Posts Tagged With: Cleopatra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Plutarch’s Women: Seduced Wives, Ada, Olympias & Cleopatra & Stateira II (Chapts. 22, 25, 27 and 29)

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We ended the last post with Plutarch showing how Alexander demonstrated his moral superiority to the Persians – by avoiding all contact with women. Except, of course, Barsine, the wife of Memnon; but that was only because Parmenion told him he should have sex with ‘a woman of beauty and noble lineage’. As the meme says, ‘sounds legit’.
The theme of Alexander the great and sexually pure king continues in chapter 22. He fiercely rebukes an officer named Philoxenus for asking if he would like to buy ‘two exceptionally handsome boys’ being offered for sale by a slave-merchant, and has similarly harsh words for a man named Hagnon who wanted to buy him a young man named Crobylus ‘whose good looks were famous in Corinth’.
This is not the end of the matter. Plutarch then describes how Alexander dealt with two Macedonian soldiers who had seduced the wives of several Greek mercenaries. He orders the men’s commander, Parmenion, to investigate the matter and, if the alleged adulterers were found guilty, to put them to death, as if they were ‘wild beasts which are born to prey upon mankind’.
Alexander justifies his order to Parmenion by referring to his own behaviour towards women. Plutarch quotes him as saying,

In my own case it will be found not only that I have never seen nor wished to see Darius’ wife, but that I have not even allowed her beauty to be mentioned in my presence. 

The Alexander that Plutarch gives us here is less a Macedonian king and more a member of the Silver Ring Thing. There’s nothing wrong with being chaste but I do question the historicity of what Plutarch is telling us, especially in regards the Macedonian soldiers. Alexander’s uncompromising attitude towards them just doesn’t ring true. His account, like Curtius’ of Orsines’ fall, is too simple, too straight-forward. It lacks the nuance of reality. I’m not going to say that the story is totally false but I can not help but feel that if Alexander really was the kind of man to be so concerned about his men’s sexual morality we would hear more about it through his life rather than isolated incidents.
Having said that, if there is any truth to what we have already read, Plutarch’s Alexander does appear to have had a somewhat ambiguous attitude to sex in general. Following on from the above, Plutarch mentions the king’s famous line about sex and sleep reminding him that he is mortal. ‘[B]y this’, Plutarch tells us, Alexander,

… meant that both exhaustion and pleasure proceed from the same weakness of human nature (my emphasis).

So sex is evidence of a weakness? Well. All I can say to that is Alexander is lucky he was a pagan. Had he been a Christian king he would no doubt have been accused of being sexually repressed.
Chapter 22 ends with an account of how Ada ‘whom [Alexander] honoured with the official title of ‘Mother’ used to treat her ‘son’ in a most motherly fashion – by giving him ‘delicacies and sweetmeats’ to eat. I can’t imagine that Alexander would have given Ada that title had he not met her. For me, then, so much for the Macedonian king not associating with women except for Barsine. For his part, Plutarch uses Ada to show once again how restrained Alexander was. Thus, when Ada offers him the use of her cooks, he declines her offer,

… because his tutor Leonidas had provided him with better cooks… [namely] a night march to prepare him for breakfast and a light breakfast to give him an appetite for supper. ‘This same Leonidas’ [Alexander told Ada,] ‘would often come and open my chests of bedding and clothes, to see whether my mother had not hidden some luxury inside’

I doubt it happened but a part of me does wish that Ada’s response to this letter was to say, ‘Yes, dear, but take the cooks, anyway; you’re looking thin.’.
We now leave not only Queen Ada but Asia Minor behind and jump forward to chapter 25. After successfully laying siege to Gaza, Alexander,

… sent a great part of the spoils… to Olympias, to his sister Cleopatra and to his friends.

This isn’t the first reference to Alexander doing this – as we saw in chapter 16, he sent (almost all of) the luxury items that he won after the Battle of the Granicus to Olympias. It is nice to see one of his sisters mentioned, though.
By-the-bye, I can’t help but wonder – is it significant that Alexander did not send any loot back to Antipater? Perhaps Olympias – as the most senior member of the Argead dynasty in Macedon – was simply the correct person to whom to send the loot?
Olympias is mentioned again in chapter 27 following Alexander’s visit to the Oracle of Ammon at Siwah. Plutarch says that Alexander wrote a letter ‘to his mother’ in which he explained that ‘he [had] received certain secret prophecies which he would confide to her, and her alone, after his return’ to Macedon. It’s interesting that Alexander appears to have intended – at some point – to go back to Macedon. Quite what the secret prophecies could have been though, I can’t imagine. Presumably they related to Zeus-Ammon, somehow, but how?
In chapter 29, Plutarch describes a letter that Darius III sent to Alexander (written, according to Timothy E. Duff in the Notes, ‘at the time of the siege of Tyre’) in which he offered terms. To end the war against him, Codomannus offered Alexander 10,000 talents in ransom money for Persian prisoners, all territory west of the Euphrates ‘and the hand of one of his daughters in marriage’ Unsurprisingly, Alexander did not accept the offer. Why should he? He had Darius on the run. That aside, which daughter might Darius have been willing to hand over? Well, as we saw in the last post, Alexander eventually married Stateira II in 324 B.C. The supposition is that he chose her over Drypetis because she was the older of the two so maybe she is the one who was being offered now.

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