Letters to Arrian

A Letter to Arrian (27) The 114th Olympiad, in the archonship of Hegesias at Athens

a_roman_writerMy dear Arrian,

Alexander the Great Administrator. Well, no-one will ever call him that but I must say I am impressed by the attention he paid to the construction of a sluice between the Euphrates river and Pallacopas canal.
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As you note, the reason why the then current sluice needed to be replaced was that it was built into weak ground – ‘soft, wet clay’ which soaked up the Euphrates’ water thus defeating the purpose of having the sluice in the first place.
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You also say that the reason for Alexander’s interest is that he wanted to ‘improve Assyria’s prospects’. Could I add that he probably wanted a free flowing river for his warships as well?
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Even if that is also the case, Alexander could easily have left this work for one of his officers to do. That he took it on himself suggests a future area of study for me – ‘Alexander as administrator. Does the Euphrates-Pallacopas show he was better at it than I have hitherto given him credit for?’
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Something else I shall surely be looking into is the authenticity of Alexander’s letter to Cleomenes. The king never acted upon sentimental desire in matters of government. It seems inconceivable to me, therefore, that he would be prepared to offer Cleomenes a pardon for any future criminal acts just as long as the latter carried out Alexander’s instructions in regards the shrines in Alexandria and on Pharos.
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We now come to Alexander’s last days.
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What strikes me most about Alexander’s dying is not so much the rapidity of it – though I suppose that is notable – but the way it happened – how shall I say it? – in a single, flowing movement: Alexander fell ill, the illness got worse, he became gravely ill, and then – without his decline having been arrested or reversed once along the way; without him suffering any sharp declines as he lay on his bed – he died.
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Leaving aside the question of whether he was assassinated, Alexander died as gentle and straight forward a death as I can think of. It was almost tender. Given how he lived, I find this extraordinary.
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Something that I find inspiring is the way that even though Alexander was dying – and must after a point have known he was dying – ‘he still refused to neglect his religious duties’ and his military ones. This is a measure of the man, both of his faith (is that the right word?) in the gods, and determination to see his will done. Alexander the Religious is perhaps another aspect of his character that I might look into.
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With Alexander’ death, I come to the end of my last letter to you. I have enjoyed writing it, immensely. You will never read it, but I hope that one day I will meet you in those Elysian fields and that we may talk about Alexander together. And who knows who we might meet as we walk across that blessèd land in conversation – maybe the king himself? That would be good.

Until that day, dear Lucius, I remain

Your friend,

φιλέλλην

The above picture is from Ancient History

An index of all the letters can be found here

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A Letter to Arrian (26) The Loss of Friends

a_roman_writerMy dear Arrian,

It is ironic that after turning against Alexander because of his orientalising, the Macedonian soldiers came back to him upon hearing about the promotion of Persian officers, and creation of Persian units. It feels – even if not reads – like Alexander called their bluff on how his empire should be run, and won.
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And – surprise, surprise – he kept on winning, for after the reconciliation banquet the Macedonians who were no longer fit for service were sent home just as Alexander had intended should happen in the first place-!
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A confession: I felt no joy in reading about Alexander’s success at Opis. How could I? It was achieved completely at the expense of his men’s concerns and fears. That is not kingly behaviour.
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All in all, reading these pages was  a very difficult experience. There are no acts of heroism in them, no acts of derring-do; Achilles is wholly absent. In his place, we have only the unwise acts of a politician-king, the exposure of deep divisions and wounds within the Macedonian state, and death.
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And not just the death of ‘minor’ figures but, as it were, of Alexander himself: Hephaestion. What a blow that was. Two months later, Alexander went on campaign against the Cossaeans. It should have helped. It should have restored the old Alexander to us but I must say that it – the campaign – felt a bit pathetic.
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The reason for this is because I suspect that Alexander launched his attack against the Cosseans as much to take his mind off Hephaestion rather than because the Cossaeans were a worthwhile enemy. Well, alright, but I wish he could have found a different way to work through his grief than bloodshed. It just doesn’t seem fitting to Hephaestion’s memory, somehow.
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We know very little about Amyntoros, but I think he was a cultured man. He should have been honoured through the arts not with the edge of a sword.
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In my last letter I said that it felt like you were setting Alexander’s story up to reveal that he was murdered. For all the falsity of the aforementioned ‘reconciliation banquet’ I must admit I did not get the same feeling as I read these pages.
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The Babylonian priests’ warning reminded us, however, that Alexander’s end was indeed close. I must say I really dislike the inclusion of these prophecies. If they are historical, nothing can be done about them, but are they? They really do seem much too neat, much too certain to be true.
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In closing, I would like to go back to the discharged Macedonians. Alexander appointed an unwell Craterus to take them home. Nine months after leaving Opis (?), he had only gone as far as Cilicia. Why was he marching so slowly?
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Perhaps ill health slowed him down? I don’t think Craterus could have been that unwell, though; he was not going home into retirement but had orders to relieve Antipater as Deputy Hegemon of the Corinthian League. Did he know something was about to happen to Alexander and was holding onto his ready made army? I do wonder.
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Of course, we’ll never know. Moving on, I look forward to reading your thoughts on Alexander’s death, which I will cover in my next – and, dear friend, last! – letter. Your words will not be easy to read but only by staring down death can we make sense of life.

Your friend,

φιλέλλην

The above picture is from Ancient History

An index of all the letters can be found here

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A Letter to Arrian (25) The Sun Also Sets

a_roman_writerMy dear Arrian,

The seventh book of your account of Alexander’s life begins with an intimation of the future. You record that, according to some authorities, Alexander wanted to,

… make for Sicily and southern Italy to check the Romans, whose reputation, being greatly on the increase, was already causing him concern.

This is the dangerous thing about reading – you start out in one location but can never know where you will end up! Here I am in Pasargadae and Persepolis but now I want to leave my desk and rush to the Roman history section of the library in which I am writing these words, and see what your people were doing during Alexander’s reign that was of such concert to him. Out of respect for Alexander and you, my friend, I shall bravely resist this temptation!
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You quote an Indian sage as telling Alexander that he was ‘human like the rest of us’. Alexander took no offence at this. Indeed, he ‘expressed his approval’ of the sage’s words. How could he do so, though, if he also regarded himself as the son of Ammon-Zeus? The reason I ask this is that I have always imagined that after Siwah, Alexander believed himself to be semi-divine but maybe I got that wrong. It looks like I have another shelf to visit once I have visited the Romans.
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Sometimes in reading your text I feel as if I am swimming in the shallows. This is not because your writing is simple but that the history behind your words is deep. For example, Dandamis tells Alexander that his men ‘get no good from their world-wide wondering over land and sea’. I know that Dandamis is looking at the matter from the point-of-view of his philosophy but I wonder: could he also  have been referencing the deep discontent of the Macedonian soldiery that made Alexander turn back at the Hyphasis River, and which led to the mutiny at Opis? I wish very much that you had said more about Dandamis. I know, I know; you probably didn’t have the information to be able to do so. Ever is this the historians’ curse!
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If Dandamis makes me yearn for a greater historical knowledge, then the death of Calanus brings me right back to the present, and a very important issue in my time: assisted suicide. This is how I would describe Calanus’ death. Too weak to end his own life, he persuaded Alexander build the pyre for him. Should the king have done so? As with proponents of assisted suicide, you you look at the issue from Calanus’ point-of-view, and refer glowingly to the,

… unconquerable resolution of the human spirit in carrying a chosen course of action through to the end.

But what if that ‘unconquerable resolution’ is the ‘fruit’ of an unsound mind or external pressures? Alexander had no wish to see Calanus die. Not everyone, though, is so good towards those in a weakened state.
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In quick succession, we have the Susa Weddings, the clearing of the Macedonian soldiers’ debts, awards ‘for distinguished conduct’ and the Macedonians’ upset at the arrival of the 30,000 oriental soldiers whom Alexander calls – rather dangerously – his Epigoni (inheritors). These events gave me a strong sense of Alexander’s story coming to an end.
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Although I don’t believe that Alexander was assassinated, when I read about the Epigoni and the anger over Peucestas’ and Alexander’s orientalising I have to admit it almost feels like you are laying the groundwork for saying that he was murdered.
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Finally, a question. You say that at Opis, Alexander discharged those Macedonians now unfit for service. Why did he wait till then to do this? This reminds me of how he waited until he had crossed the Bactrian desert before discharging those Macedonians who were too unfit to serve anymore. It’s a small issue but I can’t imagine why he didn’t do this in Bactra and Pasargadae/Persepolis respectively.
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I have gone way over my word limit. Dandamis thought that the Macedonians’ exploring had no end. My letter does, though, and it is here.

Your friend,

φιλέλλην

The above picture is from Ancient History

An index of all the letters can be found here

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A Letter to Arrian (24) Nature’s Danger, Man’s Reward, a King’s Rest

a_roman_writerMy dear Arrian,

In the course of my life I have lead other men. I cannot say that I was a good leader, though, for while I was perfectly capable of giving an order I found that knowing what to say at other times much more difficult. What are the right words to use when comforting someone who is sad? How does one tell a person his work or behaviour is unacceptable?
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I wish I had read your account of Alexander’s march through the Gedrosian desert when these things were happening, for it has taught me a very important truth: sometimes, there are no right words. Furthermore, sometimes it is even better not to say anything at all.
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This was certainly the case for Alexander. His men were starving and thirsty. They were dying. This is why they stole the provisions meant for Nearchus’ fleet, and butchered their pack animals. In light of this, Alexander showed wisdom by feigning ignorance of what was happening. Of course, what the men were doing was objectively wrong. What Alexander was doing was objectively wrong, too. But I hold that the circumstances means that neither was culpable for their actions. How complex morality is!
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The harshness of the Gedrosian desert gave witness to some of the greatest highs and lows of Alexander’s career. He tipped the water into the sand in solidarity with his men but also had to leave behind those who were dying. Am I right to say that the Macedonians (like the Greeks?) believed that one had to be buried/cremated in order to find peace in the afterlife? If so, leaving people behind must have been a traumatic decision to take. They were not just fellow soldiers but friends.
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Alexander is to be commended for his selfless act but we cannot move on without asking why he decided to take his men through such inhospitable territory in the first place. I am amazed that he chose to do so in order to ‘go one better than Cyrus [the Great] and Semiramis’. It is one thing to do a positive deed in order to achieve greatness but no good could ever come of crossing such a harsh desert.
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And yet, it was the same spirit that led Alexander to take on the Persians in the first place, to defeat them and do so many other great things that led him to put his army at such risk. Desire is a dangerous creature, indeed.
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At this point, I would like to propose Peucestas as Alexander’s best satrapal appointment. He has stiff opposition from Antigonus Monophthalmus but whereas Antigonus was forced to use arms to bring his enemies to heel, Peucestas made friends of them with his willingness to learn Persian, and to live, and dress in an oriental fashion.
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I live 2300 years after Alexander died. There are not many places left that we can say ‘Alexander stood here’. Siwah is one of them, the tomb of Cyrus at Pasargadae is another. I am delighted to tell you that it still stands. Here is a picture.
thetombofcyrusthegreat
As you can see, the grove of trees is gone, and the door has been unsealed. The inside is bare, and there is no sign anymore of Cyrus’ body. A different religion looks after the tomb now. Everything is different. But, one day, all those years ago, though I am sure under the same blue sky, Alexander and his officers stood in front of where we are looking now. It is a tremendous thought. Oh to be the sun who witnessed that event!

Your friend,

φιλέλλην

The above picture is from Ancient History

An index of all the letters can be found here

Photograph: Wikipedia

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A Letter to Arrian (23) Harsh Words and Bitter Drinks

a_roman_writerMy dear Arrian,

In my last letter I looked at Alexander’s irresponsibility during his Mallian campaign. It’s worth pointing out that it did not, of course, stop him from defeating the Indians.
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Moving on, I am sure all historians, as much as myself, are grateful for your digression to set the record straight regarding what happened at the Mallian fort! Who was the real Alexander, though? He was such a complex person that mere facts don’t seem to me to be enough to unveil the person that he truly was.
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Does that make him knowable to us? Maybe. Although, if we really think that, we might as well stop wasting our time reading and writing about him.
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On the other hand, if we think that he can be known, how do we find him? I am currently reading a book* that has been described as a poem. It eschews linear narrative in favour of a story that is comprised of impressions. Maybe that is a way to find at least something of Alexander – in the impressions that the stories of him leave behind. I realise, however, it is a method fraught with danger…
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I noted with a smile the fact that you are not fond of the name ‘Gaugamela’ on the grounds that it ‘has a somewhat unpleasant sound’. Have you ever met someone from Germania? Maybe it was better in your time, but today, the German language sounds rough and harsh. Having said that, one of my favourite words (“Götterdämmerung”) is German! I apologise if this word, which means ‘Twilight of the Gods’ offends your ears. It is funny, though, how we can find beauty in such unexpected places. What is the explanation for this?

‘[H]e who acts bravely must expect his meed of suffering.’

These words, spoken to Alexander by a Boeotian soldier (and which are a quotation from Aeschylus) are as true today as they were then. It is a very sharp saying. How should one react to it? One possible way is by remembering the words of a soldier, as given in a poem** written eight or nine hundred years after your day. His lord had fallen. The men were dispirited. Death was coming and they knew it. But if this soldier was going to fall, he was not going to do so easily. Rousing the men, he said “Our hearts must be the stronger… as our strength grows less.” That is the way to be if we are forced to drink our meed of suffering.
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I would now like to take issue with you. Well, kind of. After Musicanus’ capitulation to Alexander you state that the best way to get what one wanted with him (Alexander, that is) was to admit one’s error. I know what you are saying but it seems to me the best way to get what one wanted from him was to fight him bravely.
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Finally, I have a question. Not so much for you but Alexander’s soldiers. You say that they were caught out by the ebbing tide of the Indus River as they ‘had no previous experience of it’. Could that really be so? Did they not see the tide when they crossed from Greece to Asia Minor? Or at any other point during their long journey? Well, maybe not. I’m still surprised, though, but as I have long since exceeded my word limit I had better stop.
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Until my next letter, I remain

Your friend,

φιλέλλην

The above picture is from Ancient History

An index of all the letters can be found here
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* The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
** The Battle of Maldon (text)

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A Letter to Arrian (22) The King’s Nature

imageMy dear Arrian,

I start this letter on the third day of Alexander’s journey down the Hydaspes River. I don’t suppose it is really a laughing matter but I could not help but smile when I read how, whenever the opportunity arose, he stopped to make war on the native tribes. It is a wonder Alexander ever made it to the end of the Hydaspes let alone to Babylon!
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The real reason for my smile, though, is because the king’s actions reminded me of an anecdote I once read concerning my favourite author (apart from you), J. R. R. Tolkien. He went on a walk with his friend C. S. Lewis. Whereas Lewis liked to keep a good pace, however, Tolkien was equally fond of stopping at every opportunity to examine the local flora. He loved his flowers and trees as much as Alexander loved to fight. If I listen carefully, maybe I can hear CSL’s and the Macedonian soldiers sighs still echoing upon the breeze*!
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On the fifth day of their journey, the Macedonian fleet reached the fast flowing junction of the Hydaspes and Acesines rivers. You state that the clashing water made ‘such an appalling shindy that the men at the oars stopped rowing in sheer panic’. Leaving aside your translator’s use of the very old-fashioned word ‘shindy’, this passage convinces me that we are never closer and yet further away from the ancient mind as in the encounter with natural phenomena.
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Close because 1900 years after your time we still do not full understand Nature in all her manifestations, and what we do not understand we will always find easy to fear. Far because what they feared was simply a noisy river; the Macedonians knew it was coming and – after all – these men had been through the fiercest battles. How could a river so affect them?! The answer lies, I think, in the fact that their worldview was radically different to ours.
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If I may, I would now like to leave the Hydaspes and Acesines behind and focus on three occurrences that took place during Alexander’s Mallian campaign, all of which which tell me something very unsatisfactory about his character (at this time?).

  1. After breaching the defences of a town, Alexander entered the gap ahead of his men, he ‘stood there alone, a conspicuous figure, holding the breach’
  2. Upon chasing Mallians into the Hydraotes river, Alexander ‘plunged’ into the river while his cavalry was still unformed and his infantry had not yet caught up with him.
  3. Impatient with the progress of a siege, Alexander ‘snatched’ a ladder, climbed it, and jumped into a Mallian fort to take the fight to the Indians by himself.

As much as I love Alexander I cannot help but regard these as irresponsible actions for that they put him in needless danger. It would be tempting to suggest that Alexander had a death wish, perhaps born of anger after having to turn back for home, but I don’t think this is correct. He wanted glory – to achieve something that would, as you say a little further on, ‘live on the lips of men’. With this mindset, I imagine that from Alexander’s point-of-view bravery and foolhardiness were one in the pursuit of glory.
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My friend, it has been good writing to you. I look forward to continuing your narrative.

Your friend,

φιλέλλην

The above picture is from Ancient History

An index of all the letters can be found here

* Dear Reader, I would be doing you an injustice if I did not add that it has been a long time since I read this anecdote. While I am certain I have got the essentials of it correct, please forgive me if I have got any details wrong. Feel free to leave a correction in the comments box.

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A Letter to Arrian (21) On the Banks of the Hyphasis River

roman_writerMy dear Arrian,

Here is the letter I never wanted to write. Or rather, the letter I wish I could have written differently. To what do I refer? Alexander’s death, perhaps? No. It is true that death is a sadness but it is also freedom. It has to happen and it is good that it does. The Macedonian army did not need to mutiny at the Hyphasis River, though, and it is this that I have just read about.

It happens in the pages of your book without warning. One moment Alexander is successfully prosecuting yet another siege, the next his men are depressed and holding meetings ‘at which even the best of them grumbled at their fate’. I suppose the key word here is ‘yet’. I used it as a nod towards Alexander’s perennial success in siegecraft. For his men, though, the word was a whip driving them further and further away from the families they longed to see and rest they needed to have. Maybe I was wrong to be so grumpy in the first paragraph of this letter.
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As regards Alexander’s speech to his officers it could have been written by a man of my own age. This is because he does not seek to take sole credit for his successes but determinedly shares them with his men. In short, he is inclusive.

… your courage and endurance… 
… you have made yourself masters of the lands…
… why do you hesitate to extend the power of Macedon – your power…
… the conquered territory belongs to you…

and so forth. Does Alexander mean what he says, though? I think he does, if only to a point. This is proven by his petulant reaction to Coenus’ speech. It reminds me of how some so-called inclusivists in my own time react to people who have the temerity to think differently to them. Sadly, they do not content themselves with sulking in their tents but try to get laws written to enforce their position. As if laws will ever change people’s hearts.
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At the beginning of Book Six of your account you refer to Alexander deleting a passage from a letter to his mother. This has got me to thinking about his relationship with her. The passing years make a mystery of Mankind to himself. Ironically, I think, this is due in part to the efforts of those who develop new ways of actually understanding our characters. Though these learned people may highlight certain truths about men and women, their inaccuracies – for surely no method is perfect – create new barriers to understanding. Who was Olympias, really? Was she as ruthless in spirit as she was in action? Did she care about the source of the Nile or simply want Alexander to come home? Did she pray for her son and his generals? Just him? I am grateful to you, Ptolemy and Aristobulos, my friend, but how I wish we had not just Alexander’s and Olympias’ letters but them to speak to us directly! Well, maybe after death, if the freedom it gives is not the false one of extinction but something greater than Elysium.

Your friend,

φιλέλλην

The above picture is from Ancient History
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An index of all the letters can be found here

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A Letter to Arrian (20) An Odd Bit of Work (!)

roman_writerMy dear Arrian,
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I cannot remember if I have said this before, but in case I haven’t, I will now. Thank you for the detail you give to describing Alexander’s major battles. As well as being very precise you write in a equally simple, and straight forward, fashion. This may make your writing style (seem) very dull to some but I believe it is a strength. Histories gains credibility from being solidly researched and written (even if – like dear Herodotus – they are not always right!).
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It is interesting to note that (according to Aristobulos, anyway) Porus’ son could have stopped the Macedonians from completing their crossing of the Hydaspes if only his charioteers had left their chariots and attacked the Macedonians on foot as the latter made their way to the riverbank from the second island.
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Rather than do so, they drove their chariots by and did nothing. This reminded me of how Bessus had the opportunity to deliver a fatal blow to Alexander by attacking him as he came off the Hindu Kush. As it finally completed its 11 day crossing, the Macedonian army was ripe for attack, for it was strung out and tired. Instead, the pretender chose to ride north to the aid of his ally, Spitamenes. Human life really does hang by a thread, doesn’t it?
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I have to be honest and say, I were summing up the battle at the Hydaspes River, I don’t think I would describe it as ‘an odd bit of work’ but this rather old-fashioned description made me smile. I wish I knew if it is a faithful rendering of what you wrote in Greek!
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To go back to the battle, was it still in progress when Porus finally agreed to meet Alexander? I assume not as the thought of two kings meeting one another in such a circumstance is too incredible to contemplate (although it does make me wonder if it has ever happened, anywhere else).

… what I have written in Bucephalus’ praise, I have written for Alexander’s sake.

Dearest Arrian, what lies behind this comment? Was it against your dignity to write well of an animal? I wonder. Perhaps you were reluctant to give Bucephalus too much praise lest people connect him to Incitatus and so compare Alexander and Caligula. If you see Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus about, box him round the ears for me. Bucephalus deserved great praise for his loyalty and bravery.
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Your friend,
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φιλέλλην

The above picture is from Ancient History
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An index of all the letters can be found here

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A Letter to Arrian (19) The River That Could Have Changed History

roman_writerMy dear Arrian,

Really, I did not like your little jibe at Herodotus. I do not know – any more than you – whether he ‘invented’ his story of ‘gold-mining ants’ but you should consider that maybe he was misinformed, or maybe the story that he received was transformed out of recognition from the story – as it were – that left India however many months or years before finally landing in his lap. It is most unwise to take things like this at face value.
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After your little advertisement for your Indica and digression regarding how the Romans built their temporary bridges, you consider the question of how Alexander crossed the Indus. As a compliment to the boats that you say he used, I wonder if he might not also have returned to the same method that he used to cross the Danube to confront the Getae in the first year of his reign*: stitching up and packing his tents with hay. You do refer to the use of ‘floats’ later on – I presume that this is not a synonym for boat or ship?
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Either way, he got across and marched to the Hydaspes where, on the other side of the river, Porus awaited him.
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At the Hydaspes, Alexander realised that he would not be able to cross the river directly – Porus’ elephants would terrify the Macedonian horses allowing his army to cut Alexander’s men down. If he was going to have any hope of victory, he would need to use cunning. Well, Alexander was a very cunning man, we see that in his subsequent actions, but I have to admit, whenever I see the c-word next to his name I can’t help but think it a very un-Alexander like trait. This is because the memory of his refusal to launch a night attack on Darius at Gaugamela is burned into my mind.

‘I will not,’ he said, ‘demean myself by stealing victory like a thief. Alexander must defeat his enemies openly and honestly.’

And yet, I know that even though Alexander is spelling out a philosophy rather than outlining a tactic for that particular battle it would be unfair not to admit the possibility of his thought evolving over time.
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When the time came for Alexander to launch his crossing, he did so in a galley along with Ptolemy, Perdiccas, Lysimachus and Seleucus. They could not have known it at the time, but those men – with the exception of Perdiccas – went on to define the Hellenistic era, especially Ptolemy and Seleucus. When I read this passage, I thought to myself ‘imagine how different history would have been if they had all died that day!’. It hardly bears thinking about, though it would definitely make an excellent ‘counter-factual’.
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The Macedonian crossing of the Hydaspes took a great deal of effort both in the run-up and during the crossing itself. It almost proved to be for nothing when they realised that what they had thought was the far side of the river was in fact just an island. And that the water which divided them from the bank was flowing with dangerous speed. Nevertheless, Alexander – once more – led the way. This moment is over very quickly in your book. It would be an easy one to forget. I imagine it was much different on the day, though: the fast flowing water, ‘up to the men’s armpits and the horses’ necks’. It must have been very scary. Added to that the knowledge that a battle awaited you on the other side. Really, from one engagement to the next, I don’t know how the Macedonians held themselves together so well. I am in continual awe of them.
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Your friend,
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φιλέλλην

The above picture is from Ancient History
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An index of all the letters can be found here

* Summer 335 BC

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Letter to Arrian (18) Other Gods and Wine

roman_writerMy dear Arrian,
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You begin Book Five with this quotation,

… one should not inquire too closely where ancient legends about the gods are concerned; many things which reason rejects acquire some colour of probability once you bring a god into the story.

My dear, cynical friend! How many things that were once regarded as unreasonable, nay, improbable, turned out later to be true? Rather than reject a legend because of the appearance of a god, might you at the very least ask what the god’s appearance means? Even if the god is not true, there may be truth in its appearance.

The leaders of Nysa acted most cleverly when Alexander approached their city. Rather than make war, or simply plead, for their survival, its lord, Acuphis, asked him to leave the city alone for the sake of its founder – Dionysus. I think they could only have chosen a better god if they had picked Zeus-Ammon himself.
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It is interesting to note why Alexander agreed to Acuphis’ request. Firstly, out of piety. But secondly, because,

… he felt… that his Macedonian troops would consent to share his hardships a little longer, if they knew they were in competition with Dionysus.

That is to say, in competition to go further than the god. This consideration could not have happened in a vacuum. Alexander must have heard something to the effect that (some of) his men were now getting very weary. In that light, his decision represents something of a gamble.
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Moving on, Alexander asked Acuphis to send him 300 cavalry and 100 infantry from the governing class. In response, the newly appointed governor of Nysa asked,

‘But how, my lord, do you suppose that a city can lose a hundred good men and still be well governed?’

Acuphis managed to persuade Alexander to accept – along with the 300 cavalry – 200 inferior infantry. This reminded me of a text you may or may not be familiar with – the first book of the Jewish scriptures, which we call ‘Genesis’. There* Abraham persuades his god not to destroy Sodom or Gomorrah for the sake of 50, 45, 40, 30, 20m then finally, 10 people. If ten righteous people can be found in Sodom he will let the city live. Now, I know that Acuphis’ words are not directly analogous to Abraham’s but I do think that they echo his and confirm what Genesis implicitly teaches about how to speak to those above one in authority – cunningly. I once saw a ‘management’ book based on Alexander’s leadership; maybe there should be one on how to speak based on Abraham and Acuphis!
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Further to the above, I note that not only did Alexander agree not to take the hundred expert soldiers but also declined to take the inferior ones. Here is a man who knows that it is not numbers which win battles but excellence.
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Now, I leave Alexander and his men in Mount Merus, making crowns of ivy, drinking, ‘making merry’ and shouting ‘Euoi, Euoi, [having] lost their wits in the true Bacchic frenzy’. That must have been a happy day!
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Your friend,
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φιλέλλην

The above picture is from Ancient History
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An index of all the letters can be found here

*Genesis 18: 20-32

Categories: Letters to Arrian | Tags: , | 1 Comment

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