Posts Tagged With: Antigone

Plutarch’s Women: Antigone, Frenzied Women, Olympias & Cleopatra, Women of Persis (Chapts. 48, 49, 67 – 69)

For the other posts in this series click here

We start this post with the effective beginning of the Philotas Affair. In Chapter 48 of his Life of Alexander, Plutarch tells us how Philotas, while being an extremely generous man was also a proud one; so much so that even his father, Parmenion, was obliged to ask him to tone his behaviour down.
Unfortunately, the warning didn’t work. Perhaps it was too late. For, as Plutarch says,

… accusations against Philotas had been reaching Alexander for many years.

The beginning of the end came after Parmenion captured Darius III’s treasure in Damascus. He brought numerous prisoners to the Macedonian camp, one of whom was a ‘beautiful girl’ named Antigone. She became Philotas’ lover.
Over time, Philotas boasted to Antigone that Alexander’s achievements were actually due to Parmenion and himself. According to Plutarch, Philotas,

[spoke] of Alexander as a mere boy who owed his title of ruler to their efforts.

Plutarch says that Philotas’ boastings were fuelled by alcohol. However much Antigone had drunk, she remembered what he said and shared it with a friend. Who then told another friend. Before long, Philotas’ indiscreet words reached the ear of Alexander. He had Antigone brought before him and ordered her to spy on Philotas for him.
There is no indication in the text that Antigone was acting maliciously when she repeated Philotas’ words to her friend. I imagine they were friends simply catching up with each other’s news and the latest gossip. If so, being hauled before Alexander must have been a big shock for her. According to Heckel*, Plutarch describes Antigone as a gynaion, which means a ‘weak, little woman’**. If indeed she was, meeting Alexander would have been terrifying.
Antigone appears one more time, at the start of Chapter 49, when Plutarch records that

… in his conversations with Antigone he uttered many indiscretions and often spoke slightingly of the king, sometimes through anger and sometimes through boastfulness…

It is a great shame we don’t know anything more solid about Antigone’s character or her relationship with Philotas other than what Plutarch tells us. Whether or not Philotas was a means to an end for her, spying on him could not have been easy. Who knows what stresses it caused. Such information is now, it seems, lost to history.
Frenzied Women
After Antigone, there are no further references to any women until Chapter 67. Alexander is now on his way back to Babylon, reclining on a couch set on a large wheeled platform at the head of a ‘Bacchanalian procession’. As Alexander sat with his companions, feasting day and night, the Macedonian soldiers behind him ambled along,

… dipping their cups, drinking-horns or earthenware goblets into huge casks and misxinf bowls… as they marched…

… except, that is, for those who had given up walking and were now ‘sprawled by the wayside’!
Drinking was not the only order of the day, though,

… the whole landscape resounded with the music of pipes and flutes, with harping and singing and the cries of women rapt with the divine frenzy…

This puts me in mind of Olympias’ ‘Orphic religion’, which Plutarch describes in Chapter 2 (and which I wrote about in this post), the rites of which she celebrated with such wild abandon.
Olympias and Cleopatra
Speaking of Olympias, she is referenced again – along with Alexander’s sister Cleopatra – in Chapter 68. Unsurprisingly, given Plutarch’s view of the queen, we find her ‘intriguing against Antipater’. In fact, according to Plutarch, she and Cleopatra had done no less than taken Epirus (Olympias) and Macedon (Cleopatra) for themselves.

When Alexander heard of this, he remarked that his mother had made the wiser choice, since the Macedonians would never tolerate being governed by a woman.

This, of course, is not wholly true. Macedonians were happy to be led into war by Adea Euridike in 317 B.C. And who knows, if the soldiers hadn’t realised that the army opposite was being led by Olympias, Euridike might have won and had a chance at ruling Macedon properly.
Women of Persis
In Chapter 69, Plutarch gives an account of how Alexander ‘distributed money to the women’ of Persis, which was a ‘custom of the Persian kings’. Or most of them, anyway; Plutarch names and shames Ochus who ‘never set foot’ in Persis despite it being his native country. ‘[h]e was mean enough to exile himself from his native land’. Alexander’s actions again recall how Plutarch says he avoided meeting the Persian Royal family or indeed women in general in order to prove himself better (i.e. more chaste) than the Persians.

* Waldemar Heckel Who’s Who in the World of Alexander the Great (2009)
** I am indebted to a kind friend, EY, for this information. Further to the above, when used by a husband/lover, gynaion becomes a term of endearment, meaning simply ‘little woman’

Categories: Plutarch's Women | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: