Letter to Arrian (18) Other Gods and Wine

roman_writerMy dear Arrian,
You begin Book Five with this quotation,

… one should not inquire too closely where ancient legends about the gods are concerned; many things which reason rejects acquire some colour of probability once you bring a god into the story.

My dear, cynical friend! How many things that were once regarded as unreasonable, nay, improbable, turned out later to be true? Rather than reject a legend because of the appearance of a god, might you at the very least ask what the god’s appearance means? Even if the god is not true, there may be truth in its appearance.

The leaders of Nysa acted most cleverly when Alexander approached their city. Rather than make war, or simply plead, for their survival, its lord, Acuphis, asked him to leave the city alone for the sake of its founder – Dionysus. I think they could only have chosen a better god if they had picked Zeus-Ammon himself.
It is interesting to note why Alexander agreed to Acuphis’ request. Firstly, out of piety. But secondly, because,

… he felt… that his Macedonian troops would consent to share his hardships a little longer, if they knew they were in competition with Dionysus.

That is to say, in competition to go further than the god. This consideration could not have happened in a vacuum. Alexander must have heard something to the effect that (some of) his men were now getting very weary. In that light, his decision represents something of a gamble.
Moving on, Alexander asked Acuphis to send him 300 cavalry and 100 infantry from the governing class. In response, the newly appointed governor of Nysa asked,

‘But how, my lord, do you suppose that a city can lose a hundred good men and still be well governed?’

Acuphis managed to persuade Alexander to accept – along with the 300 cavalry – 200 inferior infantry. This reminded me of a text you may or may not be familiar with – the first book of the Jewish scriptures, which we call ‘Genesis’. There* Abraham persuades his god not to destroy Sodom or Gomorrah for the sake of 50, 45, 40, 30, 20m then finally, 10 people. If ten righteous people can be found in Sodom he will let the city live. Now, I know that Acuphis’ words are not directly analogous to Abraham’s but I do think that they echo his and confirm what Genesis implicitly teaches about how to speak to those above one in authority – cunningly. I once saw a ‘management’ book based on Alexander’s leadership; maybe there should be one on how to speak based on Abraham and Acuphis!
Further to the above, I note that not only did Alexander agree not to take the hundred expert soldiers but also declined to take the inferior ones. Here is a man who knows that it is not numbers which win battles but excellence.
Now, I leave Alexander and his men in Mount Merus, making crowns of ivy, drinking, ‘making merry’ and shouting ‘Euoi, Euoi, [having] lost their wits in the true Bacchic frenzy’. That must have been a happy day!
Your friend,

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

*Genesis 18: 20-32

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

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One thought on “Letter to Arrian (18) Other Gods and Wine

  1. This is mentioned in The Persian Boy. It’s not only a love story.


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