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Welcome back Plutarch’s Women. We begin this post at the start of Chapter 30. There, Plutarch records some sad news – the death of Stateira I, Darius III’s wife. Stateira’s death is all the more tragic because she died in child birth (although, see below). What would have become of the child had he or she lived? I suspect the eventual fate of Alexander IV, and indeed the baby’s siblings, answers that question. RIP.
Stateira I died in September 331. Alexander’s reaction to her death was to regret writing to Darius telling him to give himself up because it meant that he had lost the opportunity ‘to show… magnanimity’ towards him. What I find difficult about this passage is that Alexander did not think of Stateira herself first. But I have to remind myself that perhaps he did and Plutarch did not record it. He is not so much writing what happened as trying to make sense of it. There is a difference.
According to Plutarch, Alexander made up for this lost opportunity by giving ‘the queen a magnificent funeral’. The queen. Not, the queen and her unborn child. Plutarch does not mention him or her. Why? I am wondering if it is because up until a child was recognised by its father it had no status, but do not know for sure. If you have another idea do leave a comment below.
Going back to Stateira’s baby – who was his or her father? Stateira I was taken prisoner after the Battle of Issus, which took place in November 333. She died sometime in 331. The father, then, could not have been Darius. Did Alexander allow her to be taken by one of his officers? I would agree that this is most unlikely given her status. Perhaps Alexander himself slept with her? Plutarch’s protestations that Alexander had nothing to do with women notwithstanding, I suspect this is the case. If so, the child would be the first of Alexander’s children to die young (Roxane miscarried). However, we do not know for sure, either way. There is a great deal of uncertainty about Stateira’s death: the sources even disagree right down to the time and cause of it (See this article on Pothos for more information).
While Stateira was being laid to rest, one of her her attendants – a eunuch named Tireos – escaped from (or could he have been allowed to leave…?) the Macedonian camp and made his way to Darius’ where he told the Great King what had happened. Darius was, unsurprisingly, distraught.
Stateira I, Stateira II and Drypetis; also, Persian Women
And yet, Darius did not grieve because his wife was dead but because Alexander, he assumed, had denied her a royal funeral. He also feared that Alexander must have taken advantage of his wife. Tireos allayed all of Darius’ worries and then some. Not only had Stateira been given a royal funeral but, while alive, she – and his mother and children – were treated according to their station. And not only them but all the Persian women whom Alexander had captured. Upon hearing this, Darius made his great prayer to the gods, that ‘no other man but Alexander… sit upon the throne of Cyrus’.
A Wolf with a Persian Mother
We now jump forward, over the Battle of Gaugamela and Alexander’s arrival in Babylon, to Chapter 37 and his advance through Persis. The mountainous territory proved tough going for the Macedonians. Fortunately, a guide was on hand to help them on their way. This man, we are told, had ‘a Lycian father and a Persian mother’ and was the subject of a prophecy by no less than the Delphic oracle.
The Pythia’s Prophecy
As Plutarch relates it, when Alexander was a boy, the Pythia prophesied that he would one day be guided by a wolf (lycos – lycian) against the Persians. And so it happened. Plutarch doesn’t mention it but it appears that this wolf showed him the way round the Persian Gates, which Alexander proceeded to attack from behind and gain control of. If nothing else, it is a nice story.
Why “the queen” and not “the queen and her unborn child” is because the baby was not recognised as a separate entity from the mother until it had actually been born. If the child died inside her before she could give birth then it was not accorded a funeral – it was treated as a part of the woman until it was separated from her body and had drawn independant breath.