Posts Tagged With: Alexander the Great

Boris and the Boy Band Singer

Today (31st January 2020) is ‘Brexit’ Day in the U.K. At 11pm tonight, Great Britain will formally cease to be a member of the European Union.

The referendum to decide whether we should remain a member of the EU, or leave, took place three and a half years ago in the summer of 2016.

The fight over what would happen next, however, was only ended last December, when the Conservative Party under Boris Johnson won a decisive victory in the General Election.

Prior to that, the Conservative Party’s lack of Parliamentary majority meant that it was not inconceivable that Brexit might not happen at all.

Tonight, however, it will, and a few days ago Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, leader of the House of Commons, raised the tone of public discourse regarding Brexit (not a difficult job, admittedly) in what can only be described as a very interesting manner by comparing Boris Johnson to Alexander the Great.

According to The Daily Telegraph, Rees-Mogg said

“our current Prime Minister is a great cutter of Gordian knots, and where there is administrative inefficiency, the Alexander the Great of our time will be cutting these Gordian knots”…

The Daily Telegraph

Well, to his credit, Johnson certainly did that but there the similarity ends. Alexander was a soldier and king not a democrat; he created an empire rather than leave it, and faced danger rather than run away from it (I am thinking here of the way in which Johnson refused to be interviewed by Andrew Neill). You knew where you stood with Alexander. With Boris Johnson I am not at all so sure. I hope, therefore, and trust that Rees-Mogg had his tongue in his cheek when he made that comparison.


From The Mail Online

After spending hours researching portraits and statues of famous historical figures, graphic designer Becca Saladin has painstakingly recreated them to give them a makeover for the 21st century.

The Mail Online

Here is her Alexander,

Well, the image makes sense, but I do rather think she has made a mistake with his hair. It looks good on top but Alexander would never have it so short on the sides. He is the descendent of Herakles, after all.

Of course, Ms Saladin has made him look like a boy band singer but isn’t there a sense in which that’s the modern equivalent of what he was – young, handsome, talented, charismatic etc.

Categories: Alexander on the Web, Art, By the Bye | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Finding Alexander: In Philippopolis

I have written a few times already on this blog about Patrick Leigh Fermor, the Englishman who walked across Europe in his teens and led a daring raid to capture a German general in Crete during World War II. After the war, Leigh Fermor returned to travelling but eventually made his home in southern Greece.
In September last year I bought The Broken Road, which is the third and final volume of his account of the walk (I wrote about it here). Of course I intended to start reading it then but a couple of false starts followed before I came back to it properly. And even then… I must stop being distracted and learn to sit down and concentrate!
Anyway, I digress. The reason why I am mentioning the book here is to share with you a reference to Alexander that I found on page 33 (hardback edition). Leigh Fermor has just arrived in the ancient city of Philippopolis which, as you may know, was (re)founded by Philip II of Macedon in 340 BC. Nowadays, it is called Plovdiv. But just as Leigh Fermor calls Istanbul Constantinople, we’ll stick with Philippopolis. Leigh Fermor continues,

I drank in a composite aroma which seemed the substantive essence of the Balkans, compounded of sweat, dust, singeing horn, blood, nargileh-smoke, dung, slivo, wine, roasting mutton, spice and coffee, laced with a drop of attar of roses and a drift of incense, and wondered whether Alexander, as a boy, had ever seen this town which his father fortified on the eastern march of his kingdom against the Thracian tribes.

Leigh Fermor’s question is impossible to answer. We simply do not know enough about Alexander’s childhood to know where he travelled. Having said that, unless the Thracians were allies of Philip’s at any given point I doubt Alexander would have gone there. And even then his only reason for going would be as a hostage, and I am fairly sure that never happened to him.
What about when Alexander was grown up? That is, between 340 when Philip conquered the city (before which, according to Wikipedia, was called Eumolpias) and 334 when he crossed the Hellespont and left Europe forever? Well, Arrian is pretty good as a record of Alexander’s campaigns but to the best of my knowledge he doesn’t mention Alexander visiting the city when he campaigned in Thrace in 334.
Of course, it is quite possible that he may have done and the information was either lost to the historians of antiquity or they just didn’t record it. Unless that is the case, I think that the answer to Patrick Leigh Fermor’s question is probably if not definitely in the negative.

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

The Gordian Knot

  • Following in Alexander’s footsteps thanks to Google Maps!
  • For other posts in this series, click here

In antiquity Gordium was the capital of Phrygia. Now, it is is the village of Yassıhüyük in Turkey

In antiquity Gordium was the capital of Phrygia. Now, it is is the village of Yassıhüyük in Turkey

Gordium is in Hellespontine Phrygia; the town stands on the river Sangarius, which rises in Phrygia and runs through Bithynian Thrace into the Black Sea.
(Arrian I. 29)

Upon reaching this place [Alexander] was irresistibly impelled to visit the palace of Gordius and his son Midas high up on the acropolis, in order to inspect the famous Wagon of Gordius and the Knot with which its yoke was fixed.
(Arrian II. 3)



[According to tradition] the man who undid the knot which fixed its yoke was destined to be the lord of Asia.

The cord was made from the bark of the cornel tree, and so cunningly was the knot tied that no one could see where it began or where it ended.
(Arrian II. 3)



For Alexander, then, how to undo it was indeed a puzzle, though he was none the less unwilling to leave it as it was, as his failure might possibly lead to public disturbances. Accounts of what followed differ: some say that Alexander cut the knot with a stroke of his sword and exclaimed, ‘I have undone it!’, but Aristobulus thinks that he took out the pin – a sort of wooden peg which was driven right through the shaft of the wagon and held the knot together – and thus pulled the yoke away from the shaft… In any case, when he and his attendants left the place where the wagon stood, the general feeling was that the oracle about the untying of the knot had been fulfilled.

Categories: Mapping Alexander | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

The Triumph of Friendship over Wealth

For other posts in this series click here

Date 333 BC Place Cydnus River, Asia Minor
Bad Medicine Is What I Need
Philip of Arcanania

Alexander the Great Rescued from the River Cydnus (Pietro Testa)

Alexander the Great Rescued from the River Cydnus (Pietro Testa). Source: see below

Alexander Falls Ill
It isn’t often that a man gets to show how hard he is in a – ahem – bed chamber, but in the summer of 333 B.C. Philip of Arcanania was given the opportunity and was not found wanting.
This is how it happened. Alexander took ill after going for a bathe in the Cydnus River. His condition was so bad his doctors wouldn’t treat him in case he died and they got the blame for it. For ‘blame’ read ‘executed’.
Cometh the hour, cometh the bad ass. Philip had been Alexander’s doctor since the latter’s youth. If the king is going to die, he told himself, I am going down with him. We hear a lot in the news these days about how wonderful the NHS in Britain and ‘Obamacare’ in America are but let’s be honest no British or American doctor would guarantee the success of their treatment with their own life.
While Philip was off making the potion, Alexander received a letter from Parmenion. In it, his second-in-command warned that Philip had been bribed by Darius and intended to kill him.
According to Curtius, Alexander debated with himself whether to accept Philip’s treatment or not. After much thought, he decided he would do so. ‘Better to be killed by someone else’s crime than my own fear’ (Curtius). That’s so Alexander it makes me wonder if he was really ill at all.
Alexander told no one about the letter. Instead, he sealed it and hid it under his pillow. Philip took two days to finish making his draught. Upon entering Alexander’s bed chamber, he handed it over. In return, Alexander gave him the letter and asked him to read it.
The Moment of Truth
The king drank the draught ‘with confidence’ (Curtius). Philip’s reaction to Parmenion’s letter, however, depends on which source you read. Curtius says that the physician ‘demonstrated more outrage than fear’. Plutarch says it was a scene worthy of the stage – Alexander serenly drinking the cup while Philip, upon reading the letter, ‘was filled with surprise and alarm’. Significantly, however, the physician was not deflected from his course, and he implored Alexander ‘to take courage and follow his advice’ (Plutarch). Arrian says that Philip simply read the letter and, without alarm, told the king to carry on following his instructions.
Which ever way you look at it, Philip behaved with commendable strength. Here he was, being stitched up – see below – by the second most powerful man in the Macedonian army and, even in Plutarch’s account, he stood still, stood tall, held firm and held fast. Next time you watch a medical drama on TV and see all the doctors and nurses running around like headless chickens wondering what to do about someone’s broken finger, remember Philip.
As it happens, the danger wasn’t over yet. Plutarch and Curtius both report that after taking Philip’s medicine, Alexander fell ill again. Curtius says his ‘breathing became intermittent and difficult’. Plutarch tells us that Alexander ‘fell into a swoon and displayed scarcely any sign of sense or of life’.

  • Did Philip panic?
  • Did Philip run away?
  • Did Philip kill himself in fear and shame?

No, of course not, and shame on you if you think he did any of the above. What Philip actually did was stick to his job and carry on treating the king. Soon, Alexander recovered and proved that he was back to his best by giving Darius a well deserved pasting at the Battle of the Issus River a few months later. What a man.
There is something very suspect about Parmenion’s rôle in this affair. It may just be me but when I consider what Parmenion had to gain by Alexander’s death – as the king’s second-in-command he had a more than reasonable chance of taking the throne in the event of Alexander’s dying without an heir – his bad mouthing of the one doctor who was willing to help the king looks to me like an attempted coup. It was the perfect plan, after all: if Alexander didn’t die, Parmenion could just blame his ‘source’ for providing bad information. We don’t hear anything about who told Parmenion that Philip was going to poison Alexander after the event so I imagine that that is exactly what happened and he got away with it.
Rating of Hard 8/10
For Philip set himself the target of healing Alexander with primitive medicine knowing that if he failed, he would probably die himself; he kept his head after reading Parmenion’s letter
Against As Alexander’s friend even if the king had died would the other generals really have turned against him? Philip was at Medius’ party and probably helped the king then. We don’t know what happened to him thereafter but if he had been executed for failing to save Alexander’s life, I think one of the sources would have mentioned it.
Picture Source The Daily Beast. Testa’s painting can be found at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art

Categories: Muscular Macedonians | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Alexander’s Visit to Troy

Following in Alexander’s footsteps thanks to Google Maps!

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Troy is located just 'under' the Propontis (Sea of Marmara) on this map

Troy is located just ‘under’ the Propontis (Sea of Marmara) on this map

Alexander advanced with his army to the Hellespont and transported it from Europe to Asia. He personally sailed with sixty fighting ships to the Troad, where he flung his spear from the ship and fixed it in the ground, and then leapt ashore himself the first of the Macedonians, signifying that he received Asia from the gods as a spear-won prize.
(Diodorus XVII. 17)

Troy on the east coast of Asia Minor (Turkey)

Troy on the east coast of Asia Minor (Turkey)

[Alexander] travelled inland to Troy and offered sacrifice to Athena, patron goddess of the city; here he made a gift of his armour to the temple, and took in exchange, from where they hung on the temple walls, some weapons which were still preserved from the Trojan war. These are supposed to have been carried before him by his bodyguard when he went into battle.
(Arrian I. 11)

Troy is a ruin today but, as you can see, is still popular with photographers

Troy is a ruin today but, as you can see, it is still popular with photographers

He is also said to have offered sacrifice to Priam on the altar of Zeus Herceius, to avert his anger against the family of Neoptolemus, whose blood still ran in his own veins.

At Troy his sailing master, Menoetius, crowned him with gold, as did Chares the Athenian, who came from Sigeium with a number of others, either Greeks or natives.

One account says that Hephaestion laid a wreath on  the tomb of Patroclus; another that Alexander laid one on the tomb of Achilles, calling him a lucky man, in that he had Homer to proclaim his deeds and preserve his memory.
(Arrian I. 11 – 12)

Troy, the city that fell for a woman's beauty

Troy, the city that fell for a woman’s beauty

Once arrived in Asia, [Alexander] went up to Troy, sacrificed to Athena and poured libations to the heroes of the Greek army. He smeared himself with oil and ran a race naked with his companions, as the custom is, and then crowned with a wreath the column which marks the grave of Achilles; he also remarked that Achilles was happy in having found a faithful friend while he lived and a great poet to sing of his deeds after his death.

While he was walking about the city and looking at its ancient remains, somebody asked him whether he wished to see the lyre which had once belonged to Alexander [Paris] of Troy. He answered that he cared nothing for that lyre but asked for the lyre which Achilles played when he sang of the glorious deeds of brave men.
(Plutarch, Life of Alexander, 15)

Categories: Mapping Alexander | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Alexander’s Death

Another day, another tantalising prospect. Five months after the Daily Mail ran a story that asked if Alexander the Great’s tomb had been found (Most unlikely; you can read what I wrote about it here) various newspapers have run articles raising the possibility that the cause of Alexander’s death has been discovered. Here is the Independent‘s take on the matter.
In short, after ten years study, Dr Leo Schep, a toxicologist at New Zealand’s National Poisons Centre, has come to the conclusion that the Macedonian king was ‘most likely’ poisoned with ‘white or false hellebore’ in his wine. The Independent notes that the symptoms of hellebore poisoning match those given by Diodorus in his account of Alexander’s last illness.
It is very telling, however, that the Independent’s report concludes,

Dr Shep (sic) does however caution that despite his theory, the actual cause of death cannot be proven: “We’ll never know really,” he says.

I take from this that Alexander’s symptoms after Medius’ party also apply to other fatal illnesses. If so, the search for the truth regarding how Alexander died surely lies away from consideration of the medical evidence. I’m not going to suggest where it is, however, as I have no idea.
On a general level, the pro-assassination argument that makes most sense to me is the one that says a disaffected officer – like Iollas or Cassander – poisoned Alexander on behalf of their father, Antipater, to stop him from being executed on his arrival in Babylon.
Against that idea, though, and apart from the fact that I think it came from Olympias who had an interest in besmirching the Antipatrid name, I find it really hard to believe that Antipater and his sons – if they were the murderers – were allowed to survive the aftermath of Alexander’s death and that no one apart from the biased Olympias ever blamed them for it. Surely if the Antipatrids were known to have done the deed one of their enemies would have seen fit to broadcast this later on?
I’ve had other thoughts about Alexander’s death which I have written down and deleted. I shall let them go for now as they really need more thought and study – more than I am willing to give the issue at this time. To be honest, I regard the manner of his death as a lot less interesting than most other parts of his life.

Categories: Of The Moment | Tags: | Leave a comment

The Bullet Point Alexander: Alexander’s Siblings

Blog Posts for the interested and the rushed

  • Alexander had six siblings – two half-brothers, three half-sisters and one full-sister
  • CAVEAT! One of those siblings (Caranus) may not have actually existed
  • In the early years of the diadoch period a rumour emerged that Ptolemy I was Philip II’s son by Arsinoë. To my mind this is straight forward propaganda so I have not included Ptolemy here
  • Read more bullet points here

In order of year of birth:

  • Born in 358/57 BC
  • Son of Philip II and Philine of Larissa
  • According to tradition, Philine was a woman of ill repute but Heckel rejects this
  • Arrhidaeus suffered from an unidentified disability throughout his life
  • This disability may have been epilepsy or a mental impairment of some sort
  • Plutarch states that the condition was brought about by Olympias when she gave him drugs (that is, to either kill him or damage his faculties sufficiently to render him unable to rival Alexander for the Macedonian throne)
  • In 336 BC Philip II proposed that Arrhidaeus marry Ada of Caria. Alexander’s fear that this might threaten his accession to the throne made him propose marriage to Ada
  • Her father, Pixodarus, was delighted by the proposal but Philip was decidedly not. He put a stop to the matter and banished those of Alexander’s friends who had helped him court Pixodarus from Macedon
  • Arrhidaeus’ movements during Alexander’s eastern expedition are unknown
  • Upon Alexander’s death, his generals proposed that Roxane’s unborn child – if a boy – be declared king. The cavalry agreed to this but the infantry demanded that Arrhidaeus be made king
  • Roxane did indeed give birth to a boy. He was named Alexander IV
  • Eumenes suggested that there should be a joint kingship. This was agreed by generals, cavalry and infantry alike 
  • Under the terms of the deal, Craterus should have become Philip III’s guardian. As it turned out, however, Perdiccas took on that role
  • In 322/1 BC, Philip III married Adea, daughter of Alexander’s half-sister, Cynnane
  • After Perdiccas was assassinated in 320, Peeithon and and an officer named Arrhidaeus took over the regency of Philip III
  • (NB: The care of Philip III and Alexander IV was offered to Ptolemy but he declined)
  • Following the conference at Triparadeisus (320 BC), Antipater took over the regency of both kings
  • In 319 BC, upon Antipater’s death, Polyperchon became Philip III’s regent
  • In 317 BC Polyperchon formed an alliance with Olympias
  • To prevent Olympias gaining control over Philip III, Adea transferred his regency to Cassander
  • Adea tried to block Polyperchon and Olympias’ return to Macedon from Epirus but failed
  • Thereafter, Olympias had Arrhidaeus murdered and forced Adea to commit suicide
  • Philip III is buried in Aegae along with Cynnane and Adea


  • Spelling variations: Kynane, Kyna, Kynnana and Cyna
  • Born c. 358 BC
  • Daughter of Philip II and Audata
  • Marched on campaign with Philip II in the 340s and – it is said – killed an Illyrian queen ‘with her own hand’ (Heckel)
  • Married Amyntas son of Perdiccas III
  • Mother of Adea
  • Amyntas was the young king who Philip II acted as regent for before taking the Macedonian throne for himself (360/59 BC)
  • Upon Philip’s death, therefore, Amyntas had as good a claim to the throne as Alexander
  • For this reason Alexander had him killed in 336/35
  • During his Thracian campaign in 335 BC Alexander promised Cynnane to King Langarus of the Agrianes. He died, however, before any marriage could take place
  • During Alexander’s eastern campaign, Cynnane had Adea ‘trained in the Illyrian arts of War’ (Heckel)
  • Killed by Alcetas in 321 BC as she travelled to Perdiccas’ court to arrange Adea’s marriage to Philip III Arrhidaeus
  • Buried in Aegae alongside Adea and Philip III Arrhidaeus


  • Born between 355 – 353 BC
  • Daughter of Philip II and Olympias
  • In 336 Cleopatra married Alexander I of Epirus (her uncle)
  • During the wedding celebrations, Philip II was assassinated by Pausanias
  • In 335 BC Cleopatra gave birth to Cadmeia and Neoptolemus (twins?)
  • At some point after the birth of his children Alexander I went on campaign in southern Italy
  • During Alexander’s absence, Cleopatra ruled Epirus as the regent of her son
  • Alexander I died while on campaign in 331/0
  • After her husband’s death, Cleopatra returned to Macedon and remained there until Alexander the Great’s death in Babylon
  • In 322 BC Cleopatra offered to marry Leonnatus. He died before the wedding could take place
  • Not long later, she made a similar offer to Perdiccas. But he had already agreed to marry Nicaea, daughter of Antipater
  • Between c. 322 – 308 BC Cleopatra lived in Sardis (Asia Minor)
  • In 308 Ptolemy I proposed to her – ‘in connection with his only serious bid for greater power’ (Heckel)
  • Fearing the consequences of this alliance, Antigonus Monophthalmus had Cleopatra killed


  • Spelling variations: Thettalonike and Thessalonice
  • Born c. 345/4 BC
  • Daughter of Philip II and Nicesipolis of Pherae
  • Jason of Pherae’s niece
  • Thessalonike’s mother died twenty days after her daughter’s birth
  • Nothing is known of Thessalonike’s life between her birth and 316/5 BC
  • It is possible, though, that Olympias served as her guardian during that time
  • In 315 BC Thessalonike was forced to marry Cassander
  • They had three children together – Philip, Alexander and Antipater
  • Cassander founded a city in Thessalonike’s honour, naming it after her
  • Murdered c. 296 by her son, Antipater, for not promoting his sole claim to the Macedonian throne


  • Born in 336 BC just before Philip II’s death
  • Daughter of Philip II and Cleopatra Euridike
  • Full-sister of Caranus
  • Scholars who believe that Caranus existed suggest that Cleopatra was born in 337 BC
  • Assassinated by Olympias in the weeks/months following Philip’s death and against Alexander’s wishes


  • Born between 338 BC (when Philip married Cleopatra) and 336 BC (when Cleopatra was assassinated)
  • Son of Philip II and Cleopatra Euridike
  • Full-brother of Europa
  • Assassinated in 336 BC along with his mother and older sister, Europa
  • Heckel states that our only source for Caranus’ life is Justin who refers to him in his Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus
  • Wikipedia states that Satyrus also refers to Caranus
  • Heckel does not believe that Caranus existed as there would have been no time for Cleopatra to produce a second child between the birth of Europa and her death

Waldemar Heckel Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great
Robin Waterfield Dividing the Spoils
Arrian The Campaigns of Alexander tr. by Aubry de Sélincourt
(with help from Wikipedia)

Categories: The Bullet Point Alexander | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Some Thoughts on the Early Ptolemaic Dynasty

“Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of any service to them.”
Charles Dickens Hard Times

Facts are all well and good but contrary to what Mr Gradgrind thought they do not ‘form the minds of reasoning animals’. Questions do those. Questions form the mind and answers settle it. And by answers I mean the truth. As for facts, they are uninterpreted answers, staging posts where we stop to consider what we know so that we might discover what is true.
Why are this philosophising? Yesterday, I posted some bullet point facts about the family of Ptolemy I Soter. Doing so threw up some new questions about him and the first generations of his dynasty.
Three or Four?
I don’t know about anyone else but I tend to view the great figures of antiquity as essentially political beings. So much so that whenever I come across a personal act it surprises me. Ptolemy had three confirmed wives – Artakama, Euridike and Berenike I. He may have had a fourth – Thaïs, but we don’t know if they married. Either way, the lack of information about Thaïs in the diadoch period indicates that she was content to stay in the background. This is in a marked contrast to other women who played a more active role on the political stage.
Why might Thaïs have decided to live a private life? Was she not  concerned that if Ptolemy fell in love with another woman her life and those of her children might be in danger – look at how Arsinoē II plotted against and secured the conviction of Arsinoë I.
Contrary to Athenaeus, I don’t think Thaïs did marry Ptolemy. Rather, the two came to an understanding about her place in his household: he would not marry her but he would protect her and her children. Both kept their sides of the agreement and lived happily (one hopes) until the end of their days.
Game, Set and Match
Ptolemy married Artakama because Alexander told him to. He married Euridike because she was Antipater’s daughter and he wanted to seal an alliance with him. But Berenike I-? She was the daughter of two obscure parents. True, Antipater was her grand uncle but he was two years dead by the time Ptolemy and Berenike I married. And even if he wasn’t, Ptolemy could not have imagined that marriage to a more distant relation of Antipater would please the old man more than marriage to his daughter.
On this point, I like to think that Ptolemy married Berenike I for love. She came with Euridike, he took a fancy to her, it got serious, they married.
Simple Understanding
If there is one thing I really don’t like in ancient texts are authors’ simplifications. Recently, I read about how Alexander’s favourite eunuch, Bagoas, engineered the death of a Persian named Orsines. All it took was a few words in Alexander’s ear and Orsines was dead. I refuse to believe that Alexander could have been so easily manipulated.
Even worse, though, is when the historical figure themselves act in what appears to be completely non-logical fashion. For example, what was Arsinoë II thinking of when she agreed to marry Ptolemy Keraunos? As Kevin Waterfield says, the marriage was something that

… even the ancient authors found puzzling, since [it] was so obviously doomed from the start.
(Dividing the Spoils, p. 208)

The truth is, though, we should not be so hard on Arsinoë II and anyone like her. A man without motives has not yet been born. Arsinoë had hers. If we are tempted to doubt this we might profitably look at our own lives and at the occasions when we have done things that were ‘non-logical’. We’ll be lucky if we avoid finding a justification for them as well, over and above a simple motive. Further to a tradition that Waterfield mentions, I imagine that Arsinoë’s ambition fooled her into thinking that she could be a queen and that Keraunos would accept her children by Lysimachus.
Love Power
Arsinoë II is a reason why I wonder about Thaïs’ decision – if so it was – to stay in the background of Ptolemy’s court. Ptolemy married Arsinoë off to Lysimachus in 300 BC when she was still a teenager (by our understanding, of course). As mentioned above, Arsinoë went on to marry Ptolemy Keraunos (c. 28o BC) and then, four years later, her brother Ptolemy II Philadelphus.
The marriage to Lysimachus was a matter of dynastic politics. I suspect Arsinoë got a taste for queenship in Thrace and this informed her desire to marry Ptolemy Keraunos. But what can be said of her marriage to Ptolemy II?
The idea of a pharaoh marrying his sister was a well established one in Egypt but – to the best of my knowledge – was unknown in Greece and Macedon (in the atmosphere of which Ptolemy II and Arsinoë II would have grown up). It must surely have seemed an unnatural one at first to Ptolemy II and Arsinoë. Yet, in 276 BC, they went ahead with it, anyway. I imagine the idea came from a priest. Ptolemy considered it, Arsinoë accepted it, and they married. Was it a difficult decision for them to take? Did they regret it afterwards?
Well, they stayed married, but as far as I am aware Ptolemy II and Arsinoë I never had any children. If this is correct, it is – perhaps – a sign that while they accepted the usefulness of brother-sister marriage, they were not yet ready to accept the idea of having sex with one another.
On that point, I have done a quick check on Wikipedia and as it appears to me now, the Ptolemies took much longer than I realised to become a dynasty built on incest. Ptolemy III Euergetes was Ptolemy II’s son by Arsinoë I who was no relation to her husband. Ptolemy III married Berenike II who was also no relation to her husband. Their son, Ptolemy IV Philopator married his sister Arsinoë III, and it is at this point that the brother and sister marriage produced its first child: Ptolemy V Epiphanes.
Turning to the Chronicle of the Pharaohs by Peter A. Clayton, I note that Ptolemy IV married Arsinoë III in 217 BC. May we say that it took the Ptolemies a century, therefore, to accept the idea of a brother-sister marriage (after all, Ptolemy III and Ptolemy IV did not marry their sisters)? Perhaps, but I note that Ptolemy IV ‘led a dissolute life’ (p. 211) so maybe his decision to not only marry his sister but have sex with her was informed as much by his character as it was by his philosophy or acceptance of Egyptian pharaonic norms. Coincidentally or otherwise, the reign of the hedonistic Ptolemy IV marks the beginning of the decline of the Ptolemaic dynasty.
I have digressed. What I really meant to say was after marrying Ptolemy II, Arsinoë II brought about the exile of her husband’s first wife Arsinoë I. This, for me, is the risk that Thaïs was running by not marrying Ptolemy I or – at the very least – building a power base for herself in his court. She must have been supremely confident in Ptolemy.
For every Arsinoë II there is a Philotera. Her dates are uncertain, we don’t know if she married or had children, she may have died relatively young. Despite this, her brother, Ptolemy II, had Philotera deified, a temple raised in her honour and a town built in her name. Whatever else one thinks about Philadelphus, these gestures seem supremely personal to me, also reverent, and very loving. I would be surprised if there was no political element to his actions but very few men have ever lived who did not have mixed motives. This is why facts are only staging posts and need to be interpreted in order for the truth to be discovered.
When I wrote the bullet points on Ptolemy I Soter’s family I tried to use Wikipedia as a last resort. I want to train myself to rely as much as possible on published works rather than open source. As a result, I missed the fact that Ptolemy I’s entry includes two more sons by Euridike – Meleager and Argaeus. Having now noticed them, I have added both to the post for completion’s sake but am a little wary as I haven’t seen their names anywhere else. Argaeus doesn’t have an entry on Wikipedia while Meleager has a ‘stub’. Meleager’s entry links to a website called Ancient Library but it no longer seems to work. If you know any primary source that mentions Meleager and/or Argaeus please do let me know.

Categories: The Ptolemaic Dynasty | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Judith and Alexander – An Artistic Comparison

I recently created a Tumblr page for The Second Achilles. As well as being a place to reblog pictures of the great man himself I also use the page to reblog other classically related pictures and pictures that really have no place there but which I like anyway. For example, a few days ago, I found a still from one of my favourite films – Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Café. No connection to ancient Greece at all (that I can think of, anyway) but I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to reblog it, anyway.

The following detail comes from Tumblr. It is a detail from Caravaggio’s Judith Beheading Holofernes.

Judith Beheading Holofernes by Caravaggio: a detail

Judith Beheading Holofernes by Caravaggio: a detail

I was immediately struck by Judith’s expression. Her brow is furrowed, she is concerned; indeed, it feels like she is ageing ten years before our very eyes. And no wonder for at this moment she is cutting Holofernes’ head off. What I don’t see in this detail is fear or regret. There is a steeliness in her face, a determination to see her deadly job through.

The reason why the close up of Judith jumped out at me is because it tangentially recalled to mind a moment from Michael Wood’s documentary on Alexander (2005). In the first episode, he visits an (unnamed) Greek archaeologist who shows him a little carving of the nineteen or twenty year old Alexander’s head, which was found on a banqueting couch in Philip II’s tomb. Wood says he has a ‘sensitive face’ and compares it to a bust of the thirty year old Alexander who looks like ‘a troubled man’. If you would like to watch the sequence, it begins at 6:47 in the video below.

I suppose the reason why Caravaggio’s painting reminded me of the carving and sculpture of Alexander is because of the way he, Alexander, goes from being young and carefree in the former to old and worn in the latter. By contrast, Caravaggio manages to achieve a broad range of emotion in just the one image. And he makes Judith look so beautiful as well!
It would be unfair to say that this makes the Italian a better artist than Alexander’s sculptors. They were, no doubt, working to very different rules than Caravaggio but the detail happily reminds me of why Caravaggio is such a great artist and makes me now want to go and look at some of his other paintings again.
On a personal note – I first read Judith’s story when I studied the Anglo-Saxon poem at university. It stayed in my mind because the poet calls refers to Judith as ‘ælfscinu’ – elf shining – which (I am trusting to memory here) given that the Anglo-Saxons were not keen on elves and elvish things seemed an odd choice of word to use. Perhaps by the time the poet (Cynewulf) wrote his poem ælfscinu had changed its meaning?

Categories: Art, Echoes of Alexander | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Points of Connection Between the Living and the Dead

John F Kennedy (1917 - 1963)

John F Kennedy (1917 – 1963)

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of John F Kennedy’s assassination. It wasn’t the most significant event of its kind in the twentieth century – Gavrilo Princip’s assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which lead to the Great War, and thereby to World War II and the Cold War was much more important – but as the victim was the effective leader of the ‘free world’ it commands a unique place in our collective memory.
John F Kennedy was not the only person to die on 22nd November 1963. On the same day, we lost C S Lewis and Aldous Huxley. Lewis needs no introduction. Unfortunately, the same is probably not the case with Huxley. This is a shame, as his novel Brave New World is regarded as one of the finest science fiction novels of the twentieth century – on a par with 1984.
Now, what has all this got to do with a blog dedicated to Alexander the Great? Well, it occurred to me last night that there is a way in which Kennedy’s assassination echoes Philip II’s, while Alexander’s death similarly echoes C S Lewis’ and Aldous Huxley’s.
My reasoning is this – the assassination of both Philip and John F Kennedy were (at least in part) acts of spite by their murderers, and both murders had big political consequences. In Philip’s case it was the accession of Alexander to the Macedonian throne, the downfall of the Persian empire and the birth of the hellenistic period. As for John F Kennedy it is my understanding that when he died he was thinking of withdrawing American troops from Vietnam. Had he done so he might have saved America the bitter regret and disinclination to involve itself in future wars that came with its defeat to the Viet Cong, which was a consequence of President Johnson’s decision to send more troops there.
It goes without saying that Alexander’s death also had political consequences – one’s which in both the short and long term were much more profound than those which follwe Philip’s murder – but the consequence that I am most interested in is the fact that when Alexander died, the heroic age of Greece – which had begun in the mythical age of the Titans and gods – finally came to a close.
Alexander was a king but – as I’m sure I have said before – I don’t think he actually cared for kingship very much. He ‘simply’ wanted to win glory through war and exploration; to go further than any man – or god – had done previously – and to do it better than them as well. I can’t think of any monarch since who has followed in his footsteps.

C S Lewis (1898 - 1963)

C S Lewis (1898 – 1963)

So, when Alexander died, an idea died with him. Which idea died with C S Lewis and Aldous Huxley? Actually, none. They themselves were the idea – Lewis with his ‘muscular Christianity’ and Huxley with his dystopian view of the future.
Of the three ideas, Lewis’ is certainly the most pleasing. I should add here that when I talk about ‘muscular Christianity’ I don’t mean the Victorian idea. I’m thinking of no more than that Christianity which takes its faith with a pint of ale, cigarette or pipe if one so wishes, a hearty meal and conversation around the hearth. I might as well call it Inklings Christianity! As much as I like Alexander I am rather glad I don’t feel obliged to make war on people to win a good reputation. Why a dystopian future is not so likeable should be obvious.
Having said that, as the consequences of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s and Philip’ II’s deaths show, we live interconnected lives, so even as I praise Lewis I have to recognise that he could not have lived as he did if it had not been (for example) Alexander – think the spread of hellenism and how it aided the spread of the Christian faith three centuries later, which Lewis was a part of. And in truth, I like that. I like the fact that we owe each other something as that builds up community; one which, I might say, transcends life itself. On this day of deaths, that is a comforting thought.
JFK, CSL, AH – Requiescant in Pace.

Aldous Huxley (1894 - 1963)

Aldous Huxley (1894 – 1963)

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

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