Posts Tagged With: Cleopatra Eurydice

He Lives and Reigns

Alexander the Great was born on, or around, 20th July 356 BC.

Of the five chief sources regarding his life, only one – Plutarch – covers his origins. He does so in the opening chapters of his Life of Alexander.

Chapter 2
Alexander’s Lineage

Plutarch notes that he was:
descended from Heracles via Caranus on his father’s side
descended from Aeacus via Neoptolemus on his mother’s side

Olympias’ Dream
Just before her marriage to Philip II, Olympias dreamed that he womb was struck by a thunderbolt. It started a fire, which spread (a prefiguring, perhaps, of Aexander’s conquests)

Philip’s Dream
After his marriage to Olympias, Philip dreamed that he closed his wife’s womb with a lion embossed seal (indicating, I think, Alexander’s character)
Plutarch states that one day, Philip glimpsed his wife in bed with a snake

Chapter 3
The Delphic Oracle
Olympias was a snake worshipper, but Philip still asked the Oracle what its presence meant. The Oracle ordered him to ‘offer more sacrifices and honour to Ammon than any other god’. The snake was Ammon.
The Oracle also told Philip that he would lose the eye with which he saw his wife and the god together

The issue of Alexander’s paternity is shrouded in mystery. Did he really believe he was the son of Ammon-Zeus? Plutarch records two traditions. One, that Olympias told her son ‘the secret of his birth’ (i.e. that Ammon-Zeus was his father) but also that she ‘repudiated the idea’.

Around the same time as Alexander’s birth, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus was destroyed by fire. According to Plutarch, Hegesias of Magnesia said that this was because Artemis was away: delivering the future conqueror! The Magi at Ephesus, however, had a different reason for the fire: it was an omen of the fall of Asia, that is, the Persian Empire.

Three significant events happened on or around the time of Alexander’s birth:

i. Philip captured the city of Potidaea
ii. Parmenion defeated an Illyrian army in battle
iii. One of Philip’s horses won at the Olympic Games

Philip’s soothsayers told the king that these events all pointed to his son’s invincibility.

As can be seen above, Plutarch’s account of Alexander’s conception and birth relies as much on myth and propaganda as it does history. This makes it of a piece with all the accounts of his life. Alexander was not only great on the battlefield, but also in the management of his image (to be sure, we may also say that this is true of his successors).

Alexander was born at Pella, capital of ancient Macedon. In his early years, he had one weakness: although he was Philip’s only credible heir, he was not a full Macedonian (Olympias was the daughter of Neoptolemus, king of Epirus). Had Philip lived longer and fathered a son with his last wife, Cleopatra Eurydice, who was a full Macedonian, that would have been a problem for Alexander, probably a fatal one.

However, Philip was assassinated not long after Cleopatra Eurydice gave birth to a daughter. In the blood letting that followed Philip’s murder – as Alexander eliminated anyone who could be a threat to his place on the throne – Olympias also killed Cleopatra Eurydice, and her daughter. This actually angered Alexander as she was no longer a threat.

As mentioned above, Alexander was born in 356 BC. In 336, he left Macedon for the last time and never looked back. In the next thirteen years, he conquered most of the known world and was planning his next expedition when he died in Babylon in June 323.

Categories: Chronology of Alexander's Life | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

King of Macedon

Justin’s Alexander
Book XI Chapters 1-5

Part One
Other posts in this series

According to Charles Russell Stone in From Tyrant to Philosopher-King, Justin’s Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus ‘defined Alexander for many writers in England’ (p. 8) during the Mediaeval period. 

According to Stone, Justin’s influence was negative as ‘the first Roman histories to reach medieval England emphasized [Alexander’s] worst qualities and most egregious behaviour’. In this short series of posts, therefore, I thought I would look at this translation of the Epitome to see what exactly Justin said.

Chapter 1
Macedon is in turmoil. Philip II has been assassinated and his twenty year old son, Alexander, has been declared king. What hope does he have to keep his country together? The army, which he needs in order to rule, is divided between those who mourn Philip’s death and those who – having been conscripted into it – now hope that they may win their freedom.

Meanwhile, Philip’s friends are looking nervously over their shoulders. They fear a revengeful Persia, and rebellion by Greeks and barbarians in Europe alike. They believe that if all three turn against Macedon at the same time, their attack will be ‘utterly impossible to resist’.

Enter Alexander. He takes his place before a public assembly, starts to speak, and… not only calms his listeners’ nerves, and not only gives them hope for the future, but fills them with ‘favourable expectations’ for what is to come.

Justin does not quote Alexander’s speech, or put words into his mouth, but we can tell what kind of speech it was from his comments. Firstly, it was humble, for Alexander spoke with ‘modesty’. Secondly, it was restrained, for Alexander ‘reserved the further proofs of his ability for the time of action’. Thirdly, it was manipulative, for in granting ‘Macedonians relief from all burdens’ (i.e. tax breaks?), Alexander put them in mind of Philip, the beloved king they had just lost.

Chapter 2
The first hint of Alexander’s ruthlessness comes at the start of this chapter. After Philip II’s cremation, the new king ordered the murder of anyone connected to his father’s assassination. He also made sure to remove anyone who could rival his claim to the throne. Justin cites Caranus*, the son of Philip’s last wife, Cleopatra Eurydice, as being one such victim. Someone who was allowed to live, however, was Alexander Lyncestes, son of Aeropus**. His brothers (Heromenes and Arrhabaeus) were both executed for conspiracy but Alexander Lyncestes was permitted to live as he had been the first person to acclaim Alexander as king.

* Heckel in Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great asserts that Caranus did not exist

** Not Alexander the Great’s brother as Justin says

Chapter 3
Upon hearing of rebellion in Greece, Alexander marched south. He stopped first in Thessaly and,

exhorted the Thessalians to peace, reminding them of the kindnesses if (sic) shown them by his father Philip, and of his mother’s connexion with them by the family of the Aeacidae

We are used to thinking of Alexander the general but less so of Alexander the diplomat. On numerous occasions, however, he used diplomacy to win the support of his enemies. On this occasion, his plan worked to perfection. The Thessalians made him their ‘captain-General’ and gave him ‘their customs and public revenues’.

Accepting these, Alexander marched on to Athens. They had already submitted to him. Nevertheless, upon meeting their ambassadors, the king ‘severely [reproved] them for their conduct’. Most importantly, as far as Athens was concerned, he did not attack them.

Justin reports that Alexander then marched to Thebes ‘intending to show similar indulgence, if he found similar penitence’. But he did not. Once the city had been taken by force, Alexander asked his Greek allies what should be done to it. This sounds very democratic except that Alexander’s allies had all been mistreated by Thebes in the past. They were only ever going to vote for one course of action now. It’s hard not to imagine Alexander knowing this, and simply using the allies as a way of tearing down the city without getting his own hands dirty.

Chapter 4
During the deliberations, Cleadas, a representative of Thebes was permitted to speak for the survivors. He appealed to Alexander’s sense of history by pointing out that his ancestor, Herakles, had been born there and that his father had spent part of his youth in the city. Justin has nothing to say about the use of Philip but regards the mention of Herakles as an attempt to appeal to Alexander’s superstitious nature.

Neither worked and Thebes was razed. Thereafter, the land was divided up and the survivors sold into slavery. Feeling sorry for them, Athens permitted Thebans to enter their city. But Alexander had prohibited this, and he gave the city an ultimatum: War or hand over a number of generals and orators who had been leading rebels. Not only did Athens persuade Alexander not to open hostilities against them, however, but it also managed to persuade him to withdraw his demand for prisoners.

Again, we could view this as Alexander being clement but in reality it is far more likely that he let the matter go because he wanted to get on with his preparations for the war against Persia.

Chapter 5
Before leaving Macedon, Alexander completed his purge of the royal court to make sure no one rebelled against him while he was gone. Justin says that it was at this point that Attalus (uncle/guardian of Cleopatra Eurydice) was murdered.

Alexander also ‘divided’ all Argead land in Macedon and Greece between his friends, ‘saying, “that for himself Asia was sufficient.”’. On the one hand, this sounds very foolhardy. Or perhaps, brave. Why did he do it? Justin gives no clue but it is possible or likely that Alexander was actually trying to raise much needed money for his expedition.

Having rejected the Cleadas’ appeal to history, Alexander now showed his respect for it. Approaching the shore of Asia Minor, he follow in the footsteps of kings of old by throwing a ‘dart’ (i.e. a javelin) into the sand. In doing so, he symbolically claimed Asia for oneself.

Wading ashore, Alexander then turned to the gods. He sacrificed ‘praying that “those countries might not unwillingly receive him as their king.”’. More sacrifices would be carried out at Troy.

Overall Impression
Positive. It’s true, we’ve seen Alexander act manipulatively and ruthlessly but Justin does not have much to say about these moments. In fact, the first five chapters of his Epitome are largely free of comment by him. If there is a ‘stand-out’ moment it is, for me, in chapter one where he describes the outcome of Alexander’s appearance before the public assembly.

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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

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.

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.

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

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

Plutarch’s Women: Timocleia of Thebes and the Delphic Prophetess (Chapts. 12 & 14)

For the other posts in this series click here

In my last post, I quoted this passage from chapter 10 of Plutarch’s Life of Alexander.

When Pausanias assassinated the king because he had been humiliated by Attalus and Cleopatra could get no redress from Philip, it was Olympias who was chiefly blamed for the assassination…

I did so because it read to me like Plutarch was saying that Cleopatra Eurydice had tried to intercede on behalf of Pausanias after he was assaulted on Attalus’ orders. I wasn’t sure, though, because Cleopatra Eurydice was Attalus’ niece and helping Pausanias would have meant going against him. So, I asked you what you thought. My thanks go to Silasaila who left a comment containing the correct quotation from Plutarch. Here it is (from my copy of the Life),

When Pausanias assassinated the king because he had been humiliated by Attalus and Cleopatra and could get no redress from Philip, it was Olympias who was chiefly blamed for the assassination… (my emphasis)

As you can see, I was thrown off track by missing the second ‘and’ in the sentence. It is a rather amateur mistake to make so I am grateful to Silasaila for taking the time to correct me. While we are here, the edition of the Life that I am using for this post (and indeed, all those in the Plutarch’s Women series) is the 2011 Revised Edition of the (1973) Penguin Classics Age of Alexander, translated by Ian Scott-Kilvert. Silasaila quoted from the 1919 Loeb Classical Library edition. You can read his (or her) comment, and the Loeb version of the above quotation, here.
As a final point, if you ever see any mistakes on this blog do feel free to alert me to them in the comments. I am a student of Alexander not an expert and so not at all infallible in what I say.
Timocleia of Thebes
Chapter 11 of Plutarch’s Life describes how Alexander subdued the tribes in the barbarian north and confirmed his leadership of the Greek city states. The next reference to a woman comes in chapter 12 when Plutarch tells us about Timocleia of Thebes.
Timocleia was ‘a woman of noble birth and character’. She was also wealthy, and during the Macedonian sack of Thebes, Plutarch tells us, Thracian troops looted her house. While this was happening, the Thracians’ leader raped her.
After assaulting Timocleia, the captain demanded to know if she had any gold or silver hidden away. Timocleia confirmed that she had and she led him to a well in the garden. As the Thracian peered over the edge to see if he could spy the valuables, Timocleia pushed him into it and proceeded to stone him to death.
To late to save their leader, the Thracians realised what had happened. They bound Timocleia’s hands and le

d her to Alexander,

…who immediately saw from her expression and from her calm and fearless bearing… that she was a woman of dignity and spirit.

And no wonder as she came from noble stock; her brother, she told Alexander, was Theagenes,

‘… who commanded our army against your father, Philip, and fell at Chaeronea fighting for the liberty of Greece.’

Plutarch concludes the chapter by noting how impressed Alexander was, not only by Timocleia’s words, but also her act of revenge, and so ordered her (and her children) to set free.
The Delphic Oracle
This incident marks Alexander’s first significant interaction with a woman other than his mother in Plutarch’s narrative. If you had asked me before I began this series ‘what was Alexander’s view of women?’ I would have replied that according to my understanding he was ahead of his time in the respect he accorded them. However, while he undoubtedly treats Timocleia very well, he does not do so on account of her sex, but, as I noted above, on account of her words and actions.
That Alexander did not (always? We’ll have to wait and see on that point) treat women according to their sex was brought home to me when I read of his confrontation with the Delphic oracle in chapter 14, the next occasion that a woman appears in the narrative.

As Plutarch relates it, Alexander visited Delphi to consult the oracle about his expedition against the Persian empire. No doubt he wanted to know what his chances of success were. Unfortunately for him, however, he arrived on an ‘inauspicious’ day, and the oracle refused to see him, explaining that she was forbidden by law from answering petitions on such days. Upon hearing this, Alexander went to the oracle’s home (?),

… and tried to drag her by force to the shrine.

Well, that is very rough behaviour and not to be commended at all. Perhaps Alexander needed at-all-costs to see the prophetess but even so manhandling another person – especially a woman – like that is very disreputable behaviour.
That’s Alexander; what about Timocleia and the prophetess? Of the latter, we can only say that she was – if nothing else – a religiously devout and law abiding person. There is this little fly in the ointment,

At last, as if overcome by his persistence, she exclaimed, “You are invincible, my son!” and when Alexander heard this, he declared that he wanted no other prophecy…

and left Delphi to return to Macedon. The prophetess’ words read more like an exclamation rather than a prophecy, though. Alexander heard what he wanted to hear and left.
As for Timocleia, the only part of her story that does not ring true is the length of time that it took the Thracian soldiers to find her. Perhaps, though, she lived in a big house or the location of the well was in a secluded part of the garden. Either way, there’s not much else I can say about her other than to highlight again her bravery in the most trying of circumstances. I wonder what happened to her next. Did she marry again? Was she able to rebuild her life at all? Who knows. Such answers are now, sadly, lost to history.

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Plutarch’s Women: Olympias, Cleopatra Eurydice & Pixodarus’ Daughter (Chapt. 10)

For the other posts in this series click here

In Chapter 10 of his Life of Alexander, Plutarch tells us about the Pixodarus Affair and the background to Philip II’s assassination.
Pixodarus was the satrap of Caria in south-western Asia Minor. In 337 B.C., he made an offer to Philip: his daughter’s hand in marriage Arrhidaeus in return for – ? Timothy E. Duff, in his Notes suggests that Pixodarus’ aim was a military alliance.
Unfortunately, Plutarch gives us no further details regarding Pixodarus’ daughter so she must remain a shadowy figure.
What he does say, however, is that Olympias and a number of Alexander’s friends conspired to convince Alexander that Philip intended to marry Arrhidaeus to Pixodarus’ daughter as a prelude to giving him the Macedonian throne..
Unsurprisingly, Alexander was ‘disturbed’ by this idea and so sent his friend, the famous tragic actor Thessalus, to Caria to tell Pixodarus that not only was Arrhidaeus an illegitimate son of the Macedonian king but feeble-minded as well. To make sure that that the marriage did not go ahead, Alexander offered to marry Pixodarus’ daughter himself.
Pixodarus was delighted with the idea. When Philip found out, however, he was not. He went to Alexander’s quarters and ‘scolded his son’ for wanting to marry the daughter of a man ‘who was no more than the slave of a barbarian king’. The episode concludes with Philip ordering Thessalus – then at Corinth – to be brought back to Macedon in chains, and the exile of four of Alexander’s friends and, presumably, Olympias’ co-conspirators: Erygius, Harpalus, Nearchus, and Ptolemy.
Chapter 10 doesn’t end there. In the last paragraph, Plutarch jumps forward to Philip’s assassination the following year. He notes that Cleopatra Eurydice tried and failed to get satisfaction from Philip on Pausanias’ behalf after the latter was assaulted on Attalus’ orders. Also, that when Pausanias asked Alexander for his help, Alexander quoted,

… the verse from Euripides’ Medea, in which Medea is said to threaten ‘The father, bride and bridegroom all at once’.

But just in case we think that Alexander had anything to do with his father’s death, Plutarch quickly adds that after becoming king, Alexander ‘took care to track down and punish those who were involved in the plot’ to kill Philip. If this is not enough for you, he was also angry at Olympias for her ‘horrible revenge’ on Cleopatra Eurydice.
Some Thoughts – The Pixodarus Affair
Of Pixodarus’ daughter we can say nothing due to the lack of information regarding her. What about Olympias?  In chapter 9, Plutarch accuses her of being ‘a woman of a jealous and vindictive temper, who incited Alexander to oppose his father’. Plutarch no doubt wishes us to see her actions in chapter 10 as being the product of the same spiteful mind. He says, specifically, that Olympias gave Alexander a ‘distorted account’ of Pixodarus’ marriage proposal.
I do wonder, though, why she felt the need to scupper Pixodarus’ proposal. I wonder if she did. Success would ‘bless’ Alexander with a second rate (i.e. foreign) bride. Failure would make him look like an idiot. Surely, Olympias was not so naïf to think that Philip would favour Arrhidaeus over Alexander or, if he did, the army would favour him over Alexander if Alexander chose to make a bid for the throne on his father’s death? I may well be betraying my lack of knowledge here but I see no motivation – other than pure spite, which I doubt Olympias was a slave to – for her to stop Arrhidaeus’ marriage to Pixodarus’ daughter.
I am equally surprised that Alexander could have been so naïve as to believe his mother’s and friends’ story – that Philip,

… was planning to settle the kingdom upon Arrhidaeus by arranging a brilliant marriage and treating him as a person of great consequence.

By 337, Alexander had fought at the battle of Chaeronea, founded a city in his own name and served as a regent of Macedon. Surely, he would have had to be paranoid to fear that his ‘feeble-minded’ half-brother was a genuine rival for the throne. He certainly never thought so after he came to power as he let him live. That fact makes me very suspicious of Plutarch’s representation of this whole episode. Assuming that it has a basis in reality I do not think we are being told the full story, but rather, just enough for Plutarch to make his point regarding Alexander’s character with a soupçon of blame for Olympias on account of his bias against her.
The Background to Philip II’s Assassination
Above, I noted Cleopatra Eurydice’s failed attempt to get justice for Pausanias. This is what Plutarch writes,

When Pausanias assassinated the king because he had been humiliated by Attalus and Cleopatra could get no redress from Philip, it was Olympias who was chiefly blamed for the assassination….

The reason I quote it directly is because I am still surprised that Cleopatra Eurydice interceded for Pausanias; in doing so, she would have been acting against her uncle/guardian. I am wondering, therefore, if I have interpreted Plutarch wrongly. Could he be referring to a different Cleopatra? Perhaps to a different matter? What do you think?
Of course, if I have interpreted the sentence correctly it would say a great deal for Cleopatra Eurydice’s bravery and nobility of character. Both of these are missing from Olympias, firstly, in her unnecessary murder of Cleopatra Eurydice and her daughter, and secondly, in the way she is said to have killed them – by roasting them over a brazier.
If, that is, she did indeed kill Cleopatra Eurydice and her child, and if she killed them in the aforementioned manner.
They are big ifs. That Olympias would seek to eliminate Cleopatra Eurydice and her daughter makes sense from a dynastic point-of-view. I am doubtful, however, that she was executed in the manner described. Timothy Duff cites a second century AD author named Pausanias as the/a source for this fact. The reason for my doubt is because the period following Philip’s murder was a time of crisis for Alexander. And in times of crisis you get rid of your enemies quickly (and, if possible, quietly). Roasting them over a brazier seems more of James Bond form of execution than a likely one in Macedon in 336 B.C. It smells, not of burnt human flesh but a blackening of Olympias’ name.
So, where does chapter 10 leave us? In regards Olympias, still nowhere clear. I am suspicious that Plutarch has misrepresented her over the Pixodarus Affair and in the manner of Cleopatra Eurydice’s death. I have no problem believing that she killed her rival queen without Alexander’s permission but that does not make her the dreadful harridan that Plutarch wants us to take her for; ruthless, yes, but as I mentioned in the last post, she had to be in order to survive.

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Plutarch’s Women: Olympias and Cleopatra Eurydice (Chapts. 5 and 9)

For the other posts in this series click here


In this series we are looking at how Plutarch in his Life of Alexander represents the women whom Alexander met and knew. The first post centred on Olympias as she appears in the opening three chapters of Plutarch’s Life. We saw that she had a deep devotion to the rites of Dionysus, surrendering to the god during religious ceremonies with a wild abandon that outstripped that of her fellow Dionysians. Clearly, Olympias was a very passionate woman.
Olympias of Epirus

After chapter three, Plutarch’s next mention of a woman comes in chapter five. Once again, it is Olympias who features; this time, though, it is a passing reference to the fact that she was related to Alexander’s tutor, Leonidas.
Plutarch doesn’t explain how Olympias and Leonidas were related, which is a shame as it is an intriguing connection. On the one hand, we have the devout and wild queen, on the other, the ‘severe disciplinarian’ who, despite being of high birth, did not mind being called Alexander’s paidagogos (attendant), even though it was a job and title more commonly associated with servants or slaves.
The fact that Plutarch doesn’t mention how Olympias and Leonidas are related, and the fact that the latter is a servant in the first place, suggests to me that they were more distantly related than not. Either way, I can only guess at what a typical conversation between them might have been. I doubt they had much in common.
We now jump forward to chapter nine. Here, Plutarch informs us that,

[t]he domestic strife that resulted from Philip’s various marriages and love-affairs caused the quarrels which took place in the women’s apartments to infect the whole kingdom, and led to bitter clashes and accusations between father and son.

In regards the first part of this statement, what I take Plutarch to be saying is that the ‘domestic strife’ in the Royal house caused Macedon’s nobility to take sides – this family for Meda, that one for Olympias. Speaking of whom, Plutarch now gives us an explicit statement of her character. Following directly on from the above statement, he tells us that Olympias widened the ‘breach’ between Alexander and Philip, because she was,

a woman of a jealous and vindictive temper, who incited Alexander to oppose his father.
(my emphasis)

Now, Olympias may indeed have been every bit as nasty as Plutarch says but because he has not hitherto given any examples of Olympias being the harridan that he says she is it is hard to take his assertion seriously. On this point, I don’t think it is enough to point to Olympias’ conduct in the family dispute. If Olympias had not stood up for Alexander they both may have met the end that Olympias eventually gave to Cleopatra and her daughter. What Plutarch calls jealously and vindictiveness I might call bravery in one engaged in a fight for survival. At any rate, Plutarch is being very lazy in making an assertion and expecting us simply to go along with it.
Cleopatra Eurydice

Still in chapter nine, we conclude this post on the night in 337 B.C. that the quarrel between Alexander and Philip reached its lowest, and most (in)famous, point. Plutarch here introduces us to the Cleopatra referred to above and whom Philip had just married. She was, as you may know, the niece of Attalus, one of Philip’s most senior generals.
Plutarch has little to say about Cleopatra (who took the name Eurydice after her wedding). In fact, the only piece of personal information that we have is that she was ‘much too young for’ the king. I’m not sure what he means by this. I am assuming he is not saying that she was not yet of marriageable age. Could he be referring to the twenty or so year age gap between husband and wife? Maybe, although I am not aware that anyone worried about that kind of thing in those days. Well, maybe they didn’t in Philip’s day but really, I should be asking ‘what about in Plutarch’s day?’ The Greece in which he lived was a different to the one that existed four or so centuries earlier.
What happened at the wedding party is the stuff of legend. Attalus – drunk – asked the guests to pray to the gods that they might bless Philip and Cleopatra with ‘a legitimate heir’ to the Macedonian throne. Naturally, Alexander took offence at this and threw a cup at Attalus. Angered by this show of disrespect towards one of his senior men, Philip drew his sword and made to approach Alexander only to fall over drunkenly. Alexander mocked him before quitting the palace and indeed, Macedon, taking Olympias to Epirus before heading on to Illyria. Chapter nine concludes with Philip being brought to his senses by a Corinthian friend named Demaratus and calling Alexander home. Plutarch is very specific here. Only Alexander was asked back. Not Olympias.
To conclude, then, in chapter nine of his Life, Plutarch makes an unsupported statement regarding Olympias’ character and notes simply Cleopatra Eurydice’s (young) age. I can forgive his lack of attention to Cleopatra as she is only important to the story as her part in the story of Alexander’s life is very limited but Plutarch’s laziness in respect of Olympias is very regrettable. His approach to her is the stuff of poor journalism and straight forward propaganda. Whatever Leonidas thought of his relative, if he was as rigorous of mind as he was of body, I think he would have agreed with me.

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