What was the Mother Tongue of Alexander the Great?

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Jozko Šavli, Matej Bor, Ivan Tomazic.
VENETI: First Builders of European Community:
Tracing the History and Language of Early Ancestors of Slovenes.

What was the Mother Tongue of Alexander the Great?
by Charles Bryant-Abraham, Ph. D.
Fellow, The Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies and Research
Jerusalem, Israel

After submission of my review of VENETI to Sir Rodney Hartwell in June 1998, I came across a book in Athens of potential interest to the subject of Proto - (West) Slavic presence in the Balkans He Glossa tes Makedonias, he Archaia Makedonike kai he Pseudonyme Glossa ton Skopion, "The Language of Macedonia, Old Macedonian and the so-called Language of the Skopljites" (written in modern Greek with citations in classical Greek and in Latin), by G. Khatsidakis, et al. (Athens, Greece: Olkos, 1993).

I will not review the book at this time for our Greek-reading Augustans, other than to indicate broadly my impression that the seven contributing writers have built a well-reasoned argument for the essential Hellenism of Alexander the Great. One cannot, however, avoid suspicion of a hidden political agenda to head off any future South Slavic irredentism for the Macedonian-speaking hinterland of Thessalonica. Unlike Veneti the book presents no linguistic evidence to shore up its premises and conclusions.

Granted, as A. I Thabores correctly points out (p. 194) in his chapter,"He Hellenike Dialektos ton Archaion Makedonon kai ta Semerina Neo-Hellenica Idiomata tes Makedonias (kai tes Alles Boreias Helladas)," "The Greek Dialect of the Ancient Macedonians and the Modern New Greek Dialects of Macedonia (and the Rest of Northern Greece)":
". . . the names of their gods, the myths and the mythical heroes, their personal names, the monumental and place names and local items of their dialect ... are all essentially Greek." [my translation] Yet I would query whether this might not be reflective of an on-going, pervasive Greek cultural influence in the frontier zone between Greece and the Balkan peoples reaching back to the pre-heroic age.

The passage that caught my eye and that I would bring to the attention of our fellow Augustan, Dr. Jozko Šavli, and his co-authors of Veneti, Prof. Matej Bor and Father Ivan Tomazic, occurs in Anna Panagiotou's study (pp. 187-188), "He Glossa ton Archaion Epigraphon tes Makedonias," "'The Language of the Ancient Inscriptions of Macedonia." I urge Dr. Savli and his colleagues to reexamine the known Macedonian inscriptions -- there are some 6,000 of themthrough the prism of Slovenian diachronic dialectology, and I first pose the challenging question here in The Augustan: Though thoroughly assimilated into the Greek culture and language through the education of his teacher, Aristotle, can it be that Alexander the Great himself emerged into world history from a Proto-(West) Slavic, i.e., Venetic, family background?

I translate Ms. Panagiotou's reference to a passage in Curtius(2) Hist. Alex. Magni Maced., IV, I11.4.:

... which narrates another event of the kingdom of Alexander... considered as an indication that the Macedonian language was not a Greek dialect, but a different language: the general Philotas was accused by one of his compatriots of not feeling ashamed,

" . . . Macedonatus, homines linguae suae per interpretem audire,"
". . . born a Macedonian, to hear the men of his language through an interpreter,"
i.e., according to this passage, Philotas had need of translators in order to understand the mother tongue.

Yet in a curious way, this passage comes to contradict another by the same author in the same document (VI.9.34-36.) Alexander asks if Philotas will speak in the language of their fathers,

"... Macedones ... de te indicaturi sunt, quero an patrio sermone sis apud eos usurus," "... the Macedonians who will judge you, I ask if you will use the language of [our] fathers with them,"

and elicited the response:

"Praeter Macedonas ... plerique adsunt, quos facilius quae dicam percep-turus arbitror, si eadem lingua fuero usus qua tu egisti, non ob aliud, credo quam ut oratio tua intellegi posset a pluribus,"
"[Above and] beyond the Macedonians ... there are many present whom, I feel, will more easily grasp the things I say if I use the same language you did, for no other reason, I believe, than that your speech might be understood by many."
This explanation caused the angry remarks of Alexander that Philotas neglects to speak in the language of their fathers:

"Ecquid videtis adeo etiam sermonis patrii Philotan toedere? Solus quippe fastidit eum discere. Sed dicat sane utcumque ei cordi est, dum memineritis aeque ilium a nostro more quam sermone abhorrere,"
"Have you ever seen Philotas reject the language of [our] fathers heretofore? Indeed, he alone is averse to learning it. Let him then say, however, it is in his heart, since you will remember that he is opposed to our custom[s] as well as our language."

Ms. Panagiotou's article proceeds to attempt to explain this passage as referring to a northern Hellenic dialect so greatly at variance with the contemporary Koine that it might just as well have been a foreign language. Her attempt falls short of convincing.

Now, the work plan before us is not complex. The Macedonian inscriptions, must be scrutinized anew by the trained and sensitive eyes of Slavicists of the stature of the authors of Veneti. Let this task be undertaken at the earliest possible moment.


1. Charles Bryant-Abraham, PhD, Fellow, The Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies and Research Jerusalem, Israel
2. Cf John C. Rolfe. Quintus Curtius (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962.)
Rolfe states (p. xviii): "Curtius's principal source is Clitarchus, son of Dinon (Pliny, NH. x (49) 136), who accompanied Alexander's expedition and wrote a highly coloured account of it ... Curtius used Clitarchus in a changed and contaminated form, perhaps through Timagenes, whom he mentions in viii. 5.21 in connexion with Clitarchus and Ptolemy ... He differs with Clitarchus in ix. 5.21 and follows Ptolemy, censuring Clitarchus for carelessness or credulity. . ."
Rolfe adds (p. 3od): "The Historiae seem to be the work of a rhetorician rather than of an historian. One of his principle aims was to insert in his work brilliant speeches and romantic incidents. Doubtless he wished to give a correct account, but his imperfect knowledge of history and geography led him into many errors.

Rolfe is correct in pointing out (p. xxiv) that the chancellery language of Macedonia was Greek: "For some generations the court language was Attic Greek." Yet, even conservatively admitting constraints on Curtius' accuracy, we must presume a kernel veracity for the passages in question. That presumption is sufficient to warrant reexamination of the Macedonian inscriptions by Venetologists.