Impressions of Arrian I-II

At the end of August this year, I started a little series on my Alexander Facebook page.

It is called ‘A Quote and a Comment’ and is based on a chapter-by-chapter read through of Arrian’s Anabasis. I hope the title explains clearly enough what the series is about!

As of today, I have managed to publish a new post every day. This record will continue for at least another week as I am currently writing the posts a week ahead of schedule.

If you would like to visit the Fb page, just click on the link above. For links to each post, click here. I am in the process of putting the earlier posts into a PDF document; if you would like to read them in that format, send me an e-mail (thesecondachilles[at]gmail.com) and I will post it to you when it is done.

In this post, however, I thought I would mention four things about Arrian and his work that have impressed themselves upon me since I started writing.

  1. Arrian is the most un-character led author I have ever read. In contrast to, say, Plutarch, he spends no time at all discussing Alexander the man. Only the Macedonian king’s deeds seem to interest him. This is not to say that his Alexander is a cypher. Alexander the man can be found (see below) but only through his deeds.
  2. Arrian’s Alexander is a master of psychological warfare. On several occasions he uses these tactics to gain a vital advantage over his foes. For example, when he used silence, discipline, noise and speed to scare the Taulantians (I.6); his deliberately slow advance towards the Persian army at Issus (II.10), which I think was conducted at least in part to unnerve the enemy soldiers; and his decision to have ships surround and attack Tyre whenever possible (II.24) during the final assault. The immediate aim of this was to keep the defenders wherever they were busy but it must also have had the intended effect of damaging their morale by placing Alexander, as it were, everywhere.
  3. Arrian does not dwell on the battles. I first became aware of this when I read the Siege of Tyre. The whole episode is quite long – II.1624 covers it – but the final assault lasts just one chapter. I have looked back to the Battle of the Granicus (I.15-16) and Issus (II.10-12) and found that they are covered equally quickly. I have a theory that Arrian knew what an awful thing war could be and although he admires Alexander he was not minded to make the battles seem glorious events.
  4. Beware Translatations! I may have blogged about this before but can’t remember. The reason I mention this is as follows. In II.13, we see Sisygambis make her famous mistake – thinking that Hephaestion is Alexander.

    Alexander merely remarked that her error was of no account, for Hephaestion, too, was an Alexander – a ‘protector of men’.

    When I wrote about this, I said that the line “a ‘protector of men'” made it seem that Arrian was not identifying Hephaestion with Alexander the person but with his office. However, that line – which appears in my Penguin Classics edition of the Anabasis – does not appear in the Landmark Arrian; it says

    But Alexander declared that she had not erred, since Hephaistion, too, was Alexander.
    (II.12.7)

    So it would appear that “a ‘protector of men'” is the translator’s interjection rather than Arrian’s; is it what he understood Alexander to mean when he called Hephaestion another Alexander, though, or what he believed Arrian to mean?

    By-the-bye you’ll note that the reference for the two translations is different. The Penguin Classics text was published, I suppose for a general audience and so they were happy to play slightly fast and loose with the start and end point of each chapter in order to make them cover a page length each time.

Have you read Arrian’s Anabasis? If so, what did you make of it? I would love to read your comments. In the meantime, as I have written this after finishing the first two books I will write a follow-up post at the end of Book IV to see if my thoughts about Arrian and his work have developed any further.

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