A Letter to Arrian (26) The Loss of Friends

a_roman_writerMy dear Arrian,

It is ironic that after turning against Alexander because of his orientalising, the Macedonian soldiers came back to him upon hearing about the promotion of Persian officers, and creation of Persian units. It feels – even if not reads – like Alexander called their bluff on how his empire should be run, and won.
And – surprise, surprise – he kept on winning, for after the reconciliation banquet the Macedonians who were no longer fit for service were sent home just as Alexander had intended should happen in the first place-!
A confession: I felt no joy in reading about Alexander’s success at Opis. How could I? It was achieved completely at the expense of his men’s concerns and fears. That is not kingly behaviour.
All in all, reading these pages was  a very difficult experience. There are no acts of heroism in them, no acts of derring-do; Achilles is wholly absent. In his place, we have only the unwise acts of a politician-king, the exposure of deep divisions and wounds within the Macedonian state, and death.
And not just the death of ‘minor’ figures but, as it were, of Alexander himself: Hephaestion. What a blow that was. Two months later, Alexander went on campaign against the Cossaeans. It should have helped. It should have restored the old Alexander to us but I must say that it – the campaign – felt a bit pathetic.
The reason for this is because I suspect that Alexander launched his attack against the Cosseans as much to take his mind off Hephaestion rather than because the Cossaeans were a worthwhile enemy. Well, alright, but I wish he could have found a different way to work through his grief than bloodshed. It just doesn’t seem fitting to Hephaestion’s memory, somehow.
We know very little about Amyntoros, but I think he was a cultured man. He should have been honoured through the arts not with the edge of a sword.
In my last letter I said that it felt like you were setting Alexander’s story up to reveal that he was murdered. For all the falsity of the aforementioned ‘reconciliation banquet’ I must admit I did not get the same feeling as I read these pages.
The Babylonian priests’ warning reminded us, however, that Alexander’s end was indeed close. I must say I really dislike the inclusion of these prophecies. If they are historical, nothing can be done about them, but are they? They really do seem much too neat, much too certain to be true.
In closing, I would like to go back to the discharged Macedonians. Alexander appointed an unwell Craterus to take them home. Nine months after leaving Opis (?), he had only gone as far as Cilicia. Why was he marching so slowly?
Perhaps ill health slowed him down? I don’t think Craterus could have been that unwell, though; he was not going home into retirement but had orders to relieve Antipater as Deputy Hegemon of the Corinthian League. Did he know something was about to happen to Alexander and was holding onto his ready made army? I do wonder.
Of course, we’ll never know. Moving on, I look forward to reading your thoughts on Alexander’s death, which I will cover in my next – and, dear friend, last! – letter. Your words will not be easy to read but only by staring down death can we make sense of life.

Your friend,


The above picture is from Ancient History

An index of all the letters can be found here

Categories: Letters to Arrian | Tags: , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “A Letter to Arrian (26) The Loss of Friends

  1. As little as we know about Hephaistion, somehow I never doubted that his love and dedication to Alexander was very real. Unfortunately, sometimes I have doubt whether the same can be said about Alexander. Did he really love Hephaistion or simply needed him as Partoclus? Because, obviously, without Patroclus, Achilles is not complete.

    Why I thought of saying it now? This is because of your mentioning of Cosseans. We can only guess how Hephaistion would have liked to be grieved, but the Cosseans’ slaughter was just a replica of Achilles actions upon Patroclus’ death, like everything else he did in respect to Hephaistion’s death. The only “new” element Alexander introduced into grieving for his beloved was sending envoys to Siwah asking for a divine status for Hephaistion. Sorry for being overly harsh towards the king. I know the thought sounds quite sacrilegious, but sometimes I have this thoroughly disturbing notion that behind Hephaistion’s death the shadow of Alexander can be seen. Is it possible that Alexander’s paranoia of suspicion that everybody wanted to betray him extended to Hephaistion as well towards the end of their (H&A) lives? Is it possible that Alexander decided to get rid of his best friend before his best friend get rid of him?

    And speaking about Krateros – you are not the first one who asked himself that question, why the general took his sweet time of marching home and never actually accomplished this task? Weren’t he supposed to be itching to become the Regent of Macedon? Questions, questions….. I wonder what questions Arrian himself had in his mind and never dared to put them to paper? Because, who knew how those questions could have been interpreted in his own lifetime…..


    • Delos,

      Re: Alexander and Hephaestion. You raise an interesting point. Was Alexander simply using Hephaestion to prove how like Achilles he was? Before reading Plutarch for his women I would have instinctively said no, but reading that, I have begun to wonder ‘did Alexander really respect women because women were worth respecting or was it just to feed his ego?’.

      As it is, I would still be inclined to give Alexander the benefit of the doubt on the grounds that none of the sources (to the best of my knowledge) says anything other than that they were very close friends. On this point, if Alexander had been using Hephaestion for his own ends, I don’t think he would have grieved like he did for him.

      The thought that Alexander might have assassinated Hephaestion is a top drawer conspiracy theory. For want of evidence, though, I wouldn’t go with it. It is certainly quite a thought, though. At this point, I don’t think I have gone deep enough into Alexander’s psyche to read between the lines and come to that conclusion.

      I must thank both you and Silasaila below for drawing these connections between Alexander’s actions as represented by Arrian and the Iliad. Although I have read the latter it was a long time ago and I would have missed them otherwise.

      Was Craterus itching to become regent? I didn’t know that – are you alluding to something there or is it just a thought?

      What you say about Arrian is very intriguing. Please say more!



  2. I totally disagree with you about these words you wrote :”There are no acts of heroism in [these pages], no acts of derring-do. Achilles is wholly absent”. What? To leap down from the dais into the crowd and to order the arrest of the ringleaders isn’t an act of derring-do? He could end killed as many Roman emperors after him ended killed in the same circumstances! And is Achilles truly absent? Remember the great scene of the Reconciliation between Achilles and Agamemnon (Iliad, book 19) and the other Greeks (book 23): Alexander too staged a banquet that was the triumph of his Asian policy. Macedonians and Asians were to share as equals in the administration of the Kingdom of Asia. This arrangement would last, if only Alexander would live ten years more!


    • Silasaila,

      For me, an act of derring-do is an act of heroism; it’s a positive thing. Alexander’s leap off the rostrum was not, for me, a heroic/positive act. It was an ugly confrontation between king and subjects in a dispute that should not have happened in the first place. If Alexander had been killed it would have been a messy end for him rather than a heroic one. What would have been better is if he had responded positively to his men’s concerns rather than round up the ringleaders.

      That’s a good point about Achilles and the banquet, though. I agree with that.



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