Chapter Twelve can be broken down into three parts:
Alexander at Troy
Arrian’s Second Preface
Alexander on the March
Alexander at Troy While at Troy, Alexander was ‘crowned with a golden crown’ by Menoetius, the helmsman of his ship; a man named Chares from Athens and a number of other people followed suit.
Arrian reports that ‘[s]ome say… Alexander placed a wreath on the tomb of Achilles, while Hephaestion, it is said, did likewise at the tomb of Patroclus’.
The italics above are mine, to emphasise the fact that for the second chapter in succession we appear to have Arrian using a source or sources who were not Ptolemy and Aristobulos.
Arrian continues in this manner. He says that ‘[t]he story goes that Alexander called Achilles fortunate to have Homer as the herald of his lasting fame’. (my italics again). This much is true; Alexander was not well served either by historians or poets.
Arrian’s Second Preface Arrian shows this by outlining how other, much less deserving, men have been more celebrated than Alexander. The situation is so bad that Arrian is able to say that ‘Alexander’s achievements are far less well known than even the most trivial of other deeds in the past’.
To demonstrate this, Arrian compares the famous march of the 10,000 to Alexander’s expedition, and shows how the latter is the superior of the two.
… Alexander did not campaign in another man’s army, he did not retreat from the Great King, his victories were not confined to the defeat of those opposing a march back to the sea.
But rather, Arrian tells us, Alexander achieved the most of any Greek or barbarian – and this is why he decided to write his history. With unashamed self-confidence, he adds that ‘I did not think myself unsuited for the task of making Alexander’s achievements clear to the world’. Arrian’s writings define him; he describes them as ‘my country, my family, my public office’.
Alexander on the March From Troy, Alexander marched north to Arisbe, where he met Parmenion and the rest of the army. From there, he continued along the north-western corner of Asia Minor until he reached Lampsacus when he headed south again though only as far as the Prosactius river. From there, he marched north once more, passing Colonae on his way to Priapus on the north-western coast. This would be his last stop (or, at least, the last to be mentioned by Arrian) before coming to the Granicus river.
While Alexander was marching through north-western Asia Minor, the Persian satraps and commanders were meeting in Zeleia, (twentyish miles) east of the Granicus. When word came of Alexander’s arrival in the province, they discussed what to do. Memnon of Rhodes advocated a scorched earth policy to starve the Macedonians into retreat but was overruled by the Persians. One satrap, Arsites, refused to countenance any damage being done to the property of ‘the people under his charge’. The others suspected that Memnon wanted to avoid a conflict so as to keep his rank in the Great King’s court.
Thoughts Arrian doesn’t mention the story that, before jumping off his ship, Alexander flung his spear onto the shore to claim Asia (Minor) as his spear won territory (Diodorus XVII.17; Justin 11.5.10). Could it be that by focusing on the crowning of Alexander, he is demonstrating that he is not so much interested in Alexander the warrior as he is in Alexander the king?
What would this mean in practice? As the thought has only just occurred to me, I need to think about that before I can answer it. If it is true, though, I would expect Arrian’s Alexander to show whatever virtues the ancient Romans/Greeks thought a good ruler should have.
It is certainly one of the ironies of history that Alexander should, at any time, have been less well known than other men. Today, of course, he is very well known. For what he achieved he deserves to be the most well known of all the ancients but definitely lags behind the three most famous Romans – Julius Caesar, Augustus and Mark Antony. I would hazard to say that he isn’t even the most famous Greek: that honour probably belongs to Cleopatra VII.
In this post I spoke about Alexander’s impressive intelligence operation. We now get to see why it was so good. Arrian says that Alexander ‘always had scouts sent ahead of the main army’. We find out who Alexander’s ‘M’ was.: Amyntas son of Arrhabeaus. And his secret agents were ‘the squadron of Companions from Apollonia’ as well as ‘four squadrons of the so-called ‘advance guards”.
Okay, Amyntas was not quite M and the Apollonians not quite secret agents but of course they did have a licence to kill!
Finally, when I read this chapter, I was touched that Arsites seemed to be sticking up for his people. Well, maybe he was, but I’m sure the knowledge that no crops meant no taxes would have been in his mind as well.
In This Chapter Return to Macedon and Departure for Asia Minor
Alexander conquered Thebes in the autumn of 335 BC. After settling matters with Athens, he returned to Macedon where he made sacrifice to Olympian Zeus in a ceremony (?) first established by his predecessor, Archelaus (who reigned from c.413-399). Later, he celebrated Olympic Games – not the famous one – at Dion (Arrian incorrectly says it was held at Aegae). Arrian notes that according to some sources, Alexander also celebrated ‘games in honour of the Muses’.
Around the time that Alexander was holding these celebrations, he received word that a statue of Orpheus in Pieria had started to sweat continuously. A number of seers made prophecies based on this occurrence but Arrian records only one. According to a seer named Aristander, who had served under Philip and would do so under Alexander to at least Bactria-Sogdia, the sweating meant that ‘all the composers of epic and lyric and choral odes’ would have much work to do in ‘celebrating Alexander and his achievements’.
Arrian now fast forwards to Spring 334 BC.
In late April or early May, Alexander lead his army to the Hellespont. Twenty days after leaving home, he arrived at Elaeus on the south-eastern tip of Thrace.
As you can see from the map, he chose the shortest sea crossing possible to Asia Minor Alexander never shied away from danger and indeed could sometimes be reckless in the face of it but he clearly knew there was a time and a place for everything. And the crossing to Asia Minor was not it.
At Elaeus, Alexander sacrificed to Protesilaus who was shot dead straight after setting foot on Asian soil following the crossing from Greece at the start of the Trojan war. Alexander wanted his expedition to go better.
Not all of the army went to Elaeus with him. Most of it had stayed with Parmenion a few miles up the road at Sestos. Alexander’s most senior general now oversaw its passage in one hundred and sixty triremes and an unspecified number of freighters to Abydos.
Alexander, meanwhile, sailed for Troy. While at sea – halfway between Thrace and Asia Minor – he sacrificed a bull and poured a libation into the sea. Once he reached Asia Minor, Alexander leapt off his ship – in full armour, no less.
Having already erected an altar at Elaeus, Alexander now had another built at his ships’ landing site. It was dedicated to Zeus ‘the protector of Landings’, Athena and Herakles. Leaving the shore, he marched to Troy, or the run down tourist trap that now claimed to be the same, where he sacrificed to ‘Trojan Athena’. He left his panoply there and took in its place weaponry that dated back to the Trojan War. At the end of his visit, he also sacrificed to Priam so as to ‘avert his anger at the race of Neoptolemus’ from which Alexander was descended (on his mother’s side).
Thoughts This chapter forms a bridge between the Greek Campaigns and Campaign in Asia Minor. It is dominated by religion. Alexander changed as a person during the thirteen years of his kingship but some things remained constant – his belief in and loyalty to the Olympian gods. The various sacrifices that we see being carried out here are mirrored by those that he conducted during his last illness in June 323 BC.
On a few occasions in this chapter, Arrian distances himself a little from his sources: ‘The prevailing consensus is…’, ‘They also say…’, ‘The prevalent account…’. I take this wording to mean that the relevant information does not come from Ptolemy or Aristobulos?
The above three quotations all relate to Alexander’s crossing of the Hellespont and visit to Troy. Why might Ptolemy and Aristobulos not been interested in recording it (and Arrian vice versa)? We don’t know. Perhaps it never happened – the whole Alexander-Achilles thing is a later invention. Perhaps it did happen but still not with the significance that was later attached to it so Ptolemy and Aristobulos only mentioned it in passing. As for Arrian, perhaps he knew his readers would like the story.
Background to the Series In early 2017, I finished a series of blog posts based on Arrian’s Anabasis. I was happy for I had now written a blog-series based on all the major historians of the great king.
I closed my laptop and asked myself: What next? What must I do to take my love of Alexander to the next level?
Unfortunately, I never resolved that question. Actually, it would more accurate to say that I knew the answer but was not able to see it through. I would have loved to study Alexander more formally and blog about that but the course of my life did not allow it.
As a result, and for over two years, The Second Achilles drifted. I’m afraid to say, so did my reading and study of Alexander. To my chagrin, I became on my Twitter page someone who talked about Alexander using the knowledge he had built up about Alexander in the past rather than one who was using the knowledge he was learning in the present. I did not like that at all. Eventually, the rot set in on my creative Alexander Twitter page as well. To date, it has not recovered, and I don’t know if it will. It was a sad situation to be in – my love for Alexander and his life and times was undiminished but I was simply not doing anything about it. Ideas came, but unfortunately, left just as quickly.
A few weeks ago, another idea came, and this one appears to have stuck: It occurred to me that Arrian – in a manner of speaking – had got me into this rut, let’s see if he can get me out of it. I haven’t read him the whole way through in a long time, let’s do so chapter-by-chapter and see where it takes me.
I am delighted and not a little relieved that three weeks after beginning the series, I have now reached the end of Stage One. Alexander has concluded his Greek campaigns and is now ready to sail across the Hellespont to start to go to war against the Persian Empire.
When I wrote the first post, I didn’t know how I would – or even if I would – divide the series up. I am happy to do so according to Alexander’s various campaigns, though; given his story, it makes a lot of sense. Looking ahead, I think I will continue along the same lines (with the possible exception of his City Sweep: Babylon-Susa-Persepolis).
Arrian I.1-10 Some Thoughts
Arrian presents a very positive image of Alexander as a general. He does this by foregrounding Alexander’s positive qualities (see here) and by suppressing the negative ones (see the comparison between Arrian’s and Diodorus’ Alexander here). He has no time to waste on any ‘other’ type of Alexander; for example, Alexander the youth, or king, or even person: His narrative is wholly geared towards the military leader.
If you would like to know about Alexander the youth or person, you’ll need to read Plutarch’s Life of Alexander; Alexander the king, of course, can still be found in Arrian, but he exists slightly off-centre as the book’s focus is elsewhere.
Arrian’s Alexander is based on the Alexander of his two major sources: Ptolemy and Aristobulos. Having said that, given how focused Arrian is on the military aspects of Alexander’s kingship, and how Ptolemy is supposed to be his source for the same* perhaps we are really reading Ptolemy’s Alexander. I would like to think that actually, we aren’t, that while the Alexander we see in these pages is based on Ptolemy’s version of his king it is substantially Arrian’s. Where Ptolemy’s Alexander ends and Arrian’s begins, though, is a good question.
In the past, I have criticised Curtius’ history of Alexander for being sensationalist, as if written like a modern day tabloid. If that is the case, I think now that Arrian’s Alexander is akin to a Hollywood interpretation of him: Alexander gets into scrapes (e.g. at Mt Haemus and outside Pellium) but just like James Bond or Jason Bourne always manages to extract himself – and with no little panache for the sake of the audience. I have to admit, I have never thought of Arrian like this before; he makes such a thing of how much better he is than other historians that he comes across as rather stuffy and self-important historian rather than a populariser of the man he is writing about.
I said that Arrian suppresses Alexander’s negative qualities. This isn’t completely true. While it is true that he tries to gloss over the Macedonian king’s role in the destruction of Thebes, wait until he delivers his judgement over the destruction of Xerxes’ palace at Persepolis. There, Arrian says it was wrong – no ifs, not buts, just wrong. He is on Alexander’s side, but is not besotted with him.
* I presume on the basis that Ptolemy fought alongside Alexander in the army and became a senior general by the time of Alexander’s death whereas Aristobulos, although he fought, was principally an engineer
‘… Alexander did not attack the city’ (Arr. I.7.11)
Perdiccas, however, had other ideas. Without seeking or waiting for permission from the king, he began an assault of the outer palisade.
At first, all went well. Perdiccas was able to break through the palisade and make a charge towards the Theban soldiers behind it. He was helped in this by Amyntas son of Andromenes who brought the men under his command into the fray.
Arrian doesn’t tell us when Alexander saw what was going on but when he did see the assault, he brought the rest of the army forward to prevent Perdiccas and Amyntas being cut off from the Macedonian forces.
Alexander ordered his archers and Agrianian soldiers through the first palisade. As this was happening, Perdiccas was doing his best to break through the inner palisade. This is where things started to go wrong for him, though, and in a serious way, for he was wounded and his injury was so bad, he ‘fell on the spot’. Fortunately, his men were able to drag him away to safety.
Perdiccas’ men seem to have been pushed back from the inner palisade because the fighting continued in the space between the outer and inner palisades, next to a temple dedicated to Heracles. At first, the Macedonian forces were able to push the Theban soldiers back to where the temple stood. But there, perhaps inspired by their devotion to the greatest of all warriors, the Thebans rallied. Now, it was the Macedonians who were being forced back.
Alexander watched as his men retreated. He didn’t panic, though, but instead took the time to observe the condition of the Thebans and he noticed that they were not in any order: easy pickings, therefore, for his phalanx.
Alexander ordered the phalanx forward. They advanced, as Arrian says, ‘in full battle-order’, and pushed the Thebans past the inner palisade and into the city. Alexander’s calmness had turned a potential defeat into a rout.
It got better. The Thebans were so desperate to escape the advancing phalanx that the city gates could not be closed in time to stop a Macedonian invasion.
The Macedonian troops now split up. Some went to break the siege of the Cadmea. Once that was done the reunited forces entered the lower city via the Ampheum (a shrine in the centre of the city). Others entered Thebes by climbing over the city walls (which were now in Macedonian hands) and made their way to the market place.
Theban soldiers put up a brave defence at the Ampheum but were fatally undermined by their own cavalry which decided to flee from the city. A general slaughter of the defenders now followed.
Who was responsible for the slaughter – not just of Theban soldiers, but women and children as well? Arrian names the allied soldiers – ‘Phoecians, Plataeans, and other Boeotians’. They even killed Thebans in their homes and, most heinously, ‘suppliants at the altars’.
Thoughts At the start of this chapter, Arrian makes a point of telling us that his source for Perdiccas’ unauthorised attack on the outer palisade is Ptolemy. As the Notes say, ‘Ptolemy had good reason to take a hostile line on Perdiccas, after the latter’s bid, albeit unsuccessful, to wrest control of Egypt from him in 321/0’. This would seem to indicate that Ptolemy wrote his history during the early years of the Wars of the Successors, because why bother after Perdiccas had died? Of course, he could have remained bitter about what Perdiccas had tried to do or just triumphalist.
Another question that occurs to me is why Arrian mentions his source for this piece of information in the first place. I suspect he knew that what he was reading was unlikely to be true either in whole or in part: Perdiccas was too professional a soldier to do anything so rash and, as the reader would probably think the same, mentioned his source as a way of saying ‘If you have an argument, take it up with him’.
Arrian’s Alexander at Thebes is of a man who is patient and calm. It is quite a contrast to Diodorus’ Alexander who is wholly the opposite. We can add these virtues to the list that we created at the end of the Thracian campaign here. Of course, we need to remember that Arrian’s Alexander is informed by Ptolemy, Aristobulos and others who were favourable towards him. Is this the real Alexander? My answer is yes, though only in part.
I am also interested by the fact that Alexander brought his army forward to help Perdiccas and Amyntas. What was his motivation? Was it a policy of no one gets left behind? Or simply concern that defeat for Perdiccas and Amyntas would look bad for him? Probably a mixture, but I would lean towards the former as being the most important since throughout his career Alexander lived and suffered by his men; even later on when he grew more distant from them, he still shared their pains and sufferings on the march – see particularly the Gedrosian desert crossing.
One last thing – and related to what I said above – it is notable that Arrian names and shames Alexander’s allies for the slaughter of the Thebans. I wonder if the influence of Ptolemy can be seen here as well. Having bad mouthed (or penned) Perdiccas, he put the blame on the allies for the unnecessary bloodshed in order to protect his ‘virtuous’ Alexander.
In This Chapter Arrian informs the reader that his history is based (principally) on the works of Ptolemy and Aristobulos. He explains that the reason he has chosen them is that (a) they are more reliable than anyone else because they rode with Alexander (b) Ptolemy is particularly reliable as he was a king and therefore ‘honour-bound to avoid untruth’, and (c) Neither Ptolemy or Aristobulos had any reason to lie since when they wrote their works, Alexander was dead.
Thoughts The Notes to my copy of Arrian (OUP 2013) say that the reason Arrian thought Ptolemy was ‘honour-bound’ not to lie is because he, Arrian, subscribed to the idea of noblesse oblige. That may be so, and maybe Arrian was also flattering Hadrian here, but I will never read the opening to the Anabasis without wondering whether he really believed it and, to be honest, how could he? How could anyone ever have such a high opinion of another man? If I could go back in time and persuade Arrian to remove any line from his final draft, it would be this one.
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.
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.
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
‘… 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)
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 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.
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 (DeipnosophistaeX.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!
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.