Professor Guy Rogers, who teaches history and classical studies, first encountered stories of Alexander the Great when his mother took him to the library in rural Connecticut at the age of seven. This experience set the tone for his career in ancient history and especially for his interest in the stories of Alexander the Great.
“I think my parents cultivated [love for the classics], but they were not heavyhanded. The library had a biography on Alexander the Great, and I remember to this day taking it out, opening it up and reading this story about Alexander and his father. When I saw that story, I thought ‘That’s really interesting and exciting,’” Rogers said.
When he was 15, Rogers’ parents gave him the opportunity to tour Greece and Italy, where his interest in ancient history was further solidified.
“I was seeing the Parthenon and the Colosseum for the first time, and I was hooked on it. I don’t think I had decided that I wanted to teach and write about it, but as I went along, both at Princeton and in London, my parents encouraged me to pursue it. It was incremental,” he said.
After getting a bachelor’s degree from University College in London, where Rogers got to study with the most prominent Roman historians in the field, he returned to the United States to get a PhD in classics from Princeton University. Fergus Miller, British professor of ancient history and Rogers’ mentor, encouraged Rogers to pursue his interest in the eastern Roman Empire while he was getting his graduate degree, so he went to Turkey to write his dissertation.
“Turkey was a military dictatorship, and everyone was terrified. I thought I was bulletproof and fearless, so I just went there and started walking around the Middle East by myself,” said Rogers. “I decided to write about this Greco-Roman site called Ephesus, and that became my dissertation and first book, ‘The Sacred Identity of Ephesus,’ which won the Routledge Ancient History Prize.”
Before he even finished his dissertation, Rogers accepted a position at Wellesley College in 1985 and has been here ever since. Soon after he started working at Wellesley, he began teaching a class on Alexander the Great.
“I was lucky to get the job. It was something I had a passion for, and it worked out. Since the time I first got here, I was teaching a course about Alexander the Great,” he said.
In 2004, Rogers wrote a biography on Alexander which allowed him to begin working with the History Channel and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) as a historical commentator.
“I got a lot of offers from television programs to do commentary on different parts of ancient history, especially [on] Alexander. I was involved with a documentary about the movie ‘300,’ which became such a popular movie that more people saw that documentary on the Battle of Thermopylae than any other documentary about the ancient world. I think tens of millions of people! It was a lot of fun,” Rogers said.
Subsequently, he began working with American writer and filmmaker Oliver Stone on a documentary about Alexander and is now working on an encyclopedia about Alexander for Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, the largest publisher of academic books in the United States. When Wellesley College joined the edX consortium of elite colleges and universities, which provides free online courses to the public, Rogers was asked if he would like to put his course on Alexander online.
“I had actually done an earlier version of the course for the GEN [Global Education Network] in 2000. Ten years later, the world had discovered online education. 17,500 people took the Alexander course, and it was an unbelievable experience,” he said. “Week after week, I was talking to people in Afghanistan and China and India. This incredible community of people developed and became something incredibly special for all of us.”
Rogers enjoys teaching about Alexander at Wellesley College because of the remarkable responses he gets from his students.
“When you feel strongly about something and have the opportunity to present it to people who then become engaged in the subject matter, it is really, really special. I feel that I have this reciprocal relationship with the students here,” he said. “I’m giving them a lot, and they’re giving me a lot back. Together, we’re creating an intellectual community and hopefully an extraordinary educational experience.”
Rogers feels strongly that we can learn important lessons from the past which we can implement in our lives today. “The past is intrinsically interesting, but it is also filled with fun, entertaining stories like the story about Alexander taming his horse. You learn about human empathy, humility, wisdom and also hopefully realize that you’re part of a continuum of study that goes back thousands of years,” he said.
When he’s not studying classics, Rogers applies these lessons to his own life through animal welfare, especially the rescue of cats. He and his partner are cat lovers who personally care for five cats.
“We have saved hundreds of animals, especially cats that other people won’t take. Our most recent addition to this herd is a cat called Baxter who has a hard time digesting food,” Rogers said. “I want to encourage Wellesley students to be kind to animals and to think about helping out animals, if not now, then in the future.”