Posts Tagged With: Dium

Thaïs’ Torch Song

I know a girl, a girl called Party, Party girl

Diodorus
(XVIII.72)
We all know what happened at Persepolis: Alexander got drunk and allowed Thaïs of Athens to persuade him to burn the royal palace down in revenge for the destruction wrought by the Persians when they invaded Greece 150 years earlier.

Diodorus adds a few details to this outline. The party was part of a celebration, which included ‘costly sacrifices to the gods’ and games ‘in honour of his victories’.

He says that when Thaïs rose to speak, ‘the drinking was far advanced’. I take this to mean that it had been going on for a long time rather than that Alexander, for example, was blind drunk, otherwise I doubt he would have been physically able to lead the ‘triumphal procession’ that ended with the palace being torched.

Either way, the only other details that he gives us are that the feast was a rich one and that female musicians were present. For when Alexander led the guests out of the palace, they followed, singing and playing flutes and pipes.

***

Arrian
(III.18-19)
As we have discovered over the last couple of days, Arrian is not your go-to man for anything involving fun. His account of the nine-day festival at Dium was perfunctory and he simply ignored the jauntier side of the Macedonian’s one month stay in Babylon.

Things do not improve here in Persepolis. Arrian says nothing at all about the Macedonian celebrations and implies that Alexander alone was responsible for the decision to burn the royal palace.

The reason for these omissions, and – by-the-way, the absence of Thaïs’ name – may stem from the fact that Arrian took his account of what happened in Persepolis from Ptolemy Lagides, her lover, who would obviously have had no interest in reminding anyone of her part in the affair.

Having said that, Ptolemy was not Arrian’s only source, and I very much doubt that Aristobulos – who treats Alexander so favourably – would have identified his king as being solely responsible for the debacle.

But even if he had (and he is supposed to have lived in Alexandria in later years so maybe had to think about keeping Ptolemy sweet) what of other writers? The only explanation I can offer is that Arrian did indeed know about Thaïs’ involvement but simply decided to trust Ptolemy’s account. King’s don’t lie, after all.

***

Plutarch
(Life 38)
Plutarch builds upon Diodorus’ picture of what happened. He explains that Alexander ‘happened to get involved in a rowdy drinking party with his companions’. I have to trust that the translation is accurate but with the best will in the world, I really can’t imagine Alexander just ‘happening’ to join a party.

Anyway, ‘[s]ome women’ were present. They ‘had come in a drunken revel to see their lovers’. As we’ll see in the long quote from Curtius, below, he is talking here about the courtesans who lived with some of Alexander’s generals.

Rather than talk further about Thaïs, here is a link to my post on this chapter of Plutarch’s Life, which I wrote for my Tumblr blog. I’ll now move on to Cutius as the rest of Chapter 38 is taken up with Thaïs’ speech and its consequences.

***

Curtius
(V.7)
Yesterday, we saw Curtius write like an ‘outraged’ tabloid journalist with his hyperbolic description of Babylon’s sexual depravity*. Today, we do not find him any less annoyed.

He admits that ‘Alexander had some great natural gifts’ but snaps that ‘all these were marred by his inexcusable fondness for drink.’

At the very time that his enemy and rival for imperial power was preparing to resume hostilities, and when the conquered nations, only recently subdued, still had scant respect for his authority, he was attending day-time drinking parties at which women were present – not, indeed, such women as it was a crime to violate, but courtesans who had been leading disreputable lives with the soldiers.

And that’s how we know that Curtius was the Roman equivalent of a tabloid journalist. He liked being outraged and considered that it was acceptable to ‘violate’ some women**.

As Curtius’ blood pressure rises, he refers to Thaïs as ‘the drunken whore’. Now, drunk she may have been, but a whore she was not; at least, not in the commonly understood sense. Whores, by which I mean common prostitutes, offered sex. They trod the streets with messages like ‘follow me’ cut into their shoes and that was that. You got no more than their bodies from them.

Courtesans, by contrast, were well educated women who may have slept with their clients but were hired also – or principally – for their companionship, their intellectual and artistic skills. Now, I don’t know what word Curtius used to describe Thaïs but if he used the Latin for ‘[common] prostitute’ he was either ignorant of her true profession or purposefully ignoring it in order to put her down. Given his low of view of women as described above, I suspect the later is the case.

Curtius goes on to say that the Macedonians were ashamed of what Alexander (and presumably, Thaïs) did and that the king, after sleeping off his drunkenness also regretted his actions. This is in accord with what Plutarch says.

* I am aware that Babylon had a very bad reputation in terms of the sexual conduct of its people but Curtius could always have used more sober or neutral language. He is a historian not a moralist

** Here I have to recognise that Curtius may simply be referring to the fact – if so it was – that courtesans had no protection from rape under the law. Such would appear to be the case in respect of prostitutes according to this Wikipedia article. But even if there is only stating a legal fact we may still question the overall tone of his writing which is negative

Persepolis in Short
Reason Celebrate Alexander’s war victories
Duration Short – perhaps one night?
Outstanding Features Ended with one less royal palace in the world
Result Ptolemy sitting at his desk many years later, thinking “… no, I really can’t put that in. Is there any party that is safe to mention??”

Categories: Humour | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Babylon. The Friendly City.

Tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 19 Alexander’s fifth regnal year

Our second celebration took place in Babylon, October 331 B.C. Alexander had just defeated Darius III for the second and decisive time at Gaugamela and, by so doing, inherited his empire.

Diodorus (XVII.64) reports that following the battle, the new Great King went to Arbela where he found food and treasure. He might have tarried there for longer but was worried about Babylonia being polluted by the unburied Persian bodies on the battlefield. To prevent any harm coming to his men he ‘immediately’ resumed his advance upon the capital city.

There, Alexander was greeted with open arms by the Babylonians. Indeed, the whole Macedonian army was greeted happily. The men were given lodgings and much food and drink.

It would be nice to think that the Babylonians were acting out of the kindness of their hearts but we should not fool ourselves. Their actions were much more likely informed by a desire not to be slaughtered. Even if they had never heard of Thebes, they would have known that conquering kings were not always merciful ones.

And then there is Babylon’s reputation as a licentious city. Maybe in the back of many people’s minds was the thought that, if we can persuade these strangers not to kill us, maybe we can persuade them to pay for sex instead. For more on that point, see Curtius below.

As for Diodorus, the only other comment he has to make about Alexander’s first visit to the city is that he stayed for thirty days ‘because the food was plentiful and the population friendly’.

***

Yesterday, we saw how Arrian’s account of the celebration at Dium was short and rather unenthusiastic. Today, his account (III.26) of Alexander’s visit to Babylon is equally stiff.

Alexander, he says, approached the city cautiously. In fact, ‘in battle order’. To be fair, if the Babylonians had not formally surrendered this was a wise thing to do. He would have looked pretty stupid had he just rolled up to the city only to be met by an armed force (not that the risk of this stopped him from being ever-so-casual in Carmania, as we’ll see in two days).

As it turned out, all was well that ended well; the Babylonians streamed out of the city, handed gifts over, and gave their home ‘with the citadel and all its treasures’ into Alexander’s hands.

Party time?

Well, maybe. But we’ll never know from Arrian. He focuses on the religious and political dimension of Alexander’s visit. The king ordered the rebuilding of the temple of Bel (‘destroyed by Xerxes’). This was also a political act as Bel was ‘the god held by the Babylonians in the greatest awe’. Alexander was intent on winning hearts and minds to his cause.

Arrian also states that it was in Babylon that Alexander ‘came into contact with the Chaldeans’ (n. ‘priests of Marduk’) and gave them a place in his counsels. The Chaldeans, of course, would go on to play a vital role in Alexander’s life when he returned to Babylon in 323 B.C.

In between of these religious acts, Arrian also mentions a number of political (and military) appointments. Once they are completed, he has Alexander resume his onward journey. And once again, I am forced to imagine Ptolemy sitting at his desk thinking “Babylon… Babylon… mmm, we had a good time there… probably too good a time. Better not mention anything about that, either.”

***

Despite Arrian’s deficiencies, it is Plutarch who lets the side down for the second day running. At least yesterday he mentioned the weeping statue. Today, he says nothing at all about Babylon. The nearest he comes to it is at the start of Chapter 31.

After Alexander had subdued the whole region which lay [on the west] side of the Euphrates, he resumed his advance against Darius.

And that’s your fun-destroying lot.

***

Fortunately, Curtius (V.1.36) comes to the rescue. And how. He is positively frothy mouthed with disgust at Babylon’s vices. And in the best hypocritical tabloid journalist fashion, rather than refuse to give publicity to that which he hates, he shares every last detail with us. Well, not every last but enough so that we can share his rage and he, ahem, can get more readers.

There is no doubt that some of the things Curtius mentions are rather unorthodox. Unlike dear Quintus, however, I have no qualms about detailing them so that more people will read this post. So, let’s look at what he says.

On Babylon

[The] moral corruption there is unparalleled

It’s ability to stimulate and arouse unbridled passions is incomparable

On Babylonians

Parents and husbands permit their children and wives to have sex with strangers, as long as this infamy is paid for

Babylonians are especially addicted to wine and the excesses that go along with drunkenness

Women attend dinner parties. At first they are decently dressed, then they remove all their top-clothing and by degrees disgrace their respectability until (I beg my readers’ pardon for saying it) they finally throw off their most intimate garments. This disgusting conduct is characteristic not only of courtesans but also of married women and young girls, who regard such vile prostitution as ‘being sociable’

At this point, I fear that I may be held responsible for the moral degradation of my younger or more impressionable readers. Even now, they are probably looking up last minute offers on flights to Babylon for Christmas. But here’s the thing. The city no longer exists. And neither, to all intents and purposes, did Babylon in Curtius’ time. We don’t know when exactly he wrote his history of Alexander, but it is not likely to have been earlier than the middle of the first century B.C., by which time Babylon had been in ruins for nigh on two hundred years. Curtius’ anger makes no more sense than you or me writing about the Georgians and getting annoyed at their sexual practices. Sometimes, you have to take a deep breath and let go. This Curtius appears to have been unable to do.

Having said that, when he adds “I beg my readers’ pardon…” a part of me is nodding my head slowly and thinking Yeah, right… Anything for the fame.

As manipulative or genuinely enraged as Curtius might be, his words do give an insight into what the Macedonians might have got up to in Babylon. Drink and sex. Lots of.

Further to what Diodorus says, Curtius claims that the Macedonians stayed in Babylon ‘revelling in… dissipation’ for thirty-four days. He criticises Alexander for undermining ‘military discipline [there] more than in any other place’ and states that thanks to its licentious behaviour the army

… which had conquered Asia would doubtless have been weakened for any subsequent confrontations, if it had had an adversary.

It did. Ariobarzanes at the Persian Gates the following year. And guess who won. Curtius has his explanation for this, of course.

To lesson the effects of the damage [Alexander’s army] was continually refurbished with reinforcements.

Uh huh. And it was nothing to do with the general wear and tear of war and campaigning.

Babylon in Short
Reason Letting hair down after winning the Persian Empire
Duration A whacking 30 or 34 days
Outstanding Features Pure partying. No apparent religious element
Result Collective liver failure and spike in births nine months later

Categories: Humour | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Happy and Holy Time in Dium

Ain’t no party like a Dium party

It’s Christmas week and The Second Achilles is in a hard place. How can the blog mark the occasion when the Birth of the Saviour (sorry, Ptolemy) will not happen for another three hundred years?

It’s time to be creative. If the reason for Christmas is beyond our scope to discuss, perhaps there is a connection to be found with Alexander in her associated practices.

As luck would have it, there is, and it comes in the idea of celebration. Christians celebrate the Birth of Jesus. Macedonians were also fond of celebrating. Yes, I know that the Tenuous Links Society would be very interested in the connection I have just made but it’s Christmas week so you’ll have to forgive me!

On that basis, in the next four posts I will look at four celebrations mentioned by the Alexander historians (starting off with Diodorus each time). In this post, I’ll begin with Dium; tomorrow, Babylon; Christmas Eve, Persepolis and on Christmas Day, Carmania.

***

Dium
Diodorus XVII.16
In the Autumn of 335 B.C. Alexander returned to Macedon after a successful campaigning season during which he had secured his northern borders and successfully brought the Greek city-states to heel.

Once home, he began preparations for the projected invasion of Asia Minor. Two important questions that needed answering were ‘[w]hen should the campaign be started and how should he conduct the war?’ (D. XVII.16).

Parmenion and Antipater tried to persuade Alexander to delay any action until he had produced an heir only for the king to retort that it would be a disgrace to ‘sit at home celebrating a marriage and awaiting the birth of children’ (Ibid). Alexander won the argument and preparations for the invasion continued.

That October, Alexander went to Dium to celebrate the Olympian Games. These are not to be confused with the Olympic Games. The Olympian version were instituted by Alexander’s predecessor, Archelaus (r.413-399 B.C.)*.

Held ‘in honour of Zeus and the Muses’, the Olympian Games involved ‘lavish sacrifices’, ‘dramatic contests’ and, of course, a lot of eating and drinking.

Best of all, from the point of view of the party goer, if not the catering staff (i.e. servants and slaves), the festival lasted nine days.

To re-enforce the fact that not only were they engaged in a sacred activity but that time itself had, in a sense, become sacred, Alexander named ‘each day after one of the Muses’ (Ibid). Call me cynical, but I somehow doubt that the average Macedonian cared very much about the sacrality of the time and place in which he stood at that moment. Not when there was more wine to be had.

* I took the term ‘Olympian Games’ from Peter Green Alexander of Macedon 356-323 B.C. University of California Press 1992. Arrian also uses it – see below.

***

In our own day, America has a reputation for doing things bigger than anyone else. Well, I suppose Americans do live in a vast country so have to fill the space somehow, but, of course, the USA was not the first nation to go large. Egypt did with her monumental statues, and in Dium, in his own way, so did Alexander.

Before the Games started, he ordered a huge tent to be built, one that could hold a hundred couches. The notes to my copy of Diodorus* state that ‘Agathocles’s Hall of the Sixty Couches was one of the wonders of Sicily (Book 16.83.2)’ so you can see that Alexander was not only going large but determined to smash records to smithereens. Start as you mean to go on.

My favourite pubs are those that look homely and comfortable. Macedonians liked anything that reminded them of how great they were. How the tent must have done that! No wonder Alexander took it with him when he left for Asia Minor. It was a brilliant propaganda tool as well as a place to get sozzled.

* Loeb Classical Library 1963

***

Among the guests at the banquet in the great tent were ambassadors from the Greek cities. Imagine what they thought of the tent. We may be sure that Alexander’s invitation to them to attend was not simply, or even an, act of kindness but a way of intimidating them – and through them, their cities.

If Diodorus has got all his facts right, Alexander was the perfect host. He circulated among his guests, distributed ‘to his entire force sacrificial animals’ as well as anything else they needed. I am happy when my friend buys me a pint. I think I would probably have fainted for joy in Dium.

***

Arrian (I.11) offers a more sober account of what happened that Autumn. While he confirms that Alexander did indeed offer

… to Olympian Zeus the form of ceremonial thanksgiving which had been in use since the time of Archelaus.

and also celebrated ‘the Olympian Games’, he states that the games took place at Aegae. Now, it’s true that he doesn’t say where the thanksgiving to Zeus took place, so maybe it was at Aegae at the same time as the Games but that isn’t the impression I get.

He also states that Alexander ‘according to some accounts, held games in honour of the Muses’ (Ibid). I take this to mean that Ptolemy and Aristobulos don’t mention the fact. Why would they not? Well, we don’t know. It might be the Games never happened; it might also be that neither Ptolemy nor Aristobulos regarded the Games as relevant to their narrative.

Arrian’s account is perfunctory. I feel he is only mentioning what happened because he has to. Once the words are down, he immediately moves forward to the next subject. Rather miserably, that is

… a report… that the statue of Orpheus son of Oegrus of Thrace, had been constantly sweating.

Happily, however, Aristander was able to give the omen a favourable interpretation.

There are a number of possible reasons for Arrian’s desultory account of the events at Dium. The worst is that his main sources were misery guts who didn’t like fun. In Christmas week, however, we are not having that. I am choosing to believe that Ptolemy would have very much liked to have waxed lyrical about the partying that went on but thought for the sake of decency and professionalism that he better not.

Plutarch is even worse than Arrian. He neither mentions acts of thanksgiving to Zeus nor the Olympian Games. In Chapter 14 of his Life of Alexander, he says simply that when the Macedonians ‘set out’ for Asia Minor, ‘… the statue of Orpheus at Libethra… was observed to be covered in sweat’. He confirms Aristander’s positive interpretation of the omen.

Dium In Short
Reason Thanksgiving/Honour of Zeus and the Muses
Duration Nine Days
Outstanding Features A ten almost big enough to cover Alexander’s ego
Result Lots, and lots, of headaches (+ a happy and grateful army)

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

Blog at WordPress.com.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: