A Letter to Arrian (7) Of Kings and Men

roman_writerMy dear Arrian,
You state that 100,000 Persians were killed at the Battle of Issus. Can this figure possibly be true? I don’t see why not, although the fact that only 450 Macedonians are said to have died perhaps gives the game away. The reason why I do not dismiss the high figure out of hand is that 97 years before I write this letter to you, a battle took place in the country you know as Gaul, which saw over million men slaughtered. I understand, though, that fewer people lived in those days and that Ptolemy had good reason to exaggerate his casualty figures.
The image of the Macedonians crossing the ravine ‘on the bodies of the Persian dead’ is both evocative and awful to the imagination. I am very grateful, therefore, that we soon come to one of the sweetest moment’s in Alexander’s life: his identification of himself with Hepheastion when Sisygambis mistakes the two of them. You acknowledge that this scene may not have happened. I hope it did, or that it is at least based on an true understanding of what Alexander would have done in such a moment, for it reveals him to be a person of deep love and nobility.
The translator of your book has doubts as to whether Darius’ letter to Alexander is authentic. It certainly has a case to answer. I hope it isn’t, though, because the Great King’s expression of willingness to be Alexander’s friend and ally is rather embarrassing given that he has just lost a major battle to him. He is not at all in a position to be making those kind of requests.
In his response, Alexander refers to God rather than the gods. He did not believe in one god, though, and neither did you; yet, why would the translator of your book refer to one if you had referred to many?
You pass over Alexander’s visit to Sidon quickly, but I cannot without commenting on what happened there, for Alexander once more showed how he greatly esteemed Hephaestion by inviting him to nominate whoever he wanted for the kingship. He chose a man named Abdalonymus, a prince by birth but one who had fallen into poverty. So much about this scene is fantastic but yet so – I don’t know – authentically Alexander-like! Perhaps my only surprise should be that he doesn’t act like this more often. I must say that Alexander’s conversation with the new king reminds me very much of his meeting with Diogenes. Alexander had Abdalonymus brought before him, and,

… after gazing at him for a long time [Alexander] said: “Your bearing does not belie the report of your origin, but I am glad to know of the patience with which you have endured privation.” Then the new king replied: “I only hope that I may be able to endure sovereignty with the same spirit! these hands have been able to satisfy my desires; having nothing, I have lacked nothing.”
(Curtius 4. III. 25 – 26 Heinemann 1946)

Your friend,

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

Categories: Letters to Arrian | Tags: , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “A Letter to Arrian (7) Of Kings and Men

  1. Sheri

    I love this series, and the very idea! I’ve only read parts and sections of Arrian, but I hope to read him more fully sometime soon.

    Regarding the translation of “God” versus “Gods”, it could be the translator being weird. That said, the Greeks did sometimes refer to the gods in a singular term, “Theos” and not “Theoi”. One of my professors just said to consider it a reference to Zeus. So that is a possibility, although I think so many translations just Christianize ancient texts. It still annoys me to read of “sin” in Euripides or Sophocles…


  2. Sheri,

    Thank you for that comment regarding ‘God’ vs ‘Gods’. It’s interesting to hear that the ancient Greeks did sometimes use the singular, and I wonder why. However, I shall take your professor’s words to heart; thank you to them. I share your reservation regarding the ‘christianisation’ of ancient texts if for no other reason that the words are so closely allied to Christian thought/theology they can be easily misunderstood.



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