Plutarch’s First List
Last year I wrote two posts about the injuries that Alexander sustained during his campaigns (you can read part 1 here and part 2 here). This week, I read Plutarch’s Of the Fortune or Virtue of Alexander the Great and was interested to see that (in Chapter 2 of the First Oration) not only does he mention Alexander’s injuries but adds to the eight that I knew about already. He lists eleven in all. i., ii, vi, and ix. are the ‘new’ ones. Here they are:
.i. 335 BC Struck on the head by a stone while fighting Illyrians
ii. 335 BC Struck on the neck by an iron mace while fighting the Illyrians
iii. 334 BC ‘… my head was… gashed with a barbarian scimitar’ at the Battle of the Granicus
iv. 333 BC ‘… run through the thigh with a sword’ at the Battle of Issus
v. 332 BC ‘… shot in the ankle with a dart’ during the siege of Gaza
vi. ?* Dislocated shoulder after falling from his horse
vii. ?** Shinbone split by a Maracadartean arrow
viii. 327 BC ‘… shot through the shoulder’ by a Assacanian arrow
ix. ? Wounded in the thigh by the Gandridae
x. 326 BC Shot in the breast by an arrow fired by ‘one of the Mallotes’ (i.e. Mallians)
xi. 325 BC Received a blow to the neck while fighting the Mallians
* Plutarch says this happened ‘not long after’ the Siege of Gaza
** I don’t know who the ‘Maracadartae’ are; I think, however, that Plutarch is describing the injury Alexander received after crossing the Tanais River in 329 BC (Arrian IV. 1 – 3). The translation of Plutarch’s text that I am using dates to 1870 so ‘Maracadartae’ may simply be an old name for a known tribe – as is the case with the Mallotes who appear to be the Mallians, and Assacanians, above, who are the Assacenians.
For the record, Plutarch misses out a couple of the wounds mentioned in my previous posts (source: Arrian). They are:
i. The blow to the head and neck that Alexander suffered during the Siege of Cyropolis (329 BC)
ii. The arrow wound in the ankle that he received during the Siege of the city of Massaga (327 BC).
Did Physical Perfection Matter to Alexander?
No. A little later on (First Oration, Chapter 9), Plutarch tells us that after being stabbed in the thigh while fighting the Triballians, Philip II was ‘troubled at the deformity of his limping’. Alexander, however, saw the matter quite differently.
Be of good cheer, father, said he, and show yourself in public, that you may be reminded of your bravery at every step.
Alexander’s view is a very noble one. And it did not change when he himself was similarly injured. According to Plutarch, we cannot but believe that Alexander,
… gloried in his own wounds, which every time he beheld them called to his remembrance the conquered nation and the victory, what cities he had taken, what kings had surrendered themselves; never striving to conceal or cover those indelible characters and scars of honor, which he always carried about him as the engraven testimonies of his virtue and fortitude.
Plutarch is giving us his opinion here but for me it chimes perfectly with Alexander’s view of war and glory.
Plutarch’s Second List
In his Second Oration (Chapter 9) Plutarch repeats his list, adding some details and changing others.
i. 334 BC At the Granicus ‘his helmet was cleft to his very scull (sic)’
ii. 333 BC ‘… run through the thigh with a sword by Darius’ at the Battle of Issus
ii. 332 BC Wounded in the shoulder by a dart at the Siege of Gaza
iii. ?* ‘Shot in the shin’ by the ‘Maragandi’
iv. 329 BC Struck on the neck by a stone in Hyrcania – which nearly blinded him
v. 329 BC Suffered from dysentry after crossing the Tanais River
v. 327 BC Wounded in the heel by the Assaracans (i.e. Assacenians)
vii. 325 BC ‘… wounded with an arrow two cubits in length’ by the Malli (i.e. Mallians). The arrow ‘went in at his breast and came out at his neck’
* As above, I don’t know know who the Maragandi but judging by the injury, Plutarch is describing the incident at the Tanais River in 329 BC
With all these wounds, no wonder Plutarch berates Fortune when he says,
… if nothing else, behold the body of Alexander wounded by the enemy, mangled, battered, bruised, from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet,
With spears, and swords, and mighty stones.
(Iliad XI. L. 265)
At this point, I am not sure if I am reading about Alexander or Jesus as the language that Plutarch uses is so redolent of that which Christians use to talk about Christ crucified.
In Chapter 13 of the Second Oration, Plutarch focuses on the siege of the Mallian fort, when Alexander climbed over the inner walls and faced the Indians by himself until Peucestas, Leonatus and Abeas came to his aid (Plutarch states that it was Ptolemy, Limnaeus and Leonnatus ‘and some others’ who climbed the wall after him. Arrian dismisses this, pointing out that Ptolemy states that he was elsewhere at the time).
i. ‘… a battle-axe cleft his helmet and entered his skull…’
ii. ‘… another [Mallian] shot him with an Indian arrow in the breast… the [arrow] head being four fingers broad and five in length…’
iii. ‘… a fellow… came behind [Alexander], and with a great iron pestle gave him such a bang upon the neck as deprived him… both of his senses and his sight…’
I have to say, I am not quite sure what to make of Of the Fortune or Virtue – it is a very adulatory text and a great contrast to the Life of Alexander. The latter is a very sober text; this one reads like Plutarch has necked a few glasses of wine and is now drunk-talking.