Torture in Curtius (1)

Last post here

In this post I continue my look at the number of times and contexts in which torture is referenced by the Alexander historians. Today, it is the turn of Curtius. In contrast to Arrian and Plutarch who barely mention it at all (twice and three times respectively), Curtius does so on thirty-eight occasions.

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Due to that high volume of usage, and the fact that I will be quoting all the relevant passages, I have decided to split this post into three. The next will look exclusively at torture in the context of the Philotas Affair. The third will look at references to torture made by Curtius in connection with the Pages’ Conspiracy and the rebel Biton.

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As you may be aware, the first two books of Curtius’ history have not survived. I’ll begin, therefore, in Book III with Alexander settling his affairs in Lycia and Pamphylia before moving on to the city of Calaenae in Phrygia.

Actually, due to the uneven spread of word usage, Book IV will be the start point. From IV.8.10-11, I’ll continue on to VI.8.14, just before the first use of the word in connection with the Philotas Affair.

The Spread:

  • 0 in Book III
  • 4 in Book IV
  • 2 in Book V
  • 2 in Book VI

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Book IV.8.10-11
contains a reference to a number of criminals being tortured for their crimes

Alexander marched with all possible speed to avenge [Andromachus’] murder [by the Samaritans], and on his arrival the perpetrators of the heinous crime were surrendered to him. He appointed Memnon to replace Andromachus, executed the murderers of the former governor, and handed over to their own subjects a number of local rulers, including Aristonicus and Ersilaus of Methymna, whom they tortured and put to death for their crimes.

Book IV.10.27
Here we see the word ‘torture’ being used in a metaphorical sense by Darius III

[Darius said to Tyriotes,] “… You are not going to tell me, are you, what I most suspect and fear to put into words – that members of my family have been violated, something which would be worse than any kind of torture for me and, I think, for them?”

Book IV.10.30-33
Here we see Darius warning Tyriotes the eunuch that if he lies he will be tortured. Tyriotes, who is telling the truth, stands his ground, effectively saying to the Great King ‘bring it on’.

Tyriotes swore by the gods of his country that no violence had been offered the queen, that Alexander had actually lamented her death and wept as much as Darius was doing then, but these declarations served only to revive an anxious suspicion in the mind of the adoring husband, who inferred that Alexander’s grief for a captive must have derived from his having had sexual relations with her. Accordingly, keeping only Tyriotes back and dismissing everybody else, he said to him (without tears now but with a sigh): ‘Tyriotes, do you see that lies will not do? The instruments of torture will soon be here, but for heaven’s sake don’t wait for them if you have any regard for your king. Surely he did not dare to do… what I want to know yet fear to ask… he being a young man and her master?” Tyriotes offered to undergo torture, calling the gods to witness that the queen had been treated with propriety and respect.

Book V.3.12
Afraid of being tortured, the Uxians break into the Macedonian camp and ask Sisigambis to intercede with Alexander for them

… daunted by the added fear of torture, they sent men to Darius’ mother Sisigambis, by a secret path unknown to their enemy, to ask her to use her influence to mollify the king.

Book V.5.5-6
contains a reference to torture having been inflicted upon the Greek captives

When he was not far from the city, the king was met by a pitiful group of men whose misfortune has few parallels in history. They were Greek captives, some 4,000 in number, whom the Persians had subjected to various kinds of torture. Some had had their feet cut off, some their hands and ears. They had been branded with letters from the Persian alphabet by their captors, who had kept them to amuse themselves over a long period by humiliating them.

Book VI.5.3
As with IV.10.27, we see torture being used as a figure-of-speech here

Given a friendly welcome, Artabazus said: ‘Your majesty, I pray to heaven you may prosper with unending good fortune. Everything here brings me happiness but I am tortured by this one thought, that my declining years make long enjoyment of your kindness impossible for me.’

Book VI.6.31
contains a reference not to torture per se but an experience being as like it

The woods crackled as they burned, and the parts that the soldiers had not fired ignited as well and started to consume everything near them. The barbarians tried to escape their agonizing torture if the flames died down anywhere, but wherever the fire had left a passage stood their enemy.

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Here are my observations based on the above quotations. Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments section

  • Curtius uses the word ‘torture’ and its variants in a different way on all but one occasion. Here is my break down
    • 1 reference to torture being carried out (IV.8.10-11)
    • 2 reference to torture used as a metaphor (IV.10.27, VI.5.3)
    • 1 reference to the threat of torture (IV.10.30-33)
    • 1 reference to a willingness to undergo it to prove a cause (IV.10.30-33)
    • 1 reference to the fear of torture (V.3.12)
    • 1 reference to torture having been carried out (V.5.5-6)
    • 1 reference to another experience being like torture (VI.6.31)
  • Perhaps ironically, the reference to torture being carried out (IV.8.10-11) has hardly any impact at all. This is because Curtius makes no mention at all of what was done to Aristonicus and Ersilaus of Methymna et al before they died.
  • IV.10.30-33 and IV.8.10-11 show that torture was regarded as an acceptable part of the interrogation process and punishment for convicted criminals in the Macedon/Near East and Persia respectively
  • V.5.5-6 suggests that in Persia torture was not confined to the legal process but that prisoners-of-war (perhaps anyone under the control of another person?) could be tortured if the master so wished it
  • VI.6.31 is definitely uncomfortable to read but makes too little impact due to the impersonal nature of the passage. It is hard to get emotionally invested in the fate of a people described only as ‘the barbarians’.
  • V.5.5-6 also lacks names but at least we know the nationality of the people concerned. For me, this is the most horrible passage for although Curtius does not describe the actual torture, we see very clearly the result of it.
Categories: Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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