Posts Tagged With: Onesicritus

Parmenion and Thaïs

My tea is cooking, I am drinking a rapidly cooling cup of coffee, but I cannot not write about Alexander.


Since Sunday, I have only had time to read Parmenion’s entry in The House of Parmenion, Part Two of Waldemar Heckel’s The Marshals of Alexander’s Empire. And I have to admit, I did not underline any of it with my green pen. Nothing stood out enough. I feel that I have done Parmenion a disservice.

Sadly for him, that’s nothing new. His execution, brought about by the execution (some might say judicial murder) of his son Philotas, in 330 B.C., was a terrific fall from grace for someone who had been such an important figure in the Macedonian court for many years. In the years following his death, his reputation was besmirched either by Callisthenes or others in Alexander’s court whose mission it was to justify his death. They couldn’t do it directly because he had done nothing wrong, so they told stories about him – that he was an incompetent soldier, that he gave bad advice etc.


I have a Second Achilles Tumblr page, which I confess I do not update nearly as often as I would like; I have, however, updated it twice today. If you would like to know what contemporary song Thaïs of Athens would like, click here; if learning a little about my Twitter Macedonians takes your fancy, click here.

I have to admit, though, I wrote both posts with a bit of trepidation. I mentioned Thaïs’ song on the Facebook page the other day and I am not used to effectively re-publishing posts. Will people feel short changed? On the other hand, perhaps not everyone who uses Tumblr uses Facebook or has Liked/Followed my page there.

In regards the Twitter Macedonians, I am always wary about talking about that side of my work because I often feel it will distract from the story that I am telling on Twitter. I don’t want people to read Alexander and co’s tweets and be thinking of me. But, you know, when I read The Lord of the Rings I don’t think about Tolkien so maybe I am overthinking the matter and worrying too much. If you have any thoughts about either matter, do let me know.

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The Death of Glory

The Nature of Curtius
Book Ten Chapter 1-10
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter One
The Best Laid Plans
According to Diodorus, Nearchus and Onesicritus rejoined Alexander while the latter was resting in Salmus, a seaside town in Carmania. Curtius says that the two men brought report ‘based partly on hearsay and partly on their own observation’ of an island ‘close to the river-mouth [of the Persian Gulf] which was rich in gold but without horses’ – a very practical concern. As for the sea, they said, it ‘was full of monsters [with] bodies the size of large ships’. These were only repulsed by ‘strident’ shouting.

Nearchus’ and Onesicritus’ next report was based purely on hearsay. The natives, they said, had told them that the Red Sea in India was named after King Erythus rather than because of its colour*. They added that off the (Indian?) mainland, there was an island ‘thickly planted with palm trees’ on which stood a ‘high column’ dedicated to Erythus. The island was a mysterious and dangerous place. Ships that travelled there to trade and search for gold ‘had never been seen again’.

After hearing Nearchus’ and Onesicritus’ report, Alexander told them to proceed up the Persian Gulf until they came to the Euphrates, which they should follow to Babylon.

At this point, Curtius breaks off to give Alexander’s future plans for imperial expansion. Africa was his first target, ‘because of his enmity to the Carthaginians’. After ‘crossing the Numidian deserts, he would set his course for Gades, where the pillars of Hercules were rumoured to be’. Then would come Spain and from there, Epirus.

With these plans in mind, Alexander gave the order for trees on Mt Libanus to be felled and a new fleet to be built.

The chapter ends with Alexander receiving a letter from an agent in Europe informing him that while he was in India, Zopyrion, the governor of Thrace, had been lost at sea during an expedition against the Getae. This had led another tribe, the Odrysians, to rebel. It appears there was also trouble in Greece as well but we do not know any more as the text breaks off at this point.

* Curtius first revealed this information in Book 8 Chapter 9

Chapter Two
The Mutiny at Opis
The narrative resumes with Harpalus’ flight from Babylon and his subsequent death*. Following this, Alexander issued his Exiles Decree. You can read more about it at Livius.

Curtius does not really draw a connection between the Harpalus affair and the Decree but if – as Livius suggests – it was intended as a way for Alexander to increase his control of the Greek cities it may have been inspired by the fact that before being expelled from Athens by an assembly of the people Harpalus had been welcomed by her ‘leading citizens’.

The chapter continues with the Mutiny at Opis. This arose after Alexander ordered 10,000 (according to Diodorus and Arrian) veterans to be sent home and 13,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry to be kept in Asia. Upon hearing this, the army suspected that the king intended ‘to fix the royal seat permanently in Asia’. This lead to the mutiny. The rest of the chapter covers the army’s rebellion and Alexander’s speech condemning its behaviour.

* Harpalus was a longtime friend of Alexander. Medically unfit to serve in the army, the king had made him his treasurer. But Harpalus abused his position by hiring courtesans and embezzling money. When Alexander returned from India, Harpalus feared that he would be brought to account for his crimes and so fled to Greece.

Chapter Three
The Mutiny at Opis, Cont’d
The next day, Alexander not only denied his men an audience but gathered his Persian troops together and, through an interpreter, told them they were now full members of his army. ‘Asia and Europe are now one and the same kingdom… you are both my fellow-citizens and my soldiers’. Unfortunately, the text breaks off during Alexander’s speech.

Chapter Four
Last Words
This chapter ‘begins’ with Alexander being berated (by one of the ringleaders of the revolt being led off to execution?*) for allowing the condemned men to be executed in a foreign manner and ‘by their own captives’. Alexander, however, is unswayed.

Another lacuna ends this chapter, and as the notes state, we lose a whole series of events, ranging** from ‘the arrival of Persian soldiers to replace the discharged Macedonian veterans’ to Medius’ dinner party and Alexander’s collapse.

* This is suggested by a quotation within the notes

** I should say ‘probably ranging’. As we don’t have the text we don’t know if Curtius includes all the events that the notes mention. 

Chapter Five
The Death of Alexander
After the initial ‘weeping and… beating of breasts… a still silence like that of desert wastes’ falls over the royal quarters as the Macedonians give thought to the critical question – what next?

Chapter Six
Babylon Conference Begins
The Successors meet to decide who will be their next king.

Chapter Seven
The Babylonian Conference Breaks Down
The Successors’ meeting degenerates into ‘a mutinous uproar’ between the supporters of Alexander’s brother, Arrhidaeus and those supporting the cause of Roxane’s unborn child. When Arrhidaeus’ supporters break into Alexander’s bed chamber those supporting Roxane’s child are forced to flee. They leave Babylon and head ‘towards the Euphrates’. At this point, the Macedonian army seems cleanly divided between the infantry, who support Arrhidaeus, and the senior officers/cavalry, who support Roxane’s child.

Chapter Eight
Peace Brokered
Arrhidaeus asks Perdiccas to accept Meleager (leader of the infantry faction) ‘as a third general’*. Perdiccas does so and peace between the infantry and cavalry is restored.

* After Craterus and Perdiccas

Chapter Nine
Peace Broken
Perdiccas proposes a purification ceremony to heal the wounds caused by the recent violence. The ceremony involves ‘cutting a bitch in two and throwing down her entrails on the left and right at the far end of the plain into which the army was to be led’. He then uses the ceremony to extract and execute 300 of Meleager’s supporters.

Chapter Ten
Perdiccas Divides The Empire Among the Successors
As well as accounting for who-got-what*, Curtius notes the conspiracy theories surrounding the manner of Alexander’s death. The chapter, and book, then concludes with the removal of Alexander’s body from Babylon to Memphis by Ptolemy**. Later, Curtius says, it was transferred to Alexandria ‘where every mark of respect continues to be paid to his memory and his name.’

* For more about the Division of the Empire and Wars of Successors, see this series of posts

Curtius presents Ptolemy’s action as being normal. This despite the fact that in Chapter 5, he has Alexander ask for his body to be taken to ‘Hammon’ ( – Ammon i.e. Siwah?)

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

A Tide of Sea and Sand

The Nature of Curtius
Book Nine Chapter 9-10
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter Nine
Tide Waits for No Man
As the Macedonian fleet continued its journey down the Indus River, it met with a very awkward problem: its guides ran away. The soldiers guarding them had become complacent, and this allowed the natives who had been coerced into guiding the ships to flee.

Alexander ordered more guides to be found but when none were his impatience to see the ocean got the better of him. At his command, the fleet set sail again ‘in complete ignorance of the terrain through which they were passing’. Neither did they know which tribes lived here, nor how far they were from the sea, or how dangerous the river-mouth was. Indeed, for all they knew, the Indus would not even bring them to the sea.

It was a recipe for disaster, and disaster very nearly came.

Presently, the smell of sea air wafted past the Macedonians. At the same time, they finally caught some natives. These informed Alexander that the sea – which they knew only as a ‘bitter-tasting water’ – was just two days away.

Delighted at this news, the Macedonians ‘put tremendous vigour into their rowing’ and, sure enough, two days later, they came to where the sea and river water mixed. A ‘gentle tide’ greeted them.

Ahead of the fleet was an island. Alexander landed there to look for provisions.

Curtius says that at ‘about the third hour’* the tide started to come in and that, having no knowledge of tidal movements, the Macedonians thought the gods were showing their displeasure at them.

The island began to disappear underwater, and the men hurried back to their boats; in their panic they got in each other’s way as they clambered into the vessels. Some ships were overloaded, while others left the island before every crew member had returned.

Panic gripped the men. When the ships took to the water, they collided with one another, knocking oars out of place. There were arguments and fights. Some men abandoned their vessels and made for the spots of land that remained above water.

As all this was going on, the tide turned. This volte-face disturbed the Macedonians just as much as the rising tide had. What would happen next? The men ‘foresaw starvation and utter catastrophe’. If the water didn’t get them, they feared that the ‘sea monsters wandering around’ – beached by the departing tide – would.

It was night time and Alexander had no idea what to do next. Unlike his men, however, he did not panic. He gave thought to what had happened and worked out that the tide was rising and falling in accordance with ‘the laws of time’. Realising this, he sent men to the river mouth so that they could ride back and give warning of the next high tide. As for the men, he ordered them to repair the ships in readiness for the tide’s return.

Alexander spent the night maintaining his own watch and encouraging the men in their labour. As a result of his courage, when the tide came rushing in again, the men boarded their vessels and greeted the rising water with cheers rather than cries.

Once afloat, Alexander took his ship out into the ocean before returning to the fleet ‘after sacrificing to the tutelary gods of the sea and the locality’.

* Daybreak

Chapter Ten
From Desperate to Drunk
Returning upstream, the Macedonian fleet arrived at a salt like. There, some men contracted a skin disease after coming into contact with the water. They were cured by [olive?] oil.

Alexander intended to continue his journey west by land. As it was arid he ordered Leonnatus to march ahead of the army and dig wells for it.

‘Nearchus and Onesicritus, who were expert seamen’ were given orders to go back downstream and go as far as they could into the ocean ‘to examine the sea’s characteristics’. They were told to either return to Alexander or continue on to the Euphrates.

After a twenty-two day march, Alexander passed the Arabus River. In doing so, he entered desert country. This brought him to the country of the Horitae. There, he split the army in four – giving ‘the major part of his force to Hephaestion’ and dividing the remaining troops – all light-armed – between himself Leonnatus and Ptolemy. As they marched (Ptolemy along the coast, Alexander, and Leonnatus inland*) the armies looted native settlements and set the country ablaze.

Further along, Alexander met an isolated people who built their homes with the detritus of the ocean. Following this, the Macedonians’ provisions ran out; they were forced to eat their pack animals and horses. Plague struck the column, and the dying as well as the dead were left by the wayside.

Alexander wrote to neighbouring governors for help. They quickly sent it. (In Carmania) the emergency rations were replaced by wine – and lots of it. Much to Curtius’ disgust, the army continued its journey drunk and disordered, ‘why, a mere 1,000 men, if sober, could have captured this group on its triumphal march’. Thus spoke Angry of Rome.

* Curtius specifically states that Alexander’s army, and that of Ptolemy and Leonnatus engaged in looting and destruction. He doesn’t say what Hephaestion’s was doing

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

Tarn Springs Some Surprises

I have now finished W W Tarn’s Narrative. Here are three things that made an impression upon me between pages 86 and 148. If you would like to read what I thought of the first half of the book and can’t see the relevant post below this one, just click here.
Alexander and Herodotus

Herodotus was no longer much read… there is no sign that Alexander knew him at all, not even his account of Scylax’s voyage.
(Tarn, p. 86)

I almost drew breath when I read this even though I have no idea whether it is accurate or not. My understanding is that Alexander was a well read man. Is this not true? Of course, we may well have been and still not known about Herodotus’ Histories if the latter had fallen into obscurity. Tarn’s book was published just after World War II ended and at least one part of it was written in the 20s so scholarship may have discovered that Herodotus was not a stranger to Alexander after all. I certainly hope so. The alternative does not seem at all fitting.
In the last post, I noted a couple of points where Oliver Stone used Tarn’s text in his film about Alexander. In the film, Stone has Bucephalus die during the Battle of the Hydaspes River. I had always thought this to be inaccurate and that Bucephalus died at some point earlier or later. Tarn surprised me, therefore, when I read,

Alexander after his victory [in the Battle of the Hydaspes] founded two cities, Alexandria Nicaea where his camp had stood, and Alexandria Bucephala on the battlefield, nicknamed from his horse which died there…
(Tarn, pp 96-7)

Ah. Maybe my memory was at fault, then. I jumped to Arrian to see what he said. Sure enough…

Porus’ son… wounded Alexander with his own hand and struck the blow which killed his beloved horse Bucephalus.
(Arrian, p. 274)

To be sure, Arrian is talking about the engagement that took place just before the battle started but it was a confrontation that was part of the whole so on that basis we can give Stone and Tarn a qualified pass. Except, Plutarch –

After [the battle at the Hydaspes River] Bucephalus… died, not immediately but some while later. Most historians report that he died of wounds received in the battle, for which he was being treated but according to Onesicritus it was from old age, for by this time he was thirty years old.
(Plutarch, para 61)

I don’t know much about Onesicritus but if his Wikipedia entry is accurate then he is not necessarily a writer to be trusted.
The last thing that made a big impression definitely did make me draw a breath, which is funny because its one of those things I kind of knew already. In short, it highlighted how interested Alexander was in exploring and learning about the world. My principle image of him is, of course, as the second Achilles – being all about the war and glory. Tarn makes it clear though, that Alexander was simply not about blood ‘n guts. Here is the relevant passage:

[Alexander] attacked the secret of the ocean. He sent Heracleides to explore the Hyrcanian sea, and ascertain whether Aristotle had been right in calling this great expanse of salt water a lake, or whether the old theory that it was a gulf of Ocean might not be true after all…

He himself turned his attention to the Persian Gulf. He took steps to ensure better communication between Babylonia and the sea by removing the Persian obstacles to free navigation of the Tigris and founding an Alexandria on the Gulf at the mouth of that river…

He also planned to colonise the eastern coast of the Gulf, along which Nearchus had sailed, and sent 500 talents to Sidon to be coined for the hire or purchase of sailors and colonists. This would help to establish the already explored sea-route between India and Babylon; but he meant to complete the sea-route from India to Egypt by exploring the section between Babylon and Egypt and circumnavigating Arabia, possibly as a preliminary to still more extensive maritime exploration in the future. He therefore planned an expedition along the Arabian coast…
(Tarn, p. 118)

I can’t tell you what about this passage opened my eyes because I don’t know, but reading it felt like a splash of cold water to the face. As I said above, I already knew that Alexander was a keen explorer and student but what this passage has succeeded in doing is bringing that truth home to me in a strong and direct way. I’m not going to rename this blog The Second Aristotle but sure I won’t forget it in a hurry.

Editions Used
Arrian The Campaigns of Alexander (Penguin Classics London 1971)
Plutarch The Age of Alexander (Penguin Classics London 2011)
Tarn, W W Alexander the Great I Narrative (Cambridge University Press 1948)

Categories: Of The Moment | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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