A Letter to Arrian (27) The 114th Olympiad, in the archonship of Hegesias at Athens

a_roman_writerMy dear Arrian,

Alexander the Great Administrator. Well, no-one will ever call him that but I must say I am impressed by the attention he paid to the construction of a sluice between the Euphrates river and Pallacopas canal.
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As you note, the reason why the then current sluice needed to be replaced was that it was built into weak ground – ‘soft, wet clay’ which soaked up the Euphrates’ water thus defeating the purpose of having the sluice in the first place.
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You also say that the reason for Alexander’s interest is that he wanted to ‘improve Assyria’s prospects’. Could I add that he probably wanted a free flowing river for his warships as well?
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Even if that is also the case, Alexander could easily have left this work for one of his officers to do. That he took it on himself suggests a future area of study for me – ‘Alexander as administrator. Does the Euphrates-Pallacopas show he was better at it than I have hitherto given him credit for?’
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Something else I shall surely be looking into is the authenticity of Alexander’s letter to Cleomenes. The king never acted upon sentimental desire in matters of government. It seems inconceivable to me, therefore, that he would be prepared to offer Cleomenes a pardon for any future criminal acts just as long as the latter carried out Alexander’s instructions in regards the shrines in Alexandria and on Pharos.
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We now come to Alexander’s last days.
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What strikes me most about Alexander’s dying is not so much the rapidity of it – though I suppose that is notable – but the way it happened – how shall I say it? – in a single, flowing movement: Alexander fell ill, the illness got worse, he became gravely ill, and then – without his decline having been arrested or reversed once along the way; without him suffering any sharp declines as he lay on his bed - he died.
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Leaving aside the question of whether he was assassinated, Alexander died as gentle and straight forward a death as I can think of. It was almost tender. Given how he lived, I find this extraordinary.
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Something that I find inspiring is the way that even though Alexander was dying – and must after a point have known he was dying - ‘he still refused to neglect his religious duties’ and his military ones. This is a measure of the man, both of his faith (is that the right word?) in the gods, and determination to see his will done. Alexander the Religious is perhaps another aspect of his character that I might look into.
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With Alexander’ death, I come to the end of my last letter to you. I have enjoyed writing it, immensely. You will never read it, but I hope that one day I will meet you in those Elysian fields and that we may talk about Alexander together. And who knows who we might meet as we walk across that blessèd land in conversation – maybe the king himself? That would be good.

Until that day, dear Lucius, I remain

Your friend,

φιλέλλην

The above picture is from Ancient History

An index of all the letters can be found here

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Plutarch’s women: Thaïs of Athens, Olympias and Telesippa (Chapts. 38, 39 and 41)

For previous posts in this series click here

This post continues directly on from the last one. I divided them as the number of women I wanted to talk about made the title too long! Anyway, here we are, so let’s proceed to -

Thaïs of Athens
In Chapter 38 Plutarch narrates one of the most memorable and infamous moments of Alexander’s career – the burning of the Royal Palace at Persepolis. According to him, a courtesan named Thaïs incited Alexander to set the palace ablaze, saying that, while it had been a joy to revel in the palace of the Persians, it would be an even ‘sweeter pleasure’ to set fire to ‘the palace of Xerxes, who had laid Athens to ashes’.
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As Plutarch admits, there are differing views on how the palace came to be burnt down. Some say it was done on impulse, others that it was a matter of policy. Thaïs’ role, however, is almost uniformly agreed upon (see here for more on what the sources say). Almost. Arrian omits any mention of her. Given, however, that his main source is her lover, Ptolemy, perhaps that is not surprising. Going back to Plutarch, though, the fire seemed to have sobered Alexander up. For he ‘quickly repented and gave orders for the fire to be put out. Whether Thaïs ever repented is not recorded.
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Olympias
We continue with a letter written by Olympias to her son. In Chapter 39 Plutarch tells us about Alexander’s generosity to his friends. We learn of Ariston, to whom he not only gave a gold cup but drank to his honour with it, and the mule driver who shouldered the king’s gold after his mule became too exhausted to carry it any further. Unfortunately, Alexander’s benefactions caused his friends and bodyguards to ‘put on airs’. This displeased Olympias. She wrote,

I wish you would find other ways of rewarding those you love and honour: as it is, you are making them all the equals of kings and enabling them to make plenty of friends, but leaving yourself without any.

I have to admit, I can see the sense in what Olympias wrote. Generosity is not bad but by giving away so much, Alexander was not only creating (metaphoric) equals but – more dangerously – giving potential usurpers the means to challenge his authority with their new friends.
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Plutarch says that Alexander bore his mother’s scoldings ‘with great tolerance’ and when Antipater wrote to him complaining about her behaviour again he said that the vice-regent ‘did not understand that one tear shed by his mother would wipe out 10,000 letters’ from him.
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Telesippa
I end this post with what I think is a rather lovely story, which is told in Chapter 41. On an unspecified occasion, Alexander was sending home ‘invalid and superannuated soldiers’ when it was discovered that one of those on the list did not qualify for retirement. His name was Eurylochus of Aegae. Under questioning, Eurylochus confessed to the truth. He said he was,

… in love with a with a girl named Telesippa and… planned to travel with her on her journey to the coast.

Alexander duly made enquiries regarding who Telesippa was and discovered that she was a ‘free-born Greek courtesan’ (much like Thaïs, mentioned above). This, it seems, was to Alexander’s satisfaction, for he agreed to help Eurylochus woo her. But not on any terms.

“… since she is a free woman [Alexander said] you must see whether we can win Telesippa either by presents or courtship, but not use other means.”

It seems to me that the implication of Alexander’s words are that had Telesippa been a servant or slave then it would have been alright for Eurylochus to force her to join him, which is an unpleasant thought, even if socially acceptable in those days (?). If we may gloss over that, however, I really do like the fact that Alexander insisted upon things being done properly. It is moments like this which (after all had no practical benefit for Alexander and every inconvenience) persuade me that he genuinely respected women rather than simply affected his respect in order to show how great he was.
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Whatever the reason for Telesippa’s journey to the coast, I hope Eurylochus met her in time to walk with her on the way and that they had a long and happy life together.

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Plutarch’s Women: Stateira I, her daughters; Persian women and a wolf’s mother; the Pythia (Chapts. 30 and 37)

For previous posts in this series click here

Stateira I
Welcome back Plutarch’s Women. We begin this post at the start of Chapter 30. There, Plutarch records some sad news – the death of Stateira I, Darius III’s wife. Stateira’s death is all the more tragic because she died in child birth (although, see below). What would have become of the child had he or she lived? I suspect the eventual fate of Alexander IV, and indeed the baby’s siblings, answers that question. RIP.
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Stateira I died in September 331. Alexander’s reaction to her death was to regret writing to Darius telling him to give himself up because it meant that he had lost the opportunity ‘to show… magnanimity’ towards him. What I find difficult about this passage is that Alexander did not think of Stateira herself first. But I have to remind myself that perhaps he did and Plutarch did not record it. He is not so much writing what happened as trying to make sense of it. There is a difference.

According to Plutarch, Alexander made up for this lost opportunity by giving ‘the queen a magnificent funeral’. The queen. Not, the queen and her unborn child. Plutarch does not mention him or her. Why? I am wondering if it is because up until a child was recognised by its father it had no status, but do not know for sure. If you have another idea do leave a comment below.
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Going back to Stateira’s baby – who was his or her father? Stateira I was taken prisoner after the Battle of Issus, which took place in November 333. She died sometime in 331. The father, then, could not have been Darius. Did Alexander allow her to be taken by one of his officers? I would agree that this is most unlikely given her status. Perhaps Alexander himself slept with her? Plutarch’s protestations that Alexander had nothing to do with women notwithstanding, I suspect this is the case. If so, the child would be the first of Alexander’s children to die young (Roxane miscarried). However, we do not know for sure, either way. There is a great deal of uncertainty about Stateira’s death: the sources even disagree right down to the time and cause of it (See this article on Pothos for more information).
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While Stateira was being laid to rest, one of her her attendants – a eunuch named Tireos – escaped  from (or could he have been allowed to leave…?) the Macedonian camp and made his way to Darius’ where he told the Great King what had happened. Darius was, unsurprisingly, distraught.
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Stateira I, Stateira II and Drypetis; also, Persian Women
And yet, Darius did not grieve because his wife was dead but because Alexander, he assumed, had denied her a royal funeral. He also feared that Alexander must have taken advantage of his wife. Tireos allayed all of Darius’ worries and then some. Not only had Stateira been given a royal funeral but, while alive, she – and his mother and children – were treated according to their station. And not only  them but all the Persian women whom Alexander had captured. Upon hearing this, Darius made his great prayer to the gods, that ‘no other man but Alexander… sit upon the throne of Cyrus’.
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A Wolf with a Persian Mother
We now jump forward, over the Battle of Gaugamela and Alexander’s arrival in Babylon, to Chapter 37 and his advance through Persis. The mountainous territory proved tough going for the Macedonians. Fortunately, a guide was on hand to help them on their way. This man, we are told, had ‘a Lycian father and a Persian mother’ and was the subject of a prophecy by no less than the Delphic oracle.
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The Pythia’s Prophecy
As Plutarch relates it, when Alexander was a boy, the Pythia prophesied that he would one day be guided by a wolf (lycos – lycian) against the Persians. And so it happened. Plutarch doesn’t mention it but it appears that this wolf showed him the way round the Persian Gates, which Alexander proceeded to attack from behind and gain control of. If nothing else, it is a nice story.

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A Letter to Arrian (26) The Loss of Friends

a_roman_writerMy dear Arrian,

It is ironic that after turning against Alexander because of his orientalising, the Macedonian soldiers came back to him upon hearing about the promotion of Persian officers, and creation of Persian units. It feels – even if not reads – like Alexander called their bluff on how his empire should be run, and won.
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And – surprise, surprise – he kept on winning, for after the reconciliation banquet the Macedonians who were no longer fit for service were sent home just as Alexander had intended should happen in the first place-!
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A confession: I felt no joy in reading about Alexander’s success at Opis. How could I? It was achieved completely at the expense of his men’s concerns and fears. That is not kingly behaviour.
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All in all, reading these pages was  a very difficult experience. There are no acts of heroism in them, no acts of derring-do; Achilles is wholly absent. In his place, we have only the unwise acts of a politician-king, the exposure of deep divisions and wounds within the Macedonian state, and death.
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And not just the death of ‘minor’ figures but, as it were, of Alexander himself: Hephaestion. What a blow that was. Two months later, Alexander went on campaign against the Cossaeans. It should have helped. It should have restored the old Alexander to us but I must say that it – the campaign – felt a bit pathetic.
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The reason for this is because I suspect that Alexander launched his attack against the Cosseans as much to take his mind off Hephaestion rather than because the Cossaeans were a worthwhile enemy. Well, alright, but I wish he could have found a different way to work through his grief than bloodshed. It just doesn’t seem fitting to Hephaestion’s memory, somehow.
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We know very little about Amyntoros, but I think he was a cultured man. He should have been honoured through the arts not with the edge of a sword.
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In my last letter I said that it felt like you were setting Alexander’s story up to reveal that he was murdered. For all the falsity of the aforementioned ‘reconciliation banquet’ I must admit I did not get the same feeling as I read these pages.
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The Babylonian priests’ warning reminded us, however, that Alexander’s end was indeed close. I must say I really dislike the inclusion of these prophecies. If they are historical, nothing can be done about them, but are they? They really do seem much too neat, much too certain to be true.
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In closing, I would like to go back to the discharged Macedonians. Alexander appointed an unwell Craterus to take them home. Nine months after leaving Opis (?), he had only gone as far as Cilicia. Why was he marching so slowly?
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Perhaps ill health slowed him down? I don’t think Craterus could have been that unwell, though; he was not going home into retirement but had orders to relieve Antipater as Deputy Hegemon of the Corinthian League. Did he know something was about to happen to Alexander and was holding onto his ready made army? I do wonder.
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Of course, we’ll never know. Moving on, I look forward to reading your thoughts on Alexander’s death, which I will cover in my next – and, dear friend, last! – letter. Your words will not be easy to read but only by staring down death can we make sense of life.

Your friend,

φιλέλλην

The above picture is from Ancient History

An index of all the letters can be found here

Categories: Letters to Arrian | Tags: , | 4 Comments

6. 4. 14

Rory Stewart
U.K. readers – were you able to see Rory Stewart’s documentary on northern England last Sunday? It was a first class effort. The programme had a much broader focus than I realised, covering not only Roman Britain and the period after the Romans left but also the Anglo-Saxon age of saints as well. As a result, we went from Hadrian to Bede and Cuthbert. It was great stuff.

I mentioned last week that Stewart is an admirer of T. E. Lawrence. I was delighted to find his two part documentary on Lawrence on You Tube this week. In this documentary, Stewart examines what Lawrence has to teach us about the Allied invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Part One

Part Two

The only bad thing I have to say about this documentary is that it was not accompanied by a book and is not (to the best of my knowledge) available on DVD.
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The Best of Enemies
Who was Alexander’s most effective enemy? Darius III, Bessus or Spitamenes? That is the question on my mind at the moment as I read about Alexander in Bactria and Sogdia. It certainly wasn’t Bessus as he spent most of his opposition to Alexander running away from him. Come to think of it, so did Darius III. At least Spitamenes got stuck in a little.

One of the reasons I am reading about this stage of Alexander’s expedition is because in the past I have never fully got to grips with the idea that Afghanistan (in its ancient form) caused Alexander the most trouble. As far as I was concerned, he went to Arachosia, conquered it and moved on; Aria, did the same, and Bactria, did the same again before moving on to India. But, of course, he was two years back and forth (especially in Sogdia and Bactria) doing these things whereas he managed to pass through Asia Minor and Egypt much more quickly and easily. What I decided needed to do is read the text more carefully so that I got a better appreciation of the matter.

The Ultimate Joke
Well, wasn’t quite, but I hope you liked my April Fool’s post. I know it didn’t catch everyone out but whether it did or didn’t I had good fun writing it. My apologies go to Messers Leto and Stone for putting words into their mouth :-)

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Alexander’s Injuries Part 3

Plutarch’s First List
Last year I wrote two posts about the injuries that Alexander sustained during his campaigns (you can read part 1 here and part 2 here). This week, I read Plutarch’s Of the Fortune or Virtue of Alexander the Great and was interested to see that (in Chapter 2 of the First Oration) not only does he mention Alexander’s injuries but adds to the eight that I knew about already. He lists eleven in all. i., ii, vi, and ix. are the ‘new’ ones. Here they are:

.i. 335 BC Struck on the head by a stone while fighting Illyrians
ii. 335 BC Struck on the neck by an iron mace while fighting the Illyrians
iii. 334 BC ‘… my head was… gashed with a barbarian scimitar’ at the Battle of the Granicus
iv. 333 BC ‘… run through the thigh with a sword’ at the Battle of Issus
v. 332 BC ‘… shot in the ankle with a dart’ during the siege of Gaza
vi. ?* Dislocated shoulder after falling from his horse
vii. ?** Shinbone split by a Maracadartean arrow
viii. 327 BC ‘… shot through the shoulder’ by a Assacanian arrow
ix. ? Wounded in the thigh by the Gandridae
x. 326 BC Shot in the breast by an arrow fired by ‘one of the Mallotes’ (i.e. Mallians)
xi. 325 BC Received a blow to the neck while fighting the Mallians

* Plutarch says this happened ‘not long after’ the Siege of Gaza
** I don’t know who the ‘Maracadartae’ are; I think, however, that Plutarch is describing the injury Alexander received after crossing the Tanais River in 329 BC (Arrian IV. 1 – 3). The translation of Plutarch’s text that I am using dates to 1870 so ‘Maracadartae’ may simply be an old name for a known tribe – as is the case with the Mallotes who appear to be the Mallians, and Assacanians, above, who are the Assacenians.
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For the record, Plutarch misses out a couple of the wounds mentioned in my previous posts (source: Arrian). They are:

i. The blow to the head and neck that Alexander suffered during the Siege of Cyropolis (329 BC)
ii. The arrow wound in the ankle that he received during the Siege of the city of Massaga (327 BC).

Did Physical Perfection Matter to Alexander?
No. A little later on (First Oration, Chapter 9), Plutarch tells us that after being stabbed in the thigh while fighting the Triballians, Philip II was ‘troubled at the deformity of his limping’. Alexander, however, saw the matter quite differently.

Be of good cheer, father, said he, and show yourself in public, that you may be reminded of your bravery at every step.

Alexander’s view is a very noble one. And it did not change when he himself was similarly injured. According to Plutarch, we cannot but believe that Alexander,

… gloried in his own wounds, which every time he beheld them called to his remembrance the conquered nation and the victory, what cities he had taken, what kings had surrendered themselves; never striving to conceal or cover those indelible characters and scars of honor, which he always carried about him as the engraven testimonies of his virtue and fortitude.

Plutarch is giving us his opinion here but for me it chimes perfectly with Alexander’s view of war and glory.
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Plutarch’s Second List
In his Second Oration (Chapter 9) Plutarch repeats his list, adding some details and changing others.

i. 334 BC At the Granicus ‘his helmet was cleft to his very scull (sic)’
ii. 333 BC ‘… run through the thigh with a sword by Darius’ at the Battle of Issus
ii. 332 BC Wounded in the shoulder by a dart at the Siege of Gaza
iii. ?* ‘Shot in the shin’ by the ‘Maragandi’
iv. 329 BC Struck on the neck by a stone in Hyrcania – which nearly blinded him
v. 329 BC Suffered from dysentry after crossing the Tanais River
v. 327 BC Wounded in the heel by the Assaracans (i.e. Assacenians)
vii. 325 BC ‘… wounded with an arrow two cubits in length’ by the Malli (i.e. Mallians). The arrow ‘went in at his breast and came out at his neck’

* As above, I don’t know know who the Maragandi but judging by the injury, Plutarch is describing the incident at the Tanais River in 329 BC
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With all these wounds, no wonder Plutarch berates Fortune when he says,

… if nothing else, behold the body of Alexander wounded by the enemy, mangled, battered, bruised, from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet,

With spears, and swords, and mighty stones.
(Iliad XI. L. 265)

At this point, I am not sure if I am reading about Alexander or Jesus as the language that Plutarch uses is so redolent of that which Christians use to talk about Christ crucified.
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In Chapter 13 of the Second Oration, Plutarch focuses on the siege of the Mallian fort, when Alexander climbed over the inner walls and faced the Indians by himself until Peucestas, Leonatus and Abeas came to his aid (Plutarch states that it was Ptolemy, Limnaeus and Leonnatus ‘and some others’ who climbed the wall after him. Arrian dismisses this, pointing out that Ptolemy states that he was elsewhere at the time).

i. ‘… a battle-axe cleft his helmet and entered his skull…’
ii. ‘… another [Mallian] shot him with an Indian arrow in the breast… the [arrow] head being four fingers broad and five in length…’
iii. ‘… a fellow… came behind [Alexander], and with a great iron pestle gave him such a bang upon the neck as deprived him… both of his senses and his sight…’

I have to say, I am not quite sure what to make of Of the Fortune or Virtue – it is a very adulatory text and a great contrast to the Life of Alexander. The latter is a very sober text; this one reads like Plutarch has necked a few glasses of wine and is now drunk-talking.

Categories: Of The Moment | Tags: | 1 Comment

Alexander: The Ultimate Cut. Jared Leto’s New Rôle

An interesting article that I spotted in today’s Daily Post.

Oliver Stone looks set to court controversy with Alexander: The Ultimate Cut, the fourth version of his biopic based on the life of Alexander the Great.

Alexander: The Ultimate Cut, which is being released on the tenth anniversary of the cinematic release of Alexander, will be 206 minutes long, seven minutes less than the 213 minute Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut (2007).

However, The Ultimate Cut will contain new scenes featuring Darius III, the Great King of Persia. According to sources close to Director Oliver Stone, though, actor Raz Degan, who played Darius in the original version of the film, has not reprised his role for the new scenes.

‘At first the plan was for Raz to play Darius again,’ a source close to Stone said, “But at the last minute he became unavailable due to scheduling conflicts. Fortunately, Jared Leto was able to step in.’

And he did so despite playing Alexander’s best friend, Hephaistion, in the original movie. So, what was Oliver Stone thinking?

According to our source, ‘The reason Oliver went for Jared is Jared’s beard. It makes him look like Raz’s brother. Of course, they aren’t related so to compensate for the lack of similarity, Oliver placed the camera at oblique angles and used darker lighting.’

It is this use of ‘darker lighting’ that threatens to derail Stone’s project. ‘It is true there was a lot of debate about it,’ a source told the Post, ‘Some people felt that using a ‘darker’ light to make it seem like Jared’s skin was a darker colour was just a different version of the old practice of blacking up. A lot of folks were not at all happy about it.

‘But Stone was like, “No, no; it isn’t at all the same. We’re creating our own kind of chiaroscuro effect.” To be honest, I’m still not sure what he meant by that.’ What did Jared think about the lighting? ‘When Oliver told him what he intended to do, Jared just rolled his eyes and said ‘Well, it can’t be any more f—— fake than a Macedonian speaking like an Irishman.’ We all had a laugh at that.’

Below are images of Raz Degan as Darius III and Jared Leto with a beard. Are they similar? Let us know what you think.

Report by April F. Atua (Hollywood Office)’

Raz_Degan

Raz Degan as Darius III in Oliver Stone’s “Alexander” (2004)

Jared Leto

Jared Leto

Categories: Of The Moment | 3 Comments

A Letter to Arrian (25) The Sun Also Sets

a_roman_writerMy dear Arrian,

The seventh book of your account of Alexander’s life begins with an intimation of the future. You record that, according to some authorities, Alexander wanted to,

… make for Sicily and southern Italy to check the Romans, whose reputation, being greatly on the increase, was already causing him concern.

This is the dangerous thing about reading – you start out in one location but can never know where you will end up! Here I am in Pasargadae and Persepolis but now I want to leave my desk and rush to the Roman history section of the library in which I am writing these words, and see what your people were doing during Alexander’s reign that was of such concert to him. Out of respect for Alexander and you, my friend, I shall bravely resist this temptation!
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You quote an Indian sage as telling Alexander that he was ‘human like the rest of us’. Alexander took no offence at this. Indeed, he ‘expressed his approval’ of the sage’s words. How could he do so, though, if he also regarded himself as the son of Ammon-Zeus? The reason I ask this is that I have always imagined that after Siwah, Alexander believed himself to be semi-divine but maybe I got that wrong. It looks like I have another shelf to visit once I have visited the Romans.
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Sometimes in reading your text I feel as if I am swimming in the shallows. This is not because your writing is simple but that the history behind your words is deep. For example, Dandamis tells Alexander that his men ‘get no good from their world-wide wondering over land and sea’. I know that Dandamis is looking at the matter from the point-of-view of his philosophy but I wonder: could he also  have been referencing the deep discontent of the Macedonian soldiery that made Alexander turn back at the Hyphasis River, and which led to the mutiny at Opis? I wish very much that you had said more about Dandamis. I know, I know; you probably didn’t have the information to be able to do so. Ever is this the historians’ curse!
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If Dandamis makes me yearn for a greater historical knowledge, then the death of Calanus brings me right back to the present, and a very important issue in my time: assisted suicide. This is how I would describe Calanus’ death. Too weak to end his own life, he persuaded Alexander build the pyre for him. Should the king have done so? As with proponents of assisted suicide, you you look at the issue from Calanus’ point-of-view, and refer glowingly to the,

… unconquerable resolution of the human spirit in carrying a chosen course of action through to the end.

But what if that ‘unconquerable resolution’ is the ‘fruit’ of an unsound mind or external pressures? Alexander had no wish to see Calanus die. Not everyone, though, is so good towards those in a weakened state.
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In quick succession, we have the Susa Weddings, the clearing of the Macedonian soldiers’ debts, awards ‘for distinguished conduct’ and the Macedonians’ upset at the arrival of the 30,000 oriental soldiers whom Alexander calls – rather dangerously – his Epigoni (inheritors). These events gave me a strong sense of Alexander’s story coming to an end.
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Although I don’t believe that Alexander was assassinated, when I read about the Epigoni and the anger over Peucestas’ and Alexander’s orientalising I have to admit it almost feels like you are laying the groundwork for saying that he was murdered.
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Finally, a question. You say that at Opis, Alexander discharged those Macedonians now unfit for service. Why did he wait till then to do this? This reminds me of how he waited until he had crossed the Bactrian desert before discharging those Macedonians who were too unfit to serve anymore. It’s a small issue but I can’t imagine why he didn’t do this in Bactra and Pasargadae/Persepolis respectively.
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I have gone way over my word limit. Dandamis thought that the Macedonians’ exploring had no end. My letter does, though, and it is here.

Your friend,

φιλέλλην

The above picture is from Ancient History

An index of all the letters can be found here

Categories: Letters to Arrian | Tags: , | Leave a comment

30. 3. 14

Alexander the Epileptic
I knew that Julius Caesar suffered from epilepsy but not that Alexander did. This, though, is the premise of this excellent poem by Charles Bane, Jr. How typical of Alexander that even as he writhes upon the ground he is thinking of war and warlike things. I am being a little unfair, for as you’ll see there is more to the poem – and Alexander – than that. I appreciated the presence of the dolphins, which put me in mind of Herodotus’ story of Arion, the poet’s use of parenthesis as means of defining what Alexander finds important in his account of the seizure, and the final two lines, which very evocatively prove Alexander did not only think about war.

Thank you to World of Alexander the Great for mentioning the poem on Twitter this week.
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Rory Stewart
If you live in the U.K., you may be interested to know that there is a programme at eight o’clock on BBC 2 tonight (i. e. 30th March) in which Rory Stewart discusses Roman Britain and what happened after the Romans left. Today, Stewart leads the ‘sedate’ life of a Member of Parliament for Penrith and the Borders. In 2002, however, he walked across Afghanistan around the same time as America and her allies were invading the country. A year or so later he became a Deputy Governor in Iraq following the invasion of that country. His books The Places In Between and Occupational Hazards give exciting accounts of his walk and tense diplomatic career and I thoroughly recommend them to you. If I recall correctly, Stewart is an admirer of T. E. Lawrence. He certainly has his spirit of adventure.

A Macedonian Yankee 
We love our national stereotypes, and one of my favourites is this idea that everything is done bigger in America. I have never visited the USA but unless American television series are lying to us, their cars are definitely a whole lot bigger than ours. They also have a reputation for serving larger portions of food as well, though I don’t know if this is the case. Anyway, given that Alexander liked to do things bigger than everyone else, I wonder if a case can be made for him being the first American? At any rate, I’m sure he would have approved of America’s cultural unity in diversity.
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Seleucus and Apama
In 324 B.C., Alexander a number of his senior officers married Persian wives at the Susa Weddings. Of those officers, only one – Seleucus - did not put his wife aside after Alexander’s death in 323. To the best of my knowledge, he remained married to Apama, daughter of Spitamenes, until his death in 281. Did Seleucus genuinely love her? Let’s hope so, but we must also accept that she was useful to his political ambitions. Apama came from Sogdiana, which was part of Seleucus’ satrapy and, after 306, his kingdom. The reason I mention this is because I have just come across this brief You Tube video of a tourist’s visit to Apamea (in Syria).

As of today, I’m going to try and make more of an effort to watch You Tube videos on Alexander and his men so if you know any good quality ones do let me know. Feel free not to let me know about those that claim that Ptolemy I Soter is or invented Jesus Christ. Yes, they are out there.

Categories: Of The Moment | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Plutarch’s Women: Seduced Wives, Ada, Olympias & Cleopatra & Stateira II (Chapts. 22, 25, 27 and 29)

For the other posts in this series click here

We ended the last post with Plutarch showing how Alexander demonstrated his moral superiority to the Persians – by avoiding all contact with women. Except, of course, Barsine, the daughter of Memnon; but that was only because Parmenion told him he should have sex with ‘a woman of beauty and noble lineage’. As the meme says, ‘sounds legit’.
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The theme of Alexander the great and sexually pure king continues in chapter 22. He fiercely rebukes an officer named Philoxenus for asking if he would like to buy ‘two exceptionally handsome boys’ being offered for sale by a slave-merchant, and has similarly harsh words for a man named Hagnon who wanted to buy him a young man named Crobylus ‘whose good looks were famous in Corinth’.
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This is not the end of the matter. Plutarch then describes how Alexander dealt with two Macedonian soldiers who had seduced the wives of several Greek mercenaries. He orders the men’s commander, Parmenion, to investigate the matter and, if the alleged adulterers were found guilty, to put them to death, as if they were ‘wild beasts which are born to prey upon mankind’.
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Alexander justifies his order to Parmenion by referring to his own behaviour towards women. Plutarch quotes him as saying,

In my own case it will be found not only that I have never seen nor wished to see Darius’ wife, but that I have not even allowed her beauty to be mentioned in my presence. 

The Alexander that Plutarch gives us here is less a Macedonian king and more a member of the Silver Ring Thing. There’s nothing wrong with being chaste but I do question the historicity of what Plutarch is telling us, especially in regards the Macedonian soldiers. Alexander’s uncompromising attitude towards them just doesn’t ring true. His account, like Curtius’ of Orsines’ fall, is too simple, too straight-forward. It lacks the nuance of reality. I’m not going to say that the story is totally false but I can not help but feel that if Alexander really was the kind of man to be so concerned about his men’s sexual morality we would hear more about it through his life rather than isolated incidents.
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Having said that, if there is any truth to what we have already read, Plutarch’s Alexander does appear to have had a somewhat ambiguous attitude to sex in general. Following on from the above, Plutarch mentions the king’s famous line about sex and sleep reminding him that he is mortal. ‘[B]y this’, Plutarch tells us, Alexander,

… meant that both exhaustion and pleasure proceed from the same weakness of human nature (my emphasis).

So sex is evidence of a weakness? Well. All I can say to that is Alexander is lucky he was a pagan. Had he been a Christian king he would no doubt have been accused of being sexually repressed.
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Chapter 22 ends with an account of how Ada ‘whom [Alexander] honoured with the official title of ‘Mother’ used to treat her ‘son’ in a most motherly fashion – by giving him ‘delicacies and sweetmeats’ to eat. I can’t imagine that Alexander would have given Ada that title had he not met her. For me, then, so much for the Macedonian king not associating with women except for Barsine. For his part, Plutarch uses Ada to show once again how restrained Alexander was. Thus, when Ada offers him the use of her cooks, he declines her offer,

… because his tutor Leonidas had provided him with better cooks… [namely] a night march to prepare him for breakfast and a light breakfast to give him an appetite for supper. ‘This same Leonidas’ [Alexander told Ada,] ‘would often come and open my chests of bedding and clothes, to see whether my mother had not hidden some luxury inside’

I doubt it happened but a part of me does wish that Ada’s response to this letter was to say, ‘Yes, dear, but take the cooks, anyway; you’re looking thin.’.
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We now leave not only Queen Ada but Asia Minor behind and jump forward to chapter 25. After successfully laying siege to Gaza, Alexander,

… sent a great part of the spoils… to Olympias, to his sister Cleopatra and to his friends.

This isn’t the first reference to Alexander doing this – as we saw in chapter 16, he sent (almost all of) the luxury items that he won after the Battle of the Granicus to Olympias. It is nice to see one of his sisters mentioned, though.
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By-the-bye, I can’t help but wonder – is it significant that Alexander did not send any loot back to Antipater? Perhaps Olympias – as the most senior member of the Argead dynasty in Macedon – was simply the correct person to whom to send the loot?
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Olympias is mentioned again in chapter 27 following Alexander’s visit to the Oracle of Ammon at Siwah. Plutarch says that Alexander wrote a letter ‘to his mother’ in which he explained that ‘he [had] received certain secret prophecies which he would confide to her, and her alone, after his return’ to Macedon. It’s interesting that Alexander appears to have intended – at some point – to go back to Macedon. Quite what the secret prophecies could have been though, I can’t imagine. Presumably they related to Zeus-Ammon, somehow, but how?
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In chapter 29, Plutarch describes a letter that Darius III sent to Alexander (written, according to Timothy E. Duff in the Notes, ‘at the time of the siege of Tyre’) in which he offered terms. To end the war against him, Codomannus offered Alexander 10,000 talents in ransom money for Persian prisoners, all territory west of the Euphrates ‘and the hand of one of his daughters in marriage’ Unsurprisingly, Alexander did not accept the offer. Why should he? He had Darius on the run. That aside, which daughter might Darius have been willing to hand over? Well, as we saw in the last post, Alexander eventually married Stateira II in 324 B.C. The supposition is that he chose her over Drypetis because she was the older of the two so maybe she is the one who was being offered now.

Categories: Plutarch's Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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