Posts Tagged With: Bagoas

He Conquered Through His Tears

In an article on The Myth of the Macho Christ for Patheos (here), Simcha Fisher writes quotes a correspondent who complained about her definition of masculinity. They wrote,

If an affinity for babies and not having sex is manliness or courage or masculinity then some anemic nerd virgin gamer who babysits his cousins on the weekend is literally more manly and masculine than Achilles or Alexander the Great or Gengis Khan, since they fornicated.

To which Fisher replies,

In charity, we’ll overlook the facts that Alexander the Great almost certainly had sex with men, and is best known for sitting down and crying,

Before proceeding to prove her correspondent wrong in his, or her, definition of what masculinity really is.

I agree with Fisher that Alexander ‘almost certainly had sex with men’ although I would limit their number to either one (Bagoas) or two (Bagoas and Hephaestion)*.

She is, however, is quite wrong when she says that Alexander is ‘best known for sitting down and crying’. Not even the village idiot would say such a thing. I suspect she is thinking of Achilles here, although I don’t know The Iliad well known to say how much time he spends sitting and sobbing. Having said that, I don’t think anyone in their right mind would say Achilles’ greatest claim to fame is the amount of tears he shed. Fisher has created a parody in order to make a point. In charity let’s say that on this occasion her memory of Alexander and Achilles both fooled her. It’s a great shame as the rest of the article is, in my opinion, a good one.

* On that point, see this comment

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

Alexander’s Sexuality

The Bay Area Reporter of San Francisco has published an article titled Alexander the Great & Greek Love on its website. You can read it here.

By the standards of most on-line articles concerning Alexander, the article is a really good one; the writer has clearly looked more deeply into the topic than plenty of other journalists. Occasionally, however, he lets himself down.

Paragraph 1
This is an excellent introduction to Alexander. It’s the kind of passage that I wish I had written. I would dispute that Alexander ‘in the West, [is] probably the best-known ancient ruler’. In my opinion that honour belongs to Julius Caesar.

Paragraph 2
Another good paragraph. Unfortunately, it does contain one mistake: contrary to what the writer asserts, Philip II did not ‘subjugate’ Sparta. He threatened the Spartans but never invaded their country. Ultimately, he had no need to do so. On the positive side, the writer makes a nice point about Olympias, one that is always worth remembering: ‘Olympias must have been remarkable, or else little would be known about her’.

Paragraph 3
Again, a good paragraph. The line ‘Philip was assassinated, perhaps by a former male lover’ (my emphasis) stood out for me. Diodorus (XVI.93) says that that a man named Pausanias was ‘beloved by [Philip] because of his beauty’. In English, to be beloved of someone is not necessarily to be their lover, which is perhaps the reason for the writer’s caution in describing Pausanias. However, Diodorus goes on to describe how he – Pausanias – bad mouthed another man of the same name when he – Pausanias the assassin – ‘saw that the king was becoming enamoured’ of them. Pausanias accused his namesake ‘of being a hermaphrodite and prompt to accept the amorous advances of any who wished’. If Pausanias the assassin was not Philip’s lover I don’t think he would have had any reason to speak to the second Pausanias in that way.

Paragraph 4
This paragraph opens with some excellent questions regarding Alexander’s empire that we will debate until the end of time. The writer then states that Alexander ‘married an Afghanistani chieftain’s daughter’. Roxane, of course, was not from Afghanistan. The country did not exist then. She was Bactrian.

Paragraph 5
It’s hard to judge this paragraph one way or the other as the writer dives into history too early and late for me. However, I like very much that he recognises that it is anachronistic to talk of Alexander being homosexual on the grounds that ‘”homosexuality” and “heterosexuality” as social constructs didn’t exist before the 19th century’. For the record, I have no idea when homo- and hetero- sexuality were invented so I take him at his word that it was indeed in the nineteenth century.

Paragraph 6
The writer points out that ‘many writers’ believe Alexander and Hephaestion could not have had a sexual relationship as they ‘were the same age’ (Curtius III.12.16 says they were the same age) and points to evidence in James Davidson’s The Greeks and Greek Love to show that peers could be lovers. He cites Davidson’s example of Harmodius and Aristogeiton. They lived in the sixth century B.C. It would, I suppose, have been more helpful to use an example from Alexander’s own time as times do change but given how slowly this seems to have happened in the past I doubt much changed between the late sixth century and the middle of the fourth.

Paragraph 7
The following two quotations contain the whole of this paragraph. The writers states,

Most ancient sources agree that Alexander was attracted to young men.

This is more than I know. I know that he was certainly attracted to one young man – Bagoas; I am not aware of any others with whom he had an affair. It would be interesting to know who the writer’s source was, or who his sources were, for this statement.

According to Plutarch, Hephaestion was the man whom “Alexander loved most of all.”

This quotation doesn’t appear in my Penguin Classics (2011) edition of Plutarch’s Life of Alexander but I think it comes from Chapter 47. In my edition, the text there reads ‘In general [Alexander] showed most affection for Hephaestion’.

Their relationship was all-encompassing. They drank, hunted, and campaigned together. Hephaestion acted as Alexander’s Chief of Staff. It was most likely sexual. 

Really? It is equally likely that they were simply very close friends. In terms of how the writer sees Alexander’s and Hephaestion’s relationship, I am on his side, but here I think the last sentence is an example of his wish for the two to have been lovers rather than because the facts he mentions prove it to have been so.

Paragraphs 8 – 9
Here, the writer turns to the best ‘evidence’ to my mind for Alexander and Hephaestion being lovers: their imitation of Achilles and Patroclus (Arrian I.12 cf. Plutarch Life 15)who in their day were believed to be lovers. As a side note, I like that the writer acknowledges that Homer doesn’t call Achilles and Patroclus lovers. It’s this attention to detail which really sets the article above any other I have read on Alexander.

Paragraph 10
The writer now turns to the famous moment when Sisygambis mistook Hephaestion for Alexander (Arrian II.13, Curtius III.12.16-17) only for the king to reply “This one, too, is Alexander.” in support of his case that they were lovers. When considering this passage, I feel that I am at the limit of my understanding of what Alexander meant with those words. Was he implying that the two were one as lovers are or was he referring to a very deep and platonic friendship?

Paragraph 11
The writer refers to Bagoas as Darius III’s ‘boyfriend’ which is a wholly inaccurate and misleading way to describe him. Bagoas was a eunuch, a slave. There was no equality between Darius and Bagoas, such as exists between lovers of the same or opposite sex. The writer goes on to say that Bagoas ‘soon found his way into Alexander’s bed’ as if he managed to inveigle his way there. Far more likely that Alexander told or asked him to come to him. Finally, he writes ‘Bagoas’ presence doesn’t rule out physical intimacy between Alexander and Hephaestion. In any case, they remained inseparable.’ Both these statements are surely and certainly true.

Paragraph 12 – 13
This paragraph begins ‘Nothing demonstrates Alexander’s passion for Hephaestion more than his reaction to his death.’ I could not agree more. The writer goes on to give an account of Alexander’s response to Hephaestion’s death, to which I can only say that even if they did not share a bed, if there is an ounce of truth in account, it is proof positive that Alexander loved Hephaestion very deeply indeed.

Paragraph 14
This paragraph begins with the admission that ‘Unless new evidence is uncovered, the exact nature of Alexander’s sexual orientation (to use an anachronistic term) will never be known.’ It concludes,

Nonetheless, a reasonable interpretation of extant sources, studied within the context of the sexual mores of Classical and Hellenistic Greek societies, leads to the conclusion that his erotic feelings were primarily directed at males.

This I disagree with. Alexander had three wives – Roxane, Stateira II and Parysatis. But these were dynastic marriages, one may say; this is true, but what of his mistresses: Barsine, Pancaste/Callixeina, Thalestris, Cleophis and perhaps Thais, later Ptolemy I’s lover? Some of these relationships may be legendary (e.g. Thalestris) but all? I doubt it. My conclusion to all that I have read is that Alexander was sexually attracted to both men and women, and of them both he liked Hephaestion most.

Categories: Of The Moment, On Alexander | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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

The Death of Alexander

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 116-118 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Mystery in Palace as Prisoner Sits on Royal Throne
Alexander Lost in Swamps
King Found: Diadem Worn By Oarsman
* Inside: A round up of all recent omens
King Falls Ill Following Party
Alexander Dies

The Story
Chapter 116
Hephaestion’s funeral was now over. For relief, Alexander ‘turned to amusements and festivals’. To the world it looked like ‘he was at the peak of his power and good fortune’ but Fate had other ideas and immediately that the festivities began ‘heaven… began to foretell [Alexander’s] death’.

Diodorus gives the example of two omens that portended this. The first involved a native who was kept in chains. One day, as Alexander was receiving a massage, those chains suddenly fell off. The native – presumably a prisoner of some sort – ran away from his guards and entered throne room. There, he took Alexander’s clothes and diadem and put them on before sitting down on the throne itself.

Upon being told what had happened, Alexander ‘was terrified’. He went to the native and asked him what he was about. The man made no reply. Alexander turned to his seers and asked them to interpret what had happened.

Diodorus doesn’t give their response but it was clearly negative to Alexander as it made him order the native’s execution in the hope ‘that the trouble which was forecast by his act might light upon the man’s own head’.

Once the native had been taken away, Alexander retrieved his clothing ‘and sacrificed to the gods who avert evil’. This pious act, however, was not enough to remove his worry about what the incident portended.

We have seen once or twice before how Alexander could have his mind changed with absurd ease by those underneath him. Diodorus gives an example of this when he described how the king decided to stay outside Babylon (Chapter 112 here). Curtius gives another when he tells how Bagoas poisoned Alexander’s mind against Orsines (10:1:24-38).

It now happens again. Diodorus says that Alexander ‘recalled the predictions of the Chaldaeans’ and became angry ‘with the philosophers who had persuaded him to enter Babylon’. In consequence, he renewed his respect for the Chaldaeans and argued ‘railed’ at anyone ‘who used specious reasoning to argue away the power of Fate’.

Diodorus’ second omen came when Alexander was exploring the swamps around Babylon. His skiff became separated from the royal party. Upon a moment, it passed underneath some tall reeds, which caught Alexander’s diadem and threw it into the water. One of the oarsmen ‘swam after it’. Upon retrieving the ribbon, the oarsman placed it on his head for safe keeping.

Alexander was lost for three days and nights. Presently, he put his diadem on again. When he did so, the skiff came out of the swamp. What did it all mean? Alexander went straight to his soothsayers to find out.

Chapter 117
The seers told Alexander to ‘sacrifice to the gods on a grand scale’ and quickly. Before he could do so, however, the king was ‘called away by Medius… to take part in a comus’.

At the party, Alexander ‘drank much unmixed wine in commemoration of the death of Heracles’. He filled ‘a huge beaker’ and drank it in one go; suddenly, ‘he shrieked aloud as if smitten by a violent blow’. The king’s Friends came forward and took Alexander back to his quarters.

The royal physicians ‘were summoned’ but they could do nothing to take away the pain. Alexander ‘continued in great discomfort and acute suffering’.

After a while, he realised that he was dying. Alexander removed his ring of office and gave it to his chiliarch – Perdiccas. ‘His Friends asked: “To whom do you leave the kingdom?”‘ Alexander replied, simply, ‘”To the strongest.”‘ He then prophesied ‘that all of his leading Friends would stage a vast contest in honour of his funeral’.

At an unspecified point after speaking these words, Alexander died. He had reigned for ‘twelve years and seven months’ and ‘accomplished greater deeds than any… who had lived before him [or] who were to come later’.

Diodorus concludes the chapter with an acknowledgement that some historians believe that Alexander was poisoned. As this is so, ‘it seems necessary for us to mention their account also’.

Chapter 118
This chapter, therefore, is a coda of sorts to the main story, which is now finished.

Diodorus turns to Antipater. He served as Alexander’s ‘viceroy’ in Macedon while the king was abroad. During this time, he ‘was at variance with… Olympias’. That seems a very polite way of putting it.

To begin with, Antipater didn’t take Olympias seriously because Alexander ignored ‘her complaints against him’. Later, however, ‘as their enmity kept growing’ and Alexander ‘showed an anxiety to gratify [Olympias] in everything out of piety’ Antipater became worried.

When Alexander killed Parmenion and Philotas ‘terror’ entered Antipater’s heart. But not only his, also ‘all of Alexander’s Friends’. Antipater’s son, Iolaus, was Alexander’s wine-pourer. The viceroy gave him a poison to administer to the king.

If Alexander was poisoned, how come nobody wrote about it afterwards? Diodorus doesn’t ask this question out loud but clearly has it in mind. He that, following Alexander’s death, Antipater ‘held… supreme authority in Europe’ and after him, ‘his son Cassander’. Their power, therefore, was why ‘many historians did not dare write about the drug’.

Diodorus has no doubt, however, that Cassander is guilty; he cites the murder of of Olympias and rebuilding of Thebes as proof of his hostility to Alexander.

Finally, Diodorus turns to Sisygambis – whom he calls Sisyngambris. She mourned Alexander’s death deeply. In fact, her grief was so profound that she stopped eating. Five days later, she died ‘painfully but not ingloriously’.

Comments
Why did the native run to the throne and take Alexander’s clothing and diadem? In Chapter 66 (which I covered here) we saw how Alexander upset a eunuch when he used one of Darius’ tables as a footstool. In the Footnotes for this incident, we are told ‘that the throne was a symbol of divinity in the Orient, and that a king’s clothing, bed, and throne were affected with royal and divine mana’. Thus, in the Footnotes for Chapter 116, it is said that the man ‘may have regarded [the throne] as a sanctuary, or at least as a place of refuge’. Obviously, he saw the clothes and diadem as having similar protective powers.

By-the-bye the Footnotes also state that it is possible that the native may have simply held the clothes rather than put them on. Either way, the story echoes that of the woman with the haemorrhage who knew that if she could only touch Jesus’ clothing she would be healed (This story features in all three synoptic gospels – Lk 8:40-56, Mk 5:21-43, and Matt 9:18-26).

In regards the story of the diadem, I recall reading elsewhere that by placing it on his head, the man was, according to tradition (?), declaring himself king. Well, of course he wasn’t in reality – he was just trying to stop the ribbon from getting wet – but Alexander’s religious belief did not permit him to believe that interpretation alone. Not without divine confirmation, anyway.

I speak under correction, but I am sure that the man who went after the diadem is elsewhere identified as Seleucus – perhaps as a result of his own later assertion that he rescued it. His reason for doing so? It added legitimacy to his kingship.

In Chapter 116, Diodorus says that Alexander was ‘terrified’ by the implications of the native man’s actions. And that, even after sacrificing, he remained troubled. After escaping the swamp, the king returned to his seers for their interpretation of the diadem incident. We are clearly dealing with a very religiously motivated man, here. And yet, no sooner has Alexander been told what to do by the seers, he allows himself to be distracted by Medius. Is that really likely? Did Alexander’s religious beliefs weigh no more than an invitation to join a drinking party?

I would certainly like to believe that Alexander’s last words – including his answer to the question of to whom he left his empire – were really spoken by him. I question his response ‘to the strongest’, though, as in the circumstances it just seems a little too Homeric an answer – if that is possible – for him. I know that the Macedonians did not practice primogeniture but why would he not say ‘to my son’?

As for his prophecy, isn’t it too eerily accurate to be true? Perhaps Alexander was just thinking of the funeral games – as normally understood – that he knew would be held for him.

All this is moot, however, if he was unable to speak as Arrian states. But Alexander could have spoken before he lost his voice. Or, perhaps, afterwards if only in whispering rasps?

I don’t think I can say anything here that does justice to the question of whether or not Alexander was poisoned but here are my thoughts, anyway.

In case you are wondering how Antipater – in Macedon – was able to give Iolaus – in Babylon – the poison: As I understand it, Cassander travelled from Macedon to Babylon around this time. In this scenario, he just took the poison with him.

It is very interesting that Diodorus says that all of Alexander’s Friends were terrified by the demise of Parmenion and Philotas. This is not the impression I get from Curtius who has Craterus speaking out very harshly against Philotas. Neither does Curtius have Craterus being in a party of one – others supported him in his hostility. Were they speaking out of fright? Far more likely that it was out of the knowledge that they were doing away with a rival.

Having said that, I am sure some were worried by what had happened; I think, though, that Diodorus is simply exaggerating.

I would like to test Diodorus’ explanation of why historians did not write about Antipater and Cassander being responsible for Alexander’s death. For example, I can understand why Cleitarchus might suppress the information. He lived in Alexandria and Ptolemy, Egypt’s ruler, was Cassander’s ally during the Successor Wars.

I think Olympias is the source of the allegation that the Antipatrids killed her son? If so (or even if not) I wonder who was the first person to write it down after her.

I accept that Cassander was anti-Argead, but I wonder if we could equally say that his murder of Olympias and rebuilding of Thebes were less to do with his hatred of Alexander and more about carving out a place for an Antipatrid dynasty in the new world that Alexander’s death had created.

Finally, one would have to be a very heartless man not to be affected by Sisygambis’ end. She had every reason to hate Alexander but came to love him more dearly than life itself.

The king died. Clouds [were in the sky]image

:’-(

  • The above photograph of the Babylon Astronomical Diary that refers to Alexander’s death comes from the British Museum
  • The translation of the text is from Livius
Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alexander’s first Days as King

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 1, 2, 5 & 6 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

Headlines
Alexander Secures The Macedonian Throne
Attalus is Assassinated
Darius Becomes Great King

The Story
In Chapter 94 of Book XVI of his Library of History, Diodorus relates how Pausanias assassinated Philip II. The first chapter of Book XVII begins with a brief introduction to Philip’s successor, Alexander III whom we call The Great. It is an introduction that the new king would have found very satisfactory. ‘In twelve years’ Diodorus says, Alexander ‘conquered no small part of Europe and practically all of Asia, and so acquired a fabulous reputation like that of the heroes and demigods of old’.

According to Diodorus, Alexander’s first action as king was to punish Philip’s murderers before overseeing the funeral of his father. Unfortunately, Diodorus does not tell us who those murderers were – in the previous book he implied that Pausanias acted alone. In the Footnotes, however, we learn the ‘known’ victims’ names,

  • Amyntas, son of Perdiccas III (Alexander’s ‘older cousin’)
  • Alexander of Lyncestis’ family (though not Alexander himself)
  • Cleopatra Eurydice (Philip’s seventh and last wife)
  • Europa (Cleopatra Eurydice’s infant daughter)

Cleopatra and Europa were murdered on the orders of Olympias. Alexander was greatly displeased by his mother’s actions. According to Plutarch ‘he showed his anger against’ her for the deaths. What this meant in practice one can only imagine.

When Alexander ascended to the throne of Macedon he was just twenty years old. Unsurprisingly, he was ‘not uniformly respected’ by his people. Despite this, he ‘established his authority far more firmly’ than was thought possible.

At this point, Diodorus makes up for his meagre account of the Battle of Chaeronea and failure to give more information about Philip II’s murderers by explaining what Alexander did to secure the throne. He,

  1. spoke to the Macedonians in a ‘tactful’ manner
  2. assured his people that he would rule the kingdom ‘on principles no less effective’ than those used by Philip II
  3. kept the army occupied with ‘constant training… and tactical exercises’. He also ‘established’ (perhaps this means ‘enforced?) discipline in the ranks as well

At the same time, Alexander sweet talked the various ambassadors who were at that time in Macedon so as to breed good will with the various Greek city-states.

If you know anything about Alexander you will undoubtedly be aware that one name has been conspicuous by its absence in this blog post thus far: Attalus. Diodorus calls him a ‘possible rival for the throne’ although the Footnotes make clear that he had ‘no known claim’. Either way, Diodorus now explains how Alexander sent an agent named Hecataeus to Asia Minor to either bring Attalus home alive or, if that were not possible, to assassinate him.

We have now reached Chapter 3 of Book XVII. It is here that Diodorus digresses to give an account of the Greek response to Philip’s death. To keep the narrative thread alive, we’ll jump forward to Chapter 5 to find out what happened to Attalus. I’ll come back to the Greek response in the next post.

In Chapter 5, therefore, Diodorus effectively accuses Attalus of treason. He says that immediately after Philip II’s death, the general ‘actually… set his hand to revolt and had agreed with the Athenians to undertake joint action against Alexander’. At some point, though, Attalus got cold feet. Instead of revolting, he forwarded to Alexander a letter written by Demosthenes (in which he, presumably, advocated rebellion against the king) along with his own ‘expressions of loyalty to remove from himself any possible suspicion’.

It was too late, though; Hecataeus was lurking in the shadows waiting for his chance to deal with the general once and for all. It soon came and Attalus met his end.

Diodorus now turns to Persia and gives a short account of how Darius came to be Great King. First, there was Ochus who ‘oppressed his subjects cruelly and harshly’. He was done away with by a eunuch named Bagoas (not the same Bagoas who Alexander liked). Bagoas put Ochus’ youngest son, Arses, on the throne.

Within two or three years, though, Arses developed that very dangerous thing when there is a power behind the throne: an independent mind. He ‘let it be known that he was offended’ at Bagoas’ behaviour in killing Ochus. You’re offended? said Ochus, Try being dead.

Ochus’ assassination brought the direct line of the Persian Royal House to an end. So, Bagoas put the grandson of Ostanes, who was Great King Artaxerxes II’s brother, on the throne instead. His name was Darius, and he was the third of that name. Upon hearing that Bagoas meant to murder him as well, Darius managed to kill the eunuch first.

In Chapter 6, Diodorus prepares us for the great war between Macedonia and Persia, Alexander and Darius, by highlighting the latter’s bravery ‘in which quality’ he says, ‘he far surpassed the other Persians’. In proof of this he tells how Darius once beat a Cadusian warrior who had ‘a wide reputation for strength and courage’ in single combat.

Comments
It is hard to fault the means by which Alexander secured the Macedonian throne. They show that he was not only a great general but capable of being a good ruler as well. In light of this, it makes his later failures in this regard more difficult to take. Perhaps he lacked the foresight to make political decisions of lasting rather than momentary value.

I don’t know about you but I am not really convinced that Alexander meant for Hecataeus to bring Attalus back to Macedon. If Attalus was a serious threat it would surely have been counter-productive to bring him back. Mind you, as we saw in the previous post, we are in a world where enemies could become trusted friends at a stroke.

Staying with Attalus – I wonder why he chose not to rebel against Alexander. He had an army to do so and was a popular general. Perhaps he feared Parmenion’s response – although could he not have been murdered? – or simply came to feel that loyalty rather than betrayal would serve him better in the long run.

For Alexander’s part, Diodorus says that he ‘had good reason to fear that [Attalus] might challenge his rule, making common cause with those of the Greeks who opposed him’ but does not really justify this statement. He doesn’t appear to mention the one occasion when Alexander and Attalus came to blows – the wedding party on the occasion of Philip II’s marriage to Cleopatra Eurydice – but perhaps he had that in mind.

Books
We Need To Talk About Bagoas – one previous owner, now dead
War and Peace – don’t worry if your edition comes without the ‘Peace’ section, there was very little of it in those days
The Way of all Flesh – A handy guide to poisons, written by A Eunuch

By-the-Bye
Attalus’ death brings the first days of Alexander’s rule to an end. Diodorus doesn’t say where he was killed but I should think it was in Asia Minor. This means that he died very close to where, some 55 years later, the Battle of Corupedium would be fought, which brought the awards of the Successors to an end. This seems fitting.

Categories: Diodorus Siculus, Uncategorized | 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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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?
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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?
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Philotera
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.
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ADDENDUM
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

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