Posts Tagged With: Dionysus

The Sons of Dionysus

Cause we like to partyyyy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No.

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

As such it was a deeply irresponsible act.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wounds of War

The Nature of Curtius
Book Nine Chapter 5-9
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter Five
Alexander against the Mallians
The siege of the Mallian city entered its decisive stage when Alexander jumped into it from the city wall by himself. He did this knowing that his men could not follow – they had overloaded and broken their ladder while climbing up it behind him.

As Curtius notes, Alexander would have ‘uselessly’ sacrificed himself if he had fallen over on landing. In that instance, ‘he could have been overpowered and taken alive before he got up’. But fortune remained on his side. Alexander landed on his feet and started to fight.

To give himself the best chance of survival, Alexander fought next to ‘an old tree whose thickly-leaved branches gave [him] some cover’. He stayed close to it – Curtius says he pressed himself against it – to make sure he could not be ‘encircled’.

Upon a moment, the inevitable happened and an arrow evaded both the tree and Alexander’s shield. It struck him ‘above his right side’. The king fell to the ground. Determined, however, ‘to go down fighting [Alexander] attempted to stand by grasping the overhanging branches [of the tree] with his right hand’.

But the tree had played its part and Alexander ‘sank back to his knees’. Only the timely arrival of some of his soldiers and then the whole army – having broken through the city wall – saved him.

Chapter Six
Alexander Lives – Just
Seven days after being injured, Alexander’s wound was still open. As he lay in his bed, some unwelcome news was brought to him – a rumour that he had died was ‘gaining strength among the barbarians’. This had to be dispelled before it led to revolt.

In order to show the local tribes that he was still very much alive – even if bedridden – Alexander ‘had two ships lashed together and a tent erected in the centre of them’. He, in his bed, was placed in the tent and the boats pushed into the river.

The exercise had the desired effect. The natives saw him knew their hopes of revolt had died. Alexander, meanwhile, was so weak that the rest of the Macedonian fleet was forced to sail ‘some distance’ behind him ‘so that the stroke of the oars would not disrupt his sleep’.

Chapter Seven
A Long Journey Begins
In this chapter we read of a revolt led by (Greek) soldiers whom Alexander had settled around Zariaspa and the duel between Dioxippus and Horratas*.

Neither event is of relevance to us although perhaps we might give an honourable mention to the Greeks who left Zariaspa following their revolt. The Notes record that of those who set out for Greece, 3,000 would make it all the way back. The vast majority, though (‘some 23,000’) would be ‘massacred by Peithon on Perdiccas’ orders in 323 B.C.’

* Diodorus names him as Coragus

Chapter Eight
Alexander and Ptolemy
Alexander continued his journey downstream. Upon entering the territory of the Sabarcae, the Macedonian fleet was seen from by the many villagers who lived near the river bank.

The Sabarcae ‘perceived that the water was entirely covered with boats as far as the eye could see’. This, along with the Macedonians’ shouting, and ‘flashing arms’ terrified them. Indeed, ‘they believed an army of gods was approaching with a second Father Liber’.

The villagers fled to their army. You are insane! They told them, For you are going to fight gods, ‘invincible warriors… beyond number’. The army duly surrendered.

In the territory of King Sambus, the Macedonians undermined his tribe’s ‘strongest city’. When they appeared like moles out of the ground the natives thought their appearance a miracle.

In the city of Harmatelia*, the Macedonians were attacked with poisoned weapons. One of those injured was Ptolemy Lagides. It was only a slight wound but the poison was so strong that he fell gravely ill.

That night, Alexander slept by his friend’s bedside. He dreamt of ‘a snake carrying a plant in its mouth which it had indicated was an antidote to the poison’. Upon waking, Alexander launched a search for the plant. When it was found, he himself applied it to Ptolemy’s wound. The poison subsided. His friend, some say half-brother, was saved.

Diodorus comes into much more (gory) detail regarding the poison. If you are up to it you can read what I wrote about it here

* This name is given by Diodorus rather than Curtius

Categories: Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

India

The Nature of Curtius
Book Eight Chapter 6-10
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter Six – Eight
Hermolaus and Co.
The Pages’ Conspiracy occupies the attention of all these chapters. The only thing worth noting in this blog post is that the conspiracy originated in Alexander’s treatment of Hermolaus during a hunt.

As Curtius tells it, Alexander ‘ear-marked’ a boar that he wished to kill, only for Hermolaus to get to it first. In punishment, Alexander had his page flogged. Humiliated, Hermolaus conceived his plan to assassinate the king.

As Alexander says during Hermolaus’ trial in chapter eight, the flogging took place according to ‘traditional custom’. Had it just been a matter of humiliation, therefore, Hermolaus might have swallowed his punishment and got on with his work but he was also disillusioned with Alexander’s medising (see chapter seven). The flogging, therefore, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Chapter Nine
India
When Alexander struck camp and set off for India*, his reason for doing so – according to Curtius – is that he wanted to avoid gossip in the camp through inactivity. Undoubtedly, he most wanted people not to talk about his court historian, Callisthenes who had also been executed with the pages.

Certainly, the less said about Callisthenes the better. Not only had he not been part of the conspiracy, but he had not committed any offence other than being a close friend of the conspirators. Furthermore, like so many Macedonians, he was a known opponent of the king’s adoption of Persian dress and customs.

Curtius describes India as being eastward facing, and of greater length than width. He tells us that the country is flat, except for where it is exposed to the south wind; there, the land is is ‘of higher elevation’. The even surface of the ground means that the ‘many famous rivers’ that have their source in the Caucasus pass gently across the Indian plains.

The greatest of the Indian rivers is the Ganges, which flows southwards before being ‘diverted eastwards by some rocky moutaints’. Both it, and the Indus (which, Curtius says, is colder than the other rivers) flow out into the Red Sea, that is, the Indian Ocean. Curtius is not thinking of the more famous Red Sea here but the one named after a king Erythrus, whose name means red in Greek.

As well as being cold, the Indus appears to be a fast flowing river as well, for Curtius describes it as tearing ‘away its banks and many trees on them along with large tracts of soil’. There are boulders in the river, too, and the  waters smash against them ‘violently’. However, after a point, the river calms down and runs slowly between islands.

From what Curtius says, the Acesines seems to act as a tributary for both the Indus and Ganges. In regards the latter, ‘the two rivers [collide] with great violence’ due to an unspecified blockage at the Acesines’ river mouth.

There is another river, the Diardines, which ‘is less well known because it runs through the most remote parts of India’ and is home to crocodiles (‘like the Nile’), dolphins and other ‘creatures unknown’.

Then there is the Ethymantus, which meanders along on an undulating course and is used ‘for irrigation by the natives’. By the time it reaches the Indian Ocean, its water level is so low that the river is given no name.

Curtius tells us that India has many other rivers but they are unnamed due to being in ‘unchartered territory’. Finally, in the matter of rivers, he records that they are ‘gold-bearing’ and that the sea ‘throws up precious stones and pearls on the beaches’.

We’ve seen how the south wind affects the areas of India that are above sea level. The coastal regions suffer under the dryness of the North wind. The interior of the country is less affected as it is protected by the Himalaya mountains. This means that the land is fertile – fruit and flax are both grown / produced there. There is even a type of tree that grows in India, the bark of which is soft and can be used for writing.

Among the animal population, there are birds that ‘can be trained to imitate the human voice’, rhinoceroses and elephants which ‘possess greater strength than those trained in Africa’. They are larger than their African cousins, too.

Curtius makes a note of how ‘the environment also shapes the character of the people’. The preponderance of flax makes linen clothing very popular. The rich wear jewellery made of gold and the king is carried in a ‘golden litter fringed with pearls’. Trained birds sing to him to take his mind off ‘serious matters’.

Nature influences Indian architectural style as well – the king’s palace contains ‘gilded pillars with a vine in gold relief… and silver representations of birds’.

There is a downside to all this, though; the wealth that nature has given the king has made him lazy. When he hunts, the animals are kept in a pen, and he uses an oversized weapon. He travels on horse and elephantback with his ‘long retinue of concubines in golden sedan-chairs’ behind him.

Despite this, the Indians have not lost touch with the land which has blessed them with so much of itself. ‘To anything they have started to cultivate’ Curtius says, ‘they give divine status, especially to trees’. Interfering with one is punishable by death.

And in case there is any doubt, yes, astrology is practiced in India, too.

Finally, Curtius notes how ‘the earth inverts its regular seasonal changes’ but doesn’t know why this happens.

* Nota Bene: When Curtius talks about India he includes the area that now forms Pakistan.

Chapter Ten
A Mountain Party
Entering India, Alexander received the submission of a number of ‘petty kings’. He ‘sent Hephaestion and Perdiccas ahead… to crush any opposition to his power’. Their ultimate destination, however, was the Indus River where Alexander instructed them to make boats for – not only its crossing, but the crossing of any other river that they came to. To achieve this, the two generals made boats that could be dismantled and put back together again as needs be.

At the town of Nysa, the Macedonians inadvertently set fire to the local sepulchres, which were made of cedar. The first the Nysans knew of Alexander’s arrival, though, was when their dogs started barking.

Curtius describes Nysa as being ‘at the foot’ of Mount Meron. The Notes record that in Greek, méros means thigh. As a result of the similarity between the two names, he says, the Greeks invented ‘their story of Father Liber [Dionysus] being concealed in the thigh of Jupiter’.

Alexander led his men to the top of the mountain. Along the way, they found streams that flow all year round rushing past them. Unsurprisingly, ivy and vines were also present up and down the mountain. But that was not all; ‘fruits whose juices have health-giving properties’, soil so fertile it could produce spontaneous harvests, ‘laurels and berry-bushes’ – were all present.

As you might expect, though, the Macedonians made straight for the ivy and vines, making garlands out of them. They noisily worshipped the god of the mountains, and lazed, drinking all the while. Alexander did not oppose the revelry. Quite the reverse – he put on a feast and joined in the fun and feasting. All-in-all, the Macedonian army spent ‘ten days in the worship of Father Liber’.

Once the partying was over, Alexander campaigned against the Daedala people, who tried to hide ‘in some remote, tree-clad mountains’. He crossed the Choaspes River and put the city of Mazagae under siege.

Mazagae was protected on its east side by a ‘swift river’ with sheer banks on the far side. To the west and south of the city were ‘beetling crags’. To the north of the city was ‘a ditch of massive proportions’. The city itself was, of course, fortified.

Alexander dealt with the underground crags by simply rolling boulders and trees into them. This took nine days. Once they were filled up, he rolled his siege towers towards the city. The Mazagaetans were terrified of the towers and Macedonians’ pikes (sarissas?) and retreated to their citadel for long enough to surrender. In due course, Alexander met their queen and, allegedly, proved that both he and her were as fertile as the Indian soil. The queen gave birth to a son whom she named Alexander.

Categories: Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Striking out from the Tanais

The Nature of Curtius
Book Seven Chapter 6-9
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter Six
War in the Mountains
While Alexander was dealing with Bessus, some Macedonian soldiers went off to forage. They were ambushed by natives ‘who came rushing down on them from the neighbouring mountains’.

Hearing about the attack, Alexander responded by laying siege to the natives. During his assault, the king was struck in the leg by an arrow.

From ‘their high position on the mountain’, the barbarians saw Alexander being carried away. But this did not embolden them to continue the defence of their lives let alone go on the offensive.

Instead, envoys came to Alexander in his tent and told him how ‘saddened’ they were by his injury and that ‘if they had found the culprit, they would already have surrendered him’. There is a context for this surprising attitude, for in the view of this tribe, ‘it was only the sacrilegious who fought against gods’.

After making peace with the tribe, Alexander was carried (on alternate days by cavalry and infantry in order to satisfy the honour of both) to Maracanda. From there, he set about pillaging and burning ‘the neighbouring villages’.

Back in Maracanda, he received a visit from a friendly Scythian tribe from the far side of the Tanais (Jaxartes) River. Curtius says that after ‘addressing the deputation courteously’ Alexander sent one of his Friends, a man named Derdas, over the river to warn the Scythian tribes there not to cross it ‘without the king’s order’ (permission?).

Derdas was also given orders ‘to explore the terrain and make an expedition… to those Scythians who live beyond the Bosphorus’. That would be some expedition indeed if Derdas was being told to go all the way back to the Hellespont.

What the above shows again is how much smaller Curtius’/Alexander’s conception of the world was. This is further seen in the fact that the Scythians on the far side of the Tanais were regarded as living on ‘European soil’.

Alexander now intended to build a new city on the banks of the Tanais – Alexandria Eschate (the Furthest). First, however, he had to deal with a revolt among the Sogdians and Bactrians, which had been set off by Spitamenes and Catanes.

Craterus was sent to lay siege to the city of Cyropolis while Alexander did the same to the city of the Memaceni. Both cities fell but not before Alexander lost some of his best men fighting the Memaceni and was himself knocked unconscious by a slingshot.

Once the two cities had fallen, Alexander sent a detachment to Maracanda, where Spitamenes had taken refuge, while he returned to the Tanais  to build Alexandria Eschate in just seventeen days.

Chapter Seven
Scythia
At the start of the chapter, Curtius reiterates that Scythia north-of-the-Tanais is part of Europe, while south of the river, it is on Asian soil. He says, that the Scythians who live near Thrace belong to the Sarmatian tribe, while those who live ‘directly beyond the Ister’ (i.e. the Danube) are spread out as far as Bactra.

The Scythian people also live ‘quite far north, beyond which the land is covered with deep forests and endless wilderness’.

The reason for Curtius’ brief overview is that the Scythian king had decided Alexandria Eschate was too close for comfort and had sent his brother, Carthasis, to make war on the Macedonians. This was awkward for Alexander because he still had the revolt in the south to deal with.

There was no question of the Scythians not being confronted. If they weren’t, he told his officers during a war council, they – the Macedonians – would lose face to the Sogdians and Bactrians. If they did, and defeated the Scythian force ‘who then will hesitate to submit to us when we are also the conquerors of Europe?’

The meeting was not yet over when bad news came from Maracanda – Menedemus had been ambushed by Spitamenes and his detachment wiped out in a wood. The first Teutoburg.

Chapter Eight
God of the World
That night, Alexander pondered how best to conduct his assault against the Scythians. He had placed the royal tent on the banks of the Tanais so that he could open the flaps and observe the enemy on the other side of the river to make a count of their numbers. He did this through the night.

The next day, Scythian ambassadors arrived in the camp to try and dissuade Alexander from attacking them.

‘Had the gods willed that your stature should match your greed the world could not hold you. You would touch the east with one hand and the west with the other, and reaching the west you would want to know where the mighty god’s light lay hidden.’

This sums up Alexander. He was very greedy – for glory – and had he had his way he would certainly have carried on fighting to the east and westernmost points of the world.

Chapter Nine
Dionysus Outdone
The ambassadors failed to persuade Alexander to desist. Once they had departed, the crossing of the Tanais began.

Despite the current of the river which made steering the rafts difficult, and the archers on the far side, the Macedonians made it to the banks where they engaged the Scythians.

As for the battle, the Scythians were put into disorder as soon as the Macedonians landed. They tried to flee only to be pursued. At some point, the Macedonian cavalry ‘crossed the bounds of Father Liber’ – Dionysus/Bacchus – ‘marked by stones set out at frequent intervals and by tall trees with ivy-covered trunks’. It seems Alexander was able to stay with the pursuit long enough to see the boundary stones before he was forced to turn back to camp by his recent injuries.

Back in camp, good news came from the south – the Sogdian and Bactrian revolt had collapsed. Victory over the Scythians had made the rebels see ‘that no race was a match for Macedonian arms’.

No doubt feeling well pleased with how things had turned out, Alexander thereafter made for Maracanda. There, he buried Menedemus and his men before going on to lay waste to the countryside and executing all ‘men of military age’ in the usual fashion.

Categories: Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: