A Letter to Arrian (15) Flawed Men of Tongue, Deed and Power

roman_writerMy dear Arrian,
It seems to me that Callisthenes was not only a tactless man but an extremely reckless one as well. It is bad enough that he was so proud as to believe that Alexander would be made divine through his account of the expedition but for him to say that Harmodius and Aristogeiton were the people most honoured by the Athenians on account of their tyrannicide and ending of ‘irresponsible government’ was just foolish. Did Callisthenes not realise or simply not care that Alexander might feel that he was having a jab at him and take offence?
That aside, you record him making a very persuasive argument against the practice of proskynesis. I note that you have Callisthenes say that the erection of statues is typical of the worship of gods rather than the honouring of men. Presumably he did not approve of the erection of statues to Harmodius and Aristogeiton?
Whatever his view of the statues, Callisthenes was clearly a lover of tradition. This brings me neatly onto another one – the Great King’s kiss which, the man who compiled the notes to your book says, was ‘customarily’ made upon the lips. In my day, only lovers kiss each other in this fashion. Our monarch would never do this. She is a very aloof figure, although still – in her own way – much more accessible than the Great King ever was. Who would have thought that there are different ways to be aloof and accessible!
The reference to the Syrian woman with the gift of second sight is such an intriguing one. I wish you had said more about her. Perhaps there was no more to say? Never mind; although she appears but briefly, we learn much about Alexander’s religiosity, superstition and trust through her. There must be more to this story than you are saying or know for I still can’t believe he gave her free admittance to his bed chamber. Such a security risk!
Before moving on, I must say that I liked the fact that at first Alexander and his friends used to laugh at the woman. Not because I dislike her but because it is a little detail that would never be included were this story not true.
To Hermolaus. Alexander certainly treated him very badly when he had him whipped and deprived of his horse. And for what? Killing the boar before Alexander could! I suppose the fact that Hermolaus decided on the strength of the incident to murder Alexander shows how seriously the Macedonians took their dignity. To be fair, it was probably just the straw that broke the camel’s back (I am sorry I do not know the Roman equivalent of this saying).
During his trial, Hermolaus attempted to justify his actions by condemning Alexander’s excesses as king. His list of reasons is a check list for anyone who thinks Alexander was a failure, and a challenge to those who say he really was great. Where do we stand? Where do I stand? Of course, the whole Alexander has to be considered. He may indeed have committed crimes but he also did many good things. Which weigh heavier in the scales? That is the real question.
Your friend,

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

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