A Letter to Arrian (16) The Heights and the Depths

roman_writerMy dear Arrian,
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Before aught else, I must mention two things from my last reading session that I did not have time to do before hitting (and going over) my 500 word limit.
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Firstly, while Alexander was encamped on the Oxus River, you report that oil sprang out of the ground. Did you know that you are the first person to mention this valuable substance in Greek literature? So says the man who compiled the notes for your book, and I congratulate you for it! Drink your wine unmixed tonight in your own honour…!
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You add that,

Aristander declared that the spring of oil was a sign of difficulties to come and of eventual victory.

Let me tell you that if we applied the first part of Aristander’s prophecy to the world in general he would have been so right as to make me cry. Many difficulties have – and indeed still – come as a result of the finding of oil. Alas, eventual victory for anyone has yet to appear. It is true that there are many men who have become fabulously wealthy as a result of petroleum. But unless they have the wisdom or ability to diversify their wealth it will only last as long as the oil does.
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Secondly, you note that Craterus defeated the Massagetae. In doing so, we could say that he proved himself to be a better general than Cyrus the Great who died at the Massagetae’s hands. I wonder if he dwelt upon this as the Massagetae fled from the battle field.
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Moving on, the Macedonian ascent of the Sogdian Rock is rightly celebrated but your description of the Rock of Chorienes makes me think that it would have provided the Macedonians with a much greater challenge had Chorienes himself not given way and submitted. You state that the Rock was

12,000 feet high… about seven miles in circumference… [and] sheer on every side

True, there was one way up it, but as you say it was a difficult path, and the fortress at the top was surrounded by a deep ravine. Naturally, then, Alexander decided to attack it anyway. I don’t blame Chorienes for surrendering; a part of me does wish, however, that Alexander had been able to complete his work and win the fort the hard way so that he could have won more glory.
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We now come to a slightly embarrassing matter. You state that Alexander left Amyntas in Bactria with 10,000 men and 3,500 cavalry before crossing the Indian Caucasus*. When I read this, I thought to myself, ‘Hold on, hasn’t he crossed it already?’. I got very confused with myself. I was right, though, he had. But whereas before he gone north to Bactria and Sogdia before; now, Alexander went east towards Taxila and, ultimately, the Hyphasis River. It took me a little time to work all this out – and I only did so thanks to helpful maps. I am sorry for not being more attentive to your text!
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A couple of quick points to end on. You state that Alexander made for the territory of the Aspasians, Guraeans and Assacenians, and that after crossing the Choes River, he was injured in fighting against the natives. Alexander received numerous injuries during his expedition, but it is only after reading this that I got to thinking ‘how was he injured? Where did it happen?’. I do not have the space to talk about this here, but for anyone reading this, I will elsewhere. Finally, you also state that the Macedonians ‘butchered’ prisoners in revenge for Alexander’s injury. This reminded me uncomfortably of the way a very evil army in my age dealt with their enemies when attacked – even without bullets – by civilians they had subjugated. I can understand the Macedonians’ anguish but it was not their finest moment.
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Your friend,
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φιλέλλην

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

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