Posts Tagged With: Olympias

A Friend, A Father, and a Queen

Google Alerts was quiet this week so rather than do nothing with my Facebook Alexander page (something I do too often) I decided to post three pictures from Pinterest. They appeared on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and judging by the number of ‘Likes’ that they received, they were all quite popular. Here are the ‘final’ scores (i.e. the scores as of 11:43am today when I am writing these words):

Monday Alexander and Hephaestion by Louis Gauffier – 65 Likes
Wednesday Alexander Threatened by his Father Donato Creti – 99 Likes
Friday Olympias, Queen of the Macedonians (Anon) – 35 Likes

The ‘final’ tally surprises me a little in that Alexander Threatened by his Father proved to be more popular than Alexander and Hephaestion. Hephaestion is a very popular figure with fans of Alexander so to see what is also a very touching scene between him and Alexander outstripped by the rather more violent and disturbing confrontation between Alexander and Philip II is unexpected. If you have a preference between the two why not leave a comment below to say why.

When I posted the pictures on Facebook, I did so without any text to explain them or the scenes that they are depicting. Rather than let them be, I shall do that now.
alexander-and-hephaestion
Alexander and Hephaestion by Louis Gauffier
This painting draws its inspiration from Chapter 39 of Plutarch’s Life of Alexander. In it Plutarch describes how Alexander’s mother, Olympias, often wrote to her son telling him to not reward his ‘friends and bodyguards’ so well as it made them ‘the equals of kings’.

Alexander kept [Olympias’] letters to himself, with one exception, Hephaestion was in the habit of reading the king’s letters with him, and on this occasion his eyes fell on a letter which had been opened. The king did not prevent him from reading it, but took the ring from his own finger and pressed the seal to his lips, so much as to tell him to keep silence.

What we see in Plutarch and Gauffier’s painting is an intensely personal and political moment. It is personal for the obvious reason that Hephaestion is reading a letter written by Alexander’s mother and is political because of Olympias’ role as Queen Mother. It is intense because if Hephaestion had had a mind to he could easily have used the knowledge gained from reading Alexander’s letters against the king. Alexander would have known this. The fact that he still let Hephaestion read the letters, therefore, is indicative of the trust he had in him. Having said that, Alexander still makes Hephaestion kiss his ring. There was no need for him to do this but as close a friend as Hephaestion was, Alexander was still his king as well as friend, and it seems never forgot this.
alexander-threatened-by-his-father
We stay with Plutarch for Alexander Threatened by his Father by Donato Creti. In 337 BC, Philip married his seventh and last wife, Cleopatra. At the post-wedding party…

Cleopatra’s uncle Attalus, who had drunk too much at the banquet, called upon the Macedonians to pray to the gods that the union of Philip and Cleopatra might bring forth a legitimate heir to the throne. Alexander flew into a rage at these words, shouted at him, ‘Villain, do you take me for a bastard, then?’ and hurled a drinking cup at his head. At this Philip lurched to his feet, and drew his sword against his son, but unfortunately for them both he was so overcome with drink and with rage that he tripped and fell headlong. Alexander jeered at him and cried out, ‘Here is the man who was making ready to cross from Europe to Asia, and who cannot even cross from one couch to another without losing his balance.’ 

This incident takes place in Chapter 9. As for the painting, I really like Alexander’s red cloak. No doubt it represents the danger of the moment. But for Philip falling over, it might have represented blood shed as well. Speaking of blood shed, I wonder if that is Attalus lying on the floor in the foreground of the painting. If it is, his red cloak could represent the injury he sustained from Alexander’s cup striking him. In regards the event that the painting portrays, it was probably the most dangerous moment of Alexander’s youth. It tells us a lot about Alexander’s pride and fear and how quickly Macedonian parties could turn nasty.

olympiasOf course, this carved image of Olympias does not depict any scene from her known life. I am do not know much about sculptural conventions so I will quote the following from the Galerie Sismann website from where I took the picture,

This portrait of this woman outstands for its strong graphic character, the sophistication of the tinae and the ribbons in her hair, and the sensuality of the naked breasts.

To read the full text, click here. I have long thought that Olympias is a woman in need of rehabilitation as the image that the sources present of her is of a wholly ruthless, vindictive and wicked person. Well, she was certainly a fighter. In order to survive, she had to be. Evil, though? In his time, Alexander behaved worse than she ever did yet we still hold him in high regard. Why? Why not her? That’s a question for another day; going back to this sculpture, I appreciate it because in the dignity, sensuality and regal bearing that it gives Olympias, it cuts her a break far more than the sources (especially Plutarch who, in Chapter 9 of his Life of Alexander blames her for inciting her son against his father and therefore causing indirectly the near-fatal confrontation at the wedding party) ever do. Going back to the point about sensuality, I do like the way that Olympias’ left breast breaks through the frame barrier. It gives the image an extra dynamism.

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Alexander’s Sexuality

The Bay Area Reporter of San Francisco has published an article titled Alexander the Great & Greek Love on its website. You can read it here.

By the standards of most on-line articles concerning Alexander, the article is a really good one; the writer has clearly looked more deeply into the topic than plenty of other journalists. Occasionally, however, he lets himself down.

Paragraph 1
This is an excellent introduction to Alexander. It’s the kind of passage that I wish I had written. I would dispute that Alexander ‘in the West, [is] probably the best-known ancient ruler’. In my opinion that honour belongs to Julius Caesar.

Paragraph 2
Another good paragraph. Unfortunately, it does contain one mistake: contrary to what the writer asserts, Philip II did not ‘subjugate’ Sparta. He threatened the Spartans but never invaded their country. Ultimately, he had no need to do so. On the positive side, the writer makes a nice point about Olympias, one that is always worth remembering: ‘Olympias must have been remarkable, or else little would be known about her’.

Paragraph 3
Again, a good paragraph. The line ‘Philip was assassinated, perhaps by a former male lover’ (my emphasis) stood out for me. Diodorus (XVI.93) says that that a man named Pausanias was ‘beloved by [Philip] because of his beauty’. In English, to be beloved of someone is not necessarily to be their lover, which is perhaps the reason for the writer’s caution in describing Pausanias. However, Diodorus goes on to describe how he – Pausanias – bad mouthed another man of the same name when he – Pausanias the assassin – ‘saw that the king was becoming enamoured’ of them. Pausanias accused his namesake ‘of being a hermaphrodite and prompt to accept the amorous advances of any who wished’. If Pausanias the assassin was not Philip’s lover I don’t think he would have had any reason to speak to the second Pausanias in that way.

Paragraph 4
This paragraph opens with some excellent questions regarding Alexander’s empire that we will debate until the end of time. The writer then states that Alexander ‘married an Afghanistani chieftain’s daughter’. Roxane, of course, was not from Afghanistan. The country did not exist then. She was Bactrian.

Paragraph 5
It’s hard to judge this paragraph one way or the other as the writer dives into history too early and late for me. However, I like very much that he recognises that it is anachronistic to talk of Alexander being homosexual on the grounds that ‘”homosexuality” and “heterosexuality” as social constructs didn’t exist before the 19th century’. For the record, I have no idea when homo- and hetero- sexuality were invented so I take him at his word that it was indeed in the nineteenth century.

Paragraph 6
The writer points out that ‘many writers’ believe Alexander and Hephaestion could not have had a sexual relationship as they ‘were the same age’ (Curtius III.12.16 says they were the same age) and points to evidence in James Davidson’s The Greeks and Greek Love to show that peers could be lovers. He cites Davidson’s example of Harmodius and Aristogeiton. They lived in the sixth century B.C. It would, I suppose, have been more helpful to use an example from Alexander’s own time as times do change but given how slowly this seems to have happened in the past I doubt much changed between the late sixth century and the middle of the fourth.

Paragraph 7
The following two quotations contain the whole of this paragraph. The writers states,

Most ancient sources agree that Alexander was attracted to young men.

This is more than I know. I know that he was certainly attracted to one young man – Bagoas; I am not aware of any others with whom he had an affair. It would be interesting to know who the writer’s source was, or who his sources were, for this statement.

According to Plutarch, Hephaestion was the man whom “Alexander loved most of all.”

This quotation doesn’t appear in my Penguin Classics (2011) edition of Plutarch’s Life of Alexander but I think it comes from Chapter 47. In my edition, the text there reads ‘In general [Alexander] showed most affection for Hephaestion’.

Their relationship was all-encompassing. They drank, hunted, and campaigned together. Hephaestion acted as Alexander’s Chief of Staff. It was most likely sexual. 

Really? It is equally likely that they were simply very close friends. In terms of how the writer sees Alexander’s and Hephaestion’s relationship, I am on his side, but here I think the last sentence is an example of his wish for the two to have been lovers rather than because the facts he mentions prove it to have been so.

Paragraphs 8 – 9
Here, the writer turns to the best ‘evidence’ to my mind for Alexander and Hephaestion being lovers: their imitation of Achilles and Patroclus (Arrian I.12 cf. Plutarch Life 15)who in their day were believed to be lovers. As a side note, I like that the writer acknowledges that Homer doesn’t call Achilles and Patroclus lovers. It’s this attention to detail which really sets the article above any other I have read on Alexander.

Paragraph 10
The writer now turns to the famous moment when Sisygambis mistook Hephaestion for Alexander (Arrian II.13, Curtius III.12.16-17) only for the king to reply “This one, too, is Alexander.” in support of his case that they were lovers. When considering this passage, I feel that I am at the limit of my understanding of what Alexander meant with those words. Was he implying that the two were one as lovers are or was he referring to a very deep and platonic friendship?

Paragraph 11
The writer refers to Bagoas as Darius III’s ‘boyfriend’ which is a wholly inaccurate and misleading way to describe him. Bagoas was a eunuch, a slave. There was no equality between Darius and Bagoas, such as exists between lovers of the same or opposite sex. The writer goes on to say that Bagoas ‘soon found his way into Alexander’s bed’ as if he managed to inveigle his way there. Far more likely that Alexander told or asked him to come to him. Finally, he writes ‘Bagoas’ presence doesn’t rule out physical intimacy between Alexander and Hephaestion. In any case, they remained inseparable.’ Both these statements are surely and certainly true.

Paragraph 12 – 13
This paragraph begins ‘Nothing demonstrates Alexander’s passion for Hephaestion more than his reaction to his death.’ I could not agree more. The writer goes on to give an account of Alexander’s response to Hephaestion’s death, to which I can only say that even if they did not share a bed, if there is an ounce of truth in account, it is proof positive that Alexander loved Hephaestion very deeply indeed.

Paragraph 14
This paragraph begins with the admission that ‘Unless new evidence is uncovered, the exact nature of Alexander’s sexual orientation (to use an anachronistic term) will never be known.’ It concludes,

Nonetheless, a reasonable interpretation of extant sources, studied within the context of the sexual mores of Classical and Hellenistic Greek societies, leads to the conclusion that his erotic feelings were primarily directed at males.

This I disagree with. Alexander had three wives – Roxane, Stateira II and Parysatis. But these were dynastic marriages, one may say; this is true, but what of his mistresses: Barsine, Pancaste/Callixeina, Thalestris, Cleophis and perhaps Thais, later Ptolemy I’s lover? Some of these relationships may be legendary (e.g. Thalestris) but all? I doubt it. My conclusion to all that I have read is that Alexander was sexually attracted to both men and women, and of them both he liked Hephaestion most.

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Thoughts on Rehabilitating Olympias

Alexander committed some terrible actions over the course of his reign as king. The mass crucifixions after the siege of Tyre (Diodorus XVII.46, Curtius IV.4.17), the manner of Betis’ execution (C. IV.6.29) and Black Cleitus’ murder (Arrian IV.8-9, C. VIII.1.22-52, Plutarch Life of Alexander 50-1) spring quickly to mind.

However, we forgive him these because – as Plutarch records – he was also an ‘exceptionally generous’ (P. 39) man just with gifts but in the mercy he showed to others. For two diverse examples of this, see how he treated Timoclea (P. 12) and Porus (A. V.19, C. VIII.44-46. D. XVII.89, P. 60).

Someone for whom forgiveness has surely come less easy over the years is Alexander’s mother, Olympias. Unfortunately for her, she was not a brilliant general, did not spread Hellenism or give riches to her friends and former enemies alike. I used to think that this was because she was simply not a very nice person, that things like her religious zealotry (P. 2) and political ruthlessness (P.10) were all that there was about her.

I should have known better of course, because this is the kind of one-sided approach that tabloid newspapers take when they want to demonise persons or sections of society whom they do not like and we know well enough that they are wrong. But what proof was there that Olympias was more than the sum of the criticisms made of her? Reading Plutarch the other day, I wonder if I found it.

According to Eratosthenes, Olympias, when she sent Alexander on his way to lead his great expedition to the East, confided to him and to him alone the secret of his conception and urged him to show himself worthy of his divine parentage. But other authors maintain that she repudiated this story and used to say, ‘Will Alexander never stop making Hera jealous of me?’
(Plutarch Life 2)

But other authors maintain that she repudiated this story

I can’t discount the possibility that I am misreading the above line (if you think I am, leave a comment) but it appears to suggest that Olympias was – or rather, could be – a humble person, one who knew her place in relation to the gods. If so then she was surely capable of humility in other areas of her life.

It is a matter of great frustration that we neither know who the authors to whom Plutarch refers are or what else they said about Alexander’s mother because they seem to me to be evidence of a pro-Olympias tradition in Greek letters. If so, history has sadly extinguished it.

I wonder: would it be possible to read the surviving references to Olympias in the main sources in a positive light? Could her zealotry be seen as devoutness? Her ruthlessness as a fight to survive in a world that was against her both as a woman and queen?

Categories: Of The Moment | Tags: | 1 Comment

The Flawed Brilliance of Alexander

Justin’s Alexander
Book XII Chapters 11-16
Part Six
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 Eleven
During Alexander’s expedition, his men, when not fighting, had somehow managed to get themselves deep in debt. Following the Susa weddings, Alexander paid that debt off in its entirety. It cost him twenty thousand talents to do so. One can only wonder how the men had managed to spend that much. Either way,

[Alexander’s] munificence was highly prized, not only for the sum given, but for the character of the gift, and was received not more thankfully by the debtors than by the creditors, exaction being as troublesome to the one as payment to the other.

Once the debts had been paid, Alexander proceeded to discharge his older veterans. Despite the kindness that their king had just showed them, the remaining men complained (during an assembly) that the discharge should be on the basis of service not age.

Justin describes the men as speaking to Alexander not only with ‘entreaties’ but also with ‘reproach’. Rather sulkily, they bid him to ‘“carry on his wars alone, with the aid of his father Ammon, since he looked with disdain on his soldiers.”’

In reply, Alexander oscillated between berating his men and speaking to them ‘in gentler terms’. When neither approach worked, he leapt down from his dais and personally arrested the ringleaders.

Chapter Twelve
His next action was to commend his Persian soldiers for their loyalty and enrol a thousand of them into his bodyguard as well as a number of auxiliaries into the regular army.

This cut the Macedonians to the quick, and they went to Alexander ‘beseeching him with tears “to content himself rather with punishing than ill-treating them.”’ Their pleas worked and Alexander released more veterans.

It is really striking, in this and the previous chapter, how fraught Alexander’s relationship with his men is. One minute they are friends, then enemies, then friends again. It’s as if their relationship has lost its foundations and has become a matter of shifting sands. And why? I think because of the army’s profound tiredness and Alexander’s perennial desire to get his way.

Justin notes that it was around of what we call the Opis Mutiny that Hephaestion died.

Alexander mourned for him longer than became his dignity as a king, built a monument for him that cost twelve thousand talents, and gave orders that he should be worshipped as a god.

Chapter Thirteen
Alexander returned to Babylon ‘from the distant shores of the ocean’. On the way, he was warned by the Magic’“not to enter the city,” for that the “place would be fatal to him.”’. As a result, the king took a diversion to an uninhabited city called Borsippa ‘on the other side of the Euphrates’.

There, however, the philosopher (and professional flatterer) Anaxarchus persuaded him to go to Babylon after all.  Anaxarchus argued that “if things were fixed by fate, they were unknown to mortals, and if they were dependent on the course of nature, were unchangeable.” Que sera, sera.

I am always rather suspicious when I read of about-turns like this. Alexander was not a puppet. He did what he wanted – even in matters of religion* – not what anyone else would have him do. Still, who knows what mental state he was in after Hephaestion’s death; perhaps this did make him more open to influence?

In Babylon, Alexander rested and resumed ‘the entertainments which had been for some time discontinued’ (no doubt as a result of Hephaestion’s death). One night, at a party given by an officer named Medius, the king collapsed in such extreme pain that he asked for someone to kill him.

His friends reported that the cause of his disease was excess in drinking, but in reality it was a conspiracy, the infamy of which the power of his successors threw into the shade.

* For example, when he took part in the attack of Tyre (Arrian 2:27) and crossed the Tanais (aka Jaxartes Arrian 4:4) despite Aristander’s warnings that the omens were against him

Chapter Fourteen
Justin blames Antipater for Alexander’s death. This chapter has a lot to say about Antipater but less about Alexander. I can’t move on, however, without recording what Justin tells us concerning the poison used to kill the king.

The strength of this poison was so great, that it could be contained neither in brass, nor iron, nor shell, nor could be conveyed in any other way than in the hoof of a horse.

Too strong for metal but able to be safely transported in a hoof. Perhaps Justin was tired when he wrote this.

Chapter Fifteen
Justin has been critical of Alexander. But he allow shim to die in a a noble fashion. Meeting his men for the last time, Alexander

… not only did not shed a tear, but showed not the least token of sorrow; so that he even comforted some who grieved immoderately, and gave others messages to their parents

Alexander, Justin says, was as prepared for death as he was for battle. Can any higher praise be given? Once the last soldier had left, the king asked his friends if they would find another like him. When they did not reply,

he said that, “although he did not know that, he knew, and could foretel, and almost saw with his eyes, how much blood Macedonia would shed in the disputes that would follow his death, and with what slaughters, and what quantities of gore, she would perform his obsequies.”

Finally, the royal friends did speak, and they asked Alexander who should succeed him.

He replied, “The most worthy.”

This response meets with Justin’s whole hearted approval. He says that,

Such was [Alexander’s] nobleness of spirit, that though he left a son named Hercules, a brother called Aridaeus, and his wife Roxane with child, yet, forgetting his relations, he named only “the most worthy” as his successor; as though it were unlawful for any but a brave man to succeed a brave man, or for the power of so great an empire to be left to any but approved governors.

Unfortunately, as Justin recognises, this nobleness opened the door for the wars that followed.

 

Six days after Medius’ party, Alexander gave his ring to Perdiccas. This act at guaranteed that there would at least be a transitional government while the identity of the next king was decided.

Chapter Sixteen
Justin sums up Alexander by paying him a number of compliments.

He was a man endowed with powers of mind far beyond ordinary human capacity.

[Olympias] certainly bore in her womb a conception superior to mortality… by no one’s influence was she rendered more illustrious than that of her son.

[As king, Alexander] inspired his soldiers with such confidence in him, that, when he was present, they feared the arms of no enemy, though they themselves were unarmed.

Justin also mentions the omens of Alexander’s ‘future greatness’ that were seen at his birth and acknowledges his unbeaten record as a general. Finally, he concludes, when Alexander died,

[h]e was overcome at last, not by the prowess of any enemy, but by a conspiracy of those whom he trusted, and the treachery of his own subjects.

Conclusions
Before starting this series of posts, I had a picture of Justin as being uniformly negative towards Alexander. That was the impression I got after reading From Tyrant to Philosopher-King.

However, while Justin does not hesitate to mention Alexander’s major fault – his medising – and his minor ones – his manipulativeness, for example – it is also true to say that he is very complimentary about the Macedonian king. No where is this more seen than in the last two chapters above.

It is possible, of course, that I have misread what Justin wrote, or that the translation I have used is not an accurate one, but assuming that neither is the case, I finish this series with a sense of Justin’s fairness and ability to recognise Alexander’s good whenever he sees it.

As for the mediaeval writers who used Justin to denigrate Alexander; well, I’m not going to criticise them., even though it seems to me (after reading the Epitome) that their reading must have been rather selective. The fact is, we know from other sources that Alexander did medise.

One last point – in case Justin has expressed any further opinion of Alexander in the other books of his Epitome and you are wondering why I haven’t mentioned it/them here, it’s because I have only read Books 11 and 12. If you know of any other statements of Justin, though, feel free to mention them in the comments below.

 

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The Death of Alexander

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 116-118 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Mystery in Palace as Prisoner Sits on Royal Throne
Alexander Lost in Swamps
King Found: Diadem Worn By Oarsman
* Inside: A round up of all recent omens
King Falls Ill Following Party
Alexander Dies

The Story
Chapter 116
Hephaestion’s funeral was now over. For relief, Alexander ‘turned to amusements and festivals’. To the world it looked like ‘he was at the peak of his power and good fortune’ but Fate had other ideas and immediately that the festivities began ‘heaven… began to foretell [Alexander’s] death’.

Diodorus gives the example of two omens that portended this. The first involved a native who was kept in chains. One day, as Alexander was receiving a massage, those chains suddenly fell off. The native – presumably a prisoner of some sort – ran away from his guards and entered throne room. There, he took Alexander’s clothes and diadem and put them on before sitting down on the throne itself.

Upon being told what had happened, Alexander ‘was terrified’. He went to the native and asked him what he was about. The man made no reply. Alexander turned to his seers and asked them to interpret what had happened.

Diodorus doesn’t give their response but it was clearly negative to Alexander as it made him order the native’s execution in the hope ‘that the trouble which was forecast by his act might light upon the man’s own head’.

Once the native had been taken away, Alexander retrieved his clothing ‘and sacrificed to the gods who avert evil’. This pious act, however, was not enough to remove his worry about what the incident portended.

We have seen once or twice before how Alexander could have his mind changed with absurd ease by those underneath him. Diodorus gives an example of this when he described how the king decided to stay outside Babylon (Chapter 112 here). Curtius gives another when he tells how Bagoas poisoned Alexander’s mind against Orsines (10:1:24-38).

It now happens again. Diodorus says that Alexander ‘recalled the predictions of the Chaldaeans’ and became angry ‘with the philosophers who had persuaded him to enter Babylon’. In consequence, he renewed his respect for the Chaldaeans and argued ‘railed’ at anyone ‘who used specious reasoning to argue away the power of Fate’.

Diodorus’ second omen came when Alexander was exploring the swamps around Babylon. His skiff became separated from the royal party. Upon a moment, it passed underneath some tall reeds, which caught Alexander’s diadem and threw it into the water. One of the oarsmen ‘swam after it’. Upon retrieving the ribbon, the oarsman placed it on his head for safe keeping.

Alexander was lost for three days and nights. Presently, he put his diadem on again. When he did so, the skiff came out of the swamp. What did it all mean? Alexander went straight to his soothsayers to find out.

Chapter 117
The seers told Alexander to ‘sacrifice to the gods on a grand scale’ and quickly. Before he could do so, however, the king was ‘called away by Medius… to take part in a comus’.

At the party, Alexander ‘drank much unmixed wine in commemoration of the death of Heracles’. He filled ‘a huge beaker’ and drank it in one go; suddenly, ‘he shrieked aloud as if smitten by a violent blow’. The king’s Friends came forward and took Alexander back to his quarters.

The royal physicians ‘were summoned’ but they could do nothing to take away the pain. Alexander ‘continued in great discomfort and acute suffering’.

After a while, he realised that he was dying. Alexander removed his ring of office and gave it to his chiliarch – Perdiccas. ‘His Friends asked: “To whom do you leave the kingdom?”‘ Alexander replied, simply, ‘”To the strongest.”‘ He then prophesied ‘that all of his leading Friends would stage a vast contest in honour of his funeral’.

At an unspecified point after speaking these words, Alexander died. He had reigned for ‘twelve years and seven months’ and ‘accomplished greater deeds than any… who had lived before him [or] who were to come later’.

Diodorus concludes the chapter with an acknowledgement that some historians believe that Alexander was poisoned. As this is so, ‘it seems necessary for us to mention their account also’.

Chapter 118
This chapter, therefore, is a coda of sorts to the main story, which is now finished.

Diodorus turns to Antipater. He served as Alexander’s ‘viceroy’ in Macedon while the king was abroad. During this time, he ‘was at variance with… Olympias’. That seems a very polite way of putting it.

To begin with, Antipater didn’t take Olympias seriously because Alexander ignored ‘her complaints against him’. Later, however, ‘as their enmity kept growing’ and Alexander ‘showed an anxiety to gratify [Olympias] in everything out of piety’ Antipater became worried.

When Alexander killed Parmenion and Philotas ‘terror’ entered Antipater’s heart. But not only his, also ‘all of Alexander’s Friends’. Antipater’s son, Iolaus, was Alexander’s wine-pourer. The viceroy gave him a poison to administer to the king.

If Alexander was poisoned, how come nobody wrote about it afterwards? Diodorus doesn’t ask this question out loud but clearly has it in mind. He that, following Alexander’s death, Antipater ‘held… supreme authority in Europe’ and after him, ‘his son Cassander’. Their power, therefore, was why ‘many historians did not dare write about the drug’.

Diodorus has no doubt, however, that Cassander is guilty; he cites the murder of of Olympias and rebuilding of Thebes as proof of his hostility to Alexander.

Finally, Diodorus turns to Sisygambis – whom he calls Sisyngambris. She mourned Alexander’s death deeply. In fact, her grief was so profound that she stopped eating. Five days later, she died ‘painfully but not ingloriously’.

Comments
Why did the native run to the throne and take Alexander’s clothing and diadem? In Chapter 66 (which I covered here) we saw how Alexander upset a eunuch when he used one of Darius’ tables as a footstool. In the Footnotes for this incident, we are told ‘that the throne was a symbol of divinity in the Orient, and that a king’s clothing, bed, and throne were affected with royal and divine mana’. Thus, in the Footnotes for Chapter 116, it is said that the man ‘may have regarded [the throne] as a sanctuary, or at least as a place of refuge’. Obviously, he saw the clothes and diadem as having similar protective powers.

By-the-bye the Footnotes also state that it is possible that the native may have simply held the clothes rather than put them on. Either way, the story echoes that of the woman with the haemorrhage who knew that if she could only touch Jesus’ clothing she would be healed (This story features in all three synoptic gospels – Lk 8:40-56, Mk 5:21-43, and Matt 9:18-26).

In regards the story of the diadem, I recall reading elsewhere that by placing it on his head, the man was, according to tradition (?), declaring himself king. Well, of course he wasn’t in reality – he was just trying to stop the ribbon from getting wet – but Alexander’s religious belief did not permit him to believe that interpretation alone. Not without divine confirmation, anyway.

I speak under correction, but I am sure that the man who went after the diadem is elsewhere identified as Seleucus – perhaps as a result of his own later assertion that he rescued it. His reason for doing so? It added legitimacy to his kingship.

In Chapter 116, Diodorus says that Alexander was ‘terrified’ by the implications of the native man’s actions. And that, even after sacrificing, he remained troubled. After escaping the swamp, the king returned to his seers for their interpretation of the diadem incident. We are clearly dealing with a very religiously motivated man, here. And yet, no sooner has Alexander been told what to do by the seers, he allows himself to be distracted by Medius. Is that really likely? Did Alexander’s religious beliefs weigh no more than an invitation to join a drinking party?

I would certainly like to believe that Alexander’s last words – including his answer to the question of to whom he left his empire – were really spoken by him. I question his response ‘to the strongest’, though, as in the circumstances it just seems a little too Homeric an answer – if that is possible – for him. I know that the Macedonians did not practice primogeniture but why would he not say ‘to my son’?

As for his prophecy, isn’t it too eerily accurate to be true? Perhaps Alexander was just thinking of the funeral games – as normally understood – that he knew would be held for him.

All this is moot, however, if he was unable to speak as Arrian states. But Alexander could have spoken before he lost his voice. Or, perhaps, afterwards if only in whispering rasps?

I don’t think I can say anything here that does justice to the question of whether or not Alexander was poisoned but here are my thoughts, anyway.

In case you are wondering how Antipater – in Macedon – was able to give Iolaus – in Babylon – the poison: As I understand it, Cassander travelled from Macedon to Babylon around this time. In this scenario, he just took the poison with him.

It is very interesting that Diodorus says that all of Alexander’s Friends were terrified by the demise of Parmenion and Philotas. This is not the impression I get from Curtius who has Craterus speaking out very harshly against Philotas. Neither does Curtius have Craterus being in a party of one – others supported him in his hostility. Were they speaking out of fright? Far more likely that it was out of the knowledge that they were doing away with a rival.

Having said that, I am sure some were worried by what had happened; I think, though, that Diodorus is simply exaggerating.

I would like to test Diodorus’ explanation of why historians did not write about Antipater and Cassander being responsible for Alexander’s death. For example, I can understand why Cleitarchus might suppress the information. He lived in Alexandria and Ptolemy, Egypt’s ruler, was Cassander’s ally during the Successor Wars.

I think Olympias is the source of the allegation that the Antipatrids killed her son? If so (or even if not) I wonder who was the first person to write it down after her.

I accept that Cassander was anti-Argead, but I wonder if we could equally say that his murder of Olympias and rebuilding of Thebes were less to do with his hatred of Alexander and more about carving out a place for an Antipatrid dynasty in the new world that Alexander’s death had created.

Finally, one would have to be a very heartless man not to be affected by Sisygambis’ end. She had every reason to hate Alexander but came to love him more dearly than life itself.

The king died. Clouds [were in the sky]image

:’-(

  • The above photograph of the Babylon Astronomical Diary that refers to Alexander’s death comes from the British Museum
  • The translation of the text is from Livius
Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hephaestion’s Funeral

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 114, 115 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Hephaestion’s Funeral Pyre Built
Cost Borne By Cities and Officials Alike
Ammon: Hephaestion Should Be Worshipped

The Story
Chapter 114
Alexander waited until he had finished dealing with the embassies before beginning the preparations for Hephaestion’s funeral. When he did, he ‘threw himself’ into the work with ‘such zeal’ that the funeral ‘not only surpassed all those previously celebrated on earth but also left no possibility for anything greater in later ages’.

The reason for Alexander’s effort was that he ‘had loved Hephaestion most’ of all his Friends. Diodorus notes that Craterus ‘had a rival claim’ to Alexander’s love and recounts how a companion had once said to the king that he loved Craterus no less than he did Hephaestion. To which, Alexander replied ‘that Craterus was king-loving, but Hephaestion was Alexander-loving’.

Diodorus also recalls how, upon their first meeting after the Battle of Issus, Sisygambis, Darius III’s mother, mistook Hephaestion for Alexander and was ‘distressed’ after being told her mistake. The king, however, put her at ease, “Never mind, mother.” he said, “For actually he too is Alexander.”

‘Hephaestion enjoyed so much power and freedom of speech’ as a result of his friendship with Alexander that he was not only able to weather Olympias’ biting tongue but put her in her place when writing back to her. “Stop quarrelling with us and do not be angry or menacing. If you persist, we shall not be much disturbed. You know that Alexander means more to us than anything.”

Hephaestion’s funeral had to be paid for. To ensure that it was, Alexander ordered every city in the region (Babylonia?) to contribute a sum according to their ability. He also proclaimed that the sacred fire in every Asian city should be quenched until the funeral was over.

According to Persian custom, the sacred flame was only ever put out when the king himself died. Alexander’s order, therefore, was treated by Persians as a bad omen – a foretelling of his death. Diodorus notes that there were other signs that Alexander was near his end, which we will come to in chapter 116.

Chapter 115
Diodorus tells how each of Alexander’s ‘generals and Friends [sought] to meet the king’s desires’ and make images of Hephaestion ‘in ivory and gold’ and other valuable materials. The Footnotes say that these ‘were probably medallions or small images to be worn in wreaths’.

In order to make Hephaestion’s funeral pyre, Alexander tore down one of Babylon’s walls ‘to a distance of ten furlongs’. He then levelled the space created using baked tiles. The pyre was ‘square in shape’, and ‘a furlong in length’ on every side.

Alexander ‘divided up the area [of the pyre] into thirty compartments’. I assume this means the pyre comprised of thirty sections otherwise am not sure what he means. The roof of each section of the pyre was held up by palm tree trunks.

Once the pyre had been built, Alexander ‘decorated all the exterior walls’. Here is Diodorus’ description of them.

Ground (First) Level
‘[G]olden prows of quinqueremes… two hundred and forty in all’ were placed here. Statues of ‘kneeling archers, four cubits in height’ were placed on the ships’ catheads, while ‘[a]rmed male figures five cubits high’ were positioned on the deck. Red felt banners filled the space between them.

Second Level
Torches, fifteen cubits tall ‘with golden wreaths about their handles’ were placed here. On top of the torches were ‘eagles with outstretched wings looking downward’ – presumably at the snakes at the base of the torch, which were looking up.

Third Level
A carving of a ‘multitude of wild animals being pursued by hunters’.

Fourth Level
A centauromachy, ‘rendered in gold’.

Fifth Level
Statues of lions and bulls ‘alternating [and] also in gold’.

Sixth Level
This ‘was covered with Macedonian and Persian arms, testifying to the prowess of the one people and to the defeats of the other’.

Diodorus states that on ‘top of all stood sirens, hollowed out and able to conceal within them persons who sang a lament in mourning for the dead’. I assume – hope – that these people were not on the pyre!

The pyre must have been huge. Diodorus says it was over 130 cubits in height – 191 feet according to this calculator. And what about the cost? Again, huge – in excess of 12,000 talents. Alexander had no trouble in paying for it, though, for as well as the special tax on the cities, ‘[a]ll of the generals… soldiers… envoys and even the natives rivalled one another in contributing to the magnificence of the funeral’.

When all was done, Alexander issued a decree that Hephaestion should be sacrificed to ‘as god coadjutor’. Around the time he made this decree one of his Friends, a man named Philip, returned (from Siwah?) with a message – ‘a response’ – from Ammon: ‘Hephaestion should be worshipped as a god’. Pleased with this news, Alexander made the first sacrifice. Afterwards, he ‘entertained everybody handsomely’. The good times were here again, though they would not last.

Comments
Is it significant that Alexander concluded his diplomatic work before beginning the preparations for Hephaestion’s funeral? I can’t decide if it was a form of displacement activity or an example of Alexander being a good ruler. Actually, now that I think about it, I expect he had no choice – he had to wait for the ships and statues to be built.

Alexander’s response to Sisygambis recalls the quotation attributed to Aristotle (by, according to Wikipedia, Diogenes Laëtius) that “A single soul dwelling in two bodies”.

NB: Diodorus covers Alexander’s meeting with Sisygambis in Chapter 37. If you would like to read my post on it, you can do so here.

Hephaestion’s use of the royal ‘we’ in his letter to Olympias is fascinating, but what does it mean? For all I know, that was how Macedonians in the fourth century B.C. wrote. If so, it would mean nothing. But if they didn’t, Hephaestion’s choice of words would say an awful lot about his character.

A negative reading would be that his friendship with Alexander had made him proud and arrogant. A positive one would say it shows how intimate Hephaestion was with Alexander. They were not only one body but one voice, too.

According to the CLIO History Journal, catheads are ‘large timbers projecting on either side of the prow, which also served as guards for the leading oars’.

According to Ancient History,'”Centauromachy” refers to the battle between the Centaurs and Lapiths of the Peneus Valley, in Thessaly.’ Wikipedia adds that this tale typifies ‘the struggle between civilization and barbarism’.

Diodorus makes no reference to Alexander actually asking Ammon whether or not he may worship Hephaestion as a god, though we know – from Arrian – that that is what happened.

Ammon’s message is recorded differently by Plutarch and Arrian. According to the Footnotes, they confirmed that the god recommended that Hephaestion be ‘honoured as a hero’. Arrian adds that this was after Ammon refused ‘to allow [Hephaestion] divine worship’.

It’s interesting that Diodorus (main source: Cleitarchus who spoke to Macedonian soldiers) confirms that Ammon gave permission for Hephaestion to be ‘worshipped as a god’ (Possibly silly question: is this the same as him actually being deified?) while Arrian (main source: Ptolemy, Hephaestion’s fellow officer, and Aristobulos: a junior officer in Alexander’s army) says that Ammon refused to let this happen.

Why the discrepancy? I’m tempted to say that Ptolemy and/or Aristobulos, for whatever reason, did not want people to get too big a view of Hephaestion.

Unfortunately, we are missing the portion of Curtius’ History of Alexander which covers the period of Hephaestion’s funeral. So, what does Plutarch say? First of all, he used Ptolemy, Aristobulos and Cleitarchus. Plutarch would have been aware, therefore, of the divergent traditions. In his Life of Alexander, he states that Ammon commanded Alexander ‘to honour Hephaestion and sacrifice to him as a hero’ (Penguin Classics 2011 para 72). No mention of god-worship. Should we privilege Plutarch’s account as he would have had no/less reason to suppress the truth in the way that Ptolemy and Aristobulos might have done?

Speaking of the truth, who’s to say that the Macedonian soldiers that Cleitarchus spoke to were speaking it?

hephaestions_pyreThis picture comes from and is the (C) of Andrew Chugg at alexanderstomb.com

Alexander’s Agony Column
i. O My King
I am having difficulty accepting Hephaestion as a god, what should I do?
Yours,
Shy

Dear Shy
Die.
Yours,
Alexander

ii. O My King
I was hoping you would help me. This is an agony column after all.
Yours,
Shy

Dear Shy
If I ever find out who you are I will cause you a great deal of agony.
Yours,
Alexander

iii. O My King
Understood. Am worshipping now.
Yours,
Enlightened

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Fall of Harpalus

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 108 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Army Camps Outside Susa: War to Follow?
New Army is Loyal
* Alexander’s Persian Masterplan
Harpalus: A life Soaked in Blood, Money and Bodily Fluids
Harpalus Flees, Thibron Sees, the Satrap Dies in Crete

The Story
Alexander was still in Susa when an army comprising of 30,000 Persians arrived outside the city. They were not a rebel force but new recruits, the next generation of Alexander’s army.

Did Alexander want to create the largest army the world had ever seen? Not quite. Diodorus recalls how the Macedonian army mutinied at the Hyphasis River (see Comments below). He also tells us that the army was ‘frequently unruly when called into an Assembly and ridiculed Alexander’s pretence that Ammon was his father’.

The Persian recruits were, therefore, Alexander’s attempt to create a new unit of men, one which would serve ‘as a counter-balance to the Macedonian phalanx’. A more loyal counter-balance, one might say.

The new unit wore Macedonian armour and carried the same weaponry. Alexander met his new soldiers outside the city and watched with satisfaction as they demonstrated ‘their skill and discipline in the use of their weapons’.

From the new to the old – Diodorus cuts to an account of the fall of Alexander’s lifelong friend, Harpalus.

After capturing Babylon, Alexander appointed Harpalus satrap of the region. When the king entered India, Harpalus assumed he would never return, and so ‘gave himself up to comfortable living’. Does this mean that to begin with Harpalus governed Babylonia wisely (even if just out of fear of the consequences if he didn’t)?

This ‘comfortable living’ involved

  • ‘the abuse of women’
  • ‘illegitimate amours with the natives’
  • Squandering ‘much of the treasure under his control on incontinent pleasure’

By way of an example, Diodorus cites the occasion that Harpalus had ‘a great quantity of fish’ brought to him ‘all the long way from the Red Sea’. He pursued ‘an extravagant way of life’ that led many people to criticise him.

Harpalus responded to this criticism in the only way he knew how – he brought to Babylon ‘the most dazzling courtesan of the day’, a woman named Pythonicê. While she lived, he treated her like a queen. When she died, ‘he gave her a magnificent funeral and erected over her grave a costly monument’.

Perhaps the knowledge of grief would mellow Harpalus? Not a bit of it. Out with the old and in with the new. Pythonicê was replaced by another courtesan named Glycera.

Harpalus was licentious, violent and a thief but he was not stupid. Although he did not expect Alexander to return from the east, he knew how fickle fortune could be. With that in mind, ‘he established himself a place of refuge by benefactions to the Athenians’.

One day, bad news came. Alexander was on his way. Worse yet, he was executing ‘many of the satraps’ who had abused their power.

Harpalus stole 5,000 silver talents from the treasury, ‘enrolled six thousand mercenaries’ in his own private army and set off for Attica.

Things took a further turn for the worst, however, when the Attic cities refused to let him in. Harpalus now sent his troops to Taenarum (southern Sparta), while he made his way to Athens. Surely his past generosity would oblige them to help him in his hour of need?

Unfortunately, Harpalus’ corrupt behaviour had made him two very powerful enemies and even inspired them – for perhaps the first and only time in their lives – to work together in order to bring him to justice. ‘Antipater and Olympias demanded [Harpalus’] surrender’. It seems that some Athenians spoke up for him but it was no good. Harpalus was forced to flee lest he be turned over to the viceroy and queen mother. He came to Taenarum’ where he rejoined his troops.

From Taenarum, Harpalus and his men sailed to Crete. And there, Thibron, ‘one of his Friends’, killed him.

Back in Athens, an audit of Harpalus’ money (I presume the money that he gave to the city?) was carried out. Several leading figures, including Demosthenes, were found guilty of having accepted it. Diodorus does not reveal what happened to them after their conviction.

Comments
I have made a silent correction in the second paragraph. Diodorus actually says that the ‘Macedonians… mutinied when ordered to cross the Ganges River’ but we know from the other Alexander historians that the mutiny took place at the Hyphasis River.

Diodorus is a bit free and easy with his river names (just as he is with the location of the rivers). For example, in Chapter 93 he says that Alexander ‘advanced to the Hyphasis River’. A few lines later, he has the king ask Phegus what lies ‘beyond the Indus River’.

As the Indus River lies some distance behind the Hyphasis the reference to it here is plainly a mistake. The same applies to the Ganges, which is ‘some distance’ ahead of the Hyphasis.

I’m sure ‘incontinent pleasure’ does not mean what I imagine it to mean but the translator/Diodorus could have chosen a better phrase to describe Harpalus’ dissolute lifestyle.

If nothing else, Harpalus must be congratulated for being the only man to ever bring Antipater and Olympias together. The Footnotes call their alliance ‘odd’ but I think it makes perfect sense. Olympias would want Harpalus’ head because he had betrayed her son. Antipater would want it (a) because, yes, Harpalus had betrayed the king but particularly (b) because if Olympias demanded Harpalus’ surrender, he could hardly stay quiet without his own loyalty being questioned.

In a way, this reminds me of the way Philotas failed to report the conspiracy against Alexander. He didn’t because he didn’t take it seriously. If Antipater had given the same reason for not demanding Harpalus’ surrender he would have made Greece a haven for any satrap who disobeyed Alexander and thus run the risk of having his loyalty called into question. Unlike Philotas, Antipater did what needed to be done.

Macedonian Film Festival

We Need To Talk About Harpalus
A boy turns into a sociopath and ruins many lives before being caught

“It’ll massacre the opposition – at the theatre”
“When Thibron kills Harpalus, he steals the show as well as the money”
“Men want to avoid him, so do women except for courtesans.”

GOVERN-OFF
Who was the worst satrap – Harpalus or Cleomenes?

Vote Now, Die Tomorrow if either catch up with you.

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

From Porus to Marauding Greeks

Linked To Alexander (1)

I subscribe to Google Alerts and every day (or there and there abouts) receive an email that lets me know where ‘Alexander the Great’ has been mentioned on the web. Not all the references to him are of any use – I have lately received one e-mail that linked to a rapper using Alexander’s name – but occasionally an e-mail will come back with one or more links that deserve being more widely known about. I will gather them together and every week or two blog them here.
More links here

24th July 2014
The Indian Republic
Forgotten Heroes: King Porus

31st July 2014
The Guardian
August’s Reading Group: The Alexander Trilogy by Mary Renault

n/a
US Macmillan Publishers
Two books related to Alexander the Great by Judith Tarr
Bring Down the Sun
Queen of the Amazons

3rd August 2014
The Standard Digital News
Egypt: Ancient pearl maintains its lustre
on Alexandria

7th August 2014
Times Higher Education
Wandering Greeks: The Ancient Greek Diaspora from the Age of Homer to the Death of Alexander the Great, by Robert Garland

A List of Links to Alexander 

Categories: Linked to Alexander | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Alexander and Darius Draw Close to One Another

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 32 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander of Lyncestis Arrested
Darius Strips Down Army to Fighting Corps
Royal Family to Arrive In Damascus Presently
Alexander Occupies Issus

The Story
Around the time that Alexander fell ill, or just after, he received a letter from his mother ‘warning him to be on his guard against the Lyncestian Alexander’.

Diodorus does not give the reason for Olympias’ warning, though he probably doesn’t need to. As the Footnotes say, Alexander of Lyncestis belonged to the ruling family of his region. This made him ‘a possible rival for the throne of Macedonia’.

I am rather surprised, though, that news of Lyncestian Alexander’s threat travelled out of Alexander’s camp and all the way to Olympias’ ear in Macedon rather than out of Lyncestian Alexander’s tent and straight into King Alexander’s close by.

As Alexander of Lyncestis sat down to contemplate a very uncertain future, King Alexander learnt ‘that Dareius was only a few days march away’. He gave Parmenion orders to seize the Syrian Gates, which the general did.

Meanwhile, Darius had decided to ‘make his army mobile’. Given that it was on the march from Babylon, I thought it already was. I think Diodorus means ‘faster’ as he says that the Great King ‘diverted his baggage train and the non-combatants to Damascus in Syria’. Among those to leave were the Royal Family. They would not see their lord again.

Not long later, Darius discovered that Alexander now held the Syrian Gates and set off to confront him.

As he marched, Darius was met by villagers of the country through which he travelled. Previously loyal to Alexander, the villagers were impressed by the ‘great size’ of the Persian army versus ‘the small numbers of the Macedonians’. They bought with them gifts of ‘food and other materials’.

The chapter concludes with a reference to Alexander taking the city of Issus ‘which was terrified into submission’.

Comments
Could Alexander of Lyncestis really have been plotting against King Alexander? Diodorus says that there ‘were many other plausible circumstances joining to support the charge’ so he and his sources certainly believed so.

If he was, he certainly deserved to get caught for being so reckless in how he conducted his conspiracy. By way of a contrast, if Antipater really did assassinate Alexander, he didn’t communicate his wishes to Iollas who was already with the king but sent Cassander with the poison. I know it is a big if, though, and I admit it is not one I believe happened.

On the other hand, Olympias is the woman who unnecessarily killed Cleopatra Euridike and her infant daughter no doubt to make her son’s accession absolutely and utterly secure. I am quite sure she would have been quite happy to condemn Alexander of Lyncestis at the drop of a Phrygian cap.

Incidentally, Arrian reports the affair a little differently. He says that Alexander of Lyncestis went over to Darius’ side. The Great King then offered him 1,000 gold talents and the Macedonian throne if he would assassinate King Alexander. The plot was exposed, however, when Darius’ go-between, a man named Sisines, was captured by Parmenion. I have not found any reference to the matter in Plutarch. Curtius may have discussed it in his missing books.

Diodorus informs us that the reason Darius set off for the Syrian Gates is because he thought that Alexander ‘would never dare to fight in the plain’. According to Plutarch, ‘a Macedonian exile named Amyntas, who was acquainted with Alexander’s character’ tried to persuade Darius that he ‘”… need have no fear”‘ that Alexander would fight in the plain. Unfortunately for Darius, he never took this man’s advice. Arrian tells the same story slightly differently. According to him, Amyntas ‘urged’ Darius not to move from an Assyrian plain, which would suit his large army. Whenever Alexander failed to appear, he did, eventually fighting the Macedonian king on land that offered him no ‘little advantage’.

I was surprised when I read that Parmenion took the city of Issus. I have always been used to thinking of it as a river. I will need to double check now to make sure I have not got it wrong all this time.

New Comic-Book Series Out Now
THE LEAGUE OF ANTI-MACEDONIAN GREEKS
BAM! See Demosthenes choke on his values and accept Persian gold
WHACK! Gasp as Memnon conquers the Aegean before a heart attack conks him
THUD! Marvel at how fast Alexander of Lyncestis’ goes from being a HERO to ZERO

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Alexander’s first Days as King

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 1, 2, 5 & 6 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

Headlines
Alexander Secures The Macedonian Throne
Attalus is Assassinated
Darius Becomes Great King

The Story
In Chapter 94 of Book XVI of his Library of History, Diodorus relates how Pausanias assassinated Philip II. The first chapter of Book XVII begins with a brief introduction to Philip’s successor, Alexander III whom we call The Great. It is an introduction that the new king would have found very satisfactory. ‘In twelve years’ Diodorus says, Alexander ‘conquered no small part of Europe and practically all of Asia, and so acquired a fabulous reputation like that of the heroes and demigods of old’.

According to Diodorus, Alexander’s first action as king was to punish Philip’s murderers before overseeing the funeral of his father. Unfortunately, Diodorus does not tell us who those murderers were – in the previous book he implied that Pausanias acted alone. In the Footnotes, however, we learn the ‘known’ victims’ names,

  • Amyntas, son of Perdiccas III (Alexander’s ‘older cousin’)
  • Alexander of Lyncestis’ family (though not Alexander himself)
  • Cleopatra Eurydice (Philip’s seventh and last wife)
  • Europa (Cleopatra Eurydice’s infant daughter)

Cleopatra and Europa were murdered on the orders of Olympias. Alexander was greatly displeased by his mother’s actions. According to Plutarch ‘he showed his anger against’ her for the deaths. What this meant in practice one can only imagine.

When Alexander ascended to the throne of Macedon he was just twenty years old. Unsurprisingly, he was ‘not uniformly respected’ by his people. Despite this, he ‘established his authority far more firmly’ than was thought possible.

At this point, Diodorus makes up for his meagre account of the Battle of Chaeronea and failure to give more information about Philip II’s murderers by explaining what Alexander did to secure the throne. He,

  1. spoke to the Macedonians in a ‘tactful’ manner
  2. assured his people that he would rule the kingdom ‘on principles no less effective’ than those used by Philip II
  3. kept the army occupied with ‘constant training… and tactical exercises’. He also ‘established’ (perhaps this means ‘enforced?) discipline in the ranks as well

At the same time, Alexander sweet talked the various ambassadors who were at that time in Macedon so as to breed good will with the various Greek city-states.

If you know anything about Alexander you will undoubtedly be aware that one name has been conspicuous by its absence in this blog post thus far: Attalus. Diodorus calls him a ‘possible rival for the throne’ although the Footnotes make clear that he had ‘no known claim’. Either way, Diodorus now explains how Alexander sent an agent named Hecataeus to Asia Minor to either bring Attalus home alive or, if that were not possible, to assassinate him.

We have now reached Chapter 3 of Book XVII. It is here that Diodorus digresses to give an account of the Greek response to Philip’s death. To keep the narrative thread alive, we’ll jump forward to Chapter 5 to find out what happened to Attalus. I’ll come back to the Greek response in the next post.

In Chapter 5, therefore, Diodorus effectively accuses Attalus of treason. He says that immediately after Philip II’s death, the general ‘actually… set his hand to revolt and had agreed with the Athenians to undertake joint action against Alexander’. At some point, though, Attalus got cold feet. Instead of revolting, he forwarded to Alexander a letter written by Demosthenes (in which he, presumably, advocated rebellion against the king) along with his own ‘expressions of loyalty to remove from himself any possible suspicion’.

It was too late, though; Hecataeus was lurking in the shadows waiting for his chance to deal with the general once and for all. It soon came and Attalus met his end.

Diodorus now turns to Persia and gives a short account of how Darius came to be Great King. First, there was Ochus who ‘oppressed his subjects cruelly and harshly’. He was done away with by a eunuch named Bagoas (not the same Bagoas who Alexander liked). Bagoas put Ochus’ youngest son, Arses, on the throne.

Within two or three years, though, Arses developed that very dangerous thing when there is a power behind the throne: an independent mind. He ‘let it be known that he was offended’ at Bagoas’ behaviour in killing Ochus. You’re offended? said Ochus, Try being dead.

Ochus’ assassination brought the direct line of the Persian Royal House to an end. So, Bagoas put the grandson of Ostanes, who was Great King Artaxerxes II’s brother, on the throne instead. His name was Darius, and he was the third of that name. Upon hearing that Bagoas meant to murder him as well, Darius managed to kill the eunuch first.

In Chapter 6, Diodorus prepares us for the great war between Macedonia and Persia, Alexander and Darius, by highlighting the latter’s bravery ‘in which quality’ he says, ‘he far surpassed the other Persians’. In proof of this he tells how Darius once beat a Cadusian warrior who had ‘a wide reputation for strength and courage’ in single combat.

Comments
It is hard to fault the means by which Alexander secured the Macedonian throne. They show that he was not only a great general but capable of being a good ruler as well. In light of this, it makes his later failures in this regard more difficult to take. Perhaps he lacked the foresight to make political decisions of lasting rather than momentary value.

I don’t know about you but I am not really convinced that Alexander meant for Hecataeus to bring Attalus back to Macedon. If Attalus was a serious threat it would surely have been counter-productive to bring him back. Mind you, as we saw in the previous post, we are in a world where enemies could become trusted friends at a stroke.

Staying with Attalus – I wonder why he chose not to rebel against Alexander. He had an army to do so and was a popular general. Perhaps he feared Parmenion’s response – although could he not have been murdered? – or simply came to feel that loyalty rather than betrayal would serve him better in the long run.

For Alexander’s part, Diodorus says that he ‘had good reason to fear that [Attalus] might challenge his rule, making common cause with those of the Greeks who opposed him’ but does not really justify this statement. He doesn’t appear to mention the one occasion when Alexander and Attalus came to blows – the wedding party on the occasion of Philip II’s marriage to Cleopatra Eurydice – but perhaps he had that in mind.

Books
We Need To Talk About Bagoas – one previous owner, now dead
War and Peace – don’t worry if your edition comes without the ‘Peace’ section, there was very little of it in those days
The Way of all Flesh – A handy guide to poisons, written by A Eunuch

By-the-Bye
Attalus’ death brings the first days of Alexander’s rule to an end. Diodorus doesn’t say where he was killed but I should think it was in Asia Minor. This means that he died very close to where, some 55 years later, the Battle of Corupedium would be fought, which brought the awards of the Successors to an end. This seems fitting.

Categories: Diodorus Siculus, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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