Posts Tagged With: Alexandria

2,374 Years Strong

diary – birthday edition

We don’t know which day exactly Alexander was born on but it usually taken to be 20th/21st July (though I have also seen 26th mentioned). With that in mind, I took the day off work yesterday to commemorate it by visiting a Greek restaurant in Primrose Hill called Lemonia. It is a lovely place and well worth a visit if you are in the neighbourhood. I ate zatziki for starters, keftedes for mains and finished off with a Greek coffee. Sadly for my future as a food blogger and instagrammer I didn’t take any photographs of either the food or drink – I washed the food down with half a bottle of Restina Kourtaki. Oh, and I bought a bottle of Greek Macedonian red wine. When I open that I will certainly take a photograph and upload it here.

While I waited for the courses to arrive, I read the opening chapters of Plutarch’s Life of Alexander, our only (substantial) account of Alexander’s birth. The account is infused with legend as well as bald facts; one might also say it is laced with propaganda as well – particularly regarding Alexander’s divinity. Most interestingly, it also contains what is probably the only example of Olympias being humble. Plutarch records two traditions regarding her; in the first, she tells Alexander ‘the secret of his conception’ and urges him ‘to show himself worthy of his divine parentage’. In the other, Plutarch says that ‘that she repudiated this story and used to say, ‘Will Alexander never stop making Hera jealous of me.’

Who were the authors who maintained this latter tradition, and why did they do so? After Olympias died, in 316 BC, there was no motivation for anyone to defend her from whatever charge her erstwhile enemies cared to bring.

***

The mystery of the large, black coffin found in Alexandria has been solved – for now. It was opened and found to contain three skeletons and sewage water. Yuk. Read more here. Of course, we are disappointed that it didn’t contain Alexander’s body. On the other hand, though, isn’t it nice that the mystery over where his final resting place is, still remains?

***

Hornet, the gay news site, has a curate’s egg of an article on Alexander, here.

… letters of the time described Alexander yielding to Hephaestion’s thighs.

Robin Lane Fox mentions this anecdote and states that it comes from ‘the Cynic philosophers… long after [Alexander’s] death’.

“One soul abiding in two bodies” is how their tutor, Aristotle, described the two men.

Aristotle was respond to the question of ‘what is a friend’; he wasn’t referring to Alexander and Hephaestion (Diogenes Laertius Lives of Eminent Philosophers Book V.20 here)

“The friend I valued as my own life,” Alexander wrote of his partner.

I don’t think Alexander did say this – did he?

Scholars have suggested that he became careless with his health after losing his lover.

I think it would be fair to say that Alexander was always careless of his health! In respect of the statement, I don’t think he was. I don’t recall anything in the sources to indicate it.

… eventually [Alexander and Barsine] are said to have had a son named Heracles. Questions linger about the veracity of that particular account — it’s possible that Heracles was procured in an attempt to usurp the throne after Alexander’s death. Though there were some who supported Heracles’ claim to Alexander’s lineage, he vanished not long after his supposed father died.

This is the first time I have heard anyone doubt that Heracles lived. He is well attested in the sources – Curtius, Diodorus and Justin all mention him. Also, Heracles didn’t ‘vanish not long after his supposed father died’ – he lived until 310/09 BC when Polyperchon tried to use him to reclaim Macedon from Cassander only to be executed after Cassander made Polyperchon an offer suitable to his irrelevant status in the Wars of the Successors.

She was carrying a son at the time, whom she named Alexander IV; but doubt was cast over the identity of the father.

Again, this is the first time I have heard anyone doubt Alexander’s paternity of Alexander IV.

In general, Alexander’s focus was on uniting Persian and Greek culture, and so he arranged marriages that spanned the two groups. He went so far as to organize a mass wedding that lasted five days and included 90 couplings, usually tying highly regarded Macedonian women to Greek soldiers whom Alexander trusted.

If Alexander was intent on uniting ‘Persian and Greek culture’ I don’t know why he would hold a mass wedding involving Macedonian women to Greek soldiers. Of course, he didn’t; the reference here is to the mass weddings at Susa in which Macedonians were married to Persians – see Arrian VII.4-8).

So the article is a bit hit and miss. I did like the closing passage, though:

… it is impossible not to wonder what passions existed two and a half millennia ago, and how recognizable those feelings would be to us today.

***

Judging by the way people write about Alexander and Hephaestion today, their feelings are very recognisable today! As it happens, I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to consider my own. I was asked who my heroes were. Alexander was suggested but then someone said that perhaps he was someone I was just fascinated by rather than considered heroic.

I wouldn’t consider Alexander heroic in the modern sense – he was no Superman, selflessly acting for the good of others; he was, though, heroic in the ancient Greek manner: devoted to winning glory for himself, proving himself better than anyone else.

Alexander certainly fascinates me but for me it goes much deeper than that, and for that reason, I try to think about him as critically as I can so that I don’t descend into fanboyism – excusing or ignoring the bad things he did and complexities of his life just because he looked good and (probably) slept with Hephaestion. I can’t say how good I am at that, probably not as much as I want to be, but for me it is important to try. It has the added benefit as well of enabling me to learn more about the Alexander who lived rather than the one I hold in my heart.

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

A Grave Matter

diary

As I write this post, we are just ninety minutes away from the start of the World Cup final. Sadly, football will not be coming home for England as the national team were knocked out on Wednesday by Croatia. It’s hard to be too upset by this as football hasn’t come home for an awfully long time.

On Twitter a few days ago, I considered (as one does) who else never went home. The best answer, of course, is Alexander. After leaving Macedon in 336 B.C. he never looked back. It looks like he didn’t even want to return home in death, either. Michael Wood states that Alexander wished ‘to be buried with his ‘father’ in Siwa’ (In the Footsteps of Alexander, p.217). Of course, his body never made it there; after hijacking the cortege, which under Perdiccas’ instructions was on its way to Macedon, Ptolemy took the coffin, first to Memphis and then to Alexandria a few years later, once the city had been built.

***

On the subject of coffins, there has been a great deal of interest in a large black coffin that has been discovered in Alexandria, Egypt. You can read about it here. The coffin dates to the Ptolemaic period so naturally there has been speculation that the body inside is Alexander’s.

Well, the size of the coffin certainly indicates that it belonged to someone of great wealth, and therefore importance, and it has been found in Alexandria – Alexander’s last known resting place – so… However, the Macedonian king was not the only important person to be buried there. Maybe the coffin belongs to one of the Ptolemys. I would be very happy for it to be Ptolemy I’s. We just don’t know who was laid to rest inside it and will have to be patient and wait for the Egyptian archaeologists to open it. Let’s hope they find enough evidence inside to solve the mystery.

***

A link to Alexander: Gay or Straight? appeared on my Twitter timeline earlier today. It is a 2011 blog post on the Forbes website. The post is quite short but still worth your time as it features Paul Cartledge and James Romm – two classicists who know all about Alexander. James Romm is particularly worth paying attention to as he co-edited the lovely Landmark Arrian book. On a personal note, I like Paul Cartledge, too, as he signed a book for me after a talk once and was very friendly.

Anyway, back to Alexander: the title of the blog post is, of course, unhelpful as it imposes a modern understanding of sexuality on someone who lived in the fourth century B.C. The highlight of the post for me was learning that some scholars doubted the existence of Alexander’s eunuch, Bagoas.

***

I have finally started reading Mary Renault’s The Nature of Alexander. I’m commenting on it as I read over at the Facebook Alexander the Great Reading Group. I may post them on this blog after I have finished the book but for now, you can read them, here.

***

One last point – I first found out about the Alexander: Gay or Straight blog post when someone I follow retweeted the original post containing the link. The retweeter was none other than @Olympias_Epirus. Alexander was very fortunate to live in an age where he never had to come out as gay, straight, bisexual, etc. Instead, however, Olympias or Philip II worried about their son’s apparent lack of interest in sex. Athenaeus (Deipnosophistae X.435) states that Olympias hired a courtesan to sleep with him; ‘they feared he might prove to be a womanish man’, which perhaps means a eunuch? Unfortunately for Olympias it would be a little longer before Alexander set her mind at rest.

***

It is now 3:37pm. Kick-off is in 23 minutes. Time to get ready for the game!

Categories: Alexander Scholars, Books, Historians of Alexander, Of The Moment | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alexander the Great Sharer

The Canadian edition of The Huffington Post has published an article on the value and possibilities offered by sharing. It begins badly, improves a little before descending back into error.

The headline claims that “Alexander the Great Would Probably Have Used Uber”. He would have done no such thing. Alexander was not interested in sharing. He declined to share power with Darius III (e.g. Diodorus XVII.39, Justin XI.12) and got angry when Hermolaus stole the chance of glory from him during a hunt (Arrian IV.13, Curtius VIII.6.7). Alexander could be a very generous man but he was the king and acted like it.

The second paragraph reads,

Enter the Library of Alexandria. As Alexander the Great consolidated his control of the ancient world, he tasked Ptolemny Lagides (one of his leading generals) with “collecting all the worlds’ knowledge” and then sharing it with scholars, royalty, and wealthy bibliophiles throughout the world. At its peak, the library of Alexandria contained over 400,000 manuscripts.

“Enter the Library of Alexandria”. As the first paragraph begins ‘In the third century BC…’ we are now under the impression that this is when Alexander lived and the Library was formed. In fact, both were products of the fourth century B.C.

I don’t know if Alexander himself ordered the Library to be built or if it was Ptolemy I’s (not Ptolemny) idea, but I do know that Alexander did not order (‘tasked’ in the ugly modern parlance) the son of Lagus to build up the Library’s collection of books and share it with others.

During his stay in Egypt, Alexander ‘designed the general layout of the new town’ (Arrian III.2) but there is no record of him assigning posts for particular institutions.

Having said that, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence so he may well have said to Ptolemy ‘When we return, you will be in charge of the Library…’ but I think this possibility can be rejected because in 331, when Alexandria was founded, Ptolemy was still a junior officer. It would be nearly two years (late 330 B.C.) before he would become one of Alexander’s ‘leading generals’, after replacing a soldier named Demetrius in the Royal Bodyguard. Before then, his greatest claim to fame was the fact that it was his lover, Thaïs, who incited Alexander to burn down the Royal Palace in Persepolis. This happened in early 330.

By-the-bye, I don’t think that the librarianship would have gone to a soldier, anyway. As the library was part of a greater institution which included a temple, I believe a priest was its ultimate head – I am open to being corrected on this, though.

***

So much for Alexander ordering Ptolemy to build the library and share its knowledge. But could the latter have decided to share its books ‘with scholars, royalty, and wealthy bibliophiles throughout the world’ anyway?

No.

Once the Library became operational*, Ptolemy’s policy was either to buy books or seize those on ships arriving in Alexandria. They would then be copied, and it would be the copy that was given back to the owner. If scholars wanted to study the originals, they had to come to Alexandria. To the best of my knowledge, the books never travelled abroad.

Why did Ptolemy pursue this policy? In Dividing the Spoils Robin Waterfield says,

Ptolemy’s intention fell little short of an attempt to monopolize Greek literary and scientific culture.
(p.138)

This isn’t a surprise. Knowledge, as they say, is power, and Alexander’s successors were all about amassing as much power as they could and holding onto it with extreme tenacity. They were selfish, yes, but the years following Alexander’s death were also a fight for survival. Kill or be killed. And perhaps, just perhaps, Ptolemy genuinely believed that Alexandria was the best place for these books to be. Given how unstable Greece and the Near East was, but how little Egypt suffered in the Wars of the Successors, he was probably right.

***

Finally, the article claims that the at its peak the Library held ‘over 400,000 manuscripts.’. We don’t know how many books were kept there but it is possible that the Huffington Post writer has short-changed the Library slightly. In Dividing the Spoils, Robin Waterfield states that it ‘is possible that [the Library] came to hold well over half a million rolls’ (this doesn’t mean it had 500,000+ individual books in its possession. Waterfield notes that one book could take up multiple rolls).

***

It seems to me that the writer of The Huffington Post article has fictionalised Alexander for the purpose of his article. His by-line invites readers to ‘become a fan’. I am sure he is second to none when writing about his specialist subject of technology, but my support for him would be stronger if he leaves classical history alone until he has done more revision. His profession demands much more than he has given his readers.

* Presumably no later than 313 B.C. when ‘Alexandria became Ptolemy’s administrative capital… [on] the tenth anniversary of his regime’ (Ibid p.136)

Categories: Of The Moment | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

As the Crow Flies

The Nature of Curtius
Book Four Chapters 5-10
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter Five
Offering the impossible
After making good his escape from Issus, Darius wrote to Alexander offering him the hand of his daughter Stateira II and Asia Minor west of the Halys River.

asia_minor

This map comes from Celtia

Do not hesitate to accept this deal, Darius warned him, as fortune never stands still. Darius then told Alexander that his (Alexander’s) fear was that

… like the birds wafted up to the sky by their natural lightness, Alexander would also be carried away by the vanity of his youthful mind – nothing was more difficult than keeping control of great fortune at his age.

To press home his point, Darius warned Alexander that he had ‘many other lands in his power, and… would not always be vulnerable to attack in a narrow pass.’

In his response, Alexander told the Persian messenger ‘that Darius was promising him property which was not his to give’. As for the ‘property’ that remained in Darius’ hands – Alexander dealt with that by giving a sinister version of Ruth 1:16. Wherever he goes, Alexander told the herald, I can follow. Finally, Alexander swapped Darius’ avian metaphor for an aquatic one. The Great King, he told the messenger, ‘should stop trying to frighten with rivers a man whom he knew to have passed over seas’.

Chapter Six
Alexander’s Investment
After leaving Tyre, Alexander’s next major action was a two month siege of Gaza. From the Book of Ruth we fast forward to Matt. 7:24–27 and Luke 6:46–49 and the parable of the house built on rock. When Alexander inspected Gaza, he found it to be akin to the house built on sand in that there was a lack of rock and stone underneath it. So, he ordered his men to undermine the city by digging shafts and tunnels.

While the digging was going on, Alexander carried out a sacrifice. During it, he was struck by a clod of earth dropped by a passing crow. Avian metaphors could be ignored, but not avian actions. What did this one mean?

Aristander’s reply was very unwelcome. The omen predicted ‘that the city would be destroyed’ but that ‘there was also [a] danger that Alexander would sustain injury’. Aristander therefore advised his king to ‘take no initiative that day’. Reluctantly, Alexander agreed.

Events conspired, however, to plunge him into action. Seeing the Macedonians withdraw, the Gazans decided to launch a sortie against them. During the counter-attack, Alexander was shot in his shoulder by an arrow.

Alexander was still recovering from this injury when he undertook another earth-moving project. Gaza stood on a mound (or hill?). To reach its walls, Alexander ordered the construction of a mound. Tall siege towers were rolled up it. The towers were so high the Macedonians were able to fire missiles down into the city.

What did for Gaza, though, were the shafts and tunnels. The shafts that Alexander had ordered to be dug caused the city walls to collapse. Led by their king, the Macedonians poured into the city. It was quickly taken and its governor, Batis, would soon die by being dragged round Gaza’s walls just as Hector’s body had been dragged in front of Troy all those years ago.

Chapter Seven
Siwah
The fall of Gaza opened Egypt up to Alexander, and it welcomed him with open arms. After settling the country’s administrative affairs he made his famous trip to Siwah. Curtius vividly describes the difficult journey to the oracle of Ammon. Alexander and his small company of men rode through ‘vast stretches of naked desert’ which disoriented the eyes. Curtius refers to the fact that ‘no tree was to be seen [nor] a trace of cultivated soil’. In a ‘vast sea’ of shifting sand dunes this made locating oneself impossible.

Worse was to come when the Macedonians ran out of water. The men’s throats ‘were dry and burned’. Suddenly – perhaps in recompense for causing Alexander such trouble at Tyre – ‘clouds shredded the sky and hid the sun’. The temperatures cooled. Presently, ‘high winds… showered down generous quantities of rain’ which the men collected with the skins and by opening their mouths to the sky.

‘After four days in the desert wastes’, Alexander and his men were met by ‘a number of crows’ which guided them the rest of the way to Siwah. What is it about crows and Macedonians?

Curtius only gives us some specific details about Siwah Oasis. He says that Ammon’s shrine ‘is so well screened on all sides by encircling tree branches that the rays of the sun barely penetrate the shade’ and that the oasis woods ‘are sustained by a wealth of fresh-water springs’.

Curtius also adds that the oasis’ climate is ‘amazingly temperate… providing a healthy atmosphere’. He also tells us about the Water of the Sun – the fountain that (to this day) gets cooler towards midday and hotter at night. For more about the fountain and Siwah, here is what I wrote when I read Diodorus’ account.

Chapter Eight
Alexandria
According to Curtius, Alexander founded Alexandria after his visit to Siwah. At first, he wanted to build the city on the island of Pharos but following an inspection of its ‘natural features’ he decided to locate it on the mainland instead. It appears that Pharos was too small for ‘a large settlement’.

Chapter Nine
Out of Date Tactics
We pick the story up again with Alexander now in Mesop0tamia, on his way to Gaugamela for his final showdown with Darius III.

On hearing that Alexander was approaching, Darius ordered his general Mazaeus to ‘lay waste and burn’ the ground in front of the Macedonians. Mazaeus did as he was ordered but the time for such a policy had long since passed. Alexander had greater trouble crossing the fast-flowing Tigris than he did with provisions.

After giving Mazaeus his orders, Darius marched to the Boumelus River* where he pitched camp. Before him was a wide open plain – the perfect battlefield for his large army. It was a little uneven, though, so the Great King ordered the ‘protrusions in the flat land to be levelled and any higher ground to be completely flattened’.

* The modern day Khazir

Chapter Ten
The Dangerous Eclipse
As we have seen in this series, natural phenomena have played a significant role in the account of Alexander’s journey. In the early hours of 20th September 331 B.C. they played their most important part yet. That night, the moon became pale and then ‘suffused with a blood-red colour’.

The Macedonians observed the eclipse with fear in their hearts. The gods are against us, they said, the rivers forbid access, the moon loses her strength, everywhere is ‘desolation and desert’. And why is all this happening? Because of

… the grandiose plans of one man who despised his country, disowned his father Philip, and had deluded ideas about aspiring to heaven.

‘Mutiny’ Curtius says gravely, ‘was but a step away’. As the Notes say, he is exaggerating but there was ‘clearly already an undercurrent of resentment against Alexander because of his pretensions about Jupiter Ammon’. That, however, is for another post. In this one, we may say that Alexander called his generals and officers together before ordering his ‘Egyptian seers’ to tell him what the eclipse meant.

The Egyptian priests knew exactly what had caused the eclipse. Very smartly, however, they told the Macedonian soldiery (as opposed, I presume, to Alexander et al) that

… the sun represented the Greeks and the moon the Persians, and that an eclipse of the moon predicted disaster and slaughter for those nations.

Their interpretation was accepted and the soldiers’ anxiety eased. Now, they just had a battle to win.

Categories: Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Politicised Archaeology and other Subjects

Linked to Alexander (3)
More links here

21st August 2014
Mary Renault’s Alexander: history and fiction both
The Guardian Book Club on MR’s Alexander trilogy (see also 24th Aug. 14)

23rd August 2014
Hamblin & Peterson: Alexander the Great wasn’t content to be merely human
On Alexander’s divinity

26th August 2014
Book Review: All our Alexandrias
“Hala Halim examines the long and cosmopolitan history of Alexandria”

26th August 2014
Tom Holland’s web-chat with The Guardian Reading Group on Mary Renault and other subjects
Scroll down to the comments to find the web-chat

1st September 2014
Michael Wood on Alexander the Great and the Middle East
A free talk on Monday 15th September 6-7:30pm

1st September 2014
Amphipolis Tomb: All Circus, No Bread at Greece’s Newly Found “Archaeological Disneyland”
A critical article from the Greek Reporter on the hullabaloo surrounding the Lion Tomb

2nd September 2014
Politicized Archaeology
from ekathimerini newspaper

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From Porus to Marauding Greeks

Linked To Alexander (1)

I subscribe to Google Alerts and every day (or there and there abouts) receive an email that lets me know where ‘Alexander the Great’ has been mentioned on the web. Not all the references to him are of any use – I have lately received one e-mail that linked to a rapper using Alexander’s name – but occasionally an e-mail will come back with one or more links that deserve being more widely known about. I will gather them together and every week or two blog them here.
More links here

24th July 2014
The Indian Republic
Forgotten Heroes: King Porus

31st July 2014
The Guardian
August’s Reading Group: The Alexander Trilogy by Mary Renault

n/a
US Macmillan Publishers
Two books related to Alexander the Great by Judith Tarr
Bring Down the Sun
Queen of the Amazons

3rd August 2014
The Standard Digital News
Egypt: Ancient pearl maintains its lustre
on Alexandria

7th August 2014
Times Higher Education
Wandering Greeks: The Ancient Greek Diaspora from the Age of Homer to the Death of Alexander the Great, by Robert Garland

A List of Links to Alexander 

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The Foundation of Alexandria

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 52 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Birth of a City: Alexandria-Outside-Egypt

  • Full interview with Dionocrates inside

The Story
Leaving Siwah, Alexander rode north-east to the Egyptian delta where he founded the city that would become Alexandria-Outside-Egypt.

The Footnotes tell me that Curtius, Diodorus and Justin ‘follow the tradition of Aristobulus… in placing the foundation of Alexandria after Alexander’s visit to Siwah’. Arrian and Plutarch follow Ptolemy who says it was founded before the trip.

Whichever way round it was, Alexander planned the city in such a way that the summer winds would run down the streets and cool the air as they blew in from the sea. He also directed that Alexandria’s walls be ‘exceedingly large and marvellously  strong’. As Alexandria was situated between a marsh (Lake Mareotis) and the Mediterranean Sea and was approachable by only two narrow roads this meant that she would be very difficult to attack.

Diodorus says that Alexandria was shaped like a chlamys (cloak) and was ‘bisected’ by a forty furlong avenue. This avenue, which is not named, was a hundred feet wide and ‘bordered throughout its length with rich façades of houses and temples’.

Alexander also ordered a huge palace to be built. There is no mention, however, of the famous Library. Despite his interest in knowledge – evidenced by the presence of surveyors on his expedition – it seems Alexander did not conceive the idea of a significant repository to contain it. That was left to Ptolemy and his son, Ptolemy Philadelphus.

Once he had finished planning Alexandria, Alexander ‘charged certain of his Friends’ with its construction. Chief among them was the utterly rapacious, Cleomenes of Naucratis who would spend the next eight years using all the means at his disposal to swindle Egyptians out of their money. His avaricious reign came to an end in 323 B.C. when Ptolemy arrived to take up his role as satrap. Cleomenes was executed ostensibly in punishment for his corrupt behaviour but really it was because he was an ally of Ptolemy’s rival, Perdiccas.

With Alexandria taken care of, Alexander settled the rest of his affairs in Egypt. Once that was done, he left for Syria to continue his pursuit of Darius.

Comments
I wonder how it can be that Aristobulos and Ptolemy disagree on when Alexandria was founded. They were both there surely they must remember? Well, perhaps they did. Perhaps, as with Diodorus and Gaza, they changed the order of events for literary reasons.

I’m very interested in the fact that it was Ptolemy founded the famous Library. We know too little of his character to say what inspired him, although I’m sure power had a lot to do with it.

Another thing on my mind is – was the Library the first of its kind? Or was it proceeded by any other large libraries? I’m sure it was, though I can’t remember who got there first.

Diodorus notes that successive Ptolemaic rulers ‘enlarged’ the palace ‘with lavish additions’. The city also grew so that in Diodorus’ own day (he refers to the fact that he visited the city) three hundred thousand ‘free residents’ lived there. This growth, Diodorus says, has caused many to say that it is ‘the first city of the civilized world, and… is certainly far ahead of all the rest in elegance and extent and riches and luxury’. Take that, Rome!

WANTED
Residents for a new city
*Seaside view!
*All new-build homes!
*A chance to meet new races (in their own quarters)!
*A chance to live under a governor even more corrupt than the usual shower!
*er…
*WINE!

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , | Leave a comment

The Foundation of Alexandria

For the other posts in the series, click here

The following account of the foundation of Alexandria is not historical. It comes from The Life of Alexander of Macedon (Longmans, Green and Co. 1955) by an unknown author named Pseudo-Callisthenes.

According to the translator, Elizabeth Hazelton Haight, the Life was written around c. AD 300 although it is likely based on much a much older text dating, it seems, to just after Alexander’s death.

Now they began to construct Alexandria from the plain of Mesos and the district took its name from the fact that the building of the city began there…

[Alexander] directed that the digging of the foundations should proceed only in one place, namely exactly where a great hill appeared which is called Kopria. And when he had prepared the foundations of the greatest part of the city and planned it, he inscribed five letters Α Β Γ Δ Ε, Α for Alexander, Β for βασιλεύς (king), Γ for γἐνος, (son), Δ for Δίος (of a god), and E for the initial of the phrase beginning ἔκτισε (built the city).

alexandria1
… [Alexander] constructed a very great altar in front of the Heroon, which is now called the Altar of Alexander. Then he made a sumptuous sacrifice, and offered this prayer: “Whatever god thou art who dost protect this land and dost survey the boundless world, accept the sacrifice and be my helper against my foes.” With these words, he placed the sacrifice on the altar. Then suddenly a great eagle, swooping down, seized the viscera of the offering and bearing them through the air put them down upon another altar… [Alexander] went… in haste and saw the viscera lying on the altar and a temple built in antiquity and a seated wooden image inside, which mortal tongue could not describe… Now he made enquiries of the natives there as to who the god was… 

alexandria2
The mysterious god turned out to be Sarapis. He appeared to Alexander in a dream and prophesied the rise of Alexandria to him, and the Macedian king’s destiny:


By my authority, you in your youth
Shall all the tribes barbarian subdue.
And have a longed-for city, queen of the world.
And, after many seasons and times pass,
It shall be famed among the brave, adorned
By many temples, many varied shrines,
Famed for its beauty, size, inhabitants.
And every traveller shall come to stay,
Forgetful of the land where he was born.
And of this city I shall be the god

… everywhere and always in your life
Shall mortals reverence you as if a god,
And dying you shall be a god indeed,
Receive obeisance and the gifts of kings.
Here in this city always you shall dwell
In life and death. The city which you built.
Shall be your tomb. This I, your sire, swear,
O Alexander…

alexandria3

Categories: Mapping Alexander | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

C P Cavafy “The Glory of the Ptolemies”

As I write these words it is nearly 10pm on a Friday evening. I have not left myself much time to write anything substantial. That may be a relief to you as my last couple of posts have been rather word heavy. Instead of a long post, therefore, I thought I would share with you a poem by C. P. Cavafy who lived in and loved Alexandria. In keeping with the theme of the last couple of days, the poem I have selected is dedicated to Ptolemy I Soter.

The Glory of the Ptolemies
I’m Lagides, king, absolute master
(through my power and wealth) of sensual pleasure.
There’s no Macedonian, no barbarian, equal to me
or even approaching me. The son of Selefkos
is really a joke with his cheap lechery.
But if you’re looking for other things, note this too:
my city’s the greatest preceptor, queen of the Greek world,
genius of all knowledge, of every art.

A couple of thoughts – I think Cavafy is being a little unfair to Ptolemy I who was not known for being a hedonist. The first Ptolemy to live that kind of life was Ptolemy IV Philopator. The last three lines of the poem obviously refer to Alexandria. Cavafy is perhaps being a little anachronistic in describing her in such fine terms. The city did not reach the heights of its existence until the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus.

Who is Selefkos? I don’t know for sure – could it be an alternative spelling of Seleucus? Unfortunately, I do not know enough about his son(s) to be able to say for sure.
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I found The Glory of the Ptolemies on the official C. Cavafy website. There are some really lovely poems there that are very well worth reading.

Categories: Poetry, Ptolemy I Soter | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Hephaestion’s Remains

16.11.14: Read my update to this post here

Alexander the Great’s final resting place is a matter of enduring mystery. As is well known, Ptolemy stole his body in 322/1 BC while it was being taken back to Macedon for burial. He interred it in Memphis and it remained there until either he or his son, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, relocated it to Alexandria. The body was lost sometime between the early third and fifth century AD.

Unless, or until, Alexander’s body is recovered interest in its fate will continue. Given that, I wonder why there is very little interest in what happened to the mortal remains of his best friend, and probable lover, Hephaestion.

Before going any further, I must confess that up until now I have been one of those who was not interested. In fact, I don’t think the question ever even occurred to me. The only reason I am writing this post now is is because a few weeks ago someone found their way to The Second Achilles by asking their search engine, ‘where did alexander the great put hepheastians remains body?’. If it was you who wrote that – thank you for inspiring this post.

The short answer to the question of what happened to Hephaestion’s remains is that we don’t know.

Before we speculate, let’s look briefly at what we do know. We know, for example, that Hephaestion died in Ekbatana in October 324 BC.  Arrian tells us that Alexander had a funeral pyre built in Babylon for his friend at the cost of 10,000 talents – a staggering sum of money. After holding Funeral Games in Ekbatana Arrian says that Alexander rode south to Babylon with the funeral cortege. He gives no details about the funeral itself. Or even if it took place. As a result he is also silent about what happened to the remains.

For his part, Plutarch also gives the cost of Hephaestion’s funeral (and tomb) as being 10,000  talents. He adds that Alexander intended for the

… ingenuity and originality of the design to surpass the expense[;] he was especially anxious to employ Stasicrates, as this artist was famous for his innovations, which combined an exceptional degree of magnificence, audacity and ostentation.

We can certainly take from this that Hephaestion’s funeral would not have taken place in 324. What about in the first half of 323? i.e., before Alexander’s own death in June.

Well, Diodorus, who agrees with Arrian and Plutarch that Hephaestion’s body was taken to Babylon, says that

… Alexander threw himself into preparations for the burial… He showed such zeal about the funeral that it not only surpassed all those previously celebrated on earth but also left no possibility for anything greater in later ages.
(Diodorus VIII. 17. 114)

So, as far Diodorus is concerned is the funeral did take place. In his biography of Alexander, however, Robin Lane-Fox suggests two things i. that the pyre might actually have been a monument (the Greek word ‘pyra’ can refer to one or the other) and ii. what Diodorus presents as a fact may just have been a ‘rumour’. He notes that ‘no trace of this monument [pyra] has been found’.

One major source is left to us: Curtius. Unfortunately, he seems to ignore Hephaestion’s death altogether, referring to it only in passing after Alexander’s own demise*.

And as far as I am aware, that’s it. Thats the limit of our knowledge regarding the fate of Hephaestion’s body. He died. His body was taken to Babylon. Was he buried? Or cremated? We don’t know, and to be honest I don’t think we have enough information to make an educated guess on the matter.

That needn’t stop us from making an uneducated guess, of course, so here goes. My feeling is that Hephaestion’s funeral didn’t take place – at least, not in the fashion that Alexander wanted. Eight months was not enough time to prepare for it. I imagine that after Alexander’s death, his body would have been quietly cremated according to the usual Greek practice and the ashes deposited somewhere in Babylon.

Had anything untoward or unexpected happened to his remains I believe someone would have written about it. In the febrile atmosphere of the diadochi period it would have suited someone to accuse anyone who had mistreated his body or ashes of doing so. Those are my thoughts; what do you think?

In the early third century BC, a Babylonian king (I believe Antiochus I Soter but do let me know if I am wrong), transported nearly all of Babylon’s population to Seleucia. Only a few people remained behind. By the middle of the second century BC the city was finished as a going concern. All that was left to happen was for her surviving buildings to crumble and fall.

It would be nice to think that somewhere under the site of Babylon, Hephaestion’s remains lie undisturbed; nestled, perhaps, in a golden coffin or urn. This is just a dream, though. Just as Alexander’s gold coffin was later appropriated to give a Ptolemaic king more money, the same would have happened to Hephaestion’s. No, I imagine he had a normal coffin/urn and wherever it rested, it did so in obscurity – people’s memories are short and the Seleucids had no reason to promote his cult – until the decay of the city brought about – or simply concluded – the remains’ own decay.

* In his notes to the Loeb Diodorus, Jeffrey Henderson says that Curtius probably did give an account of the funeral but that it was most likely lost from his manuscript

Categories: Of The Moment | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

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