Alexander the Great: The True King of Fate/Zero
Anime has been known for adapting elements from historical figures and events to help curve the story in a certain direction. One of the most notable is Fate/Zero, a TYPE-MOON light novel adapted into a TV series by ufotable in 2011/2012. I won’t give you a detailed description of the show since you’ve probably seen it if you’re reading this, but here is a brief description just as a refresher: seven mages are each granted a servant, heroic spirits who are historical figures. The chosen mages fight for control over the Holy Grail, a magical item that can grant wishes. Now, there are three heroic spirits that are connected to this article: Archer, Saber, and Rider (Gilgamesh, Arthur Pendragon, and Iskander the Conqueror/Alexander the Great respectively). Each one has a motive driving them to retrieve the grail, paralleling their respective psychologies as kings.
In the eleventh episode titled “Discussing the Grail/The Grail Dialogue”, these three kings drink in a castle garden, discussing the reasons they each have to covet the grail. Alexander the Great is the most notable since he controls the conversation at most points in the dialogue while Arthur is constantly refuted and Gilgamesh mocks the ideals that Arthur embodies. So let’s start with Arthur and her (yes, if you haven’t seen Fate/Zero, Arthur is a woman) motives to win the grail.
CAUTION: This will spoil parts of later episodes of Fate/Zero. You have been warned!
Compared to Alexander and Gilgamesh, Arthur is collected and polite. In regards to the setting, a depressing castle garden owned by the Einsbern mages, Arthur remains silent while Alexander and Gilgamesh comment on the terrible location. She is also easily irritable when it comes to Alexander and Gilgamesh’s comments and personalities. Now, Arthur’s perspective is unique in the sense that pursues martyrdom over glory. When faced with the question of what she seeks from the grail her answer is: “I want to avert Britain’s destruction.”
Saber, being a defeated king of Britain, believes she is the reason that her country fell. She wishes to stop herself from taking the throne in an attempt to change the results. The interesting concept about Arthur is that she is the only character to feel regret over how her life ended. In many texts of the Knights of the Round Table, Arthur was noted for being the noble sacrifice in the sense that he must take responsibility for his people. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Arthur’s court was too frightened to accept the Green Knight’s challenge and only through Guinevere’s insistence does Gawain volunteer in Arthur’s place. 1 Arthur’s rule shows a saintly method of self-sacrifice, but this raises a question: is it right for a ruler to take on the responsibility of the people or should the people take the responsibility of the ruler?
Gilgamesh serves as the trouble maker of the party. Gilgamesh, known for his subjective ruling style, mocks Arthur’s claims of heroism and martyrdom. In the beginning of the conversation, he is the most critical when discussing location and the drink they will be sharing. When presented with the barrel of wine Alexander retrieved from the market prior, Gilgamesh responded, “You really thought we could discern a hierarchy of heroic spirits with this swill?” Gilgamesh’s Noble Phantasm is known as the Gate of Babylon, which represents his storehouse of weapons and resources that he can access anywhere at any time. He even pulls his finest wine out of thin air, which both Arthur and Alexander compliment. Gilgamesh is showing his psychology as king, being someone who possesses the finest of goods and being superior to all in every way. His personality in this discussion reflects his idea of kingship perfectly. 2
Gilgamesh is interesting because he has no wish for the grail to grant. Instead, he views it as an object he once possessed and must prevent anyone from stealing it. “The Grail already belongs to me, all of this world’s treasures, without exception, trace their origins back to my treasure house.” Gilgamesh is pretentious in assuming he has possessed even the Holy Grail, which was created only several hundred years prior to the 1990s, the years the course of Fate/Zero takes place in. Even so, Arthur is annoyed by this statement while Alexander accepts Gilgamesh’s claim, instead claiming he will take it from him.
Alexander the Great shows the most enthusiasm in the conversation of kings and is the most important character in this episode. In a sense, he sheds light on the rationale behind the methods of brutal kings. Alexander shows his intelligence and well-read nature by being the one to propose a dialogue over combat. Philosophers would often fight on a mental landscape over a physical one, and shows his philosophical skills which he acquired from Aristotle. It should also be noted that Alexander reads frequently throughout the shows progression, including texts like The Odyssey.
Alexander shows a mutual respect among kings, as shown with how he humors Gilgamesh’s rude comments. He is the most talkative in the conversation and wishes to be reincarnated. Unlike Arthur, Alexander feels that the marks he left on history are what makes him a king, but ruling the modern world is a worthy wish.
Climax of the Discussion
“Did you hear that drivel rider!? Did you hear what this little girl, who calls herself King of Knights, said? Her beloved country to which she devoted her whole life!” – Gilgamesh
This quote from Gilgamesh embodies both his and Alexander’s thoughts on Arthur. The differing views of kingship is most evident here, as Arthur is opposed from both Alexander and Gilgamesh. Compared to her thoughts, Gilgamesh and Alexander believe that a country is devoted to it’s ruler and not the other way around. Arthur’s self-martyrdom shows her lack of understanding. This is emphasized by Alexander numerous times:
The king does not devote himself. It is the nation and the people who must devote themselves to the king. You have reversed the concept. – Alexander
Alexander, whose death is still a mystery, ended up with his empire being torn from the strife of civil war and his heirs being killed. Yet against Arthur’s comments, Alexander shows no regret. 3 Alexander is able to grasp the magnitude of the many soldiers who fought alongside him. Now, given that Arthur fought more for her people than with his people, she still feels it is her duty to not lead them at all, feeling inadequate. Perhaps her opinion is true that she could have done more, but it would serve as a disrespectful action towards her followers and fellow knights to undo their lives. “I shall never regret it – let alone undo it all! Such an act would be an insufferable insult to all those who fought and bled and died alongside me!” Alexander’s assessment is valid, but it is difficult to assess the feelings of those in the Round Table. Arthur does not know how others felt about her rule, and she assumes they agree that she was an inadequate leader. Arthur’s emotions of regret are invalid because doing so means Arthur disregards all the historical marks of her reign. Alexander understands from a king’s position that his impact on history should never be tarnished let alone undone. Arthur would be changing history, removing herself and many others from it.
Arthur is stunned by the two kings, as they speak like brutal tyrants. Alexander, recognizing the Arthur is disillusioned as to her role as a king, responds with a powerful statement about kings over the centuries:
We are heroes because we are brutal tyrants. However Saber, if a King regrets his rule, or regrets the matter to which his rule came to an end, that King is nothing but a fool, worse than the tyrants you disdain. – Alexander
Tyrants are cruel and oppressive, which is fitting for Gilgamesh, but Alexander was regarded as one of the greatest rulers in history. The reason he accepts this notion of tyranny is not that he was ruthless towards his people but that he understood what it meant to manage and control his people with a iron fist.
Arthur is viewed as weak and misguided for granting her knights mercy in spite of their wrongdoings. Arthur is thought to have died in the Battle of Camlann, where she was betrayed by one of her knights, Mordrid. 4 Other knights, such as Lancelot, also committed crimes but were pardoned or not rightfully punished (SPOILER: This also seems to be a foreshadowing of Arthur’s encounter with Berserker, who ends up being Lancelot, and how Arthur caused his descent into madness). If Arthur were stricter in her command, she may have been able to prevent being betrayed.
Alexander treats his soldiers as friends in arms but understands that discipline is key in ruling an empire. Alexander understands that a king must fight with his followers, that a true king must be on the battlefield with his men leading the charge to victory. Alexander’s Noble Phantasm, the ultimate weapon a heroic spirit wields, is the Ionian Hetairoi, the “army of the king” which embodies the spirits of every soldier that fought alongside him. It is not a weapon of his or great device but his bond with his soldiers that lead to his many victories.
When Hassan i-Sabbah, the Assassin heroic spirit, arrives, Alexander offers to invite them (i-Sabbah’s Noble Phantasm is multiple heroic spirits corresponding with his split personalities) to join only to be rejected. Alexander calls upon his Ionion Hetairoi to defeat the Assassin servants, and states to Arthur, “My bond is my greatest treasure, my path to kingship!” The bonds of true warriors holds strong for Alexander and is the greatest treasure that he will never regret, no matter how his reign ended. Alexander and his army easily dispatch the squadron of Assassins, knocking them out of the war first.
When the fighting has ceased, Alexander ends the discussion since he no longer recognizes Arthur as a king. “You’re just a little girl.” Arthur is shocked, but seems to realize maybe Alexander’s assessment is not completely incorrect. She never truly understood her allies or what they looked for in her. As far as Arthur’s ideals, Alexander regards it as qualities of “the highest saints” but does not view this as a method of leadership.
Alexander is the most significant character when regarding the position of kingship and what is the most fitting description of it. Alexander is able to disprove Arthur’s ideals in the misconstrued concept of what a king is to his/her people. They must be a tyrant full of greed and valor and fight with their people on the frontlines as a true leader should. A leader does not sacrifice themselves to protect those who cannot protect themselves. A leader does not forgive everyone without punishment. A leader must make the hard decisions and maintain his strength in the eyes of his people.
As Alexander takes his leave, Gilgamesh regards her agony as a “splendid and marvelous thing to look upon”. Her suffering is similar to that of a play that will entertain him for the remaining duration of the war.
It is interesting that Arthur is positioned as a girl in Fate/Zero, since Arthur’s rule seemed vastly different from most. In a way, it did seem like a more sensitive and saintly rule, without the tyranny and conquest that both Gilgamesh and Alexander embodied. Her rule, in comparison to the true legends of King Arthur, could be construed as feminine or sensitive. Arthur is left to doubt herself, acknowledging Lancelot’s perception of her as a king who does not understand how others feel. 5
Do you think a king should be tyrannical if it means a more controlled and effective rule? Or is self-sacrifice a noble and admirable endeavor of a leader?
- Abrams, M. H. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Vol. 1. New York: W. W. Norton, 1968. N. pag. Print. ↩
- “Epic of Gilgamesh.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2015. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epic_of_Gilgamesh>. ↩
- “The Death of Alexander the Great, 323 BC.” EyeWitness to History. Ibis Communications, Inc, 2008. Web. 19 Oct. 2015. <http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/alexanderdeath.htm>. ↩
- “Battle of Camlann.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2015. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Camlann>. ↩
- Aoki, Ei. “Discussing the Grail.” Fate/Zero. 12 Dec. 2011. Television. ↩
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