Continuing my look at Curtius’ use of the word ‘torture’ in his history of Alexander. In this post, I focus on its usage in the narrative of the the Philotas Affair.
Read other posts in this series here
- Book VI contains 14 references to torture
- Book VII contains 3 references to torture
They spoke with one voice, but was their motive good or bad?
… the decision was unanimous that Philotas should be interrogated under torture to force him to name his accomplices in the crime.
Alexander speaks to the assembly during Philotas’ trial
When the matter was still uncorroborated, Cebalinus reported it, undeterred by fear of torture…
Coenus challenges our perception of what makes for an act of mercy
[Coenus] picked up a stone which happened to be lying before his feet to throw at Philotas – from a wish to save him from torture, many thought…
Philotas speaks in his own defence at his trial
[Philotas said] ‘If you think torture to be more reliable than oracles, I do not refuse even this method of exposing the truth.’
The trial is delayed
The king returned to the assembly and adjourned the hearing to the following day, either to subject Philotas to further torture in prison or to conduct a more thorough investigation of the entire episode…
Justice or revenge?
The general feeling was that Philotas should be stoned to death according to Macedonian custom, but Hephaestion, Craterus and Coenus declared that torture should be employed to force the truth out of him, and those who advocated other punishment went over to their view.
Philotas is tortured
The torturers laid out before Philotas’ eyes all the instruments used to inflict pain. Philotas, on an impulse, asked: ‘Why hesitate to execute your king’s enemy, a confessed assassin? What need is there for interrogation under torture? I planned the crime; I wanted it to succeed.’ Craterus insisted that he also make his confession under torture. Philotas was seized, blindfolded and his clothes stripped from him, while all the time he invoked the gods of his country and the laws of humanity – to no avail, for their ears were deaf. He was racked with the most cruel tortures: not only was he a condemned man but his torturers were personal enemies trying to please the king. Though subjected both to fire and beatings – no longer to make him talk but as punishment – he managed at first to keep not only from screaming but even groaning. But his body began to swell with weals and he could not bear the blows that cut to the bone. He promised to tell them what they wished to know if they put an end to the torture, but he wanted them to swear on Alexander’s life that the interrogation would be terminated and the torturers removed. On being granted both those terms Philotas said: ‘Craterus, say what you want me to say.’ Craterus was annoyed that Philotas was mocking him and he recalled the torturers. But Philotas began to beg for time to get his breath back, after which he was prepared to tell all he knew.
Under Macedonian law, the family of an accused could also be executed
In the meantime word of the torture of Philotas had got around, and this spread panic among the cavalry, the men from the best families and especially those closely related to Parmenion.
Curtius states a fact we still need to remember today
Whether Philotas told the truth or whether he lied from a wish to deliver himself from torture is debatable, for the end in view of both those who confess the truth and those who lie is termination of the pain.
the crime referred to below is that of leading Dymnus’ conspiracy
Once again they applied the instruments of torture, now themselves also using their spears to strike him in the face and eyes, and they extracted from him a confession to this crime as well.
Philotas tries to save his father’s life
[Philotas said he] made haste to execute the plan while he still had the prize in his hands. If they did not believe his father took no part in it, he did not refuse further torture, even though he could no longer endure it.
Demetrius brazens it out
With vigorous protestations and with the confidence which he felt showing in his expression, [Demetrius] denied any plot against the king, going so far as to demand torture for himself.
More conspirators revealed
… Philotas’ eyes shifted round, falling eventually on one Calis who stood close by. Philotas told him to come closer and, when Calis showed agitation and refused to come over to him, he said, ‘Are you going to permit Demetrius to lie and me to be tortured again?’ Calis was left speechless and pale. The Macedonians began to suspect that Philotas wished to incriminate the innocent, for the young man had been named neither by Nicomachus nor by Philotas himself under torture but, when he saw the king’s officers around him, Calis confessed that he and Demetrius had planned the crime. Thereupon all those named by Nicomachus, when the signal was given, were stoned to death in the traditional Macedonian manner.
What price truthfulness
While Philotas denied the crime his torture was thought cruel, but after his confession he no longer won pity even from his friends.
Alexander uses the Philotas Affair to eliminate past enemies (Alexander Lyncestes) as well as present, supposed, ones (Amyntas etc were close friends of Philotas)
After Lyncestes’ body was removed, the king had Amyntas and Simmias brought in. (The youngest of the brothers, Polemon, had fled on hearing of the torture of Philotas.)
What happened to Polemon
[Polemon] was a young man in the early bloom of youth, and when the cavalry had been alarmed at Philotas’ torture, he had been carried away by the spreading panic.
Curtius on Parmenion and Philotas
At the age of seventy [Parmenion] performed the duties of a young commander, often even those of a common soldier. He was a shrewd tactician and a good fighter, well-liked by his officers and more popular still with the rank and file. Whether such qualities made him covet royal power or only brought him under suspicion of doing so is debatable, for even when the affair lay in the recent past and a verdict was more attainable, it was uncertain whether Philotas, broken by the cruellest tortures, actually told the truth about matters which could not be verified or simply resorted to lies to end his torment.
Here are some of my thoughts based on the above quotations. Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments section.
- Curtius continues to use the word ‘torture’ and its variants in a variety of ways. My break down:
- 3 references to a desire for someone to be tortured (VI.8.15, VI.11.10, VI.11.13-19)
- 1 reference to individual motives for torturing during the act (VI.11.13-19)
- 1 reference to someone acting without fear of torture (VI.9.9)
- 2 references to someone wanting to save another person from torture (VI.9.31, VI.11.33)
- 3 references to a willingness to undergo torture to prove a point (VI.10.29, VI.11.33, VI.11.35)
- 1 reference to the possibility of torture being carried out (VI.11.9)
- 2 references to torture being carried out (VI.11.13-19, VI.11.31)
- 3 references to the fear of torture (VI.11.20, VII.1.10, VII.2.4)
- 1 authorial statement on the value or otherwise of torture (VI.11.21 see also VII.2.33-34)
- 2 references to torture having been carried out (VI.11.36-38, VII.2.33-34)
- 1 reference to how the Macedonians viewed torture (VI.11.40)
- In the last post I noted that Curtius uses the word ‘torture’ eight times in the first six books of his history (up to the Philotas Affair), and that he does so in a variety of ways. As you can see above, this continues to be the case. Of the eleven different contexts in which he uses the word during his account of Philotas’ downfall, seven are new. The ones we saw before are the references to a. someone being willing to undergo torture to prove a cause/point, b. to torture being carried out, c. to the fear of torture and d. to torture having been carried out
- VI.8.15, VI.10.29, VI.11.10, VI.11.13-19, VI.11.31 are all indicative of torture being an established part of the Macedonian legal process
- VI.9.31 At first glance, Coenus’ actions appear to be very merciful. Cruelly, Alexander refuses to let him throw the stone. But this is because he wants Philotas to be able to give his defence. Parmenion’s son does so. Afterwards, Coenus’ attitude has changed.
At VI.11.10 we se him teaming up with Hephaestion and Craterus to declare that Philotas should be tortured into revealing the truth of his treachery. Whose side is Coenus really on?
Well, immediately before describing how Coenus picked up the stone, Curtius writes that ‘although [Coenus] had married a sister of Philotas, he attacked him more fiercely than anyone’.
Where Curtius writes ‘although’ I would say ‘because’. Coenus knew very well, just as the fleeing cavalrymen did, that his close ties to Philotas might put him under suspicion of treachery as well. That’s why he attacked him, and that’s why he spoke up with Hephaestion and Craterus. The suggestion that Coenues wanted to stone Philotas ‘to save him from torture’ seems to me mere wish fulfilment.
- As I mentioned above, we see in VI.11.10 how Hephaestion, Craterus and Coenus all call for Philotas to be tortured into confessing to plotting to overthrow Alexander. Theirs was something of an unholy alliance: in Chapter 47 of his Life of Alexander, Plutarch talks about how Hephaestion and Craterus ‘often came into open conflict’ (as a result of a, frankly, petty jealousy towards each other’s friendship with Alexander).
The saying is ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ but clearly not applicable here. I don’t think either Hephaestion or Craterus had anything to fear from their connection to Philotas – it was strictly professional. Their actions may, therefore, be attributed either to a genuine desire to see justice done, to take revenge on Philotas for his crime out of love for Alexander or simply to impress the king. Curtius believes the latter reason to be the case. I think both men were too close to want or need to impress him. I suspect they acted out of malevolence (see how they strike him with their spears) but also a desire to justice to be done. Their love for Alexander would have demanded that.
- VI.11.21 represents an unexpectedly sober moment for Curtius. It’s the kind of thing I expect Arrian to say! Which is the case with Philotas? Personally, I think he was innocent of the charges against him. He died because of his character rather than actions. And though Alexander bears the chief responsibility for Philotas’ unfair death, Philotas’ enemies within the army – especially Hephaestion, Craterus and (if to a lesser extent) Coenus – also share in his guilt.
- VI.11.40 is an example of how quickly Macedonian minds could be changed (See also VII.2.3,7 and how quickly the assembly turns in favour of Amyntas, Simmias, and Polemon). Given the fact that prisoners could be executed on the spot (poor Alexander Lyncestes’ fate [VII.1.9]) even before their trial had finished, appearing before the supposedly formal assembly must have been more like facing a mob, sometimes.