Study Guide for Plutarch's Life of Alexander
Text by Thomas North
Study Guide by Anne White
Alexander III of Macedon (356-323 B.C.)
This study includes separate questions for each term of the Life of Alexander. The questions were drawn from original P.N.E.U. programmes.
A note of thanks
I am very grateful to the homeschooling families who field-tested these lessons.
Alexander III of Macedon (356-323 B.C.)
"Another time also when he was in Spain, reading the history of Alexander's acts, when he had read it, he was sorrowful a good while after, and then burst out in weeping. His friends, seeing that, marvelled what should be the cause of his sorrow. 'Do ye not think,' said he, 'that I have good cause to be heavy, when King Alexander being no older than myself is now, had in old time won so many nations and countries: and that I hitherunto have done nothing worthy of myself?'" (Plutarch's Life of Julius Caesar)
Alexander the Great may be the best known and the most romanticized of Plutarch's biographical subjects. His story has been examined and debated for over two thousand years, by everyone from Oxford scholars to schoolchildren making stop-motion videos. Although Alexander lived only a few hundred years before this account was written, and historians had described his life in detail, Plutarch still had to deal with unconfirmed stories and questionable "facts," from the legends around Alexander's birth to his mysterious death. However, Plutarch was concerned largely with character, moral choices, and the problems of leadership and government. Does power always corrupt? Should kings live in safety and luxury, or should they fight on the front lines? What motivates greatness? (What is greatness?)
Who was Alexander?
Alexander was born into the Macedonian royal family in 356 B.C. For many years, the dominant political power in Europe and the Middle East had been the Persian empire; but Persia's strength had weakened, and its subjects were becoming rebellious. Alexander's father, Philip II of Macedon, became king soon after his son was born, and he was credited with reforming and strengthening the army (using the famous phalanx formation). He planned to combine Macedon's military power with that of the Greek states, and to attack Persia (Lesson Two).
Philip's assassination in 336 left that ambition unfulfilled. However, his son Alexander spent the next thirteen years conquering a previously undreamed-of share of the world.
Is it Macedon or Macedonia? Were the Macedonians Greeks?
The names are used interchangeably. Macedonia, or Macedon, was a kingdom in the northeastern part of mainland Greece. The Macedonians were Greek in many respects, such as religious beliefs; but they valued their distinct heritage and identity.
What is meant by "barbarous?"
The word "barbarous" meant "foreign" or "not Greek." It carried overtones of "strange," but it did not imply "savage or cruel."
People in this Story
Aristotle: "The Father of Western Philosophy" was hired by King Philip to teach Alexander (and other young men) subjects such as natural philosophy (science) and rhetoric.
Leonidas of Epirus: Alexander's schoolmaster and a relative of his mother Olympias.
Lysimachus of Acarnania: Alexander's second-place tutor, who suggested the nicknames "Phoenix" for himself, "Achilles" for Alexander, and "Peleus" for Philip.
Anaxarchus: one of the philosophers called to counsel Alexander during his grief after killing Clitus (Lesson Seventeen).
Alexander's Military Colleagues
Nearchus/Nearchos: Alexander's chief admiral and official explorer.
Parmenio/Parmenion: Philip's chief lieutenant, and later a general to Alexander. His eldest son was Philotas, a cavalry commander.
Perdiccas: one of Alexander's generals, later the head of the Imperial Army, and regent during the reign of Alexander's half-brother Arrhidaeus (see note below).
Antipater was born in 397 B.C. He appears in Lesson Three as "one of Alexander's chiefest servants." Antipater was an advisor and friend to Alexander, and to Alexander's mother Olympias, during the early years of his reign, and he acted as regent (substitute ruler) when Alexander was in Persia and India. His friendship with Alexander gradually deteriorated, due to mistrust and jealousy.
Antipater's son Cassander is not mentioned until Lesson Twenty-Three. He lived from about 350-297 B.C., and later became king of Macedon. As a boy, he had been a student of Aristotle along with Alexander. A conflict between Cassander's own son (also named Alexander) and Demetrius is described in Plutarch's Life of Demetrius.
Plutarch also mentions another of Antipater's sons, Iolaus, who was suspected of poisoning Alexander.
Antigonus Monopthalmus (or "Antigonus with One Eye"): Those who have read the Life of Demetrius will remember Antigonus, the father of Demetrius and one of Alexander's generals.
Seleucus I Nicator was a general in Alexander's army who eventually ruled much of the Middle East. He is, however, barely mentioned in this story. Ptolemy I Soter, another general, became ruler of Egypt after Alexander's death. He is also not mentioned much here.
The Wives and Children of Alexander
Alexander had a complicated list of marriages and other relationships.
The most important to know are his wives Statira (also spelled Stateira) and Roxane (also Roxana or Rhoxane). A third wife was named Parysatis. Alexander is believed to have been the father of at least two sons, including Alexander IV of Macedon, who was born to Roxane after his death.
Cleopatra Eurydice was a stepmother to Alexander.
Arrhidaeus: Alexander's half-brother became King Philip Arrhidaeus III of Macedon in 323 B.C. According to historians, he was not considered fully capable of ruling, possibly due to a childhood injury. He was put to death by Alexander's mother Olympias.
Hephaestion: one of Alexander's closest friends. Some thought that Alexander's grief over Hephaestion's death hastened his own end.
Craterus: another of Alexander's generals
Darius III: king of Persia at the time.
Harpalus: Those who have read the Life of Demosthenes will remember Alexander's friend Harpalus, whose visit to Athens (while escaping Alexander's anger) caused trouble for Demosthenes. (Those events are mentioned briefly here in Lesson Fifteen.)
How P.N.E.U. teachers taught Alexander
There are a few mentions of the Life of Alexander in Charlotte Mason's writings and in early Parents' Review articles. Interestingly, it appears under the subjects of both Narration/Language and History, but not Citizenship (its place in later P.N.E.U. programmes).
Two lesson plans for passages in Alexander appear in Appendix V of School Education, "How Oral Lessons are Used." The first lesson is designed to take twenty minutes, and the second, thirty; the first says that it is intended for students with an average age of ten, and the other is for students aged eight or nine (below the usual age for Plutarch in the later programmes).
The first lesson plan (included below) is the simplest. Note Step 2, which sounds like Charlotte Mason's Bible lessons as described in Home Education, giving students an overview of the story before reading the whole thing. Elsewhere, we are directed to read a passage without much preamble and let the students take from it what they can, rather than kill the story with too much talk. However, telling the story-before-the-story is a way to unlock difficult passages, or those that include significant events such as famous battles.
Step 1. Connect with the last lesson by questioning the children. They read last time stories illustrating Alexander's graciousness and tact.
Step 2. Tell the children shortly the substance of what I am going to read to them, letting them find any places mentioned, in their maps.
Step 3. Read to the children about three pages, dealing with the luxury of the Macedonians, Alexander's march to Bactria, and the death of Darius. Read this slowly and distinctly, and "into" the children as much as possible.
Step 4. Ask the children in turn to narrate, each narrating a part of what was read.
The second lesson is longer, but as it is available in School Education, I will not repeat it here. This was intended as a first lesson on Alexander, "a fresh hero." After discussing a few details about place and time, the class read and narrated the story of Alexander's taming of Bucephalus. They were asked to list "the qualities which go to make a hero," and looked for examples of those qualities in the story. The teacher pointed out that Alexander himself admired heroic qualities (seen in his admiration for The Iliad), and she stressed the impact of Alexander's life on the world.
Charlotte Mason notes, "These [oral] lessons are always expansions or illustrations or summaries of some part of the scholars' current book-work." In other words, they were not written to show how every lesson should be studied, including Plutarch; but as reminders of the aim to teach with "things and ideas," and as suggestions of ways that books written for adults may be used with young students, without either patronizing them or confusing them with irrelevancies.
Maps and Alexander's World
Because Alexander's story covers such a broad range of places, it is helpful to refer to maps in a historical atlas or the online equivalent. This study contains extra notes under the heading "On the Map."
Top Ten Terms in Alexander
If you recognize these words, you're well on your way to mastering North's vocabulary. (They will not be noted in the lessons.)
1. Acquaint: To acquaint is used several times, meaning either "to become used to, familiar with" or "to share information."
2. Choler: anger, temper
3. Divers: several
4. Footmen: foot soldiers
5. Physic: medicine, both the science and the potion. An expert in medicine is a physician.
6. Repair unto: go to, turn to
7. Spoil or spoils: items seized from an enemy; loot
8. Stay: delay, detain, stop
9. Strange: usually means "foreign," but sometimes it just means "strange." Soldiers that are strangers are often foreign mercenaries (soldiers employed by any army that will pay them).
10. Target: shield
(Bonus word: victuals (pronounced vittles): food.)
What do your students know already about Alexander the Great? Do they have any ideas about how he earned that title?
In two sample lessons included in Charlotte Mason's book School Education (see the introductory notes for this study), an unnamed teacher describes Alexander's "wisdom, valour, and self-reliance," and his "love of simplicity, generosity, and kindness to his men." She suggests that Alexander had a gift of prudence, and that he knew how to put important things first. As you read this Life for yourself, you may agree that those traits accurately describe Alexander throughout his life; or you may argue that his values changed along with events and circumstances. (Did Alexander retain his love of simplicity, or was it destroyed when he began to dress like a Persian?) Or you may disagree with them completely. (Was Alexander truly wise and great?)
counterfeit: in this context, it means to reproduce
chaste: this usually refers to purity, but it refers here to moderation in other matters such as eating
playing at the staff: fighting with staffs or sticks (like Robin Hood)
ought worth: worth anything
churlish: unpleasant, rude
yerk: jerk, kick
jeopard[ize]: bet, wager
voice a-good: Dryden, "with a commanding voice"
was lighted from: alighted from, got down from
Philip, Parmenio, etc.: see introductory notes for this study
Lysippus, Appeles: artists who sculpted and painted Alexander
357 B.C.: marriage of Olympias and Philip (Alexander's parents)
356 B.C.: birth of Alexander
346 B.C.: Alexander tamed Bucephalus
On the Map
On a map of Europe and Asia, preferably one representing the fourth century B.C., locate Macedon and the Persian Empire.
[omission: omens pertaining to Alexander's birth]
Shortly after King Philip had won the city of Potidaea, three messengers came to him the same day that brought him great news. The first [was] that Parmenio had won a notable battle of the Illyrians: the second, that his horse [had won the course] at the Olympian games: and the third, that his wife had brought him a son called Alexander. Philip being marvellous glad to hear these news, the soothsayers did make his joy yet greater: assuring him that his son which was born with three victories all together should be invincible.
Now for [Alexander's] stature and personage, the statues and images made of him by Lysippus do best declare it, for that he would be drawn of no man but him only. Divers of his successors and friends did afterwards counterfeit his image, but that excellent workman Lysippus only, of all other[s] the chiefest, hath perfectly drawn and resembled Alexander's manner of holding his neck somewhat hanging down towards the left side, and also the sweet look and cast of his eyes [Dryden: his melting eye]. But when Apelles painted Alexander holding lightning in his hand, he did not shew his fresh colour, but made him somewhat [browner and darker] than his face indeed was: for naturally he had a very fair white colour, mingled also with red, which chiefly appeared in his face and in his breast.
This natural heat that Alexander had, made him (as it appeareth) to be given to drink, and to be hasty. [But] even from his childhood they saw that he was given to be chaste. For though otherwise he was very hot and hasty, yet was he hardly moved with lust or pleasure of the body and would moderately use it.
But on the other side, the ambition and desire he had of honour, shewed a certain coveted greatness of mind and noble courage, passing his years. For he was not (as his father Philip) desirous of all kind[s] of glory: who, like a rhetorician, had a delight to utter his eloquence, and stamped in his coins the victories he had won at the Olympian games by the swift running of his horse and coaches. For when he was asked one day (because he was swift of foot) whether he would essay to run for victory at the Olympian games: "I could be content," said he, "[if] I might run with kings." And yet to speak generally, he misliked all such contention for games. For it seemeth that he utterly misliked all wrestling and other exercise for prize[s], where men did use all their strength: but otherwise he himself made certain festival days and games of prize, for common stage players, musicians, and singers, and for the very poets also. He delighted also in hunting of divers kinds of beasts, and playing at the staff.
Ambassadors being sent on a time from the king of Persia, whilst his father was in some journey out of his realm: Alexander, familiarly entertaining of them, so won them with his courteous entertainment (for he used no childish questions unto them, nor asked them trifling matters, but what distance it was from one place to another, and which way they went into the high countries of Asia, and of the king of Persia himself, how he was towards his enemies, and what power he had), that he did ravish them with delight to hear him; insomuch that they made no more account of Philip's eloquence and sharp wit, in respect of his son's courage and noble mind to attempt great enterprises.
For when they brought him news that his father had taken some famous city, or had won some great battle, he was nothing glad to hear it, but would say to his playfellows: "Sirs, my father will have all, I shall have nothing left me to conquer with you, that shall be ought worth." For he, delighting neither in pleasure nor riches, but only in valiantness and honour, thought that the greater conquests and realms his father should leave him, the less he should have to do for himself. And therefore, seeing that his father's dominions and empire increased daily more and more, perceiving all occasion taken from him to do any great attempt: he desired no riches nor pleasure, but wars and battles, and aspired to a [realm] where he might win honour.
He had divers men appointed him (as it is to be supposed) to bring him up: as schoolmasters, governors, and grooms of his chamber to attend upon him: and among those, Leonidas was the chiefest man that had the government and charge of him, a man of a severe disposition, and a kinsman also unto Queen Olympias. He misliked to be called a master or tutor, though it be an office of good charge; whereupon the others called him Alexander's governor, because he was a noble man, and allied to the prince. But he that bare the name of his schoolmaster was Lysimachus, an Acarnanian born, who had no other manner of civility in him saving that he called himself "Phoenix," Alexander "Achilles," and Philip "Peleus": and therefore, he was well thought of, and was the second person next unto Leonidas.
At what time Philonicus [the] Thessalian had brought Bucephalus the horse to sell unto King Philip, asking thirteen talents, they went into the field to ride him. The horse was found so rough and churlish that the riders said he would never do service, for he would let no man get up on his back, nor abide any of the gentlemen's voices about King Philip; but would yerk out at them. Thereupon, Philip being afraid, commanded them to carry him away as a wild beast, and altogether unprofitable: the which they [would have] done, had not Alexander that stood by said, "Gods, what a horse do they turn away, for lack of skill and heart to handle him." Philip heard what he said but held his peace. Alexander, oft repeating his words, seem[ed] to be sorry that they should send back the horse again. "Why," said Philip, "dost thou control them that have more experience than thou, and that know better than thou how to handle a horse?" Alexander answered, "And yet methinks I should handle him better than all they have done." "But if thou canst not, no more than they," replied Philip: "what wilt thou forfeit for thy folly?" "I am content," (quoth Alexander) "to jeopard[ize] the price of the horse." Every man laughed to hear his answer, and the wager was laid between them. Then ran Alexander to the horse and took him by the bridle and turned him towards the sun. It seemed that he had marked (as I suppose) how mad the horse was to see his own shadow, which was ever before him in his eye, as he stirred to and fro. Then Alexander speaking gently to the horse, and clapping him on the back with his hand, till he had left his fury and snorting: softly let fall his cloak from him, and lightly leaping on his back, got up without any danger, and holding the reins of the bridle hard, without striking or stirring the horse, made him to be gentle enough. Then when he saw that the fury of the horse was past, and that he began to gallop, he put him to his full career, and laid on spurs and voice a-good. Philip at the first with fear beholding his son's agility, lest he should take some hurt, said never a word: but when he saw him readily turn the horse at the end of his career, in a bravery for that he had done, all the lookers on gave a shout for joy. The father, on the other side (as they say), fell a-weeping for joy. And when Alexander was lighted from the horse, he said unto him kissing his head: "O son, thou must needs have a realm that is meet for thee, for Macedon will not hold thee."
[After this, considering Alexander to be of a temper easy to be led to his duty by reason, but by no means to be compelled, Philip always endeavoured to persuade rather than to command or to force him to anything.]
Narration and Discussion
Retell the story of Alexander and Bucephalus. (Creative alternative: choose another point of view from which to tell the story.) Why do you think this story has been retold so often? What does it say about Alexander's character, even as a boy?
"He desired no riches nor pleasure, but wars and battles." Should we admire Alexander's determination to make his country great?
For older students: How does the last sentence compare Philip's education of Alexander to Alexander's management of the horse? Is this a useful philosophy for those who lead or train others?
As Alexander grew up, he received his schooling, put down a rebellion, and suddenly became king of Macedon. He seemed to have had the perfect education and training, but he was still very young. Was he prepared to handle this new role?
honourable stipend: generous pay
ambitious humour: desire to be greater than all others
published and not published: Aristotle explained that yes, he had published the metaphysical teaching which had been only for the privileged; but there was no danger in making that knowledge public, because most people wouldn't understand it anyway.
memoranda: reminders; something to refresh one's knowledge
knowledge of speculation: abstract, theoretical knowledge
given to his book: a lover of reading
casket copy: see Lesson Nine for an explanation of the "casket"
allured: tempted, persuaded
Aristotle, Harpalus: see introductory notes
Pausanius of Orestis: one of Philip's bodyguards. The story of his personal grudge has been told by other historians, but it cannot be repeated here. Briefly, he blamed Philip for not avenging an insult that he had received. The mystery around the murder seems to be who it was that persuaded Pausanias to carry it out; even Alexander was not above suspicion.
343 B.C.: Aristotle became Alexander's teacher
338 B.C.: Battle of Chaeronea
Summer, 336 B.C.: Darius III became king of Persia
October, 336 B.C.: Alexander became king of Macedon
On the Map
Locate Chaeronea and Thebes.
Now Philip put no great affiance in [the] schoolmasters of music and humanity for the instruction and education of his son whom he had appointed to teach him; but [he thought] rather that he needed men of greater learning than their capacities would reach unto: and that as Sophocles sayeth,
He needed many reins, and many bits at once [Dryden: "the bridle and the rudder too"].
He sent for Aristotle (the greatest philosopher in his time, and best learned) to teach his son, unto whom he gave honourable stipend.
It is thought that Alexander did not only learn of Aristotle moral philosophy and humanity, but also [that] he heard of him [something of those more abstruse and profound theories which these philosophers, by the very names they gave them, professed to reserve for oral communication to the initiated], or else [those which] are kept from common knowledge: which sciences they did not commonly teach. [For when Alexander was in Asia], hearing that Aristotle had put out certain books of that matter, he wrote [to him, using very plain language to him in behalf of philosophy, the following letter]:
"Alexander unto Aristotle, greeting: Thou hast not done well to put forth [your books of oral doctrine]: for wherein shall we excel other[s], if those things which thou hast secretly taught us, be made common to all? I do [wish] thee to understand, that I had rather excel others in excellency of knowledge, than in greatness of power. Farewell."
Whereunto Aristotle, to pacify this his ambitious humour, wrote unto him again that these books were [both] published, and not published. For to say truly, [his books on metaphysics are written in a style which makes them useless for ordinary teaching, and instructive only in the way of memoranda, for those who have already been conversant in that sort of learning].
It seemeth also that it was Aristotle above all other[s], that made Alexander take delight to study physic. For Alexander did not only like the knowledge of speculation, but would exercise practice also, and help his friends when they were sick: and made besides certain remedies, and rules to live by: as appeareth by his letters he wrote, that of his own nature he was much given to his book, and desired to read much. [Onesicritus informs us that he constantly laid Homer's Iliads, according to the copy corrected by Aristotle, called the "casket copy," with his dagger under his pillow, declaring that he esteemed it a perfect portable treasure of all military virtue and knowledge.] And when he was in the high countries of Asia [later], where he could not readily come by other books, he wrote unto Harpalus to send them to him. Harpalus sent him the histories of Philistus, with divers tragedies of Euripides, Sophocles, and Æschylus: and certain hymns of Telestus and Philoxenus.
Alexander did reverence Aristotle at the first, as his father, and so he termed him: because from his natural father he had life, but from him [Aristotle] the knowledge to live. But afterwards he suspected him somewhat, yet he did him no hurt, neither was he so friendly to him as he had been: whereby men perceived that he did not bear him the goodwill he was wont to do. This notwithstanding, he left not that zeal and desire he had to the study of philosophy, which he had learned from his youth, and still continued.
When King Philip made war with the Byzantines, Alexander, being but sixteen years old, was left [as] his lieutenant in Macedon, with the custody and charge of his great seal. [Not to sit idle, he] subdued the Medarians which had rebelled against him; and having won their city by assault, he drove out the barbarous people, and made a colony of it of sundry nations, and called it Alexandropolis, to say, "the city of Alexander."
He was with his father at the Battle of Chaeronea against the Grecians, where it was reported that it was he that gave charge first of all upon the holy band of the Thebans. Furthermore, there was an old oak seen in my time, which the countrymen commonly call Alexander's Oak, because his tent or pavilion was fastened to it. [And not far off are to be seen the graves of the Macedonians who fell in that battle.]
For these causes, his father Philip loved him very dearly, and was glad to hear the Macedonians call Alexander king, and himself their captain [Dryden: general]. Howbeit the troubles that fell out in his court afterwards, by reason of Philip's new marriages and loves, bred great quarrel and strife amongst the women: for the mischief of dissension and jealousy of women doth separate the hearts of kings one from another. The chiefest cause was the sharpness of Olympias, who, being a jealous woman, fretting, and of a revenging mind, did incense Alexander against his father.
[Omission: events and intrigue involving King Philip, his new second wife Cleopatra, his other son Arrhidaeus, and a proposed royal wedding between Arrhidaeus and a Carian princess. When Alexander became involved in this tangle, Philip punished him by banishing several of his friends.]
Shortly after, Pausanias, [having a personal grudge against Philip], watched for his opportunity and murdered him. Of this murder, most men accused Queen Olympias, who (as it is reported) allured this young man, having just cause of anger, to kill him. [There was some sort of suspicion attached even to Alexander himself. [short omission] However, he took care to find out and punish the accomplices of the conspiracy severely; and was very angry with Olympias for treating Cleopatra inhumanely in his absence.]
Narration and Discussion
How did Philip recognize and encourage his son's special gifts?
How was Alexander able to accomplish so much before the age of twenty? (You may want to look up 1 Timothy 4:12.)
For older students: If you have read The Iliad, do you agree with Alexander's wholehearted admiration of that book? Do you have a book that has become your lifelong guide?
How should a young, ambitious king make the right impression on his country's friends and enemies? In Part One of this lesson, Alexander made a violent choice, but later thought he might have gone too far.
Part Two is a short and much lighter story which should provoke some discussion about material needs and desires.
barbarous: see introductory notes
insolency: unfriendly attitude, rudeness
magnanimity: this usually means generosity of spirit; but here it means acting unwaveringly. Plutarch adds the phrase "to make them know he was a man."
truckle: bow down
Thebans: those of the Greek city of Thebes
Then did Alexander leave the Macedonians. . . : He allowed his soldiers to attack without restraint.
make a sally: rush out to attack
an attempt to gratify the hostility of his confederates: his excuse was that he needed to please his allies (and gain their confidence)
those that had dissuaded. . . : those who had attempted to end the rebellion
Thracian: from the region of Thrace
mien and gait: manner and way of walking
feast of their Mysteries: a time of religious observance
clemency: grace, forgiveness
in his wine: when he was drunk
within the straits of Peloponnesus: at the city of Corinth
familiars: close friends
what you list: what you wish
Demosthenes: an orator in Athens who had spoken against Philip's aggression (see Plutarch's Life of Demosthenes)
Philotas and Antipater: see introductory notes
Bacchus: the Greek god of wine
Diogenes of Sinope: a founder of Cynic philosophy (forerunner of Stoicism)
September, 335 B.C.: Fall of Thebes
On the Map
Alexander's army marched south to Thebes and Corinth.
So he came to be king of Macedon at twenty years of age, and found his realm greatly envied and hated of dangerous enemies, and every way full of danger. For the barbarous nations that were near neighbours unto Macedon [were impatient of being governed by any but their own native princes]. Neither had Philip time enough to bridle and pacify Greece, which he had conquered by force of arms: but having a little altered the governments, [he] had through his insolency left them all in great trouble and ready to rebel, for that they had not long been acquainted to obey.
Thereupon Alexander's council of Macedon, being afraid of the troublesome time, were of opinion that Alexander should utterly forsake the affairs of Greece, and not to follow them with extremity, but that he should seek to win the barbarous people by gentle means, that had rebelled against him, and wisely to remedy these new stirs. [But he rejected this counsel as weak and timorous, and looked upon it to be more prudent to secure himself by resolution and magnanimity than by seeming to truckle to any, to encourage all to trample on him.]
Thereupon, he straight quenched all the rebellion of the barbarous people, invading them suddenly with his army, by the river Danube, where in a great battle he overthrew Syrmus, king of the Triballians. Furthermore, having intelligence that the Thebans [had] revolted, and that the Athenians also were confederate with them: to make them know that he was a man, he marched with his army towards the strait of Thermopiles [the pass of Thermopylae], saying that [to Demosthenes, who had called him "a child" while he was in Illyria and in the country of the Triballians, and "a youth" when he was in Thessaly, he would appear "a man" before the walls of Athens.]
When he came with his army unto the gates of Thebes, he was willing to give [those] of the city occasion to repent them[selves]: and therefore demanded [only] Phoenix and Prothytes, authors of the rebellion. Furthermore, he proclaimed, by trumpet, pardon and safety unto all them that would yield unto him.
The Thebans, on the other side, demanded of him Philotas and Antipater, two of his chiefest servants, and made the crier proclaim in the city that all such as would defend the liberty of Greece should join with them. Then did Alexander leave the Macedonians at liberty to make war with all cruelty. Then the Thebans fought with greater courage and desire than they were able, considering that their enemies were many against one. And on the other side also, when the garrison of the Macedonians, which were within the [citadel], made a sally upon them and gave them charge in the rearward: then they, being environed of all sides, were slain in manner every one of them, their city taken, destroyed, and razed even to the hard ground. This he did, specially to make all the rest of the people of Greece afraid by example of this great calamity and misery of the Thebans, to the end [that] none of them should dare from thenceforth once to rise against him.
He would cloak this cruelty of his under [an attempt to gratify the hostility of his confederates]. Notwithstanding, excepting the priests, and the religious, and all such as were friends unto any of the lords of Macedon, all the friends and kinsmen of the poet Pindarus, and all those that had dissuaded them which were the rebels: he sold all the rest of the city of Thebes for slaves, which amounted to the number of thirty thousand persons, besides them that were slain at the battle, which were six thousand more.
[Among the other calamities that befell the city, it happened that some Thracian soldiers, having broken into the house of a matron of high character and repute named Timoclea; their captain [after otherwise abusing her] asked her if she knew of any money concealed; to which she readily answered she did, and bade him follow her into a garden, where she showed him a well into which, she told him, upon the taking of the city, she had thrown what she had of most value. The greedy Thracian presently stooping down to view the place where he thought the treasure lay, she came behind him and pushed him into the well, and then flung great stones in upon him, till she had killed him. After which, when the solders led her away bound to Alexander, her very mien and gait showed her to be a woman of dignity, and of a mind no less elevated, not betraying the least sign of fear or astonishment. And when the king asked her who she was, "I am," said she, "the sister of Theagenes, who fought in the Battle of Chaeronea with your father Philip and fell there in command for the liberty of Greece." Alexander was so surprised, both at what she had done and what she said, that he could not choose but give her and her children their freedom to go whither they pleased.]
He made league also with the Athenians, though they were very sorry for their miserable fortune. For the day of the solemn feast of their Mysteries being come, they left it off, mourning for the Thebans: courteously entertaining all those that, flying from Thebes, came to them for succour. But whether it was, [like the lion], that his anger was past him; or by cause that after so great an example of cruelty, he would shew a singular clemency again: he did not only pardon the Athenians of all faults committed, but did also counsel them to look wisely to their doings, for their city one day should command all Greece, if he chanced to die.
Men report that certainly he oftentimes repented him that he had dealt so cruelly with the Thebans, and the grief he took upon it was cause that he afterwards shewed himself more merciful unto divers others. [He imputed also the murder of Clitus, which he committed in his wine (Lesson Seventeen), and the unwillingness of the Macedonians to follow him against the Indians (Lesson Twenty), by which his enterprise and glory was left imperfect, to the wrath and vengeance of Bacchus, the protector of Thebes. And it was observed that whatsoever any Theban, who had the good fortune to survive this victory, asked of him, he was sure to grant without the least difficulty.]
Then the Grecians having assembled a general council of all the states of Greece within the straits of Peloponnesus: there it was determined that they would make war with the Persians. Whereupon they chose Alexander general for all Greece.
Then divers men coming to visit Alexander, as well [as] philosophers [and] governors of states, to congratulate with him for his election, he looked that Diogenes of Sinope (who dwelt at Corinth) would likewise come as the rest had done: but when he saw he made no reckoning of him, and that he kept still in the suburbs of Corinth, at a place called [the] Cranium, he went himself unto him, and found him laid all along in the sun.
When Diogenes saw so many coming towards him, he sat up a little, and looked full upon Alexander. Alexander courteously spake unto him, and asked him if he lacked anything. "Yea," said he, "that I do: that thou stand out of my sun a little."
Alexander was so well pleased with this answer, and marvelled so much at the great boldness of this man, to see how small account he made of him: that when he went his way from him, Alexander's familiars laughing at Diogenes and mocking him, he told them, "Masters, say what you list, truly if I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes."
[omitted material between lessons]
Narration and Discussion
Alexander was advised to introduce himself as a friendly, gentle ruler of the cities his father had conquered. Why did he reject this advice?
Why did Alexander say that he would choose to be Diogenes? Do you agree?
Older students: Part One of this lesson raises many questions about military aggression, including the treatment of civilians during wars. Could Alexander's destruction of Thebes be justified? If so, why did he later regret his actions?
In this lesson, Alexander fought successfully to cross the Granicus River and enter Persian territory. King Darius was not there himself; perhaps he thought it would be an easy matter for his troops (made up largely of mercenary soldiers) to push the Macedonians back.
Delphi, to consult Apollo: the temple at Delphi contained the Oracle, believed to be a source of supernatural guidance. The prophecies were spoken through a woman called "the priestess" or "the nun."
prodigies: supernatural occurrences
the custom of some haven: the revenue (income) from a harbour
to tarry Alexander. . .: to keep the Macedonians from crossing the river
fight pell-mell: fight quickly and without much strategy
phalanx: the classic Macedonian battle formation
the mercenary Greeks: hired soldiers who were fighting for Persia
Aristander: a soothsayer
Perdiccas, Darius: see introductory notes
Achilles, Paris: characters in Homer's Iliad
Clitus (Cleitus): "Clitus the Black" saved Alexander's life in this battle, but was killed by him six years later during a drunken quarrel
June, 334 B.C.: Battle of the Granicus River
334 B.C.: The city of Sardis surrendered to Alexander
On the Map
After visiting Delphi, Alexander returned to Macedonia, gathered his forces, and headed east and then south, around the Aegean Sea, crossing the Strait of Hellespont (the boundary between Europe and Asia, also called the Bosphorus); and finally arriving at the ancient site of Troy. The Granicus River was east of Troy.
[Then he went to Delphi, to consult Apollo concerning the success of the war he had undertaken; and happening to come on one of the forbidden days, when it was esteemed improper to give any answer from the oracle, he sent messengers to desire the priestess to do her office; and when she refused, on the plea of a law to the contrary, he went up himself, and began to draw her by force into the temple, until tired and overcome with his importunity: "My son," said she, "thou art invincible." Alexander taking hold of what she spoke, declared he had received such an answer as he wished for, and that it was needless to consult the god any further.
Among other prodigies that attended the departure of his army, the image of Orpheus at Libethra, made of cypress-wood, was seen to sweat in great abundance, to the discouragement of many. But Aristander told him that, far from presaging any ill to him, it signified he should perform acts so important and glorious as would make the poets and musicians of future ages labour and sweat to describe and celebrate them.]
Then, for his army which he led with him, they that do set down the least number, say that they were thirty thousand footmen, and five thousand horsemen: and they that say more, do write four and thirty thousand footmen, and four thousand horsemen. Aristobulus writeth that Alexander had no more but three score and ten talents to pay his soldiers with: and Duris writeth that he had no more provision of victuals than for thirty days only. And Onesicritus sayeth, moreover, that he did owe two hundred talents.
Now, notwithstanding that he began this war with so small ability to maintain it, he would never take ship before he understood the state of his friends, to know what ability they had to go with him, and before he had given unto some, lands, and unto other[s], a town, and to others again, the custom of some haven. Thus, by his bounty having in manner spent almost the revenues of the crown of Macedon, Perdiccas asked him: "My lord, what will you keep for yourself?" "Hope," said he. "Then," quoth Perdiccas again, "we will also have some part, since we go with you," and so [he] refused the revenue which the king had given him for his pension. Many others did also the like. But such as were contented to take his liberality, or would ask him anything, he gave them very frankly, and in such liberality [he] spent all the revenue he had.
With this desire and determination, he went on to the Strait of Hellespont, and going to the city of Ilium [Dryden: Troy], he did sacrifice unto Diana [Dryden: Minerva], and made funeral effusions unto the demi-gods (to wit, unto the princes which died in the war of Troy, whose bodies were buried there) and specially unto Achilles, whose grave he anointed with oil, and ran naked round about it with his familiars, according to the ancient custom of funerals. Then he covered it with nosegays and flowers, saying that Achilles was happy, who while he lived had a faithful friend, and after his death an excellent herald to sing his praise. When he had done, and went up and down the city to see all the monuments and notable things, there [some]one asked him if he would [like to] see Paris' harp. He answered again, he would [prefer to] see Achilles' harp, who played and sang upon it all the famous acts done by valiant men in former times.
In the meantime, Darius, king of Persia, having levied a great army, sent his captains and lieutenants to tarry Alexander at the Granicus River. There was Alexander to fight of necessity, [it] being the only bar to stop his entry into Asia. Moreover, [his generals] were afraid of the depth of this river, and of the height of the bank on the other side, which was very high and steep, and could not be won without fighting. And some said also, that he should have special care of the ancient regard of the month: because the kings of Macedon did never use to put their army into the field in the month of Dason [Daesius], which is June. "For that," said Alexander, "we will remedy soon: let them call it the second month, Artemisium, which is May." Furthermore, Parmenio was of opinion that he should not meddle the first day, because it was very late. Alexander made answer again, that [the] Hellespont would blush for shame if he were now afraid to pass over the river, since he had already come over an arm of the sea.
Thereupon he himself first entered the river with thirteen [troops] of horsemen, and marched forwards against an infinite number of arrows which the enemies shot at him as he was coming up the other bank, which was very high and steep, and worst of all, full of armed men and horsemen of the enemies: which stayed to receive him in battle array, thrusting his men down into the river, which was very deep, and ran so swift that it almost carried them down the stream: insomuch that men thought him more rash than wise, to lead his men with such danger. [However, he persisted obstinately to gain the passage, and at last with much ado he] recovered the other side, specially because the earth slid away, by reason of the mud.
So when he was [crossed] over, he was driven to fight pell-mell one upon another, because his enemies did set upon the first that were passed over, before they could put themselves into battle array, with great cries, keeping their horses very close together, and fought first with their darts, and afterwards came to the sword when their darts were broken. Then many of them set upon him alone, for he was easily to be known above the rest by his shield and the hinder part of his helmet, about the which there hung, from the one side to the other, a marvellous fair white plume. Alexander had a blow with a dart on his thigh, but it hurt him not.
Thereupon Roesaces and Spithridates, two chief captains of the Persians, setting upon Alexander at once: he left the one, and riding straight to Roesaces, who was excellently armed, he gave him such a blow with his lance that he broke it in his hand, and straight drew out his sword. But so soon as they two had closed together, Spithridates coming at the side of him, raised himself upon his stirrups and gave Alexander with all his might such a blow of his head with a battleaxe, that he cut [off] the crest of his helmet, and one of the sides of his plume, and made such a gash that the edge of his battleaxe touched the very hair of his head. And as he was lifting up his hand to strike Alexander again, great Clitus, preventing him, thrust him through with a partisan; and at the very same instant, Roesaces also fell dead from his horse with a wound which Alexander gave him with his sword.
Now whilst the horsemen fought with such fury, [the Macedonian phalanx passed the river, and the foot [soldiers] on each side advanced to fight. But the enemy hardly sustaining the first onset soon gave ground and fled, all but the mercenary Greeks, who] drew together upon a hill, and craved mercy of Alexander. But Alexander setting upon them, more of will than discretion, had his horse killed under him, being thrust through the flank with a sword. This was not Bucephalus, but another horse he had.
All his men that were slain or hurt at this battle were hurt [because they were] valiantly fighting against desperate men. It is reported that there were slain, at this first battle, twenty thousand footmen of these barbarous people, and two thousand five hundred horsemen. Of Alexander's side, Aristobulus writeth that there were slain four and thirty men in all, of the which twelve of them were footmen. Alexander, to honour their valiantness, caused every one of their images to be made in brass by Lysippus. And because he would make the Grecians partakers of this victory, he sent unto the Athenians three hundred [Persian] targets, which he had won at the battle, and [upon the rest] he put this honourable inscription: "Alexander the son of Philip, and the Grecians, excepting the Lacedaemonians, have won this spoil upon the barbarous Asians."
[All the plate and purple garments, and other things of the same kind that he took from the Persians (except a very small quantity which he reserved for himself), he sent as a present to his mother.]
Narration and Discussion
Why did Alexander take the words of the irritated priestess as a prophecy?
If you could see and touch some artifact from history or from literature), what would you choose?
Creative narration: In a journal entry, or a letter to someone at home, describe the crossing of the Granicus.
After the initial victory at the Battle of Granicus, the Macedonians seemed to have gained a great deal more respect from the Persian cities they passed through. Alexander and Darius both expected that they would soon fight face to face, but this was delayed by Alexander's serious illness in Cilicia.
the empire of the barbarous people: the Persian empire
by the Grecians: in this case, "Grecians" refers to the Macedonians
Cilicia: a region within the Persian empire, part of present-day Turkey
the knot: the Gordian Knot (see note before the reading)
Susa: an important city of Persia
extreme pains and travail: exhaustion, overwork
miscarried: failed, or, in this case, died
Philip [the] Acarnanian: Alexander's personal physician
April-July, 333 B.C.: Alexander's visit to Gordium
September, 333 B.C.: Alexander arrived in Cilicia and became ill
On the Map
In Part One, the Macedonians' route after Granicus was south to Sardis, and then west to the Mediterranean, where they followed the coast around what is now southern Turkey, to the city of Phaselis.
In Part Two, they seem to have gone north (Gordium is more than halfway up to the Black Sea), and then looped around south again (Cilicia was in the Mediterranean region).
What was the Gordian Knot?
In Phrygia, once upon a time, it was decided that the next man to enter the city would become king. A farmer named Gordias came along driving an ox-cart, was therefore named king, and his now-unneeded cart was left there, tied up with an intricate knot. (Interestingly, Gordias is supposed to have been from Macedonia.) A legend grew up that the one who undid the knot would rule Asia, and many would-be rulers tried but failed. Most tellers of the story say that Alexander simply cut the knot; but Plutarch offers an alternative version, saying that it was possible to undo the knot by removing the linchpin (a fastener) from the cart wheel.
"Cutting a Gordian knot" refers to a bold or unexpected solution to a difficult problem. But the famous preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon, in a sermon titled "God's Providence," did not approve of Alexander's method, or (perhaps more) of his arrogance. He said, "God has many Gordian knots which wicked men may cut and which righteous men may try to unravel, but which God alone can untie."
This first victory brought such a sudden change amongst the barbarous people in Alexander's behalf, that the city [it]self of Sardis, the chief city of the empire of the barbarous people, or at the least through all the low countries and coasts upon the sea, they yielded straight unto him, [excepting] the cities of Halicarnassus and Miletus, which did still resist him: howbeit at length he took them by force.
When he had also conquered all thereabouts, he stood in doubt afterwards [about what were best to do]. Sometime[s] he had a marvellous desire wholly to follow Darius, wheresoever he were, and to venture all at a battle. Another time again, he thought it better first to occupy himself in conquering of these low countries, and to make himself strong with the money and riches he should find among them, that he might afterwards be the better able to follow him.
[While he was thus deliberating what to do, it happened that a spring of water near the city of Xanthus in Lycia, of its own accord, swelled over its banks, and threw up a copper plate, upon the margin of which was engraven in ancient characters, that the time would come] when the kingdom of the Persians should be destroyed by the Grecians. This did further so encourage Alexander that he made haste to clear all the sea coast, even as far as Cilicia and Phoenicia. But the wonderful good success he had, running alongst all the coast of Pamphilia, gave divers historiographers occasion to set forth his doings with admiration, saying that it was one of the wonders of the world that the fury of the sea, which unto all other was extreme[ly] rough, and many times would swell over the tops of the high rocks upon the cliffs, fell calm unto him.
[short omission for length]
[Then he subdued the Pisidians who made head against him, and conquered the Phrygians, at whose chief city, Gordium, which is said to be the seat of the ancient Midas, he saw the famous chariot fastened with cords made of the rind of the cornel-tree, which whosoever should untie, the inhabitants had a tradition that for him was reserved the empire of the world. Most authors tell the story that Alexander finding himself unable to untie the knot, the ends of which were secretly twisted round and folded up within it, cut it asunder with his sword. But Aristobulus tells us it was easy for him to undo it, by only pulling the pin out of the pole to which the yoke was tied, and afterwards drawing off the yoke itself from below.]
Departing thence, he conquered the Paphlagonians and Cappadocians. [Hearing of] the death of Memnon, that was Darius' general of his army by sea, and in whom was all their hope to trouble and withstand Alexander: whereupon he was the bolder to go on with his determination to lead his army into the high countries of Asia.
Then did King Darius himself come against Alexander, having levied a great power at Susa of six hundred thousand fighting men; trusting to that multitude, and also to a dream, the which his wizards had expounded rather to flatter him than to tell him truly. Darius dreamed that he saw all the army of the Macedonians [all on fire], and Alexander serving of him in the same attire that he himself wore when he was [courier] unto the late king his predecessor; and that when he came into the temple of Belus, he [Alexander] suddenly vanished from him. By this dream it plainly appeared that the gods did signify unto him that the Macedonians should have noble success in their doings, and that [as he, from a courier's place, had risen to the throne, so Alexander should come to be master of Asia, and not long surviving his conquests, conclude his life with glory].
This furthermore made him bold also, when he saw that Alexander remained a good while in Cilicia, supposing it had been for that he was afraid of him. Howbeit it was by reason of a sickness he (Alexander) had, the which some say he got by extreme pains and travail, and others also, because he washed himself in the river of Cydnus, which was cold as ice. Howsoever it came, there was none of the other physicians that durst undertake to cure him, thinking his disease uncurable, and no medicines to prevail that they could give him, and fearing also that the Macedonians would lay it to their charge if Alexander miscarried.
But Philip [the] Acarnanian, considering his master was very ill, and bearing himself of his love and goodwill towards him, thought he should not do that [which] became him, if he did not prove (seeing him in extremity and danger of life) the utmost remedies of physic, what danger soever he put himself into: and therefore took upon him to minister physic unto Alexander, and persuaded him to drink it boldly if he would quickly be whole, and go to the wars.
In the meantime, Parmenio wrote him (Alexander) a letter from the camp, advertising him that he should beware of Philip his physician, for [he said that Philip] was bribed and corrupted by Darius, with large promises of great riches that he would give him, [along] with his daughter in marriage, to kill his master.
Alexander when he had read this letter, laid it under his bed's head, and made none of his nearest familiars acquainted therewith. When the hour came that he should take his medicine, Philip came into his chamber, with [some] of the king's familiars, and brought a cup in his hand with the potion he should drink. Alexander then gave him the letter, and withal, cheerfully took the cup of him, shewing no manner of fear or mistrust of anything. It was a wonderful thing and worth the sight, how one reading the letter, and the other drinking the medicine both at one instant, they looked one upon another, howbeit not both with like cheerful countenance.
For Alexander looked merrily upon him, plainly shewing the trust he had in his physician Philip, and how much he loved him: and the physician also beheld Alexander, like a man perplexed and amazed, to be so falsely accused, and straight lift[ed] up his hands to heaven, calling the gods to witness that he was innocent, and then came to Alexander's bedside, and prayed him to be of good cheer, and boldly to do as he would advise him.
The medicine, beginning to work, overcame the disease, and drove, for the time, to the lowest parts of his body, all his natural strength and powers: insomuch as his speech failed him, and he fell into such a weakness, and almost swooning, that his pulse did scant beat, and his senses were well near taken from him. But that being past, Philip in (a) few days recovered him again.
Now, when Alexander had gotten some strength, he showed himself openly unto the Macedonians: for they would not be pacified, nor persuaded of his health, until they had seen him.
Narration and Discussion
Why did Alexander have so much success in conquering these regions of the Persian empire? To what did he give the credit?
Was Alexander's illness a Gordian knot for his physician?
Creative narration: The "wizards" (or "wise men") of Darius used his dream about Alexander to boost his confidence, by twisting its meaning. Plutarch's description of the dream, however, does not sound very affirming. How might it have been re-interpreted to sound more positive? This is a scene that could be written or acted out.
Creative narration: Both the cutting of the Gordian knot and the scene between Alexander and Philip would lend themselves to drama, art, or creative writing. (Could they be "modernized?")
Plutarch sets the scene for the Battle of Issus, stating that the odds were against the Macedonians from the beginning: they were outnumbered and at a geographical disadvantage. Somehow, through good leadership and perhaps good luck, the Macedonians won an unexpected victory. King Darius escaped, leaving everything behind including his relatives and his bathtub.
Cilician Gates: a pass through the mountains into that region
his horse: the Macedonian cavalry
sumptuous: rich, luxurious.
Amyntas: Alexander had an officer named Amyntas, but this is someone else with the same name.
Antipater: see introductory notes
November, 333 B.C.: Battle of Issus
On the Map
Issus is in the large gulf at the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean, between Antioch and Tarsus.
In King Darius' camp, there was one Amyntas, a Macedonian, and banished out of his country, who knew Alexander's disposition very well. He, finding that Darius meant to meet with Alexander within the straits and valleys of the mountains, besought him to tarry rather where he was, [there] being a plain open country round about him, considering that he had a great host of men to fight with a few enemies, and that it was most for his advantage to meet with him in the open field. [Darius, instead of taking his counsel, told him he was afraid the enemy would endeavour to run away, and so Alexander would escape out of his hands.] Amyntas replied, "For that, O King, I pray you fear not: for I warrant you upon my life he will come to you, yea and is now onwards on his way coming towards you." All these persuasions of Amyntas could not turn Darius from making his camp to march towards Cilicia.
At the same time also, Alexander went towards Syria to meet with him. But it chanced one night, that the one of them missed of the other, and when day was come, they both returned back again.
Alexander, being glad of this hap, [made] haste to meet with his enemy within the straits. [Darius attempted to recover his former ground and draw his army out of so disadvantageous a place. For now, he began to perceive his error in engaging himself too far in a country in which the sea, the mountains, and the river Pinarus running through the midst of it, would necessitate him to divide his forces, render his horse almost unserviceable, and only cover and support the weakness of the enemy.] But now, as fortune gave Alexander the field as he would wish it to fight for his advantage, so could he tell excellently well how to set his men in battle array to win the victory. [For being much inferior in numbers, so far from allowing himself to be outflanked], he did put out the right wing of his battle a great deal further than he did his left wing; and fighting himself in the left wing in the foremost ranks, he made all the barbarous people flee that stood before him: howbeit, he was hurt on his thigh with a blow of a sword. Chares writeth that Darius himself did hurt him, and that they fought together man to man. Notwithstanding, Alexander himself, writing of this battle unto Antipater, sayeth that indeed he was hurt on the thigh with a sword, howbeit it did put him in no danger: but he writeth not that Darius did hurt him.
Thus, having won a famous victory, and slain above a hundred and ten thousand of his enemies, he could not yet take Darius, because he fled, having still four or five furlongs' [ad]vantage before him: howbeit he [Alexander] took his chariot of battle wherein he fought, and his bow also. Then he [Alexander] returned from the chase, and found the Macedonians sacking and spoiling all the rest of the camp of the barbarous people, where there was infinite riches (although they had left the most part of their carriage behind them in the city of Damascus, to come lighter to the battle); but [they] yet reserved for himself all King Darius' tent, which was full of a great number of rich moveables, and of gold and silver. So, when he was come to the camp, putting off his armour, he entered into the bath and said, "Come on, let us go and wash off the sweat of the battle in Darius' own bath."
"Nay," replied one of his familiars again, "in Alexander's bath; for the goods of the vanquished are rightly the vanquisher's." When he came into the bath, and saw the basins and ewers, the boxes, and vials for perfumes, all of clean gold, excellently wrought, all the chamber perfumed passing sweetly, that it was like a paradise; then going out of his bath, and coming into his tent, seeing it so stately and large, his bed, the table, and supper, and all ready in such sumptuous sort, that it was wonderful, he turned him unto his familiars and said: "This was a king indeed, was he not, think ye?" [Dryden: "This, it seems, is royalty."]
Narration and Discussion
Why did Darius not take the advice of Amyntas, and fight in the open country where he was? Explain Amyntas' response.
What does this passage show about the character and leadership of Alexander?
Creative narration: You are a reporter on the scene after the Battle of Issus. Try to interview a variety of onlookers and participants. (This could be acted or written.) Another possibility: make a "Most Wanted" poster for King Darius, giving pertinent details.
This lesson concludes the Battle of Issus, but it deals mainly with the generous and gallant aspects of Alexander's character.
clemency: grace, generosity
pensions: financial allowances
preceptor, governor: tutor and personal trainer
fine knacks or conceits: self-indulgent luxuries
curious: careful; he was nothing curious means he cared nothing
a great advantage to ride him: an opportunity to mock him
Princess Ada: Ada of Caria has an interesting history as a ruler. When Alexander entered her region of Caria (in present-day Turkey), Ada surrendered the fort she was holding, and in return he gave her command of the Siege of Halicarnassus.
As he was ready to go to his supper, word was brought [to] him that they were bringing unto him, amongst other ladies taken prisoners, King Darius' mother and his wife, and two of his daughters unmarried: who, having seen his chariot and bow, burst out into lamentable cries, and violent beating of themselves, thinking Darius had been slain. Alexander paused a good while and gave no answer, pitying more their misfortune than rejoicing at his own good hap. Then he presently sent one Leonatus unto them, to let them understand that Darius was alive, and that they should not need to be afraid of Alexander, for he did not fight with Darius, but for his kingdom only; and as for them, that they should have at his hands all that they had of Darius before, when he had his whole kingdom in his hands.
As these words pleased the captive ladies, so the deeds that followed made them find his clemency to be no less. For first he suffered them to bury as many of the Persian lords as they would, even of them that had been slain in the battle, and to take as much silks of the spoils, jewels, and ornaments, as they thought good to honour their funerals with; and also [he] did lessen no part of their honour, nor of the number of their officers and servants, nor of any jot of their estate which they had before, but did allow them also greater pensions than they had before. [But the noblest and most royal part of their usage was that he treated these illustrious prisoners according to their virtue and character, not suffering them to hear, or receive, or so much as to apprehend anything that was unbecoming. So that they seemed rather lodged in some temple, or some holy virgin chambers, where they enjoyed their privacy sacred and uninterrupted, than in the camp of an enemy.]
[omission: examples of Alexander's chastity]
He was also no greedy gut, but temperate in eating, as he showed by many proofs: but chiefly in [what] he said unto Princess Ada, whom he adopted for his mother, and [afterwards created] queen of Caria. [For when she, out of kindness, sent him every day many curious dishes and sweetmeats, and would have furnished him with some cooks and pastry-men, who were thought to have great skills, he told her he wanted none of them, his preceptor, Leonidas, having already given him the best, which were a night march to prepare for breakfast, and a moderate breakfast to create an appetite for supper.] "And my governor," said he, "would oftentimes open the chests where my bedding and apparel lay, to see if my mother had put any fine knacks or conceits among them."
Furthermore, he was less given to wine than men would have judged. For he was thought to be a greater bibber than he was, because he sat long at the board, rather to talk than [to] drink, [and over every cup hold a long conversation. For when his affairs called upon him, he would not be detained as other generals often were either by wine, or sleep, nuptial solemnities, spectacles, or any other diversion whatsoever; a convincing argument of which is, that in the short time he lived, he accomplished so many and so great actions.]
When he had leisure, after he was up in the morning, first of all he would do sacrifice to the gods, and then would go to dinner, passing away all the rest of the day in hunting, writing something, taking up some quarrel between soldiers, or else in studying. If he went [on] any journey of no hasty business, he would exercise himself by the way as he went, shooting in his bow, or learning to get up or out of his chariot suddenly, as it ran. Oftentimes also for his pastime he would hunt the fox or catch birds, as appeareth in his book of remembrances for every day. Then when he came to his lodging, he would enter into his bath, and rub and anoint himself, and would ask his [bakers and chief cooks] if his supper were ready. He would ever sup late, and [he] was very curious to see that every man at his board were alike served, and [he] would sit long at the table, because he ever loved to talk, as we have told you before. Otherwise he was as noble a prince and gracious to wait upon, and as pleasant as any king that ever was.
For he lacked no grace nor comeliness to adorn a prince, saving that he would be something overbusy in glorying in his own deeds, much like unto a bragging soldier [which gave his flatterers a great advantage to ride him, and made his better friends uneasy]. And this was many times the destruction of honest men about him, [who] would neither praise him in his presence, hating the flatterers, nor yet [dare] say less of the praises which they gave him. For of the first they were ashamed, and by the second they fell in danger.
After supper, he would wash himself again, and sleep until noon the next day following, and oftentimes all day long.
For himself, he was nothing curious of dainty dishes: for when any did send him rare fruits, or fish, from the countries near the seaside, he would send them abroad unto his friends, and seldom keep anything for himself. His table notwithstanding was always very honourably served, and [he] did still increase his fare, as he did enlarge his conquests: till it came to the sum of ten thousand drachmas a day. But there he stayed, and would not exceed that sum, and moreover commanded all men that would feast him, that they should not spend above that sum.
Narration and Discussion
How did Alexander treat the female relatives of King Darius? What does this show about his character?
In what ways did Alexander show moderation in his personal life? How did those habits allow him to get a lot done?
Alexander never seemed to stop moving and conquering. His army bulldozed southward through many ancient strongholds, eventually taking even the stubborn city of Tyre.
barbarous: in this case, the luxurious Persian lifestyle
necessary to assure himself of the seacoast: he needed to take control of the ports along the coast of the Mediterranean
bulwarks and divers engines of battery: war machines and weapons
Mount Antilibanus: mountains between Syria and Lebanon
benighted: forced to stop for the night
firebrand: torch, or blazing stick of wood from the fire
frankincense, myrrh: aromatic (fragrant) gum resins, burned as incense
Lysimachus, Leonidas: see introductory notes
Phoenix, Achilles' guardian: Phoenix went with Achilles to the Trojan war, in Homer's Iliad
332 B.C.: Alexander conquered Tyre in Phoenicia, then Syria
On the Map
Alexander followed the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, through Phoenicia, and besieged Tyre. The Macedonians then marched through Syria and Palestine (including the city of Gaza).
After the Battle of Issus (Lesson Six), he sent unto the city of Damascus, to take all the gold and silver, the carriage, and all the women and children of the Persians which were left there [of which spoil the Thessalian horsemen had the greatest share]. For therefore did he send them [the Thessalians] thither, because he saw that they had fought valiantly at the day of the battle; and so were the rest of his army also well stored with money. There the Macedonians having tasted first of the gold, silver, women, and barbarous life: as dogs by scent do follow the track of beasts, even so were they greedy to follow after the goods of the Persians. [But Alexander, before he proceeded any further, thought it necessary to assure himself of the seacoast. Those who governed in Cyprus put that island into his possession, and Phoenicia, [the city of] Tyre only excepted, was surrendered to him.] That city he besieged seven months together by land, with great bulwarks and divers engines of battery, and by sea, with two hundred galleys.
[omission for length: Alexander's dreams of Hercules and mythical beasts]
Continuing this siege, he went to make war with the Arabians that dwell upon [Mount Antilibanus, in which he hazarded his life extremely to (save) his master Lysimachus, who would needs go along with him, declaring that he was neither "older nor inferior in courage to Phoenix," Achilles' guardian]. For when they came at the foot of the mountain, they left their horses, and went up afoot: and Alexander was of so courteous a nature, that he would not leave his tutor Lysimachus behind him (who was so weary that he could go no further), but because it was dark night, and for that the enemies were not far from them, he came behind to encourage his tutor, and in manner to carry him. By this means, unwares, he was far from his army with very few men about him, and benighted besides: moreover, it was very cold, and the way was very ill.
At the length, perceiving divers fires which the enemies had made, some in one place, and some in another, trusting to his valiantness, having always provided remedy in extremity when the Macedonians were distressed, himself ever putting to his own hand: he ran unto them that had made the fires next him, and killing two of the barbarous people that lay by the fireside, he snatched away a firebrand, and ran with it to his own men, who made a great fire. At this the barbarous people were so afraid, that they ran their way as fast as they could. Other[s] also thinking to come and set upon him, he slew them every man, and so lay there that night, himself and his men without danger. Thus Chares reporteth this matter.
Now for the siege of Tyre, that fell out thus. Alexander caused the most part of his army to take rest, being overharried and wearied with so many battles as they had fought: and sent a few of his men only to give assault unto the city, to keep the Tyrians occupied, that they should take no rest. One day the soothsayer Aristander sacrificing unto the gods, having considered of the signs of the entrails of the beasts, did assure them that were present, that the city should be taken by the latter end of the month. Everybody laughed to hear him: for that day was the very last day of the month. Alexander seeing him amazed, as one that could not tell what to say to it, seeking ever to bring those tokens to effect which the soothsayers did prognosticate: [he gave orders that they should not count it as the thirtieth, but as the twenty-third of the month]. He made the trumpet sound the alarm, and give a hotter assault to the wall than he had thought to have done before. They fought valiantly on both sides, insomuch as they that were left in the camp could not keep in but must needs run to the assault to help their companions. The Tyrians seeing the assault so hot on every side, their hearts began to fail them, and by this means was the city taken the selfsame day.
[Alexander] sent great presents of spoils which he won at the sack of Gaza unto his mother Olympias, [his stepmother] Cleopatra, and divers others of his friends. Among other things, he sent unto Leonidas, his governor, five hundred talents' weight of frankincense and a hundred talents' weight of myrrh, remembering the hope he put him into when he was a child. For, as Alexander was upon a day sacrificing unto the gods, he took both his hands full of frankincense to cast into the fire, to make a perfume thereof. When Leonidas saw him, he said thus unto him: "When thou hast conquered the country where these sweet things grow, then be liberal of thy perfume: but now, spare that little thou hast at this present." Alexander calling to mind at that time his admonition, wrote unto him in this sort: "We do send thee plenty of frankincense and myrrh, because thou shouldst no more be a [miser] unto the gods."
Narration and Discussion
Alexander's world was full of prophecies, dreams, and sacrifices to gods. At the same time, Alexander's methods of warfare seem to have been extremely practical: war engines, sieges, and, when necessary, stealing fire and stabbing those he believed to be enemies. Does he seem to have put more trust in the supernatural, or in his own strength?
How did Alexander's gift to his old tutor show a sense of humour?
Alexander marked his time in Egypt first by laying out plans for the city of Alexandria, and then by taking an arduous pilgrimage through the desert to the temple of Jupiter Ammon.
casket: box, chest
laid up: stored
a great city: Alexandria
these verses: these are lines from Homer's Odyssey
being forced by man's hand: it was later joined to the mainland by a "mole" or stone causeway
isthmus: a narrow strip of land
the charge of the building: Alexander remained in Egypt for only a few months and never saw more than the foundations of the city.
dissuade: talk someone out of something
he had power also of time and place: Alexander seemed to have influence over even non-human factors
element: sky, heavens
no mortal man: the priest was not referring to Philip
it went for current: the story went
divine generation: being born of gods
331? B.C.: the founding of Alexandria. Some sources give the date as 332, or even 334.
On the Map
The Macedonians made a long, looping journey through the northern part of Egypt (stopping to establish Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast, west of the Nile River delta). This detour was due to Alexander's wish to visit the temple of Jupiter Ammon, or Zeus Ammon. Ammon was the Greek name for the Egyptian god Aman; they must have found it fitting, because "ammos" is the Greek word for "sand."
[Among the treasures and other booty that was taken from Darius, there was a very precious casket, which, being brought to Alexander for a great rarity, he asked those about him what they thought fittest to be laid up in it.] Some said one thing, some said another thing: but he said, he would put Homer's Iliad into it, as the worthiest thing. This is confirmed by the best historiographers; [and if what those of Alexandria tell us, relying upon the authority of Heraclides, be true], then it appeareth that he did profit himself much by Homer in this journey.
For it is reported that when he had conquered Egypt, he determined to build a great city, and to replenish it with a great number of Grecians, and to call it after his name. But as he was about to enclose a certain ground, which he had chosen by the advice of his engineers and workmasters: the night before he had a marvellous dream, that he saw an old man standing before him, full of white hairs, with an honourable presence, [who] coming towards him said these verses:
["An island lies, where loud the billows roar,
Pharos, they call it, on the Egyptian shore."]
As soon as he rose the next morning, he went to see this isle of Pharos, which at that time was a little above the mouth of the river Nile, called Canobia; howbeit, it is now joined unto firm land, being forced by man's hand. [As soon as he saw the commodious situation of the place, it being a long neck of land, stretching like an isthmus between large lagoons and shallow waters on one side and the sea on the other, the latter at the end of it making a spacious harbour, he said, "Homer, besides his other excellences, was a very good architect," and [he] ordered the plan of a city to be drawn out answerable to the place. To do which, for want of chalk, the soil being black, they laid out their lines with flour [Dryden: meal], taking in a pretty large compass of ground in a semi-circular figure, and drawing into the inside of the circumference equal straight lines from each end, thus giving it something of the form of a cloak or cape. While he was pleasing himself with his design, on a sudden an infinite number of great birds of several kinds, rising like a black cloud out of the river and the lake, devoured every morsel of the flour that had been used in setting out the lines; at which omen even Alexander himself was troubled.] Notwithstanding, his soothsayers bade him not be discouraged, for they told him it was a sign that he should build a city there, so plentiful of all things, that he should maintain all sorts of people. Then he commanded them unto whom he had given the charge of the building, that they should go forward with their work; and he himself, in the meantime, took his journey to go visit the temple of Jupiter Ammon.
The journey was long, and there were many troubles by the way, but two dangers above all the rest most special. The first, lack of water, because they had to travel many days' journey through a great desert. The second was, the danger of the rising of the south wind by the way, to blow the sand abroad, which was of a wonderful length. And it is reported, that on a time there rose such a tempest in that desert, that blew up whole hills of sand [as it is said to have done when Cambyses led his army that way]. Every man in Alexander's train did know these dangers very well: howbeit it was hard to dissuade Alexander from anything which he had a desire unto. For Fortune, favouring him in all his attempts, made him constant and resolute in his determinations: and his noble courage, besides, made him invincible in all things he took in hand, insomuch as he did not only compel his enemies, but he had power also of time and place.
In that voyage, instead of these former dangers spoken of, he had many helps, which are supposed were sent him from the gods by the oracles that followed afterwards. For in a certain sort, [men] have believed the oracles that were written of him. First of all, the wonderful water and great showers that fell from the element did keep him from fear of the first danger, and did quench their thirst, and moistened the dryness of the sand in such sort, that there came a sweet fresh air from it. Furthermore, when the marks were hidden from the guides to shew them the way, and they wandered up and down, they could not tell where: there came crows unto them that did guide them, flying before them: flying fast when they saw them follow them, and stay[ing] for them when they were behind. But Callisthenes writeth a greater wonder than this: that in the nighttime, with the very noise of the crows, they brought them again into the right way [those] which had lost their way.
Thus, Alexander in the end having passed through this wilderness, he came unto the temple he sought for: where the prophet or chief priest saluted him from the god Ammon, as from his father. Then Alexander asked him, if any of the murderers that had killed his father were left alive. The priest answered him, and bade him take heed he did not blaspheme, for his father was no mortal man. Then Alexander [brief omission] asked him if the murderers that had conspired the death of Philip his father were all punished. After that he asked him, touching his kingdom, if he would grant him to be king over all the world. The god answered him by the mouth of his prophet, he should: and that the death of Philip was fully revenged. Then did Alexander offer great presents unto the god, and [he] gave [much] money to the priests and ministers of the temple. This is that [which] the most part of writers do declare, touching Alexander's demand, and the oracles given him. Yet did Alexander himself write unto his mother that he had secret oracles from the god, which he would only impart unto her at his return into Macedon.
[Others say that the priest, desirous as a piece of courtesy to address him in Greek by saying "O Paidion" [dear son], by a slip in pronunciation ended with the "s" instead of the "n," and said "O Paidios" [son of Jupiter], which mistake Alexander was well enough pleased with, and it went for current that the oracle had called him so.] Whereupon there ran a rumour straight among his men, that Jupiter had called him his son.
It is said also, that he heard Psammon the philosopher in Egypt, and that he liked his words very well, when he said that God was king of of all mortal men: "For," (quoth he), "he that commandeth all things must needs be God." But Alexander himself spake better, and like a philosopher, when he said that God generally was father to all mortal men, but that particularly he did elect the best sort for himself. To conclude, he showed himself more arrogant unto the barbarous people, and made as though he certainly believed that he had been begotten of some god: but unto the Grecians he spake more modestly of divine generation.
For in a letter he wrote unto the Athenians touching the city of Samos, he said: "I gave ye not that noble free city, but it was given you, at that time, by him whom they called my lord and father": meaning Philip. Afterwards also, being stricken with an arrow and feeling great pain of it: "My friends," said he, "This blood which is spilt is man's blood, and not as Homer said: 'No such as from the immortal gods doth flow.'"
Narration and Discussion
How did Alexander "profit himself much by Homer in this journey?"
How did the soothsayers reassure Alexander after the birds ate up his plans for the city?
For older students: Plutarch says, "But Alexander himself spake better, and like a philosopher, when he said that God generally was father to all mortal men, but that particularly he did elect the best sort for himself." Compare this with Christian beliefs (e.g. John 3:16).
Was Alexander's strength and success truly due to his courage? Was it the favouring of "Fortune," or was there something else behind it?
This lesson moves from the imagined tragedies at a drama contest to the real grief of Darius at the loss of his queen. Surprisingly, this gave Darius less desire for increased anger at Alexander (who had caused their separation), but rather more respect for him. However, since Alexander had rejected Darius' negotiations for a peaceful sharing of the Persian empire, the only possible response was a final battle.
tragedies: theatrical performances
pastimes: events and performances, often in honour of the gods (and carrying more significance than our "pastimes")
kings of the Cyprians: Alexander had conquered Cyprus, and its rulers were now his subjects
the setters forth of them: the financial sponsors
furnish: sponsor, back
ten talents: a sum of money
without dissimulation: without any pretense
eunuch: a certain type of male servant
On the Map
Alexander ended his Egyptian journey, retraced his route back to Tyre, headed east through Damascus, and eventually crossed the Euphrates.
Returning out of Egypt into Phoenicia, he made many sacrifices, feasts, and processions in honour of the gods: sundry dances, tragedies, and such like pastimes goodly to behold, not only for the sumptuous setting out of them, but also for the goodwill and diligence of the setters forth of them, which strived everyone to exceed the other. For the kings of the Cyprians were the setters of them forth, as at Athens they draw by lot a citizen of every tribe of the people, to defray the charges of these pastimes. These kings were very earnest who should do best, but specially Nicocreon, king of Salamis, and Pasicrates, lord of the city of Soli. For it fell to their lot to furnish two of the excellentest players: Pasicrates furnished Athenodorus, and Nicocreon, Thessalus. [Thessalus was most favoured by Alexander, though it did not appear till Athenodorus was declared victor by the plurality of votes.] For when he went from the plays, he told them he did like the judges' opinion well; notwithstanding, he would have been contented to have given the one half of his realm not to have seen Thessalus overcome. [However, when he understood Athenodorus was fined by the Athenians for being absent at the festivals of Bacchus, though he refused his request that he would write a letter in his behalf, he gave him a sufficient sum to satisfy the penalty.] Also, when Lycon [of] Scarphia, an excellent stage player, had pleased Alexander well and did [slip] in a verse in his comedy [in which he begged for a present] of ten talents: Alexander, laughing at it, gave it [to] him.
Darius at that time wrote unto Alexander, and unto certain of his friends also, to pray him to take ten thousand talents for the ransom of all those prisoners he had in his hands, [offering him also] all the countries on this side [of] the river Euphrates, and one of his daughters also in marriage, that from thenceforth he might be his kinsman and friend. Alexander imparted this to his council.
Amongst them, Parmenio said unto him: "If I were Alexander," quoth he, "surely I would accept this offer." "So would I indeed," quoth Alexander again, "if I were Parmenio."
In fine, he wrote again unto Darius that if he would submit himself, he would use him courteously: if not, that then he would presently march towards him. But he repented him afterwards, when King Darius' wife [named Statira] was dead with child. For without dissimulation it grieved him much, that he had lost so noble an occasion to shew his courtesy and clemency. This notwithstanding, he gave her body honourable burial, sparing for no cost.
[Among the eunuchs who waited in the queen's chamber and were taken prisoners with the women, there was one Tireus, who, getting out of the camp, fled away on horseback to Darius, to inform him of his wife's death.] Then Darius beating of his head, and weeping bitterly, cried out aloud: "Oh gods! what wretched hap have the Persians! that have not only had the wife and sister of their king taken prisoners even in his lifetime, but now that she is dead also in travail of child, she hath been deprived of princely burial!"
Then spake the eunuch to him, and said:
"For her burial, most gracious King, and for all due honour that might be wished her, Persia hath no cause to complain of her hard fortune. For neither did Queen Statira your wife, whilst she lived prisoner, nor your mother nor daughters, want any part or jot of their honour they were wont to have before, saving only to see the light of your honour, the which the god Oromasdes [will] grant to restore again (if it be his will) unto your Majesty: neither was there any honour wanting at her death (to set forth her stately funerals) that might be gotten, but more was lamented also with the tears of your enemies. For Alexander is as merciful in victory as he is valiant in battle."
Darius, being vexed in mind for very grief, took the eunuch aside into the secretest place of his tent, and [asked him to swear that his wife had not been dishonoured by Alexander.]
Then Darius coming out among his friends again, holding up his hands unto the heavens, made this prayer unto the gods:
"O heavenly gods, creators of men, and protectors of kings and realms: First, I beseech you, grant me that restoring the Persians again to their former good state, I may leave the realm unto my successors, with that glory and fame I received it of my predecessors; that obtaining victory, I may use Alexander with that great honour and courtesy which he hath in my misery shown unto those I loved best in the world. Or otherwise, if the time appointed be come that the kingdom of Persia must needs have end, either through divine revenge, or by natural change of earthly things: then good gods yet grant that none but Alexander after me may sit in Cyrus' throne."
Divers writers do agree that these things came even thus to pass.
Narration and Discussion
Why did the Macedonians stage dramatic contests and other "pastimes" at that time?
Why did Alexander reject the offers from King Darius?
Why was Tireus so anxious to tell Darius that his wife had received proper treatment and a royal funeral? Might he not instead have wished to cast a negative light on Alexander?
Plutarch leads up to the Battle of Gaugamela by describing some playfighting which got out of hand, but which also foreshadowed Alexander's victory.
heated with contention: hot-headed and ready to fight
The servants who followed the camp: this is Dryden's phrase. North translates it "the slaves of his army."
he confided in: he had confidence in
out of their battle: out of formation
carriage: weapons and other supplies
girt close about him: close-fitting
Philotas, Parmenio: see introductory notes
October, 331 B.C.: Battle of Gaugamela
On the Map
Alexander continued eastward, crossing the Euphrates, heading somewhat north to cross the Tigris, following the Tigris for a distance, and ending up at the site of the battle (in today's northern Iraq).
Now Alexander having conquered all Asia this side of the Euphrates, he went to meet with Darius, [who] came down with ten hundred thousand fighting men [Dryden: a million of men]. [In his march a very ridiculous passage happened. The servants who followed the camp, for sport's sake, divided themselves into two parties, and named the commander of one of them Alexander, and the other Darius. At first they only pelted one another with clods of earth, but presently took to their fists, and at last, heated with contention, they fought in good earnest with stones and clubs, so that they had much ado to part them; till Alexander, upon hearing of it, ordered the two captains to decide the quarrel by single combat, and armed him who bore his name himself, while Philotas did the same to him who represented Darius.] All the army thereupon was gathered together to see this combat between them, as a thing that did betoken good or ill luck to some. The fight was sharp between them, but in the end, he that was called Alexander overcame the other. Alexander, to reward him, gave him twelve villages, [with leave to wear the Persian dress]. Thus it is written by Eratosthenes.
The great battle that Alexander fought with Darius, was not (as many writers report) at Arbela, but at Gaugamela, which signifieth in the Persian tongue, the house of the camel. For some one of the ancient kings of Persia that had escaped from the hands of his enemies, fleeing upon a [swift] camel, lodged him in that place, and therefore appointed the revenues of certain villages to keep the camel there.
There fell out at that time an eclipse of the moon, in the month called Boedromion (now August), about the time that the Feast of the Mysteries was celebrated at Athens. The eleventh night after that, both their armies being in sight of the other, Darius kept his men in battle array, and went himself by torchlight, viewing his bands and companies. Alexander, on the other side, whilst his Macedonian soldiers slept, was before his tent with Aristander the soothsayer; and made certain secret ceremonies and sacrifices unto Apollo [Dryden: the god Fear].
The [oldest] captains of the Macedonians, specially Parmenio, seeing all the valley betwixt the river of Niphates, and the mountains of the Gordyaeans, all on a bright light with the fires of the barbarous people, and hearing a dreadful noise as of a confused multitude of people that filled their camp with the sound thereof: they were amazed, and [concluded] that in one day it was in manner impossible to fight a battle with such an incredible multitude of people.
Thereupon they went unto Alexander after he had ended his ceremonies, and did counsel him to give battle by night, because the darkness thereof should help to keep all fear from his men, which the sight of their enemies would bring them into. [To this he gave them the celebrated answer, "I will not steal a victory." Some at the time thought [it] a boyish and inconsiderate speech, as if he played with danger. Others, however, regarded [it] as evidence that he confided in his present condition, and acted on a true judgment of the future, not wishing to leave Darius, in case he were worsted, the pretext of trying his fortune again, which he might suppose himself to have, if he could impute his overthrow to the disadvantage of the night, as he did before to the mountains, the narrow passages, and the sea.] "For," said he, "Darius will never leave to make wars with us for lack of men, nor munition, having so large a realm as he hath, and such a world of people besides: but then he will no more hazard battle, when his heart is done, and all hope taken from him, and that he seeth his army at noonday overthrown by plain battle."
After his captains were gone from him, he went into his tent, and laid him down to sleep, and slept all that night more soundly than he was wont to do before: insomuch as the lords and princes of his camp coming to wait upon him at his uprising, marvelled when they found him so sound asleep, and therefore of themselves they commanded the soldiers to eat. Afterwards, perceiving that time came fast upon them, Parmenio went into Alexander's chamber, and coming to his bedside, called him twice or thrice by his name, till at the last he waked him and asked him how it chanced that he slept so long, like one that had already overcome, and that did not think he should fight as great and dangerous a battle as ever he did in his life. ["And are we not so, indeed," replied Alexander, smiling, "since we are at last relieved from the trouble of wandering in pursuit of Darius through a wide and wasted country, hoping in vain that he would fight us?"]
Now Alexander did not only shew himself before the battle, but even at the very instant of battle, a noble man of courage and of great judgment. For Parmenio leading the left wing of his battle, the men of arms of the Bactrians gave such a fierce onset upon the Macedonians that they made them give back: and Mazeus also, King Darius' lieutenant, sent certain troops of horsemen out of their battle to give charge upon them that were left in the camp to guard the carriage.
[This so disturbed Parmenio that he sent messengers to acquaint Alexander that the camp and baggage would be all lost, unless he immediately relieved the rear by a considerable reinforcement drawn out of the front.] When this news came to Alexander from Parmenio, he had already given the signal of battle unto his men to give charge. Whereupon he answered the messenger that brought him these news, that he should tell Parmenio he was a madman and out of his wits, not remembering that if they won the battle, they should not only save their own carriage, but also win the carriage of their enemies: and if it were their chance to lose it, then that they should not need to care for their carriage, nor for their slaves, but only to think to die honourably, valiantly fighting for his life.
Having sent this message unto Parmenio, he put on his helmet. [The rest of his armour for his body, he had put it on before in his tent, which were a coat of the Sicilian make, girt close about him, and over that a breast-piece of thickly quilted linen, which was taken among other booty at the Battle of Issus.] His headpiece was as bright as silver, made by Theophilus the armourer: his collar [of the same metal], all set full of precious stones, and he had a sword by his side, marvellous light, and of excellent temper, which the king of the Citieians had given him, using commonly to fight with his sword at any set battle. His coat armour was marvellous rich, and of sumptuous workmanship, far above all the rest he wore. It was of the workmanship of Hellicon, which the Rhodians gave him for a present, and this he commonly wore when he went to battle.
Now when he did set his men in battle array, or made any oration unto them, or did ride alongst the bands to take view of them: he always used to ride upon another horse to spare Bucephalus, because he was then somewhat old: notwithstanding, when he meant indeed to fight, then Bucephalus was brought unto him, and as soon as he was gotten up on his back, the trumpet sounded, and he gave charge.
Then, after he had made long exhortations to encourage the men of arms of the Thessalians, and the other Grecians also, and when they had all promised him they would stick to him like men, and prayed him to lead them, and give charge upon the enemies: he took his lance in his left hand, and holding up his right hand unto heaven, besought the gods (as Callisthenes writeth) that if it were true he was begotten of Jupiter, that it would please them that day to help him, and to encourage the Grecians. The soothsayer Aristander was then a-horseback hard by Alexander, appareled all in white, and a crown of gold on his head, who showed Alexander, when he made his prayer, an eagle flying over his head and pointing directly towards his enemies. This marvellously encouraged all the army that saw it, and with this joy, the men of arms of Alexander's side, encouraging one another, did set spurs to their horse to charge upon the enemies.
Narration and Discussion
How did the sham battles between "Alexander" and "Darius" get out of hand? How were they resolved?
"I will not steal a victory." What did Alexander mean?
Why was Alexander able to sleep so well the night before the battle?
How did Alexander show himself to be "a noble man of courage, and of great judgment?"
For those interested in military strategy: There are various opinions about whether Alexander meant to trick Darius by taking an unexpected northern route to Gaugamela, or whether he chose it to avoid heat and have better access to food. There are also questions about why that part of the Tigris was undefended, and the Macedonians were able to cross it without trouble. Was Darius merely careless, or was he leading Alexander into a trap by choosing a battlefield that (he thought) suited his strengths?
This lesson ends the story of the Battle of Gaugamela, which marked Alexander's victory over the Persian Empire. It also introduces his new status as "King of Asia."
battle: battle formation
dispersed themselves: broke ranks and ran away
let, hinder: get in the way or prevent
continue the execution: continue what they were doing
every man thought: that is, thought correctly; understood.
naphtha, bitumen: Bitumen is asphalt, and it was used in the ancient world for many purposes including mummification. The naphtha shown to Alexander may have been a crude oil version of the thicker, stickier bitumen. North spells it "naptha," but as that now commonly refers to mineral spirits, I have used "naphtha."
tincture: dye mixture
Phayllos the wrestler: Phayllos of Croton, an athlete who also commanded a ship at the Battle of Salamis in 480 B.C.
Harpalus: see introductory notes
On the Map
After the battle of Gaugamela, Alexander headed south to Babylon, and east to Susa. He marched a long way to the northwest to arrive at Ecbatana; then, it appears, he returned south.
The battle of the footmen of the Persians began a little to give way, and before the foremost could come to give them charge, the barbarous people turned their backs, and fled. The chase was great, Alexander driving them that fled upon the midst of their own battle, where Darius himself was in person. He spied him afar off over the foremost ranks, in the midst of his [life-guard], being a goodly tall prince, standing in a chariot of war, compassed in round with great troops of horsemen, all set in goodly ordinance to receive the enemy. But when they saw Alexander at hand with so grim a look, chasing them that fled through those that yet kept their ranks: there fell such a fear among them, that the most part dispersed themselves. Notwithstanding, the best and most valiantest men fought it out to the death before their king, and falling dead one upon another, they did let them that the enemies could not so well follow Darius. For they, lying one by another on the ground, drawing on to the last gasp, did yet take both men and horses by the legs to hinder them.
Darius then seeing nothing but terror and destruction before his eyes, and that the bands which he had set before him for safeguard came back upon him so as he could not devise how to turn his chariot forward nor backward, the wheels were so hindered and stayed with the heaps of dead bodies, and that the horse[s] also being set upon and [almost hidden] in this conflict, fell to leaping and plunging for fear, so that the charioteers could no longer guide nor drive them: he got up upon a mare that lately had foaled, and so saved himself, fleeing upon her. And yet [he would not have] thus escaped, had not Parmenio once again sent unto Alexander to pray him to come and aid him: because there was yet a great squadron [of Persians] that made no countenance to flee. Somewhat there was in it, that they accused Parmenio that day to have dealt but slackly and cowardly, either because his age had taken his courage from him, or else for that he envied Alexander's greatness and prosperity, who against his [Parmenio's] will became over-great, as Callisthenes said. [Alexander, though he was not a little vexed to be so recalled and hindered from pursuing his victory, yet concealed the true reason from his men, and causing a retreat to be sounded, as if it were too late to continue the execution any longer, marched back towards the place of danger.] Notwithstanding, news came to him by the way that in that place also they had given the enemies the overthrow, and that they fled every way for life.
The battle having this success, every man thought that the kingdom of the Persians was utterly overthrown, and that Alexander likewise was become king of all Asia: whereupon he made sumptuous sacrifices unto the gods, and gave great riches, houses, lands and possessions unto his friends and familiars. Furthermore, to show his liberality also unto the Grecians, he wrote unto them that he would have all tyrannies suppressed throughout all Greece, and that all the Grecians should live at liberty under their own laws. Particularly also he wrote unto the Plataeians, that he would re-edify their city again, because their predecessors in time past, had given their country unto the Grecians, to fight against the barbarous people for the defence of the common liberty of all Greece.
He sent also into, Italy unto the Crotonians, part of the spoil, to [honour Phayllos the wrestler] who in the time of the wars with the Medes (when all the Grecians that dwelt in Italy had forsaken their natural countrymen of Greece itself, because they thought they could not otherwise escape), went with a ship of his unto Salamis, which he armed and set forth at his own charges, because he would be at the battle and partake also of the common danger with the Grecians. Such honour did Alexander bear unto prowess, that he loved to reward and remember the worthy deeds of men.
Then Alexander marching with his army into the country of Babylon, they all yielded straight unto him.
Part Two (optional)
[In Ecbatana he was much surprised at the sight of the place where fire issues in a continuous stream, like a spring of water, out of a cleft in the earth, and the stream of naphtha, which, not far from this spot, flows out so abundantly as to form a sort of lake. This naphtha, in other respects resembling bitumen, is so subject to take fire, that before it touches the flame it will kindle at the very light that surrounds it, and often inflame the intermediate air also.] The barbarous people of that country, being desirous to show Alexander the nature of that naphtha, scattered the street that led to his lodging with some of it. Then the day being shut in, they fired it at one of the ends, and the first drops taking fire, in the twinkling of an eye, all the rest from one end of the street to the other was of a flame, and though it was dark and within night, lightened all the place thereabout.
[Omission: a sadistic experiment with naphtha]
The manner, however, of the production of naphtha admits of a diversity of opinion…of whether this liquid substance that feeds the flame does not rather proceed from a soil that is unctuous and productive of fire, as that of the province of Babylon is, where the ground is so very hot that oftentimes the grains of barley leap up and are thrown out, as if the violent inflammation had made the earth throb: and in the extreme heats the inhabitants are wont to sleep upon skins filled with water.] Harpalus, whom Alexander left there [as] his lieutenant and governor of that country, desiring to set forth and beautify the gardens of the king's palace and walks of the same with all manner of plants of Greece: he brought all the rest to good pass, saving ivy only, which the earth could never abide, but it ever died, because the heat and temper of the earth killed it, and the ivy of itself liketh fresh air and a cold ground. This digression is somewhat from the matter, but peradventure the reader will not think it troublesome, how hard soever he [might] find it, so it be not over-tedious.
Alexander having won the city of Susa, he found within the castle four thousand talents [Dryden: forty thousand] in ready coin, gold and silver, besides other infinite treasure [of inestimable value], amongst the which (it is said) he found to the value of five thousand talents' weight of [Hermonian purple, that had been laid up there [for a] hundred and ninety years and yet kept its colour as fresh and lively as at first. The reason of which, they say, is that in dyeing the purple they made use of honey and of white oil in the white tincture, both which after the like space of time preserve the clearness and brightness of their lustre.
Dinon also relates that the Persian kings had water fetched from the Nile and the Danube, which they did lock up with their other treasure[s] for a confirmation of the greatness of their empire, and to show that they were lords of the world.
Narration and Discussion
How did Alexander commemorate his victory at Gaugamela?
The Persian kings seemed to have collected every kind of rich man-made treasure. But at the end of the lesson, Plutarch quotes a historian who said that Persian kings also collected natural treasures to show their ownership over the earth. If you have a nature collection, what does it mean to you? What other things might one collect that cost nothing?
Scientific narration: The naphtha demonstrations fall into the "don't try this at home" category, but older students may be interested in the technical aspects of this lesson, such as the topic of flammability.
Examination Questions for Term One
1. Write an account of Alexander the Great and Bucephalus.
2. How did Alexander behave when ill towards his physician?
1. Describe (a) the meeting of Alexander with Diogenes, and (b) how Alexander crossed the Granicus River.
2. How did Alexander spend his days at a time of leisure?
3. (Alternative) Describe (a) the personal appearance, and (b) the early education of Alexander.
If you are returning to the Life of Alexander after a break, take a few minutes to review the previous term's work, especially the victory at Gaugamela, where King Darius of Persia was defeated but escaped from the Macedonians. Remember, however, that it is more important to gain an understanding of Alexander's character than it is to recall every historical detail.
As we begin the second half of this Life, "the kingdom of the Persians was utterly overthrown," but the Macedonian army had not yet entered central Persia or captured Darius. Lesson Thirteen opens with a battle at the Persian Gates (a mountain pass leading into the central part of the country).
sometime: in past times
with such sport: so casually
repent him: feel sorry for what he had done
give good countenance. . .: Dryden translates this as "accompanying what he gave with that courtesy and freedom which, to speak truth, is necessary to make a benefit really obliging."
Xerxes: a great Persian king
Demaratus [the] Corinthian: It seems likely that this is the same Demaratus who had fought with Timoleon in Sicily (see the Life of Timoleon, Lessons Seven and Nine).
Ariobarzanes: His name does not appear in Plutarch's text, but he was satrap (governor) of the southern part of the Persian empire, and he commanded troops at the Battle of Gaugamela. He also headed the Persian defense at the Persian Gates, but he was killed either there or directly afterwards at Persepolis.
Thaïs: a romantic companion of Ptolemy, and possibly also of Alexander
Ptolemy I Soter: see introductory notes
330 B.C.: Battle of the Persian Gates
[The entrance into Persia was through a most difficult country, and was guarded by the noblest of the Persians, Darius himself having escaped further], and in manner unpassable (both for the illness of the ways, as also for the guard that kept them, which were the choicest men of Persia), [Darius himself having escaped further]. There was one that spake the Greek and Persian tongue (whose father was born in the country of Lycia, and his mother a Persian) that guided Alexander into Persia, [by a way something about, yet without fetching any considerable compass].
There was then great slaughter made in Persia of the prisoners that were taken. For Alexander himself writeth that he commanded the men should be put to the sword, thinking that the best way to serve his turn. It is said also that in Persepolis he found a marvellous treasure of gold and silver in ready money, as he had done before in the city of Susa: which he carried away with all the rest of the king's rich wardrobe, and [loaded it on] ten thousand mules and five thousand camels.
[Amongst other things, he happened to observe a large statue of Xerxes thrown carelessly down to the ground in the confusion made by the multitude of soldiers pressing into the palace.] Thereupon he stayed, and spake unto it as if it had been alive, saying: "I cannot tell whether I should pass by thee, and let thee lie, for the war thou madest sometime against the Grecians; or whether I should lift thee up, respecting the noble mind and virtues thou hadst." In the end, when he had stood mute a long time, considering of it, he went his way: and, meaning to refresh his weary army, because it was the winter quarter, he remained there four months together.
The report goeth that the first time that Alexander sat under the [canopy] of King Darius, all of rich gold: Demaratus [the] Corinthian, [who was much attached to him and had been one of his father's friends], burst out in tears for joy, good old man, saying that the Grecians long time dead before were deprived of this blessed hap, to see Alexander set in King Xerxes' princely chair.
After that, preparing again to go against Darius, he would needs make merry one day, and refresh himself with some banquet. It chanced so, that he with his companions was bidden to a private feast, where [there were assembled his followers and some women]. Amongst them was that famous Thaïs, born in the country of Attica, and then [mistress of Ptolemy, who was afterwards king of Egypt.]
[As the feasting and drinking went on, Thaïs made the suggestion, half-serious, half-joking, that they should burn down Xerxes' palace to avenge his burning of the Temple of Athena in 480 B.C.]
When she had said [this], Alexander's familiars about him clapped their hands, and made great noise for joy, saying that it [would be] as good a deed as could be possible, and persuaded Alexander unto it. Alexander, yielding to their persuasions, rose up, and putting a garland of flowers upon his head, went foremost himself; and all his familiars followed after him, crying and dancing all about the castle. The other Macedonians, hearing of it also, came thither immediately with torchlight and great joy, hoping that this was a good sign that Alexander meant to return again into Macedon, and not to dwell in the country of the barbarous people, since he did burn and destroy the king's castle. Thus, and in this sort, it was thought to be burnt. Some writers think otherwise: that it was not burnt with such sport, but by determination of the council. But howsoever it was, all they grant that Alexander did presently repent him, and commanded the fire to be quenched straight.
[Alexander's] liberality, that good will and readiness to give, increased with his conquests: and when he did bestow gifts [to] any, he would besides his gift ever give good countenance [to those] on whom he bestowed his grace and favour.
[one example omitted for length]
Another time, he met with a poor Macedonian that led a mule laden with gold of the kings: and when the poor mule was so weary that she could no longer carry her burden, the muleteer put it [the burden] upon his own back, and loaded himself withal, carrying it so a good pretty way; howbeit in the end being overladen, [he] was about to throw it down on the ground. Alexander perceiving it, asked him what burden he carried. When it was told him: "Well," quoth he to the muleteer, "be not weary yet, but carry it into [your own] tent, for I give it thee." To be short, he was angrier with them that would take nothing of him, than he was with those that would ask him [for something].
[omission: mature content]
The goods and riches he gave unto his familiars and guard about him were very great, as it appeareth plainly by a letter which his mother Olympias wrote unto him, to this effect: "I know thou sparest not to give thy friends large gifts, and that thou makest much of them: but thereby thou makest them king's fellows; they get many friends, and [in the meantime you leave yourself destitute]."
[To his mother he sent many presents but would never suffer her to meddle with matters of state or war, not indulge her busy temper, and when she fell out with him on this account, he bore her ill humour very patiently. Nay, more, when he read a long letter from Antipater full of accusations against her, "Antipater," he said, "does not know that one tear of a mother effaces a thousand such letters as these."]
Narration and Discussion
How was Alexander's army finally able to get through the Persian Gates?
Was Alexander truly generous, or did he have other reasons for giving lavishly to others?
What sort of relationship did Alexander have with his mother?
For older students: Is an action such as the slaughter of the prisoners ever justified? What does this decision show about Alexander?
This lesson continues the previous discussion of Alexander's generosity, showing examples now of the concern he showed for his friends when they were in trouble, and his scorn for those who chose pampering and luxury over courage and action. But his new status as King of Asia made things more complicated.
dissolute and licentious: wild, unbridled
chamberlains: personal servants
travail: labour, work hard
vile: in this context it means worthless or of little value
for slothful curiosity's sake: from squeamishness
the type: the ideal, the model
hardness: toughness, discipline
ichneumon: possibly a mythical beast known as the "enemy of the dragon"; it can also mean a mongoose or otter
hellebore: a genus of plants, often used as medicine in the ancient world, but known to be somewhat toxic
stayed and taken: captured
Philotas: a son of Parmenio; see introductory notes
Hephaestion, Seleucus, Craterus: see introductory notes
324-323 B.C.: Harpalus' escape
Furthermore, Alexander perceiving, on a time, that his friends became very dissolute and licentious in diet and life; and that Agnon Teian had his corked shoes nailed with silver nails; that Leonatus also caused divers camels to be laden amongst his carriage with powder of Egypt, to put upon him when he wrestled or used any other exercise of body; and that also they carried after Philotas [nets] for chase and hunting, of a hundred furlongs long; and that there were [men in his camp] also that used precious perfumes and sweet savours when they bathed themselves, more than there were that rubbed themselves with plain oil; and that they had fine chamberlains to rub them in the bath, and to make their beds soft and delicate: he wisely and courteously rebuked them and said [the following].
"I marvel," said he, "that you, which have fought in so often and great battles, do not remember that they which travail do sleep more sweetly and soundly than they that take their ease and do nothing; and that you do not mark that, comparing your life with the manner of the life of the Persians, to live at pleasure is a vile thing, and to travail is princely. And how I pray you, can a man take pain to dress his own horse, or to make clean his lance or helmet, that for slothful curiosity's sake disdaineth to rub his own body with his fine fingers? Are you ignorant that the type of honour in all our victory consisteth in scorning to do that which we see them do whom we have vanquished and overcome?"
To bring them therefore by his example to acquaint themselves with hardness, he took more pains in wars and in hunting, and did hazard himself more dangerously, than ever he had done before.
This notwithstanding, his friends and familiars having wealth at will, as men exceeding rich, they would needs live delicately and at ease, and would take no more pains, misliking utterly to go up and down the countries to make war here and there: and thereupon began a little to find fault with Alexander, and to speak evil of him. Which at the first Alexander took quietly, saying, that it was honour for a king to suffer himself to be slandered and ill-spoken of, for doing of good.
And yet the least good turns he did unto his friends did show his hearty love and honour he bare them, as shall appear unto you by some examples that follow. Peucestas, being bitten by a bear, did let his friends understand it by letters, but he wrote nothing thereof unto Alexander. Alexander was offended therewith and wrote unto him thus: "Send me word at the least [of] how thou doest, and whether any of thy fellows did forsake thee at the hunting, to the end they may be punished."
Hephaestion being absent about certain business he had, Alexander wrote unto him that as they were hunting a beast called an ichneumon, Craterus unfortunately crossing Perdiccas' dart was stricken through both his thighs. Peucestas being cured of a great disease, Alexander wrote unto Alexippus his physician that had cured him and gave him thanks. Craterus also being sick, he dreamed of him one night, and therefore made certain sacrifices for the recovery of his health, and sent unto him, willing him to do the like. And when the physician Pausanias meant to give him [Craterus] a drink of hellebore, he wrote letters unto him, telling him what danger he was in, and prayed him to be careful how he received that medicine.
[He was so tender of his friends' reputations that he imprisoned those who brought him the first news of Harpalus' flight and withdrawal from his service, as if they had falsely accused him.]
It is a wonderful thing to see what pains he would take, to write for his friends, even in such trifles as he did. As when he wrote into Cilicia for a servant of Seleucus that was fled from his master, sending straight commandment that they should carefully lay for him. And by another letter he commendeth Peucestas, for that he had stayed and taken one Nicon, a slave of Craterus. And by one other letter also unto Megabizus, touching another bondman that had taken sanctuary in a temple: he commanded him also to seek to entice him out of the sanctuary, to lay hold on him if he could, but otherwise not to meddle with him in any case.
It is said also, that at the first when he used to sit in judgment to hear criminal causes, whilst the accuser went on with his complaint and accusation: he always used to lay his hand upon one of his ears to keep that clean from the matter of accusation, thereby reserving it to hear the purgation and justification of the person condemned. But afterwards, the number of accusations that were brought before him did so provoke and alter him that he did believe the false accusations, by the great number of the true that were brought in. But nothing put him more in rage than when he understood they had spoken ill of him: and then he was so fierce as no pardon would be granted, for that he loved his honour more than his kingdom or life.
Narration and Discussion
"To live at pleasure is a vile thing, and to travail is princely." Some people think quite the opposite. What did Alexander mean?
How did Alexander show that he cared for his friends?
For older students: Charlotte Mason said that those who act with Will are those who have a purpose outside of themselves, but that those who act with Willfulness are bound by their appetites (we might say they need immediate gratification). How did Alexander's impatience with those who lived "delicately and at ease" illustrate this principle?
This lesson is all about water! The Macedonians nearly perished from thirst on a long march; the last moments of King Darius' life were eased by a drink of water offered by an enemy; and Alexander reached the Caspian Sea.
he went against Darius: the goal was to overtake the enemy camp
flying away at all adventure: running for their lives
they ran upon the spur: they rushed
almost at the last cast: almost dead
mishap: misfortune, bad luck
I cannot requite thee: I cannot pay you back
gave up the ghost: died
all the flower of his army: his best soldiers
he did use them: he treated them
Bessus: a Persian satrap (a high official) and military commander who conspired to capture and overthrow Darius after the Battle of Gaugamela. It appears that the conspirators intended to hand him over to Alexander; but when the Macedonians appeared at the Persian camp, they panicked, stabbed Darius, and then fled. Bessus, who was a cousin of Darius and was next in line to the throne, called himself King Artaxerxes V after the death of Darius; but he was soon captured and executed by Alexander.
Polystratus: a Macedonian soldier
330 B.C.: the death of Darius
329 B.C.: the death of Bessus
On the Map
In Part One, Alexander followed Darius into the desert area of Rhagae (east of modern-day Tehran). In Part Two, the Macedonians travelled to the region of Hyrcania, near the Caspian Sea (the sea Caspium).
Then at that time he went against Darius, thinking that he meant to fight again: but, understanding that Bessus had taken him, he then gave the Thessalians leave to depart home into their country, and gave them two thousand talents over and above their ordinary pay. [In this long and painful pursuit of Darius, for eleven days he marched thirty-three hundred furlongs, (and it) harassed his soldiers so that most of them were ready to give it up, chiefly for want of water.]
It chanced him one day to meet with certain Macedonians that carried (upon mules) goatskins full of water, which they had fetched from a river. They, seeing Alexander in manner dead for thirst, [it] being about noon, ran quickly to him and in a [helmet] brought him water. Alexander asked them to whom they carried this water. They answered him again that they carried it to their children, and said, "but yet we would have Your Grace to live: for though we lose them, we may get more children."
When they had said so, Alexander took the helmet with water, and perceiving that men of arms that were about him and had followed him did thrust out their necks to look upon this water, he gave the water back again unto them that had given it him, and thanked them, but drank none of it. "For," said he, "if I drink alone, all these men here will faint." Then they, seeing the noble courage and courtesy of Alexander, cried out that he should lead them: and therewithal began to spur their horses, saying that they were not weary nor athirst, nor did think themselves mortal, so long as they had such a king.
Every man was alike willing to follow Alexander; yet had he but three score only that entered with him into the enemies' camp. There, passing over much gold and silver which was scattered abroad in the marketplace, and going also by many chariots full of women and children, which they found in the fields, flying away at all adventure: they ran upon the spur until they had overtaken the foremost that fled, thinking to have found Darius amongst them. But at the length, with much ado, they found him laid along in a coach, having many wounds upon his body, some of darts and some [of] spears. So he, being almost at the last cast, called for some drink, and drank cold water which Polystratus gave him. To whom when he had drunk, he said: "This is my last mishap, my friend, that having received this pleasure, I cannot requite thee: howbeit Alexander will recompense thee, and the gods [will recompense] Alexander for the liberality and courtesy which he hath shewed unto my wife and children, whom I pray thee embrace for my sake." At these last words, he took Polystratus by the hand, and so gave up the ghost. Alexander came immediately after, and plainly shewed that he was sorry for his death and misfortune; and undoing his own cloak, he cast it upon the body of Darius.
[omission: the cruel execution of Bessus]
Then Alexander having given Darius' corpse princely burial and [having] embalmed him: he sent it unto his mother and received his brother Exathres for one of his friends.
From thence he went into the country of Hyrcania with all the flower of his army, where he saw the gulf of the sea Caspium, which he thought of no less greatness than the sea of Pontus [Dryden: Euxine], howbeit calmer than the other seas be.
[short omission about the sea]
As Alexander went through the country, certain barbarous people suddenly set upon them that led Bucephalus his horse, and took him: but with that he was in such a rage, that he sent a herald into their country to proclaim open wars upon them, and [said] that he would put man, woman, and child to the sword, if they brought him not his horse again. Whereupon, when his horse was returned home, and that they yielded up their cities and forts into his hands: he did use them all very courteously, and moreover did give them money for the ransom of his horse, which they restored.
Narration and Discussion
"For," said he, "if I drink alone, all these men here will faint." How did Alexander show true leadership in this situation?
Who showed the most compassion for others in this lesson?
For older students: In one sense, the conspirators had done Alexander a favour by capturing and killing Darius; and with Alexander's growing power, even Bessus might not have posed much of a threat as king of what was left of Persia; or he might have easily been conquered in battle. Discuss why it was (or was not) necessary to punish the conspirators so severely. (Creative narration: This could be debated in a group, or written as an editorial.)
Scholars have debated the details of what Alexander wore as King of Asia. What did each piece of clothing symbolize to the Persians, to the Macedonians, and to Alexander himself? The key seems to be that he did not want to be viewed as merely following Darius, so he deliberately left off the tiara or headdress associated with Persian kings. Median-style loose trousers made the Macedonians think of theatrical costumes, and were also sometimes worn by women, so Alexander avoided those. He did, however, incorporate a regal tunic; a Persian-style belt, which symbolized power; and a diadem crown into his wardrobe.
apparel himself. . . : dress in the Persian style
Medes: the people of Media, a kingdom which had been conquered by the Persians. Plutarch refers here to the Median style of riding dress.
strange: foreign to them
sleeved vest: loose jacket
tiara: in this context, a type of headdress associated with Persian royalty
Persian mode and the Macedonian: Plutarch's Greek text has "Median" instead of "Macedonian," and North also says "Medes," but later translators agreed that "Macedonian" made more sense.
meet: reasonable, just
diarrhea: possibly dysentery
Hyrcania: see Lesson Fifteen
chaste and continent: well-behaved, self-controlled
Hephaestion, Craterus: see introductory notes
327 B.C.: Alexander married Roxane
Departing thence, he entered into the country of Parthia [where, not having much to do], he began to apparel himself after the fashion of the barbarous people, because he thought thereby the better to win the hearts of the countrymen, framing himself unto their own fashions: or else to try the hearts of the Macedonians, to see how they would like the manner of the Persians (which he meant to bring them unto) in reverencing of him as they [the Persians] did their king, by little and little acquainting them to allow the alteration and change of his life.
This notwithstanding, he would not at the first take up the apparel of the Medes, which was very strange and altogether barbarous. [He adopted neither the trousers nor the sleeved vest, nor the tiara for the head, but taking a middle way between the Persian mode and the Macedonian, so contrived his habit that it was not so flaunting as the one, and yet more pompous and magnificent than the other.] At the first he did not wear it but when he would talk with the barbarous people, or else privately amongst his friends and familiars. Afterwards, notwithstanding, he shewed himself openly to the people in that apparel when he gave them audience. This sight grieved the Macedonians much: but they had his virtues in such admiration, that they thought it meet in some things he should take his own pleasure, since he had been often hurt in the wars, and not long before had his leg broken with an arrow, and another time, had such a blow with a stone full in his neck [which dimmed his sight for a good while afterwards. And yet all this could not hinder him from exposing himself freely to any dangers, insomuch that he passed the river Orexartes, which he took to be the Tanais; and putting the Scythians to flight, followed them above a hundred furlongs, though suffering all the time from a diarrhea.]
[omission for length]
Furthermore, Alexander, fearing that the Macedonians being weary with this long war, would go no further; he left all the rest of his army behind, and took only twenty thousand footmen and three thousand horsemen of the choicest men of his army, and with them invaded the country of Hyrcania. There he made an oration unto [these soldiers]; and told them that the barbarous people of Asia had but seen them as it were in a dream, and if they should now return back into Macedon, having but only stirred them, and not altogether subdued Asia: the people, offended with them, would set upon them as they went home [short omission].
Nevertheless, he gave any man leave to return that would, [merely] protesting therewith against them that would go, how they did forsake him, his friends, and those who had so good hearts towards him, as to follow him in so noble a journey, to conquer the whole earth [for] the Macedonians. This matter is reported thus in a letter which Alexander wrote unto Antipater: and there he writeth furthermore, that having made this oration unto them, they all cried out, and bade him lead them into what part of the world he would. When they had granted their good wills, it was no hard matter afterwards, to win the rest of the common sort [of soldiers] who followed the example of the chiefest.
Thereupon he did frame himself the more to live after the fashion of the country there, and also to bring the men of that country unto the manner of the Macedonians: being persuaded, that by this mixture and interchange of manners one with another, he should by friendship, more than force, make them agree lovingly together when [the time came] that he should be so far from the country of Persia. For this purpose, therefore, he chose thirty thousand of their children of that country, and set them to learn the Greek tongue, and to be brought up in the discipline of wars, after the Macedonian manner: and gave them schoolmasters and captains to train them in each faculty.
And for the marrying of Roxane: he fancied her, seeing her at a feast where he was; which fell out as well for his turn, as if he had with better advice and counsel loved her. For the barbarous people were very proud of this match when they saw him make alliance with them in this sort, insomuch as they loved him better then they did before, because they saw in those things he was always so chaste and continent, that, notwithstanding, he was marvellously in love with her; yet he would not dishonourably touch this young lady before he was married unto her.
[Noticing, also, that among his chief friends and favourites, Hephaestion most approved of all he did and complied with and imitated him in his change of habits; while Craterus continued strict in the observation of the customs and fashions of his own country; he made it his practice to employ the first in all transactions with the Persians, and the latter when he had to do with the Greeks or Macedonians. In general he showed more affection for Hephaestion [but] more respect for Craterus; Hephaestion, as he used to say, being Alexander's, and Craterus the king's friend.]
Hereupon these two persons bare one another grudge in their hearts, and oftentimes brake out in open quarrel: insomuch as on a time being in India, they drew their swords and fought together, and divers of their friends ran to take part with either side. Thither came Alexander himself also, who openly before them all, bitterly took up Hephaestion, and called him fool and bedlam [short omission]. Privately also, he sharply rebuked Craterus, and calling them both before him, he made them friends together, swearing by Jupiter Ammon, and by all the other gods, that he loved them two of all men living, nevertheless if ever he found that they fell out together again, they should both die for it, or him at the least that first began to quarrel. So ever after that, they say, there was never foul word nor deed between them, not so much as in sport only.
[material omitted between these lessons]
Narration and Discussion
One reason Alexander changed his dress was "to see how [his people] would like the manner of the Persians (which he meant to bring them unto) in reverencing of him as they did their king, by little and little acquainting them to allow the alteration and change of his life." Do you agree that the language of clothes is important? How might what we wear affect our relationships with others?
How did Alexander stem the quarrel between his best friends?
For older students: Alexander's change in appearance seems to have also changed his self-image. How might this affect his future decisions?
There is a lengthy omission between Lessons Sixteen and Seventeen, involving intrigue and misconduct in Alexander's court. It includes the execution of Philotas, the son of Parmenio; and then of Parmenio himself, an old friend who had served under King Philip. All this made Alexander's friends increasingly frightened of his cruelty.
This lesson builds on the climate of mistrust sparked by those events. It describes the murder of Clitus, an act that would haunt Alexander for the rest of his life (see Lesson Three).
not of set purpose: not premeditated
wethers: castrated male sheep (used for sacrificial purposes)
churlish: mean-spirited, rude
Spithridates' sword: referring to the Battle of Granicus
"Do you not think," said he. . .: Alexander's reason for saying this is not clear; but it may have been the fact that Alexander did not respond directly to his accusations which further enraged Clitus.
Persian girdle and long white garment: belt and tunic, described in Lesson Sixteen
near friend of Aristotle: possibly the great-nephew of Aristotle
despising and slighting: thinking little of
censure and reproach: criticism, condemnation
insinuate himself: inch or "worm" himself
austerity: stern manner
Philotas: the son of Parmenio
Clitus (Cleitus): "Clitus the Black" had saved Alexander's life at the Battle of the Granicus (Lesson Four).
Castor and Pollux: immortal brothers believed to be the patrons of travellers and sailors (giving them fair winds)
Callisthenes: a Greek historian, and a close friend or relative of Aristotle, who accompanied Alexander on his journey. He had also been the tutor of Hermolaus (Lesson Eighteen).
Anaxarchus: a philosopher
328 B.C.: the death of Clitus
Not long after that followed the murder of Clitus, the which, to hear it simply told, would seem much more cruel than the death of Philotas. But reporting the cause and the time together in which it chanced, it will be found that it was not of set purpose, but by chance, and unfortunately, that Alexander being overcome with wine, did unluckily wreak his anger upon Clitus.
The manner of his misfortune was this: there came certain men of the low countries from the seaside, that brought apples of Greece [Dryden: Grecian fruit] unto Alexander. Alexander wondering to see them so green and fair, sent for Clitus to show him them, and to give him some of them. Clitus by chance did sacrifice at that time unto the gods, and left his sacrifice to go unto Alexander: howbeit there were three wethers that followed him, on whom the accustomed sprinklings had been done already to have sacrificed them. Alexander understanding that, told it to his soothsayers, Aristander and Cleomantis Laconian, who both did answer him that it was an ill sign. Alexander thereupon gave order straight that they should do sacrifice for the health of Clitus, and specially for that three days before he dreamed one night that he saw Clitus in a mourning gown, sitting amongst the sons of Parmenio, the which were all dead before.
This notwithstanding, Clitus did not make an end of his sacrifice, but came straight to supper to the king, who had that day sacrificed unto Castor and Pollux. [And when they had drunk pretty hard, some of the company fell a-singing the verses of one Pranichus, or as others say, of Pierion], against certain captains of the Macedonians, which had not long before been overcome by the barbarous people, and only to shame them and to make the company laugh.
With these verses, ancient men that were at this feast became much offended, and grew angry with the poet that made them, and the minstrel that sang them. Alexander, on the other side, and his familiars, liked them very well, and commanded the minstrel to sing still. Clitus, therewith, all being overtaken with wine, and besides of a churlish nature, proud and arrogant, fell into greater choler, and said that it was neither well nor honestly done in that sort to speak ill of those poor Macedonian captains (and specially amongst the barbarous people their enemies), which were far better men than they that laughed them to scorn, although their fortune [was] much worse than theirs. Alexander then replied, and said that, saying so, he [Clitus] pleaded for himself, calling cowardliness "misfortune."
Then Clitus standing up, said again:
"But yet this my 'cowardliness' saved thy life, that callest thyself the son of the gods, when thou turnedst thy back from Spithridates' sword; and the blood which these poor Macedonians did shed for thee, and the wounds which they received of their bodies fighting for thee, have made thee so great, that thou disdainest now to have King Philip for thy father, and wilt needs make thyself the son of Jupiter Ammon."
Alexander being moved with these words, straight replied: "O villain, thinkest thou to escape unpunished for these proud words of thine, which thou usest continually against me, making the Macedonians rebel against Alexander?"
Clitus answered again, "Too much are we punished, Alexander, for our pains and service to receive such reward: nay, most happy think we them that long since are dead and gone, not now to see the Macedonians scourged with rods of the Medes and compelled to curry favour with the Persians to have access unto [the] king."
Thus, Clitus boldly speaking against Alexander, and Alexander again answering and reviling him: the gravest men sought to pacify this stir and tumult. Alexander then turning himself unto Xenodochus [the] Cardian and Artemius [the] Colophonian: "Do you not think," said he, "that the Grecians are amongst the Macedonians, as demi-gods that walk among brute beasts?"
Clitus for all this would not give over his impudency and malapertness, but cried out, and bade Alexander speak openly what he had to say, or else not to bid free men come to sup with him that were wont to speak frankly: if not, to keep with the barbarous slaves that honoured his Persian girdle and long white garment.
Then could Alexander no longer hold his choler, but took an apple that was upon his table, and threw it at Clitus; and looked for his sword, the which Aristophanes, one of his guard that waited on him, had of purpose taken from him. And when every man came straight about him to stay him, and to pray him to be contented: he immediately rose from the board and called his guard unto him in the Macedonian tongue (which was a sign of great trouble to follow after it) and commanded a trumpeter to sound the alarm. But he, drawing back, would not sound: whereupon Alexander struck him with his fist. Notwithstanding, the trumpeter was greatly commended afterwards [for disobeying an order which would have put the whole army into tumult and confusion].
All this could not quiet Clitus, whereupon his friends with much ado thrust him out of the hall: but he came in again at another door, and arrogantly and unreverently rehearsed this verse of the poet Euripides, out of Andromache's tragedy:
[In Greece, alas! How ill things ordered are!]
Then Alexander taking a partisan from one of his guard, as Clitus was coming towards him, and had lift[ed] up the hanging before the door, he ran him through the body, so that Clitus fell to the ground, and fetching one groan, died presently.
Alexander's choler had left him straight, and he became marvellous sorrowful: and when he saw his friends round about him say never a word, he plucked the partisan out of his [Clitus'] body, and would have thrust it into his own throat. Howbeit his guard about him caught him by the hands and carried him perforce into his chamber: and there he did nothing all that night but weep bitterly, and the next day following, until such time as he was able to cry no more, but lying on the ground, only lay sighing.
His friends hearing his voice no more, were afraid, and came into his chamber by force to comfort him. But Alexander would hear none of them, saving Aristander the soothsayer, who remembered him of his dream he had of Clitus before, which was a prognostication of that which had happened: whereby it appeared that it was his destiny before he was born. This seemed to comfort Alexander.
[They now brought Callisthenes the philosopher (the near friend of Aristotle) and Anaxarchus of Abdera to him. Callisthenes used moral language, and gentle and soothing means, hoping to find access for words of reason, and get ahold upon the passion. But Anaxarchus, who had always taken a course of his own in philosophy, and had a name for despising and slighting his contemporaries, as soon as he came in cried out aloud,
"Is this the Alexander whom the whole world looks to, lying here weeping like a slave for fear of the censure and reproach of men, to whom he himself ought to be a law and measure of equity, if he would use the right his conquests have given him as supreme lord and governor of all, and not be the victim of a vain and idle opinion? Do you not know," said he, "that Jupiter is represented to have Justice and Law on each hand of him, to signify that all the actions of a conqueror are lawful and just?"
With these and the like speeches, Anaxarchus indeed allayed the king's grief, but withal corrupted his character, rendering him more audacious and lawless than he had been. Nor did he fail by these means to insinuate himself into his favour, and to make Callisthenes' company, which at all times because of his austerity was not very acceptable, more uneasy and disagreeable to him.]
Narration and Discussion
Had Alexander lost his principles (such as devotion to his friends), or was this simply an unfortunate event caused by too much drink?
How did the words of Anaxarchus soothe away the king's guilt, but also "corrupt his character?" Can you think of real-life or literary examples where facing an uncomfortable truth has led to repentance? (A Bible verse to look up: Proverbs 28:23.)
The last lesson told the story of Clitus, Alexander's old friend who was killed as a result both of his own temper and the king's increasingly unstable nature. Now we read about another man who paid a similar price, but this time for his unwillingness to compromise his deepest principles.
touching the seasons. . .: talking about the weather
galled Anaxarchus to the quick: stung him to the heart
contented with his own: he was happy with what he had
nosegays and flowers: bouquets of flowers
Hermolaus' conspiracy: Alexander's page Hermolaus conspired with others to assassinate the king, in revenge for a certain punishment. Hermolaus blamed Callisthenes for suggesting the idea.
engaged in the design: involved in the conspiracy
the murderers into their cities. . .: this seems to refer to any who would conspire against him
brought up with him: brought up in Aristotle's house
apprehended: arrested, seized
Callisthenes, Anaxarchus: see previous notes
Craterus: see introductory notes
327 B.C.: the conspiracy of Hermolaus, while the army was in Bactria
It is written also that there was certain talk one night at King Alexander's board touching the seasons of the year, and temperateness of the air, and that Callisthenes was of the opinion which maintained that the country they were in at that time was much colder, and the winter also sharper, than in Greece. Anaxarchus held the contrary opinion, and stiffly maintained it, insomuch as Callisthenes said unto him: "And yet must thou grant, that it is colder here than there. [For there you used to have but one threadbare cloak to keep out the coldest winter, and here you have three good warm mantles one over another."]
This galled Anaxarchus to the quick and made him more angry than before; and for the other rhetoricians and flatterers, they did also hate him [Callisthenes], because they saw him followed [by] young men for his eloquence, and beloved also of old men for his honest life, the which was very grave, modest, and contented with his own, desiring no man's else. Whereby men found that the reason he alleged for following of Alexander in this voyage was true: for he said that he came to be a humble suitor to the king, to restore his banished citizens into their country again, and to replenish their city with inhabitants.
Now, though [Callisthenes'] estimation made him chiefly to be envied; yet did he himself give his enemies occasion to accuse him. For oftentimes being invited by the king to supper, either he would not come, or if he came, he would be mute, and say nothing, showing by his gravity and silence that nothing pleased him that was either said or done. Whereupon Alexander [him]self said on a time unto him:
I can not think that person wise,
That in his own case hath no eyes.
It is reported of [Callisthenes] also, that being at supper on a time with the king, divers requesting him to make an oration on the sudden in commendation of the Macedonians: he made such an eloquent oration upon that matter, that all they that heard him rose from the board, and clapping their hands for joy, cast nosegays and flowers upon him. But yet Alexander at that time said unto him that which the poet Euripides said:
It is no mastery to be eloquent,
In handling of a plenteous argument.
["Therefore," said he, "if you will show the force of your eloquence, tell my Macedonians their faults, and dispraise them, that by hearing their errors they may learn to be better for the future." Callisthenes presently obeyed him, retracting all he had said before by] declaring that the [earlier] dissension amongst the Grecians [had increased] King Philip's power, alleging these verses:
Where discord reigns in realm or town,
Even wicked folk do win renown.
But by this occasion, he purchased himself great ill-will of the Macedonians.
[omission for length]
[Therefore when Hermolaus' conspiracy came to be discovered, the charges which [Callisthenes'] enemies brought against him were the more easily believed, particularly that when the young man asked him what he should do to be the most illustrious person on earth, he told him the readiest way was to kill him who was already so; and that to incite him to commit the deed, he bade him not be awed by the golden couch, but remember Alexander was a man equally infirm and vulnerable as another. However, none of Hermolaus' accomplices, in the utmost extremity, made any mention of Callisthenes' being engaged in the design.] And Alexander himself also writing of this treason immediately after, unto Craterus, Attalus, and Alcetas, said that their servants which had been racked and put to the torture did constantly affirm that they only had conspired his death, and no man else was privy unto it.
But afterwards, he sent another letter unto Antipater, wherein he directly accused Callisthenes, and said that his servants [Dryden: the young men] had already been stoned to death by the Macedonians; howbeit that he himself would afterwards also punish the master, and those that had sent unto him and that had received the murderers into their cities, who came of purpose to kill him. And therein he plainly shewed the ill-will he bare unto Aristotle, for that Callisthenes had been brought up with him, being his kinsman.
[Callisthenes' death is variously related. Some say he was hanged by Alexander's orders; others, that he died of sickness in prison; but Chares writes he was kept in chains seven months after he was apprehended, on purpose that he might be proceeded against in full council, when Aristotle should be present; and that growing very fat, and contracting a disease of vermin, he there died about the time that Alexander was wounded in India, in the country of the Malli Oxydracae; all (of) which came to pass afterwards.]
[omission for length]
Narration and Discussion
Why did Anaxarchus and his followers resent Callisthenes?
Was Callisthenes wise or foolish in obeying Alexander's order to "dispraise" the Macedonians? What was the result? What would you have done in his situation?
Alexander's journey to India grew out of his desire to completely conquer the known world. From a historical standpoint, we run into some limitations and difficulties with Plutarch's version of the story. One problem is that other authors, such as Arrian in his Anabasis, covered the Indian campaign in more detail than Plutarch did. Another is that later historians have re-examined the earlier accounts, trying to determine what details were most likely true, and which ones may have been exaggerated or simply misunderstood. One example is Alexander's granting of kingdoms to Porus in Lesson Twenty; in fact, Porus probably ruled that territory already.
For the purposes of this study, we will confine ourselves to the story as the "moral biographer" Plutarch tells it. But those who wish to go deeper will find no shortage of material!
unwildsom: unwieldy, awkward
carriage: literally, the things to be carried
rigorous: Dryden says "severe"
a stronghold which Sisimethres kept/the city of Nysa: these places are not in India, and the stories happened at other times; they are included to show Alexander's character
than all Egypt: probably an exaggeration
capitulation: giving in, surrender
the choice of his horsemen: his best horsemen
the twain: the two possibilities
four cubits and a span high: about seven feet tall
Taxiles: the ruler of a region in the Punjab (in present-day Pakistan), of which the capital city was Taxila. His proper name was Ambhi, but the Greek chroniclers called him Taxiles/Taxilas. He took part in the Battle of the Hydaspes, and was involved first in pursuit of and then in negotiations with Porus. He continued to govern a large territory after the death of Alexander.
Porus [Poros]: the ruler of a neighbouring region, who was not on good terms with Taxiles.
Winter of 328/327 B.C.: the assault on Sisimethres' fortress
326 B.C.: the battle of the Hydaspes River, against Porus
On the Map
Referring to a map of Alexander's journeys in India will be helpful.
Alexander being ready to take his journey to go conquer India, perceiving that his army was very heavy and unwildsom to remove, for the wonderful carriage and spoils they had with them: the carts one morning being laden, he first burnt his own carriage, and next his friends', and then commanded that they should also set the carriage of the Macedonians afire. [This was an act which in the deliberation of it had seemed more dangerous and difficult than it proved in the execution.] For there [were] very few of them that were angry therewith, and the most part of them (as if they had been secretly moved by some god) with loud cries of joy, one of them gave unto another such necessary things as they had need of, and afterwards of themselves did burn and spoil all the rest. [The sight of (this) redoubled Alexander's zeal and eagerness for his design. And, indeed,] this made Alexander much more rigorous than he was before, besides that he was already become cruel enough; and without mercy or pardon [he] did sharply punish every man that offended. For having commanded Menander, one of his friends, to keep him a [fortress], he put him to death, because he would not remain there. Furthermore, he himself slew Orsodates (a captain of the barbarous people) with a dart, for that he rebelled against him.
[omission: certain signs and omens]
And truly so did he sustain many dangers in those wars and was oftentimes hurt in fight. But the greatest loss he had of his men was for lack of victuals, and by the infection of the air. For he, striving to overcome fortune by valiantness, and her force by virtue, thought nothing impossible for a valiant man, neither anything able to withstand a noble heart.
It is reported, that when he went to besiege a stronghold which Sisimethres kept, being thought unassailable, and that his soldiers were in despair of it, he asked one Oxyarthes what heart Sisimethres had. Oxyarthes answered him, that he was the veriest coward in the world. "O, that is well," quoth Alexander: "then it is to be won, if that be true thou sayest, since the captain of the [fortress] is but a coward." So he took it of a sudden, by putting Sisimethres in a great fear. After that also, he did besiege another [fortress] of as great strength and difficulty to assault as the other, and making the young soldiers of the Macedonians to go to the assault, he called one of them unto him, whose name also was Alexander, unto whom he said thus: "Alexander, this day thou must fight like a man, and it be but for thy namesake." The young man did not forget his words, for he fought so valiantly, that he was slain, for whom Alexander was very sorry.
Another time when his men were afraid, and durst not come near unto the city of Nysa to assault it, because there ran a very deep river hard by the walls: he came to the riverside, and said: "Oh, what a coward am I, that never learned to swim!" and so prepared himself to swim over upon his shield. [Here, after the assault was over, the ambassadors who, from several towns which he had blocked up, came to submit to him and make their peace, were surprised to find him still in his armour, without anyone in waiting or attendance upon him; and when at last someone brought him a cushion, he made the eldest of them, named Acuphis, take it and sit down upon it.]
Acuphis marvelling at Alexander's great courtesy, asked him what they should do for him, thenceforth to be his good friends. "I will," said Alexander, "that they from whom thou comest as ambassador unto us do make thee their king: and withal that they do send me a hundred of their best men for hostages." Acuphis, smiling, answered him again: "But I shall rule them better, king, if I send you the worst, and not the best."
There was a king called Taxiles, a very wise man, who had a great country in India, no less in bigness and circuit than all Egypt, and as full of good pasture and fruits as any country in the world could be: who came on a time to salute Alexander, and said unto him:
"What should we need, Alexander, to fight, and make wars one with another, if thou comest not to take away our water, and our necessary commodity to live by: for which things, men of judgment must needs fight? As for other goods, if I be richer than thou, I am ready to give thee of mine: and if I have less, I will not think scorn to thank thee, if thou wilt give me some of thine."
Alexander [omission] embraced him, and said unto him:
"Thinkest thou this meeting of ours can be without fight, for all these goodly fair words? No, no, thou hast won nothing by that: for I will fight and contend with thee in honesty and courtesy, because thou shalt not exceed me in bounty and liberality."
So Alexander taking divers gifts of him, but giving more unto Taxiles: he drank to him one night at supper, and said, "I drink to thee a thousand talents in gold." This gift misliked Alexander's friends: but in recompense thereof, he won the hearts of many of those barbarous lords and princes of that country.
But the grave philosophers and wise men of India did greatly trouble him. For they reproved the kings and princes of the Indians for that they yielded unto Alexander, and [they] procured the free cities to take arms against him. [He took several of these also and caused them to be hanged.]
Learning suggestion for Part Three: You may find it helpful to use figures or small objects to show the events of the battle as you read.
For King Porus, Alexander himself writeth in his epistles all his acts at large which he did against him. For he sayeth that, both their camps lying on either side of the River of Hydaspes, King Porus set his elephants upon the bank of the river with their heads towards their enemies, to keep them from passing over: and that he himself [Alexander] did continually make a noise and tumult in his camp, to acquaint his men not to be afraid of the barbarous people.
Furthermore, that in a dark night when there was no moonlight, he took part of his footmen, and the choice of his horsemen, and went far from his enemies to get over into a little island. When he was come into the island, there fell a wonderful shower of rain, great winds, lightnings and thunders upon his camp, insomuch as he saw many of his men burnt by lightning in this little island. This notwithstanding, he did not leave to get over to the other side of the river.
The river being swollen with the great flood of rain that fell the night before, overflowing the banks, it did eat into the ground where the water ran: so that Alexander when he had passed over the river, and was come to the other side, found himself in very ill case, for that he could hardly keep his feet, because the earth was very slippery under him, and the rage of the water had eaten into it, and broke[n] it down on every side. It is written of him, that then he said unto the Athenians, "[O ye Athenians, will ye believe what dangers I incur to merit your praise?]" Thus Onesicritus reporteth it.
[Alexander says (that) here the men left their boats, and passed the breach in their armour, up to the breast in water, and that then he advanced with his horse about twenty furlongs before his foot(soldiers), concluding that if the enemy charged him with their cavalry, he should be too strong for them; [and] if with their foot(soldiers), his own would come up (in) time enough to his assistance.]
One of the twain fell out as he had guessed. For a thousand horsemen, and three score chariots armed with his enemies, gave him charge before their great company, whom he overthrew, and took all their chariots, and slew four hundred of the men-of-arms in the field. King Porus then knowing by those signs that Alexander was there in person, and [that he] had passed over the river: he marched towards him with all his army in battle array, saving a few which he left behind to resist the Macedonians, if they shewed force to pass over the river.
Alexander, being afraid of the great multitude of his enemies, and of the terror of the elephants, did not give charge upon the midst of the battle; but being himself in the left wing, [he] gave charge upon the corner of the enemy's left wing, and [he] also commanded them that were in the right wing to do the like. So, both the ends of the enemy's army were broken and put to flight; and they that fled ran unto the elephants and gathered themselves together about them.
Thus, the battle being begun, the conflict continued long, insomuch as the enemies were scantly all overthrown by three of the clock in the afternoon. [Almost all the historians agree in relating that Porus was four cubits and a span high, and that when he was upon his elephant, which was of the largest size, his stature and bulk were so answerable, that he appeared to be proportionably mounted, as a horseman on his horse.] This elephant did shew great wit and care, to save the king his master. For whilst he perceived his master was strong enough, he lustily repulsed those which came to assail him: but when he found that he began to faint, having many wounds upon his body, and arrows sticking in it: then being afraid lest his master should fall down from his back, he softly fell on his knees, and gently taking his darts and arrows with his trunk, which he had in his body, he plucked them all from him one after another.
Narration and Discussion
Tell about the battle Alexander fought with Porus.
"For he, striving to overcome fortune by valiantness, and her force by virtue, thought nothing impossible for a valiant man, neither anything able to withstand a noble heart." Do you agree?
After the victorious but costly battle at Hydaspes, Alexander wanted to continue the campaign, and to cross the Ganges River. However, his men refused to go on, either from homesickness and exhaustion, or from embarrassment that they had had so much difficulty fighting a minor ruler like Porus. Alexander was forced to agree to head back.
brought up of a whelp: brought up from a puppy
veneration: awe, reverence
rampart: defensive wall
cuirass: a piece of chest armour
the method of his cure: a course of treatment by his physicians
scimitar: curved sword
half in a swound: half unconscious
On the Map
From the River Hydaspes, Alexander's troops continued to the southwest, following the Indus river to the Arabian Sea.
Porus being taken, Alexander asked him how he should handle him. "Princely," answered Porus. [Dryden: "As a king."] Alexander asked him again, if he would say anything else. "I comprehend all," said he, "in this word 'princely.'" [And Alexander, accordingly, not only suffered him to govern his own kingdom as satrap under himself, but [he] gave him also the additional territory of various independent tribes whom he subdued, a district which, it is said, contained fifteen several nations and five thousand considerable towns, besides abundance of villages. To another government, three times as large as this, he appointed Philip, one of his friends.]
His horse Bucephalus died at this battle, not in the field, but afterwards whilst he was in cure for the wounds he had on his body: but as Onesicritus saith, he died even worn for very age. Alexander was as sorry for his death as if he had lost any of his familiar friends; and for proof thereof, he built a great city in the place where his horse was buried, upon the river of Hydaspes, the which he called after his name, Bucephalusia. It is reported also, that having lost a dog of his called Peritas, which he had brought up of a whelp, and loved very dearly: he built also a city and called it after his name. [So Sotion assures us he was informed by Potamon of Lesbos].
This last battle against King Porus killed the Macedonians' hearts, and made them that they had no desire to go any further to conquer India.
[omission for length]
Alexander, offended with his men's refusal, kept close in his tent for certain days, and lay upon the ground, saying that he did not thank them for all that they had done [already] , unless they passed over the River of Ganges also: and that to return back again, it was as much as to confess that he had been overcome. At the length, when he saw and considered that there was great reason in his friends' persuasions which laboured to comfort him, and that his soldiers came to the door of his tent, crying and lamenting, humbly beseeching him to lead them back again: in the end he took pity of them, and was contented to return.
This notwithstanding, before he departed from those parts, he put forth many vain and false devices to make his name immortal among that people. He made armours of greater proportion than his own, and mangers for horses, higher then the common sort: moreover, he made bits [of bridles] also far heavier then the common sort and made them to be thrown and scattered abroad in every place. He built great altars also in honour of the gods, the which the kings of the Praesians have in great veneration at this day: and passing over the river, do make sacrifices there, after the manner of the Grecians.
[omission for length]
[Alexander was now eager to see the ocean. To which purpose he caused a great many rowboats and rafts to be built], in the which he easily went down the rivers at his pleasure. Howbeit, this his pleasant going by water was not without war: for he would land oftentimes, and did assail cities, and conquered all as he went. Yet in assailing the city of [the] Mallians (which they say are the warlikest men of all the Indians), he was almost slain there.
For, having repulsed the enemies from the wall, he himself was the first man that set foot on a ladder to get up, the which brake as soon as ever he was gotten upon the rampart. Then the barbarous people coming together against the wall, did throw [darts] at him from beneath, and many time[s] lighted upon him. Alexander, having few of his men about him, made no more ado but leaped down from the wall in the midst of his enemies, and by good hap lighted on his feet. His harness making a great noise with the fall, the barbarous people were afraid, thinking they had seen some light or spirit go before him: so that at the first they all betook them to their legs, and ran scatteringly here and there.
But after that, when they came again to themselves, and saw that he had but two gentlemen only about him, they came and set upon him of all hands, and fought with him at the sword or push of the pike, and so hurt him very sore through his armour: but one among the rest, being somewhat further off, gave him such a terrible blow with an arrow, that he struck him through his cuirass, and shot him in at the side under his breast. The blow entered so into his body, that he fell down on one of his knees. Whereupon, he that had stricken him with his arrow ran suddenly to him with a scimitar drawn in his hand. Howbeit Peucestas and Limnaeus stepped before him, and were both hurt: Limnaeus was slain presently, and Peucestas fought it out, till at the length, Alexander himself slew the barbarous man with his own hand, after he had many grievous wounds upon his body. At the length he had a blow with a dart on his neck that so astonished him, that he leaned against the wall looking upon his enemies.
In the meantime, the Macedonians compassing him round about, took him and carried him into his tent half in a swound, and past knowledge: whereupon there ran a rumour straight in the camp that Alexander was dead. They had much ado to cut the arrow asunder that was of wood: so his cuirass being plucked off with great pain, yet were they to pluck the arrowhead out of his body, which stuck in one of his bones: the which as it is reported, was four fingers long, and three fingers broad. [During the operation, he was taken with almost mortal swoonings, but when it was out he came to himself again. Yet though all danger was past, he continued very weak, and confined himself a great while to a regular diet and the method of his cure]: until he heard the Macedonians cry, and make great noise about his tent, desirous to see him. Then he [took his cloak] and came out amongst them all: and after he had done sacrifice unto the gods for recovery of his health, he went on his journey again, and in the same did conquer many great countries and took divers goodly cities.
Narration and Discussion
". . . he put forth many vain and false devices to make his name immortal among that people." How did Alexander himself contribute to romantic legends about his greatness?
What may have been some of the reasons that Alexander was less successful in India than he had been elsewhere?
Part One of this lesson is a dialogue about philosophical conundrums. Those working in groups might enjoy acting it out.
pertinent: this can be translated "correct"
sea Oceanum: This is a translation of the Latin "Mare Oceanum" or "World-Encircling Ocean." It referred to exactly that: the Atlantic Ocean, which surrounded the known world.
going still through the country: as explained in the next sentence, they created a "travelling banquet"
rising up of height: the meaning of this is not clear
fooling: dancing, drinking, and revelry
324 B.C.: Alexander returned to Persia
On the Map
Beginning the journey back to Macedonia, the army moved westward, following the Arabian Sea coast. They then travelled northwest through the countries of Gedrosia and Carmania.
[In this voyage, (Alexander) took ten Indian philosophers prisoner, who had been most active in persuading Sabbas to revolt [in 325 B.C.], and who had caused the Macedonians a great deal of trouble. These men, called Gymnosophists, were reputed to be extremely ready and succinct in their answers, which he made trial of by putting difficult questions to them, letting them know that those whose answers were not pertinent should be put to death; of which he made the eldest of them judge.]
The question he asked the first man was this:
1. Whether the dead or the living were the greater number. He answered, the living. "For the dead," said he, "are no more men."
2. The second man he asked: whether the earth, or the sea brought forth most creatures. He answered, the earth. "For the sea," said he, "is but a part of the earth."
3. To the third man: which of all beasts was the subtlest. "That," said he, "which man hitherto never knew."
4. To the fourth: why did he make Sabbas rebel? "Because," said he, "he should live honourably, or die vilely."
5. To the fifth, which he thought was first, the day, or the night? He answered, "the day, by a day." The king, finding his answer strange, added to this speech: "Strange questions must needs have strange answers."
6. Coming to the sixth man, he asked him how a man should come to be beloved. "If he be a good man," said he, "not terrible."
7. To the seventh, how a man should be a god? "In doing a thing," said he, "impossible for a man."
8. To the eight, which was the stronger: life or death? "Life," said he, "that suffereth so many troubles."
9. And unto the ninth and last man: how long a man should live? "Until," said he, "he think it better to die, than to live."
When Alexander had heard these answers, he turned unto the judge, and bade him give his judgment upon them. The judge said [that] they had all answered one worse than another.
"Then shalt thou die first," said Alexander, "because thou hast given such sentence."
["Not so, O King," replied the gymnosophist, "unless you said falsely that he should die first who made the worst answer."
In conclusion Alexander gave them presents and dismissed them.]
[omission for length]
Alexander continued seven months travelling upon the rivers, to go see the great sea Oceanum. Then he took ship, and sailed into a little island called Scillustis, howbeit others call it Psiltucis. There he landed, made sacrifices unto the gods, and viewed the greatness and nature of the sea Oceanum, and all the situation of the coast upon that sea, as far as he could go.
[omission for length: some difficult travels]
After sixty days' march he came into Gedrosia, where he found great plenty of all things, which the neighbouring kings and governors of provinces, hearing of his approach, had taken care to provide.] After he had refreshed his army there a little, he went through the country of Carmania, where he continued seven days together banqueting, going still through the country. For night and day, he was feasting continually with his friends upon a [platform erected on a] scaffold longer than broad, rising up of height, and drawn with eight goodly horse[s]. After that scaffold followed divers other chariots covered over, [some covered with purple and embroidered canopies, and some with green boughs, which were continually supplied afresh]: and in those were Alexander's other friends and captains with garlands of flowers upon their heads, which drank and made merry together. [Here was now no] helmet, pike, dart, nor target seen: but gold and silver bowls, cups, and flagons in the soldiers' hands, all the way as they went, drawing wine out of great pipes and vessels which they carried with them, one drinking to another, some marching in the fields going forward, and others also set at the table. About them were the minstrels playing and piping on their flutes and shawms, and women singing and dancing, and fooling by the way as they went.
[omission: mature content]
Narration and Discussion
In Part One, which was your favourite answer of the nine?
How did the tenth philosopher show that he was the wisest of all?
Alexander, in spite of the travelling party described in the previous lesson, had suffered setbacks during his time in India. Many men had died, and the army was in such a weak state that cities he had "conquered" were rebelling. People in Macedonia thought (happily or sadly) that he would never return from his journey. But Alexander was not ready to give up the territory he had claimed, or his dream of a triumphant return. He even took the opportunity to get married.
the narrative of his voyage: see the notes in "On the Map"
he resolved himself to sail. . . : this voyage was planned, but did not take place
great insolencies. . . : the governors were growing rich by overtaxing their people
broil and sedition: turmoil, uprisings
a faction against Antipater: Antipater had been left to govern during Alexander's absence
a crown: a piece of gold
Cyrus, king of Persia: Cyrus the Great, who lived in the sixth century B.C., was the founder of the Persian empire.
Antigonus with one eye: a Macedonian general; see introductory notes
324 B.C.: Alexander returned to Persia and married Statira
On the Map
As this is a return journey, most of the places have been mentioned in previous lessons.
[At Gedrosia, Aleander's admiral, Nearchus, came to him and delighted him so with the narrative of his voyage, that he resolved himself to sail out of the mouth of [the] Euphrates with a great fleet, with which he designed to go round by Arabia and Africa, and so by Hercules' Pillars into the Mediterranean; in order for which he directed all sorts of vessels to be built at Thapsacus, and made provision everywhere of seamen and pilots.]
But now the difficulty of the journey which he took upon him for the conquest of India, the danger he was in when he fought with the Mallians, and the number of his men which he lost besides which was very great; all these things considered together [made] men believe that he should never return with safety. They made all the people (which he had conquered) bold to rise against him and gave his governors and lieutenants of provinces occasion to commit great insolencies, robberies, and exactions of people. To be short, it put all his kingdom in broil and sedition. [Even at home, Olympias and Cleopatra had raised a faction against Antipater, and divided his government between them, Olympias seizing upon Epirus, and Cleopatra upon Macedonia. When Alexander was told of it, he said his mother had made the best choice, for the Macedonians would never endure to be ruled by a woman.]
Thereupon he sent Nearchus back again to the sea, determining to fill all the seacoasts with war. As he travelled through the countries far from the sea, he put his captains and governors to death which had revolted against him [short omission].
As he came through the country of Persia, he first renewed the old custom there, which was that [when] the kings did return home from any far journey, they gave unto every woman a crown apiece. It is said therefore that for this cause, some of their natural kings many times did not return again into their country [short omission].
After that, Cyrus' tomb (king of Persia) being found and broken up, he put him to death that did it, although he was a Macedonian of the city of Pella (and none of the meanest), called Polymachus. When he had read the inscription written upon it in the Persian tongue, he would needs also have it written in the Greek tongue: and this it was:
"O man, what so thou art, and whencesoever thou comest, for I know thou shalt come: I am Cyrus that conquered the Empire of Persia, [and] I pray thee envy me not for this little earth that covereth my body."
These words pierced Alexander's heart, when he considered the uncertainty of worldly things.
[omitted: the suicide of Calanus the philosopher]
When they were in the city of Susa, he married [off] certain of his friends, and himself also married Statira, one of King Darius' daughters, disposing also of the other Persian ladies (according to their estate and birth) unto his best friends. He made also a solemn feast amongst the Macedonians, of them that had been married before. At [this] feast, it is written, that, nine thousand persons sitting at the boards, he gave unto every one of them a cup of gold to offer wine in honour of the gods. And there also, amongst other wonderful gifts, he did pay all the debts the Macedonians [owed] unto their creditors, the which amounted unto the sum of ten thousand talents saving a hundred and thirty less.
Whereupon Antigonus with one eye, falsely putting in his name amongst the number of the debtors and bringing in [some]one that said he had lent him money: Alexander caused him to be paid. But afterwards, when it was proved to his face that there was no such matter: Alexander then was so offended with him, that he banished him [from] his court, and deprived him of his captainship, notwithstanding that he had before shewed himself a valiant man in the wars. For when he was but a young man, he was shot into the eye, before the city of Perinthus, which King Philip did besiege: and at that present time they would have plucked the arrow out of his eye, but he never fainted for it, neither would suffer them to pull it out, before he had first driven his enemies within the walls of their city. [Accordingly, he was not able to support such a disgrace with any patience, and it was plain that grief and despair would have made him kill himself, but that the king fearing it, not only pardoned him], but bade him besides keep the money which was given him.
Narration and Discussion
What are some ways that Alexander showed that he still valued generosity?
Antigonus appears to have been a bit of a scoundrel. Why did Alexander let him off the hook?
For older students: Compare Alexander's reaction to the inscription about Cyrus to the previous discussion with the Gymnosophists. What may have been going through his mind?
Alexander remained at Susa for a time, although Plutarch also mentions a trip to Ecbatana. He then prepared to travel westward to Babylon, not knowing it would be his last journey.
thirty thousand boys: see Lesson Sixteen, Part Two
sick and impotent: those who were physically unable to serve
they let fall their stoutness: they let go of their stubbornness
naked in their shirts: this showed their humility
Ecbatana: a city in the Persian empire, located at an important crossroads of travel (where the Macedonians first saw naphtha)
sea Oceanum: see Lesson Twenty-One
dead hard by him: very close to him
tennis: this is North's translation; some sort of ball game
Aristotle's quiddities to argue pro and contra: Alexander, having studied with Aristotle, recognized his methods of argument
Antipater, Iolaus, Cassander, Hephaestion: see introductory notes
October, 324 B.C.: Death of Hephaestion
[The thirty thousand boys, whom he left behind him to be taught and disciplined, were so improved at his return (to Persia), both in strength and beauty, and (they) performed their exercises with such dexterity and wonderful agility], that Alexander rejoiced when he saw them. This, notwithstanding, did much discourage the Macedonians, and made them greatly afraid, because they thought that from henceforth the king would make less account of them.
For when Alexander would have sent the sick and impotent persons, which had been maimed in the wars, into the low country, to the seaside: they answered him, that so doing he should do them great wrong, to send these poor men from him in that sort (after they had done him all the service they could) home to their country and friends, in worse case than he took them from thence. And therefore, they said, if he would send away some, let him send them all away as men unserviceable, specially since he had now such goodly young dancers about him with whom he might go conquer the world.
Alexander was marvellously offended with their proud words, insomuch that in his anger he reviled them all, put away his ordinary guard, and took Persians in their place, making some the guard about his own person, [and] others his ushers, heralds, and ministers to execute his will and commandment.
The poor Macedonians, seeing Alexander thus waited on, and themselves so shamefully rejected, they let fall their stoutness, and after they had communed of the matter together, they were ready to tear themselves for spite and malice. In fine when they had laid their heads together, they consented to go unto his tent and without weapons, naked in their shirts to yield themselves unto him, weeping and howling, beseeching him to do with them what pleased him, and to use them like wretched unthankful creatures.
But Alexander, though his anger was now somewhat pacified, did not receive them the first time; neither did they also go their ways, but remained there two days and nights together, in this pitiful state, before the door of his tent, lamenting unto him, and calling him their sovereign and king: until that he came himself out of his tent the third day, and seeing the poor wretches in this grievous and pitiful state, he himself fell a-weeping a long time. So, after he had a little rebuked them, he called them courteously, and gave the impotent and sick persons leave to depart home, rewarding them very honourably. Furthermore, he wrote unto Antipater his lieutenant that he should always give them the highest place in all common sports and assemblies, and that they should be crowned with garlands of flowers. Moreover, he commanded that the orphans whose parents were slain in the wars should receive the pay of their fathers.
After Alexander was come unto the city of Ecbatana, in the kingdom of Media, and that he had dispatched his weightiest causes: he gave himself again unto public sports, feasts, and pastimes, for that there were newly come unto him, out of Greece, three thousand excellent masters and devisers of such sports. [But they were soon interrupted by Hephaestion's falling sick of a fever, in which, being a young man and a soldier too, he could not confine himself to so exact a diet as was necessary.] Having spied opportunity that his physician Glaucus was gone unto the theatre to see the sports and pastimes, he went to dinner, and [ate] a roasted capon whole, and drank a great potful of wine, which he had caused to be set in water: whereupon his fever took him so sorely that he lived not long after.
[omission for length: Alexander's grief at the death of his friend]
Now as he was ready to take his journey to go unto Babylon, Nearchus his admiral came again unto him from the great sea Oceanum, by the river of Euphrates, and told him how certain Chaldean soothsayers came unto him, who did warn him that he should not go into Babylon. Howbeit, Alexander made no reckoning of it, but went on. But when he came hard to the walls of Babylon, he saw a great number of crows fighting and killing one of another, and some of them fell down dead hard by him. Afterwards [it] being told him that Apollodorus, the governor of the city of Babylon, having sacrificed unto the gods to know what should happen to him: he sent for the soothsayer Pythagoras, to know of him if it were true. The soothsayer denied it not. Then Alexander asked him what signs he had in the sacrifice. He answered, that [the liver was defective in its lobe]. "O gods," said Alexander then, "this is an ill sign." Notwithstanding, he did Pythagoras no hurt, [but was sorry that he had neglected Nearchus' advice, and stayed for the most part outside the town, removing his tent from place to place, and sailing up and down the Euphrates].
Yet had he many other ill signs and tokens one upon another that made him afraid. For there was a tame that killed one of the greatest and goodliest lions in all Babylon with one of his feet. Another time Alexander had put off his clothes, to be anointed to play at tennis. When he should put on his apparel again, the young gentleman that played with him found a man [clad in the king's robes, with a diadem upon his head, sitting silently upon his throne]. Then they asked him what he was? It was long before he made them answer, but at the length coming to himself, he said his name was Dionysius, born in Messina: and being accused for certain crimes committed, he was sent from the sea thither, where he had been a long time prisoner, and also that the god Serapis had appeared unto him, and undone his irons, and that he commanded him to take the king's gown and his diadem, and to sit him down in his chair of estate, and say never a word. When Alexander heard it, he put him to death according to the counsel of his soothsayers: but then his mind was troubled. [He] feared that the gods had forsaken him, and [he] also grew to suspect his friends.
But first of all, Alexander feared Antipater and his sons, above all other. For one of them called Iolaus, was his first cupbearer: and his brother called Cassander, was newly come out of Greece unto him. The first time that Cassander saw some of the barbarous people reverencing Alexander, he having been brought up with the [manners] of Greece, and had never seen the like before: [he] fell into a loud laughing, very unreverently. Therewith King Alexander was so offended, that he took him by the hair of his head with both his hands and knocked his head and the wall together.
Another time also when Cassander did answer some that accused his father Antipater: King Alexander took him up sharply and said unto him: "What sayest thou?" said he. "Dost thou think that these men would have gone [on] so long a journey as this, falsely to accuse thy father, if he had not done them wrong?" Cassander again replied unto Alexander, and said, that that was a manifest proof of their false accusation, for that they did now accuse him being so far off, because they thought they could not suddenly be disproved. Alexander [smiled], and said, "Lo, these are Aristotle's quiddities to argue pro and contra: but this will not save you from punishment, if I find that you have done these men wrong."
In fine, they report that Cassander took such an inward fear and conceit upon it, that long time after when he was king of Macedon, and had all Greece at his commandment: going up and down the city of Delphi, and beholding the monuments and images that are there, he found one of Alexander, which put him into such a sudden fear that the hairs of his head stood upright, and his body quaked in such sort, that it was a great time before he could come to himself again.
Narration and Discussion
Why did the successful training of the Persian boys create such jealousy among the Macedonians?
Did Alexander seem particularly worried by the string of "bad omens?"
For older students: "They answered him, that so doing he should do them great wrong, to send these poor men from him. . ." Why were Alexander's soldiers so angry with him for suggesting what might seem a humane gesture, sending the wounded away to recover? How can "helping" sometimes be misapplied or misunderstood?
This lesson describes the sudden and final illness of Alexander, at the age of thirty-two. The cause of his death has been attributed to everything from alcohol to typhoid fever to poison; but it seems to be a mystery that will never be solved.
an ague: a fever
all at a draught: in one gulp
fell a-raving: became delirious
the thirti[eth] day: Plutarch's dates do not match those stated elsewhere, and seem inconsistent even within the text
watch and ward without: keep guard outside
Perdiccas, Arrhidaeus: see introductory notes
323 B.C.: the death of Alexander in Babylon
[When once Alexander had given way to fears of supernatural influence], his mind was so troubled and afraid, that no strange thing happened unto him, how little soever it was, but he took it straight for a sign and prediction from the gods: so that his tent was always full of priests and soothsayers that did nothing but sacrifice and purify and tend unto divinements. So horrible a thing is the mistrust and contempt of the gods, when it is begotten in the hearts of men, and superstition also so dreadful, that it filleth the guilty consciences and fearful hearts like water distilling from above: as at that time it filled Alexander with all folly, after that fear had once possessed him.
This notwithstanding, after that he had received some answers touching Hephaestion from the oracle of Jupiter Ammon, he left his sorrow, and returned again to his banquets and feasting. For he did sumptuously feast Nearchus, and one day when he came out of his bath according to his manner, being ready to go to bed, Medius (one of his captains) besought him to come to a banquet to him at his lodging. Alexander went thither and drank there all that night and the next day, so that he got an ague by it. But that came not (as some write) by drinking up Hercules' cup all at a draught: neither for the sudden pain he felt between his shoulders, as if he had been thrust into the back with a spear. For all these were thought to be written, by some, for lies and fables, because they would have made the end of this great tragedy lamentable and pitiful. But Aristobulus writeth, that he had such an extreme fever and thirst withal, that he drank wine, and after that fell a-raving, and at the length died the thirti[eth] day of the month of June.
[These are the details of his illness.] In his household book of things passed daily, it is written, that his fever being upon him, he slept in his hothouse [Dryden: in the bathing-room] on the eighteenth day of June. The next morning after he was come out of his hothouse, he went into his chamber, and passed all that day playing at dice: and at night very late, after he had bathed himself and sacrificed unto the gods, he fell to meat, and had his fever that night. And the twent[ieth] day also, bathing himself again, and making his ordinary sacrifice to the gods, [he lay in the bathing-room], harkening unto Nearchus that told him strange things he had seen in the great sea Oceanum. The [twenty-first] day also having done the like as before, he was much more inflamed then he had been, and felt himself very ill all night, and the next day following in a great fever: and on that day he made his bed to be removed, and to be set up by the fish ponds [Dryden: by the great bath], where he [discoursed with his principal officers about finding fit men to fill up the vacant places in the army].
The [twenty-third] day [Dryden: the twenty-fourth], having an extreme fever upon him, he was carried unto the sacrifices, and commanded that his chiefest captains only should remain in his lodging, and that the other meaner sort should watch and ward without. The [twenty-fourth] day [Dryden: the twenty-fifth], he was carried unto the other palace of the kings, which is on the other side of the lake, where he slept a little, but the fever never left him: and when his captains and noblemen came to do him humble reverence and to see him, he lay speechless.
So did he the [following day] also: insomuch as the Macedonians thought he was dead. Then they came and knocked at the palace gate, and cried out unto his friends and familiars, and threatened them, so that they were compelled to open them the gate. Thereupon the gates were opened, and they, coming in their gowns, went unto his bedside to see him. That [same] day Python and Seleucus were appointed by the king's friends to go to the temple of the god Serapis, to know if they should bring King Alexander thither. The god answered them, that they should not remove him from thence.
The eight and twent[ieth] day at night Alexander died. Thus it is written word for word in manner, in the household book of remembrance.
At [that] time, there was no suspicion that he was poisoned. Yet they say that, six years after, there appeared some proof that he was poisoned. Whereupon his mother Olympias put many men to death, and cast the ashes of Iolaus into the wind, that was dead before, for that it was said he [Iolaus] gave him [Alexander] poison in his drink.
They that think it was Aristotle that counselled Antipater to do it, by whose means the poison was brought: they say that Hagnothemis reported it, having heard it of King Antigonus' own mouth. The poison (as some say) was cold as ice, and falleth from a rock in the territory of the city of Nonacris, [which they gathered like a thin dew, and kept in an's hoof; for it was so very cold and penetrating that no other vessel would hold it]. Others defend it, and say, that the report of his poisoning is untrue: and for proof thereof they allege this reason, which is of no small importance: that is that the chiefest captains fell at great variance after his death, so that the corpse of Alexander remained many days naked without burial, in a hot dry country, and yet there never appeared any sign or token upon his body that he was poisoned, but [it] was still a clean and fair corpse as could be.
[Roxane, who was now with child, and upon that account much honoured by the Macedonians], did malice Statira extremely, and did finely deceive her by a counterfeit letter she sent, as if it had come from Alexander, willing her to come unto him. But when she was come, Roxane killed her and her sister, and then threw their bodies into a well, and filled it up with earth, with Perdiccas' help and consent. [Perdiccas, in the time immediately following the king's death, under cover of the name of Arrhidaeus, whom he carried about him as a sort of guard to his person, exercised the chief authority.]
Narration and Discussion
In the introductory notes for this study, a teacher describes Alexander's "wisdom, valour, and self-reliance," and his "love of simplicity, generosity, and kindness to his men." She also suggests that Alexander had a gift of prudence, meaning (she explains) that he knew how to put the important things first. Did those traits accurately describe Alexander throughout his life; or did his values change along with events and circumstances?
Examination Questions for Term Two
1. Why and how did Alexander teach his men to "acquaint themselves with hardness?"
2. How did Alexander go to war with King Porus? Give the whole story.
Older students (Choose two of these)
1. On what occasions were the following words used? Tell the whole story in two cases. (a) "If I drink alone, all these men will faint." (b) "Antipater," he said, "does not know that one tear of a mother effaces a thousand such letters as these."
2. How did Alexander talk with the philosophers of India?
3."To live at pleasure is a vile thing, and to travail is princely." Why did Alexander thus rebuke his friends? Tell the whole story.
AmblesideOnline Plutarch Readings:
Aemilius Agis Alcibiades Alexander Aristides Brutus Julius Caesar Camillus Cato Cicero Coriolanus Crassus Demetrius Demosthenes Dion Fabius Gracchus Nicias Pericles Philopoemen Phocion Pompey Publicola Pyrrhus Solon Themistocles Timoleon Titus Flamininus
Aemilius Agis Alcibiades Alexander Aristides Brutus Julius Caesar Camillus Cato Cicero Coriolanus Crassus Demetrius Demosthenes Dion Fabius Gracchus Nicias Pericles Philopoemen Phocion Pompey Publicola Pyrrhus Solon Themistocles Timoleon Titus Flamininus