Posts Tagged With: Polemon

Torture in Curtius (2)

Continuing my look at Curtius’ use of the word ‘torture’ in his history of Alexander. In this post, I focus on its usage in the narrative of the the Philotas Affair.

Read other posts in this series here

  • Book VI contains 14 references to torture
  • Book VII contains 3 references to torture

Book VI.8.15
They spoke with one voice, but was their motive good or bad?

… the decision was unanimous that Philotas should be interrogated under torture to force him to name his accomplices in the crime.

Book VI.9.9
Alexander speaks to the assembly during Philotas’ trial

When the matter was still uncorroborated, Cebalinus reported it, undeterred by fear of torture…

Book VI.9.31
Coenus challenges our perception of what makes for an act of mercy

[Coenus] picked up a stone which happened to be lying before his feet to throw at Philotas – from a wish to save him from torture, many thought…

Book VI.10.29
Philotas speaks in his own defence at his trial

[Philotas said] ‘If you think torture to be more reliable than oracles, I do not refuse even this method of exposing the truth.’

Book VI.11.9
The trial is delayed

The king returned to the assembly and adjourned the hearing to the following day, either to subject Philotas to further torture in prison or to conduct a more thorough investigation of the entire episode…

Book VI.11.10
Justice or revenge?

The general feeling was that Philotas should be stoned to death according to Macedonian custom, but Hephaestion, Craterus and Coenus declared that torture should be employed to force the truth out of him, and those who advocated other punishment went over to their view.

Book VI.11.13-19
Philotas is tortured

The torturers laid out before Philotas’ eyes all the instruments used to inflict pain. Philotas, on an impulse, asked: ‘Why hesitate to execute your king’s enemy, a confessed assassin? What need is there for interrogation under torture? I planned the crime; I wanted it to succeed.’ Craterus insisted that he also make his confession under torture. Philotas was seized, blindfolded and his clothes stripped from him, while all the time he invoked the gods of his country and the laws of humanity – to no avail, for their ears were deaf. He was racked with the most cruel tortures: not only was he a condemned man but his torturers were personal enemies trying to please the king. Though subjected both to fire and beatings – no longer to make him talk but as punishment – he managed at first to keep not only from screaming but even groaning. But his body began to swell with weals and he could not bear the blows that cut to the bone. He promised to tell them what they wished to know if they put an end to the torture, but he wanted them to swear on Alexander’s life that the interrogation would be terminated and the torturers removed. On being granted both those terms Philotas said: ‘Craterus, say what you want me to say.’ Craterus was annoyed that Philotas was mocking him and he recalled the torturers. But Philotas began to beg for time to get his breath back, after which he was prepared to tell all he knew.

Book VI.11.20
Under Macedonian law, the family of an accused could also be executed

In the meantime word of the torture of Philotas had got around, and this spread panic among the cavalry, the men from the best families and especially those closely related to Parmenion.

Book VI.11.21
Curtius states a fact we still need to remember today

Whether Philotas told the truth or whether he lied from a wish to deliver himself from torture is debatable, for the end in view of both those who confess the truth and those who lie is termination of the pain.

Book VI.11.31
the crime referred to below is that of leading Dymnus’ conspiracy

Once again they applied the instruments of torture, now themselves also using their spears to strike him in the face and eyes, and they extracted from him a confession to this crime as well.

Book VI.11.33
Philotas tries to save his father’s life

[Philotas said he] made haste to execute the plan while he still had the prize in his hands. If they did not believe his father took no part in it, he did not refuse further torture, even though he could no longer endure it.

Book VI.11.35
Demetrius brazens it out

With vigorous protestations and with the confidence which he felt showing in his expression, [Demetrius] denied any plot against the king, going so far as to demand torture for himself.

Book VI.11.36-38
More conspirators revealed

… Philotas’ eyes shifted round, falling eventually on one Calis who stood close by. Philotas told him to come closer and, when Calis showed agitation and refused to come over to him, he said, ‘Are you going to permit Demetrius to lie and me to be tortured again?’ Calis was left speechless and pale. The Macedonians began to suspect that Philotas wished to incriminate the innocent, for the young man had been named neither by Nicomachus nor by Philotas himself under torture but, when he saw the king’s officers around him, Calis confessed that he and Demetrius had planned the crime. Thereupon all those named by Nicomachus, when the signal was given, were stoned to death in the traditional Macedonian manner.

Book VI.11.40
What price truthfulness

While Philotas denied the crime his torture was thought cruel, but after his confession he no longer won pity even from his friends.

Book VII.1.10
Alexander uses the Philotas Affair to eliminate past enemies (Alexander Lyncestes) as well as present, supposed, ones (Amyntas etc were close friends of Philotas)

After Lyncestes’ body was removed, the king had Amyntas and Simmias brought in. (The youngest of the brothers, Polemon, had fled on hearing of the torture of Philotas.)

Book VII.2.4
What happened to Polemon

[Polemon] was a young man in the early bloom of youth, and when the cavalry had been alarmed at Philotas’ torture, he had been carried away by the spreading panic.

Book VII.2.33-34
Curtius on Parmenion and Philotas

At the age of seventy [Parmenion] performed the duties of a young commander, often even those of a common soldier. He was a shrewd tactician and a good fighter, well-liked by his officers and more popular still with the rank and file. Whether such qualities made him covet royal power or only brought him under suspicion of doing so is debatable, for even when the affair lay in the recent past and a verdict was more attainable, it was uncertain whether Philotas, broken by the cruellest tortures, actually told the truth about matters which could not be verified or simply resorted to lies to end his torment. 

Here are some of my thoughts based on the above quotations. Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments section.

  • Curtius continues to use the word ‘torture’ and its variants in a variety of ways. My break down:
    • 3 references to a desire for someone to be tortured (VI.8.15, VI.11.10, VI.11.13-19)
    • 1 reference to individual motives for torturing during the act (VI.11.13-19)
    • 1 reference to someone acting without fear of torture (VI.9.9)
    • 2 references to someone wanting to save another person from torture (VI.9.31, VI.11.33)
    • 3 references to a willingness to undergo torture to prove a point (VI.10.29, VI.11.33, VI.11.35)
    • 1 reference to the possibility of torture being carried out (VI.11.9)
    • 2 references to torture being carried out (VI.11.13-19, VI.11.31)
    • 3 references to the fear of torture (VI.11.20, VII.1.10, VII.2.4)
    • 1 authorial statement on the value or otherwise of torture (VI.11.21 see also VII.2.33-34)
    • 2 references to torture having been carried out (VI.11.36-38, VII.2.33-34)
    • 1 reference to how the Macedonians viewed torture (VI.11.40)
  • In the last post I noted that Curtius uses the word ‘torture’ eight times in the first six books of his history (up to the Philotas Affair), and that he does so in a variety of ways. As you can see above, this continues to be the case. Of the eleven different contexts in which he uses the word during his account of Philotas’ downfall, seven are new. The ones we saw before are the references to a. someone being willing to undergo torture to prove a cause/point, b. to torture being carried out, c. to the fear of torture and d. to torture having been carried out
  • VI.8.15, VI.10.29VI.11.10VI.11.13-19VI.11.31 are all  indicative of torture being an established part of the Macedonian legal process
  • VI.9.31 At first glance, Coenus’ actions appear to be very merciful. Cruelly, Alexander refuses to let him throw the stone. But this is because he wants Philotas to be able to give his defence. Parmenion’s son does so. Afterwards, Coenus’ attitude has changed.
    At VI.11.10 we se him teaming up with Hephaestion and Craterus to declare that Philotas should be tortured into revealing the truth of his treachery. Whose side is Coenus really on?
    Well, immediately before describing how Coenus picked up the stone, Curtius writes that ‘although [Coenus] had married a sister of Philotas, he attacked him more fiercely than anyone’.
    Where Curtius writes ‘although’ I would say ‘because’. Coenus knew very well, just as the fleeing cavalrymen did, that his close ties to Philotas might put him under suspicion of treachery as well. That’s why he attacked him, and that’s why he spoke up with Hephaestion and Craterus. The suggestion that Coenues wanted to stone Philotas ‘to save him from torture’ seems to me mere wish fulfilment.
  • As I mentioned above, we see in VI.11.10 how Hephaestion, Craterus and Coenus all call for Philotas to be tortured into confessing to plotting to overthrow Alexander. Theirs was something of an unholy alliance: in Chapter 47 of his Life of Alexander, Plutarch talks about how Hephaestion and Craterus ‘often came into open conflict’ (as a result of a, frankly, petty jealousy towards each other’s friendship with Alexander).
    The saying is ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ but clearly not applicable here. I don’t think either Hephaestion or Craterus had anything to fear from their connection to Philotas – it was strictly professional. Their actions may, therefore, be attributed either to a genuine desire to see justice done, to take revenge on Philotas for his crime out of love for Alexander or simply to impress the king. Curtius believes the latter reason to be the case. I think both men were too close to want or need to impress him. I suspect they acted out of malevolence (see how they strike him with their spears) but also a desire to justice to be done. Their love for Alexander would have demanded that.
  • VI.11.21 represents an unexpectedly sober moment for Curtius. It’s the kind of thing I expect Arrian to say! Which is the case with Philotas? Personally, I think he was innocent of the charges against him. He died because of his character rather than actions. And though Alexander bears the chief responsibility for Philotas’ unfair death, Philotas’ enemies within the army – especially Hephaestion, Craterus and (if to a lesser extent) Coenus – also share in his guilt.
  • VI.11.40 is an example of how quickly Macedonian minds could be changed (See also VII.2.3,7 and how quickly the assembly turns in favour of Amyntas, Simmias, and Polemon). Given the fact that prisoners could be executed on the spot (poor Alexander Lyncestes’ fate [VII.1.9]) even before their trial had finished, appearing before the supposedly formal assembly must have been more like facing a mob, sometimes.
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Death in a Cold Climate

The Nature of Curtius
Book Seven Chapters 1-3
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter One
Old Scores Are Settled
Following Philotas’ execution, Alexander Lyncestes was put on trial and executed. Alexander Lyncestes’ brothers had been killed by Alexander III in the purge following the latter’s accession to the throne. Alexander Lyncestes had saved his skin on that occasion by being ‘the first to salute Alexander as king’. Now, however, stage fright overtook the Lyncestian and rendered him unable to give a defence of himself. Curtius presents his death as little less than a summary execution during the trial.

The chapter continues with the trial of Amyntas and Simmias (the sons of Andromenes) who were charged with being part of Philotas’ conspiracy and as well as with other minor misdemeanours. Despite the fact that a third brother, Polemon, had deserted after hearing about Philotas’ torture, Amyntas was able to put up a very good defence.

As with the trial of Philotas, those of Alexander Lyncestes and Andromenes’ sons all took place indoors.

Chapter Two
Parmenion’s Downfall
The trial of Amyntas and Simmias was halted when guards brought in Polemon who had just been caught. Amyntas took his brother’s arrival in hand and succeeded in winning over not only the Assembly but Alexander, too. As a result, the trial ended with all the brothers’ acquittal.

After the trial, Alexander turned his thoughts to Parmenion. He ordered the general’s friend, Polydamas, to ride to Ecbatana with three letters – two for Parmenion (one in Alexander’s name and one written as if by Philotas*) and one for the other generals there. The latter contained the order to murder his friend.

Knowing how quickly rumour could travel, and how fatal it would be for him if Parmenion were to hear of Philotas’ death, Alexander ordered Polydamas to make haste. When the latter left the Macedonian camp, therefore, he did so on camelback**. In order to shorten their journey, Polydamas and his Arab guides (or guards) rode across ‘stretches of arid desert’. After ten days, they arrived in Ecbatana.

The letters were handed over to their recipients. The next day, Parmenion was stabbed to death in a grove.

* Presumably to make sure that Parmenion was distracted while the generals unsheathed their weapons

** And, Curtius says, dressed as an Arab. As Arabia was not on Polydamas’ route, perhaps this is an example of Curtius not knowing his geography (see below) or of him knowing that Arabs did indeed travel across the desert between Drangiana and Media.

Chapter Three
Mountain Bound
With Parmenion’s death, the Philotas Affair was finally over. Alexander now struck camp and led his army out of Drangiana and into Arimaspia – the land of the Euergetae, the Benefactors, whose kindness had once saved the army of Cyrus the Great.

Four days into his march across Arimaspia, the king learnt that Satibarzanes had returned to Aria. Rather than go back to confront the traitor himself, Alexander sent his friend Erygius along with Caranus, Artabazus and Andronicus to do so for him.

As for Alexander, he stayed in Arimaspia long enough to reward the natives for helping Cyrus, before proceeding to Arachosia. There, he subdued the natives (‘whose territory extends to the Pontic Sea’ Curtius says, inaccurately*) and met Parmenion’s soldiers who had been brought out as reinforcements. There was no backlash between them.

With his army now strengthened, Alexander moved on to the land of the Parapamisadae – ‘a backward tribe, extremely uncivilized even for barbarians’. Their country ‘touches Bactria to the west and extends as far as the Indian Ocean in the south’. In Alexander’s day, Bactria lay due north ( and Aria to the west) while Arachosia and the Oreitae stood between the Parapamisadae and the ocean.

Curtius writes that Paropamisus** is such a cold and barren land few trees grow there, and there is ‘no trace… of birds or any other animal of the wild’. It seems that even the sun rarely comes that way for the ‘overcast daylight, which would be more accurately called a shadow of the sky, resembles night and hangs so close to the earth that near-by objects are barely visible’.

The cold caused the Macedonian army great suffering as it trudged eastwards. Men suffered from frost-bite, snow-blindness and exhaustion; those who stopped to rest became too stiff to get up again.

Alexander did his best to help his men, and he lifted them up and supported them with his own body. ‘At one moment he was at the front, at another at the centre or rear of the column, multiplying for himself the hardships of the march’. That is why, despite all, they loved him so much.

Presently, the army came to ‘a more cultivated area’ where it set up camp.

The soldiers needed to rest – before them lay the Caucausus Mountains (i.e. the Hindu Kush)

In one direction it faces the sea that washes Cilicia, in another the Caspian, the river Araxes and also the desert areas of Scythia. The Taurus range, which is of lesser height, joins the Caucasus, rising in Cappadocia, skirting Cilicia and merging into the mountains of Armenia. Thus interconnected in a series, these ranges form an unbroken chain, which is the source for practically all the rivers of Asia, some flowing into the Red***, some into the Caspian, and others into the Hyrcanian**** and Pontic Seas.

Obviously, Curtius’ geography is inaccurate. What the above quotation shows, however, is how much smaller the world was for him. That’s not something I dwell upon often enough so I record it here as much for my benefit as anyone else’s.

Curtius says that the Macedonian army crossed the Caucasus in seventeen days. Along the way, it passed the ‘rocky crag’ where ‘Prometheus was bound’. At the foot of the Caucasus Alexander decided to build a new city.

* The Pontic Sea is the Caspian. In Alexander’s day, and surely afterwards?, a number of countries separated Arachosia from the Pontic. For example, Drangiana, Aria, Parthia and Hyrcania.

** Curtius doesn’t give us the name of the Parapamisadae’s land; ‘Paropamisus’ is what Diodorus calls it

*** The Persian Gulf

**** The Hyrcanian, Caspian and Pontic Sea are, of course, all one.  The Notes suggest that Curtius is ‘mistakenly’ talking about different parts of the same water

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