Author Archives: M J Mann

The Iliad, Hephaestion and Alexander’s Jealousy

Recently, I bought the audiobook version of Stephen Mitchell’s translation of The Iliad. I have been listening to it at work and it has been a very intense experience.

One battle after another, one Greek or Trojan after another being killed in the most gruesome way. Homer does not spare you in his descriptions but – and this is surely his genius as a poet – he never descends into any kind of slaughter-porn; the deaths are treated with an amazing, and very mature, matter-of-factness.

As a result, the story never gets too much to bear. With that said, I can only listen to it for an hour or two every day before I need to take a break.

***

A few days ago, perhaps last week, I read an author who suggested that Perdiccas might have been a few years older than Alexander. This got me thinking about how Alexander sent Perdiccas with Hephaestion into Gandhara. It was 327 BC, and their

… instructions were to take by force or negotiate the surrender of all the towns on their route, and, once arrived at the Indus [River], to make all necessary preparations for the crossing of the river.
(Arrian IV.22.7)

Why did Alexander send two of his three most senior officers* away together? My Oxford World’s Classics edition of Arrian says that ‘Alexander needed a macho officer to balance the less bellicose Hephaestion’.

This seems to me to be a rather extraordinary statement. It can only come from the view that Hephaestion was not first-and-foremost a military man. Therefore, he must have been a bit soft.

However, the Hephaestion who, it is true, is most often seen carrying out non-military operations is also the Hephaestion fought with such vigour at the Battle of Gaugamela that he was wounded (Ar. III.15.2). And is also the same Hephaestion who took a ruthless and leading role in the downfall of Philotas (see C.VI.11.10 ff). And, yes, he is the same Hephaestion who was not afraid to square off against Craterus (Plutarch Life of Alexander 47) and even face down Olympias herself despite her ‘sharp criticisms and threats against him’ (Diodorus XVII.114).

So much for Hephaestion not being a ‘bellicose’ man. But if we rule the Oxford World’s Classics’s explanation out, why did Perdiccas travel with him? Well, I’m not going to pretend I know; I don’t, but a thought that came to me is that perhaps, if Perdiccas was appreciably older than Alexander (with whom Hephaestion was coeval), just perhaps, he was not there to cover the military side of the mission while Hephaestion handled the non-military but was assigned to Hephaestion to act as a mentor – to help him grow as a military commander rather than replace him as one. It’s just a thought.

* The third being Craterus

***

I am on Twitter – @secondachilles if you would like to follow me – and yesterday I had a conversation with someone that led me to this passage,

… Alexander never used to greet the news that Philip had captured an important city or won a famous victory with particular delight; instead, he used to say to his friends, ‘Lads, my father’s going to pre-empt me in everything. By the time he’s finished, there’ll be nothing important left for me to present to the world, no splendid victories to be won with your help.’
(Plutarch Life 5)

Isn’t it amazing that Alexander worried about this? In his youth, he must have either had a very limited conception of the size of the world or else regarded most of it as being simply beyond reach. More likely, though, he never said any such thing and that the anecdote is based not on a specific conversation but on Alexander’s attitude and his tendency to be jealous of other people’s achievements – see how he called the Battle of Megalopolis in 331 BC ‘a battle of mice’ (Plutarch Life of Agesilaus 15) and his fatal quarrel with Black Cleitus (Curtius VIII.1.22-52).

Picture Credits
The Iliad cover – The Telegraph

Categories: Arrian, Diodorus Siculus, Hephaestion Amyntoros, Homer, Plutarch, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What’s in a Name?

A Catch-Up post.

It has been a month since I last wrote anything, here.

Troy: Fall of a City continues on the BBC on Saturday on Saturday night. I have to admit, though, that I have not felt any great desire to keep up with it. I will try to at some point.

‘At some point’ – there’s a fatal phrase if ever there was one. We’ll see.

***

Yesterday, I read an article titled The Ignorant Parkland Kids Don’t Speak for Their Dead Classmates by John Hawkins on the PJ Media website here.

The article is by-and-large a contemptuous piece of right wing trash. In arguing that the teenagers who survived the Parkland School gun massacre should shut up because they are ‘high school kids’ who know nothing it cynically employs the feeble tactic of being as controversial as possible in order to draw readers in either through their outrage or approval.

The reason I mention it here is because of a reference to Alexander as one of the few teenagers to know anything. Hawkins links to an article on a voting website, which says of Alexander,

At age 16, Alexander the Great, having just finished studying under Aristotle, was the regent in charge of Macedonia. The Thracian Maedi revolted against him, and Alexander quickly responded, driving them out of their own territory. He colonized it with Greeks, and founded a city named Alexandropolis.

I imagine that Hawkins’ focus is on Alexander’s studentship under Aristotle as his regency, attack on the Maedi, and the establishment of Alexandropolis is not of itself really relevant to a view of him as being an especially knowledgable person. Perhaps he employed revolutionary new tactics, which he created, in the battle, but it is unlikely.

So what about Alexander and Aristotle? Did being the famous philosopher’s student make him especially knowledgable? Alexander certainly did have a keen intellect. Plutarch tells us (Life of Alexander 8) that Aristotle gave him an interest in medicine and philosophy and that in adulthood, Alexander had a love of literature and history. We might add to this that his baggage train included men of science who surveyed the lands that the army traversed and sent back to Greece perhaps much information about it.

Back in his teenage years, however, I get no sense that Alexander was intellectually precocious. Reading the early chapters of Plutarch, you certainly get a picture of a more generally precocious young man but this is not the same thing. For example, in Chapter 4, Plutarch talks about Alexander for  whom fame was already of the greatest importance; Chapter 5 continues that theme as Alexander quizzes the Persian ambassadors about their country, foreshadowing, of course, his expedition; in Chapter 6 Alexander tames Bucephalus thus proving his bravery.

Alexander was clearly very bright but if the aforementioned events happened, or if they are simply based on the truth about Alexander in his formative years, we may say that his intelligence was focused on the winning of renown and glory. Just like the Parkland ‘kids’ are focused on using theirs to achieve greater gun control.

Having said all that, I do share John Hawkins’ reservations about the living speaking for the dead. This should not – cannot – be done unless one knows that in life the dead supported the cause of the living. This sympathy does not mean, however, that I regard the article as anything other than a hectoring, sneering piece of rubbish.  

***

Speaking of Alexandropolis, I received an interesting enquiry via my Alexander Facebook page the other day: Why did Alexander name his cities Alexandria? The fact that Alexandria is the feminine version of his name was also brought up. In truth, I don’t know. Unfortunately, I seem to have deleted the message so can’t refer back to it, but if the person who wrote to me reads this, I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on the matter. And indeed, I would be very interested to hear anyone else’s too, in the comments below or on Facebook.

***

Finally, I have written a few posts on Tumblr; well, indulging my love for the film Call Me By Your Name. You can find them, and my latest on Philip II, here.

Categories: Of The Moment, On Alexander | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Troy: Fall of a City pt. II ‘Conditions’

If Episode One of Troy: Fall of a City was ordinary then Episode Two was – no, not quite extraordinary, but certainly a lot more enjoyable.

To be fair, enjoyable is probably not the best word to use. Actually, it definitely isn’t. ‘Conditions’ was better because of the tension that arrived with the decision of the Greeks to demand Helen’s return to Menelaus.

That tension was based on one particularly awful scene.

The pan-Hellenic army is stranded on the shore. The priest performs sacrifices to gain the gods’ favour and the wind that will take them to Troy only to be informed by Artemis that their request will only be granted if Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter, Iphigenia. The tension that came with this news was palpable. The writer, David Farr, and actors – particularly Johnny Harris as Agamemnon – have to be congratulated for their work in bringing it alive

***

It’s hard to top a scene involving human sacrifice but Conditions did well with the Trojan reaction to Helen’s arrival. Anger and confusion; vacillation and determination – especially from Priam – this made him look rather wishy-washy but I actually quite liked that approach to his character; it made him more real. This, of course, fits in with the ‘ordinary’ approach to the series – a quiet resolve from Paris and not just regret but desire to make things right from Helen.

Unfortunately for her, she can’t. When the Greeks met Priam they no not only wanted Helen back but, as reparation for the insult given to Menelaus, control of the Dardanelles as well. It started with a woman and will end with politics and economics. How very ancient and modern.

Speaking of which, it did occur to me while watching the episode that this representation of the Trojan War had more than a touch of the First World War about it. Helen, like Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was not the reason for the war, just the excuse. Bigger issues involving politics were at play. Odysseus ordering the Greeks to dig trenches (in preparation for a long siege) also brought the Great War to mind.

Two scenes really stuck out for me in this episode. One was Iphigenia’s death and the other the first clash between the Greeks and Trojans; specifically, the moment when Athena, Aphrodite and, I think Hera as well, walk among the soldiers selecting their favourite soldiers. The dialogue was, perhaps, a little cheesy but I liked this integration of the gods into the story.

***

Achilles Watch
The man finally appeared! He didn’t say much, but looked mean and determined. He killed someone at the end but only by throwing a spear through their head. Impressive, but Achilles fights up close not at a distance. We have yet to see his rage. Or, for that matter, Patroclus.

Credit Where It’s Due
Aphrodite (Lex King) Walks Among the Trojan Soldiers: Digital Spy

  • This Episode of Troy: Fall of a City is available on the BBC website at iPlayer here for two months after the time of this blog post
Categories: Homer, Television | Tags: , | Leave a comment

A Caesarian Section

Ancient Rome has been much on my mind this week.

Last Monday, I watched Mary Beard’s overview of the life of Julius Caesar on the BBC iPlayer. At the time of writing, it is still there for another 24 days.

The programme is a one hour long one off special; Beard, so the blurb says, ‘is on a mission to uncover the real Caesar, and to challenge public perception’ of the Roman general.

As for ‘the real Caesar’, he turned out to be rather similar to the general that I already knew from past reading. I say ‘rather’ in the English sense of ‘very’, meaning, just the same.

As a result of this, my perception of him was not challenged. In terms of shedding new light on Caesar, the programme was at its best when Beard looked at his influence on world leaders since – with special reference to President Trump. Both present(ed) themselves as the champion of the people, both set themselves against the ruling elite (while in one way or another being part of it). Both make/made use of catchy slogans – Veni, vidi, vici (I came, I saw, I conquered) and Make America Great Again.

Personally, I feel Julius Caesar was a much smarter man than Donald Trump and may even have been more sincere in his efforts to improve the life of Romans but apart from Caesar’s Footprints by Bijan Omrani (a book that I can whole heartedly recommend) it has been a long time since I really engaged with ancient Rome so take my opinion with a pinch of salt.

Mary Beard is quite a mumsy figure, she has an impish smile and a lot of enthusiasm. She reminds me a lot of Michael Wood. She is now in her 60s and if I have her happy spirit when I reach her age I shall consider myself very fortunate.

The one criticism I have of the programme is that it was too short. One hour. One episode. For a life as rich as Caesar’s that’s no time at all. Therefore, if you are a student of ancient Rome and know about him already, Mary Beard’s documentary will not likely reveal anything new to you. If, however, your knowledge of him goes as far as the tourists she interviews at the start of the programme – they knew Caesar was assassinated and that was about it – then the programme will be an ideal introduction.

Now, on a blog about Alexander, why do I mention Julius Caesar? Well, there is a point of connection between the two:

… in Spain, when he was at leisure and was reading from the history of Alexander, he was lost in thought for a long time, and then burst into tears. His friends were astonished, and asked the reason for his tears. “Do you not think,” said he, “it is matter for sorrow that while Alexander, at my age, was already king of so many peoples, I have as yet achieved no brilliant success?”
(Plutarch Julius Caesar 11)

Mary Beard not only mentions this anecdote but says that writers and artists have ever since used it to mark the turning point of Caesar’s life – the moment when he ceased to be Caesar the man and became Caesar the mighty figure of history that we know today.

There is also another reason why I mention him. After watching Beard’s documentary, it occurred to me that perhaps there is also a point of connection between what happened after Alexander’s and Julius Caesar’s deaths.

Caesar was assassinated. Alexander may have been, but either way, he died and his generals were left to pick up the pieces. If I remember correctly, in Rome, Brutus et al had no programme at all for what to do after Caesar’s murder; they simply expected things to go back to how they were before. Unfortunately, they reckoned without the guile of Octavian and cunning of Mark Antony. Alexander’s phalanx wanted the old (Argead) order to continue and a few of the generals tried to ensure that it did but after the latter had been eliminated, the past was finally over; now, it was a fight, either to the death or until a settled order could be achieved. Three hundred years later, the same thing happened. The old order, as represented by Brutus and Cassius died at Philippi, and with the removal of the irrelevant Lepidus it was a fight to the finish between Octavian and Mark Antony. But whereas Alexander’s generals eventually managed to come to an understanding with each other that allowed the ‘funeral games’ to end, Octavian and Mark Antony were two suns who, as Alexander knew, could not both exist. In both cases, the deaths of Alexander and Caesar, and the subsequent bloodshed, led to the creation of a new order – the Hellenistic Age and the Roman Empire.

In writing the above, I am mindful of the fact that – as I said earlier – it has been a long time since I read about Rome, especially the post-Caesar period, so forgive me if I have got anything wrong (and feel free to provide a correction in the comments).

Categories: By the Bye, Theatre | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Troy: Fall of a City pt. 1 ‘Black Blood’

So, Troy: Fall of a City started on the BBC last night. The first episode – Black Blood – began with the Judgement of Paris and ended with Paris’ return to Troy from Sparta with Helen hidden aboard his ship.

If I had to describe the episode in one word, it would be ‘ordinary’. Everyone and everything in Black Blood was ordinary. The gods looked like any man or woman one of the humans might meet; the great hero Hector (played by Tom Weston-Jones, seen in the still below, riding Paris, played by Louis Hunter) was simply a fairly well built man rather than glossy, six packed hero; Menelaus could have walked into his palace from the Queen Vic. and while Helen was certainly good looking in a 21st century sort of way – high cheekbones and slender – there was nothing about her that said this is the face that launched a thousand ships or that she was the most beautiful woman in the world.

The dominant colours of the episode were grey and green, there was plenty dust and dirt; Hector’s fight with Paris was as epic as a bar fight and the sex scenes the same as so many others – grunt ‘n’ thrust; likely to appeal to 16 year old boys only. All so cliche’d and ordinary.

Of course, this was just Episode One (of Eight) so there is plenty of time for the series to improve. The aesthetic won’t, so we shall have to get used to the grungy feel of it. I don’t mind that – Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy (2004) told the tale of Troy’s fall in a more glamorous way so it would be boring to see the same done here. I do hope, however, that the characters are allowed to grow into the epic nature of the tale.

Credit Where It’s Due
Hector and Paris: The Independent

Categories: Homer | Tags: | Leave a comment

A Quick Catch Up

It has been just over a month since my last post and I am afraid to say that in that time I have let my Alexander reading go a bit. As is common with me, I have been rather distracted by other books and writing projects.

One book that has been very much on my mind, or rather, in my ears is Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. I have been listening to the audiobook version as read by Jeremy Irons.

Brideshead is one of my most favourite novels. You may know that Irons played the protagonist, Charles Ryder, in the superb 1981 ITV adaptation of the book. If you have not seen it, I can’t recommend the series highly enough. It is faithful to Waugh’s book and utterly sumptuous.

Despite all that, I would not have cause to mention it here except for one piece of dialogue, spoken by Ryder’s wife, Celia in Chapter Two of Book Three. There, Ryder – as the narrator – describes how his wife drew party guests ‘to the subscription list for the book of Ryder’s Latin America‘. He continues,

I heard her say: ‘No, darling, I’m not at all surprised, but you wouldn’t expect me to be, would you? You see Charles lives for one thing – Beauty. I think he got bored with finding it ready-made in England; he had to go and create it for himself. He wanted new worlds to conquer…’

‘He wanted new worlds to conquer…’

Depending on who you read, Alexander is said to have cried either because there were no new worlds to conquer or because when there was an infinity of worlds, he had not yet conquered one (for more on this, see the ‘Disputed’ section of Wikiquotes entry on Alexander here).

***

The BBC’s new Troy: Fall of A City series begins on 17th February. I will be writing about it on this blog. The series has aroused interest and controversy on social media due to its representation of certain characters; most notably, Achilles, who is played by a black actor.

What will I be looking for from the series? What with the fall of Troy being a myth, I would like to see a drama that speaks to our age as well as that of Troy: if I wanted The Iliad, I would read the poem. With that said, I would like to see the characters being faithful to Homer’s vision of them. The worst thing that could happen is that they are written as moderns. Period dramas where the characters are men and women of our age are an insult to the past.

***

The Fb Mary Renault Reading Group has changed its name to The Alexander the Great Reading Group. From March, the focus will move on to Renault’s Nature of Alexander. The change in name is wise for at some point or another we will move on from Renault. I am very disappointed, though, that we were not able to bring Funeral Games to a finish. The will, however, was simply not there.

I am most disappointed in myself. I enjoyed Renault’s previous Alexander books and I could have made a lot more effort to finish Funeral Games. There was always something else to read, though…

I’m determined not to forget Funeral Games, though; I will dig the book out and will make an effort to continue reading it in the coming weeks/months. I will post any thoughts I have here.

Categories: Books, Homer | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Changing the Past: In Antiquity and Today

New Year is well and truly over and I am back at work. When is my next holiday?

***

This week I read Come, Tell Me How You Live by Agatha Christie Mallowan. Don’t be confused by the last name, she is that Agatha Christie. Mallowan was her married name. The reason for its use here is because Come, Tell Me is not a crime novel but an account of the archaeological trips to the Near East that she undertook with her archaeologist husband, Max Mallowan, in the 1930s.

In Chapter One, Christie and her husband make their way to Syria on the Orient Express. They witness no murders, fortunately, but do pass the Sea of Marmora and Cilician Gates in Turkey.

As soon as I saw these names, my mind went back to Alexander. Christie’s Marmora became Diodorus’ Marmarens. The Marmarens (who, I should say, lived in Lycia rather than around the Sea of Marmara) attacked the Macedonian army as it marched past, killing no few soldiers, kidnapping others and stealing booty. Alexander, unsurprisingly, was rather displeased by this, and lay siege to the Marmarens’ fort.

For two days, Alexander attacked it. However, although he failed to break its defences, he did enough to persuade the Marmaren elders that he would stay until he had done so. Upon realising this, the elders,

… advised their younger countrymen to end their resistance and make peace with the king on whatever terms were possible.
(Diodorus XVII.28)

Interestingly, the younger Marmarens refused to do this. Diodorus tells us that they ‘were eager to die together simultaneously’ (Ibid) for the sake of their freedom. Now, at this point, you might have thought that the elders would have knocked their children’s heads together, remind them of who was in charge and lead the surrender before the youngsters came out with another tom fool idea. But no, they acquiesced to this, and came out with a tom fool idea of their own. The elders told the young men If you are determined to die, kill your wives, children and elderly relatives then break out of the fort and hide yourselves in the mountains.

The young men liked this idea and went away to have a last meal with their families. That evening, however, some of them reneged on the plan. But they didn’t run away with their loved ones. Instead of killing their families ‘with their own hands’ (Ibid) as the elders had suggested, they set fire to their homes and burned them alive. Six hundred men did this, and having done so, they should have had the decency to die with their loved ones. But no. They duly broke out of the fort and headed to the mountains.

This story has stuck with me since I read it. I am fascinated by the apparent equality of power between the young and old Marmarens. I have not heard of any other society in antiquity, or since, for that matter, where a similar situation has existed.

But… Did it exist? It may not have. The above quotations from Diodorus comes from my Loeb edition. The notes there state that ‘Appian… tells the same story of Xanthus, traditionally destroyed in this way three times… it was something of a literary topos’ (Diodorus XVII.28 n.5). Indeed, as the notes say, Diodorus repeats the story in Book XVIII.22 of his Library. There, it is the Isaurians in Pisidia who, seeing that they have no chance of breaking Perdiccas’ siege, burn their families alive in their homes. The Isaurians, however, do not try to flee afterwards. Instead, they destroy their possessions in the fire and, after defending the city for a little while longer, jump into the flames themselves.

Diodorus calls the Isaurians’ actions ‘a heroic and memorable deed’ (Dio.XVIII.22). I can only wonder if he changed the original account of what happened to the Marmarens and Isaurians to highlight their perceived heroism or if his sources did so.

***

Only Diodorus mentions the Marmarens. In contrast, both Arrian (II.4.3-6) and Curtius (III.4.11-14) refer to Alexander’s passage through the Cilician Gates on his way to Tarsus. There, their similarity ends.

Curtius states that Alexander looked at the narrow path ahead of him and,

… they say [was] never more surprised at his good fortune. For, he observed, he could have been crushed just by rocks, if there had been anyone there to hurl them down on his approaching troops.
(Curtius III.4.11)

According to Arrian, however, the Cilician Gates were heavily defended when Alexander arrived, but when the Persian soldiers realised ‘that Alexander was leading the attack in person’ (Ar.II.4.4), they fled. This sounds altogether a more likely version of events than Curtius’ as it would make no sense for the local satrap, Arsames, to leave the pass undefended.

***

One of the things that makes Alexander such an interesting figure to study is the fact that he defies our expectations. I was reflecting on this the other day and contemplating writing a blog post titled ‘Alexander the (Social Justice) Warrior’ focusing on how he pardoned Timoclea after she killed the Thracian soldier who raped her (Plutarch Life of Alexander 12), his treatment of the Persian queen and princesses (Pl. Life 21) and the conquered Persians (e.g. in the way he tried to integrate them into his imperial hierarchy as satraps). These were all very progressive social actions.

Alexander was not just about the fighting; and when he did fight he did not do so just to make Greece look good. Like any social justice warrior he wanted to change the world for the better. Hence, the above mentioned actions and the fact that he took surveyors and scientists on his expedition.

Of course, the name ‘social justice warrior’ has a pejorative meaning as well. And guess what. Alexander can be found there as well.

Thus, taking the Urban Dictionary’s definition (here),

… an individual who repeatedly and vehemently engages in arguments on social justice on the Internet, often in a shallow or not well-thought-out way, for the purpose of raising their own personal reputation.

Having been taught by Aristotle, Alexander could hold his own in an argument. However, he was undeniably concerned with his reputation. That was the whole reason for the expedition.

Social Justice Warriors or SJWs are: People with paper thin skin who always find something to be offended about. They generally have no concept of humour.

As Black Cleitus (Curtius VIII.1.22-52), Callisthenes (Pl. Life 53) and Cassander (Pl. Life 74) found out to their collective cost Alexander could be very easily offended sometimes, with fatal consequences.

[SJWs] aggressively call for the downfall of the person who carelessly offended them.

Philotas (Curtius VI.7.1-11.40), anyone?

But as I said above, Alexander defies our expectations. He is not only a progressive but also very conservative. Perhaps I will come back to that in my next or a future post.

***

The BBC and Netflix are producing a new drama based on the Trojan War. Controversy is following in the series’ wake, however, due to the fact that some of the characters, including Achilles, are being played by black actors. For more, see the Greek Reporter here.

If I had been the casting director, I would have chosen a white actor to play Achilles. That’s what he was. However, the more I think about it, the less I think that the casting director is obliged to hire a white person.

The Iliad is not history. Homer’s Achilles did not exist. He might be based on a real person but he is not them. Homer’s Achilles is a myth. He is a meaning. And in that capacity, he can be reinterpreted by every age as it sees fit. Indeed, it is only by being reinterpreted that he remains relevant to us.

If a law was made that permitted only one, single version of Achilles, we would bound him to the meaning of a specific time and place, and one day, he would become strange and unknowable to us. I would a thousand thousand times over rather have a black Achilles, a female Achilles, an Achilles who loves Hector rather than Patroclus or a pacifist Achilles rather than an irrelevant Achilles.

Categories: Alexander in Film, Arrian, Books, Diodorus Siculus, Homer, Plutarch, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Of Ghosts and Footprints

Happy New Year! I hope you have a happy and fruitful 2018. Have you made any resolutions? I have two Alexander related ones:-

  1. Read Diodorus’ account of Philip II’s life (Book XVI of his Library)
  2. Read The Iliad again

Philip II
I have never read a full account of Philip’s life. All that I know about him comes from books about Alexander. He deserves better than that so Diodorus XVI will, I hope, be a first step in doing justice to the man without whom Alexander would not, could not, have conquered most of the known world.

The Iliad
I am going to read the World’s Classic translation. I have owned this edition since my university days in the ’90s. The poem, of course, has been translated more recently but I am keen to read the World’s Classic version because I am looking for a particular quotation:

Men will know the difference now that I have come.

In my memory, these words are spoken by Achilles. When, though, I can’t remember. I presume it is after he leaves his tent following Patroclus’ death. I have to admit, though, it is only the quotation that I can remember (Though do I have it right…?). For all I know, I actually read it somewhere else and over time I have attached it to The Iliad because it is the kind of thing Achilles would say. Well, in 2018 I hope I can find out whether or not this is true.

***

Straight after finishing Partha Bose’s Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy, I started Ghost on the Throne by James Romm. Ghost is his account of the Wars of the Successors.

The last book length treatment of these wars that I read was Robin Waterfield’s Dividing the Spoils, which I enjoyed tremendously. Ghost on the Throne has, therefore, big boots to fill.

So far, I have only read the six page introduction but it begins very excitingly with Manolis Andronikos’ discovery of the royal tombs at Vergina. The introduction includes photographs of four ivory heads found in the tomb. They are identified as ‘Alexander’s Companions’. Before opening this book, I had only heard of the Alexander and Philip busts so it was a revelation to discover that there was more.

… though having said that, doesn’t Michael Wood see these heads in his In the Footsteps of Alexander documentary?

***

This morning, I read Plutarch’s 23 page Life of Eumenes. I wasn’t expecting to read this but yesterday I received a message from ‘anonymous’ via my Alexander Tumblr page asking for my thoughts about Alexander’s war secretary who went on to become one of the most skilled generals in the Wars of the Successors so before replying I decided to take the opportunity to refresh my memory concerning him.

Eumenes does not appear in the major sources of Alexander’s life very often. Arrian mentions him all but four times, Curtius twice; Plutarch (in his Life of Alexander) and Diodorus do not mention him at all. The reason for this is no doubt because for most of Alexander’s expedition, Eumenes served ‘only’ as the king’s war secretary. His only recorded military action was in India. There, Alexander gave him 300 cavalrymen and orders to notify two rebellious towns that a third, Sangala, had been captured but that if they submitted then they would have nothing to fear from him. In the event, Eumenes was unable to deliver this news as the residents of both towns had already heard about Sangala’s fall and fled.

Having given Eumenes only 300 cavalrymen Alexander clearly did not intend him to do anything more than deliver his message. If the Indians had resisted, Eumenes would undoubtedly have backed off and called to Alexander for help. As it was, this is pretty much what happened, anyway. Eumenes sent word to Alexander that the towns were empty. Thereafter, the king chased after the Indians. They had got a head start, though, and so most escaped.

It is interesting that we don’t hear of Eumenes chasing the Indians, either before or after Alexander’s arrival. He could have done but it wouldn’t surprise me if Alexander had told him ‘stay where you are’ on account of his inexperience.

But could he have been so inexperienced? It is astonishing to see how he went from administrator to one of the most competent generals of the early Successor Wars (Eumenes died in 316 BC). Where, though, might that experience have come from?

Alexander could have used Eumenes in a military capacity at any time during the expedition. But if he had, is it very likely that he would have given him this really minor responsibility now? I can’t see it. Sangala was destroyed in the summer of 326 BC. I wonder if Alexander gave Eumenes further military responsibilities as the Macedonian army, first, made its way to the Hyphasis river, and then, as it marched and sailed to the Indian ocean. The army did not reach the Gedrosian desert until September 325 so Eumenes would have had nearly a year’s experience as a general (perhaps a little more if he took part in the Cossaean campaign) to take into the Successor period. That’s still not much time, but perhaps men of genius don’t really need it.

By the way, if you would like to read Arrian’s and Curtius’ account of Eumenes’ sole known military command under Alexander, you can do so at Arrian V.24.6-7 and Curtius IX.1.19.

***

Over the last few weeks, I have been reading Caesar’s Footprint’s: Journeys to Roman Gaul by Bijan Omrani. When I saw it in the bookshop, I had to buy it. I love travelogues, and especially ones where the writer walks in the footsteps of famous historical people.

Having said that Caesar’s Footprints is not quite Omrani’s In the Footsteps of Alexander; his scope is far broader. He begins with Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul but moves on to look at the impact that Rome had on the territory from the time of Caesar through to the end of the Roman age five hundred years later.

The book is a great read, being in turn informative, descriptive, and evocative. I’m always happy to spend time in Julius Caesar’s company but was especially happy to learn about Gallo-Roman citizens such as Ausonius, who wrote a beautiful love poem to his new wife; a Gallic goddess named Sequana, and early Christian bishops like St Martin of Tours who did 25 years in the army before becoming a priest. He did several tours before becoming of Tour (sorry).

Of course, I knew about St Martin already but not the details of his life. I was sad to read that he wanted to deal with paganism using the same violent methods that Rome did in respect of Christians. I suppose he and Rome regarded their enemies as an existential threat but I still wish that he could have employed something other than violence to do away with pagan temples (There’s no mention of St Martin authorising acts of violence against people but we know that other Christian leaders though time have done so).

Anyway, I would not have mentioned the book here except that there does appear to be an Alexander reference. Sidonius sent a book to his relative, Apollinaris; with it, he sent a poem, addressed to the book, in which he ‘describes the route it must take to reach its destination’ (B Omrani Caesar Footprints 2017 p.212). Upon its arrival, Sidonius says it will ‘probably encounter Apollinaris walking in his secluded gardens’ (Ibid),

And if he were not to be found among the flowers, he would be cooling himself in his imitation grotto on the slope of a neighbouring hill, a ‘cavern’ formed by the branches of trees arching together to create a natural portico – better even than the ancient orchards of the Indian King Porus, which he decorated with golden vines heavy with clusters of gems.
(Ibid)

Is this Alexander’s Porus? I don’t recall the sources talking about his wealth but I don’t know of any other important kings of that name. Then again, I don’t know much ancient Indian history apart from Alexander. It would be great to get some background to this.

Categories: Arrian, Books, Diodorus Siculus, Philip II, Plutarch, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Started With Callixeina?

Let’s start today’s update post with the question (no doubt inspired by Oliver Stone’s Alexander) that brought someone to The Second Achilles: Did Olympias and Alexander ever have sex? Answer: No, they didn’t.

This is not to say, however, that Olympias had no interest in her son’s sexual development. There is a story (referred to by Peter Green in the Alexander the Great, Relationship with Hephaestion video embedded in this post) that when Alexander was growing up, Olympias and Philip II were so concerned by their son’s lack of interest in sex that they hired a courtesan named Callixeina to sleep with him. At first, Alexander showed no interested in her and his mother had to continuously beg him to sleep with her.

This anecdote comes from Athenaeus’ Deipnosophistae X.435 (here) Is it true? I don’t know. Alexander had no problem forming sexual relationships later on (e.g. with Roxane and Bagoas and probably others of both sexes) but when I read about him, I never get the impression that sex was high on his agenda so I would put Athenaeus’ story in the ‘perhaps’ category.

***

I have finally finished Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy by Partha Bose.

I read nearly 100 pages yesterday to bring the book to a close. My final opinion of it is that it is a consistently interesting read – I never stopped enjoying how Bose relates the events of Alexander’s life to contemporary businesses. Unfortunately, it is also a consistently unreliable history of the Macedonian king. Bose’s bibliography is seven pages long. He may have read all those books but he has not read them very well. If you are interested in a history of Alexander I cannot recommend this book to you. If you are a manager looking to be inspired, however, Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy maybe of use to you. Be mindful, however, that it’s foundations can be a little shaky (though see below).

***

Three passages from my reading have stuck with me. The first comes from the start of ‘Chapter 8 ‘Teeth Versus Tail’ – Logistics Strategy’.

A popular military maxim says that amateurs talk about strategy and professionals discuss logistics.
(p.197)

I really like the word choice here. Talk implies an endless conversation which can sum up amateurs very well. Discuss, on the other hand, has a more definitive feel about it – we discuss in order to reach a decision, which we then act upon.

I was very critical of Bose’s accuracy, above, but let me give him credit for getting one thing right that many, many other writers get wrong. Namely, that,

… Alexander was the last person to successfully conquer Afghanistan…
(p.203)

YES. How many times have I read articles that claim that Alexander, like Britain, the USSR, America etc failed to conquer Afghanistan? No, he conquered it (or rather, its predecessor countries) alright. What he didn’t do was settle the region properly. He won the war and, if you like, lost the peace. Unfortunately, Bose opens the above passage by saying ‘It is generally believed…’. As you may surmise, in my experience it is certainly not generally believed but I’ve given Bose a hard enough time already so we’ll let that go.

Finally, after discussing the Macedonian army’s refusal at the Hyphasis river to march any further east, Bose states that Alexander,

… went into his tent and pouted for three days. After that he came out and agreed to head home, but not before making a General MacArthur-like promise about returning some day.
(p.233)

This is the second time I have heard the claim that Alexander intended to return to India (See my comments underneath the What if Alexander the Great had lived? video embedded in this post) and I am still ignorant of its veracity. I shall look up the sources’ accounts of the Hyphasis ‘mutiny’ to see if I missed it and report back.

So, that’s Partha Bose. I have already started my next book – James Romm’s Ghost on the Throne.

Categories: Books | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Craterus and Perdiccas

It’s Christmas Eve. If you are reading this on 24th December, I hope you have a good day tomorrow, one that is full of love, as that is the essence of the day whether you are religious or not. If you are reading this on any other day of the year; well, I hope you have an equally love filled day tomorrow as well.

***

I started my Christmas holiday last Tuesday so have had lots of time to read and write about Alexander… ha ha… nope. Why does it happen that I have more time when I have less time? To be sure, I have been out a lot since Tuesday. On Thursday, though, I was indoors all day but then I was busy playing the third and final instalment of Life is Strange: Before the Storm. If you haven’t played this and have a console or PC I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is as un-Alexander-like a game as it possible for one to be and, to be honest, is all the better for it. Not everything should be about wine and phalanxes, though most things should.

***

Anyway what have I done that has been Alexander related?

Well, I have managed to read Craterus’ and Perdiccas’ entries from The Marshals of Alexander’s Empire by Waldemar Heckel. Heckel gives 57 pages to the two men, reflecting their importance in Alexander’s life and, albeit for the short time they lived, the Successor period (Both Craterus and Perdiccas died in 320 BC).

While I didn’t make many underlinings for Craterus. I was keen to do so when Heckel stated that, in the matter of the Philotas Affair, Craterus’ role was,

… much less complicated and less sinister than that of the unaccomplished Hephaiston.
(p.117)

Three things.

Less complicated? A few lines earlier, Heckel tells us that Craterus ‘sought to ruin Philotas for personal reasons’ as well as out of a desire to protect Alexander, to whom he was devoted. I really doubt that you have to look much further for Hephaestion’s motivation for desiring Philotas’ fall.

Less sinister? How is wanting to bring about the death of an enemy for no more than ‘personal reasons’ not a sinister motivation?

Hephaestion ‘unaccomplished’? Heckel is being ridiculous. This is what I wrote for my 17th December post,

There are no recorded incidents in the sources of Hephaestion failing Alexander in any commission that he was given. Whether it was to build a bridge or a city, choose a king or transfer equipment or food, he got the job done.

I stand by this. Wherein lies Hephaestion’s lack of accomplishment? Is it really because he was not as good a general as Craterus? And/or because he  had an unpleasant character? A man could still be either and still be accomplished, which Hephaestion was. His record is there for all to see.

***

Perdiccas was the Gordon Brown of Macedonian politics in the late fourth century B.C.: an extremely capable senior officer but a bad leader. To be fair, Heckel is not wrong when he says that ‘In order to continue Alexander’s work Perdikkas would have to be another Alexander, and this he was not.’ (pp.134-5). Why not? W. W. Tarn gives us some of the reasons in one of the quotation that Heckel uses to open the chapter. Perdiccas, he says, ‘was… unconciliatory and inordinately proud, and probably difficult to work with’. Of course, Alexander could be unconciliatory when he had a mind to be, but unlike Perdiccas he knew how to work with people, how to inspire them, how to get the best out of them.

Heckel states that,

Perdikkas’ career is an unfortunate tale of lofty ideals combined with excessive ambition and political myopia. He showed a determination to keep the empire intact, and for this idealism – though it was motivated by a quest for personal glory – he is to be admired.
(p.151)

I am not so sure the first point is correct. If Perdiccas had been a genuine idealist he would have done everything he could to keep the empire ready for the day when Alexander IV took up his rule. Instead, he quickly set about trying to win the Macedonian throne for himself; for example, by transporting Alexander’s body back to Macedon even though the late king wanted to be buried at Siwah and by marrying Alexander’s (only) full-sister, Cleopatra.

By-and-bye, I don’t blame Perdiccas for this. To survive the Macedonian political scene in the fourth century B.C. one had to be ambitious (something that Craterus wasn’t, and Hephaestion was, by the way) not idealistic.

***

Something that occasionally crops up on Social Media are images that portray Alexander as a national icon of Greece. Here is an example.

But was he? I don’t think so. He certainly believed in Hellenic values but Alexander was not a nationalist. He believed in his barbarian subjects, too, but you wouldn’t know this from some of the images I have seen. Like the one above, they play fast and loose with the truth in order to get their message across.

The image we see here is an ironic as well as false one. On the left hand side you can see the Vergina Star, a symbol of the ancient Macedonian kingdom. It has been painted to look like the modern day Greek flag.

Leaving aside the issue of its anachronism, it is an ironic image because the ancient Greeks hated the ancient Macedonians. And the feeling was reciprocated. If ancient Greece had had a flag and someone had placed it within the Vergina Star both Greeks and Macedonians would have been undoubtedly been offended by it.

This brings us to the falsity of the image; it is false because through the veil of its anachronism it tries to make a connection between ancient Greece and Macedon, which wasn’t there. And I mean here, a political connection, as the ancient Macedonians were very likely to be ethnically Greek.

We all have our own Alexander but we should at least try to ground him in historical reality rather than our current day ideology.

Categories: Books | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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