Plutarch’s Women: The Persian Royal Family, Barbarian Women, the Amazonian Queen, General Ref. & Roxane (Chapts. 43, 44, 46 & 47)

For the other posts in this series, click here

The Persian Royal Family
We pick up the story of Plutarch’s women in Chapter 43 of his Life of Alexander. In July 330 BC Alexander finally caught up with Darius III. The Great King had been on the run since losing the Battle of Gaugamela the previous October.
.
Plutarch tells us that Alexander ‘burst into’ Darius’ camp. He met no opposition there, however, only ‘great heaps of gold and silver vessels’ and ‘wagons full of women and children that were moving aimlessly about’.
.
How empty these remnants of his riches must have seemed to Darius; how broken his people.
.
Today, however, the Great King wasn’t in the camp but further up the road. He was found by a Macedonian named Polystratus, lying in a wagon, ‘riddled with javelins’. At Darius’ request, Polystratus gave him some water to drink.
.
By-the-bye, could we compare this incident to the moment, during his pursuit of the Great King when Alexander refused water because there was not enough for his men? If so, perhaps Darius’ request could be said to demonstrate his weakness in comparison to Alexander.
.
Sipping the water, Darius regretted that he would not be able to repay Polystratus’ act of kindness. ‘[b]ut,’ he said to the Macedonian, ‘Alexander will reward you… and the gods will repay him for his courtesy towards my mother, and my wife and my children.’ Darius then placed his hand in Polystratus’ and died. Afterwards, Alexander sent his body to Sisygambis, Darius’ mother, ‘to be laid out in royal state’.
.
It might be stretching things to say that Darius died happy but it does seem to me that we can’t overestimate how important it was to him that his family were treated with ‘courtesy’. As to weather this was because of their political value or because he genuinely loved them, I cannot say. I imagine it was a combination of the two.
.
Barbarian Women
In Chapter 44, Plutarch tells how Hyrcanian tribesmen kidnapped Bucephalas. Could you imagine a worse thing for anyone to do? No wonder, then, that Alexander warned the tribe that if Bucephalas was not returned, ‘he would exterminate the whole tribe, together with their women and children.’ Naturally, Bucephalas was returned – unharmed.
.
This episode has an ending that is typical of Alexander. Once Bucephalas had been returned, the king gave a ransom (Plutarch calls it that) to his kidnappers. Perhaps the king was just relieved to have his beloved horse again, but when I think of people like Porus, Oxyartes and Artabazus, to name but three, I feel I could write a book titled

Resist Then Submit
A Guide to Surviving being Alexander the Great’s Enemy
.

Amazonians
The next reference to a woman comes in Chapter 46; and what a reference it is, for it is here that Plutarch tells us that, while in Parthia, Alexander met the queen of the legendary Amazons.
.
Well, kind of.
.
Firstly, Plutarch acknowledges that while several historians provide an account of this meeting, others – including Ptolemy – ‘maintain that [it] is a fiction’.
.
Secondly, he records a letter sent by Alexander to Antipater in which Alexander describes the occasion when he is supposed to have met the Amazonian queen. He does not mention her at all – only that a Scythian king had offered him his daughter in marriage.
.
Finally, he also relates how, years later, Lysimachus smiled at Onesicritus’ account of the incident and said, ‘I wonder where I was then.’

.
For Plutarch’s sake, it is probably just as well that Alexander never met the queen of the Amazons. He has already undermined his view that Alexander was chaste once (read here – Who was the father of Stateira’s baby?); goodness knows how he would deal with a woman who is supposed to have kept Alexander in bed for two weeks in order to make her pregnant.
.
General Reference
To tell another man that he is doing X ‘like a woman’ is an age old insult. In Chapter 47 we see that it goes back to at least 330 BC. In Hyrcania, Alexander became ‘anxious’ – for reasons not precisely explained – that his men would refuse to follow him any further. Standing before the Macedonian army, he explained to them that,

… up to now the barbarians had watched them as if they were in a dream, but that if they merely threw the whole country into disorder, and then retired, the Persians would fall upon them as if they were so many women.

Presumably, the Persians had never fought the Amazonians.
.
As for the toughness of women – Olympias was already showing that she was no feeble female, Thaïs had shown her credentials in Persepolis, and in a few years time, Adea Euridike would give an equally good account of herself.
.
Roxane
To end this post, we stay in a Chapter 47 for a quick reference to Roxane. Plutarch says the Alexander fell in love with her after seeing her dance. He admits, though, that the marriage was politically convenient. Despite Stateira I’s pregnancy, he persists with the idea that Alexander was wholly chaste. He records that,

… the barbarians were encouraged by the feeling of partnership which [the] marriage created, and they were completely won over by Alexander’s moderation and courtesy and by the fact that without the sanction of marriage he would not approach the only woman who had ever conquered him.

It is interesting that Plutarch speaks of the barbarians as seeing the marriage in terms of being a ‘partnership’ whereas for him it was a victory for Roxanne. It seems to suggest that the barbarians were reconciled to Alexander’s kingship. As for Plutarch, I suppose it is in the nature of those who have, or in Plutarch’s case, take the side of those in power, to always fear its loss.

Categories: Plutarch's Women | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Post navigation

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: