Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 97 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here
Macedonian Fleet Wrecked at Confluence of Hydaspes, Acesines and Indus Rivers
Alexander Narrowly Escapes Being Drowned
Two Ships Destroyed, Others Damaged
At the start of Chapter 97, Diodorus says that (after pardoning the Agalesseians), Alexander continued his journey down river until he reached ‘the confluence of the rivers named above with the Indus’.
The rivers to which Diodorus is referring are the Hydaspes and Acesines. If you have read yesterday’s post you will know about the confusing way in which he writes about the waterways of this region.
Based upon what Diodorus and the Footnotes say, my current picture of the rivers is that the Sandabal becomes the Acesines where it meets the Hyarotis and Hydaspes. The Hyarotis ends here but the Hydaspes splits away from the Acesines and runs alongside it until (?) they meet the Indus River further on. This picture may or may not be accurate.
Fortunately, it doesn’t really matter. What does is that – according to Diodorus – the three rivers ran so quickly, they created fiercely eddying waters at the confluence. These drew Alexander’s fleet into them, causing the ships to ‘collide with each other, [causing] great damage’. Two ships sank. Some of the others did manage to escape the eddying water only to run aground.
Meanwhile, Alexander’s ship was drawn into ‘a great cataract’ (i.e. a rapid). ‘With death staring him in the face’ the king tore off his clothing and jumped into the river. The Footnotes refer to Plutarch’s assertion that Alexander could not swim. If that was so, he was fortunate indeed to be able to make it to the shore. Did he hold on to a piece of debris? Perhaps someone rescued him – Diodorus does say that his ‘Friends swam with him, concerned to help the king to safety’.
Back on Alexander’s ship, the crew tried desperately to save the vessel ‘but the water was superior to all human skill and power’. The translation suggests that despite this, the ‘ships with [Alexander]’ reached safety. The Footnotes say, however, that the manuscript may have mistaken the word ‘ships’ for ‘young men’ or, simply, ‘swimmers’.
On the banks of the confluence, Alexander sacrificed to the gods for delivering him from danger. As he did so, he reflected that ‘like Achilles, [he] had done battle with a river’.
For the record, Diodorus doesn’t say whether Alexander reached the confluence with the Indus River by sailing down the Acesines or Hydaspes. I would assume it was the former as that is the way he had come up until now.
I don’t know what it is like in the rest of the world, but here in the UK football managers will always try to find a positive from a game even when their side loses 4-0. I think it is safe to say that by comparing his escape from the cataract to Achilles’ fight against the river god Alexander committed a fine example of a football manager positive.
Shall I go sailing or shall I stay alive? Hmmm