Posts Tagged With: Aristobulos

Arrian I.12.1-10

In This Chapter
From Troy to Priapus

Chapter Twelve can be broken down into three parts:

  1. Alexander at Troy
  2. Arrian’s Second Preface
  3. Alexander on the March

Alexander at Troy
While at Troy, Alexander was ‘crowned with a golden crown’ by Menoetius, the helmsman of his ship; a man named Chares from Athens and a number of other people followed suit.

Arrian reports that ‘[s]ome say… Alexander placed a wreath on the tomb of Achilles, while Hephaestion, it is said, did likewise at the tomb of Patroclus’.

The italics above are mine, to emphasise the fact that for the second chapter in succession we appear to have Arrian using a source or sources who were not Ptolemy and Aristobulos.

Arrian continues in this manner. He says that ‘[t]he story goes that Alexander called Achilles fortunate to have Homer as the herald of his lasting fame’. (my italics again). This much is true; Alexander was not well served either by historians or poets.

Arrian’s Second Preface
Arrian shows this by outlining how other, much less deserving, men have been more celebrated than Alexander. The situation is so bad that Arrian is able to say that ‘Alexander’s achievements are far less well known than even the most trivial of other deeds in the past’.

To demonstrate this, Arrian compares the famous march of the 10,000 to Alexander’s expedition, and shows how the latter is the superior of the two.

… Alexander did not campaign in another man’s army, he did not retreat from the Great King, his victories were not confined to the defeat of those opposing a march back to the sea.

But rather, Arrian tells us, Alexander achieved the most of any Greek or barbarian – and this is why he decided to write his history. With unashamed self-confidence, he adds that ‘I did not think myself unsuited for the task of making Alexander’s achievements clear to the world’. Arrian’s writings define him; he describes them as ‘my country, my family, my public office’.

Alexander on the March
From Troy, Alexander marched north to Arisbe, where he met Parmenion and the rest of the army. From there, he continued along the north-western corner of Asia Minor until he reached Lampsacus when he headed south again though only as far as the Prosactius river. From there, he marched north once more, passing Colonae on his way to Priapus on the north-western coast. This would be his last stop (or, at least, the last to be mentioned by Arrian) before coming to the Granicus river.

While Alexander was marching through north-western Asia Minor, the Persian satraps and commanders were meeting in Zeleia, (twentyish miles) east of the Granicus. When word came of Alexander’s arrival in the province, they discussed what to do. Memnon of Rhodes advocated a scorched earth policy to starve the Macedonians into retreat but was overruled by the Persians. One satrap, Arsites, refused to countenance any damage being done to the property of ‘the people under his charge’. The others suspected that Memnon wanted to avoid a conflict so as to keep his rank in the Great King’s court.

Thoughts
Arrian doesn’t mention the story that, before jumping off his ship, Alexander flung his spear onto the shore to claim Asia (Minor) as his spear won territory (Diodorus XVII.17; Justin 11.5.10). Could it be that by focusing on the crowning of Alexander, he is demonstrating that he is not so much interested in Alexander the warrior as he is in Alexander the king?

What would this mean in practice? As the thought has only just occurred to me, I need to think about that before I can answer it. If it is true, though, I would expect Arrian’s Alexander to show whatever virtues the ancient Romans/Greeks thought a good ruler should have.

It is certainly one of the ironies of history that Alexander should, at any time, have been less well known than other men. Today, of course, he is very well known. For what he achieved he deserves to be the most well known of all the ancients but definitely lags behind the three most famous Romans – Julius Caesar, Augustus and Mark Antony. I would hazard to say that he isn’t even the most famous Greek: that honour probably belongs to Cleopatra VII.

In this post I spoke about Alexander’s impressive intelligence operation. We now get to see why it was so good. Arrian says that Alexander ‘always had scouts sent ahead of the main army’. We find out who Alexander’s ‘M’ was.: Amyntas son of Arrhabeaus. And his secret agents were ‘the squadron of Companions from Apollonia’ as well as ‘four squadrons of the so-called ‘advance guards”.

Okay, Amyntas was not quite M and the Apollonians not quite secret agents but of course they did have a licence to kill!

Finally, when I read this chapter, I was touched that Arsites seemed to be sticking up for his people. Well, maybe he was, but I’m sure the knowledge that no crops meant no taxes would have been in his mind as well.

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Arrian I.11.1-8

In This Chapter
Return to Macedon and Departure for Asia Minor

Alexander conquered Thebes in the autumn of 335 BC. After settling matters with Athens, he returned to Macedon where he made sacrifice to Olympian Zeus in a ceremony (?) first established by his predecessor, Archelaus (who reigned from c.413-399). Later, he celebrated Olympic Games – not the famous one – at Dion (Arrian incorrectly says it was held at Aegae). Arrian notes that according to some sources, Alexander also celebrated ‘games in honour of the Muses’.

Around the time that Alexander was holding these celebrations, he received word that a statue of Orpheus in Pieria had started to sweat continuously. A number of seers made prophecies based on this occurrence but Arrian records only one. According to a seer named Aristander, who had served under Philip and would do so under Alexander to at least Bactria-Sogdia, the sweating meant that ‘all the composers of epic and lyric and choral odes’ would have much work to do in ‘celebrating Alexander and his achievements’.

***

Arrian now fast forwards to Spring 334 BC.

In late April or early May, Alexander lead his army to the Hellespont. Twenty days after leaving home, he arrived at Elaeus on the south-eastern tip of Thrace.

As you can see from the map, he chose the shortest sea crossing possible to Asia Minor Alexander never shied away from danger and indeed could sometimes be reckless in the face of it but he clearly knew there was a time and a place for everything. And the crossing to Asia Minor was not it.

At Elaeus, Alexander sacrificed to Protesilaus who was shot dead straight after setting foot on Asian soil following the crossing from Greece at the start of the Trojan war. Alexander wanted his expedition to go better.

Not all of the army went to Elaeus with him. Most of it had stayed with Parmenion a few miles up the road at Sestos. Alexander’s most senior general now oversaw its passage in one hundred and sixty triremes and an unspecified number of freighters to Abydos.

Alexander, meanwhile, sailed for Troy. While at sea – halfway between Thrace and Asia Minor – he sacrificed a bull and poured a libation into the sea. Once he reached Asia Minor, Alexander leapt off his ship – in full armour, no less.

Having already erected an altar at Elaeus, Alexander now had another built at his ships’ landing site. It was dedicated to Zeus ‘the protector of Landings’, Athena and Herakles. Leaving the shore, he marched to Troy, or the run down tourist trap that now claimed to be the same, where he sacrificed to ‘Trojan Athena’. He left his panoply there and took in its place weaponry that dated back to the Trojan War. At the end of his visit, he also sacrificed to Priam so as to ‘avert his anger at the race of Neoptolemus’ from which Alexander was descended (on his mother’s side).

Thoughts
This chapter forms a bridge between the Greek Campaigns and Campaign in Asia Minor. It is dominated by religion. Alexander changed as a person during the thirteen years of his kingship but some things remained constant – his belief in and loyalty to the Olympian gods. The various sacrifices that we see being carried out here are mirrored by those that he conducted during his last illness in June 323 BC.

On a few occasions in this chapter, Arrian distances himself a little from his sources: ‘The prevailing consensus is…’, ‘They also say…’, ‘The prevalent account…’. I take this wording to mean that the relevant information does not come from Ptolemy or Aristobulos?

The above three quotations all relate to Alexander’s crossing of the Hellespont and visit to Troy. Why might Ptolemy and Aristobulos not been interested in recording it (and Arrian vice versa)? We don’t know. Perhaps it never happened – the whole Alexander-Achilles thing is a later invention. Perhaps it did happen but still not with the significance that was later attached to it so Ptolemy and Aristobulos only mentioned it in passing. As for Arrian, perhaps he knew his readers would like the story.

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Arrian I.1-10 Some Thoughts

Background to the Series
In early 2017, I finished a series of blog posts based on Arrian’s Anabasis. I was happy for I had now written a blog-series based on all the major historians of the great king.

I closed my laptop and asked myself: What next? What must I do to take my love of Alexander to the next level?

Unfortunately, I never resolved that question. Actually, it would more accurate to say that I knew the answer but was not able to see it through. I would have loved to study Alexander more formally and blog about that but the course of my life did not allow it.

As a result, and for over two years, The Second Achilles drifted. I’m afraid to say, so did my reading and study of Alexander. To my chagrin, I became on my Twitter page someone who talked about Alexander using the knowledge he had built up about Alexander in the past rather than one who was using the knowledge he was learning in the present. I did not like that at all. Eventually, the rot set in on my creative Alexander Twitter page as well. To date, it has not recovered, and I don’t know if it will. It was a sad situation to be in – my love for Alexander and his life and times was undiminished but I was simply not doing anything about it. Ideas came, but unfortunately, left just as quickly.

A few weeks ago, another idea came, and this one appears to have stuck: It occurred to me that Arrian – in a manner of speaking – had got me into this rut, let’s see if he can get me out of it. I haven’t read him the whole way through in a long time, let’s do so chapter-by-chapter and see where it takes me.

I am delighted and not a little relieved that three weeks after beginning the series, I have now reached the end of Stage One. Alexander has concluded his Greek campaigns and is now ready to sail across the Hellespont to start to go to war against the Persian Empire.

When I wrote the first post, I didn’t know how I would – or even if I would – divide the series up. I am happy to do so according to Alexander’s various campaigns, though; given his story, it makes a lot of sense. Looking ahead, I think I will continue along the same lines (with the possible exception of his City Sweep: Babylon-Susa-Persepolis).

Arrian I.1-10 Some Thoughts

Arrian presents a very positive image of Alexander as a general. He does this by foregrounding Alexander’s positive qualities (see here) and by suppressing the negative ones (see the comparison between Arrian’s and Diodorus’ Alexander here). He has no time to waste on any ‘other’ type of Alexander; for example, Alexander the youth, or king, or even person: His narrative is wholly geared towards the military leader.

If you would like to know about Alexander the youth or person, you’ll need to read Plutarch’s Life of Alexander; Alexander the king, of course, can still be found in Arrian, but he exists slightly off-centre as the book’s focus is elsewhere.

Arrian’s Alexander is based on the Alexander of his two major sources: Ptolemy and Aristobulos. Having said that, given how focused Arrian is on the military aspects of Alexander’s kingship, and how Ptolemy is supposed to be his source for the same* perhaps we are really reading Ptolemy’s Alexander. I would like to think that actually, we aren’t, that while the Alexander we see in these pages is based on Ptolemy’s version of his king it is substantially Arrian’s. Where Ptolemy’s Alexander ends and Arrian’s begins, though, is a good question.

In the past, I have criticised Curtius’ history of Alexander for being sensationalist, as if written like a modern day tabloid. If that is the case, I think now that Arrian’s Alexander is akin to a Hollywood interpretation of him: Alexander gets into scrapes (e.g. at Mt Haemus and outside Pellium) but just like James Bond or Jason Bourne always manages to extract himself – and with no little panache for the sake of the audience. I have to admit, I have never thought of Arrian like this before; he makes such a thing of how much better he is than other historians that he comes across as rather stuffy and self-important historian rather than a populariser of the man he is writing about.

I said that Arrian suppresses Alexander’s negative qualities. This isn’t completely true. While it is true that he tries to gloss over the Macedonian king’s role in the destruction of Thebes, wait until he delivers his judgement over the destruction of Xerxes’ palace at Persepolis. There, Arrian says it was wrong – no ifs, not buts, just wrong. He is on Alexander’s side, but is not besotted with him.

* I presume on the basis that Ptolemy fought alongside Alexander in the army and became a senior general by the time of Alexander’s death whereas Aristobulos, although he fought, was principally an engineer

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Arrian I.1-3 Preface

In This Chapter
Arrian informs the reader that his history is based (principally) on the works of Ptolemy and Aristobulos. He explains that the reason he has chosen them is that (a) they are more reliable than anyone else because they rode with Alexander (b) Ptolemy is particularly reliable as he was a king and therefore ‘honour-bound to avoid untruth’, and (c) Neither Ptolemy or Aristobulos had any reason to lie since when they wrote their works, Alexander was dead.

Thoughts
The Notes to my copy of Arrian (OUP 2013) say that the reason Arrian thought Ptolemy was ‘honour-bound’ not to lie is because he, Arrian, subscribed to the idea of noblesse oblige. That may be so, and maybe Arrian was also flattering Hadrian here, but I will never read the opening to the Anabasis without wondering whether he really believed it and, to be honest, how could he? How could anyone ever have such a high opinion of another man? If I could go back in time and persuade Arrian to remove any line from his final draft, it would be this one.

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24. The Cydnus River – Tarsus

Crossing Asia Minor with Alexander

‘It was [at Tarsus] that Alexander fell ill. Aristobulus’ account attributes it to exhaustion, but others say that Alexander, sweaty and overcome by the heat, had wanted a bathe and had dived into the river Cydnus for a swim (the Cydnus runs right through the city of Tarsus, and with its springs in the Taurus mountains and a course through open country its water is cold and clear). The result was an attack of cramp, violent fever, and persistent inability to sleep.”
(Arrian II.4.7-8)

Text used: Arrian ‘Alexander the Great‘ OUP 2013 (translated by Martin Hammond)

The Cydnus River

Credit Where It’s Due
The Cydnus River: Sketchings and Other Life Reflections

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Bravery, Insight and Cowardice in India

Warning! In this post I reveal the answers to a quiz I held on The Second Achilles‘ Tumblr page on Monday. If you would like to play the game, visit click here and here as the answers to the quiz are below.

***

Hello to anyone who is visiting this blog from her Tumblr page. Below you will find the answers to Monday’s little quiz plus some extra comments by me.

Before getting to them, I must apologise to anyone reading this who would have liked to have to taken part in the quiz but saw the answers before following the links above. I should have mentioned the quiz on the blog on Monday but didn’t. I will certainly do so in the future.

***

Without further ado, let’s ‘name that officer‘.

The man injured alongside Alexander and then by the Indian chief was, of course, Ptolemy. For two bonus points I asked which Alexander historian(s) I used for the story and what happened next. My source is Arrian. Here is how he describes the incident, and what happened next.

Alexander’s next objective was the territory of the Aspasians, Guraeans, and Assacenians… Attacking the first of [the] towns which lay on his route, [Alexander] had no trouble in driving in the force which was stationed outside, and compelling the men to take refuge within the defences; but during the operation he was wounded in the shoulder by a missile which pierced his corselet. The wound was not serious, as the corselet prevented the missile from going right through his shoulder. Ptolemy, son of Lagus, and Leonnatus were also hurt.

… after a long march [Alexander] reached on the second day the town where the governor of the Aspasians was. The natives were no sooner aware of his approach than they fired the town and made their escape to the hills, with Alexander’s men in hot pursuit all the way. Many were cut down before the rough hill-country enabled them to shake off their pursuers.

During the pursuit, Ptolemy, son of Lagus, actually spotted the chief of the Indians of this district: he had already reached a hill and was trying to get away with some of his guards. Ptolemy, though he had a much inferior force, nevertheless rode for him; but it was too steep and too rough going for his horse, so he dismounted, gave it to a man to lead, and continued to chase the Indian on foot. Seeing him coming, the Indian and his guards turned to face him. They met; and the chief struck Ptolemy in the breast with his long spear, which pierced his corselet but did not penetrate his body. With a blow clean through the Indian’s thigh, Ptolemy laid him flat, and began to strip him, whereupon his guards, seeing that their chief was down, turned and fled. Other Indians, however, on the neighbouring hills, grieved at the sight of their leader’s body being carried off by the enemy, came hurrying down, and a fierce struggle ensued over the corpse. By then Alexander and his cavalrymen, now dismounted, were not far from the hill; they joined in the melee and finally succeeded in driving the Indians into the hills and getting possession of the body.
(Arrian Book IV.23-24)

Apart from Ptolemy’s heroism and very traditional action of stripping the Indian chief of his armour, what made a strong impression on me when I read this passage was the similarity between his and Alexander’s injury. The Macedonian king was struck by a missile, which pierced his corselet but which did not go through his body. If there was a chance of that happening, I presume the missile was a spear of some description. Well, fast forward and we find Ptolemy also being struck by a spear, which also pierced his corselet, but which did not enter his body. This one, however, did not penetrate his flesh. Was Ptolemy using an injury he received on this occasion to create a(nother) link between himself and the late king, and perhaps even to prove himself in a sense greater than him by saying ‘he was injured but I wasn’t’?

***

That’s Ptolemy, now let’s ‘name that nationality‘.

Firstly, in case you are wondering why I didn’t ask readers for the woman’s actual name, it’s because Arrian doesn’t provide it.

As for her nationality, the woman was Syrian. The bonus questions asked the reader to name Arrian’s source for the story and, again, to say what happened next. The source is Aristobulus. As for what happened next – the simple answer is that the young men’s plot unravelled. Here is how Arrian described all that happened.

… on the night in question Alexander sat up drinking until dawn. This may have been pure chance, though Aristobulus has a different explanation. According to him, there was a certain Syrian woman with the gift of second sight, who kept following Alexander about. He and his friends used to laugh at her; but, as time went on and everything she foretold in her trances turned out to be true, Alexander began to feel differently. He no longer found her a figure of fun, but let her come to him whenever she wished, by day or night, and on many occasions allowed her to watch over him while he slept.

This woman, in one of her prophetic trances, met him as he was coming away from his potations. She begged him to go back and drink the night out, and Alexander, convinced that there was something more than human in the warning, took her advice. So the boys’ plot fell through.

Epimenes, one of the guilty ones,  also, like Hermolaus, had a bosom friend, Charicles, son of Menander; and to him, on the following day, he told the whole story. Charicles told Epimenes’ brother, Eurylochus, who went to Alexander’s tent and passed everything on to Ptolemy son of Lagus, of the King’s Guard, who, in his turn, told Alexander. Alexander ordered the arrest of all the boys whose names were given him by Eurylochus. Questioned under torture, they admitted their guilt, and at the same time implicated certain others as well.
(Arrian Book IV.13-14)

There are two things I would like to highlight here. Firstly, Alexander’s trust in the woman. She was not only permitted to enter into his presence whenever she wished, but even to watch over him while he slept. He really must have trusted her very deeply indeed. Secondly, notice how Ptolemy informed Alexander of what Eurylochus told him straight away. Compare that to Philotas’ vacillation. This story takes place after Philotas’ downfall so it would not surprise me if Ptolemy had Parmenion’s son in mind when he went to see Alexander.

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A Master of the Battle and Green Field

VI. Division 
(IV.16)
Read the other posts in this series

Alexander… after crossing into Sogdiana, divided his remaining strength into five, one division to be commanded by Hephaestion, another by Ptolemy, son of Lagus, a third by Perdiccas, a fourth by Coenus and Artabazus. The fifth he took over himself…
(Arrian IV.16)

***

Alexander arrived in Bactria in the Spring of 329 B.C. hot on the trail of Bessus. After a brief stop in Zariaspa to give his men time to recover from their crossing of the Hindu Kush, the Macedonian king led his army north. The chase ended on the Sogdian side of the Oxus River when Bessus was betrayed by his officers and handed over to Ptolemy*.

The capture of Bessus did not signify the end of Alexander’s presence in Sogdia or Bactria. Not long later, what appears to have been a multi-tribal native army, or armed force (Arrian III.30), attacked Macedonian foragers. Then, natives who lived in settlements along the Jaxartes (aka Tanais) River (A IV.1-4) rebelled against their new overlords. ‘They were joined in this hostile move by most of the people of Sogdiana… [and] some of the Bactrians’ (A IV.2). It would take Alexander nearly two years to pacify Bactria and Sogdia. It would never know peace, however.

After putting down the rebellion along the Jaxartes River, Alexander decided to cross the Jaxartes to attack some Scythians who had gathered there hoping to ‘join in an attack upon the Macedonians in the event of a serious rising’ (A IV.4), and suffered the loss of 2,300 men at the hands of a joint Scythian-native force led by Spitamenes who had decided to rebel against him (A IV.5-6).

Amidst all these events, Alexander was wounded twice and suffered a serious bout of dysentery. Operations continued until winter, which Alexander spent in Zariaspa.

***

The following Spring, Alexander led his men out of the city to deal with native settlements who had closed their gates to the governor. The unrest was so widespread Alexander was forced to divide his army up in order to deal with all the trouble.

Responsibility for bringing Bactria to heel was divided between Attalus, Gorgias, Meleager, and Polyperchon. I presume they acted independently of one another at this time but the text isn’t clear.

As for Sogdia, as we see from the quotation at the top of the post, the army was divided into five between Alexander himself, Hephaestion, Ptolemy, Perdiccas, and Coenus and Artabazus.

By-the-bye, the Sogdian operation is only the second time that Arrian has mentioned Hephaestion in the context of a military operation (the first being at [3] below). Here is a quick reminder of his previous appearances-

  1. I.12 During the visit to Troy
  2. II.13 In Sisygambis’ tent when she mistook him for Alexander
  3. III.15 Casualty list following the Battle of Gaugamela
  4. III.27 Given joint-command of the Companion Cavalry
  5. IV.12-13 Talking to Alexander the night Callisthenes failed to bow to the king

I don’t mention this in order to suggest that Hephaestion was not a good soldier. The picture we have of him in Arrian is Arrian’s own after Ptolemy and Aristobulos and such other sources as he has cared to use.

If anything, the grant of an independent command shows that Alexander clearly trusted his friend’s military capabilities. The times were simply too dangerous for the king to be handing divisions of his army over to friends just because they were friends.

Once the commands had been handed out, the

… four commanders carried out offensive operations as opportunity offered, storming the forts where some of the native tribesmen were trying to hold out, or receiving the voluntary surrender of others.
(A IV.16)

When these were completed, the generals returned in Marakanda. Hephaestion did not stay long, for Alexander sent him back out to ‘to plant settlements in the various towns’ (Arrian IV.16)

So, one minute a general, the next a settlement planner. Hephaestion was definitely a man of diverse talents. And we may talk of him as being very talented because his name crops up again and again when Alexander requires some kind of non-offensive operation to be completed.

For example,

332 Summer ‘Hephaestion conveys the fleet and the siege-equipment from Tyre to Gaza’
331 H. receives ‘a young Samian named Aristion, whom Demosthenes had sent in an effort to bring about a reconciliation with Alexander’
330 H. part of the ‘consilium’ that decided Philotas’ fate
328/7 H. collects ‘provisions for the winter’
327 Spring ‘Hephaestion and Perdiccas… sent ahead into India with a substantial force to act as an advance guard’

All-in-all

Alexander used him regularly for non-military operations: the founding of cities, the building of bridges and the securing of communications.

All the above quotes, including the last one, come from Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great by Waldemar Heckel (Wiley-Blackwell 2009) pp. 133-4. The final quote above ends ‘[these] constitute Hephaestion’s major contribution’. Obviously, Heckel has no great opinion of Hephaestion as a general. In my opinion, Arrian proves him wrong.

For the record, Heckel describes the five pronged operation in Sogdia as being ‘a mission that appears to have done little more than win back several small fortresses to which the rebellious natives had fled’ (ibid). I must emphasise that I don’t speak from a position of expertise here but I can’t believe that Alexander would feel the need to divide his army up for such a minor task.

* Or directly to Alexander – see Arrian III.30

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The Sons of Dionysus

Cause we like to partyyyy

In the summer of 325 B.C., Alexander lead his men across the Gedrosian Desert. According to Arrian (VI.24) ‘[t]he result was disastrous’. When their provisions ran out, the men started slaughtering their pack animals. When their water skins ran dry, they themselves began to fall by the wayside.

Did Alexander make his army cross the desert as a punishment for its mutiny at the Hyphasis River? Perhaps, but I am not so sure. Arrian says that he chose the route

… because, apart from Semiramis on her retreat from India, no one, to his knowledge, had ever before succeeded in bringing an army safely through.
(VI.24)

It is debatable as to whether this is true or not. Arrian says that Semiramis came out of the desert ‘with no more than twenty survivors’. Hardly an army. He also implies that Cyrus the Great crossed the desert. He too survived, with ‘an army’ – all seven of it.

Alexander, therefore, saw an opportunity to outdo Semiramis and Cyrus both. This is far more consistent with his character than believing he wanted to punish his men*.

* Arrian also notes that Alexander took the desert route in order to stay in touch with Nearchus’ fleet and obtain supplies for him.

Diodorus
(XVII.106)
Whatever reason Alexander entered the desert, when he left it, he came into a country named Carmania. It was ‘a well-populated’ land, one that was free and fertile. There, Alexander let his army rest before continuing. When the march did resume, the men wore ‘festive dress’. Alexander himself ‘led a Dionysian comus, feasting and drinking as he travelled’.

Diodorus gives no further details about Carmania. It is not hard to imagine, however, that this celebration was a very bittersweet one, perhaps here the men drank to forget as much as to remember (as at Persepolis).

Arrian
(VI.27)
For the first and last time, Arrian is more descriptive about a celebration than Diodorus. On the flip side, he does not believe what he has read. He describes the Carmanian episode as ‘improbable’. It is not mentioned, he notes, either by Ptolemy or Aristobulos, or, indeed by ‘any other writer whom one might consider to give reliable evidence’.

So what has he read? What does he say? That-

  • Alexander rode through Carmania on a ‘double-sized chariot’
  • Which ‘he reclined [in] with his intimate friends’
  • While they listened ‘to the music of flutes’ (perhaps a favourite instrument – we saw flutists at Persepolis, yesterday)
  • As Alexander relaxed, his men ‘accompanied him making merry’
  • Provisions never ran out – the Carmanian people provided everything along the way that the Macedonians needed
  • This journey was a conscious imitation of Dionysus’ thriambi (triumphs) which he led after conquering India

At Dium and Persepolis, sacrifices to the gods formed part of the celebrations. On the authority of Aristobulos, Arrian says that Alexander also held sacrifices in Carmania. On this occasion, he offered them for his own conquest of India and safe passage across the Gedrosian desert. And as before, there were also games – athletics and literary.

Curtius
(IX.10.24-29)
Arrian’s ‘improbable story’ is Curtius’ statement of fact. Alexander ‘decided to imitate [Dionysus’] procession’. Orders were given

… for villages along his route to be strewn with flowers and garlands, and for bowls full of wine and other vessels of extraordinary size to be set out on the thresholds of houses.

Alexander and his friends wore garlands and listened to the music of flute and lyre. About them on their ‘cart’ lay scattered ‘golden bowls and huge goblets’.

It wasn’t only Alexander who travelled in this way. Wagons were joined together so that they became moving tents (‘some with white curtains, others with costly material’) in which ordinary soldiers could relax.

That’s what Curtius says Alexander did. But what is his’ opinion of it all? Has he calmed down from his rabid description of sex in Babylon and Thaïs at Persepolis?

No.

Alexander’s imitation of Dionysus was an example of ‘his pride soaring above the human plane’.

As such it was a deeply irresponsible act.

For seven days, the army marched drunk and in a state of disorder. It was

… an easy prey if the vanquished races had only had the courage to challenge riotous drinkers – why, a mere 1,000 men, if sober, could have captured this group.

I don’t think Curtius has ever been near a group of riotous drinkers. If he had, he would know that they would not prove as easy to subdue as he thinks!

Be that as it may, despite the Macedonians ‘sheer recklessness’ (for Carmania had not yet been subdued – that’s a fair point) fortune favoured Alexander and his men and ‘turned even this piece of disgraceful soldiering into a glorious achievement!’.

Plutarch
(Life 67)
According to Plutarch, the Carmanian march ‘developed into a kind of Bacchanalian procession’. It lasted for seven days, during which Alexander feasted continually. He and his friends reclined on a ‘dais’ pulled by eight horses.

‘Innumerable wagons’ followed them. There’s no mention of white curtains here, but ‘purple or embroidered canopies’.

While Curtius says that the soldiers decorated their wagons ‘with their finest arms’, Plutarch states that no weapons or armour were to be seen.

Something that was able to be seen were men ‘drinking as they marched’ while ‘others [lay] sprawled by the wayside’.

Plutarch agrees with Arrian that musicians were present. In fact, ‘the whole landscape resounded with the music of pipes and flutes’. And more – ‘with harping and singing and the cries of women rapt with divine frenzy’. Hopefully, for the men’s well-being, they did not have any snakes with them.

Plutarch adds that more than just drinking was involved on this march. He says that ‘all the other forms of bacchanalian licence attended this straggling and disorderly march, as though the god were present’.

After a week, Alexander arrived at the Palace of Gedrosia. There, the army was rested and was permitted to celebrate another festival. One day, ‘after he had drunk well’, Alexander watched a dancing and singing competition in which his favourite eunuch, Bagoas, was competing.

Bagoas won. He sat beside the king. The Macedonians applauded him

… and shouted to Alexander to kiss the winner, until at last the king put his arms around him and kissed him.

This is an interesting end to the chapter. Bagoas, after all, represented a world that the Macedonians did not approve of and, if he had the kind of influence over Alexander that the Orsines Affair (Curtius X.1.26-38) suggests, a power that they could not have appreciated. Yet, there they are treating him in a playful manner. My belief is that Curtius exaggerated Bagoas’ role in Orsines’ downfall, and I think this scene provides indirect evidence of that.

Carmania in Short
Reason To give thanks for being alive
Duration One week
Outstanding Features That anyone was still alive to celebrate it
Result A nice moment for Bagoas

Categories: Humour | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Happy and Holy Time in Dium

Ain’t no party like a Dium party

It’s Christmas week and The Second Achilles is in a hard place. How can the blog mark the occasion when the Birth of the Saviour (sorry, Ptolemy) will not happen for another three hundred years?

It’s time to be creative. If the reason for Christmas is beyond our scope to discuss, perhaps there is a connection to be found with Alexander in her associated practices.

As luck would have it, there is, and it comes in the idea of celebration. Christians celebrate the Birth of Jesus. Macedonians were also fond of celebrating. Yes, I know that the Tenuous Links Society would be very interested in the connection I have just made but it’s Christmas week so you’ll have to forgive me!

On that basis, in the next four posts I will look at four celebrations mentioned by the Alexander historians (starting off with Diodorus each time). In this post, I’ll begin with Dium; tomorrow, Babylon; Christmas Eve, Persepolis and on Christmas Day, Carmania.

***

Dium
Diodorus XVII.16
In the Autumn of 335 B.C. Alexander returned to Macedon after a successful campaigning season during which he had secured his northern borders and successfully brought the Greek city-states to heel.

Once home, he began preparations for the projected invasion of Asia Minor. Two important questions that needed answering were ‘[w]hen should the campaign be started and how should he conduct the war?’ (D. XVII.16).

Parmenion and Antipater tried to persuade Alexander to delay any action until he had produced an heir only for the king to retort that it would be a disgrace to ‘sit at home celebrating a marriage and awaiting the birth of children’ (Ibid). Alexander won the argument and preparations for the invasion continued.

That October, Alexander went to Dium to celebrate the Olympian Games. These are not to be confused with the Olympic Games. The Olympian version were instituted by Alexander’s predecessor, Archelaus (r.413-399 B.C.)*.

Held ‘in honour of Zeus and the Muses’, the Olympian Games involved ‘lavish sacrifices’, ‘dramatic contests’ and, of course, a lot of eating and drinking.

Best of all, from the point of view of the party goer, if not the catering staff (i.e. servants and slaves), the festival lasted nine days.

To re-enforce the fact that not only were they engaged in a sacred activity but that time itself had, in a sense, become sacred, Alexander named ‘each day after one of the Muses’ (Ibid). Call me cynical, but I somehow doubt that the average Macedonian cared very much about the sacrality of the time and place in which he stood at that moment. Not when there was more wine to be had.

* I took the term ‘Olympian Games’ from Peter Green Alexander of Macedon 356-323 B.C. University of California Press 1992. Arrian also uses it – see below.

***

In our own day, America has a reputation for doing things bigger than anyone else. Well, I suppose Americans do live in a vast country so have to fill the space somehow, but, of course, the USA was not the first nation to go large. Egypt did with her monumental statues, and in Dium, in his own way, so did Alexander.

Before the Games started, he ordered a huge tent to be built, one that could hold a hundred couches. The notes to my copy of Diodorus* state that ‘Agathocles’s Hall of the Sixty Couches was one of the wonders of Sicily (Book 16.83.2)’ so you can see that Alexander was not only going large but determined to smash records to smithereens. Start as you mean to go on.

My favourite pubs are those that look homely and comfortable. Macedonians liked anything that reminded them of how great they were. How the tent must have done that! No wonder Alexander took it with him when he left for Asia Minor. It was a brilliant propaganda tool as well as a place to get sozzled.

* Loeb Classical Library 1963

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Among the guests at the banquet in the great tent were ambassadors from the Greek cities. Imagine what they thought of the tent. We may be sure that Alexander’s invitation to them to attend was not simply, or even an, act of kindness but a way of intimidating them – and through them, their cities.

If Diodorus has got all his facts right, Alexander was the perfect host. He circulated among his guests, distributed ‘to his entire force sacrificial animals’ as well as anything else they needed. I am happy when my friend buys me a pint. I think I would probably have fainted for joy in Dium.

***

Arrian (I.11) offers a more sober account of what happened that Autumn. While he confirms that Alexander did indeed offer

… to Olympian Zeus the form of ceremonial thanksgiving which had been in use since the time of Archelaus.

and also celebrated ‘the Olympian Games’, he states that the games took place at Aegae. Now, it’s true that he doesn’t say where the thanksgiving to Zeus took place, so maybe it was at Aegae at the same time as the Games but that isn’t the impression I get.

He also states that Alexander ‘according to some accounts, held games in honour of the Muses’ (Ibid). I take this to mean that Ptolemy and Aristobulos don’t mention the fact. Why would they not? Well, we don’t know. It might be the Games never happened; it might also be that neither Ptolemy nor Aristobulos regarded the Games as relevant to their narrative.

Arrian’s account is perfunctory. I feel he is only mentioning what happened because he has to. Once the words are down, he immediately moves forward to the next subject. Rather miserably, that is

… a report… that the statue of Orpheus son of Oegrus of Thrace, had been constantly sweating.

Happily, however, Aristander was able to give the omen a favourable interpretation.

There are a number of possible reasons for Arrian’s desultory account of the events at Dium. The worst is that his main sources were misery guts who didn’t like fun. In Christmas week, however, we are not having that. I am choosing to believe that Ptolemy would have very much liked to have waxed lyrical about the partying that went on but thought for the sake of decency and professionalism that he better not.

Plutarch is even worse than Arrian. He neither mentions acts of thanksgiving to Zeus nor the Olympian Games. In Chapter 14 of his Life of Alexander, he says simply that when the Macedonians ‘set out’ for Asia Minor, ‘… the statue of Orpheus at Libethra… was observed to be covered in sweat’. He confirms Aristander’s positive interpretation of the omen.

Dium In Short
Reason Thanksgiving/Honour of Zeus and the Muses
Duration Nine Days
Outstanding Features A ten almost big enough to cover Alexander’s ego
Result Lots, and lots, of headaches (+ a happy and grateful army)

Categories: Humour | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Second Patroclus

A few days ago I posted my thoughts on Chapter 5 of Mary Renault’s Fire from Heaven over at the Alexander the Great Reading Group on Facebook. You can find the post here.

In this comment, the author talks about how ancient historians treated Hephaestion. Here is my response. As I wrote it, I started wondering why exactly Arrian portrayed Hephaestion in the way that he did.

Unfortunately, the answer to that question died with him but it has made me want to look at Hephaestion’s portrayal throughout his work to see what kind of picture he paints of him not in one moment but overall. As I work (or write) my way through it, I will compare what Arrian says to the other historians.

I would like these posts to be quite short so in each one I will look at just one ‘scene’ and sum up at the end.

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I. Troy
(Arrian I.12*)
Read the other posts in this series

We meet Hephaestion for the first time at Troy. According to Arrian,

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.

Alexander’s actions had a two-fold purpose. He wished to,

i. publicly associate himself and Hephaestion with Achilles and Patroclus
ii. honour Achilles, his ancestor**

Arrian presents Alexander’s and Hephaestion’s actions in an even-handed manner, neither mocking their arrogance for comparing themselves to Achilles and Patroclus nor praising the appropriateness of their actions. Instead, he simply gives the facts of what happened according to the two sources that he is using.

This passage is testimony, therefore, to Arrian’s desire to write an accurate history of Alexander’s life. I think it also stands as testimony to his desire to treat Hephaestion fairly, too. It would have been easy for Arrian to omit mention of Hephaestion’s wreath-laying and focus only on the king’s, and yet, he chose not to do so.

This is in contrast to Diodorus who says simply that Alexander ‘visited the tombs of the heroes Achilles, Ajax, and the rest and honoured them with offerings and other appropriate marks of respect’ (XVII.17) and Justin ‘He also sacrificed at Troy, at the tombs of the heroes who had fallen in the Trojan war.’ (XI.5).

Plutarch writes the account that Arrian might have done if he did not care about, or wished to suppress, Hephaestion’s role.

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.
(Life of Alexander Para 15)

Plutarch’s account makes me think that Arrian wanted to not only give an accurate account of Alexander’s life but also a full one, that is to say, one that does not omit mention of other people in Alexander’s life for the sake of keeping the narrative focused (which is what I think Plutarch is doing).

One final point – Arrian’s two principle sources are Ptolemy I Soter and Aristobulos. They are, in his opinion, ‘the most trustworthy writers’ (I.1) on Alexander. As Arrian doesn’t name his sources for the Troy story, I assume that neither Ptolemy nor Aristobulos mention it, but that the sources come from that part of the ‘popular tradition’ (Ibid) which he is happy to use (as it ‘may well be true’).

If this is the case, the question that naturally arises is why don’t Ptolemy or Aristobulos mention it? I have no answer for Aristobulos as he is supposed to be a flatterer – but perhaps Ptolemy had no interest in Alexander’s Homeric pretensions. Given his position as satrap and pharaoh, it would be easy to understand why he chose to focus on Alexander, son of Ammon.

* I am using the Penguin Classics (1971) tr. J R Hamilton edition

** On his mother’s side

Categories: Hephaestion Amyntoros | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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