Friday, February 29, 2008

Iron Maiden History Lesson

As Learned Foot at the Kool-Aid Report likes to say, "Iron Maiden can teach us a lot about" all sorts of things. Having earned a degree in History when I was at University, I can tell you that Iron Maiden is often at their best when singing about history. My particular favorite is the song "Alexander the Great", because it is basically a college-level exam set to heavy metal music. By the time you get to college, you learn that history is not simply names, dates, and places. The data are important, but it is the details behind the sequence of events that tell the true story of the human experience.

The first two verses of Maiden's "Alexander" are primarily a timeline of Alexander's life up to the conquest of the Persian Empire. In a college history exam, you often begin with a section of matching or fill-in-the-blank questions, or perhaps some questions requiring short, simple one-or-two sentence answers. The first two verses are the answer key!

The real meat of the test, the part which your professor weighs most heavily when determining your grade, and the section which should take more time for you to complete, consists of one or two essay questions at the end. It's not going to be something like "Who did Alexander defeat at Arbela, and when?" It's going to be a more thoughtful question like, "Please give a detailed analysis of Alexander's long-term impact on world history." Iron Maiden neatly sums up the answer in the lines,

His culture was a western way of life
He paved the way for Christianity
.
Brilliant! Alexander's empire may have been carved up by his successors following his early demise, but the several chunks of it made it easier for the Romans to conquer in the following centuries. Thus did roughly half of Alexander's former empire unite with northern Africa, southern Europe, and western Europe. Christianity blossomed in a Roman province, and eventually expanded within the boundaries of the Roman Empire. Christian beliefs made their way to western Europe, and influenced the course of world history for the last two millennia. That's a bit more than you can reasonably fit into a single verse of a song with long guitar solos, but somewhat skeletal as far as meeting the requirements of an essay questions answer.

For those who don't like to read the book, but prefer to watch the TV show while listening to the song, this is for you:


And if you enjoy reading people call one another "Idiot" and "Moron" while arguing about whether Macedonians were Greek, feel free to peruse the video's comment section.

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