Posts Tagged With: Zeus-Ammon

The Oracle of Ammon

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 51 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander Visits Temple of Ammon

  • Philip’s Murderers Have Been Punished
  • Your Divinity Will Be Manifested in Your Deeds

The Story
The priests of Ammon lead Alexander into the temple. There, the king spent a little time before a statue of the god. Presently, one of the priests, who was also a prophet, joined him and said

“Rejoice, son; take this form of address as from the god also.”

To which Alexander replied,

“I accept, father; for the future I shall be called thy son.”

Having now been confirmed as the son of Ammon, Alexander had two questions for the god – would Ammon give him rule over the world? And had he punished all those involved in the murder of his father, Philip II?

The priest entered the ‘sacred enclosure’ to receive Ammon’s answer. There, statue-bearers raised a statue of the god on its bier and started to move ‘according to certain prescribed sounds of the voice’. As the Footnotes state, Diodorus doesn’t make it clear whose voice this was. The priest, however, was in no doubts as to what the movements meant: Ammon would give Alexander world domination.

The king’s second question elicited a different response.

“Silence!” the priest cried, “There is no mortal who can plot against the one who begot him. All the murderers of Philip, however, have been punished.”

This good news was immediately followed by another welcome utterance.

“The proof of his [i.e. Alexander’s] divine birth will reside in the greatness of his deeds; as formerly he has been undefeated, so now he will be unconquerable for all time.”

Unsurprisingly, ‘Alexander was delighted with these responses’ and he ‘honoured [Ammon] with rich gifts’ before returning to Egypt.

Diodorus’ account of what happened at Siwah seems to make it clear that Ammon regarded Alexander as his son and that the king was, therefore, a god; or, at the very least, a demigod. However,

… over the last century there has been certain tendency among historians and biographers of Alexander to accept, without questioning, that he was deified during his lifetime. Often, these scholars took for granted such divinity, thus narratives were constructed based on this –apparently– settled proposition. However, a rapid survey of the sources seems to indicate that this generally accepted thesis is not as solid, as it is believed. This constitutes the aim of this dissertation, namely, to analyse these modern accounts in the light of the ancient sources, in order to examine whether the deification of Alexander has enough grounds to be stated confidently…
(Matias Leiva The Divinity of Alexander the Great)

To read Leiva’s essay at Academia, click here. I certainly look forward to doing so.

I wish I knew more about the lay-out of the temple as I am wondering how Diodorus knew what happened in the sacred enclosure. I suppose his ultimate source is one of the men who accompanied Alexander to Siwah. But, I would have expected the enclosure to be off-limits to outsiders. Could I be wrong? Or maybe a Siwan told a Macedonian what happened?

Another question on my mind is what Alexander’s companions made of the Siwah expedition. If I remember rightly, the ancient Greeks weren’t in the business of deifying the living. There’s no hint that Alexander kept his reason for visiting Siwah secret, but whether or not he did, once the cat was out the bag, what did his men think of him? Sensible? Lunatic? Risky? If Diodorus covers the proskynesis controversy, we’ll perhaps get a glimpse into their later reaction.

We hope you enjoyed your visit to the temple of Ammon. To help us provide a better service in the future, please complete this questionnaire before your departure.

Name………. Race……….
Being Mortal Divine Semi-Divine Other……….
(circle as appropriate)

Did you find the atmosphere in the temple
Hardly more scary than the Persian army

Did you find the oracle to be
So mystifying as to be Delphic

Was the statue
Like seeing Ammon in person
As divine as a cow pat
Spoiled by unsteady statue-bearers; sort them out

Did the voice
Remind you of Ammon
Sound like a drunk
Both of the above
If ‘both’ please outline your ideal god-like voice…………………………

Would you recommend Siwah to others
Don’t know – what does the oracle say YES

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Siwah Oasis

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 50 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Inside Siwah
Love in a Warm Climate
Magical Marriages – Newlyweds Tell Their Incredible Stories

The Story
Diodorus dedicates Chapter 50 of his narrative to a description of Siwah oasis. It is ‘fifty furlongs in length and breadth’ and has ‘a moderate climate’. There are many springs and various types of tree, including those kinds that are ‘valued for their fruit’.

Citing an unnamed source (or sources), Diodorus says that Siwah’s sanctuary was built by Danaüs the Egyptian and that it is (as you’d expect) sacred to Ammon.

Different peoples live at Siwah: Ethiopians in the south and west, Libyans to the north, nomads and Nasamonians in the interior.

These peoples live in villages. In the middle of the oasis is a fortress, which is protected by three walls. The innermost part contains ‘the palace of the ancient rulers’. The middle section is where ‘the women’s court, the dwellings of the children, women, and relatives, and the guardrooms of the scouts’ can be found. Also here is the sanctuary of Ammon and the sacred spring. The king’s guards have their barracks in the outer section of the fortress. The guardrooms of his bodyguard are also located here.

Diodorus reports that there is a second temple dedicated to Ammon at Siwah. Nearby is a spring, known as the Spring of the Sun. Diodorus pauses for a moment to tell us a rather extraordinary fact about this spring. At daybreak, its waters are warm. As the sun rises, rather than heat up, the water actually cools until – at the sun’s peak – ‘it reaches its extreme degree of cold’. In the afternoon, as the sun dips, the water heats up until midnight when it is at its hottest. As the night progresses, the heat of the water decreases again.

This story is not unique to Diodorus. It appears in Herodotus. What are we to make of it? We’ll find out in a moment.

The chapter concludes with an description of a statue of Ammon. It ‘is encrusted with emeralds and other precious stones’. Eighty priests carry it about ‘upon a golden boat’. The priests do not follow a planned route but go where Ammon tells them. They are followed by a ‘multitude of girls and women’ who sing paeans and praise Ammon.

This is the first chapter I have covered where nothing actually happens. As I wasn’t sure how interesting writing (or reading) edited highlights of Diodorus’ description of Siwah would be, I thought it would be nice to include an up-to-date view of Siwah. To that end, I opened up a copy of Justin Marozzi’s The Man Who Invented History. In the early 2000s, Marozzi decided to take a walk in the footsteps of Herodotus. This book is his account of his journey. Marozzi has a couple of very interesting things to say about Siwah. They involve homosexuality and magic.

Marozzi states that ‘Siwa has a reputation as a bastion of illicit homosexuality’. This came about because of the rule that the city’s zaggalah (lit. ‘club-bearers’ – Young men at the bottom of Siwah’s social order who guarded the city at night from Bedouin raids), who were prohibited from marrying before the age of 40, were also prohibited from entering the city lest they fall in love with a (married) woman.

‘With time on their hands, no girls to party with and nowhere to go, the zaggalah had to make their own fun’. For some, that meant liaisons with other men – and boys. These love affairs became so part of zaggalah culture that they led to what Marozzi calls ‘gay marriage contracts’ being drawn up.

The practice continued until 1928 when the Egyptian king, Farouk, visited the oasis and berated the elders for permitting it. As a result of this, the contracts were outlawed.

At this point, I am not clear whether Marozzi says next that homosexuality or the drawing up of gay marriage contracts continued until the 50s. Perhaps it is the latter, as he also quotes GayEgypt as saying Siwah is ‘one of the best cruising places in the world’. I have not been able to find this quotation on GayEgypt’s blog. It does, however, appear on Rainbow Egypt‘s website. Perhaps the former were quoting the latter somewhere. To read about Siwah’s gay history, scroll down the page – ignoring as you go the writer’s speculations on Alexander and his burial place – and make sure you take heed of the closing comment,

If invited to dinner you should read Shane Money’s useful advice in his book “Useless Sexual Trivia” in which he warns readers that traditional belief holds that if a Siwan man mixes semen in your food you will find him irresistible.

You’ve been warned.

King Farouk’s admonition to the Siwan elders was born of his Islamic faith. As with homosexuality so with magic. Despite this, Siwans have ‘an enduring belief’ in it. For how much longer? Marozzi’s source notes that it is less popular today, due to people being better educated.

Nevertheless, come the moment, people still turn to magic to cure their ills. Or rather, cause problems for others. Marozzi mentions various curses: to stop girls marrying other men, to stop couples from having children, even to prevent the consummation of a marriage by turning the husband’s penis into a vagina.

The ‘most common spells’ aim to ‘bring about divorce, illness, infertility and love’. But they are not all-powerful. Marozzi learns that the poor newlywed husband can preserve his manhood by sprinkling holy water from Mecca around the bedroom before bedtime. Rather vexingly, his wife has to wear a ‘hijab veil to protect her from Satan’.

Marozzi also mentions the Spring of the Sun. Incredibly, he finds it just as Diodorus and Herodotus describe it. How can this be so? It’s simple. The feeling that the water is changing temperature is not derived from the water itself but the changing temperature of the air. Never dismiss a tall story. It may just tell the truth from a different perspective.

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Plutarch’s Women: Olympias of Epirus (Chapt. 1-3)

For the other posts in this series click here

A Quick Preliminary

Plutarch’s life of Alexander is not a history but a character study. For this series of posts I am going read Plutarch’s Life chapter by chapter to see what – if anything – he has to say about the character of the women Alexander met and knew.
To keep the word count of each post at a reasonable (I hope) level I will discuss each appearance by a woman in the narrative individually, as and when I come to it.
Finally, and just for the record, I am reading Plutarch’s life of Alexander in the revised edition of Penguin Books Age of Alexander, translated by Ian Scott-Kilvert and Timothy E. Duff.
Olympias of Epirus

As is well known, women are the fairer sex. In past times they have also been called the weaker. But while this may be true in terms of out-and-out physical strength it certainly isn’t in terms of the intellect and/or will. Olympias’ life bears witness to the truth of this.
Plutarch mentions Alexander’ mother on the very first page of his Life. He describes how Alexander’s father, Philip II, fell in love with Olympias during their initiation into the Mysteries of Samothrace. Olympias was an orphan so Philip had to obtain the consent of her brother, Arybbas, in order to marry her.
The night before the newly-weds consummated their marriage, Olympias had a dream in which her womb was struck by a thunderbolt. A ‘blinding flash’ followed from which a sheet of flame emerged and spread out ‘far and wide’ before fading away. ‘Some time’ after the wedding, Philip had his own dream. In it, he sealed Olympias’ womb using a seal engraved with the figure of a lion.
Most of Philip’s soothsayers thought that his dream was a warning to keep a close eye on his wife. Why? Plutarch doesn’t actually say but one doesn’t need to be Herr Freud to guess the answer. Only one said otherwise. Aristander, who would go on to have an illustrious career in Alexander’s court, said that it portended the birth of a powerful son.
It looks like Philip sided with Aristander for Plutarch gives no indication that he took any action against his suspect wife. Sadly, however, his love for her did eventually cool down. According to Plutarch it happened after Philip found his wife in bed with a snake stretched out beside her. Plutarch says Philip feared that Olympias would cast an ‘evil spell’ on him or was the consort of some higher being’.
What was going on? Well, in Plutarch’s words, Olympias was an initiate of the all female ‘Orphic religion’ which ‘engaged in the orgiastic rites of Dionysus’. At this point, you would do well to stop thinking that this religion involved lots of sex. Well, for all I know, it did, but it also involved initiates entering into a possessed Dionysiac state – something that Olympias did ‘with even wilder abandon’ than her fellow cult members and consorting with snakes. The sight of these snakes emerging from ivy wreaths or twining round the initiates’s (women’s) wands ‘terrified the male spectators’.
Upon seeing his wife in bed with a snake Philip sent a messenger to Delphi to ask what the sight meant. The oracle replied that the snake was a god – Zeus-Ammon. Philip was told to sacrifice to this Greek-Egyptian deity and revere above all other gods.
Before continuing, let’s pause for a moment to consider what we have and haven’t read. What we have read is, very likely, Argead propaganda designed to convince people of Alexander’s divine parentage. What we haven’t read is anything that tells us what Olympias herself was like. All we can surmise from the opening chapters of Plutarch’s narrative is that she was very religious and that’s it.
Or is it? Plutarch continues,

According to Eratosthenes, Olympias when she sent Alexander on his way to lead his great expedition to the East, confided to him and to him alone the secret of his conception and urged him to show himself worthy of his divine parentage. But other authors maintain that she repudiated this story and used to say, ‘Will Alexander never stop making Hera jealous of me?’

The reason I mention this passage is that, apart from the fact that it confirms Olympias’ religiosity, it also – in my opinion, anyway – speaks to her humility. It tells me that Olympias was a woman who respected – no doubt, feared – the gods deeply and was concerned lest her son’s successes cause them to bring their wrath down on her.
This post is not about rehabilitating Olympias’ character but if I can find anything that shows she was not, or rather more than the proud, ruthless schemer of Oliver Stone’s film then I am very happy to mention it. People are always more complex in real life than on the silver screen and we – I – definitely need to remember that.
The third chapter ends with an account of Alexander’s birth, placing it on the same day as the destruction of Artemis’ temple at Ephesus (20th July 356 B.C.). Plutarch refers to a writer named Hegesias of Magnesia who said the temple burned down because Artemis had left it to attend Alexander’s birth. If nothing else, Hegesias wins plaudits for a fine show of sycophancy!
Before finishing, I would like to go back to the matter of Olympias’ religion. Plutarch says that she followed the same ‘observances’ as the women who lived around Mount Haemus (in Thrace). Twenty years after his birth, Alexander would cross the Haemus on his way to subdue the Triballians and Getae – I wonder if he met any women who had danced with his mother all those years ago and what he thought of them.

Categories: Plutarch's Women | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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