Alexander the Great Netflix show labelled ‘extremely poor-quality fiction’ by Greek minister

<span>Buck Braithwaite in Alexander: The Making of a God, which depicts a gay relationship between the ancient king and his friend Hephaestion.</span><span>Photograph: Netflix</span>
Buck Braithwaite in Alexander: The Making of a God, which depicts a gay relationship between the ancient king and his friend Hephaestion.Photograph: Netflix

Greece’s minister for culture has criticised a Netflix drama-documentary about Alexander the Great as “extremely poor-quality fiction” and “low content, rife with historical inaccuracies.”

Lina Mendoni’s comments about Alexander: The Making of a God come amid a furore over the show’s depiction of a romantic relationship between Alexander the Great and his confidant and friend Hephaestion. In Greece, an opinion piece in Eleftheros Typos called the show “a distortion of the truth” and blamed Oliver Stone’s 2004 film Alexander for starting “a propaganda campaign about Alexander’s homosexuality”.

Dimitris Natsiou, the president of the Christian Orthodox, far-right political party Niki, called the series “deplorable, unacceptable and unhistorical” and said it aimed to “subliminally convey the notion that homosexuality was acceptable in ancient times, an element that has no basis”.

Related: If you’re raging that ‘Netflix made Alexander the Great gay’, it’s time to learn some LGBTQ+ history | Matt Cain

Asked in parliament about the show by Natsiou, Mendoni said it was “replete with historical inaccuracies, demonstrates the director’s sloppiness and poverty of scenario”.

On the show’s depiction of the relationship between Alexander and Hephaestion, Mendoni said: “There is no mention in the sources that it goes beyond the limits of friendship, as defined by Aristotle.

“But you will know that the concept of love in antiquity is broad and multidimensional. We cannot interpret either practices or persons who acted 2,300 years ago by our own measures, our own norms and assumptions. Alexander the Great, for 2,300 years, has never needed, nor does he need now, the intervention of any unsolicited protector of his historical memory or, even more, of his personality and moral standing.”

When Natsiou asked whether the government would take action against Netflix, Mendoni said such a move would be unconstitutional. Greece’s constitution has protected freedom of art since the early 19th century.

“The ministry of culture does not exercise censorship, does not carry out actions that result in prosecution or ban, does not manipulate, does not limit, does not control the dissemination of information and ideas neither preventively nor repressively,” Mendoni said.

“The inspiration of artists, personal interpretation, and the judgment of individuals cannot, evidently, be subjected to a regulatory regime and control, nor can it be governed by the courts or dragged into them. Instead, it is assessed and judged by each of us, by the international community. This is how Netflix is also evaluated.”

The nature of the relationship between the Macedonian king and his general has long been speculated on. What is not debated is that Alexander and Hephaestion were intimate friends from childhood, and were often likened to Achilles and Patroclus by their contemporaries.

“Same-sex relationships were quite the norm throughout the Greek world,” Prof Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, of Cardiff University in Wales, says in the first episode of Alexander: The Making of a God. “The Greeks did not have a word for homosexuality, or to be gay. It just wasn’t in their vocabulary whatsoever. There was just being sexual.”

The controversy mirrors a similar one in Egypt last year, when the Egyptian antiquities ministry published a lengthy statement criticising Netflix’s decision to cast a Black actor as Cleopatra in the drama-documentary Queen Cleopatra.