Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 37, 38 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here
Darius Escapes Alexander’s Pursuit
Sisygambis Mistakes Hephaestion for Alexander
Alexander Restores Royal Family’s Dignity
Alexander kept up his pursuit of Darius until late into the night. Diodorus says that the Macedonian king and his cavalrymen rode for two hundred furlongs before turning back to his camp.
Unfortunately, the Footnotes do not say how long a Greek furlong is so it is hard to put Alexander’s ride into context. Google tells me that one furlong today is 201 metres. This website gives two hundred furlongs as the equivalent of twenty-five miles. If that is how far Alexander travelled, it is quite a distance given their earlier exertions. I realise, though, that this is a big if.
Alexander arrived back at his tent around midnight. After a bath to wash off the day’s blood and grime, he sat down to dinner.
As he ate, the Persian royal family were informed that Alexander had returned to camp ‘after stripping Dareius of his arms’. The women broke down in tears at this news. They were joined by the other captives, and the noise became so loud that Alexander had to send Leonnatus to the royal family’s tent ‘to quiet the uproar’.
Leonnatus assured the women that their lord was still alive ‘and that Alexander would show them… proper consideration’. The queens were calmed by this news. In their relief, they ‘hailed Alexander as a god’.
By the time he had bathed and finished eating, Alexander could only have had time for a few hours rest for at daybreak he was up again and on his way to see the royal family.
Alexander entered the queens’ tent with several of his Friends, including Hephaestion. Diodorus states that both he and Alexander ‘were dressed alike’ but that ‘Hephaestion was taller and more handsome’.
This lead Sisygambis, Darius’ mother, to assume that Hephaestion was Alexander and so ‘did him obeisance’. Some of Alexander’s Friends ‘made signs to her and pointed to Alexander’. Realising her mistake, and no doubt blushing with embarrassment, Sisygambis turned to the king.
I am quite certain that another king – in fact, many other kings – would have punished Sisygambis for her error but Alexander was cut from a different cloth. “Never mind, Mother,” he said, “For actually he too is Alexander.”
What did Alexander mean by this? The Footnotes say that his response ‘recalls the proverbial Greek definition of a friend as a “Second Self”‘. This makes ‘he too is Alexander’ seem hardly more than a poetic way of saying ‘he is my friend’.
We would not be doing the two men justice, however, if we did not qualify the nature of their friendship. An opportunity to do that will come in Chapter 47. If you have a copy of Diodorus to hand, you might also look at Chapter 114.
I shall leave of discussing either until the appropriate post. For now, I would say that when Alexander called Hephaestion by his own name he was indicating that theirs was a very personal friendship (for the avoidance of doubt, I don’t think he was indicating that they were lovers).
Diodorus now provides a list of what Alexander did for Sisygambis. He…
- ‘[D]ecked her with her royal jewelry’
- ‘Restored her to her previous dignity, with its proper honours’
- Returned her servants to her, giving her even more
- Promised to provide (I presume) dowries for Stateira II’s and Drypetis’ marriages
- Promised to treat her grandson (Ochus) as his own son and ‘show him royal honour’
Alexander called Ochus to him and kissed him. Ochus ‘was fearless in [his] countenance’. Turning to Hephaestion, Alexander ‘remarked… that at the age of six years the boy… was much braver than his father’.
Ochus’ mother, Stateira I was not forgotten about. Alexander promised her ‘that she would experience nothing inconsistent with her former happiness’.
The royal women cried with joy for Alexander’s kindness towards them. Diodorus says that the king ‘won universal recognition throughout his own army for his exceeding propriety of conduct’. I wonder if this included the men who had dragged the other Persian women by their hair or stripped them naked and hit them with their spear butts.
Diodorus concludes the chapter by applauding Alexander’s actions. ‘Most people are made proud by their successes… and becoming arrogant in their success, are forgetful of the common weakness of mankind’. Alexander, however, had wisdom. ‘[L]et him continue to receive in future ages… the just and proper praise for his good qualities’. Amen to that.
As facetious as it is, I am glad that even Alexander knew what it was like to have a noisy neighbour. If only ours could be as easily dealt with!
I am not sure what ‘stripping Dareius of his arms’ means. It isn’t literally true – Darius escaped Issus with his own weaponry and had access to more. It isn’t true in terms of the Persian army: whether or not Darius escaped by riding over the bodies of his men, as Ptolemy fancifully states, many Persians escaped. Perhaps it is simply a metaphor for the Persian army’s defeat?
I note that when Alexander visits the queens’ tent he speaks first to Sisygambis, and it is she who does obeisance to him. I wonder if this means that in the Persian hierarchy the Queen Mother was more senior to the Queen herself?
Diodorus says that Alexander assured Sisygambis ‘that she would be his second mother’. Surely she is his third after Olympias and Ada!
Ten Reasons Why Hephaestion Could Not Be Alexander Today
- He’d get done for credit card fraud
- Hephaestion’s size makes him a natural defender, Alexander’s clearly a striker
- Their clothes wouldn’t fit
- Their girlfriends wouldn’t understand
- One Man One Vote
- iTunes doesn’t have joint accounts
- Arguments would lead to an existential crisis
- Inadvertent minesweeping in the pub
- Hephaestion would say tomato
- They would have an extra man advantage in tag team wrestling