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Alexander The Great

Important People

  • Bucephalus – Yes, a horse is an important character! Fiery, hard-working, and lasting till the edge of Alexander’s empire, Bucephalus (ox-head) acts as an analogue of Alexander to show us a fiery temperament tamed. 
  • Philip – Alexander’s ambitious father and the successful military reformer who almost led an expedition against Persia himself. His untimely assassination makes that task fall to Alexander. 
  • Olympias – An ambitious and scheming mother, Olympias always pushes Alexander to do more and work harder. While at home, she frequently conflicts with Antipater, the regent Alexander left in charge of Macedonia in his decade-long absence. 
  • Darius III – The last Achaemenid emperor of Persia flees from Alexander twice but, overall, is treated well by his enemy. He didn’t choose his successor, but ultimately respects the man who sits on the throne of Cyrus after his death. 
  • Poros – One of the last king-generals that Alexander defeats before turning around to head back home. Poros lives on the far side of the Indus River and earns Alexander’s respect in a hard-fought battle. Alexander keeps him in his current position and adds lands to his after defeating him. 
  • Aristotle – One of the greatest philosophers who ever lived worked as the personal tutor to Alexander the Great for at least two years. The two men continue to correspond later in life but some versions of the story have their relationship cool significantly after Alexander executes his grand-nephew, Callisthenes (cf. sections 53-55)
  • Philotas – A contemporary of Alexander rising in the ranks under his father, Parmenio. Both experienced leaders who served under Philip and Alexander, Philotas’s pride finds him implicated in a conspiracy and Alexander kills him and his father. 
  • Clitus (Cleitus) – A member of Alexander’s companion cavalry who saves his life at The Battle of Granicus River. When he later tries to publicly correct Alexander for adopting too many Persian customs, the fight leads to his tragic death, which Alexander struggles to recover from.  
  • Callisthenes – Grand-nephew of Aristotle accompanying Alexander on the Persian Expedition. He acts as a proxy for Alexander’s relationship with the ethical and political lessons Alexander had learned from Aristotle. When he dies (some reports say by Alexander’s order, others do not), it seems Alexander lost his last link with his childhood education.

Important Places

  • Thebes – Not just in Plutarch’s backyard, but the city punished for revolting after Philip’s death. It is burned to the ground and 30,000 of its inhabitant are sold into slavery. Plutarch thinks this must anger the god Dionysius, who was born close to Thebes. 
  • The Battle of Granicus River – Alexander’s first battle against the Persian army. Is he reckless or bold? Do we judge him by the consequences?
  • Battle of Issus – Alexander’s second major battle against the Persian host, and the first in which Darius is present. Darius flees and Alexander chose better terrain than he realized.
  • The Siege of Tyre – This strategic city gives Alexander an excuse to take care of the Persian Navy so that his supply lines are not disrupted as he traverses into the heart of the Persian Empire.
  • Alexandria – Alexander, under the guidance of Homer, founds a city at the mouth of the Nile that will prosper for the next thousand years. Acting as the Greek and Roman capital of Egypt, Alexandria is still the second-most populous city in Egypt after Cairo today.
  • The Battle of Gaugamela – The last decisive battle to put Darius on the run. Alexander claims that Greece has been avenged and uses the title King of Persia after this.
  • The Battle of Hydapses – Moving beyond the frontiers of the Persian Empire, Alexander crosses the Indus River and defeats King Poros, only to return his kingdom to him because of respect for a worthy enemy. Shortly after this his men mutiny and Alexander must turn back home.
  • Babylon – Before he makes it home, the whole army has a prolonged victory feast in Babylon. Perhaps complications from drinking cause Alexander to fall into a fever from which he does not recover and he dies in Babylon at the age of 33, having conquered the Greeks and the Persian Empire. What if he’d managed to conquer himself? How far does Plutarch think he could have gone?

Key Virtues (and Vices)

  • Generosity (μεγαλόδωρος) – When his wealth becomes nearly infinite his generosity keeps pace with it. Many examples given of Alexander’s largesse as he builds his empire. 
  • Justice (δική) – When founding and running a empire this big, justice has to be a key concern. Alexander tries to balance respect for the current Persian customs as he finds them and the Hellenization of the Persian peoples. While he doesn’t walk that line as well as he could have, many of his Macedonians treat the Persians far worse and Alexander is often left picking up the pieces. 
  • Friendship (φιλία)- Plutarch, like Aristotle, sees philosophy as the foundation of a life of powerful and lasting friendships. Alexander lives this virtue in many ways but, when he falls short, he fails in impressive ways (cf. Clitus the Black). 
  • Ambition (φιλοτιμία) – This one cuts both ways. Aristotle uses the same word to describe the virtue as he does to describe its excess (what we still today call “overly-ambitious”). Alexander’s ambition means the only things that slow him down or change his course are mutiny or death. 

Alexander Outline

C. 1 – Alexander and Caesar

  1. Since these two did so many famous things, I ask to be excused by the reader for speaking in digest.
  2. I’m writing Lives, and those don’t always look at the great deeds for their virtues and vices. Rather, they look to the small things that reveal character more than battles or sieges.
  3. Painters focus on the face, particularly the eyes, so I focus on the soul and thus reveal the whole life.
Tetradrachma Coined Posthumously showing Alexander wearing the Nemean lion-skin on his head. Zeus seated on obverse with eagle and scepter. Source: Wikimedia

C. 2 – Parents and Portents

  1. Descended from Heracles on his father’s side, and from Aeacus through Neoptolemus (son of Achilles) on his mother’s side. His parents betrothed at a young age when being initiated into the mysteries of Samothrace.
  2. Night before their marriage, Olympias dreams that thunder hits her womb and a fire spreads throughout the world. Philip later dreams that he seals his wife’s womb with the image of a lion.
  3. Philip’s seers try, and mostly fail, to interpret his dream. One gets it right and says his son will be bold and lion-like.
  4. One day, Olympias finds a snake in bed next to her. She and Philip grow distant after this, though Plutarch speculates on the reasons.
  5. All the women of this area addicted to Orphic and Bacchic celebrations, extravagant and superstitious in Plutarch’s view.
  6. Olympias pretends even more than the other women to be possessed by Bacchus; she would add snakes to the ritual either in baskets or coiling themselves around the thyrsis like ivy.

C. 3 – Alexander’s Birth

  1. Philip seeks an answer from Delphi and is told that he will lose the eye he used to spy on his wife with the snake and that he should hold the god (Zeus) Ammon in highest reverence.
  2. Olympias either told Alexander about his real paternity, or denied it the whole time.
  3. Born in July 6 (most scholars now say July 21), the same day which the temple to Artemis was burned in Ephesus. One wise guy said it was obvious because Artemis was busy bringing Alexander into the world she couldn’t protect her temple.
  4. Everyone else saw it as a harbinger of doom for Asia.
  5. Philip receives three pieces of news at the same time: one of his generals had conquered the Illyrians, one of his horses had won the Olympics, and he had a son from Olympias. A son born into victory would be always victorious!

C. 4 – Physical Attributes

  1. Lysippus best represents Alexander as he actually looked; only Lysippus could sculpt him. His neck bent slightly to the left and his eyes had a powerful gaze. Lysippus captures that.
  2. Apelles paints him wielding a thunderbolt, but made his complexion too dark. He had fair skin, even ruddy in the face, and he even smelled good (according to Aristoxenus).
  3. He had a warm and fiery body by nature, and this is why the hot dry areas produce the best spices.
  4. Alexander’s heat gives him a tendency to drink, but even when a young man, impetuous and violent, he never indulged in the pleasures of the body. His ambition kept his spirit serious and lofty in advance of his years.

C. 5 – Young Ambition

  1. Once Persian envoys visited when Philip was absent and Alexander seemed already like an adult and a leader in his questions and hospitality.
  2. Alexander reacted sadly to hearing of his father’s victories, arguing that Philip wouldn’t leave anything for Alexander to do.
  3. Alexander wanted to inherit a kingdom ripe for struggle, war, and ambition, not pleasure and wealth.
  4. His most important caregiver after his parents was Leonidas, a stern relative of his mother whom everyone called his foster-father and preceptor.
  5. His tutor Lysimachus called himself Phoenix, Alexander Achilles, and Philip Peleus, and so was highly regarded in the palace.
Alexander Taming Bucephalus
by Francois Schommer, late 19th century: Wikimedia Commons

C. 6 – Bucephalus

  1. When Bucephalus initially offered to Philip, the price set is ridiculously high (13 talents). Philip and his court go down to the field to try out the horse, quickly discovering that no one can mount him or calm him.
  2. Philip demands the horse be taken away, but Alexander notices again and again what a great horse they’re all letting go because they don’t have the courage and skill to tame it. Philip, finally annoyed, asks him to manage it better.
  3. Aelxander bets the price of the horse that he can tame it. Upon accepting the bet, Alexander turns the horse toward the sun so that it can’t see its own shadow, which it was scared of.
  4. Eventually, he calms the horse, mounts him, and even encourages him to let out his full speed.
  5. Philip and co. speechless and worried while Alexander does htis, but when Alexander manages to turn the horse and return at full speed, Philip broke into tears of joy and said “Seek a kingdom for yourself, son, for there isn’t enough room in Macedon.”
Aristotle – 2nd century AD copy of a 4th cent. BC sculpture of Aristotle, which Alexander the Great commissioned from the sculptor Lysippus. From the Ludovisi collection, Museo Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Altemps, Rome. Source: Flickr

C. 7 – Seeking the Best Teacher

  1. Philip sees it’s better to persuade than command Alexander because he is so easily led by reason. Thus, Philip seeks out the best teacher for this boy.
  2. Aristotle summoned and paid well, and Stagira, his native town, Philip restored to the status it had before he had conquered it.
  3. Aristotle taught Alexander not only ethical and political teachings (i.e. from the Ethics and Politics) but also his teachings that he never committe to writing (acroamatic, epoptic used by Putarch; esoteric used in the modern day). Etym?
  4. But when Alexander saw that some of these secret teachings did end up being published, he wrote a letter chiding Aristotle on sharing too much of the “best things.”
  5. Aristotle defended himself by saying that his teachings are both published and not published, since many can read them but not understand them who have not been taught how.

C. 8 – Alexander, Lover of Learning

  1. Aristotle (whose father had been a doctor) also cultivated a love of medicine in Alexander, who would visit his sick friends and recommend remedies and solutions. Alexander loved learning and reading.
  2. He kept Aristotle’s edition of the Iliad, and a dagger, under his pillow always. He also ordered Harpalus to send him more books when he found none in the Persian Empire [at least none he could read?]
  3. List of books sent him. He loved Aristotle, at first, more than his father because the second had given him life while the first had taught him a noble life. Later, his ardor cooled.
  4. But, his love of philosophy never died, as evidenced by how well he treated other, less-well-known philosophers.

C. 9 – Alexander’s Ambition; Philip’s Folly

  1. Alexander, left as regent at 16, puts down a rebellious tribe and founds the first city he names after himsefl: Alexandropolis.
  2. He was also present at Chaeroneia and is reported to have been the first one to break the ranks of the illustrious Sacred Band (see Life of Pelopidas). People in Athens still point out the oak tree under which Alexander pitched his tent, calling it “Alexander’s Oak.”
  3. Philip was delighted to hear the Macedonians call Alexander their king but Philip their general. His multiple wives, however, did not make palace life easier and Olympias was an ambitious schemer, always pushing Alexander on.
  4. As Philip tries to add a fifth, much youunger, wife (perhaps even after divorcing Olympia), the girls uncle toasts to the kingdom having a legitimate heir (a direct insult to Alexander and Olympias). Alexander throws a cup at him and asks him if he thinks Alexander to be a bastard.
  5. Philip stood up and unsheathed his sword but tripped, because he had already been drinking so much. Alex makes a joke of it, but puts himself into exile with his mother.
  6. Philip comes to his senses when a Greek warns him that dissension in Greece may be good for Philip, while chaos in his household is not.

C. 10 – Marriage Proposals and Assassination

  1. The satrap of Caria offers his daughter in marriage to Arrhidaeus, another son of Philip. When Alexander hears this, he worries about his inheritance of the throne.
  2. Alexander communicates with the satrap to offer himself as a groom in place of his dull-witted half-brother, but Philip corrects him.
  3. Philip doesn’t think Alexander equal to be paired with the slave of the Persian King. Philip banishes two of Alexander’s friends.
  4. When Pausanias finally does kill Philip, some blame is cast on Olympias and even Alexander. Alexander punishes those involved in the plot.

C. 11 – Barbaric and Theban Revolts

  1. By 20 years old, Alexander inherits a growing kingdrom with growing problems.
  2. His counsellors advise him to give up Greece, but Alexander immediately sets out on his own plan.
  3. First, though, also pushes the barbarians all the way back to the Danube river. Then he hears of Thebes and Athens revolting. He declares that Demosthenes will watch him grow up as he marches, calling him a boy amoung the Illyrians, and a stripling when in Thessaly, he must prove himself to be a man in Athens. (See Life of Demosthenes) (Greek words for boy – παῖδα, stripling – μειράκιον, man – ανήρ)
  4. As he arrives before Thebes, he makes them an offer if they surrender. They counter-offer and want to fight for their freedom.
  5. Greatly outnumbered, the Thebans were destroyed. Alexander wanted to instill fear in the other Greek cities, but also seem like a “good ally” to the smaller poleis who had compalined against Thebes (Phocis and Plataea).
  6. He spared all the priests, guest-friends of Macedonians, descendants of Pindar, and those who had voted not to revolt. He sold the rest (30,000) into slavery, after killing about 6,000 in the battle.

C. 12 – Timocleia in Thebes

  1. In the sack of Thebes, one woman, Timocleia, raped by a Thracian, then asks where she keeps her gold.
  2. She tells him she’d thrown it down a well in the garden when the city was taken. As the man looks into the well, she pushes him in and throws rocks on top of him until he dies.
  3. The Thracians capture her and bring her before Alexander, revealing before him that she is the sister of Theagenes, the man who had led the troops against Philip at Chaeronea. Alexander grants her her freedom.

C. 13 – Theban Aftermath

  1. The Athenians greatly sorrowed by Theban destruction, and offer safe refuge for fleeing Thebans.
  2. Alexander then spares Athens, either because his rage had been satisfied or because he watned to balance savagery and mercy. He does later regret his treatment of Thebans.
  3. He associates his later turns of ill-fortune with Dionysian disapproval, since Dionysius had been born in Thebes. Any Theban who asked something from him after this received his request.

C. 14 – Corinth and Delphi

  1. Now the Greeks meet on the Isthmus and declare a war against Persia with Alexander as their leader. As everyone gathers to congratulate him, Alexander notices that Diogenes is not there.
  2. Alexander thus seeks him out, and asks him if he wants anything from Alexander, to which Diogenes responds, “Yes, step aside so that I can enjoy the sun again.”
  3. Alexander admires this response so much that he claims if he were not Alexander, he would be Diogenes.
  4. Now to Delphi, but he arrived on a day inauspicious for oracles. He summoned the prophetess anyway, who refused to prophecy citing the law in her defense. Alexander then drags her to the temple at which points she shouts “You are invincible, my son” and he seeks no furhter prophecy.
  5. In early spring 334 BC, as he sets out, many other good omens accopmany him. One sweating statue of Orpheus is seen as a bad omen until a friend re-interprets the oracle to mean that Alexander will accopmlish deeds worthy of song and story, causing poets and musicians much sweat and labor to celebrate his acheivements.

C. 15 – Asian Arrival

  1. Starting off with between 4-5 thousand cavalry and 30-43 thousand infantry, he doesn’t have much money and somes say he’s even in debt.
  2. He ensured that his companions were well taken care and divided up much of the wealth of his kingdom among his men. When asked what he was keeping for himself, he responded “My hopes.”
  3. Many of his friends reject what he tries to give them and join him in the hopes of this expedition. He crosses the Helesspont into Asia.
  4. He goes first to Troy, sacrifices to Athena and pours libations to the heroes. He races his friends around Achilles’ tomb and then declares him a happy man who, had a faithful friend while alive and a great messenger of his fame after his death.
  5. When he was told he could see the lyre of Paris he responds that he’d prefer the lyre of Achilles, on which he used to sing the glorious deeds of great men.

C. 16 – Granicus River

  1. Darius’s generals had set up their first force at the river Granicus, deep with steep banks which many Macedonians saw as a grave disadvantage.
  2. Some also see the month as ill-omened for a battle and Parmenio thinks it too late in the day fo risk passage. Alexander plunges in.
  3. He seemed foolish, because of the many obvious disadvantages, but seemed to will himself across the river and fight up the muddy slope with no particular formation successfully.
  4. Alexander stood out as a target because of the crest of his helmet and his shield. A javelin pierces his breastplate but does not wound him. Two Persian commanders attack him and Alexander shatters his spear on one.
  5. The second manages to come from the other side and bring his axe down on Alexander’s helmet, but his helmet just resists the blow and the man must swing for a second time. Cleitus the Black runs the man through with a spear before he gets a second blow in at the same moment that Alexander finishes the first man off with a sword.
  6. Now the infantry engage, but the Persians do not hold very long. There are Greek mercenaries, though, and they hold out longer. They try to parley in the middle of the battle to ask for clemency…
  7. Alexander, influence by anger more than reason, charges down on them and most of the Macedonian losses occur here.
  8. Alexander orders statues of be made of all these first fallen in battle. He further dedicates 300 shields, sending them to the Athenians with the inscription “Alexander, son of Philip and all the Greeks except the Lacedaemonians from the Barbaians who dwell in Asia.” All the Persian trinkets and luxuries he just sent back to his mother.

C. 17 – Down the Coast of Asia Minor

  1. Sardis capitulates; Halicarnassus and Miletus resist, to be taken by storm.
  2. A spring near Xanthus produced bronze tablets prophesying that Greece would destroy Persia someday.
  3. Encouraged by the prophecy, Alexander decides to secure the coast all the way to Phoenicia. His passage seems to have been made easier by divine intervention holding the sea back at a greater distance than usual.
  4. Menander refers to this divine intervention, but Alexander, in his letters, mentions none of this.
  5. In Phaselis, he adorns the staue of Theodectas (why?) with garlands “returning no ungraceful honor for the past association with the man which he owed to Aristotle and philosophy.”

C. 18 – Dareius’s Dream

  1. In taking Phrygia, he comes across the knot in Gordium, the legendary home of Midas.
  2. Two ways he unties it: with his sword, or by removing the pin that joins the knot to the yoke.
  3. He subdues Paphlagonia and Cappadocia and hears the good news of the death of Memnon, one of Dareius’s best generals.
  4. Dareius already headed his way from Susa, encouraged by a dream: the Macedonian phalanx was on fire, Alexander was present dressed as a royal messenger, and Dareius passed him into the temple of Belus and disappeared.
  5. Plutarch interprets the dream correctly, unlike the Magi

C. 19 – Philip the Bold Physician

  1. Alexander delays in Cilicia because of sickness, two possible causes: exhaustion or bathing in an icy-cold river.
  2. Philip the only one bold enough to heal him, while also being blamed for a plot on Alexander’s life by Parmenio.

C. 20 – Battle of Issus

  1. Amyntas, a traitorous Macedonian, in D’s arm advises D to fight on the open plain and not in a narrow valley.
  2. D afraid A would run away. Amyntas assures him he is out to attack D.
  3. They pass each other in the night and realize the next day that D is in the mountain passes and A can catch him there.
  4. Vastly outnumbered, the narrow land and broken terrain is terrible for cavalry but A manages to outflank D, though he is wounded in the thigh.
  5. A does not identify who wounded him, but in a letter to Antipater mentions that it’s not serious. D flees, though A gets his bow and chariot.
  6. A returns from pursuing D to find his men sacking the camp, leaving the tent of D for himself.
  7. He tries to bathe in the bath of D but his friends remind him it’s now the bath of A.
  8. A comments on stepping in to the sumptuous tent: “This, it seems, was to be a king”
The Battle of Issus Mosaic preserved in Pompeii. Now at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. Source: Wikimedia.

C. 21 – The Prisoners

  1. D’s wife, mother, and two daughters now captured in the camp, lamenting their fate and thinking D is dead. Alexander reassures them.
  2. His actions prove his humanity since he allowed them to bury any Persians of their choice and retain their lifestyles at the same (or even higher level) from Alexander’s spoils.
  3. They were protected from all indignities and violations apart from the sight and speech of men.
  4. A considered mastery of himself more kingly than conquest of his enemies. Alexander only knew Barsiné, a widow they’d taken prisoner in Damascus educated like a Greek.
  5. But surrounds by beautiful Persian women, he laughed and joked but exercised his self-control.

C. 22 – Appetites

  1. Many try to offer Alexander young boys, for sale or as gifts. Alexander refuses all of them.
  2. He wants to make sure Parmenio puts to death some soldiers of his convicted of rape.

3-5. And he refuses to eat richer and richer food, saying his tutor Lycurgus had taught him to appreciate a night march for breakfast and a light breakfast for supper.

C. 23 – Wine

  1. He talked over his wine and thus took his time in drinking it. So he was less an alcoholic than he looked.
  2. When not on the march, he would rise, pray, and then hunt, administer justice to his growing empire, plan strategy, or read. When on the march, he’d be sure to practice military skills: archery, mounting a moving chariot, etc.
  3. He ate late, and with due care, but lingered over the wine for the sake of conversation.
  4. The wine did put him in a strange mood, argumentative and more prone to flattery. This put his real friends in a bind.
  5. He slept hard, and long but was always master of his appetites. Sometimes, when brought a rare delicacy, he would spread it around to friends and not get any himself.
  6. He continued to spend more and more on dinner as his empire expanded.

C. 24 – Siege of Tyre and an Arabian Adventure

  1. Thessalian cavalry enrich themselves by capturing the Persian baggage train after Issus.
  2. The Macedonians tasted gold and hunted for it with the voracity of hunting dogs.
  3. Siege of Tyre for 7 months, building a mole, surrounding it with ships, and using siege engines. He dreamed of Heracles reaching out to him from the city. Apollo threatened to leave the city in many people’s dreams, so
  4. They nailed his statue to it’s pedestal… calling him an Alexandrist.
  5. Alexander dreams of pursuing and catching a satyr and his seers interpret it as catching Tyre with a pun on Sa (your) and Tyros (Tyre) that is a bit more obvious in the Greek.
  6. Heads off to Arabia during the siege, with his old tutor Lysimachus.
  7. Lysimachus slow and Alexander stays with him, separating himself from his main body of troops on a cold night.
  8. Alexander sees campfires nearby, runs up to one and kills two men at it, returning with fire which the use to light a huge fire, scaring some of the enemy and attracting some whom they are able to kill and thus sleep the night in peace. (Chares)

C. 25 – Omens, Sieges, and Frankincense

  1. A seer declares on the last day of the month that the city will be taken this month.
  2. Alexander rolls the calendar back a couple days from 30 to 28 and then attacks with all his might and takes the city.

C. 26 – The Foundations of Alexandria

  1. When offered one of Darius’s most costly treasure-boxes, Alexander pondered what his greatest treasure was, quickly deciding to keep his scrolls of the Iliad in this elaborately-decorated and costly box.
  2. Homer accompanied him on his journey. When founding Alexandria…
  3. He had a dream in which an old, bearded man quoted the Odyssey to him, speaking of the island of Pharos. (Od. 4, 354). By Plutarch’s time this island had been joined to the mainland and by a causeway.
  4. Thus, when seeing the advantageous site of this future city, he acknowledged that Homer was a wise architect in addition to his other talents.
  5. The shape of the city of Alexandria: a greek military cloak (chlamys). Since he had to use barley instead of chalk, the birds fell upon it and quickly consumed the first outline of his city. What a horrible omen!
  6. The seers interpret it as founding a city that will nourish many peoples from all over. He ordered the work to continue while he struck out across the desert to the oasis at Ammon, which had a temple to Zeus and a prophet there of almost the same stature as at Delphi (cf. Life of Lysander when he visits the prophet there). Lack of water and sandstorms made the journey perilous and difficult
  7. Fortune had to work with, not against, Alexander because his ambition was so boundless, conquering not just people but time and place.

C. 27 – The Oracle of Ammon

  1. Accompanied the whole time by rain, a rare occurrence in the desert, seemed to bring the blessing of the gods as he trekked out to Ammon.
  2. Then, when people had lost the exact direction in the trackless sandy expanse, two ravens appeared and guided them directly toward the oracle.
  3. The birds even kept those in camp from wandering too far by cawing at those who wandered too far away. What would Alexander ask the oracle? The oracle put him in an odd position when it greeted him as the son of Zeus and then he asked whether Alexander had caught all of his father’s murderers.
  4. When he was again addressed as the son of a deity, he rephrased the question to be: have I caught all Philip’s murderers and am I destined to be lord and master of all mankind
  5. But Alexander claimed in a letter to his mother that he received secret prophesies that he could only relate to her in person. The slip of one letter meant Alexander went from being called “O young son” to “ O son of Zeus”.
  6. Studying under an Egyptian philosopher, Alexander is convinced of monotheism because God’s kingship stems from his mastery of the entire universe. Also, God is the father of all mankind, but he blessess the noble more peculiarly as his own.

C. 28 – Alexander’s Divinity

  1. Among the barbarians, he always acted like he had divine parents, but he tempered this among the Greeks using phrases like “the man who was called my father” to refer to Philip.
  2. When wounded, he noted to his friends that he bled human blood, not ichor, the substance Homer tells us flows through the veins of the gods. Alexander’s response to a philosopher who asks if he can thunder like Zeus… this philosopher
  3. This philosopher had asked Alexander to serve not fish at his table, but the heads of satraps, since he still had the same enjoyments as his men (fish) instead of greater and higher things. Thus, he was not foolishly affected by his claimed divinity, but used it intelligently to subjugate foreign peoples.

C. 29 – Alexander’s Drama (and Competition)

  1. In Phoenicia in 331 BC, he hosts a festival with choruses and tragic competitions. The kings of Cyprus compete as the noble citizens of Athens do to fund sumptuous costumes, sets, well-wrought scripts, and talented actors. The world is already Hellenizing.
  2. The most celebrated actors of the day had come to compete and Alexander’s personal opinion about who was best, was not the same opinion the judges came to. He claimed he would rather have given up a part of his kingdom than see his particular favorite lose, but he stood by the decision of the judges.
  3. One of the actors seems to have ditched teh Dyonisiac festival to attend Alexander’s competition and was fined by the Athenians. Alexander paid it out of his own pocket.
  4. And finally, Darius sends him a letter promising generous terms: 10,000 talents to ransom cpatives, all territory west of the Euphrates, and one of his daughters in marriage (so, an official alliance). Parmenio says, “If I were Alexander, I would accept” and Alexander agrees, “And so would I, were I Parmenio.” Instead Alexander replied that they could negotiate in person or he would meet him on the battlefield.

C. 30 – As Gentle After Victory as He Is Terrible in Battle

  1. But then Darius’s wife dies in childbirth and Alexander regretted that he hadn’t been more kind (GRK?) in his response. He provided the queen of the Persians with a royal funeral, and one of her servants escaped and returned to Darius with the news.
  2. The king laments not only her loss, but that she died among the enemy and didn’t receive the burial or treatment she deserved. It is at this point that the servant details the honor of her royal burial.
  3. And adds how well she was treated in Alexander’s presence, deprived of nothing except the presence of her husband because “Alexander is as gentle after victory as he is terrible in battle.”
  4. But now Darius suspected that Alexander had slept with the Persian women and Persian queen,
  5. but the servant, who had access to the royal bedchamber as a eunuch, assured him that Alexander showed more self-control with Persian women than he had ferocity with Persian men.
  6. Darius listens to the testimony of the servant and then prays that the gods of Persia grant Darius his kingdom back so that he can thank Alexander for these favors or,
  7. If the Persian empire must end, to let no one sit on the throne of Cyrus but Alexander.

C. 31 – Mock Battle and Preparation for Gaugamela

  1. The camp-followers—not themselves soldiers but the many merchants, messengers, servants, and slaves who provide the needs for the army as they march through new areas—get caught up in a mock battle declaring one of their leaders to be Alexander and the other Darius.
  2. While it had started just with dirt and in fun, it soon fell to fists and even sticks and stones. Alexander was brought in when the fracas had grown so large it was hard to quell. He ordered the two leaders to fight in single combat with all the soldiers watching. Alexander gave his armor to the one named after him, and Philotas lent his armor to “Darius.” Alexander won after a hard fight, and the men took it as an omen.
  3. Gaugamela means camel’s house.
  4. An eclipse in late September occurred as the Athenians begin the Eleusinian Mysteries, but 11 nights later the armies were in sight of one another. Darius kept his men under arms day and night, reviewing them by tochlight. Alexander let hi smen sleep but performed secret rites and sacrifices to the god Fear.
  5. Philip’s generation of leaders looked down on the constellations of fires burning in the plain and heard the many languages mingling together
  6. And were astonished by the sheer size, hoping to persuade Alexander to attack by night.
  7. Alexander’s answer: I will not steal my victory. Was it confidence or vanity? What is the difference? Perhaps, Plutarch suggests, he knew Darius would only admit defeat if he saw the disaster before his eyes in the daytime.
  8. Darius was not just fighting a war till he ran out of troops and arms, but he had to lose courage and hope to surrender. This would require victory for the Greeks in daylight. Alexander’s awareness of psychological warfare important here.

C. 32 – Gaugamela

  1. Alexander sleeps deeply as if he has already won. His friends worried; Parmenio wakes him.
  2. Alexander considers it a victory already to fight the enemy in pitched battle rather than ranging all around the empire looking for him or trying to corner him. At least Darius has shown up and wants to face him! Alex carries this confidence into battle with him.
  3. Parmenio falls back with the cavalry and also notices the baggage and camp in danger. He sends a message to Alexander asking for reinforcements.
  4. Alex was just getting ready (in Arrian he was already pursuing Darius) and comments that Parmenio doesn’t have his priorities right.
  5. But he sends that message back and arms. This is a bit like a Homeric arming scene because we get a description and an origin story to much of his offensive and defensive armor.
  6. His sword well-tempered and light and his go-to weapon in battle, as well as an elaborate belt gifted from the Rhodians.
  7. He used other horses for the long-work of preparing for battle or checking on troops, but he still rode Bucephalus (old now and past his prime) into this battle.

C. 33 – Gaugamela

  1. After a long encouraging speech, Alexander prays to Zeus, if he really is his descendant, to protect and strengthen the Greeks.
  2. A seer points out an eagle high above Alexander, flying straight against the enemy lines.
  3. The barbarians begin to retreat and fall back on one another early on in the battle, and Alexander bears down on Darius in the center.
  4. The bravest and noblest cluster around Darius to protect him from the onslaught of Alexander.
  5. Darius, though, unable to turn his chariot around, mounts a horse and escapes.
  6. Alexander tries to pursue but is recalled by messengers from Parmenio asking for help elsewhere on the battlefield because the battle had not yet been won.
  7. As he approaches, he hears and discovers for himself that the battle is already at an end.

C. 34 – Connecting This Victory to the Glorious Greek Past

  1. After this battle, Alexander assumes the title king of Asia. He also writes to the Greeks telling them they’re free from all Persian tyrannies. He wants to connect this victory to the glories of the Greek past, so he rewards Plataea by promising to rebuild their city on a grand scale because they had so nobly allowed their land to be the site of the last defensive stand of the Persian Wars.
  2. Croton (in Italy) is also honored with spoils from the Persian Wars because one of their athletes had outfitted a ship at personal expense and sailed to Salamis himself to join the fight against Persia.

C. 35 – Babylonia and Environs (The Nature of Fire)

  1. This fiery discourse about finding a lake of asphalt or naphtha may seem like a distraction to us, but remember that Alexander’s physical makeup was earlier compared to fire and this natural phenomenon acts as a literary parallel for Alexander’s effect on people.
  2. How can what is not naturally flame cause flame in other things? Or burn of its own accord when fire has not been introduced?
  3. They test the naphtha on a, strangely, willing singer-servant named Stephanus.
  4. It sticks to Stephanus and lights him on fire, only being put out with difficulty and because they were in a bathhouse with access to plenty of water.
  5. Perhaps Medea used this in the crown and robe… this is telling for people who want to harmonize myth and reality.
  6. How fire works.
  7. The soil of Babylon hot and dry, like fire. People sleep on water beds for coolness in the summer.
  8. When Harpalus later governed Babylonia, all of his plants succeeded in growing there except ivy, which could not handle the temperature of the soil. If I end my digression quickly, my readers won’t be so annoyed by them.


C. 36 – The Conquest and Wealth of Susa

  1. As Alexander arrives in Susa, he gains from the palace 40,000 talents of coined money. 5,000 talents of purple-dyed garments, 190 years old and still in perfect condition.
  2. Honey was used as the base of the purple dyes, and white olive oil (EV?) for the white dyes. These oil-based substances keep their sheen and brilliancy. The Persians even stored water from the Danube and the Nile to show the greatness of their empire.

C 37 – Persepolis in Winter

  1. Alexander approached the heartland of Persia, even though Darius had fled in a different direction. Led through the Zagros mountains to Persepolis, the city of the Persians,
  2. While he worked through Persis, he gave orders to kill the inhabitants. Strangely, Plutarch passes on this without comment except that Alexander thought it a strategic advantage. He also found as much wealth as he had in Susa.
  3. He came upon a statue of Xerxes that had been overthrown (see Herodotus parallel) and wondered if he should set it right. “Shall I pass by, because you marched against Greece, or should I honor your other virtues and magnanimity and set you up again?” In the end, after pondering a long time in silence, he passed on, spending four months in this capital to rest his soldier during winter.
  4. A Corinthian observer and friend bursts into tears when Alexander sits on the golden throne of the kings of Persia, claiming that so many Greeks were denied a happy sight who did not live to see this moment.

C. 38 – Torching the Palace at Persepolis

  1. Just before he was to march out in pursuit of Darius, he hosts a drinking party at which the women are present too.
  2. Thais—mistress of Ptolemy, later king of Egypt—suggests that they burn down the house of Xerxes who had burned down Athens.
  3. Many supportive cheers and shouts accompany her suggestions and Alexander stands up to lead the way with a torch in his hand and a garland on his head (like a banqueter or religious participant).
  4. The regular soldiers are delighted not only with the Persian revenge, but think it’s a sign that Alexander is ready to return home.

C. 39 – The Generosity of Alexander

  1. Alexander always munificent, but his generosity grew as his wealth grew. A few examples follow:
  2. Ariston, commander, given not just a golden goblet (GRK) but one filled with pure wine. Macedonian bearing gold sees his mule give out and tries to carry the load himself. Alexander rewards him by giving him all the gold he’s carrying.
  3. Alex more piqued when people wouldn’t take his gifts rather than when people asked for them.
  4. His friends took pride in their gifts from Alexander, as evidenced by a letter from his mother Olympias:
  5. She complains that he is making his friends equal to kings while stripping himself bare. Mostly he kept these secret, but Hephestion read one once (and Alexander pressed his sealing ring to Hephestion’s lips).
  6. The most influential man at the court of Darius not only kept his province but was offered another one. He gave the second biggest house in Susa to Parmenio, and he warned Antipater about plots against him.
  7. Antipater and Olympias continued to scheme against each other, trying to win Alexander over to their side with their letters.

C. 40 – The Extravagance of Alexander’s Friends

  1. Many of his higher officers now lived in ridiculous pomp, importing their sand from Egypt, wearing silver nails in their boots, or cleansing themselves in myrrh rather than olive oil. Alexander wasn’t harsh, but gentle and reasonable with them.
  2. His advice: “Those who conquer by toil sleep better than those who are conquered by toil” It is servile to be luxurious, but royal to work.
  3. The goal of conquest is NOT to become like the conquered (i.e. stay free). Alexander continued to hunt and exercise, so that when once taking down a lion a Spartan commented that he had struggled with the lion to see who should be king.
  4. Some of this hunting is preserved in the art of Lysippus and Leochares.

C. 41 – Alexander’s Care for His Friends

  1. Alexander’s friends grow used to luxury and tire of his appetite for risk, danger, and glory. At first Alexander considers it the lot of the king to confer favors and be spoken badly of.
  2. He’d wanted to hear directly from a friend who’d been bitten by a bear.
  3. He worries about their health and their recovery from hunting accidents.
  4. Those who first told him about Harpalus’s embezzlement he put in chains because he didn’t believe one of his friends would do this.
  5. He sent back his sick or old soldiers and even helped them in their love-affairs.

C. 42 – Pursuit of Darius and Water

  1. Surprising that he had the time to write so many letters. Some examples of advice and congratulation.
  2. He eventually began to hear so many accusations and judge in so many trials that he grew harsh and cruel, abandoning discretion and valuing his reputation over his life and his kingdom.
  3. (THE STORY CONTINUES) He marched on in 330 BC thinking he would fight Darius in another battle, but he heard that Bessus (a satrap) had siezed him, so he sent his Thessalian cavalry home with a 2000 talent bonus. He rode 413 miles in 11 days and most didn’t make it with him for lack of water.
  4. Some men brought him water in a helmet, claiming they were carrying it for their own sons, but those could be replaced, while Alexander could not.
  5. Alexander takes the helmet but gives it back without drinking so that he doesn’t dishearten his men by being the only one to enjoy a drink.
  6. This self-control and magnanimity encouraged them and they declared themselves neither thirsty nor weary as long as they had such a king.

C. 43 – The Death of Darius

  1. When Alexander and 60 of his men break into the Persian camp, they think they’re in hot pursuit of Darius, but they find him full of spears and dying.
  2. Polystratus, one of Alexander’s men, offers Darius a cup of water and Darius’s dying words are of gratitude to Alexander for his treatment of his family.
  3. Alexander covers Darius’s body and, when he catches up with Bessus in 329, has him torn apart by tying him to two supple trees and letting them bend back into place (cf. Life of Theseus and Sinis the Pine-Bender). Darius’s body sent back to Persepolis for royal burial by Darius’s mother. D’s brother joins Alexander’s companion cavalry.

C. 44 – Bucephalus Lost and Found

  1. He marches toward the Caspian (Hyrcanian) Sea which he thinks is bigger than the Black Sea but they are all suprised it is not salty.
  2. Plutarch contends that this is an inlet of the surrounding sea (but no explanation as to why the water is free from salt). At this point, some barbarians capture part of their supply lines, including Alexander’s favorite horse Bucephalus.
  3. Alexander threatens to kill not only them, but hteir wives and children if they do not return his horse. They arrive with the horse and hand ove rtheir city, so Alexander treats them with clemency.

C. 45 – Dressing Like a Barbarian

  1. In Parthia, for the first time, he begins to dress like a Persian and Plutarch provides two reasons: either to bring the native populations closer to the Greeks by seeing the two cultures inter-relate, or to slowly get the Macedonians used to obeisance, prostration before an important personage.
  2. He did NOT wear trousers, the sleeved vest, or the tiara which would be “entirely barbaric and strange.” Rather, he adopted a mean between Persian and Median, more modest than Persian and more regal than Median. What started first as private attire became common public attire after a while.
  3. At first the Macedonians were offended, but allowed him some leeway for his fame. He had recently been wounded in the leg below the knee, and had also sustained a hit near the eye that clouded his vision for a while.
  4. In spite of these wounds, he continued to chase after danger, crossing a river to rout the Scythians, pursuing them 12 miles past the river, though he was suffering from diarrhea at the time.

C. 46 – Amazon Queen and Sources

  1. Plutarch examines the claim about meeting the Queen of the Amazons and in so doing lists all the sources he has consulted for this life.
  2. Alexander’s letter also corroborate this because, while he is offered a Scythian princess for a wife, no mention is made in the letter to Antipater about an Amazon. Onesicritus read his history to Lysimachus and the latter asked “Where was I at that time?” Belief in the story doesn’t affect our admiration for Alexander, though…
Alexander Being Saved from a Lion Attack by Craterus. Source: Flickr.

C. 47 – Respect, Love, and Friendship

  1. Already Alexander began to worry that his soldiers were tiring of the expedition, so he called together 20K infantry and 3K horse and told them he’d had a dream in which it was made clear they had to conquer Asia not just attack it and throw it into confusion.
  2. He allows anyone who wishes to leave at that point freedom to go, but most remain.
  3. He was keen for the good will mixing of the two peoples and to that end selected 30K boys to be trained in the Greek language and Macedonian weapons.
  4. He married Roxana for love, but since she was a barbarian (Bactrian) princess it gave the barbarians more confidence that Alexander would rule them by law since he legally married her rather than taking her on as a concubine or mistress.
  5. Hephaestion, his best friend, took to the Persian customs most easily and thus became his liasion with those troops. Craterus remained thoroughly Maceodnian and so Alexander made him the primary liasion to those troops. He called Hephestion a friend fo Alexander and Craterus a friend for the king.
  6. Hephestion and Craterus harbored a quiet grudge against one another, though. When they attacked each other with swords in India, Alexander publicly corrected Hephestion and privately corrected Craterus (why?). Harsh words for Hephestion remembered.
  7. He made them reconcile with an oath to Ammon and all the gods, swearing he would kill them both if he saw or heard of them quarelling again. They ceased even to disagree in jest.

C. 48 – Philotas and Pride

  1. Philotas—the son of the commander of the cavalry, Parmenio—was in some ways like a mini-Alexander: brave, bold, generous, and zealous to do favors for his friends.
  2. His pride, though, and abundance of wealth made him carry these virtues more awkardly than Alexander. Even his father corrected him once “Be less of a personage” (GRK) – ὦ παῖ, χείρων μοι γίνου.
  3. Philotas came under suspicion of thinking himself greater than Alexander. One of his war-prizes was a Greek concubine named Antigone.
  4. Philotas would often brag to her that Alexander earned an empire through the hard work of Philotas and his father, Parmenio.
  5. As word got round, Craterus brougth Antigone to Alexander and he told the girl to keep an ear out for anything treacherous her lover might say.

C. 49 – The Demise of Philotas and Parmenio

  1. Antigone piled up the evidence against him as Philotas was completely unaware of what Craterus had done.
  2. For a long time, Alexander restrained himself perhaps because of Parmenio’s many years of service or because he feared the father and son. Meanwhile, another conspiracy is afoot under Limnus, who invites his younger lover Nicomachus.
  3. Nicomachus refuses, but informed his brother who tells Philotas and recommends they both go tell Alexander ASAP. But Philotas does not bring him in, telling them Alexander is busy with more important matters. Philotas even refuses them twice.
  4. This brings suspicion upon Philotas himself. Limnus died while resisting arrest and so Alexander couldn’t verify if Philotas had been involved in the first plot, or just known about it.
  5. Some of Philotas’s enemies now gather around Alexander and remind him that Limnus was a nobody. Somebody who pridefully thought he could take down Alexander must have put him up to it. Inquire wherever you think someone has the most to hide.
  6. Then the accusations pile on Philotas. Philotas is interrogated under torture by Alexander’s companions with Alexander listening from behind a screen. He cries out in pitiful pain, and Alexander begins to doubt that a man so weak could have executed such a plot.
  7. Plutarch skips ahead to Philotas’s death… After he’d been put to death, Parmenio needed to be taken care of too. His two other sons had died on this expedition and his third, unbeknownst to him, had been put to death. He was one of the most important of Philip’s great generals campaigning with Alexander, in part because he had urged the invasion of Asia.
  8. These actions scare many of the Greeks, particularly Antipater, the regent ruling back at home.

C. 50 – Clitus Argues with Alexander

  1. The occasions with Clitus seems more savage, but we should take into account the circumstances.
  2. BAD OMEN: Clitus leaves a sacrifice to answer a summons from Alexander. Three sheep, upon whom a sacrifical libation had already been poured, follow Clitus.
  3. When soothsayers told him it was a bad omen, he requested propitiatory sacrifices for Clitus’s safety. He’d also had a dream of Clitus sitting in black robes with Parmenio and Philotas.
  4. Clitus came to dinner and the drinking got under way. The songs began to berate some generals who had lost in skirmishes against the barbarians recently.
  5. The older guests (Philip’s generation) thought this in bad taste, but Alexander let it continue, listening with delight. The barbarian-Macedonian tensions run high and Clitus does not take kindly to these unflattering comparisons.
  6. Alexander said that Clitus was defending cowards under the label of misfortune, and Clitus reminds Alexander that he’d saved his life with that cowardice and earned other wounds besides in making Alexander great than Philip and the son of Ammon.

C. 51 – The Fight Continues

  1. Alexander wonders aloud if Clitus has always thought like this and how he can dare to speak to boldly to the king. Clitus responds that those who have already died are luckier, since they don’t have to ask Persians to see the king or be beaten by Median rods.
  2. Alexander, standing now, asks two Greeks how they are treated among the Macedonians. The older men try to quell the tumult.
  3. Clitus taunts Alexander, saying that he shouldn’t invite free men if he didn’t want to hear their minds spoken aloud. He should instead surround himself with barbarians and slaves who will do him homage regardless of how he acts or what he says. Alexander threw an apple at him and looked for his sword.
  4. A bodyguard took his sword away, but Alexander tried to convene the army and struck the trumpeter for hesitating to blow a signal that would have thrown the whole camp into a confused uproar.
  5. Clitus comes in by another door quoting Euripides’s tragedy “Alas, how bad things are for Greece!” at which point Alexander took a spear from a guard and met Clitus at the door, running him through.
  6. Clitus fell with a roar and a groan, and Alexander’s anger left at the same moment. Seeing his friends speechless, he pulled the spear from Clitus and almost used it to kill himself, but his bodyguard got to him first and dragged him back to his room.

C. 52 – Philosophers Fighting

  1. He mourns for a night and a day until his friends grow alarmed at his exhausted silence and force their way in. His soothsayer reminds him of the omens and his dream and tells him fate had decided this long ago.
  2. To help him weather this, he needed philosophy. A relative of Aristotle, Callisthenes, and another philosopher name Anaxarchus try two different methods to assuage the grief. Callisthenes uses an indirect approach and Anaxarchus shouted at him:
  3. “Here is Alexander, weeping like a slave, afraid of the law and the opinions of men, who should be the measure of justice… etc…”
  4. “Zeus has law and justice by his throne because so that all he does is right and just!” This philosophy may have lightened the load Alexander was carrying, but it also weakened his other virtues since the preaching was “might makes right.” This furhter distances Alexander from both Aristotle’s teachings, and his relative Callistehenes.
  5. The two philosophers fight about natural phenomenon, disagreeing about whether it is colder in Persia than in Greece. Callisthenes pointed out how many more blankets Anaxarchus needed when he lay down, further irritiating him.

C. 53 – Callisthenes

  1. The other sophists and hangers-on didn’t like Callisthenes, whose eloquence had attracted young men as his students. The old men liked him because of his austere and philosophical lifestyle and that he was representing his city, Olynthus, before Alexander hoping to rebuild and repeople it.
  2. He was not innocent, though, in attracting bad opinions. He was aloof, often rejecting invitations to parties and his gravity and silence made him seem disapproving. Alexander didn’t like a wise man who wouldn’t be wise for himself.
  3. Once, at a banquet, they passed around the cup and challenged each person to speak in praise of the Macedonians. Callisthenes’s speech received loud applause and people threw garlands and flowers at him. Alexander responded that “When the subject is noble, it is easy to speak well”
  4. Alexander then asks for the speech’s opposite: a denunciation (GRK – κατηγορήσας) so that”they may become better by learning their faults.” Callisthenes continued just as eloquently, but for longer and ended with a barb that these base men were honorable because they were seditious times.
  5. Alexander then declared he gave proof of his enmity of the Macedonians more than his eloquence.

C. 54 – Callisthenes Refuses Obeisance

  1. Source of this story: Hermippus tells us that Stroebus, who read aloud to Callistehenes, told Aristotle this and was now fully aware of his alienation and saw his impending death, like Achilles reminded Hector that Patroclus, a better man, was already dead (Iliad XXI, 107).
  2. Callisthenes was the most outspoken critic of forcing the Macedonians to do obeisance to Alexander exactly as the Persian subject did. His resistance led Alexander to back off, but also made it look like Callisthenes had crossed the line from persuasion to force, especially because he went public with it [Q: What is the line between persuasion and force?]
  3. At a drinking party, as Alexander passed the cup around, everyone did the Persian obeisance and then walked up to the king for a kiss.
  4. When the cup came to Callisthenes, he merely drank it and then went up to kiss Alexander, who had not noticed. Someone pointed out to Alexander that Call had not done obeisance and Alexander refused to kiss him, at which point Callisthenes exclaimed so that all could hear him “I leave poorer by one kiss.”

C. 55 – The End of Callisthenes

  1. Many of Alexander’s friends begin to believe or spread stories about this proud philosopher, acting like he is the last freeman among them.
  2. Then, when the conspiracy of the pages is uncovered, it seemed that Callisthenes had encouraged him in the guise of a philosophical dialogue about “how to become the most illustrious (ἐνδοξότατον)” to which Callisthenes respnoded “by killing the most illustrious,” noting that this man was still susceptible to wounds and sickness.
  3. BUT, not a single one of the pages involved ever implicated Callisthenes, even under torture.
  4. They were stoned to death, but Alexander promised to take care of Callisthenes himself. Since Callisthenes had been raised in Aristotle’s house (son of his niece — grand nephew?), this creates distance between these two men as well.
  5. Various accounts of how Callisthenes died.

C. 56 – The Death of Demaratus

C. 57 – To India

  1. Overloaded with plunder and baggage, Alexander lightens his load by setting fire to his excess baggage.
  2. Most of his army zealously does likewise, and at this point people had seen what happens when you cross Alexander (you die… two examples here given, one companion and one barbarian).
  3. He began to think of succession, because a sheep giving birth to a deformed lamb bothered him so much he asked his Babylonian priests to purify him.
  4. Proxenus, digging in the ground to set up the king’s tent discovered an oil that, when clarified, tasted and operated exactly like olive oil though no olive trees grew in that area.
  5. The River Oxus must contain some of this oil as the water seems softer and cleanses the skin so well. The seers interpret this omen as a glorious expedition earned by great toil.

C. 58 – Difficulties Entering India

  1. The greatest difficulties at this leg of the journey came through lack of provisions and bad weather. He continued to overcome fortune with boldness and force with valour (GRK: αὐτὸς δὲ τόλμῃ τὴν τύχην ὑπερβαλέσθαι καὶ τὴν δύναμιν ἀρετῇ φιλοτιμούμενος). NOthing invincible for the courageous and nothing secure for the cowardly (GRK: οὐδὲν ᾤετο τοῖς θαρροῦσιν ἀνάλωτον οὐδὲ ὀχυρὸν εἶναι τοῖς ἀτόλμοις)
  2. When besieiging a citadel, he discovered its leader was a coward.
  3. Thus, he had only to frighten the leader and he took the citadel. Another time, he stormed a citadel and a soldier who shared his name died.
  4. Once his men hesitated to plunge into a deep river, and Alexander lamented that he himself had never learned to swim, but tried to cross anyway. During later peace-talks, he had a cushion brought but instead of sitting on it himself he offered it to the oldest ambassador in the group.
  5. The old man asked what his people must do to become Alexander’s friend. Alexander told them that if they put the old man in charge and sent him their best 100 men they would be friends. The old man says he’d be better off sending Alexander his worst men.

C. 59 – Fighting in Generosity and Treating Indian Mercenaries Poorly

C. 60 – Campaign Against Poros (1-8)

Poros was 6’3” and asked to be “treated like a king”

C. 61 – Death of Bucephalas

  1. Bucephalas died, at thirty years old (is this old for a horse?). Alexander had lost a comrade and a friend (pleonasm or something else?). He built a city on the banks of the Hydaspes River (modern: Jhelum) and named it Bucephalia.

C. 62 – The High-Water Mark

  1. As the men face crossing the Ganges and facing more armies as tough and large as that of Poros, they give up and refuse to march further.
  2. They had been told in great detail the size and scope of the river and the men who lived on the other side of it.
  3. In response, Alexander hid in his tent considering retreat to be the same as defeat.
  4. He prepares his retreat but a later ruler of that area who as a child saw Alexander believed that Alexander could have defeated that country and added it to his empire.

C. 63 – Near Death on the River

  1. So, he builds enough boats to transport them down the river and take them to the Ocean. He continued to assault and subdue cities on his way down the rivers. In attacking the Malli, the most warlike among the Indians, he is almost killed.
  2. Being the first to mount the ladders to scale the walls, the ladder crumbles uner his feet. He has to jump in among the enemy and, thankfully, lands on his feet surrounded by the enemy.
  3. The enemy scatter thinking they see fire protecting him. When they notice he has only two other men with him, they close again, and one shoots an arrow that goes all the way into his ribs.
  4. Alexander recoils and falls to his knees and one of his two defenders dies. Finally, Alexander killed the one attacking with the sword, and the Macedonians now gather around him to protect him.
  5. His men pull him out of battle unconscious and rumor spreads in the camp that he is dead. They carefully saw off the arrow and remove the large arrowhead.
  6. Though its removal made things temporarily worse, he begins to recover and, even when still weak, he shows himself to his men and eventually continues his journey down the river.

C. 64 – The Gymnosophists

  1. Alexander captures ten gymnosophists, naked philosophers who had incited rebellion against him. He made them engage in philosophical battle to the death, with the oldest gymnosophist as judge.
  2. Which are more numerous living or dead? First answered: dead don’t exist, so living. Which produces larger animals: earth or sea? Second answered: earth, since sea in on the earth. What animal is most cunning? Third answered: The animal which mankind has not yet discovered.
  3. Why induce rebellion in a king? Fourth answered: To encourage him either to live nobly or die nobly. Which is older: night or day? Fifth answered: Day, by one day. Hard questions must have hard answers.
  4. How could a man be most loved? Sixth answered: By being most powerful, without inspiring fear. How might one become a god? Seventh answered: By doing somethign man cannot do. Which was stronger, life or death? Eighth answered: Life, since it supports so many ills.
  5. And finally How long should a man live? Final answered: Until he does not judge death as better than life” And the judgment comes and the judge saves himself with a witty answer.

C. 65 – More Philosophical Lessons

  1. Dismissing the gymnosophists with gifts, he invited a Cynic philosopher, Onesicritus to pay him a visit.
  2. Other philosophers visit.
  3. The origin of Calanus’s name.
  4. The lesson of the dry hide. Remain around the edges and other edges rise. Remain in the center and the whole hide lays flat.

C. 66 – The Return Journey

  1. Seven months later he arrives at the ocean. He prayed that no man after him might exceed the boundaries of his expedition.
  2. Nearchus given charge of the fleet which would sail home. He would march home along the coast, which turned out to be the biggest disaster of the expedition and on which he lost more men than in any previous battle.
  3. Disease, heat, and famine plagued them until they reached Gedrosia, where they were in reach of being helped by the local satraps.

C. 67 – Bacchic Festivals in Gedrosia

  1. Now the journey home was like a victory feast on wheels.
  2. No shields or swords, just drinking cups and mixing bowls accompanied by women, and the song of flutes.
  3. It was as if Bacchus were leading these rites himself (Arrian rejects this as a frabication). When they reached Gedrosia, they rested and prepared a festival.
  4. The king kisses the victor of the games, who happens to be his favorite.

C. 68 – Unrest in the Empire

  1. Nearchus returns and now Alexander has a plan to circumnavigate Arabia and Africa, returning to Greece through the Pillar of Hercules (modern: Strait of Gibraltar). More boats are added to the already large navy.
  2. But when he surveyed his empire, he saw this would not be possible. Restlessness had invaded this new order.
  3. Olympias fought with Antipater at home, many of his satraps had been ruling corruptly. He marched through Asia correcting those and sent Nearchus straight home to deal with the unrest in Macedonia and Epirus.
  4. One leader he killed with his own hand and when another brought him coin instead of provisions Alexander threw him in jail.

C. 69 – Foreign Customs

  1. Alexander continues the Persian custom of giving women in the satrapy of Persia one gold piece each.
  2. On discovering that a Macedonian had raided Cyrus’s tomb, Alexander put the man to death and reinscribed the Persian inscription in Greek “I am Cyrus, and I won for hte Persians their empire. Do not, therefore, begrudge me this little earth which covers my body.”
  3. These words reminded Alexander how death overtakes us all and we don’t know when. Calanus kills himself on a funeral pyre he asked to be made for himself.
  4. Calanus lay down quietly and allowed the flames to take him, continuing in a long line of traditional Indian deaths.

C. 70 – Drinking Contests and Mega Weddings

  1. Alexander returning from the funeral pyre proposes a drinking contest of unmixed wine. The winner, Promachus, drank 12 quarts, or 3 gallons, won one talent, and died three days later. Forty one others died from complications arising from this contest.
  2. At Susa he married Darius’s daughter and arranged for 100 of his men to marry Persian noblewomen. At the feast, 9000 guests were served a golden cup for the toasts. The king repaid all the debts of all his soldiers, amounting to 20,000 talents.
  3. One man fraudulently claimed a debt so that he could receive a handout. When the fraud was discovered, Alexander deprived this officer of command and banished him from the army. He had only one-eye because, after an arrow lodged in his eye, he refused to take it out or stop fighting until the battle was over.
  4. This public humiliation so depressed him that it seemed he would kill himself so Alexander forgave him and let him keep the money.

C. 71 – Macedonian and Persian Jealousy

  1. Alexander delighted with the progress made by the 30,000 Persian boys that he had trained in Greek letters and Macedonian fighting. The Macedonians were apprehensive, thinking Alexander would prefer them to the veterans and see the young men as replacements.
  2. Their jealousy flares up as he sends away the wounded and sick, seeming to disgrace them in sending them back and praising their replacements in the same breath.
  3. Alexander chides them and replaces them with the Persian youths. Finally humbled, the Macedonians realize how jealous and angry they were.
  4. They ask for forgiveness oustide his tent, unarmed. They weep and call for him for two days and nights.
  5. On the third day, he saw them, forgave them, and sent those who were past service home with a reward. He also set up through Antipater that the orphans should receive their dead fathers’ military pay for support.

C. 72 – The Death of Hephaestion

  1. In Ecbatana, many artists had flocked from Greece and Alexander once more occupied himself with theaters and festivals. But Hephaestion didn’t listen to his doctor, over-ate and over-drank with a fever and died.
  2. Alexander’s grief knew no bounds. He cut the hair of all the horses and even took the battlements off the castles so that everything looked like it had cut its hair in mourning. He crucified the doctor, and banished flute music from the camp for a long time. Finally, he received an oracle from Ammon to sacrifice to Hephaestion as a hero.
  3. Like Achilles, he went on a rampage against a warring tribe (the Cossaeans) and slaughtered them all as an offering to Hephaestion. He planned to spend 10,000 talents on the tomb and funeral, ordering the most creative artist to do the job.
  4. Stasicrates, this artist, had offered to turn Mt. Athos into a statue of Alexander, akin to Mount Rushmore or the still unfinished Crazy Horse Memorial

C. 73 – Beware of Babylon!

  1. Chaldeans warn Alexander from coming to Babylon, and he later saw an omen of ravens clawing one another, with the dead ones falling at his feet. He ignored both omens.
  2. Finally, some other soothsayers take the omens from a sacrifice and inform Alexander that the victim’s liver had no lobe. Apparently Alexander knows what this means (do we?), and then spent most of his time outside of Babylon.
  3. Now the omens pile on. Largest lion in his collection kicked to death by a donkey. When he took off his clothes to exercise, he returned to them and everyone saw a specter wearing his clothes, seated on his throne.
  4. The specter did not respond at first, but soon gave its name as Dionysius, from Messenia, whom the god Serapis had just freed from prison and ordered him to don the robes and sit on the throne.

C. 74 – Cassander

  1. Alexander removed the man, but his fears grew. His suspicions grow and he particularly fears Antipater and his son, Iolus (cup-bearer) and Cassander (newly-arrived).
  2. On seeing Persian obeisance, Cassander laughed out loud, enraging Alexander who grabbed him by the hair and dashed his head against the wall. Cassander at another time tried to defend his father from accusers, but Alexander interrupted him to point out they wouldn’t have come so far if their complaints were totally unjustified.
  3. Cassander said that same proof could go the other way, which Alexander laughed at and called Aristotelian sophisms, but he’d rue the day he did these men wrong.
  4. Cassander was full of fear of Alexander so that even many years later when he saw statues of him (as at Delphi) he remembered and trembled at the memory of the man.

C. 75 – Superstition Overtakes Alexander in the End

  1. Now Alexander sees prodigies and omens everywhere.
  2. Supersition is an excess of fear of the gods (etym.) and is just as bad for us as having a contempt for divine will. The oracles were now telling him to lay aside his grief for Hephaestion and he returend to sacrifices and drinking parties.
  3. After a night and a day of drinking, he fell into a fever.
  4. His fever raged and, in his thirst, he drank more wine, dying on the 20th day of Daesius.

C. 76 – The Final Days

  1. The court journals record the last days of Alexander: 18th of Daesius (June 2, 323 BC), he slept in the bathhouse because of fever. Next day in bed. Next day, he played dice with Medius, then took a bath and had fever continuing through the night.
  2. 20th day (of Daesius) listened to Nearchus tell story of the sea voyage. 21st day and night in more inflamed and grievous state. Removed his bed and lay by the side of the bath (for coolness?), conversing with his officers about vacant posts and who should fill them.
  3. By the 24th day his fever was violent and he commanded his officers to stay nearby. By the 25th he was carried across the river to the palace. He could not speak to his commanders.
  4. The men clamor to see him and, when finally allowed, file silently past his couch. Two officers sent to the temple of Serapis to ask if Alexander should be brought. The god responds to leave him where he is. He died on June 13, 323 BC towards evening.

C. 77 – Fever or Poison?

  1. Most of this accounts is word for word from the diaries kept before his death. No one suspected poisoning for a long time afterwards. Olympias later put men to death on this charge, including the cup-bearer Iolas whose ashes she scattered.
  2. Crazy story of a specific poison recommended to Antipater by Aristotle that had to be carried in a donkey’s hoof because it ate through any other material that held it.
  3. Most think this story is a fabrication, though his body did not decay after death during the many days the officers fought about what to do… particularly as it was hot and muggy and it should have begun to decay quickly.
  4. Roxana was pregnant, and thus the Macedonians knew she would give birth to an heir. Roxana deceives Stateira and kills her, throwing her and her sisters’ bodies into a well.
  5. Perdiccas made himself the power behind the throne, allying with Roxana and using Arridhaeus, another of Philip’s sons as a pawn. He was weak in mind and body, likely due to poisons administered by Olympias.

External Links – Going Further and Learning More

Alexander the Great in Paint – First Installment, Second Installment

Barry Strauss Podcast on the Two Battles Alexander The Great Fought: Granicus River, Issus

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