Posts Tagged With: Telesippa

Eurylochus <3 Telesippa – Plutarch Life of Alexander 41

Stories of war and derring-do are what first attracted me to Alexander the Great, but there is so much more to him than that. He was loved, and loved in return. This applies not only him, but his men, too. In this series, I shall take a creative look where love struck amongst the Macedonians. 

Storge……………….. Philia……………….. Eros……………….. Agape

In the summer of 324 B.C., Alexander called an assembly of his men to inform them that he was discharging those of their number who were ‘unfit through age or disablement for further service’*.

The assembly took place in the Babylonian city of Opis and as you may know, it lead to the second revolt of the Macedonian army against its king.

The first had taken place on the Hyphasis River two years earlier when the army, exhausted by eight years of warfare, had refused to march any further. Now, the men believed that the veterans were being sent home, not for the reasons that Alexander gave, but because he no longer valued their service to him. Hecklers berated the king as he spoke and the mutiny began.

A three day stand-off between the two sides ensued. Eventually, however, they were reconciled. Alexander still got his way though and ten thousand men were chosen to return to Macedon**.


Before leaving, the ten thousand lined up to receive their outstanding wages and ‘a gratuity of one talent’ each***.

Bearing in mind Alexander had already paid the entire army’s debts in Susa† this money represented pure profit for the veterans. Their mood, therefore, was good. There was lots of laughing and bold talk about what the men would do in their retirement. Drinking, hunting and sex were all high on the agenda.

One man, however, remained quiet. And as he drew nearer and nearer to the financial officer’s table, he grew correspondingly more anxious.

Eurylochus had good reason to be afraid for he was neither too old nor unfit for service. To join this queue he had claimed that his limp was the result of an arrow wound in India. In fact, he had invented it last night. The scar on his leg that ‘proved’ he had been shot had been there since childhood.

Was it Eurylochus’ trembling voice or shifty eyes that made the financial officer look at him a second time? Probably both. But he might have dismissed them as coming from the shaken nerves of a man who had seen too much fighting had he not, in those few seconds, recognised Eurylochus.

Where was it now? Oh yes, Susa… At that party after the king settled our debts… He had had no limp that night.

The officer called over the guards.

Arrest him. He is liar and a fraud. He is attempting to cheat the king out of his money.

Euylochus opened his mouth to protest. But he was an honest man, as well as a liar and a fraud, and could not bring himself to speak. Instead, he simply blushed with shame as the guards laid their hands upon him and pulled him away. He didn’t bother to maintain his limp.


What had led Eurylochus to try and cheat his way out of the army? The answer was currently in his tent, waiting for him to return with his money so that they could begin their journey to the Mediterranean Sea. Her name was Telesippa and she was a courtesan.

The two had met on the eve of the Macedonian army’s departure for Asia Minor and formed an instant attachment. Come with us, Eurylochus said, Alexander is going to make us rich; richer than the richest man in Athens.

Telesippa didn’t believe him. Alexander was just another warrior-king to her. He would probably grow rich; his men would probably get dead. But she had debts, and in Eurylochus, a protector. All that needed to happen was for him to stay alive long enough for her to find a richer client.

It was on those terms, then, that Telesippa agreed to become Eurylochus’ mistress. The expedition got underway. She never did find a richer client – at least, not one who would keep her – and as time passed, she did what she promised herself she would never do and fell in love.

Telesippa could never quite work out how that happened. It shouldn’t have. As the expedition progressed, Eurylochus collected many scars and she liked unblemished things. He also collected plunder and loot, and Telesippa’s life dream had always been to get rich then go her own way. One day, however, as she made love to him in his tent she realised that she no longer cared what he looked like, or how rich he was; she loved him. Just him. She loved him and that was that.

That was that… This feeling had lasted until the incessant rains of India. Telesippa’s health had suffered under the permanently iron-grey clouds and never recovered, thereafter. Gedrosia nearly killed her. I can’t go on, she told him in Carmania, I want to go home. I need to go home. Eurylochus didn’t argue. Not that he would have, for he too had had enough. Long before India, he had had enough.


Upon a moment, the door of the tent was flung open.
The king summons you. the gruff voice said.
My king…
You lied. Why?
I lied. I confess it. But not for money, my lord; not even for freedom. For my beloved. She is ill…
Name her.
Telesippa. I met her in Aegae ere we left for Asia Minor and have loved her with all my heart every day since. I love her more than life.
Would you die for her?
Not today… Not at my hands. I have been speaking to your commanding officer. He tells me of a soldier good and true. One who has been brave many times, and complained never. Tell me, what is Telesippa’s rank?
She is a free-born woman, my king. A hetaira.
She wants to leave?
She… she wants whatever is best for me.
Would you stay if she wished it?

We will try to win her over! Whether with presents or by courtship – but by those means alone! Nothing else will do for lovers. Speak to my secretary – I will pay for whatever you decide. Do not use a penny of your own money. That is for another day. You are dismissed.


Perdiccas watches Eurylochus leave the throne room before turning to Alexander.
“She wants to leave,” he says, “And so does he.”
“Hmm?” Alexander replied. He had forgotten the man named Eurylochus already. Soldiers were his priority at the moment, soldiers who would do his bidding. This one had said nothing against his wishes so was clearly for them. The woman had to be persuaded but everyone could be persuaded, eventually.


History does not record what happened next. If the truth be told, it doesn’t even recall Eurylochus’ name properly – Plutarch calls him Eurylochus in his Life of Alexander and Antigenes in his Moralia.

In his Life Plutarch has Eurylochus say he wants to leave simply to accompany Telesippa ‘to the coast’. In the Moralia, the impression is giving that Telesippa was leaving (for undisclosed reasons) and Antigenes/Eurylochus could not bear to behind without her.

Whatever Eurylochus’ exact motives, it is clear he loved her, and for that reason he and Telesippa – who, sadly, is a silent character in the narratives – are included here on my list of lovers.

* Arrian VII.8
** Arrian VII.12
*** ibid. The wages also covered the period of the journey home
† Arrian VII.5

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Plutarch’s women: Thaïs of Athens, Olympias and Telesippa (Chapts. 38, 39 and 41)

For previous posts in this series click here

This post continues directly on from the last one. I divided them as the number of women I wanted to talk about made the title too long! Anyway, here we are, so let’s proceed to –

Thaïs of Athens
In Chapter 38 Plutarch narrates one of the most memorable and infamous moments of Alexander’s career – the burning of the Royal Palace at Persepolis. According to him, a courtesan named Thaïs incited Alexander to set the palace ablaze, saying that, while it had been a joy to revel in the palace of the Persians, it would be an even ‘sweeter pleasure’ to set fire to ‘the palace of Xerxes, who had laid Athens to ashes’.
As Plutarch admits, there are differing views on how the palace came to be burnt down. Some say it was done on impulse, others that it was a matter of policy. Thaïs’ role, however, is almost uniformly agreed upon (see here for more on what the sources say). Almost. Arrian omits any mention of her. Given, however, that his main source is her lover, Ptolemy, perhaps that is not surprising. Going back to Plutarch, though, the fire seemed to have sobered Alexander up. For he ‘quickly repented and gave orders for the fire to be put out. Whether Thaïs ever repented is not recorded.
We continue with a letter written by Olympias to her son. In Chapter 39 Plutarch tells us about Alexander’s generosity to his friends. We learn of Ariston, to whom he not only gave a gold cup but drank to his honour with it, and the mule driver who shouldered the king’s gold after his mule became too exhausted to carry it any further. Unfortunately, Alexander’s benefactions caused his friends and bodyguards to ‘put on airs’. This displeased Olympias. She wrote,

I wish you would find other ways of rewarding those you love and honour: as it is, you are making them all the equals of kings and enabling them to make plenty of friends, but leaving yourself without any.

I have to admit, I can see the sense in what Olympias wrote. Generosity is not bad but by giving away so much, Alexander was not only creating (metaphoric) equals but – more dangerously – giving potential usurpers the means to challenge his authority with their new friends.
Plutarch says that Alexander bore his mother’s scoldings ‘with great tolerance’ and when Antipater wrote to him complaining about her behaviour again he said that the vice-regent ‘did not understand that one tear shed by his mother would wipe out 10,000 letters’ from him.
I end this post with what I think is a rather lovely story, which is told in Chapter 41. On an unspecified occasion, Alexander was sending home ‘invalid and superannuated soldiers’ when it was discovered that one of those on the list did not qualify for retirement. His name was Eurylochus of Aegae. Under questioning, Eurylochus confessed to the truth. He said he was,

… in love with a with a girl named Telesippa and… planned to travel with her on her journey to the coast.

Alexander duly made enquiries regarding who Telesippa was and discovered that she was a ‘free-born Greek courtesan’ (much like Thaïs, mentioned above). This, it seems, was to Alexander’s satisfaction, for he agreed to help Eurylochus woo her. But not on any terms.

“… since she is a free woman [Alexander said] you must see whether we can win Telesippa either by presents or courtship, but not use other means.”

It seems to me that the implication of Alexander’s words are that had Telesippa been a servant or slave then it would have been alright for Eurylochus to force her to join him, which is an unpleasant thought, even if socially acceptable in those days (?). If we may gloss over that, however, I really do like the fact that Alexander insisted upon things being done properly. It is moments like this which (after all had no practical benefit for Alexander and every inconvenience) persuade me that he genuinely respected women rather than simply affected his respect in order to show how great he was.
Whatever the reason for Telesippa’s journey to the coast, I hope Eurylochus met her in time to walk with her on the way and that they had a long and happy life together.

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