Posts Tagged With: Curtius

Changing the Past: In Antiquity and Today

New Year is well and truly over and I am back at work. When is my next holiday?

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This week I read Come, Tell Me How You Live by Agatha Christie Mallowan. Don’t be confused by the last name, she is that Agatha Christie. Mallowan was her married name. The reason for its use here is because Come, Tell Me is not a crime novel but an account of the archaeological trips to the Near East that she undertook with her archaeologist husband, Max Mallowan, in the 1930s.

In Chapter One, Christie and her husband make their way to Syria on the Orient Express. They witness no murders, fortunately, but do pass the Sea of Marmora and Cilician Gates in Turkey.

As soon as I saw these names, my mind went back to Alexander. Christie’s Marmora became Diodorus’ Marmarens. The Marmarens (who, I should say, lived in Lycia rather than around the Sea of Marmara) attacked the Macedonian army as it marched past, killing no few soldiers, kidnapping others and stealing booty. Alexander, unsurprisingly, was rather displeased by this, and lay siege to the Marmarens’ fort.

For two days, Alexander attacked it. However, although he failed to break its defences, he did enough to persuade the Marmaren elders that he would stay until he had done so. Upon realising this, the elders,

… advised their younger countrymen to end their resistance and make peace with the king on whatever terms were possible.
(Diodorus XVII.28)

Interestingly, the younger Marmarens refused to do this. Diodorus tells us that they ‘were eager to die together simultaneously’ (Ibid) for the sake of their freedom. Now, at this point, you might have thought that the elders would have knocked their children’s heads together, remind them of who was in charge and lead the surrender before the youngsters came out with another tom fool idea. But no, they acquiesced to this, and came out with a tom fool idea of their own. The elders told the young men If you are determined to die, kill your wives, children and elderly relatives then break out of the fort and hide yourselves in the mountains.

The young men liked this idea and went away to have a last meal with their families. That evening, however, some of them reneged on the plan. But they didn’t run away with their loved ones. Instead of killing their families ‘with their own hands’ (Ibid) as the elders had suggested, they set fire to their homes and burned them alive. Six hundred men did this, and having done so, they should have had the decency to die with their loved ones. But no. They duly broke out of the fort and headed to the mountains.

This story has stuck with me since I read it. I am fascinated by the apparent equality of power between the young and old Marmarens. I have not heard of any other society in antiquity, or since, for that matter, where a similar situation has existed.

But… Did it exist? It may not have. The above quotations from Diodorus comes from my Loeb edition. The notes there state that ‘Appian… tells the same story of Xanthus, traditionally destroyed in this way three times… it was something of a literary topos’ (Diodorus XVII.28 n.5). Indeed, as the notes say, Diodorus repeats the story in Book XVIII.22 of his Library. There, it is the Isaurians in Pisidia who, seeing that they have no chance of breaking Perdiccas’ siege, burn their families alive in their homes. The Isaurians, however, do not try to flee afterwards. Instead, they destroy their possessions in the fire and, after defending the city for a little while longer, jump into the flames themselves.

Diodorus calls the Isaurians’ actions ‘a heroic and memorable deed’ (Dio.XVIII.22). I can only wonder if he changed the original account of what happened to the Marmarens and Isaurians to highlight their perceived heroism or if his sources did so.

***

Only Diodorus mentions the Marmarens. In contrast, both Arrian (II.4.3-6) and Curtius (III.4.11-14) refer to Alexander’s passage through the Cilician Gates on his way to Tarsus. There, their similarity ends.

Curtius states that Alexander looked at the narrow path ahead of him and,

… they say [was] never more surprised at his good fortune. For, he observed, he could have been crushed just by rocks, if there had been anyone there to hurl them down on his approaching troops.
(Curtius III.4.11)

According to Arrian, however, the Cilician Gates were heavily defended when Alexander arrived, but when the Persian soldiers realised ‘that Alexander was leading the attack in person’ (Ar.II.4.4), they fled. This sounds altogether a more likely version of events than Curtius’ as it would make no sense for the local satrap, Arsames, to leave the pass undefended.

***

One of the things that makes Alexander such an interesting figure to study is the fact that he defies our expectations. I was reflecting on this the other day and contemplating writing a blog post titled ‘Alexander the (Social Justice) Warrior’ focusing on how he pardoned Timoclea after she killed the Thracian soldier who raped her (Plutarch Life of Alexander 12), his treatment of the Persian queen and princesses (Pl. Life 21) and the conquered Persians (e.g. in the way he tried to integrate them into his imperial hierarchy as satraps). These were all very progressive social actions.

Alexander was not just about the fighting; and when he did fight he did not do so just to make Greece look good. Like any social justice warrior he wanted to change the world for the better. Hence, the above mentioned actions and the fact that he took surveyors and scientists on his expedition.

Of course, the name ‘social justice warrior’ has a pejorative meaning as well. And guess what. Alexander can be found there as well.

Thus, taking the Urban Dictionary’s definition (here),

… an individual who repeatedly and vehemently engages in arguments on social justice on the Internet, often in a shallow or not well-thought-out way, for the purpose of raising their own personal reputation.

Having been taught by Aristotle, Alexander could hold his own in an argument. However, he was undeniably concerned with his reputation. That was the whole reason for the expedition.

Social Justice Warriors or SJWs are: People with paper thin skin who always find something to be offended about. They generally have no concept of humour.

As Black Cleitus (Curtius VIII.1.22-52), Callisthenes (Pl. Life 53) and Cassander (Pl. Life 74) found out to their collective cost Alexander could be very easily offended sometimes, with fatal consequences.

[SJWs] aggressively call for the downfall of the person who carelessly offended them.

Philotas (Curtius VI.7.1-11.40), anyone?

But as I said above, Alexander defies our expectations. He is not only a progressive but also very conservative. Perhaps I will come back to that in my next or a future post.

***

The BBC and Netflix are producing a new drama based on the Trojan War. Controversy is following in the series’ wake, however, due to the fact that some of the characters, including Achilles, are being played by black actors. For more, see the Greek Reporter here.

If I had been the casting director, I would have chosen a white actor to play Achilles. That’s what he was. However, the more I think about it, the less I think that the casting director is obliged to hire a white person.

The Iliad is not history. Homer’s Achilles did not exist. He might be based on a real person but he is not them. Homer’s Achilles is a myth. He is a meaning. And in that capacity, he can be reinterpreted by every age as it sees fit. Indeed, it is only by being reinterpreted that he remains relevant to us.

If a law was made that permitted only one, single version of Achilles, we would bound him to the meaning of a specific time and place, and one day, he would become strange and unknowable to us. I would a thousand thousand times over rather have a black Achilles, a female Achilles, an Achilles who loves Hector rather than Patroclus or a pacifist Achilles rather than an irrelevant Achilles.

Categories: Alexander in Film, Arrian, Books, Diodorus Siculus, Homer, Plutarch, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Alexander the Hungover Conqueror?

In an article for The Sydney Morning Herald, on how we can say and do things that we regret while hungover as well as drunk, columnist Sam de Brito states that

Alexander the Great (who died of alcoholism) conquered most of the known world, putting endless cities to the sword while hungover.

You can read it here.

First of all, I should say that I don’t know the background to the article: it doesn’t reference any particular event and the heading – ‘Victoria Bitterly divorced’ – appears as no more than a pun on the name of an Australian brewer. Perhaps a high ranking member of the family or company that owns it is going through a messy divorce case.

So far as this blog post is concerned, however, that is by-the-bye as I am going to focus solely on de Brito’s statement regarding Alexander.

***

Firstly, he states as fact that Alexander ‘died of alcoholism’. Actually, the cause of Alexander’s death is not known with any certainty. The Macedonian king might have died of alcoholism but he also might have died of malaria, typhoid or been poisoned. The ultimate cause of his death might just have been natural causes – his body worn out by the damage done to it during thirteen plus years of campaigning. In short, though, De Brito has no grounds to assert that alcohol was the killer.

Secondly, he states that Alexander ‘conquered most of the known world, putting endless cities to the sword while hungover.’

This is the kind of statement that seems reasonable until you actually think about it. Yes, Alexander ‘conquered most of the known world’ but is it very likely that a person could conduct a successful thirteen year military campaign in an inebriated state?

I personally doubt it but let’s say – for the sake of argument – that it is, what of Alexander specifically? de Brito’s charge finds no favour with Plutarch. In Chapter 23 of his Life of Alexander, he states

Alexander was also more moderate in his drinking than was generally supposed. The impression that he was a heavy drinker arose because when he had nothing else to do, he liked to linger over each cup, but in fact he was usually talking rather than drinking: he enjoyed holding long conversations, but only when he had plenty of leisure. Whenever there was urgent business to attend to, neither wine, nor sleep, nor sport, nor sex, nor spectacle could ever distract his attention, as they did for other generals. The proof of this is his life, which although so short was filled to overflowing with the most prodigious achievements.

I am sure Sam de Brito researched his article before filing it so it is unfortunate that he missed this.

***

But perhaps de Brito only had a limited amount of time to write his article and happened to use Curtius instead. If anyone is going to present a picture of a warrior-king slaughtering his way across the world while being slaughtered, it is surely him. Curtius writes,

Alexander had some great natural gifts: a noble disposition surpassing that of all other monarchs; resolution in the face of danger; speed in undertaking and completing projects; integrity in dealing with those who surrendered and mercy towards prisoners; restraint even in those pleasures which are generally acceptable and widely indulged. But all these were marred by his inexcusable fondness for drink.
(Curtius 5.7:1)

de Brito’s article gives the impression that he has read the last sentence in the quotation above and used it as the lens through which he sees Alexander, either in ignorance or dismissal of Plutarch’s words.

***

To be honest, I doubt de Brito has read any of the sources – his allegation comes across as the kind of thing someone who-got-it-from-his-mate-who-was-told-it-by-his-old-man-(probably-while-hungover)-who-knew-all-that-old-stuff would say use.

However, let’s take de Brito seriously and ask what does Curtius have to say about the role of alcohol during the course of Alexander’s career? After all, the above quotation certainly speaks of a man whose life was coloured by it. Does Curtius present Alexander as being hung over during his conquests? Let’s find out.

***

de Brito talks about Alexander being hungover while ‘putting endless cities to the sword’. To get a more representative look at what role alcohol might have played in his career, I have picked ten major military actions that Alexander took part in. Obviously, as Books I and II of Curtius’ have been lost, I am starting with Book III.

The Siege of the Celaenaeans’ Citadel
(III.1.1-8)
After entering Celaenae without any difficulty, Alexander laid siege to its citadel. At first, the Celaenaeans were defiant, but as the days passed, and – presumably – their food and water ran low they offered to surrender if Darius did not send a relieving force within the next sixty days. Alexander agreed, and when no Persians arrived, the Celaenaeans duly surrendered. Two months is plenty of time for Alexander to have got drunk once, twice or maybe sixty times. However, not only does Curtius make no mention of any drinking taking place in the Royal Tent, he says that Alexander left Celaeanae after just ten days. He was a man with a mission and didn’t have time to mess around with alcohol.

The Battle of Issus
(III.7-10)
In the lead up to Alexander’s first confrontation with Darius, we see him stopping in Soli and enjoying a holiday. No doubt he enjoyed a drink there but Curtius does not mention it – neither does he record Alexander drinking at any other point before the start of the battle.

The Siege of Tyre
(IV.2-4)
This siege lasted for six months so Alexander undoubtedly enjoyed a few drinks along the way. And indeed, Curtius does state that ‘excessive drinking’ took place – but by the Tyrians. It occurred after ‘a sea-creature of extraordinary size’ beached itself on the Macedonian mole before slipping back into the sea. The Tyrians interpreted this as a sign of Neptune’s* anger with the Macedonians and the sure failure of their siege so started to celebrate.

* Curtius was a Roman

The Siege of Gaza
(IV.6.7-31)
Part of Curtius’ manuscript is missing here but in the portion we have there is no reference to Alexander drinking at any time during the siege.

The Battle of Gaugamela
(IV.11-14)
From the arrival of the ten ambassadors to the start of the battle at Gaugamela there is once again no mention of Alexander drinking. The night before the battle he stayed up late (IV.13.16) but not to drink – his mind was completely occupied by the fight to come.

The Susian Gates
(V.3.16-4.34)
Neither on the way to the Gates, not despite the humiliation of having to withdraw from them after the Persian boulder ambush, did Alexander turn to drink. Instead, he regrouped, found a new route, and took the fight to his enemy – winning.

The Sogdian Rock
(VII.11.1-27)
Upon his arrival at the Rock, Alexander examined ‘the difficulties of the terrain’ before him. The Sogdian Rock seemed too well protected to be taken and the Macedonian king ‘decided to…’ drink his frustration away? No. ‘leave, but then… was overcome by a desire to bring even nature to her knees’. During the siege, Alexander spent the whole day watching for any sign that his men had successfully completed their ascent. Curtius describes how, when night came and darkness fell, Alexander ‘withdrew to take refreshment’. Perhaps this included a little wine? I expect so but no so much as the king was up before daybreak the next morning to continue his watch.

The Aornos* Rock
(VIII.11.2-25)
At first, Alexander was baffled as to how this outcrop might be taken but soon found help – not from wine but a local guide. When the time came to launch an attack, Alexander was the first to clamber over the makeshift ramp that the Macedonians had built to cover the gap between the rock and surrounding land. The fight was hard fought and when mounting casualties forced Alexander to order a retreat it looked like the Indians had won. But, though forced back, the Macedonians had unnerved them and, two nights later, the Indians tried to flee from the rock. Alexander was sufficiently clear headed to order them to be pursued and cut down.

* Curtius calls it the Aornis Rock

The Battle of the Hydaspes River
(VIII.13.5-27)
When Alexander arrived at the Hydaspes he did not know how to cross its broad expanse without being cut down by Porus’ army, which was waiting for him on the other side. At the Aornos Rock, a guide had shown him the way. This time, he used his own guile – his own clear-headed, no reference to alcohol once again, guile.

The Mallian City
(IX.4.15-33)
Before carrying out what must surely rank as one of the most famous jumps in military history, Alexander had to quell a potential mutiny in the Macedonian ranks. His army had thought that after turning west at the Hyphasis River, they were ‘quit of danger’. Realising that this was not so, they ‘were suddenly terror-stricken’. Alexander met his men’s fear head on and inspired them to follow him into battle once more. Could he have done this while hungover? I doubt it. By now it can go without saying that, there is – yet again – no reference to Alexander drinking at this time.

***

Ten military actions ranging from Asia Minor to India. No direct references to Alexander drinking alcohol let alone being hungover during operations. Curtius accuses Alexander of marring his talents ‘by his inexcusable fondness for drink’, I accuse him (once again) of resorting to sensationalism and exaggeration.

As for Sam de Brito, I am sure he is an excellent journalist, but on this occasion, I can’t help but feel that he trusted to his historical knowledge more than was perhaps wise. Maybe he wrote his article while hungover.

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

Torture in Curtius (1)

Last post here

In this post I continue my look at the number of times and contexts in which torture is referenced by the Alexander historians. Today, it is the turn of Curtius. In contrast to Arrian and Plutarch who barely mention it at all (twice and three times respectively), Curtius does so on thirty-eight occasions.

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Due to that high volume of usage, and the fact that I will be quoting all the relevant passages, I have decided to split this post into three. The next will look exclusively at torture in the context of the Philotas Affair. The third will look at references to torture made by Curtius in connection with the Pages’ Conspiracy and the rebel Biton.

***

As you may be aware, the first two books of Curtius’ history have not survived. I’ll begin, therefore, in Book III with Alexander settling his affairs in Lycia and Pamphylia before moving on to the city of Calaenae in Phrygia.

Actually, due to the uneven spread of word usage, Book IV will be the start point. From IV.8.10-11, I’ll continue on to VI.8.14, just before the first use of the word in connection with the Philotas Affair.

The Spread:

  • 0 in Book III
  • 4 in Book IV
  • 2 in Book V
  • 2 in Book VI

***

Book IV.8.10-11
contains a reference to a number of criminals being tortured for their crimes

Alexander marched with all possible speed to avenge [Andromachus’] murder [by the Samaritans], and on his arrival the perpetrators of the heinous crime were surrendered to him. He appointed Memnon to replace Andromachus, executed the murderers of the former governor, and handed over to their own subjects a number of local rulers, including Aristonicus and Ersilaus of Methymna, whom they tortured and put to death for their crimes.

Book IV.10.27
Here we see the word ‘torture’ being used in a metaphorical sense by Darius III

[Darius said to Tyriotes,] “… You are not going to tell me, are you, what I most suspect and fear to put into words – that members of my family have been violated, something which would be worse than any kind of torture for me and, I think, for them?”

Book IV.10.30-33
Here we see Darius warning Tyriotes the eunuch that if he lies he will be tortured. Tyriotes, who is telling the truth, stands his ground, effectively saying to the Great King ‘bring it on’.

Tyriotes swore by the gods of his country that no violence had been offered the queen, that Alexander had actually lamented her death and wept as much as Darius was doing then, but these declarations served only to revive an anxious suspicion in the mind of the adoring husband, who inferred that Alexander’s grief for a captive must have derived from his having had sexual relations with her. Accordingly, keeping only Tyriotes back and dismissing everybody else, he said to him (without tears now but with a sigh): ‘Tyriotes, do you see that lies will not do? The instruments of torture will soon be here, but for heaven’s sake don’t wait for them if you have any regard for your king. Surely he did not dare to do… what I want to know yet fear to ask… he being a young man and her master?” Tyriotes offered to undergo torture, calling the gods to witness that the queen had been treated with propriety and respect.

Book V.3.12
Afraid of being tortured, the Uxians break into the Macedonian camp and ask Sisigambis to intercede with Alexander for them

… daunted by the added fear of torture, they sent men to Darius’ mother Sisigambis, by a secret path unknown to their enemy, to ask her to use her influence to mollify the king.

Book V.5.5-6
contains a reference to torture having been inflicted upon the Greek captives

When he was not far from the city, the king was met by a pitiful group of men whose misfortune has few parallels in history. They were Greek captives, some 4,000 in number, whom the Persians had subjected to various kinds of torture. Some had had their feet cut off, some their hands and ears. They had been branded with letters from the Persian alphabet by their captors, who had kept them to amuse themselves over a long period by humiliating them.

Book VI.5.3
As with IV.10.27, we see torture being used as a figure-of-speech here

Given a friendly welcome, Artabazus said: ‘Your majesty, I pray to heaven you may prosper with unending good fortune. Everything here brings me happiness but I am tortured by this one thought, that my declining years make long enjoyment of your kindness impossible for me.’

Book VI.6.31
contains a reference not to torture per se but an experience being as like it

The woods crackled as they burned, and the parts that the soldiers had not fired ignited as well and started to consume everything near them. The barbarians tried to escape their agonizing torture if the flames died down anywhere, but wherever the fire had left a passage stood their enemy.

***

Here are my observations based on the above quotations. Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments section

  • Curtius uses the word ‘torture’ and its variants in a different way on all but one occasion. Here is my break down
    • 1 reference to torture being carried out (IV.8.10-11)
    • 2 reference to torture used as a metaphor (IV.10.27, VI.5.3)
    • 1 reference to the threat of torture (IV.10.30-33)
    • 1 reference to a willingness to undergo it to prove a cause (IV.10.30-33)
    • 1 reference to the fear of torture (V.3.12)
    • 1 reference to torture having been carried out (V.5.5-6)
    • 1 reference to another experience being like torture (VI.6.31)
  • Perhaps ironically, the reference to torture being carried out (IV.8.10-11) has hardly any impact at all. This is because Curtius makes no mention at all of what was done to Aristonicus and Ersilaus of Methymna et al before they died.
  • IV.10.30-33 and IV.8.10-11 show that torture was regarded as an acceptable part of the interrogation process and punishment for convicted criminals in the Macedon/Near East and Persia respectively
  • V.5.5-6 suggests that in Persia torture was not confined to the legal process but that prisoners-of-war (perhaps anyone under the control of another person?) could be tortured if the master so wished it
  • VI.6.31 is definitely uncomfortable to read but makes too little impact due to the impersonal nature of the passage. It is hard to get emotionally invested in the fate of a people described only as ‘the barbarians’.
  • V.5.5-6 also lacks names but at least we know the nationality of the people concerned. For me, this is the most horrible passage for although Curtius does not describe the actual torture, we see very clearly the result of it.
Categories: Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Among the Wounded

III. The Battle of Gaugamela
(III.15)
Read the other posts in this series

About sixty of Alexander’s Companions were killed; among the wounded were Coenus, Menidas, and Hephaestion himself.

I am intrigued by the translation ‘and Hephaestion himself‘ (my emphasis). If it reflects what Arrian wrote, the ‘himself’ cuts Hephaestion off from Coenus and Menidas. It is as if Arrian mentions them for one reason – I believe their rank, unless they had another connexion to Alexander that I am not aware of – and Hephaestion for another – undoubtedly his friendship with the king, which Arrian has already firmly established.

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Arrian doesn’t mention any particular source for the information he provides. This is in contrast to i. his account of Alexander at Troy where he writes that ‘[o]ne account says that Hephaestion laid a wreath on the tomb of Patroclus’. Of course, Ptolemy or Aristobulos could be that ‘one account’ but if they are it does seem strange that Arrian doesn’t name them, and ii. the anecdote of Sisygambis’ mistake, which Arrian specifically says doesn’t come from Ptolemy or Aristobulos. Can we, then, make any deductions regarding who the source of the Gaugamela quote might be?

I think Arrian got his information from Ptolemy but that Ptolemy used a source common to himself and Diodorus and Curtius, the other two Alexander historians who mention Hephaestion in this context. My reason for saying this is because all three accounts are very similar. Here is Diodorus’ version.

Of the most prominent group of commanders, Hephaestion was wounded with a spear thrust in the arm; he had commanded the bodyguards. Perdiccas and Coenus, of the general’s group, were also wounded, so also Menidas and others of the higher commanders.
(XVII.61)

And here Curtius’,

Hephaestion suffered a spear-wound in the arm; Perdiccas, Coenus and Menidas were almost killed by arrows.
(IV.16.32)

So, all three accounts state that Hephaestion was injured. Diodorus and Curtius add the detail that he was stabbed in the arm with a spear. All three accounts also state that Coenus and Menidas were injured. Diodorus and Curtius, however, tell us that Perdiccas was among the wounded.

This is why I think Arrian’s source is Ptolemy. In the first years of the Wars of the Successors, Perdiccas was Ptolemy’s mortal enemy. I think Ptolemy excluded him from his memoir as a form of payback. If he wrote his memoir after 310 B.C., over ten years after Perdiccas died, it was a very petty form of payback but that’s beside the point.

On the issue of Ptolemy’s pettiness, could that be why he doesn’t give Hephaestion’s injury – he’ll mention him if he has to, but he’ll go no further than that.

I’m against this idea. If we are going to have a go at Ptolemy, we might also ask ‘if he didn’t want too much attention given to Hephaestion, why did he bother to mention him at all?’ Could it be that actually, Ptolemy simply wasn’t interested – as a matter of course – in dwelling on people’s injuries*? He was a soldier, after all.

***

One final point. If Ptolemy, Diodorus and Curtius all used the same source, who could it be? Cleitarchus is the obvious name to mention here but I wonder. I doubt Cleitarchus could have got his information from the Macedonian veterans living in Alexandria at the close of the fourth century B.C. If any of them had fought at Gaugamela near Hephaestion et al I doubt they would have had time to observe them.

Rather, I imagine that Ptolemy took his information directly from Callisthenes’ war reports and/or the royal diaries, which he obtained after stealing Alexander’s body. These would have have confirmed to him what he already remembered learning after the conclusion of the battle in 331 B.C.

* Excluding Alexander. If what I say is correct, Arrian will only mention specific injuries when the narrative demands it or when his source is someone other than Ptolemy

Categories: Hephaestion Amyntoros | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Protector of Men

II. Sisygambis’ Tent
(Arrian II.13)
Read the other posts in this series

Alexander… entered the tent accompanied only by Hephaestion… Darius’ mother, in doubt, owing to the similarity of their dress, which of the two was the King, prostrated herself before Hephaestion, because he was taller than his companion. Hephaestion stepped back, and one of the Queen’s attendant’s rectified her mistake by pointing to Alexander; the Queen withdrew in profound embarrassment, but Alexander merely remarked that her error was of no account, for Hephaestion, too, was an Alexander – a ‘protector of men’.

Hephaestion’s second appearance in Arrian’s text is, perhaps, one of his most famous. It is the moment when not only is he mistaken for Alexander, but is then confirmed as another Alexander by the king himself.

But note that the translator, J R Hamilton, has Alexander say that Hephaestion is ‘an Alexander – a ‘protector of men” (my emphasis). This is not quite the same as saying that Hephaestion is his alter ego.

When I noticed this, I immediately went to the other Alexander historians to see what form of words they used in their accounts of the same scene.

Justin records Alexander’s visit to the royal women’s tent (here) but does not mention Hephaestion. Plutarch quotes a letter from Alexander to Parmenion in which he says,

‘… I have never seen nor wished to see Darius’ wife… I have not even allowed her beauty to be mentioned in my presence’.
(Para 22)

So far, so unhelpful. Fortunately, Curtius’ and Diodorus’ accounts are of great interest. Not only do they record Alexander’s and Hephaestion’s visit to the royal women’s tent, but after Sisygambis’ mistake, they have Alexander say to her,

‘My lady, you made no mistake. This man is Alexander too.’
(Curtius III.12.17)

“Never mind, Mother. For actually he too is Alexander.”
(Diodorus XVII.37)

Not ‘an Alexander’ but ‘is Alexander’. The difference is only two letters but they throughly alter the meaning of the phrase. Arrian represents Alexander as punning on his name; he does not tell Sisygambis that Hephaestion is him but that he – Hephaestion – is a protector of men like him. Curtius and Diodorus, however, have Alexander saying that Hephaestion is him – that he is his ‘second self’ as the note in Diodorus says.

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The disparity between Arrian, Curtius and Diodorus leads us to ask which version of Alexander’s comment is correct? Actually, neither might be. In the passage preceding the above quote, Arrian tells us that the anecdote is not mentioned by Ptolemy or Aristobulos and that he does not record it as being ‘necessarily true’. However, he doesn’t give a reason for saying this.

In his notes to John Yardley’s translation of Curtius, Waldemar Heckel takes the matter a little further by suggesting that the anecdote was invented by Cleitarchus.

Livius would probably agree with him. They say that Cleitarchus,

… sometimes sacrificed historical reliability to keep the story entertaining and to stress the psychological development. Therefore, Cleitarchus’ History of Alexander contains many errors (some serious).

If the story of Sisygambis’ mistake is fictional, I imagine Cleitarchus invented it in order to show how good a man Alexander was in order to show how far he fell after replacing Darius III as Great King – all part of the story’s ‘psychological development’. Hephaestion’s appearance in it, therefore, is no more than a means to an end.

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For us, it is a shame if one of Hephaestion’s (most famous) appearances in the histories must be considered a fiction. However, even if it is, the fact that Cleitarchus chose to use the chiliarch bears witness to the latter’s special status with Alexander. Bearing in mind that Cleitarchus was writing within living memory of both men, had Hephaestion been other than the man of the anecdote, it would have fallen flat on its face when Cleitarchus read his work to his audience.

For this reason, perhaps, after consulting other histories, Arrian says that though he doesn’t think Cleitarchus’ anecdote ‘necessarily true’, it does seem to him to be ‘credible enough’. For a moment, I feel as if we have come within touching distance of the historical Hephaestion son of Amyntor but held back from reaching him by the invisible chains of time and an Alexandrian writer’s literary conceit.

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The Fatal Macedonian

Justin’s Alexander
Book XII Chapters 5-10
Part Five
Other posts in this series

For this post I am using this translation of Justin’s Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus

Chapter Five
In the last post, we saw how Alexander ‘easternised’ and tried to guide his friends and the army towards doing the same. Justin’s exact words are that Alexander ‘desired’ that his friends adopt Persian dress (Chapter 3) and ‘permitted’ his men to marry barbarian women (Chapter 4).

To my mind desired and permitted are positive words. But there is no doubt that Justin himself regarded these developments as a bad thing. He says that Alexander only ‘permitted’ his men to marry barbarian women so that he did,

not appear to be the only person who yielded to the vices of those whom he had conquered in the field

and he talks about Alexander acting ‘as if he gave himself up to the customs of those whom be had conquered.’ (my emphasis).

At the start of Chapter 5, Justin repeats the assertion (made in the previous chapter) that what angered the Macedonians was not simply that Alexander had taken on Persian mores but that in doing so he had ‘cast off the customs of his father Philip and of his country.’

It might have been better for Alexander to row back on his innovations and proceed thereafter more slowly and with greater caution – although in an inherently aggressive society such as his that is debatable – but instead, he turned inwardly against his men for the first time.

Justin describes the king as showing ‘a passionate temper towards those about him, not with a princely severity, but with the vindictiveness of an enemy’. He states that Philotas’ and Parmenion’s execution came about as a result of their criticising the king’s behaviour.

Parmenion’s and Philotas’ executions drove a wedge between the king and his men. What he has done to the ‘innocent old general and his son’, they said, we must expect to happen to ourselves.

What was Alexander’s response? Did he reassure his men that this would not happen*? No. He manipulated them into writing letters home, letters which he then took possession of and read. On doing so,

… he put all those, who had given unfavourable opinions of his conduct, into one regiment, with an intention either to destroy them, or to distribute them in colonies in the most distant parts of the earth.  

It’s one thing to adopt foreign customs, but quite another to treat his own men so badly. The Justinian anti-Alexander propaganda machine is getting into its stride now.

* In the same way he reassured Philotas’ relatives that they would not be punished along with him by repealing the law which allowed for the relatives of a condemned man to be executed as well (Curtius 6.11.20)

Chapter Six
Propaganda it may have have been, but true it also was*. And that was Alexander’s problem – he made these rods for his own back. For example, the king’s murder of Black Cleitus after the latter ‘defended the memory of Philip’ during a drunken party.

To his credit, though, Justin doesn’t simply say ‘Alexander got drunk and killed Cleitus out of pride’. He also relates the king’s regret, his attempt to kill himself, his continued remorse and realisation of how dreadful he must now appear to his men. In the end, Alexander was saved from his grief by his men, and Callisthenes, in particular. The wedge between them, it seems, was not unbridgeable.

* I’m giving Justin the benefit of the doubt here as Curtius (7.2.35-38) and Diodorus (XIII.17.80) also mention the incident.

Chapter Seven
… and yet, still Alexander persisted with his desire to be treated as if was a Persian monarch. Thus, though admittedly with hesitation, ‘he gave orders that he should not be approached with mere salutation, but with adoration’.

Black Cleitus’ death had not lessoned the opposition of the Macedonians. Callisthenes refused to prostrate himself to the king. And, having saved Alexander’s life, now lost his own to him. I wonder if that is why Justin made sure to mention the historian’s role in saving Alexander’s life as it now makes the his death all the more poignant – and bitter.

Several Macedonians died because they refused to indulge Alexander’s whim. But they did not die in vain; at least, not completely – Justin states that while the ‘custom of saluting their king was… retained by the Macedonians, adoration [was] set aside’.

In the Daedalian Mountains, Alexander received the submission of Queen Cleophis. Justin adds tartly that she ‘recovered her throne from him by admitting him to her bed’.

Curtius (8.10.35-36) also mentions Cleophis, though he only says that – according to some – it was simply her beauty that won her back her throne. He recognises, however, that at some point, she did give birth to a son which she named Alexander.

The Notes to my edition of Curtius cite A V Gutschmid (n.68) who said that Cleophis was a Roman invention*. I can well believe it. Even if Alexander did not abstain from sex, as Plutarch suggests (with the exception of Barsine), the respect he had for women surely makes the scenario given by Justin unlikely.

* An allusion to Cleopatra VII

Chapter Eight
The end of this chapter marks the end of Alexander’s eastward journey. Worn out by the constant travel and war, the Macedonian army begged their king to take them return home. Rather surprisingly (to me, anyway) given the antagonism between them since his adoption of Persian dress and customs, Alexander agreed to the men’s request.

Chapter Nine
This chapter covers more of Alexander’s battles, including the occasion when the king leapt into the city of the Sigambri* where he fought ‘alone against thousands’ until he was felled by an arrow. Typically, the ‘curing of the wound caused him more suffering than the wound itself.’

* Or, the Mallian city (See Arrian 6.9-12 and Plutarch Para. 63); Curtius calls it the City of the Sudracae (9.4.26-33; 9.5.1-21). Diodorus deals with the assault in VIII.17.98-99 but it isn’t clear to me from his narrative where the city was located

Chapter Ten
Alexander had returned to Babylon, where,

many of the conquered people sent deputations to accuse their governors, whom Alexander, without any regard to his former friendship for them, commanded to be put to death in the sight of the deputies.

I can’t decide whether Justin means this statement to be taken positively or otherwise.

On the one hand, a just judge should not be thinking of friendships when trying cases.

On the other, I do get the impression that when Justin says the governors were put to death ‘in the sight of the deputies’ Alexander was using the executions as a means of intimidation. But again, perhaps that was a good thing for him to do.

Justin concludes with a brief reference to the Susa Weddings. Alexander, he says, married Stateira II. He had his leading men marry

… the noblest virgins… in order that the impropriety of the king’s conduct might be rendered less glaring by the practice becoming general.

This is the third time Alexander has acted along these lines*. Given the king’s pride, I think it is better to take this statement as Justin’s opinion rather than of fact.

* After asking and permitting his friends and army to wear Persian dress and marry barbarian women, as described above

Impressions
The storm clouds have definitely broken. And yet, Justin still mentions aspects of Alexander’s behaviour that could be taken positively. I have to give him credit for that. What the above chapters have really brought home to me is the fact that the Macedonian army’s estrangement from its king – in Justin’s eyes – was wholly connected to their love for Philip. I am not used to thinking of Philip II as a king beloved of his men.

One last point – Justin’s narrative contains a number of errors. For example, his assertion that Parmenion and Philotas were executed after criticising Alexander’s adoption of Persian dress and customs, and that Parmenion was tortured before being killed. A list of the mistakes are for another post; for now, I just wanted to acknowledge them here lest anyone thought they weren’t in my mind.

 

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Alexander, Slicer of Knots

Justin’s Alexander
Book XI Chapters 6-9
Part Two
Other posts in this series

For this post I am using this translation of Justin’s Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus

Chapter Six
When deciding upon a title for the first post in this series, I considered ‘Alexander the Pragmatist’ as that seemed to be a key feature of his early kingship. I eventually decided against it as I didn’t think Alexander could be fully described by one word alone.

Nevertheless, his pragmatism was an important element of his rule, and we shall see it more than once today. For example, Justin reports that as the Macedonian army advanced through Asia, Alexander exhorted his men not to destroy the land – as it was their property.

Having mentioned this, Justin allows himself for a brief moment to be in awe of his subject. The Macedonian army was a small force consisting of just 32,000 infantry and 4,500 cavalry. Justin remarks,

Whether, with this small force, it is more wonderful that he conquered the world, or that he dared to attempt its conquest, is difficult to determine.

Another example of Alexander’s pragmatism then follows. He entered Asia not with an army comprised of ‘robust young men, or men in the flower of their age’ but veterans, ‘masters of war’. Further to this, Justin says that none of the officers were under sixty.

He is exaggerating the age of Alexander’s army. But why would he do so? I wonder if it is an attempt to rationalise the magnitude of Alexander’s achievement, one that – in his opinion – was surely beyond the power of young men to attain.

Having said that, it’s true that Alexander began his expedition with much older men riding alongside him – Parmenion, for example, and perhaps Erygius? He knew the value of experience.

In his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it account of the Battle of the Granicus River, Justin notes that Alexander’s ‘conduct’ – his bravery – was as much responsible for the Persian defeat as ‘the valour of the Macedonians’. And again, ‘the terror of his name’ is said to have played as large a part in defeating Darius’ lieutenants as his weapons did.

Chapter Seven
A further example of Alexander’s pragmatism begins this chapter. On hearing of Alexander Lyncestes’ alleged treachery, the king doesn’t have him executed but put under arrest. He knows that he is still close to Macedon to avoid trouble from the pro-Lyncestian faction there.

Another feature of Alexander’s character that we saw in the first post was his respect for history, albeit when it suited him. Here, he is not so much selective about what he says but particular in his interpretation.

Justin reports that Alexander took Gordium,

… not so much for the sake of plunder, as because he had heard that in that city, in the temple of Jupiter, was deposited the yoke of Gordius’s car; the knot of which, if anyone should loose, the oracles of old had predicted that he should rule all Asia.

Alexander searched for the ends of the knot but was unable to find them. Unwilling to give up (and risk his army being unsettled by the bad omen), he simply cut the through the knot and announced that he had undone it. He had certainly put, as Justin puts it ‘a forced interpretation on the oracle’. Most importantly, though, it was accepted.

Chapter Eight
Justin says that Alexander ‘crossed Mount Taurus’ (to reach Cilicia) because he feared its defiles. This is certainly not the witness of Curtius.

We move on to the severe illness that afflicted Alexander after he went to bathe in the Cydnus River, and which left him gravely ill.

With a little kindness, we might say that having been warned by Parmenion that Philip of Arcanania meant to poison him, the king was very brave to trust his doctor’s medicine. I suspect Justin is right, though, when he says that ‘Alexander, however, thought it better to trust the doubtful faith of the physician, than to perish of certain disease.’

Chapter Nine
Issus. As the Macedonian and Persian armies approached each other, Justin reports Alexander as being concerned by the small size of his force versus the huge one opposite him. He calmed his nerves by recalling the ‘powerful people he had overthrown’ and marched on.

That was fine for Alexander, but what about his men? Justin notes that to stop them worrying, the king decided a. not to avoid giving battle (so as to not give the men time to panic), and b. to stop and start as they marched towards the Persians to enable his men to get used to what lay before them.

As you might expect, he also encouraged his men with a stirring speech, or rather, several – one tailored for each nationality represented.

He excited the Illyrians and Thracians by describing the enemy’s wealth and treasures, and the Greeks by putting them in mind of their wars of old, and their deadly hatred towards the Persians. He reminded the Macedonians at one time of their conquests in Europe, and at another of their desire to subdue Asia, boasting that no troops in the world had been found a match for them, and assuring them that this battle would put an end to their labours and crown their glory.

Alexander the manipulator at his finest.

One thing that is on my mind though is, did he really intend to stop his eastward expedition after Issus (presuming he thought that there would be no further fighting between it and Babylon?) or was he simply lying?

Following the Battle of Issus, Justin takes us into the Persian royal women’s tent where he describes Alexander as being ‘touched with the respectful concern of the princesses for Darius’. His sympathy for, and the help he subsequently gave to, Sisygambis, Stateira I, Stateira II and Drypetis is undoubtedly a high point in Justin’s treatment of him.

Impressions
Again, I come away from the book with a sense of Justin’s being on the whole positive towards Alexander. He does describe the Macedonian king as doing some negative actions but they are not dwelt upon. I rather feel at the moment that the real story of Justin’s attitude is to be found between the lines rather than it what he says upfront.

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Persian Women

I recently discovered the very well presented Mani website. Contrary to what the name suggests, it is not dedicated that region of Greece, but the great women of Persia from antiquity to the first millennium A.D.

The site contains some beautiful pictures and there is no doubt that the author loves his country a great deal. It is a shame, therefore, that some of his information is not as accurate as it could be.

For example, in the section on Sisygambis (called here Sissy Cambis), we are told that Darius III’s mother,

was a remarkable Achaemenid woman who fought, resisted and did not surrender to Alexander the Macedonian Tyrant.

The only correct statement in this sentence is Alexander’s name and nationality. Actually, I would accept that Sisygambis was remarkable but only if by that one meant that she was remarkable in her devotion to the king.

That aside, Sisygambis neither fought nor resisted Alexander. Not in war and not when he came into her tent. As for never surrendering to him – what else was her act of obeisance to him?

In my opinion, calling Alexander a tyrant is also debatable. The problem with using that word is that it brings to mind a specific office in antiquity, which Alexander never held. If one wanted to use a pejorative terms, would it not have been more precise and accurate to refer to him as Alexander the Macedonian autocrat?

The article next says that Sisygambis,

… was captured by Alexander after the battle of Issus in 333 B.C.E, along with her beautiful daughter Princess Estatira. Alexander was very much found [sic] of her and had a crush on her according to the Greek Historians!

I’ve quoted this passage in full because I am not sure whether the author is saying that Alexander had a crush on Sisygambis or Stateira II (Estatira). I think it is the latter but am not completely sure. Either way, I am not convinced by the accuracy of the statement.

Assuming the author means Stateira – the Greek historians of whom I am aware do not spend a great deal of time discussing her: Arrian and Diodorus only mention Stateira II in the context of the Susa weddings and Plutarch goes out of his way to describe how Alexander treated the entire Persian royal family with great courtesy. (For the record, Curtius doesn’t mention her at all).

Having said that, we know from Plutarch that Stateira I – Sisygambis’ daughter and Stateira II’s mother – died in childbirth over nine months after being captured by Alexander. If he had a crush on anyone, perhaps it was her. Maybe. We know too little about their relationship to talk about ‘crushes’, if that particular word is even appropriate in the first place.

As well as the above, we are also informed in the articles on Sisygambis, Roxane, and the future of Persia that the Bactrian princess was Darius III’s daughter (in the third article she is simply referred to as being Persian).

This is an unfortunate mistake as in his article on Stateira II, the author acknowledges that Roxane was from ‘from the kingdom of Bactria’, which makes me think he must know that she was not Darius’ daughter.

By-the-bye, the Roxane article also calls Alexander’s son, Alexander IV Aegus, which I’m not sure I’ve seen before. Wikipedia says this is a modern error but I don’t know anything more about it.

I have pointed out some of the mistakes in the above mentioned website so let me emphasise the quality of its presentation and clear love of its subject. The website is very political and so invariably makes some contentious statements. Those aside, the author’s history might well – but for the mistakes I have mentioned – be very accurate.

Of course, I speak as no more than a student of Alexander rather than expert. I make my own mistakes. If the errors on Mani can be ironed out I’m sure it’ll be a top-notch website.

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

Bactria

Yesterday I read Alexander the Great and Bactria by Frank L. Holt. The book is published by E. J. Brill and I can confirm that for me it was. Holt offers some very valuable insights into Bactria’s pre-Alexandrian history. He also has a few words to say about what happened after Alexander left; though, as the title indicates, the focus of the book is on the Macedonian king’s visit (329 – 327 B.C.).
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Ever since I became interested in the life and times of Alexander the Great the temptation for me has been to focus on the first half of his expedition – all that happened between Greece and Babylon. That was where he fought his three major battles, and won the Persian Empire, after all; what could that most strange and unknown part of the world, the ancient far-east, have to offer to compete with that?
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Firstly, it had Alexander’s fourth major battle that I had conveniently forgotten about. It also had some of his most intense personal dramas; for example, the murder of Black Cleitus and his seemingly inexplicable marriage to a barbarian princess; it also had some serious military dramas, too – Alexander was injured more times after Babylon than ever he was before*.
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The east also gave the Macedonian king some of his most fabulous triumphs; for example, the crossing of the Hindu Kush and scaling of the Sogdian Rock – as well as most serious reverses; e.g. the crossing of the Gedrosian desert. Therefore, the far-east most certainly deserves to be remembered, read and written about. So, that is why I am writing this post. I must also give credit, though, to Alexander’s Army for putting the thought of Bactria in my head in the first place, (thanks, specifically, to this discussion). It isn’t the first time Alexander’s Army has inspired me and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
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Back to Bactria. A wild and primitive place? Poor and inconsequential? Before reading Alexander the Great and Bactria that is what I might have said about it. Holt put me right, though.
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According to Holt ‘[s]ome scholars’ (Holt, p. 39) believe that Darius I’s parents were ‘former Bactrian rulers’ (Ibid). Whether they were or weren’t, Bactria was of sufficient interest to Darius (549-486 B.C.) that he made his son, Ariamenes, its satrap. I’m not clear as to whether Darius’ son and heir, Xerxes, held that office prior to becoming the Great King, but after succeeding his father as Great King he appointed his son as satrap.
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What did Bactria offer that made it so important? As Alexander found when he marched from Bactra to the Oxus River, part of the country is desert. But, citing Ammianus Marcellinus, Holt notes that it was ‘a fertile region with good grazing lands along the higher plains and in the mountains’ (Holt, p. 18). Marcellinus also praises ‘the quality of Bactrian flocks, including their proverbially strong camels’ (Holt, pp. 18-19). They must have been strong indeed to get a proverbial reputation for it!
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Holt (p. 35) notes how Plutarch in his De Alexandri Magni Fortuna aut Virtute (L. 328C-329D) gives Alexander the credit for civilising the Bactrians,

Alexander… taught the Arachosians to till the soil, and persuaded the Sogdians to support rather than slay their parents… He induced the Indians to accept the Greek gods, and the Scythians to bury rather than eat the dead… He taught the Gedrosians the tragedies of Euripides and Sophocles… Thanks to Alexander, Bactria and the Caucasus peoples worship the gods of Greece… He planted Greek institutions all across Asia, and thus overcame its wild and savage way of living… His enemies could not have been civilized if they had not been beaten… Greekness was marked by excellence, but wickedness was the way of the barbarians.

I have to confess I had never heard of this text before. However, I have now found (a different translation of) it here.
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Plutarch is almost amusing in his bias. As I see it, the fertile countryside and close attention of senior Persians is as strong an indication as I can think of that the country that was in its own way civilised**.
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We need not limit this statement to the period of Darius I and afterwards – Holt points out that archaeological surveys have discovered ‘ample evidence for the early development of irrigation, commerce, and fortified cities in ancient Central Asia’ (Holt, p. 27). ‘Palatial architecture’ (Ibid) has been discovered – which I take to mean either the remains of palaces or high status homes – and ‘temple structures’ (Ibid).  The region went through its ups and downs (much like Greece with its own dark age) but we certainly do not appear to be dealing with primitive peoples here.
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How did Bactria achieve its developed state? Holt says that archaeologists are coming to the view that a ‘Bactrian miracle’ occurred rather than a Persian or even Median one (Holt, p. 33). This suggests to me that not only did Bactrians have the right amount of food to live on but they also enjoyed the peace and cultural life necessary for a country to be able to develop.
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After crossing the Hindu Kush, Alexander marched to Bactra unopposed. From there, he made his way to the Oxus River, this time opposed only by the fierce heat of the desert. It seems that Bactria, like Egypt, was a country ready and waiting to join his empire.
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Things went wrong, though. Holt puts the blame on Alexander’ construction of Alexandria-Eschate (Alexandria the Furthest) on the Bactria-Sogdiana border. The natives regarded this as an intolerable infringement upon their way-of-life and took up arms. Eighteen months of bitter fighting followed.
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How did it end? Holt says that while the death of (the principle rebel leader) Spitamenes, was ‘significant’ it was not ‘decisive’ (Holt, p. 67). Rather, ‘[i]t was rather the king’s treatment of the remaining Sogdian chieftains which ameliorated the situation’ (Ibid). What did Alexander do? Well, stop killing them for a start, then he gave them their previous positions of power back.
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One other important thing also happened to bring peace to Bactria-Sogdiana: Alexander married Roxane, daughter of Oxyartes, a Bactrian nobleman. Curtius says she was ‘a woman of remarkable physical beauty with a dignified bearing rarely found in barbarians’ (8. 4. 23). And, indeed, prejudiced Roman writers! Her marriage to Alexander, though, is best understood as being of the same kind as Philip II’s to his various wives – a wholly political affair.
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By-the-bye, Curtius says that their first meeting took place at a banquet and not after the capture of the Sogdian Rock. He also says that the banquet was arranged by Oxyartes with ‘typical barbaric extravagance’ (Ibid); a final piece of proof that Bactria – for all the political upheaval that had affected it – and Oxyartes were both very wealthy.
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* If you would like to read more about Alexander’s injuries, I wrote about them here and here

** NB Bactria’s economy did not rely on Bactrians. Holt mentions the historian Arnold Toynbee who visited the region in 1960. In Toynbee’s eyes,

Bactria provides a classic example of a geographical ’round-about’ where “routes converge from all quarters of the compass and from which routes radiate out to all quarters of the compass again.”
(Holt, p. 31)

An obvious example of the international trade that Bactria must have engaged in is that in the beautiful jewel, lapis lazuli, which made its way (I’m sure amongst other places) to the Egyptian court.

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Rival Romans: The Road to Gordium

Introduction

My usual modus operandi on this blog is to use one source per post (usually Arrian). This makes writing it quicker and easier. In this series, however, I am going to branch out a little by using two: Plutarch and Curtius. My aim is simply to look at how they talk about Alexander and his expedition.
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The numbers in parenthesis are the sections in Book III of Curtius’ text and Plutarch’s Life where the events referred to can be found.
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The Road to Gordium

Plutarch begins his Life with a little family history and Alexander’s conception. Unfortunately, though, we can’t start this post at the beginning of his life as the opening books of Curtius’ History have been lost. The extant text begins a little while after Alexander’s victory at the Battle of the Granicus. We join him in central Asia Minor as he ‘settles matters’ in Lycia and Pamphylia and heads off to the city of Celaenae (1). While he is on the road, Curtius pauses to tell us about the origin and course of the river Marsyas, which runs through Celaenae, even adding a note about its place in Greek myth (2-5). I think Curtius fancies himself as a bit of a Herodotus.
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Upon entering the city, Alexander finds it deserted – unsurprisingly, the citizens have barracaded themselves in its citadel. Despite warning the Celaenaeans that if they don’t surrender, he’ll kill them all (6), Alexander eventually agrees to a sixty day truce, at the end of which he will accept the Celaenaeans’ surrender if Darius has not come to their aid. He doesn’t, so Alexander does (8). By the way, here is an early example of Curtius’ inaccuracy. According to Heckel’s notes, Arrian tells us that Alexander spent just ten days at Celaenae before moving on (the Celaenaeans surrendered to Antigonus Monophthalmus who Alexander put in charge of the region).
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Curtius gives a brief account of a request by an Athenian embassy for the release of Greek prisoners taken after the Granicus (9) before bringing Alexander to Gordium. Ahead of his arrival, though, a very significant development is recorded – that of the massing of the Macedonian army in its full strength: all the better to beat Darius in the coming battle with (10).
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Let’s now jump over to Plutarch. We join him in the seventeenth chapter of his Life as he describes the political and military fall out of Alexander’s victory at the Granicus: Sardis (‘the principle seat of Persian power on the Asiatic seaboard’) surrenders along with the rest of the region – except for Herodotus’ home city, Halicarnassus, and Miletus. They are duly stormed. Plutarch gives the impression that they are both taken. In his Notes, however, Timothy E. Duff says that Halicarnassus was not subdued until the following year.
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At this point, Plutarch makes an interesting observation about Alexander, using a word one does not often associate with the Macedonian king. He says that Alexander ‘hesitated’ in deciding whether he should seek Darius out for the final showdown or build up his forces first, namely, by ‘securing the coastal region and its resources, and training his army’. This happened not once but over and over again. I feel here like we have momentarily gone beyond Alexander the icon and found the man, the general, wrestling with the same problems that I should think every military leader ever has had to deal with. Given Plutarch’s desire to shed light on Alexander’s character let’s hope we get more insights like this.
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Moving on, Plutarch does his own Herodotus bit by explaining how a spring near the city of Xanthus in Lycia brought an ancient bronze tablet to its surface, upon which was engraved a prophecy that the Persian empire would be overthrown by, guess who, the Greeks. Needless to say, Alexander was ‘encouraged’ by this. Plutarch then goes into full Biblical mode by citing certain unnamed historians who stated that the waves of the sea ‘receded to make way for’ the king. To be fair, he does add that on other occasions the waves came in as normal.
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We can take or leave these miraculous events as suits us. Along with Duff, I suspect the hand of Callisthenes in these stories. One thing he had nothing to do with, though, is this quotation from a now lost play by Menander.

Like Alexander, if I want to meet
A man, he’s there before me in the street,
And if am obliged to cross the sea,
The waves at once will make a path for me.

I am going to guess (please correct me if you think I’m wrong) and say that Menander would not have referred to the ‘miracle’ of the waves had it not become at the least a fairly popular story in society. If it had, it surely indicates that reports of Alexander’s journeys were penetrating fairly deeply into the Greek consciousness. I have to admit, I usually only think about the Greeks of this period in terms of their political and military response to Alexander. This, for me, is not only a valuable insight into his cultural influence and their response in that field but also a valuable corrective.
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Plutarch concludes his account of Alexander’s journey to Gordium with a reference to his journey along a self-built road and stay in the city of Phaselis. There, the king garlands a statue of a Greek tragedian named Theodectas, in honour of ‘his association with Aristotle and with philosophy’. This is a nice pointer to Alexander’s respect for his teacher and matters of the mind. He really was not, as I once thought, just about the fighting. Having said that, the fact that Alexander garlanded the statue after having ‘drunk well’ reminds us that you can take the man out of Macedon…
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A Quick Conclusion

Despite being the longer work, Curtius deals with Alexander’s post-Granicus travels a lot more briefly than Plutarch. I don’t suppose we should make much of this, though, as we are missing the opening two books of his work.
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Neither Curtius or Plutarch are above bringing Greek myths into their narratives, although in my translation, Curtius’ comments come across as being a little bit snotty (I’m thinking of the reference to ‘Greek poetry with all its myths’ and ‘poetic fantasy’). I would be happy to accept this interpretation as just an impression, though. By contrast, Plutarch treats the appearance of the bronze tablet and receding sea uncritically. I’m not sure whether it is because he finds no problem with them or simply doesn’t care to comment further.
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Finally, Plutarch definitely wins the prize for making Alexander real to us. It is early days yet for Curtius but the opening of Book Three tells us no more about the king than simply what he did between Lycia and Pamphylia and his hesitation (which occurs in Phrygia). By contrast, Plutarch opens him up just a little but very tantalisingly indeed.

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