Posts Tagged With: Ptolemy I Soter

Dancing With The Lion, an interview with Jeanne Reames, Part Two

On the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, an adventure that Alexander would surely have approved of, I continue my conversation with Jeanne Reames.

Jeanne has written Dancing With The Lion, a two part novel about the early years of Alexander, or, how he became the man we know as ‘the Great’. The first part Becoming just just been published. Part Two, Rise, will be published this October.

You can find Dancing With The Lion: Becoming on Amazon in the U.K. here and U.S.A. here or from all good bookshops. Jeanne’s book website is here. With that said, let’s jump back into the interview.

Alexander’s mother, Olympias, is represented very negatively by the Alexander historians; what is your assessment of her character, and how does it inform the way you look at her in Dancing with the Lion?
I stand with Beth’s picture: her reputation got a hatchet-job. This doesn’t mean she was nice, but she absolutely must be viewed in the full context of a polygamous court, her obvious intelligence, her Epirote ancestry, and the need simply to survive. This is why I use Myrtalē instead of Olympias, to detach her from all that baggage, much as I use Alexandros to detach him from “Alexander the Great” baggage.

Misogyny is THICK in a lot of Alexander fiction, perhaps unconsciously imbibed from the primary sources. It’s not only in how Olympias is portrayed, but in how Alexander’s sisters are overlooked. In Dancing with the Lion, not only did I try to write a powerful Olympias, but his full-sister Kleopatra is a POV character and even has her own coming-of-age arc, especially in book 2, Rise. Thessalonikē and Audata also play roles. (There’s another female voice that will appear in Rise, but I can’t say who, or it’s a spoiler.)

One might argue that negatively portraying Olympias doesn’t equal misogyny, which is true. And yes, she committed a number of murders (although she got blamed for some I’m pretty sure she didn’t commit, too). Yet as Beth points out in her articles, she didn’t do anything her husband and son didn’t also do. The horror was that she was a woman doing it. Greek women were supposed to stay out of politics, but Epirote Olympias didn’t get that memo! While the Macedonian court doesn’t appear to have been as repressive as, say, Athens, it also wasn’t as open as Epiros. Arriving in Pella, the 14/15/16-year-old Olympias must have found it all very flat, very hot, and very hobbling, compared to what she was used to at home. I expect Eurydike, Philip’s mother, had experienced something similar, decades earlier, and she, too, was roasted in the ancient sources. These powerful, northern women were not understood.

We must also recall the Macedonian court was polygamous (that’s why I never use “queen” for any of Philip’s wives in the novels). If royal polygamy had predated Philip, he employed it with gusto, marrying 5 women in his first 5 years on the throne. Olympias was either number 4 or 5, so even if her birth made her royal, she came into a situation with 3-4 other wives already there, plus the queen mother likely still alive. Imagine that.

At a polygamous court, the most important male in a woman’s life isn’t her husband, but her son. The more (healthy) sons she can produce, the higher her status, although it seems birth status also played a role, especially if there’s more than one son. As mother to the only viable heir, Olympias eventually became chief wife, but that took time to establish. And her continued position hung on ALEXANDER’S status, and survival. That’s what motivated her.

I’ve tried to make that very clear in the book. I’ve also tried to make her as savvy and competent as I think she was. Ergo, she acts as chatelaine for the entire palace, and is also trained as a healer and midwife, which comes into play in the first novel. The tale of her poisoning of Arrhidaios via “pharmakos” (herbs) may conceal an historical ability with herbal remedies. The Greeks were highly suspicious of “what those healer women did” and midwives, while necessary, were also viewed with mistrust. In myth, witches like Circe employed a knowledge of pharmakos. So Olympias gets called a witch by the men in the novel (including Philip), and poor Alexander is constantly defending her. To them, midwife-herbalist-priestess-witch…it would have been a fuzzy distinction.

How did you approach writing people about whom we know very little (e.g. Alexander’s sister, Cleopatra) or nothing (e.g. Hephaestion’s father, Amyntor)? Did you have any models for them or did you give your imagination free reign?
Sometimes I do use real people as models; for instance, parts of Amyntor’s personality are based on my own father, but also on my mother. Yet no character is ever a complete match for a living person. They’re composites. I also use things like the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator to conceptualize them. So Alexander is an ENTP and Hephaistion an INTP. Amyntor is an ISFJ, and Philip an ENTJ. Thinking in these terms helps flesh them out, so that the details emerge organically from who they are. Fictional characters must be more consistent than real people, in part because they are fictional.

I’m not sure how well that answers your question, but it’s how I think about characterization generally. Ultimately, all these people are characters, even those about whom we may know more: Alexander, Philip, Ptolemy, Aristotle. There’s still a boatload we don’t know. So, for instance, Alexander’s favorite fruit was, supposedly, apples. But we don’t know what his favorite color was. His voice is described as deep and harsh, but we don’t know what hand he favored. I made him a lefty for the hell of it. My point is chiefly that, even for the better-known characters, I’m still filling in a lot of blanks.

Your scholarship no doubt helped you write Dancing with the Lion– do you think your novels will help you as a scholar, and if so, how?
Absolutely writing fiction makes me a better historian because it forces me to be more aware of the various levels of probability in the historical record. One has the factual (and even what’s “fact” can be disputed), then the probable, the possible, and finally, educated speculation. Pure fiction is the next step.

In addition, writing fiction can force the historian to think about old problems in new ways, ask questions we might not think to ask. So, for instance, the novelist wonders what happened in those first few minutes, and hours, after Philip’s murder. It must have been a madhouse in Aigai. Diodorus tells us nothing—yet it’s still important to consider. So that’s the sort of thing fiction can bring to light.

Mount Olympus

Was there anything in particular that you enjoyed about writing Becoming and Rise? A character, perhaps, or a scene?
Kleopatra and Hephaistion were my favorite characters to write.

Kleopatra, because she’s a “type” I favor in storytelling. If the Dionysos novel ever gets published, Ari(adne) there is similar. Both are the antithesis of the drama queen or “spunky heroine.” Kleopatra just quietly gets shit done without flailing, and unlike her brother, she isn’t given to romanticizing things. If/when I get back to the series, readers will see more of her.

I also really enjoyed writing Hephaistion because he’s that rare personality type who just doesn’t give two figs what most people think of him, with a few exceptions such as Alexander or his family. He’s therefore always authentically himself. That doesn’t mean he has no filter; he keeps his mouth shut a lot of the time, but when he does express an opinion, he says exactly what he thinks. He’s also a bit (maybe more than a bit) of a smart-ass, which in turn means he gets to star in some of the funnier moments in the novel. In several, he takes down Kassandros a peg, but my favorite with him is when he and Erigyios throw another student in a cold river, because the boy was being insufferable. Later, Alexander tells the boy, “Hephaistion doesn’t start things, he ends them,” which is a fair summary.

That said, my overall favorite scene, at least in Becoming, is “Drunk Aristotle.” I won’t say more or it’s too much of a spoiler. Just…drunk Aristotle and a tutorial. I’ll leave you with that.

Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to write their own work of (historical) fiction, especially if it’s about Alexander (and Hephaestion)?

First, practice the art of getting it right.

That means do your homework, and not all on the internet. Read books and articles, read more than one or two, and not just biographies on Alexander. It’s vitally important to understand Macedonia. Also, if writing about his conquest of Persia, then one MUST understand Persian culture and the court, as well as other Ancient Near Eastern cultures from Phoenicia and Egypt to Baktria and India. Plus knowing Greek culture would help, too. Ha. It’s not a small undertaking.

Make sure you understand the world you’re writing about, so the characters act and react in ways authentic to their era. Otherwise, it’s just a costume drama with modern characters in ancient dress. While yes, one can’t make them too alien, or modern readers won’t connect/care, ancient Greek attitudes can be surprising not just in predictable ways (misogyny, acceptance of slavery), but unexpected ones, at times.

Do look up details. Not long ago, I read an ATG novel that had the Persian female characters talking about limes (didn’t exist yet, just the citron) and referencing Zoroastrian religious beliefs that developed in the Sassanid era—hundreds of years later. One is bound to make a mistake or three; it’s almost inevitable. But a lot can be avoided by double- and triple-checking. Even a throw-away line can be wrong. In an earlier draft, I had Hephaistion tell Alexander to wash out his mouth with clove water. Whoops. Cloves weren’t known in Greece yet. Had to look up ancient Greek dental hygiene. 😊All for a single line.

Additionally, a mistake is different from making a choice about a controversial matter; so, for instance, I come down on the side that Argead Macedonia was not a constitutional monarchy. That means a potential author needs to realize there is a debate about whether ancient Macedonia was a constitutional monarchy. Back to doing one’s research.

The Macedonian sunburst

Second, have a story you want to tell.

I think the two biggest problems I’ve seen in novels about Alexander (or any historical figure) are those that do a half-assed research job because “it’s just fiction.” If you don’t want to do your homework, please, write something else where you can make it all up. But the other side of the coin is forgetting one is writing a story in the effort to make it accurate. That confuses historical fiction with creative non-fiction, which is a thing and has a place. But it’s not a novel.

What is the STORY you’re telling? It might be an adventure story (e.g., the point is action), or it might be a character story (e.g., the point is character development), but there needs to be some sort of story-arc. The plot/characters must go somewhere, be different at the end than at the beginning. When somebody asks me, “What’s your novel about?” I say, “It’s about Alexander becoming Alexander-the-Great,” or “It’s a coming-of-age story about a prince who doesn’t know if he’ll live to become king.” That’s a story-arc. Then you build on it.

If it’s a coming-of-age novel, who should be included? Parents, check; siblings, check; teacher, check; first love, check; even nemesis, check. Next, you can select what historical events allow you best to tell that story, which may mean tweaking some, eliminating others, or adding a few. But you don’t begin with events then try to construct a story around them, or it’ll be disjointed. So for instance, in Becoming, I don’t do a lot with the politics following the Third Sacred War and Philip’s Scythian/northern Thracian campaign because the story isn’t about Philip, it’s about Alexander, and he’s off at Mieza. If he would certainly have been aware of these things, it would have been peripheral. It’s only in Rise that I start to insert more about wider-world politics, because by then, it matters to his story.

An author has to keep her eyes on the ball, not go down random rabbit holes, no matter how interesting!

***

And on that note, I would like to thank Jeanne for her time. It has been a pleasure having her here. Go buy the book! And if you do, feel free to let me know what you think of it, either in the comments below or via e-mail – thesecondachilles @ gmail.com
MJM

all images used in this blog post belong to Jeanne Reames and are used with her permission

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32. The Battle of Issus

Crossing Asia Minor with Alexander

‘… about one hundred thousand [Persian soldiers] were killed (including more than ten thousand cavalry), such large numbers that Ptolemy the son of Lagus, who was with Alexander at the time, says that when the party in pursuit of Darius met a ravine in their path they could cross it over the bodies of the dead.’
(Arrian II.11.8)

Text used: Arrian ‘Alexander the Great‘ OUP 2013 (translated by Martin Hammond)

Following his victory at Issus, Alexander left Asia Minor once and for all and entered Phoenicia. I end my series of posts on Alexander in Asia Minor with an image of his route through the region, the famous Naples mosaic, a painting of Sisygambis’ equally famous mistake, and a bust of Ptolemy – one of Arrian’s main sources for his account of Alexander’s expedition. I hope you have enjoyed reading these posts!

Alexander’s Route Through Asia Minor
The famous Alexander Mosaic from Pompeii (now in Naples). In it, we see Darius fleeing, possibly at the Battle of Issus
Sisigambis pays homage to Alexander after mistaking Hephaestion for the king
Ptolemy I Soter

Credit Where It’s Due
Map of Alexander’s route through Asia Minor: University of N. Carolina
The Alexander Mosaic: Livius
Sisigambis mistakes Hephaestion for Alexander: Wikipedia
Ptolemy I Soter: New World Encyclopaedia

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‘Having settled the affairs of Egypt…

… Alexander went off to the Temple of Ammon, where he wished to consult the oracle of the god… At one point, when their road could not be traced because of the sand dunes, the guide pointed out to the king that crows cawing on their right were calling their attention to the route which led to the temple. Alexander took this for an omen, and thinking that the god was pleased by his visit pushed on with speed.’
(Diodorus XVII.49)

I found this image on Pinterest this week and it immediately reminded me of the above passage from Diodorus. I initially thought the passage came from Arrian but he refers to Alexander being led by snakes (III.3.5).

Arrian specifically identifies Ptolemy as his source for this. If any animals ‘helped’ Alexander to find Siwah, it would be easy to understand why Ptolemy made them snakes. Creatures of evil in the Judeao-Christian tradition, they were symbols of royal authority in pharaonic Egypt.

Looking at the picture, I’m not at all sure that the photographer isn’t looking at a snowy landscape but if so, the snow is so smooth as to look – with a little imagination – like sand, especially with that yellow filter.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a credit for the photograph. It came, though, from a Tumblr blog called 7 Crows a Journey, which gives the source as a Tumblr blog called La Sombra.

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A Grave Matter

diary

As I write this post, we are just ninety minutes away from the start of the World Cup final. Sadly, football will not be coming home for England as the national team were knocked out on Wednesday by Croatia. It’s hard to be too upset by this as football hasn’t come home for an awfully long time.

On Twitter a few days ago, I considered (as one does) who else never went home. The best answer, of course, is Alexander. After leaving Macedon in 336 B.C. he never looked back. It looks like he didn’t even want to return home in death, either. Michael Wood states that Alexander wished ‘to be buried with his ‘father’ in Siwa’ (In the Footsteps of Alexander, p.217). Of course, his body never made it there; after hijacking the cortege, which under Perdiccas’ instructions was on its way to Macedon, Ptolemy took the coffin, first to Memphis and then to Alexandria a few years later, once the city had been built.

***

On the subject of coffins, there has been a great deal of interest in a large black coffin that has been discovered in Alexandria, Egypt. You can read about it here. The coffin dates to the Ptolemaic period so naturally there has been speculation that the body inside is Alexander’s.

Well, the size of the coffin certainly indicates that it belonged to someone of great wealth, and therefore importance, and it has been found in Alexandria – Alexander’s last known resting place – so… However, the Macedonian king was not the only important person to be buried there. Maybe the coffin belongs to one of the Ptolemys. I would be very happy for it to be Ptolemy I’s. We just don’t know who was laid to rest inside it and will have to be patient and wait for the Egyptian archaeologists to open it. Let’s hope they find enough evidence inside to solve the mystery.

***

A link to Alexander: Gay or Straight? appeared on my Twitter timeline earlier today. It is a 2011 blog post on the Forbes website. The post is quite short but still worth your time as it features Paul Cartledge and James Romm – two classicists who know all about Alexander. James Romm is particularly worth paying attention to as he co-edited the lovely Landmark Arrian book. On a personal note, I like Paul Cartledge, too, as he signed a book for me after a talk once and was very friendly.

Anyway, back to Alexander: the title of the blog post is, of course, unhelpful as it imposes a modern understanding of sexuality on someone who lived in the fourth century B.C. The highlight of the post for me was learning that some scholars doubted the existence of Alexander’s eunuch, Bagoas.

***

I have finally started reading Mary Renault’s The Nature of Alexander. I’m commenting on it as I read over at the Facebook Alexander the Great Reading Group. I may post them on this blog after I have finished the book but for now, you can read them, here.

***

One last point – I first found out about the Alexander: Gay or Straight blog post when someone I follow retweeted the original post containing the link. The retweeter was none other than @Olympias_Epirus. Alexander was very fortunate to live in an age where he never had to come out as gay, straight, bisexual, etc. Instead, however, Olympias or Philip II worried about their son’s apparent lack of interest in sex. Athenaeus (Deipnosophistae X.435) states that Olympias hired a courtesan to sleep with him; ‘they feared he might prove to be a womanish man’, which perhaps means a eunuch? Unfortunately for Olympias it would be a little longer before Alexander set her mind at rest.

***

It is now 3:37pm. Kick-off is in 23 minutes. Time to get ready for the game!

Categories: Alexander Scholars, Books, Historians of Alexander, Of The Moment | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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 Opportunists

After Alexander died, his generals met to discuss the succession.
 
(all references from Curtius)
 
Perdiccas suggested that they wait to see if Roxane gave birth to a son (X.6.9), while Nearchus said that Heracles, Alexander’s son by Barsine, should be made king (X.6.11). Ptolemy, however, dismissed both ideas. He said that the generals should rule together with decisions taken by majority vote (X.6.15). Aristonus spoke next – Alexander had given Perdiccas his ring so it is Perdiccas who should lead them (X.6.17).
 
The Assembly agreed with Aristonus but before the meeting could be concluded, Meleager spoke up. Perdiccas should not be allowed to rule them as he will seize power! he said, No, authority should be given to the people – i.e. the infantry (X.6.23). 
After this interjection, Meleager stormed off – to start looting the royal palace with his supporters. He had not got far, however, when an unnamed member of the rank and file changed history by suggesting that Arrhidaeos, Alexander’s brother, should be made king. The Assembly approved this idea and the order to bring Arrhidaeos was given (X.6.24; 7.1.-6).
 
Foiled in his plan, Meleager acted quickly to do the next best thing – to spite Perdiccas – and brought Arrhidaeos to the Assembly (X.7.7).
 
Opportunists all… almost
  • Perdiccas voted for Roxane because as the most senior officer in the army he had control of her.
  • Nearchus voted for Heracles because he had married Barsine’s daughter, and so was Heracles’ brother-in-law.
  • Ptolemy wanted the generals to rule because he knew no one man could rule the empire and because he himself was very popular with the men – very useful if the generals could not reach a consensus and needed a ‘nudge’ in the right direction.
  • I don’t know enough about Aristonus to know why he chose to support Perdiccas. It may be that he genuinely thought that Perdiccas should be their leader on account of Alexander giving him his ring or maybe Perdiccas had promised him a reward for his loyalty. In 321/0, Aristonus was given command of a mission to defeat the kings of Cyprus who had allied themselves with Ptolemy.
  • Meleager’s suggestion that the phalanx was Alexander’s successor was an irresponsible and ridiculous one; it was surely no more than a brazen attempt to grab power by Meleager himself. If this is correct, it is ironic that his plan was undone by a member of the infantry. But if we can fault Meleager for his lack of subtlety, we can’t fault his persistence. Though if he really turned to Arrhidaeos just to spite Perdiccas, he was a shallow and mean minded man.
Categories: Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Ptolemy I: Some General Observations

In this post I continue my look at Ptolemy I King and Pharaoh of Egypt by Ian Worthington. For an explanation of this series, visit the first post here.

Two

Ptolemy was not in [Parmenion’s or Antipater’s] league, and even under Alexander was never a general, but it is possible that because of his relationship with Alexander, Philip had him on the Macedonian left wing with the young heir.

Even under Alexander, [Ptolemy] was never a general…

In yesterday’s post, I said that I disagreed with this idea. How can I say that, though, when – as I must admit – I don’t know how a man became a general in Philip’s or Alexander’s army.

But, does anyone?

Ian Worthington is quite sure that Ptolemy was not a general. Frank L. Holt, in Into the Land of Bones, is of a different opinion. Here are some quotes from his book,

Out of the one shaft flowed a fatty substance so strange that the Macedonian general Ptolemy summoned his king and the royal soothsayers.
(p.68)

… the work progressed under the supervision of three Macedonian generals: Ptolemy, Perdiccas, and Leonnatus.
(p.83)

Subsequently, a few of Alexander’s surviving generals felt free to proclaim themselves kings… Ptolemy in Egypt…
(p.119)

So, who’s right? I suspect both and neither. We don’t know; we just don’t know for there is no text that tells us how it happened. This leaves historians free to make up their own minds.

In respect of Ptolemy, Holt says yea, while Worthington says nay. And me? Well, after joining the Royal Bodyguards (Arrian III.27) Ptolemy certainly joined the upper ranks of the Macedonian army. Not long later, he was granted his first independent command (Arr. III.30). In India, he was put in charge of special missions by Alexander (Arr. IV.29) and led a division of the army during the march home (Diodorus XVII.104). These are all the kinds of jobs that I would expect a general to undertake; therefore, while I admit the fragility of my position, I believe whole heartedly that Ptolemy was a general.

Categories: Historians of Alexander | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Hair Today, Legendary Tomorrow

Just over a year ago, I wrote this post in which I disparaged the idea that Ptolemy I Soter could be responsible for the claim that Alexander forced his men to shave after almost losing an unnamed battle (but perhaps that of Issus) when a Persian soldier realised he could kill Macedonian soldiers more easily by grabbing hold of their beards and throwing them to the ground first.

I happened to return to the issue in April this year, here. A few months on, I still maintain that the idea of Alexander almost losing a battle because of his men’s beards is nonsense.

However, I have come across evidence to suggest that there really was a tradition that Alexander made his men shave in case their beards were used against them by their enemies.

I haven’t made an exciting new discovery. If you know your Plutarch, you will know which text I am about to quote. It comes from his Life of Theseus. In Chapter 5, Plutarch tells us about a tribe called the Abantes who were experts at close-order combat. He writes,

… in order to deny their enemies a hand-hold on their hair, they cut it off. No doubt Alexander of Macedon understood this, too, when he gave orders to his generals, so we are told, to have the beards of their Macedonians shaved, because these offered the easiest hold in battle.

I wonder: Plutarch’s assertion seems a very reasonable one. Could he be representing a true tradition and St Synesius, not so much a fake one, but a tradition that saw the original information – perhaps Ptolemy’s – embellished to the point where fiction overtook reality?

***

I was never fond of the Macedonians long hair in Oliver Stone’s Alexander film. As far as I was concerned, only barbarians had such flowing locks; depicting the Macedonians with them was just another absurdity in a film that already had several.

However, He Has A Wife You Know may just have put me right. In this post, the author focuses mainly on beards, but links both them and long hair when he writes,

For the Greeks facial hair, and in particular beards, denoted masculinity. Find any Greek vase depicting Greek men and you’ll witness this simple rule, beardless males are youths, those with beards are men. For a society that prized masculinity as highly as it did the very symbol of that was something quite sacred, beards weren’t to be messed with.

I have to be a bit careful here as I really don’t know much about Macedonian social customs. For all I know, the Macedonians liked having long hair and beards but did not attach the same significance to them as Greeks did.

However, while they formed a distinct society to the men down south, the two did share some important customs (e.g. religion) so it is not beyond the realms of possibility – perhaps we may say it is very likely – that they both looked at long hair and beards in the same way, too, as masculinity was definitely very important to both. If so, I owe Oliver Stone an apology.

And that is the beauty of the internet. It helps you to learn, to write, to discover, to correct, and ultimately, to improve.

Categories: By the Bye | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Alexander the Great Sharer

The Canadian edition of The Huffington Post has published an article on the value and possibilities offered by sharing. It begins badly, improves a little before descending back into error.

The headline claims that “Alexander the Great Would Probably Have Used Uber”. He would have done no such thing. Alexander was not interested in sharing. He declined to share power with Darius III (e.g. Diodorus XVII.39, Justin XI.12) and got angry when Hermolaus stole the chance of glory from him during a hunt (Arrian IV.13, Curtius VIII.6.7). Alexander could be a very generous man but he was the king and acted like it.

The second paragraph reads,

Enter the Library of Alexandria. As Alexander the Great consolidated his control of the ancient world, he tasked Ptolemny Lagides (one of his leading generals) with “collecting all the worlds’ knowledge” and then sharing it with scholars, royalty, and wealthy bibliophiles throughout the world. At its peak, the library of Alexandria contained over 400,000 manuscripts.

“Enter the Library of Alexandria”. As the first paragraph begins ‘In the third century BC…’ we are now under the impression that this is when Alexander lived and the Library was formed. In fact, both were products of the fourth century B.C.

I don’t know if Alexander himself ordered the Library to be built or if it was Ptolemy I’s (not Ptolemny) idea, but I do know that Alexander did not order (‘tasked’ in the ugly modern parlance) the son of Lagus to build up the Library’s collection of books and share it with others.

During his stay in Egypt, Alexander ‘designed the general layout of the new town’ (Arrian III.2) but there is no record of him assigning posts for particular institutions.

Having said that, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence so he may well have said to Ptolemy ‘When we return, you will be in charge of the Library…’ but I think this possibility can be rejected because in 331, when Alexandria was founded, Ptolemy was still a junior officer. It would be nearly two years (late 330 B.C.) before he would become one of Alexander’s ‘leading generals’, after replacing a soldier named Demetrius in the Royal Bodyguard. Before then, his greatest claim to fame was the fact that it was his lover, Thaïs, who incited Alexander to burn down the Royal Palace in Persepolis. This happened in early 330.

By-the-bye, I don’t think that the librarianship would have gone to a soldier, anyway. As the library was part of a greater institution which included a temple, I believe a priest was its ultimate head – I am open to being corrected on this, though.

***

So much for Alexander ordering Ptolemy to build the library and share its knowledge. But could the latter have decided to share its books ‘with scholars, royalty, and wealthy bibliophiles throughout the world’ anyway?

No.

Once the Library became operational*, Ptolemy’s policy was either to buy books or seize those on ships arriving in Alexandria. They would then be copied, and it would be the copy that was given back to the owner. If scholars wanted to study the originals, they had to come to Alexandria. To the best of my knowledge, the books never travelled abroad.

Why did Ptolemy pursue this policy? In Dividing the Spoils Robin Waterfield says,

Ptolemy’s intention fell little short of an attempt to monopolize Greek literary and scientific culture.
(p.138)

This isn’t a surprise. Knowledge, as they say, is power, and Alexander’s successors were all about amassing as much power as they could and holding onto it with extreme tenacity. They were selfish, yes, but the years following Alexander’s death were also a fight for survival. Kill or be killed. And perhaps, just perhaps, Ptolemy genuinely believed that Alexandria was the best place for these books to be. Given how unstable Greece and the Near East was, but how little Egypt suffered in the Wars of the Successors, he was probably right.

***

Finally, the article claims that the at its peak the Library held ‘over 400,000 manuscripts.’. We don’t know how many books were kept there but it is possible that the Huffington Post writer has short-changed the Library slightly. In Dividing the Spoils, Robin Waterfield states that it ‘is possible that [the Library] came to hold well over half a million rolls’ (this doesn’t mean it had 500,000+ individual books in its possession. Waterfield notes that one book could take up multiple rolls).

***

It seems to me that the writer of The Huffington Post article has fictionalised Alexander for the purpose of his article. His by-line invites readers to ‘become a fan’. I am sure he is second to none when writing about his specialist subject of technology, but my support for him would be stronger if he leaves classical history alone until he has done more revision. His profession demands much more than he has given his readers.

* Presumably no later than 313 B.C. when ‘Alexandria became Ptolemy’s administrative capital… [on] the tenth anniversary of his regime’ (Ibid p.136)

Categories: Of The Moment | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

The Road to Marakanda – Spring 328 B.C.

In the Spring of 328 B.C., the Macedonian army campaigned in Bactria and Sogdia. The native people had closed the gates of their forts to Alexander and needed to be reminded who was in charge.

I say ‘the Macedonian army’ quite deliberately for it does not appear as if Alexander himself took part in the operation.

At least, not according to Arrian. He recounts how, after leaving Zariaspa, the Macedonian king put Attalus, Gorgias, Polyperchon and Meleager in charge of subduing Bactria, and Coenus and Artabazus (together), Hephaestion, Perdiccas and Ptolemy in charge of subduing Sogdia.

As for Alexander himself, he

… proceeded with [the rest of the army] in the direction of Marakanda, while the the other four commanders carried out offensive operations.

It is possible that he attacked Sogdian settlements along the way, but the fact that Arrian distinguishes between Alexander’s actions and those of his four commanders suggests to me that Arrian didn’t think so.

This passage has been on my mind for a while for it seems quite strange that Alexander would choose to miss an opportunity to win take part in a military operation.

Did he see the ‘offensive operations’ as no more than a bit of mopping up, and so unworthy of his attention?

The fact that Alexander had to split his army into as many as nine divisions, excluding his own, would suggest that the threat posed by the Bactrians and Sogdians was no small matter, if anything, the reverse.

Perhaps he had business to take care of in Marakanda? Arrian doesn’t mention any. However, the city had been put under siege twice by Spitamenes the previous year (Arrian IV.5,7). I am guessing, therefore, that Alexander wanted to assign new men to the garrison (Curtius VII.10.11*) that had held it over the winter. This, of course, is a job that could have been done by one of the king’s generals – Hephaestion, for example, whom some scholars tell us was not a particularly good soldier.

At first sight, the other sources are not helpful in working out what Alexander was up to in the Spring of 328 B.C. Plutarch covers the period of the Bactria-Sogdia campaign in Chapters 50-58 of his Life but says nothing about the army’s military operations. The same is the case with Justin (who covers the same period in XII.7 of his epitome). Diodorus might have done but unfortunately, the relevant section of his account has been lost.

That leaves us with Curtius. After bringing Alexander out of his winter quarters at Zariaspa (VII.10.13-16), Curtius appears to confuse the early 328 campaign with another set of events** before having Alexander build some cities and move on to the Sogdian Rock.

This most famous siege took place in 327 B.C. It appears, therefore, that Curtius has misdated it. Thus, at the start of Book Eight, he follows in Arrian’s footsteps by describing how Alexander divided his army into three (between himself, Hephaestion and Coenus***) and with his men ‘once more subdued the Sogdians and returned to Maracanda’ (VIII.1.7) (my emphasis]).

So, if Curtius is to be believed, Alexander did take part in the campaign before reaching Marakanda. And, I have to admit, that seems the more believable version of events.

However, if asked to chose who I believe – him or Arrian – I’m not sure that I wouldn’t stick with Arrian. Curtius can be such an unreliable historian.

As already mentioned, he gets the date of the Siege of the Sogdian Rock wrong. After bringing Alexander to Marakanda, Curtius has him speak to Derdas, whom he sent into the territory of the Scythians over the Tanais River the previous year (VII.6.12) as well as ‘a deputation of that people’ (VIII.1.7) who offered him their allegiance and the hand of the king’s daughter. Arrian, by contrast, places these events in Spring, while Alexander was still in Zariaspa (A IV.15).

As can be seen, Curtius appears to have a particular problem with accurate dating. In this light, I wonder if his account of Alexander’s actions in Sogdia at VIII.7 could be a reference to Alexander’s Autumn 329 campaign against the Sogdians, subsequent arrival in Zariaspa and meeting with the Scythians per Arrian.

And yet… and yet… As you can see, I am Hamlet-like in my indecision! The reason for this is that I just can’t think of a convincing reason why Alexander would not have joined the campaign while he was on his way to Marakanda.

Actually, there is one possible reason – injury and/or ill health. The previous year, Alexander’s leg was broken by an arrow (A III.30); he also suffered a slingshot blow to the head and neck (A IV.3) and a severe bout of dysentery but surely he would have recovered from the worst effect of these by Spring 328?

* Curtius says that Alexander left a 3,000 strong garrison in Sogdia. I take it that some even if not all of them stayed in Marakanda
** The Notes in my edition of Curtius say he could be thinking of the rebellion of Arsaces in Aria and Barzanes in Parthia and their capture by Stasanor
*** I don’t count this as an error on Curtius’ part – it could be him ‘telescoping’ the story in order to focus on the principle player(s) in it

Categories: Arrian, Finding Alexander, On Alexander, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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