I have been enjoying the ongoing Japanese anime Fate/Zero, & episode 11 consists of a dialogue between three legendary kings who expressed philosophical differences about ruling. The interlocutors are Saber (King Arthur), Rider (Alexander the Great) and Archer (Gilgamesh), but the most interesting aspect was the diametrically opposite approach between Arthur and Alexander regarding how to rule. It was fascinating enough to inspire a lengthy rant on morality, Nietzsche, and representation.
Arthur represents a savior type, whereas Alexander represents the conqueror. They both are warrior kings, but they lead completely differently: Arthur evokes a sober, Christian martyr who fights for an ideal, while Alexander is a classic hedonist who expands his empire through conquest. The act of drawing the sword bespoke a higher authority and a duty to protect the people. However, Arthur appeared to carry the burden of her nation alone, and ruled alone, and Alexander rose to power through merit and effort, and seized command of his father’s troops and marched them for 14 years all over the known world. He demonstrated that the king is never alone, that his greatest strength is the bond between him and his men.
The more interesting thing about their clash of ideologies is that they represent two incompatible moralities: the slave and the noble. Nietzsche articulated the distinction in On the Genealogy of Morals, where the ruling classes of the Hellenic Greeks, Romans, Goths, Saxons defined morality in positive terms, or approval or approbation that reflects the qualities that belong to the members of the highest established social order. Moral terms that designate good, noble, virtuous, strong, happy, pleasing, etc., were intended to describe the ruling class itself. For example, the ancient Greeks called the noble kalos and the good agathos or agathon. The ruling aristocratic class in Greece called itself the kaloi kagathoi, the noble & good. The subordinate class, from the ruling class, more numerous and less virtuous, were called the hoi polloi, or the “undistinguished multitude.”
A new class emerged from the aristocrats that weren’t warriors: the priests and administrators, or what Nietzsche calls the “priestly caste.” They invented an ascetic ideal, a paradox that appears to oppose life itself, but all values are expressions to dominance. Nietzsche claims this ideal became adopted and universal through the slave revolt (Jewish prophets and Christian martyrs). More importantly, the priests and saints first invented the ascetic ideal, not the slaves themselves. Lacking the expressive & direct will of the aristocrat, the priests resented the power and respect of the noble class, but could not express this directly. Then they taught the aristocratic values as evil or decadent, and promoted opposite values such as self-denial (e.g., the life of poverty). The values of aristocratic morality (aggressiveness, strength, bellicosity, etc.) are inverted and devalued into evil, and what the aristocrats took as bad (weakness, passivity, timidity, etc.) is henceforth presented as good for slave morality.
However, it seems that King Arthur was no weak or timid person, but a warrior who fought for the Christian ideals of knighthood – self-sacrifice, loyalty, to save others. This seems closer to a saint or martyr than the average plebeian, but then again, one wonders how much the myth-making writers of the 11th & 12th centuries romanticized the fact and changed an 8th century leader into a Savior of Roman Britain. This distortion from a classic Roman general into a Christian knight of the faith leads to the current representation of King Arthur in Fate/Zero, a doomed King of Knight who falters in her discourse with the confident Alexander, the King of Conquerors. Their wishes are telling: Arthur desires to save the land by changing history so the Anglo-Saxons do not destroy her people, but that erases the King Arthur legend, whereas Alexander accepts his tragic fate and wishes to continue in a new life. Perhaps the writers of this anime/light novel intended the character Saber to suffer a setback and an existential crisis before eventually triumphing. The greater the crisis, the better the payoff.