originally published July 9, 2012
Back in the fifth grade I had an unreserved respect for the finest charlatans and scammers in history. This leaked its way into my scholastic efforts in the form of a presentation I gave when we were assigned by Mr. Foster to research our favorite person in Greek history. After sitting through five reports on Aristotle, three on Plato, and one skin-crinklingly awkward examination of the life and moustache of Yanni, it was my turn.
Okay. My report today is on the coolest guy in the history of Greek history (I had a penchant for the redundant when I was ten – sorry). His name was Alexander of Abonoteichus, and he was a very powerful man. Today I’m going to tell you why I’d like to live my life just like him.
Most of what we know about Alexander comes from this guy:
This is Lucian. He was a witty and funny satirist, which I think is kind of like a standup comedian from old Greek times. So, like Eddie Murphy, he would tell people funny things to make them laugh, except instead of talking about putting GI Joes in his butt, he talked about other famous and important people and why they were stupid. (a note for my younger readers – Eddie Murphy was actually once considered funny!)
Alexander was a salesman. Not like Tommy McLaren’s dad is a salesman – Alexander was actually important. He learned medicine from a doctor who wasn’t really a doctor, which means that Alexander learned how to sell pretend fixes to people. This was okay; he probably made enough money to have a nice house and whatever old Greeks used for cars and laserdisc players. But Alexander figured out a way to make some serious bucks. He invented a god.
The year was 150, or somewhere around there. In his hometown of Abonoteichus, Alexander gathered the people together and announced there was going to be a second coming of Asclepius, the son of Apollo. Asclepius was a major dude back then – he was all about healing and medicine, and since Alexander had already built a steady reputation as a good fake doctor, the gullible wahoos of Abonoteichus actually believed him.
All Greek gods needed to have some kind of doohickey to make them stand out, like Superman’s ‘S’ or the Green Lantern’s ring. Asclepius had a staff with a snake wrapped around it, which has become a symbol for the medical world, and part of the logo for the Canadian and American Medical Associations. So hearing that he was coming back probably sounded like an endless parade of instant healing to the simple-minded dimwits of Abonoteichus.
People back then were really superstitious. And why not? We have almost two thousand years worth of science and stuff since then, and my mother still reads the horoscope page every day.
Alexander told the people of Abonoteichus that around noon on a certain day, an egg would appear on the worksite of a temple the locals were building to worship Asclepius. From that egg a snake would hatch, and that snake would be Glycon, the reincarnation of their hero and a new god to worship.
Sure enough, Alexander was right there, pulling a snake out of an egg in front of a group of gape-jawed morons, telling them that this was their new god. Within a couple of weeks, Alexander would appear with the god wrapped around him, but the god had a human head. Well, sort of.
This is Mr. Klipples. He lives in my bedroom. Would you bow down and worship Mr. Klipples right now? Well, Tommy McLaren might, but he has trouble fitting his straw into his juice box every day. Don’t argue Tommy, it’s like every day with you! Anyway, this is basically what the people of Abonoteichus worshiped. Alexander put a hand-puppet on top of a tame and docile snake, and called it a god.
Alexander would sit in the temple and deliver prophecies through his puppet-god, and people believed him. Every person that wanted specific advice, usually on how to clear up medical issues, would pay an ‘offering’ to Alexander, and in turn he’d get his Mr. Klipples snake to hand out advice. If it worked, the patient was a believer for life. If not, he was probably dead and it didn’t matter. It’s believed that Alexander handed out over 80,000 pieces of wisdom in his life.
One of the big fascinations with snake temples back then was their connection to fertility. I don’t know what snakes have to do with fertility (note: I was too young to get obvious phallic references), but people would come to Glycon and ask for help in having babies. Alexander would sometimes meet with these women afterward, spent some time with them, and they’d get pregnant. My dad says Glycon probably had a Luther Vandross album handy, but I think he’s joking because Luther Vandross isn’t that old.
When a plague hit the area in the year 166, people made amulets featuring a verse from Glycon and hung them over their doorways for protection. The entire Roman Empire started to buy into the Glycon cult. It spread all the way to Rome, where even Marcus Aurelius joined in. He sought advice from Glycon on an upcoming battle, and Glycon stated that as long as they throw two live lions into the river, the Romans will be fine. They threw the lions, but lost the battle. Somehow Marcus Aurelius just shrugged it off instead of ordering Alexander’s death. This is why Alexander was a bodacious and radical guy. (note: it was 1985. Sorry for the language)
The Christians didn’t like Alexander, because he didn’t fit in with their idea of God and Jesus and stuff. The Epicureans didn’t like Alexander because they didn’t like superstition. But no one made a move to hurt him because he had the backing of the dummies who populated the area.
Alexander kept at it through his entire life. He made a killing off giving advice, and for a little extra cash he’d even blackmail some of the people who came to him with particularly embarrassing questions for Glycon. He died from a gangrene infection when he was 70, and living to 70 back then was like living to 210 today.
When I grow up, I want to be just like Alexander. I won’t use a puppet of course, but maybe something futuristic and technologically amazing. Like Max Headroom.
As an aside, since I couldn’t possibly have known this in 1985, one of the most influential writers of our time, Alan Moore, has confessed to being a modern-day follower of Glycon. He embraces the kookiness of worshipping a fraud deity, and figures that since there’s reality within all fiction, he’s okay. That’s good – it justifies my adherence to the Jedi faith.
Besides, the guy wrote V For Vendetta and The Watchmen – why argue with him?