final husband enjoyed each other’s company until she fell fatally ill while he was on patrol. Her dying wish was for her friends to bury her as she was without any of the usual preparations; out of care for her they disobeyed, and discovered that she was not a cis woman. When her widower returned he was mocked mercilessly until he committed suicide.

In accordance with her long-term identity this blog refers to Mrs. Nash as transgender and employs female pronouns.

Historiography Saturday: Irma Grese

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Although the details of her time as a guard at the Ravensbrück, Auschwitz, and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps are a matter of some contention due to a paucity of living witnesses and the tightly focused nature of her trial, it is known that Grese was 22 years old when she was sentenced to death by hanging for war crimes. Witnesses claimed that she was a sadist who took pleasure in violently tormenting prisoners; details of the allegations can be found in this open letter published during her trial. What is certain is that she was an officer in the SS who was given a high-ranking position of authority in the camps, and she admitted to beating prisoners in her own testimony.

Some of the allegations against Grese involve the sexual abuse of prisoners; as a result, she is sometimes referred to as a lesbian or bisexual. Regardless of what her sexual orientation may have been, the possibility of a powerful bisexual Nazi guard poses a challenge for scholars of queer history: Not only is her story tempting to sensationalize (for example, the film Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, which was inspired in part by Grese), but it complicates the narrative of how homosexuality was treated in Nazi Germany; additionally, there is the eternal temptation to avoid unflattering portrayals of members of a subaltern group lest they be employed as proof of the group’s poor moral character.

Historiography Saturday: Richard I of England

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Now known by the famous nickname of “Lionheart”, the English king Richard I was renowned in his own time for his military prowess, though not for his Englishness (he came from a French line and despised the weather on the British Isles). The monicker was appointed despite a reputation for cruelty and the war against his father he endured before gaining the throne. Once there, he was active in the Third Crusade, fighting Muslim leader Saladin to a truce in a dispute over Jerusalem. His death came during an internal revolt when he received a crossbow wound to the shoulder.

The matter of Richard’s sexual orientation became an issue beginning with a publication contending that an incident during which Richard shared a bed with King Philip II of France indicates his homosexuality. Some historians consider it to have been a diplomatic formality; others point for additional evidence to a warning by a hermit in Richard’s biography that urges him to give up “what is unlawful” and from Sodom, and be with his wife. What is known is that he had no children with her, and so was succeeded by his younger brother John.