The first thing I did after I finished the latest Vol. 9 of Historie [ヒストリエ] by Hitoshi Iwaaki [岩明均] was to look up Iwaaki-sensei’s year of birth, so that I can calculate how many earthly years may be left for him to finish this incomparable epic, of which Vol.9 is still setting the stage.
Historie is the story of Eumenes of Cardia from boyhood to manhood. The real Eumenes in history is remembered as the clever, talented, wily and resourceful royal secretary of Alexander the Great, who later discarded the pen and took up the sword as a military commander (and one of the commanders active in the dividing the spoils of Alexander’s empire after his sudden death at that). If the chips had fallen the right way, it would not be inconceivable for us today to learn of the Eumenes as the successor to Alexander. However, Eumenes had two things working against him. First, he was a foreigner – a Greek in the court of Macedonia, which meant he was an outsider and out of the game of forging useful alliances through marriage like his Macedonian peers. Secondly, he began his career as a secretary, which in the macho culture of Macedonia was seen as a negative. In addition, the major irony is that although Eumenes was the most ardent loyalist to the royal house of Macedonia from start to finish, he was declared an outlaw in the bizarre Game-of-Thrones environment after Alexander’s death. As the historian James Romm summarized in Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great and the Bloody Fight for His Empire:
“Such was the strange position Eumenes found himself in amid the turmoil of the civil war. He alone of all the leaders in that war had gained a major battlefield victory. Yet he had ended up without a country, cause, or commander to fight for. His cavalry was good enough to win against any challenger – but just what he could win was beyond’s anyone’s surmise.”
If one were to produce a historical manga, picking the right character from whose perspective the story is told would already be half the work done. In this respect, Iwaaki-sensei has an unusual background as a manga artist – his father was a professor of archaeology, and though he himself dropped out of university, he is best known as the creator of the profoundly philosophical fantasy series Kiseijuu [寄生獣].
Eumenes at Vol.9 has reached the age of twenty or thereabouts, and even though the conquests of Alexander has not even begun, this fictional account of his life thus far is already so dramatic that it would not be out of place in, say, the canon of Greek theatre. According to Aristotle, the tragic hero is said to be a man whose misfortune comes to him, “not through vice or depravity but by some error of judgment.” However, the running theme in Eumenes’ life is that even though he makes the right judgment and often outwits others, Fate often deals him a worse position than before and only seldom allows him to walk away with gains. If you take a moment to unpack the meaning of this, and you will see that the human world is a something of a blind machine which does not necessarily reward good behaviour, and perhaps even goes as far as to punish good intentions. This is something that I feel deeply in my personal life, and I see this point illustrated in all its cruel glories in the story of Eumenes.
Without spoiling this excellent story, I would like to highlight two “known unknowns” that are likely to transform the story into something more than just a great man’s biography:
The first “known unknown” is Aristotle showing Eumenes a globe at very the beginning story when they first became acquainted to each other. The globe is complete with oceans and landmasses on it. This implies advanced knowledge, possibly passed down from an earlier civilization.
The second “known unknown” is a side-story in which Barsine (a Persian female character) who was on the hunt for Aristotle strays by chance into the house of a weird man who collects specimens of animals and claims supernatural powers to see “the waves of time” and the ability to destroy giant monsters effortlessly. When she departs, he intones meaningfully that she is sure to return to him at some point.
Some of you may be screaming “Atlantis!” reading this. Indeed, I wonder if Iwaaki-sensei’s real aim is to lay before us a grand, erratic and alternative view of history. This would not be altogether inconceivable from the creator of Kiseijuu.
To enjoy this story thoroughly, I recommend reading the manga first, then go to your local library to look up books on the post-Alexander era, make notes on the large and confusing cast of personalities, and go back to the manga to read it again. James Romm’s Ghost on the Throne, cited earlier, would be a good place to start. One of my favourite historians Plutarch, a penetrating observer of character, also has a short but succinct biography devoted to Eumenes.
Historie first appeared in 2003 on the manga magazine Gekkan Afternoon and is currently still being serialized on a bimonthly basis. The manga was awarded the grand prize for the manga division in the 2010 Japan Media Arts Festival, and also won the 16th Osamu Tezuka Culture Award in 2012. Its official website is here.