A Letter to Arrian (25) The Sun Also Sets

a_roman_writerMy dear Arrian,

The seventh book of your account of Alexander’s life begins with an intimation of the future. You record that, according to some authorities, Alexander wanted to,

… make for Sicily and southern Italy to check the Romans, whose reputation, being greatly on the increase, was already causing him concern.

This is the dangerous thing about reading – you start out in one location but can never know where you will end up! Here I am in Pasargadae and Persepolis but now I want to leave my desk and rush to the Roman history section of the library in which I am writing these words, and see what your people were doing during Alexander’s reign that was of such concert to him. Out of respect for Alexander and you, my friend, I shall bravely resist this temptation!
You quote an Indian sage as telling Alexander that he was ‘human like the rest of us’. Alexander took no offence at this. Indeed, he ‘expressed his approval’ of the sage’s words. How could he do so, though, if he also regarded himself as the son of Ammon-Zeus? The reason I ask this is that I have always imagined that after Siwah, Alexander believed himself to be semi-divine but maybe I got that wrong. It looks like I have another shelf to visit once I have visited the Romans.
Sometimes in reading your text I feel as if I am swimming in the shallows. This is not because your writing is simple but that the history behind your words is deep. For example, Dandamis tells Alexander that his men ‘get no good from their world-wide wondering over land and sea’. I know that Dandamis is looking at the matter from the point-of-view of his philosophy but I wonder: could he also  have been referencing the deep discontent of the Macedonian soldiery that made Alexander turn back at the Hyphasis River, and which led to the mutiny at Opis? I wish very much that you had said more about Dandamis. I know, I know; you probably didn’t have the information to be able to do so. Ever is this the historians’ curse!
If Dandamis makes me yearn for a greater historical knowledge, then the death of Calanus brings me right back to the present, and a very important issue in my time: assisted suicide. This is how I would describe Calanus’ death. Too weak to end his own life, he persuaded Alexander build the pyre for him. Should the king have done so? As with proponents of assisted suicide, you you look at the issue from Calanus’ point-of-view, and refer glowingly to the,

… unconquerable resolution of the human spirit in carrying a chosen course of action through to the end.

But what if that ‘unconquerable resolution’ is the ‘fruit’ of an unsound mind or external pressures? Alexander had no wish to see Calanus die. Not everyone, though, is so good towards those in a weakened state.
In quick succession, we have the Susa Weddings, the clearing of the Macedonian soldiers’ debts, awards ‘for distinguished conduct’ and the Macedonians’ upset at the arrival of the 30,000 oriental soldiers whom Alexander calls – rather dangerously – his Epigoni (inheritors). These events gave me a strong sense of Alexander’s story coming to an end.
Although I don’t believe that Alexander was assassinated, when I read about the Epigoni and the anger over Peucestas’ and Alexander’s orientalising I have to admit it almost feels like you are laying the groundwork for saying that he was murdered.
Finally, a question. You say that at Opis, Alexander discharged those Macedonians now unfit for service. Why did he wait till then to do this? This reminds me of how he waited until he had crossed the Bactrian desert before discharging those Macedonians who were too unfit to serve anymore. It’s a small issue but I can’t imagine why he didn’t do this in Bactra and Pasargadae/Persepolis respectively.
I have gone way over my word limit. Dandamis thought that the Macedonians’ exploring had no end. My letter does, though, and it is here.

Your friend,


The above picture is from Ancient History

An index of all the letters can be found here

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