Persepolis and Alexander the Great Wonderfully Remembered

by Christopher Xenopoulos Janus
This is the thirtieth anniversary of probably the most elaborate and expensive celebration ever given in the history of the world. I'm referring to the late Shah of Iran's party celebrating the 2,5OOth anniversary of the founding of Persia, later conquered by Alexander the Great. It was held at the ancient city of Persepolis whose ruins, many critics say, are as beautiful as those of the Acropolis in Athens and you almost feel the presence of young Alexander the Great there.

The celebration in Persepolis was also to remember and honor Alexander who built a beautiful castle, later destroyed by fire, there for his young queen. In writing this article, I'm also reminded that Alexander is also honored today by the dedication of the revived Library officially opening in Alexandria October 17th, and on the marble mountain near Thessaloniki. A sculpture head of Alexander is planned which will be bigger than the Mount Rushmore heroic sculpture memorial. Finally several universities in the world including Harvard are giving special courses on Alexander and his influence in the ancient world.

One of the advantages of being old is that you can have many wonderful memories. I was invited along with Valerie Valentine, an award winning photographer, to attend the celebration in Persepolis in 1972 and our weeks visit there is today one of the unforgettable experiences and memories of my life. All the leaders of the world, including the Pope, were invited and each leader was housed in a specially constructed, beautiful tent. Tent is hardly the word to describe the accommodations. Each one had a cement floor, covered by beautiful Persian carpets and crystal chandeliers. There were two or three bedrooms, each with its own marble bath, and some of the tents were decorated in the national style of the country housed there. Some of the furniture and most of the curtains were imported from France. The whole event was criticized a bit because although this was a party to celebrate ancient Persia and Iran, with the exception of the caviar, almost everything was imported. Even Farah Diba's dresses came from France or Italy,

Fifty barrels of Iran's best wine, which Persians are said to have invented, were consumed by the royal guests, scholars and other distinguished visitors. Two thousand Iranian girls, many of them looking like ancient Persian miniatures, served as interpreters.

The main theme of the festivities at the party was, of course, the celebration of 2,500 years of Persian history; the second theme was the entry of Iran into the twentieth century. The second idea was portrayed through the wonderful and at the time quite advanced, telephone and communications systems. Each tent had at least five telephones that could connect you instantly with most any part of the world.

There were also troops with machine guns encircling tent city, ostensibly to protect the hundred or so world leaders in attendance but also to thwart any attempted revolution against the Shah. This was a time of great unrest in Iran. Though the enormous, very expensive party showed what kind of a show the Shah could put on to impress the world with his taste and advanced ideas, there was starvation in other parts of the country, which had led to many riots.

But back to the party. One afternoon there was Open House in Tent City, which meant that you could visit any tent and talk with the world leader staying there. In fact, unless you recognized the ruler, it was the only way of distinguishing who was who. Tent number one was occupied by Emperor Haile Selassie, representing the oldest government of the world, that of Ethiopia. (The tents were numbered according to the age of the current system of government of each country).

Haile Selassie received us wearing his royal robe and holding in his arm his little Chihuahua dog. The dog had on such a heavy bejeweled collar he could hardly raise his head. Valerie asked the emperor if she could hold the dog herself, and he seemed very pleased for her to do so. He said something to the effect that she must like pets very much and that is a good sign of kindness. He even invited her to visit him in Ethiopia should she come that way.

An interesting story was making the rounds at Tent City as the delegates began to arrive. His Eminence, the Pope, could not make it, but he sent one of his chief high-ranking Cardinals to represent him. When the Cardinal arrived, the authorities could not find that he had been assigned to one of the tents. However, the Pope's tent was finally located, and the Shah sent his special ambassador to the Cardinal. The ambassador approached the Cardinal and said something like, "Your Eminence, the Shah offers his deep apologies for this error. Will you please forgive us and forget?"

The Cardinal is supposed to have answered: "My son, of course, His Holiness will forgive you. But remember he has the oldest filing system in the world." Iran is one of the many blunders of our State Department and the CIA. We put the Shah into power in the first place and with all his shortcomings as a world leader, he was nevertheless a staunch friend of the United States. I believe that experts concur today that the violence in Iran that ousted the Shah could have been prevented, instead we failed to support him and even when he was dying of cancer gave him only limited asylum and medical help in the United States.

The Shah went to Italy and England, eventually ending up in Egypt, where he was welcomed on a permanent basis, He died there a broken and, he felt, betrayed man. Meanwhile, Iran under the tyrannical rule of the Ayatollah slid back in time to become one of the most barbarous countries in the world and we, the United States, are still hurt by the loss of Iran as an ally in that part of the world.

Educated at Harvard and Oxford, Christopher Xenopoulos Janus started his writing career as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News. Later he became a special writer for The New York Times Sunday News Magazine section where the late Lester Markel was his editor. During World War II, Janus joined the Department of State serving in Washington, Cairo and Athens on Greek War Relief and Rehabilitation programs. This experience had a great influence on his writing.

After World War II, the author was involved in various entrepreneurial experiences. At one time he owned Adolph Hitler's Mercedes Benz and toured it through the United States. He was an Investment Banker, but always took the time to be involved in the world around him.

Since his retirement from business, the author has devoted his time to writing, publishing and traveling. He founded and published the widely acclaimed Greek Heritage, The American Quarterly of Greek Culture, and with William Brashler wrote Search for Peking Man (Macmillan 1975). Janus' novel Miss Fourth of July, Goodbye has been filmed by Disney Productions. Around the World in 90 Years reflects much of the author's own warm and caring philosophy of life embodying unconditional loyalties and boundless enthusiasm. They feature a strong sense of self-reliance and the courage and wisdom to be interested in everything. Yet, as his mentor, George Santayana once cautioned the author: "Don't be awed by anything."

Most recently, the prestigious American Hellenic Institute Foundation of Washington, D.C. awarded its Hellenic Heritage Lifetime Achievement Award to Christopher Xenopoulos Janus.

Mr. Janus is the author of numerous articles appearing on HCS. Readers are invited to view: "The Girl With Melancholy Eyes," "Our First and Only Christmas in Sistersville"

2000 © Hellenic Communication Service, L.L.C. All Rights Reserved.