Veni, Vedi, Vici!

December 4, 2023by Rajeev Hora0

“Veni, Vedi, Vici!”
“I came, I saw, I conquered!”

After all, in this ever-changing word, the only constant is human nature and the refusal to learn from history…….

Veni, Vedi, Vici! These famous words are attributed to Julius Caesar after his surprisingly swift and complete victory in the Battle of Zela, somewhere in Asia minor (now Turkey). Historians believe that the impact of the flair and brevity of these words was huge on the roman audiences at that point of history. No wonder, the phrase has caught the imagination of people for over 2000 years.

Although purported to have been spoken by JC, the words fit equally well to his predecessor by 300 years, Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia. Reputed to be one of the greatest generals of his time, he was an extremely brave and master military strategist. Always leading from the front, he won close to 20 major battles in his bid to conquer the world. These were besides the numerous ones he did not even have to fight because the opponents just capitulated due to his name and fame.

Alexander’s impact on history, much after his death at the early age of 32 years is acknowledged by many scholars. An unforgettable and larger than life character no doubt. Notwithstanding his military successes, he is considered one of the biggest narcissist of all times

There is an unending medical debate whether Narcissism is a personality disorder or a just a personality trait. It is characterized by a life-long pattern of exaggerated feeling of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration and a diminished ability to empathize with others’ feelings. Frankly, almost all of us have a touch of narcissism in our deeper self. However, it is far more noticeable when we move towards the pathological end of the continuum.

Often ‘compulsive, irrational, extreme and unreasonable’, such characters are not difficult to spot in our midst. Usually self-absorbed, they are far too much in love with themselves much like the mythical and handsome Narcissus who spurned the advances of many potential lovers. When he turned down the nymph Echo, who was cursed to only echo the sounds that others made, the Gods punished Narcissus by making him fall with his own reflection in a pool of water. It was too late when he finally discovered that the object of his love could not love him back.

Coming back to Alexander, he genuinely believed that his real father was Zeus (the King of the Gods). At times, he also acclaimed himself as the ‘Son of Amon’ (the God of Wind).  All along, he had no doubts whatsoever about his invincibility, his infallibility and a disdain for those who did not agree with him. Sycophancy and obsequiousness ruled in his court. Disagreement could even be fatal as Attalus and many other generals discovered rather late to their peril.

Blind ambition being central to his character, all he wanted was more land and more glory. Establishing a long-term and stable rule of law was far from his mind. As someone said, he was more of a start-up founder than a CEO. New products but no consolidation of the company. It was not surprising his empire disintegrated very rapidly after his death.

Alexander’s extrovert personality and ability to conjure up excitement enabled him to reach out and be visible. Leading to a feeling of omni-presence and accessibility to the hearts and minds of his troops. Ruthless and charismatic at the same time, his soldiers used to swear by him. He ruled their minds but his ‘love for the self’ was what ruled his mind.

A very complex and enigmatic figure indeed! He probably would not be to us today, if he was not ‘what he was’ when he was alive. No wonder, he remains a sub-conscious role model in modern times also for many endowed with a similar DNA.

A fantastic story about Alexander’s death is very well known. The Great conqueror fell grievously ill and he himself realized that he did not have much time ahead. He gathered his generals around his deathbed and told them, “I will depart from this world soon; I have three last wishes, please carry them out without fail.”

He continued, “My first wish is that physicians alone must carry my coffin. Second is that, when my coffin is transported to the grave, the path leading to the graveyard shall display the wealth I collected. And lastly, my both hands should hang out of my coffin during my final journey.”

When queried about the same, Alexander philosophically explained the rationale about his wishes. The first to let people know that that the best of doctors are helpless when death comes calling. Describing his second wish, he wanted to signal the frivolous nature of wealth and riches. And the last one about the hands hanging out was to say that we all come empty handed in this world and go back the same way.

A lesser known story about Alexander is about his encounter with the Indian sage Danda Swami or Dandamis (as recorded in Greek history). Many believe Alexander’s realization on his deathbed originated from this meeting. Many versions of the story are available.

As it goes, the king of Taxila had just surrendered to Alexander who came to know about a very learned sage living in the vicinity. Alexander promptly sent his emissary to beckon the sage to court. Sage Danda Swami refused and dismissed off the caller’s threat of consequences. He told him that Alexander was welcome to come down and meet him.

Extremely piqued but intrigued at the same time, Alexander went across to meet the sage one winter morning. The mighty king’s arrival was announced to the frail Danda Swami catching a nap on a bed of leaves. A bit irritated at the disturbance, he opened his eyes just a bit and motioned Alexander to move away to one side, “Hey, let the sunlight come through”.

“Sage, do you even know who I am?” thundered our man threateningly. To which Danda Swami gently replied, “I am not sure if you also know who you are.”

For a moment taken aback by surprise, Alexander grandiosely said, “I am the conqueror of the world. All this land is mine.”

“You really think so?” queried the sage, “Thousands before you have laid similar claims and gone upstairs, never to be found.

“Do not underestimate my power, sage. My loyal soldiers can behead you any time. They are ready to fight and die for me on my one command”, roared an insulted Alexander.

To which the sage calmly replied, “Forget it king. One who does not not know about his own death cannot decide the fate of others. As for your followers, some of them are of course acting out of fear, while others are either using your power to their own gains or just humouring you. They sing paeans of your triumphs and install your busts wherever you pass. But in your absence, they probably say, “This fool shall also pass.””

Suddenly chastened by the sage’s rebuke, Alexander begged him for words of wisdom.

“Watch out for the devil in your egoistic self.” Danda Swami cautioned, “Why do you have this urge to conquer the entire land of this world? When the D-day comes, you will require only two yards. We leave people with the memories we create for them. And probably take some along as well when we meet God.”

“You want to be remembered as the greatest king of all times. But is your name of any worth if you are not ‘remembered for good?” “Good riddance!” Is that what you want to hear when you leave for good?

A humbled Alexander left with unadulterated truth ringing in his ears.

 A harsh truth, many need to learn even today.
After all, in this ever-changing word, the only constant is human nature and the refusal to learn from history.

One can only hope,
Horax (Casper)

 First published at seek.mediation.com on 04/12/23

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