My Way

A bust of Augustus.

‘If I have played my part well, clap your hands, and dismiss me with applause from the stage.’

Joshua Abraham Norton was born circa 1814. His birth took place in England, but afterwards Norton spent some thirty years of his life in South Africa, then a part of the British Empire. In 1849, after his parents had died, Norton left South Africa, heading towards the United States in order to try his hand at entrepreneurship in the New World. Following China’s ban on the export of rice due to an internal famine, Norton invested heavily in what he saw as a lucrative business opportunity: Peruvian rice. For a number of reasons, the endeavour proved disastrous and left Norton penniless.

Sadly, much information of Norton’s early life, including that regarding his ventures in South Africa, has been lost to time. What we do know of his life is due to the considerable media attention that followed his proclaiming himself the Emperor of the United States in 1859, mere ten years after his arrival on the continent. We cannot state with certainty why he wanted to be Emperor – your guess is as good as mine – but maybe he was simply upset; upset at being poor and powerless. Such feelings, I find, are not altogether uncommon among the race of man.

Anyhow, our Norton, who now fancied himself Norton I, Emperor of the United States, began his regal reign by writing up not only imperial orders – mostly denouncing the U.S. Congress and ordering the institution to be abolished – but also love letters to Queen Victoria of the British Empire. Although Victoria has been hailed by many as one of the greatest monarchs in British history in addition to being a fine lady, we observe an uncharacteristic lack of grace in her failure to respond to Norton.

Well, both the Congress and the Queen ignored poor Norton. But not everyone did, for the citizens of San Francisco took a curious liking to him, gladly accepting the man as their Emperor. Restaurants provided nourishment for the Emperor free of charge (although Norton always paid with mock Imperial notes issued under his name) and theatres reserved seats for him. Why is it that they went out of their way to care for Norton? It’s difficult to say, but the establishments Norton took a liking to reportedly saw an increase in both business and fame, so the arrangements could be described as being mutually beneficial.

Admittedly, the Emperor was a strange fellow. He had no job (other than being Emperor), which resulted in an abundance of spare time at his command (as well as a chronic state of poverty). Furthermore, according to contemporary reports, one of Norton’s favourite pastimes was examining the condition of public property. He’d spend hours a day just walking about the streets of San Francisco, gazing at buildings and delivering lengthy speeches on matters philosophical and practical to those subjects unwise enough to lend the man their ears. Mingling with the commoners, as one can understand, is an effective way for a sovereign to improve their reputation. However, since Norton’s influence – his power – was derived from a singular understanding with his subjects, it is perhaps best to think of Norton’s hobbies as him keeping his end of the sort-of-Faustian bargain he had stricken with the San Franciscans.

To put it bluntly, Norton came to be seen as a village fool. But since his fiercely anti-establishment Imperial Decrees that were printed in local newspapers – presumably for humorous effect – resonated with the common man, there were few who saw it necessary to put an end to his folly. And why should’ve they done so? Norton’s actions harmed no one; on the contrary, he provided the citizens with much-needed entertainment, attracted tourists, and he even broke up a racially motivated riot by placing himself between the brawlers and praying fervently. It was the people who entertained his delusions, were they now to drag him down and reduce him to nothing, after enabling him for years already? What was there to gain in doing so?

In spite of the general public’s favourable opinion of their Emperor, an officer of the San Francisco police force arrested Norton in order to confine him in a sanatorium. Following public outcry, he was released and a formal apology was issued by the police department. Perhaps owing to his good nature, the Emperor in turn granted the police officer with an Imperial pardon for his vile act of treason. However, this little mishap, I think, illustrates a fundamental problem when it comes to the legitimacy of Norton’s reign. The police force represent, of course, the already established Federal Government of the United States, which is not made non-existent even by the people’s blinding love for Norton.

The Emperor died on January the 8th, in the year 1880. He suddenly collapsed on the streets he had ruled over and perished before medical aid could be administrated. Norton’s reign lasted for twenty-one years and remains largely forgotten by the general public. From earliest infancy he experienced the hazards of fortune. He saw dawn break on multiple continents, acquired notable wealth, and ultimately lost everything through tragic trade. The impoverished Norton left no heir to succeed him, nor was his claim for emperorship ever formally recognised by those holding the reins. It was his death that was, for the streets of San Francisco were filled with 30,000 mourners; his subjects showed a golden state of morality and respect to the emperor in the forms of a lavish funeral and a final parting gift: a decorative casket.

Now, I’ve not studied enough Law or Political science to accurately comment on the details of why Norton was not really an emperor. Neither can I say why he could not become one by means of simple proclamation, as he himself had thought. Even so, it is quite evident to me that he was not the ‘Emperor of the United States’; and I doubt anyone in their right mind thinks so either. Still, the idea and some of the underlying issues that present themselves here are fascinating, and perhaps eternal, as suggested by their recurrence in art. From where does power originate? Via a mandate from the masses? Can we not simply lay claim to a position of power, like Norton had? And how legitimate are military juntas, or tyrants? Should the people fight to topple them, or should they be embraced? Who can tell if power should be hereditary, and can it be reallocated after it has been invested in a single individual?

The questions above will, for better or worse, remain forever unanswered. They’ll be subjects of discussion, debates, as well as art, surely, but it is naïve to think that humans will ever agree completely on political matters. This dissension paradoxically produces a need for the concept of ‘power’ itself, I feel, with power being the capability, the ability to exert influence upon others. Obviously, whilst the fledgling Emperor Norton possessed clout to the capacity of transgressing social codes, it does not a proper monarch make. Still, it doesn’t lessen my admiration of the man; he decided to turn his life around and managed to do so. Weird as it may sound, the ability to influence his own life to such a degree, and in such a way – and those of some others as well – is in fact a rather impressive feat. Don’t we all love a good underdog story?

The Emperor Norton was no emperor. Yet, we remember him as one. So positive was his influence on others that the title was granted to him. Norton wasn’t Emperor by his own proclamation, but by the people’s. Ultimately, his story is the same as that of any good man and reminds us of the following: it is only through exercising nobility of character that we live august lives.

Poetry Practise



This article contains amateur poetry written in verse (barring the two short ones at the end). I’ve wished to write poetry for quite a long while now, and being part of the BTSB crew gives me the opportunity to actually publish it, as well as the chance to review it at a later date.

Of writing poetry, I have the following to say. Firstly, it is surprisingly difficult. I had four major points to consider; rhythm, metre, rhymes, and general expression of what I wanted to say. For me, I feel as the rhythm was the most difficult aspect (it remains far from natural in what I present in this article) – perhaps this is felt by other ESL speakers and writers as well. Secondly, writing poetry feels weird. I constantly felt like I was, in an indescribable way, pitting myself against someone or something. Lastly, whilst I thought trying my hand at poetry was extremely enjoyable, sometimes I felt like abandoning it all and writing an article about something easier and, more importantly, less personal.

The short verse-snippets in this article tell of the lives (usually in a mocking tone) of the Nine Worthies, a set of heroes named by 14th century French author Jacques de Longuyon. The Nine Worthies include the following characters, listed in order of appearance in this article; Hector of Troy, Julius Caesar, Joshua, King David, Judas Maccabeus, King Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bouillon. Alexander the Great is, of course, the 9th Worthy, but I opted not to write about him at this time.

In my poetry, I thought it wise to allude to the KJB and Shakespeare’s works to show off what I had read before. Likewise I found it difficult to resist the opportunity to include puns and wordplay. Unfortunately, these factors might make understanding what I aimed to say difficult – and therefore ruin the poetry. This is somewhat ironic, as I have always thought that reading amateur poetry was annoying specifically for this reason. With that being said, I had fun in trying out poetry, and hopefully you, the reader, might be inspired to give it a go one day.


Here we lay our scene, played by writer lone,

accompan’d by nine Princes of ages lost.

Set betwixt mind and map, in realms unknown;

wherein man meets Human, at an untold cost.

Should thou seeketh sorry savoury purpose

for wit-working writ in this-like domain,

know thus: it is jealousy of sweet corpus

given life by Poets born nevermore again.

Righteous removal of hatred and hope

mine noble effort doth aim to achieve,

purposing to will a will: graciously cope

with thine deficits, and thyself not deceive.

An unjoyous task be an unsightly view,

howbeit combined, us ten may our sins subdue.



Down in the deep darks of Underworld dwelleth thou now, paragon.

Once-worsted warrior, won by Worthy wrath, answer I: wert thou war’s pawn?

Virtue or Vice, venture we to weigh, be Man’s grim glory-greed by nature:

opinions oppos’d ought to cull, ere culling come their feature?

Heracles-hatched held thou not, as title; heroic deeds were-

thy toil to Troy’s tale. Thus, live in legend, lacking mine rage to incur.



Follow we hence an Ancient with another,

driven to decimate this well-Worthy rank

with cruelty akin to that conferr’d by brother

and heavy heir, whose heart in happy jealousy sank.

Then fall, res publica! no father, mother,

no dictator can truly-taught treachery thank;

bloody betrayal will any bond-breath smother,

right-rooted trust from former-friends’ souls yank.


Thy death promis’d propagators prosperity,

power war-won, and Divinity dismal:

most bounteous boons by bandit-business.

Follow’d annihilation of austerity;

th’estate of august Athens’ heirs, turned abysmal-

thy life and reign tainted, by want of wiseness.



Now after the death of Kaiser, our words spin

backwards in time, speaking of asp y Nun-son,

whose deceitful deeds Worthy-worth, held by his kin-

worth the while, deems only I, of being justly undone:

the tribes of th’Twelve would without thou have won.

O Clandestine conqueror; ill cit-servant;

thy victories aptly amount to Cain and one.

In viperous Vices wert thou fervent,

epithets of these Worthy, bestowed by the observant.



Comes next not Nero, but an other

of his kind; a sonorous song-writing King,

whose fiery feud with fiendish Foe slayed tother.

A Man hosting Heavenly heart, with offspring

of Greatness well-deserving; to this cling,

since thy sovereign sling better never brought.

Saviour-spawning for, honour thy memory we ought.



Writ or sang, may be songs of gallant heroes

which here world hath witnessed manifold-

many ascrib’d fame, some reduced to zeroes;

thy name thine ruin foretold, fair friar of old.

Holofernes himself hesitated,

in revealing thy nature and natural-name.

Designated traitor, art thou ill-fated

to suffer the slings and arrows of defame?

Revolting as thine atrocious acts are,

take in this: from Iscariot’s vile will art thou far.



Dragon-descendant boast thee thy title, bear king;

Lord of the castle, Protector of a table-

grandeur and chagrin both did thy knights thou bring.

Lo! of their fearsome feats tell many a fable.

In stories, yea, unmatched remains thy glory,

as testament to power of the auditory.

Without contest, likewise was fair thy Queen,

whose affairs arduous were deemed obscene.

Fine a match in matrimony; thou and her!

save there a sea of spears had between thee been.

Myth equal the merits of eager exertion, Sir.


Tedious tales of warlocks, and Knights Green

may – perchance – fail to entertain those keen.

What is fiction? but display of smoke and air;

as Revels are ended, what remains on Scene?

Myth equal the merits of eager exertion, Sir.




mannered King

conquering, uniting, governing.

Inviolable, untouchable a ruler.




Of Bouillon hail thou, good God-Fear,

King of Jerusalem! oh dear!

Renouncing the title,

thought our man vital;

but he died after a single year.


On (The Importance Of) Housekeeping

A rare photo of my place. Bookshelves not pictured. My grandmother, who was over for Christmas, described it as "strangely neat".
Photo by Petteri Konkola
"A photo of my bed without the covers. I’ve had a conversation with a uni friend regarding the use of bed covers: while I agree that they are mostly useless, they do produce a pleasing aesthetic effect." Photo by Petteri Konkola

“A photo of my bed without the covers. I’ve had a conversation with a uni friend regarding the use of bed covers: while I agree that they are mostly useless, they do produce a pleasing aesthetic effect.”
Photo by Petteri Konkola

Cleanliness is next to godliness is an ancient aphorism I suddenly bumped into whilst minding my own business on the magical world of the Internet. It prompted me to question the very nature of housekeeping, which until recent times has seemed to me a package of chores one simply has to deal with. Still, since my social life has greatly been revitalised by the fabled uni experience, I’ve come to see all sorts of households over these past few years – and the states of those households have varied quite considerably. And I wonder, why do I find myself surprised by this?

I grew up with two brothers, both of whom can be said to have subscribed to an unquestionably messy way of life in their youth. I cannot state with honesty that I was any better – I certainly never had any aspirations to become a godly, or even a cleanly person. As a child, I distinctively remember complaining to my mother about having to perform a weekly cleaning of the room I shared with my dear brother.

The stove. He is a formidable ally in daily life, but requires regular cleaning. Photo by Petteri Konkola

The stove. He is a formidable ally in daily life, but requires regular cleaning.
Photo by Petteri Konkola

Well, the complaining was of no use. Her trump-card for overruling any argument I ever made was expressing the possibility of the President of Finland coming over for a sudden visit. It would be far too embarrassing to present the household in that current state for the head of state, so cleaning was absolutely necessary, she reasoned. To a child this made perfect sense, although, at times, I must’ve questioned the validity of her rhetoric.

Like most every other boy, my brother and I eventually discovered the seemingly flawless strategy of relocating various objects that lay on the floor under our beds. Out of sight, out of mind – right? Alas, our mother, ever-vigilant, always made sure to check beneath the beds, rendering our genius stratagem obsolete. Eventually, we got a large wooden trunk from our father as a gift; with the trunk came a certain household truce. Unneeded belongings swiftly found their way into the trunk – and lo, the floor beneath the beds could be vacuumed once again! The actual purpose of said trunk still remains unknown to me, to this very day – in any case: thanks, dad.

As time goes by, boys become men. However, their habits do not always change. My brothers never grew unaccustomed to their gleeful neglect towards maintaining order. As teenagers, we used to joke about the second law of thermodynamics applying to housekeeping; in view of this, cleaning became redundant. Still, after moving out, I feel as though housekeeping suddenly became a way for me to express myself.

The bucket. Sometimes, he is your best friend. Photo by Petteri Konkola

The bucket. Sometimes, he is your best friend.
Photo by Petteri Konkola

Moving out and starting studies at the university was a game changer in many ways. I no longer had to do things just because someone else told me to or expected them of me; the world was finally my oyster. Well, the flat, anyway: a whole new world of possibilities, contained in just some fifty five square metres.

But like ever-so-often, with the opportunities came the responsibilities – while I was out on a night of heavy drinking with new-found friends, the flat collected dust. As I crawled home, I neglected the dishes, the laundry, and the general disorder. And all of these things had the audacity to remain there when I woke up! Even worse, sometimes they seemed more disorderly than the night before! Yet, I have to admit: this was no conspiracy against me, but the comeuppance I deserved.

And so, just like that, housekeeping became something I had to allot time to – just like any other activity. However, with all the deadlines and stress modern university education provides to a student of English, housekeeping also became a convenient way to take my mind off of things. Somewhat unexpectedly, I gained insight into this during a session of Literature Tutorial. Our wonderful instructor, Nely Keinänen, offhandedly asked the class whether we felt an urge to take care of household chores before taking on any writing process. Whilst the question was seemingly nonchalant, I raised my hand, to my amazement, along with most of the class. This is when the realisation hit me: these people all face, more or less, the same experience I do in housekeeping; yet, few students seem to pay it the respect or attention it is due to.

How can we accomplish this, then? Those of you who have had the (dis)pleasure of ever having me visit your home must surely have noticed that I have a tendency to praise an orderly household or any cool decorative objects housed therein. I, personally, rarely admit any visitors to my flat, but those that have visited have likewise commented on the tidiness – I firmly believe these are not just empty words of politeness, but genuine gestures of good-will; as such, they must warm the hearts of the recipients.

The room of a friend of mine. He is kind enough to let me crash his floor at times, and also granted me permission to take this photo for the article. I wouldn’t have. Photo by Petteri Konkola

The room of a friend of mine. He is kind enough to let me crash his floor at times, and also granted me permission to take this photo for the article. I wouldn’t have.
Photo by Petteri Konkola

My fellow students and human beings, it is imperative that you pay attention to your surroundings and do not feel prohibited by any social code to make such pleasant remarks, embarrassing as they might seem. Men in particular seem to have difficulties in doing so: whenever I visit a male friend for an evening of casual beer-gulping, the state of the household is rarely discussed. Of course, if your fellow student’s flat is in disarray, it might be a difficult task to find something positive to say about it. Also, let us not forget that there are arguments to be made for healthy messiness, too.

To continue on the topic of disarray, I have conversed with a student friend of mine who lives in a flat arranged to him by the great HOAS. I’ve known this particular friend for some year and a half now, and only once (he ardently claims otherwise – I do not believe him) has he cleaned his apartment. I find it truly baffling.

A rare photo of my place. Bookshelves not pictured. My grandmother, who was over for Christmas, described it as "strangely neat". Photo by Petteri Konkola

A rare photo of my place. Bookshelves not pictured. My grandmother, who was over for Christmas, described it as “strangely neat”.
Photo by Petteri Konkola

One time after a night of drinking, with me sleeping over, I engaged him in a conversation about the plight of his place. I questioned whether he felt that his living situation, due to it being a HOAS flat, felt temporary, therefore leading to his neglect of what I deem proper housekeeping. I cannot recall his exact answer – to paraphrase, he must’ve bitten his thumb at me.

Still, I wish he’d clean up the pad, even if the President isn’t coming around any time soon.

Anime Review: Legend Of The Galactic Heroes


This article contains light spoilers.

My relationship with Japanese animation was always a complex one. Our generation grew up watching Dragon Ball Z and the likes on TV, but openly admitting that you like anime was considered slightly embarrassing for quite a long while. However, with the Internet becoming integrated into our daily lives and larger audiences gaining easier access to outstanding works like Studio Ghibli’s animated films, I feel as though anime also grew more popular. I’m unsure whether anime still stands at an equal rank to Western television for most people, but I think it definitely should – there are countless of anime that avoid the most common tropes of the medium and are great works in their own right. The foremost example for me is Legend of the Galactic Heroes, often hailed by its fans as ‘the endgame of anime’.

The Legend of the Galactic Heroes franchise consists of several adaptations. In addition to the 110-episode main anime series produced by Kitty Films over a period of nine years from 1988 to 1997 and the original science fiction novels the anime series is based on, there are numerous video games, two manga series, three films, two spin-off anime series, as well as a stage musical. To further complicate matters, anime studio Production I.G (responsible for the famous animated sequence in Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. I) is currently producing a remake of the main anime series, intended for release later this year. In light of this new adaptation, it is an altogether fitting time for me to write about the renowned space opera.

Although the main anime series, Legend of the Galactic Heroes (henceforth LOGH), is beloved by nearly all of those who have bothered to view the damn thing (at the time of writing, it boasts an impressive 9.1 rating on IMBD and is ranked as the 8th best anime on MAL), many anime fans abstain from watching it due to a number of issues. LOGH is notoriously difficult to get one’s hands on, the dated animation and extremely slow start bother those viewers more used to modern anime, and the length (110 episodes, roughly 25 minutes each) troubles others. Also, the nature of the series, being extremely dialogue-driven, scares off some of those simply expecting brainless action, sugary romance, or cute girls.

Fear not; LOGH has all those things mentioned above, too. The narrative sometimes switches focus to self-contained stories, often told in flashbacks, like the one seen in this clip – helping the viewer better bond with the series’ many characters.

Despite (or maybe just because of it) the series being chiefly dialogue-driven, its scope is, for the lack of a better term, gargantuan. As a fan of literary classics, this is perhaps why I enjoyed LOGH to the extent I did. The series bears remarkable similarities to Tolstoy’s masterpiece War and Peace, which is one of my favourite literary works. LOGH’s soundtrack likewise suggests connections to the classics: it consists mainly of classical music, with well-known pieces such as Mozart’s and Beethoven’s Symphonies blasting over pretty much whenever anything important happens.

As the name of the series suggests, it is set in space and the future. After a disastrous period of global wars, the surviving remnants of mankind have long since chosen to abandon Earth, and have successfully colonised thousands of planets across the wide galaxy. The series does not explicitly tell this to the viewer until Episode 40 – a gloomy and misanthropic episode – in which mankind’s history within the series’ narrative is explored in detail. I would recommend someone interested in LOGH to consider viewing this episode first, since it provides the viewer with extensive background knowledge of the setting without really spoiling anything.

An excerpt of Episode 40, starring the first Galactic Emperor: Rudolf the Great. This character is based on both Hitler and Sulla, meaning that he is, essentially, as evil as they come.

The main focus of the series is the seemingly everlasting space-war between two rival entities; the democratic Free Planets Alliance (FPA), and the monarchic Galactic Empire. The moral values of the two are further embodied in their high-ranking military commanders, Admiral Yang Wen-li of the FPA (who wishes to retire and become a historian), and Reinhard von Lohengramm of the Empire (who, in turn, desires to become Emperor and conquer the galaxy). Although the scope of LOGH spans across nearly every aspect of human life and the political spectrum, its main concern can be said to be the contrasting of the merits of absolute power with those of democratic freedom. This endeavour the series accomplishes with a level of insight and maturity unknownst to any other work of art I have encountered so far.

Admiral Yang exploring the natures of warfare and history with his protégé, Julian.

Reinhard’s posse and their celebratory customs. The series does an excellent job of portraying both sides of the conflict with dignity.

Even if Yang and Reinhard can be called the primary protagonists of the series, it devotes incredible attention to most every character. And there are quite a few characters; their names are often visible on the screen whenever they pop up for the first time in an episode, probably to remind the viewer of their name and military rank, or occupation in the case of civilians. Indeed, in spite of the series being a space opera at its core, some of the characters the series dedicates considerable focus towards are not high-ranking or otherwise famous men or women at all. The inclusion of such characters adds to the already impressive scope of the series and further suggests that LOGH can be, without a doubt, called an epic work.

High Admiral Ernst von Eisenach of the Galactic Empire. If I had to pick a favourite out of the many characters of LOGH, it would have to be him.

In LOGH, not only do the characters get a voice. The series makes use of an omniscient narrator who narrates the heroic (and, at times, unheroic) deeds of the characters to the viewer. The narrator is given a considerable role whenever the series tackles on serious subjects such as war, fate, and death; his laconic style makes him very suitable for this. He also dates major events according to both the Empire and FPA calendars, as well as a third calendar system introduced later in the series. Moreover, the narrator delivers short yet touching eulogies for most of the many characters who die during the course of the series – this writer is not embarrassed to confess that these moments often saw him in tears.

The narrator doing his job. Watch with care; the content is extremely graphic – rivalled only by the series’ horrifying depiction of nuclear warfare against civilians during the fictional Westerland Massacre – obviously, a serious taboo in Japanese culture.

Before proceeding onto my final appraisal of the series, I feel as though I must present a warning of a sort, as a foreword. LOGH is lengthy and, at times, extremely dull. The sheer amount of characters combined with the depth of their characterisation will undoubtedly confuse even an experienced fan of anime. Furthermore, since many of the readers of BTSB are students, I should point out that it will probably be difficult for you to find the time to watch such a lengthy anime in the first place. Still, if you’re looking for a challenge and willing to deal with the fairly low-quality animation, I would recommend giving LOGH a try.

Then, to sum up. Yes, Legend of the Galactic Heroes is to me the greatest anime ever made, with Galaxy Express 999 and The Rose of Versailles being among the few anime series I would consider to be in the same ballpark. It is not flawless by any means – but many of its flaws appear to be caused by budgetary concerns as well as date of production, and these I am fortunate enough to be able to overlook. It’s basically War and Peace in space, with Beethoven and company as background music; something that I never really expected from an anime series. The storylines of several characters also draw heavily from Classical antiquity, which seems to me a big bonus. Granted, a few of the numerous story arcs are tiresome, but so is Pierre’s delving into the wonders of Freemasonry in War and Peace, so I’ll give this a pass.

Past BTSB reviewers have sometimes employed a star rating in closing out their articles. I personally am sceptical when it comes to rating art of any kind on a numerical scale – therefore I’ll refrain from doing so.

I remain convinced that Legend of the Galactic Heroes has plenty enough stars on its own, anyway.

The third opening to LOGH; song is called Sea of the Stars.

Why He is My King

Mosaic of Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great was born on the 20th or the 21st of July in 356 BC, probably as a result of his father Philip and his mother Olympias consummating their marriage. As Alexander became arguably the most famous person of his time (and possibly, of all time), his conception was later attributed to the thunder god Zeus, whose complete set of perceived offspring would be too arduous to list. Suffice it, for now, to say that Alexander most certainly had a mother and a father, and like all men, was influenced by their choices, decisions, mistakes, and ways of life.

It happened to be so that Alexander’s father, Philip II of Macedonia, was a great king and leader of his men; his interests staunchly laid in making his kingdom a prosperous one. Philip had also unified many of the Grecian states into what was called the League of Corinth, and therefore had much influence on the politics of the time. His disposition was volatile, but at the same time he strongly believed in upholding the morals of the age, and thought that doing so was key in attaining glory. Philip’s rule, as we can now determine, was a successful one; most of his proposed reformations were met with unanimous praise, although some of his contemporaries criticised him for appropriating traditions originating from the Persian Empire, a sworn enemy state of the Macedonians. In general, however, Philip was an innovator in many a regard, and took special care in making sure that his army was both well-equipped and trained. Later on, Alexander would assume command of his father’s army, acquire for himself the generalship of the League, defeat the Persians, and conquer most of the then-known world, which I believe to be sufficient proof of the army’s excellence.

Alexander’s mother, the aforementioned Olympias, was eccentric by modern standards; she ardently affiliated herself with the cult of Dionysus, dedicated to serpent-worship among other things. It was, in those times, not unusual for important figures to take part in cults. However, it should be noted that her consorting with the cult caused many incidents, upon which I will not expand on for the sake of decency, in the palace of Philip. Olympias strongly believed her son was destined for greatness and oft reminded him of this – something that most likely fuelled the flame that was Alexander’s ambition for glory. And the flame did develop; Alexander, from a very young age, became fixated on surpassing his father as a conqueror, often lamenting that his future achievements could not possibly equal those of his father’s, for he feared there would be nothing left for him to do.

I will now recount the story of how Bucephalus, a horse unparalleled in fame throughout both human and equestrian history (although, Incitatus, the horse who nearly became a consul of the Roman Empire, comes near), and Alexander came to meet in 344 BC. It is said that Bucephalus was presented to Philip and that his owner, a Thessalian man called Philonicus, valued him at the high price of 13 talents. It was obvious to the spectating men that Bucephalus was a horse of exceptional breed and therefore fit for a king, but no man seemed able to tame him. Young Alexander, however, asked his father for permission to try and tame the reckless animal, and succeeded in doing so; Alexander immediately understood that the horse was frightened by its shadow, and by turning him so that he faced the sun, the animal was soon subdued. Philip was verily impressed by his son’s behaviour; he uttered many words of great joy and expressed his utmost desire for Alexander to conquer many a country, for he was an exceptional boy and therefore destined to be an exceptional king, well deserving of governing more than the mere lands of Macedonia.

Alexander was tutored in his youth by the philosopher Aristotle, who had left Athens following the death of Plato in 343 BC, and therefore was eligible to accept Philip’s invitation. Fascinatingly, his compensation for the work was as follows: earlier, Philip’s army had destroyed Aristotle’s hometown during a campaign. The philosopher had grown sentimental and simply requested that Philip rebuild the town; Philip complied and repopulated the town by graciously freeing its former citizens, who had been enslaved. Alexander and Aristotle only spent a couple of years together, but Aristotle’s teachings had a positive effect on Alexander, who would carry with him an annotated copy of Homer’s Iliad, provided to him by the renowned philosopher, at all times during his later military campaigns. Indeed, Alexander’s love of philosophy and literature was in stark contrast with his otherwise brash nature, and it was generally agreed that it had developed due to the years spent with the philosopher.

Due to their respective characters, Philip and Alexander had many disputes, as fathers and sons often do – Philip even went as far as to lead Alexander into believing that he was to bequeath his kingdom to another son. Nonetheless, after Philip was assassinated in 336 BC, Alexander succeeded his father without being contested. He promptly orchestrated the executions of all those he thought could challenge his right for the throne, sparing only his elder half-brother, Arrhidaeus, who was mentally disabled. As the news of the old king’s death spread, Alexander faced several uprisings as well as the challenge of keeping his newly-acquired kingdom together; he overcame these with unexpected swiftness and cruelty, consolidating his position as ruler. In 334 BC, only two years after becoming king, Alexander warred the Persian Empire (as his father had planned to, before his untimely death), and set his sights on defeating Darius III, the Persian King of Kings.

Darius severely underestimated the young king – it would appear that he was unable to grasp the true magnitude of Alexander’s passion to conquer, which seems to me the cause of his eventual demise. He effectively allowed Alexander to fight his way into the Persian Empire by charging his underlings with the early and unsuccessful attempts at defending against the would-be conqueror, instead of answering the threat personally. Oftentimes, as the two opposing sides clashed, the Persian troops far outnumbered those of the Grecians, but Alexander’s fearless presence at the front lines, the superior fighting experience of the Hellenic army, and several strategic factors such as efficient battle formations allowed the Grecians to, time after time, defeat the Persians, ultimately culminating in the destruction of Persepolis. But Alexander desired total victory and pursued Darius, who had fled and was planning to regroup his remaining forces. However, before Alexander could get his hands on the elusive king, one of Darius’ own subordinates slayed him, evidently in the hopes of usurping his position. What he did not realise was that Alexander had developed great respect towards Darius whom he had begun to perceive as a friend; therefore, for his slaying of a friend, Alexander had the assassin torn apart and added the Persian Empire to his own.

Alexander made, in my eyes, but a single mistake in his life. Whether his considerable military prowess truly was divinely ordained or simply the result of fortuitous circumstances combined with hard work is both difficult and uninteresting for me to ruminate upon; therefore I shall conclude my look at his life by examining the one time he failed. See, the Grecians of that time mistakenly (as we now know) thought that India formed the outer rim of the world. In 326 BC, seduced by the idea of bringing all of existence under his rule, Alexander thought it best to try and conquer India – but things did not reassume the state of smoothness they had taken during the previous invasion of the Persian Empire. His troops, home-sick, wished to turn back, but Alexander insisted that they cross the river Ganges. The final straw for the Grecians was learning that the Indians possessed vast amounts of elephants trained for war, and that the magnificent beasts were stationed on the other side of the river – something the Grecians were wholly unprepared to face. Alexander then chose to comply with the requests of his men; returning home for the first time not as a conqueror, but simply a king.

Undoubtedly uncoincidentally, Alexander shares his epithet with several great men of the past, but many consider it to fit him the best: he never lost a battle, his empire spanned the majority of the then-known world, and he ingeniously managed to keep it stable by means of cultural diffusion, even at the cost of his personal relations with several Macedonian friends worsening. Alexander’s early death, caused by illness, on the 10th or the 11th of June in 323 BC, at the age of 32, spared the world from his planned forays into Arabia and India, also preventing him from realising his ultimate dream: setting his gaze upon the ends of the earth. After Alexander’s death, none could uphold his empire, and it crumbled apart due to a number of civil wars. But Alexander’s legacy did not die, as he is yet remembered for his unbound ambition, as well as his endless desire to conquer all; traits that make him, in my opinion, a fine role model for any man. Furthermore, his name lives on in most European languages, and likewise cities bearing it continue to exist to this day. Finally, it seems to me that Alexander devoted all of his vigour into pursuing what he saw as his destiny; something that I think we can all learn from.


The account on Alexander’s life presented in this article is based on Plutarch’s Life of Alexander.

Reading, Waiting, Hoping


I’ll admit it, this summer I was real sad. My life just hadn’t taken the course I’d wished to steer it in. Trouble with relationships, my health and various addictions were plenty enough to bring me down. Now, I’m a typical Finnish male; I don’t deal with emotions very well, nor do I enjoy talking about them. Furthermore, I spent my entire summer working minimum-wage morning shifts. No fancy trips, mini-vacations at summer cottages, or general revelry with the gang for me. Instead I spent my days lying in bed face down after work, listening to Moonlight Sonata on repeat. Every day felt the same, so I guess I could say that I wasn’t exactly expecting for it to get any better. However, I found comfort in – somewhat unexpectedly – a novel. That novel was The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, or more precisely, an English translation by Robert Buss.

It is not my intention to spoil Monte Cristo’s plot in this article, but I feel like I should say something about it for the sake of clarity. The story follows the life of young Edmond Dantès, who is wrongfully imprisoned, who escapes the prison, and who later moulds himself into the eponymous gentleman, vowing to take revenge on his enemies. The story is long and intricate – and sad. It was just so sad that before I could note it, I was completely engrossed by it. Seldom before had I connected with a novel’s characters so strongly; not just the Count, but all of them. The good Abbé Faria, Maximilian, Mercédès, Albert, even Villefort. I felt their pain, and it felt good.

This summer was long, I think. My collection of empty Jägermeister bottles grew by quite a bit (I’ve, at the time of writing, fashioned a chandelier out of them. It looks quite nice. Ask me for instructions.), as I grew scared. I was scared of finishing Monte Cristo, because I had found such solace in reading it. By clinging to it, I was able to cast aside my own worries. I’m sure most of you have experienced what I am describing here, a sense of escapism. As the summer progressed, so did my reading. I have always enjoyed reading. I read, I feel, more than most others. Not necessarily to learn, but simply out of habit. Others might play video games, watch films, or listen to music. For leisure, I read. But Monte Cristo was something special, something truly profound. And I think that this was due to my emotional state matching the novel’s events so well.

Eventually, I finished the book. I finished The Count of Monte Cristo. And I was blown away by it. It didn’t fix my life but I became noticeably less sad, I thought. And so did others, I later heard. Maybe it was the novel, or rather the strong moral message Dumas wishes to convey that made me forget some of my sadness. Perhaps it was just the fact that I did something in the first place. Lying around and doing nothing isn’t exactly the best cure for any condition. Well, I’m no psychologist: this article isn’t meant to make you sad folks out there any less sad, because I have no such power. Corny as it may sound, only you have that power.

Some folks, educated folks even, might say that understanding and processing emotions and feelings in an analytical manner is the best way to control yourself and lead a stable life. To understand that everyone has their ups and downs, and that such swings are natural. It’s not that I disagree, but what I found more important is that even if you are sad or otherwise emotional – embrace it. At the risk of sounding like Emperor Palpatine, embrace your feelings, reader. There is a mystical quality about emotions that no man can fully explain. Yet, I feel like reading Monte Cristo taught me something very important: by embracing our emotions and storing a memory of them, they can supply us with strength during the future hardships we inevitably face in life.

I’m still not happy. However, I was able to feel something intense and I am grateful for that, even if it was painful at first. Soon after finishing Monte Cristo, I picked up Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, or Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans. Yes, I continued reading about other peoples’ lives even though I was unable to completely understand my own. But it did help, somehow. Through reading about others, I understood also more about myself, I think. I was able to feel the pain of Mark Antony, whose heart betrayed his mind. The endless sorrow of Gaius Gracchus, whose good-willed brother was murdered by the avaricious members of the Senate. The disbelief of Caesar, when he saw Brutus amongst the conspirators. And I felt better.

Maybe I was able to resonate with books because they’re easier than people. They don’t judge, they don’t make demands, and more often than not a good book has a meaningful message – just like a conversation might. This, I think, is what separates literature from other mediums of escapism. Books are so very personal; written by one to be read by another. I sincerely hope that one day I’ll be able to progress from opening myself to books to revealing my inner self to other people. Still, until that day comes, books will have to do.

Reader, if you haven’t already, crack one open. You’ll be surprised at what you can learn not only about the world, but also about yourself. Lastly, for those of you who are indeed feeling sad, I have but these words: ‘Wait and Hope’.