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Whose Map/Whose Past?

Susan Visvanathan

Edited by Himanshu Prabha Ray and Daniel T. Potts
Aryan Books International, Delhi, 2007, pp. 264, price not stated.


This book is beautifully produced with wonderful photographs not only of Alexander’s head and face, but also of the paraphernalia of art and jewellery and coins and maps and manuscripts that archaelogists love to work with. The debates themselves are very technical, but given the offices of the worldwide web in enhancing knowledge, parallel reconnaissance with words like ‘Gog’ and ‘Magog’, and ‘satrap stela’ are quite possible. The authors themselves are quite familiar with the places they describe, so sometimes don’t tell you where Barigaza or Susa are, but some other writer does, and better still shows you on a map where one can find it, or its modern name. All knowledge today is displayed in the great agora or marketplace of learning, so the distinction between technical work and what Virginia Woolf called ‘Common Reader’ is fast disappearing, so also with archaeologists hopefully, who are opening their doors to the middle kingdom of culture studies and contemporary art history.   Burkhardt wrote that the Macedonian Alexander was able to overpower the Greeks, by allowing their internecine warfare to do that work for him. The essayists are all concerned with how the evidence for Alexander may be collated and read by 21st century scholars. Since all the pieces fit together as neatly as an ancient mosaic, one must presume that the editors had a large part to play in how this volume was fashioned, very difficult when it is a larger seminar contributed to by the University of Sydney, IIC Delhi and JNU. Each essay hones into the next. For the purposes of advertising what a book should be one ought to run out and buy, though the paperback binding comes a little loose with careful reading. Let me summarize the findings of the authors.   Ioannis Xydopoulos writes about the representation of India in the work of Aristobulus in Strabo’s geography, which is similar to Megasthenes’s record. The astonishing range of peculiar customs was presented as true or at least real. I may draw the author’s attention here to the well known work of Rudolf Wittgower, in Allegory and Symbols where he argued that Megasthenes was perhaps drawing from the ‘myths’ of the Indians. Strabo according to Witkower draws from Megasthenes, Megasthenes draws perhaps from oral traditions and epics. Megasthenes’s report which is the result of a visit to Chandragupta’s court in 303 B.C ...

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