A Letter to Arrian (3) Homer and the king

roman_writerMy dear Arrian,
I very much hope that you were exaggerating even just a little when you say in your book that Alexander is less well known in your time than people such as Hiero, Gelo or Thero. However, I believe it was ever thus: those whom we ought to remember best are kept at the back of our mind, and those who are no more worth remembering than a dull day at work are given pride-of-place at the front.
Why is this?
Is it because those whom we remember have their own Homer to record their deeds? Not in my age. If you think your time has it tough remembering nonentities, you must be thankful that you did not live to see the cult of celebrity of mine. At least Xenophon did something. Many men and women in my age become famous for doing no more than being who they are.
I have started this letter on a critical note. Let me lift both our spirits by commending you for the importance with which you regard your book. You say that it is,

… more precious than country and kin and pubic advancement – indeed, for me it is these things…

From one writer to another, I applaud your frankness and devotion. You may laugh my words off but only because you know as well as I the truth about what it means to be a writer; that our words come from deep within – not just from our thoughts, but our very spirits.


There was a profound hush as both armies stood for a while motionless on the brink of the river, as if in awe of what was to come.

The fateful silence of this moment took me right back to the Macedonian spears as they swished back and forth on the far side of the Danube. In different ways, nothing is happening in either scene, and yet everything is. Men are breathing deeply and getting to die. They are getting ready to be cowards or heroes. To bring death or save lives. What an intense moment that nothing time is!
You relate how during the Battle of the Granicus River, Alexander ‘butchered’ the Greek mercenaries, and – after he had won the battle – enslaved the surviving mercenaries. But you also record how he treated the dead mercenaries – and Persian dead – with respect, as well as grant special favours to the families of his own fallen. This is why, in a sense, Alexander doesn’t need Homer. He was such a complex person that his life was poem enough; having someone sing of or chant it would only have obscured his dichotomous personality, which made him capable of such opposite actions. I admit, I miss Homer, but I am grateful that God has given us the second Iliad despite this.
Your friend,

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

Categories: Letters to Arrian | Tags: , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “A Letter to Arrian (3) Homer and the king

  1. I like your comment on “celebrities of the moment”…. 🙂 World didn’t change much since Arrian’s time. Not sure if it became worse in that respect, we just have the ability to know more (due to technology).


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