Plutarch’s Women: Seduced Wives, Ada, Olympias & Cleopatra & Stateira II (Chapts. 22, 25, 27 and 29)

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We ended the last post with Plutarch showing how Alexander demonstrated his moral superiority to the Persians – by avoiding all contact with women. Except, of course, Barsine, the wife of Memnon; but that was only because Parmenion told him he should have sex with ‘a woman of beauty and noble lineage’. As the meme says, ‘sounds legit’.
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The theme of Alexander the great and sexually pure king continues in chapter 22. He fiercely rebukes an officer named Philoxenus for asking if he would like to buy ‘two exceptionally handsome boys’ being offered for sale by a slave-merchant, and has similarly harsh words for a man named Hagnon who wanted to buy him a young man named Crobylus ‘whose good looks were famous in Corinth’.
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This is not the end of the matter. Plutarch then describes how Alexander dealt with two Macedonian soldiers who had seduced the wives of several Greek mercenaries. He orders the men’s commander, Parmenion, to investigate the matter and, if the alleged adulterers were found guilty, to put them to death, as if they were ‘wild beasts which are born to prey upon mankind’.
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Alexander justifies his order to Parmenion by referring to his own behaviour towards women. Plutarch quotes him as saying,

In my own case it will be found not only that I have never seen nor wished to see Darius’ wife, but that I have not even allowed her beauty to be mentioned in my presence. 

The Alexander that Plutarch gives us here is less a Macedonian king and more a member of the Silver Ring Thing. There’s nothing wrong with being chaste but I do question the historicity of what Plutarch is telling us, especially in regards the Macedonian soldiers. Alexander’s uncompromising attitude towards them just doesn’t ring true. His account, like Curtius’ of Orsines’ fall, is too simple, too straight-forward. It lacks the nuance of reality. I’m not going to say that the story is totally false but I can not help but feel that if Alexander really was the kind of man to be so concerned about his men’s sexual morality we would hear more about it through his life rather than isolated incidents.
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Having said that, if there is any truth to what we have already read, Plutarch’s Alexander does appear to have had a somewhat ambiguous attitude to sex in general. Following on from the above, Plutarch mentions the king’s famous line about sex and sleep reminding him that he is mortal. ‘[B]y this’, Plutarch tells us, Alexander,

… meant that both exhaustion and pleasure proceed from the same weakness of human nature (my emphasis).

So sex is evidence of a weakness? Well. All I can say to that is Alexander is lucky he was a pagan. Had he been a Christian king he would no doubt have been accused of being sexually repressed.
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Chapter 22 ends with an account of how Ada ‘whom [Alexander] honoured with the official title of ‘Mother’ used to treat her ‘son’ in a most motherly fashion – by giving him ‘delicacies and sweetmeats’ to eat. I can’t imagine that Alexander would have given Ada that title had he not met her. For me, then, so much for the Macedonian king not associating with women except for Barsine. For his part, Plutarch uses Ada to show once again how restrained Alexander was. Thus, when Ada offers him the use of her cooks, he declines her offer,

… because his tutor Leonidas had provided him with better cooks… [namely] a night march to prepare him for breakfast and a light breakfast to give him an appetite for supper. ‘This same Leonidas’ [Alexander told Ada,] ‘would often come and open my chests of bedding and clothes, to see whether my mother had not hidden some luxury inside’

I doubt it happened but a part of me does wish that Ada’s response to this letter was to say, ‘Yes, dear, but take the cooks, anyway; you’re looking thin.’.
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We now leave not only Queen Ada but Asia Minor behind and jump forward to chapter 25. After successfully laying siege to Gaza, Alexander,

… sent a great part of the spoils… to Olympias, to his sister Cleopatra and to his friends.

This isn’t the first reference to Alexander doing this – as we saw in chapter 16, he sent (almost all of) the luxury items that he won after the Battle of the Granicus to Olympias. It is nice to see one of his sisters mentioned, though.
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By-the-bye, I can’t help but wonder – is it significant that Alexander did not send any loot back to Antipater? Perhaps Olympias – as the most senior member of the Argead dynasty in Macedon – was simply the correct person to whom to send the loot?
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Olympias is mentioned again in chapter 27 following Alexander’s visit to the Oracle of Ammon at Siwah. Plutarch says that Alexander wrote a letter ‘to his mother’ in which he explained that ‘he [had] received certain secret prophecies which he would confide to her, and her alone, after his return’ to Macedon. It’s interesting that Alexander appears to have intended – at some point – to go back to Macedon. Quite what the secret prophecies could have been though, I can’t imagine. Presumably they related to Zeus-Ammon, somehow, but how?
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In chapter 29, Plutarch describes a letter that Darius III sent to Alexander (written, according to Timothy E. Duff in the Notes, ‘at the time of the siege of Tyre’) in which he offered terms. To end the war against him, Codomannus offered Alexander 10,000 talents in ransom money for Persian prisoners, all territory west of the Euphrates ‘and the hand of one of his daughters in marriage’ Unsurprisingly, Alexander did not accept the offer. Why should he? He had Darius on the run. That aside, which daughter might Darius have been willing to hand over? Well, as we saw in the last post, Alexander eventually married Stateira II in 324 B.C. The supposition is that he chose her over Drypetis because she was the older of the two so maybe she is the one who was being offered now.

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One thought on “Plutarch’s Women: Seduced Wives, Ada, Olympias & Cleopatra & Stateira II (Chapts. 22, 25, 27 and 29)

  1. delos13

    This phrase, that Alexander supposedly said, “Sleep and sex reminds me of being mortal” always drives me mad. Seriously? I mean, all Greek Mythology is a blaring proof that Olympians were not interested in sex.

    Like

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