Posts Tagged With: Pausanias

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.

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

The Xbox Alexander*

A couple of days ago, I watched this live stream of Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris by JHNPlays. My contribution to the stream was a few bad jokes in the comments box and to make poor JHN mess around with his audio connection when the reason I couldn’t hear anything was because of my laptop (mea culpa, JHN!).

While watching the live stream it occurred to me that the life of Alexander would make excellent material for a video game. I know that strategy games featuring him already exist**, but I’m thinking of one in the style of the Assassin’s Creed or Mass Effect franchises. These choices represent my preference for open world gaming, but I’d also consider a First Person Shooter (or in this case, Stabber) à la Call of Duty.

In an FPS game, the player could take part in a series of battles, sieges or assaults against targets of varying design and difficulty (Alexander’s Balkan campaign being the easiest level and Tyre being the hardest).

An open world game could see the player play the part of a Macedonian officer who goes on a series of adventures, the outcome of which will determine the success or otherwise of Alexander’s expedition.

For example, one adventure could be a mission to track down Pausanias’ ally (or enemy, depending on how the script was written) who intends to kill Alexander at the same moment as Pausanias assassinates Philip II. Another could see the player play a member of the Macedonian garrison at the Cadmeia in 335 BC; he would be required to find a way out of the citadel in order to help Alexander defeat the Theban rebellion. There could also be an adventure based on the crossing of the Hindu Kush (passing Prometheus’ chains along the way for a little mythological engagement) or on Alexander’s visit to India.

The suggestions I have outlined above stay close to the historical record, but there’s no reason why the game developer couldn’t take a leaf out of the Alexander Romance‘s book and create a more fantastical adventure.

We could explore the ocean depths with the Macedonian king…

Alexander_Submarine

 Picture: British Library

Or visit strange new races, such as the Blemmyes, whose heads were on their faces.

Alexander_encounters_the_Blemmyae_-_British_Library_Royal_MS_20_B_xx_f80r_(detail)

Picture: Wikipedia

Or pull out our swords and fight off deadly dragons.

Alexander dragons

Picture: Bensozia

For more mediaeval images from the Alexander Romance, do take a look at Bensozia. So often, and unfairly, the Middle Ages are dismissed as being a period of violence and ignorance, but in actual fact – for all the wars, disease and violence that was happening – many good happened at that time as well, as these beautifully illustrated manuscripts show.

Back to my game; while I have to admit I would prefer one that focused on the historical record I would not be averse to seeing anything that brought Alexander to life in a new and imaginative way, one that would give gamers the opportunity to help Alexander secure his empire and enable them to discover a little more about the man behind the legend as they went along.

* Or PS4, PC, Wii – I chose Xbox as the word sounded nice when set against Alexander’s name

** For example as an ‘expansion pack’ for Total War 

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

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

Plutarch’s Women: Timocleia of Thebes and the Delphic Prophetess (Chapts. 12 & 14)

For the other posts in this series click here

In my last post, I quoted this passage from chapter 10 of Plutarch’s Life of Alexander.

When Pausanias assassinated the king because he had been humiliated by Attalus and Cleopatra could get no redress from Philip, it was Olympias who was chiefly blamed for the assassination…

I did so because it read to me like Plutarch was saying that Cleopatra Eurydice had tried to intercede on behalf of Pausanias after he was assaulted on Attalus’ orders. I wasn’t sure, though, because Cleopatra Eurydice was Attalus’ niece and helping Pausanias would have meant going against him. So, I asked you what you thought. My thanks go to Silasaila who left a comment containing the correct quotation from Plutarch. Here it is (from my copy of the Life),

When Pausanias assassinated the king because he had been humiliated by Attalus and Cleopatra and could get no redress from Philip, it was Olympias who was chiefly blamed for the assassination… (my emphasis)

As you can see, I was thrown off track by missing the second ‘and’ in the sentence. It is a rather amateur mistake to make so I am grateful to Silasaila for taking the time to correct me. While we are here, the edition of the Life that I am using for this post (and indeed, all those in the Plutarch’s Women series) is the 2011 Revised Edition of the (1973) Penguin Classics Age of Alexander, translated by Ian Scott-Kilvert. Silasaila quoted from the 1919 Loeb Classical Library edition. You can read his (or her) comment, and the Loeb version of the above quotation, here.
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As a final point, if you ever see any mistakes on this blog do feel free to alert me to them in the comments. I am a student of Alexander not an expert and so not at all infallible in what I say.
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Timocleia of Thebes
Chapter 11 of Plutarch’s Life describes how Alexander subdued the tribes in the barbarian north and confirmed his leadership of the Greek city states. The next reference to a woman comes in chapter 12 when Plutarch tells us about Timocleia of Thebes.
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Timocleia was ‘a woman of noble birth and character’. She was also wealthy, and during the Macedonian sack of Thebes, Plutarch tells us, Thracian troops looted her house. While this was happening, the Thracians’ leader raped her.
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After assaulting Timocleia, the captain demanded to know if she had any gold or silver hidden away. Timocleia confirmed that she had and she led him to a well in the garden. As the Thracian peered over the edge to see if he could spy the valuables, Timocleia pushed him into it and proceeded to stone him to death.
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To late to save their leader, the Thracians realised what had happened. They bound Timocleia’s hands and le

d her to Alexander,

…who immediately saw from her expression and from her calm and fearless bearing… that she was a woman of dignity and spirit.

And no wonder as she came from noble stock; her brother, she told Alexander, was Theagenes,

‘… who commanded our army against your father, Philip, and fell at Chaeronea fighting for the liberty of Greece.’

Plutarch concludes the chapter by noting how impressed Alexander was, not only by Timocleia’s words, but also her act of revenge, and so ordered her (and her children) to set free.
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The Delphic Oracle
This incident marks Alexander’s first significant interaction with a woman other than his mother in Plutarch’s narrative. If you had asked me before I began this series ‘what was Alexander’s view of women?’ I would have replied that according to my understanding he was ahead of his time in the respect he accorded them. However, while he undoubtedly treats Timocleia very well, he does not do so on account of her sex, but, as I noted above, on account of her words and actions.
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That Alexander did not (always? We’ll have to wait and see on that point) treat women according to their sex was brought home to me when I read of his confrontation with the Delphic oracle in chapter 14, the next occasion that a woman appears in the narrative.

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As Plutarch relates it, Alexander visited Delphi to consult the oracle about his expedition against the Persian empire. No doubt he wanted to know what his chances of success were. Unfortunately for him, however, he arrived on an ‘inauspicious’ day, and the oracle refused to see him, explaining that she was forbidden by law from answering petitions on such days. Upon hearing this, Alexander went to the oracle’s home (?),

… and tried to drag her by force to the shrine.

Well, that is very rough behaviour and not to be commended at all. Perhaps Alexander needed at-all-costs to see the prophetess but even so manhandling another person – especially a woman – like that is very disreputable behaviour.
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That’s Alexander; what about Timocleia and the prophetess? Of the latter, we can only say that she was – if nothing else – a religiously devout and law abiding person. There is this little fly in the ointment,

At last, as if overcome by his persistence, she exclaimed, “You are invincible, my son!” and when Alexander heard this, he declared that he wanted no other prophecy…

and left Delphi to return to Macedon. The prophetess’ words read more like an exclamation rather than a prophecy, though. Alexander heard what he wanted to hear and left.
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As for Timocleia, the only part of her story that does not ring true is the length of time that it took the Thracian soldiers to find her. Perhaps, though, she lived in a big house or the location of the well was in a secluded part of the garden. Either way, there’s not much else I can say about her other than to highlight again her bravery in the most trying of circumstances. I wonder what happened to her next. Did she marry again? Was she able to rebuild her life at all? Who knows. Such answers are now, sadly, lost to history.

Categories: Plutarch's Women | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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