A Letter to Arrian (1) Disbelief and Wonder

roman_writerMy Dear Arrian,
I hope you will forgive the lateness of this letter. 1900 years is rather a long time to wait for a piece of correspondence but as I have not been alive for most of that time (just like you, as it goes), I hope I can be forgiven.
I have started reading your Campaigns of Alexander again and have much to say to you about your work. To encourage myself to write regularly, I am reading the book in thirty minute blocs and limiting my letters to 500 words or less (not including quotations!).
To begin; I applaud your decision to choose Ptolemy and Aristobulos as your principle sources*. However, in common, I suspect, with many of your readers, I must ask if you really believed that Ptolemy would not lie because he was a king, and because Alexander was dead when they wrote. Was there ever a king who was not prepared to bend the truth to his will if need be? Especially a monarch who once stooped so low as to steal Alexander’s body. You may say Ptolemy did that out of devotion. Possibly. But he could not have been unaware of the propaganda value of his theft. I think he knew what he was doing.
As for Ptolemy and Aristobulos not needing to lie because Alexander was dead. My friend, you are too, too generous towards the age of the Successors.
I regret that you move so quickly from Alexander’s accession** to his march into Thrace the following Spring. It is a funny thing that whereas I am impatient of the politicians of my age, I find ancient Greek politics fascinating to read about!
If I was disappointed with the quick pace of Alexander’s post-accession period, it was soon assuaged by the remarkable event that happened at Mount Haemus. I am trying hard to imagine convincing soldiers to let carts run over their bodies but I don’t think I could do it. You say that the carts ran over their interlocking shields, but they would not have been large enough to cover their legs. I wonder that there were no injuries at all.
Spectacular scenes follow – the thwarted attempt to invade the island, the crossing of the Danube on hay stuffed tents, and especially the silent manœuvres outside Pelium, but two other incidents impressed me more.
Firstly, Alexander’s decision to have his infantrymen flatten the grain with their spears after the Danube crossing. It is a simple, unremarkable, action. But the swish of the spears resounds even if quietly in my head for it represents the calm before a dreadful storm for the Getae.
Secondly, the following,

Alexander asked the Celtic envoys what they were most afraid of in this world, hoping that the power of his own name had got as far as their country, or even further, and that they would answer, ‘You, my lord.’ However, he was disappointed; for the Celts, who lived a long way off in country not easy to penetrate, and could see that Alexander’s expedition was directed elsewhere, replied that their worst fear was that the sky might fall on their heads. None the less, he concluded an alliance of friendship with them and sent them home, merely remarking under his breath that the Celts thought too much of themselves.

This is a truly delicious piece of gossip! It must have come from Ptolemy via a senior officer. I wish I could shake their hands for, if true, this little titbit humanises Alexander wonderfully!
Your friend,
* On the grounds that both men were with Alexander throughout his campaign in the east and, in Ptolemy’s case, was a close friend of the king
**336 BC

The above picture is from Ancient History
An index of all the letters can be found here

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