Hello All, I realize I haven’t posted in a while, so I thought I’d remedy that. As you’ve no doubt noticed this isn’t the fourth and hopefully final post on Terry Jones Barbarians. No I’m far too lazy to do that right now, what this is is a collection of amusing soundbites with pithy and generally silly commentary by me on Alexander the Great from his biography by Plutarch and the history of his campaigns by Arrian that I put on my Facebook wall a long time ago. The Plutarch stuff was from a thing I did called Plutarch week where I read through a Penguin Classics volume of Greek lives by Plutarch (theoretically one every day or so….) and posted amusing quotes on my wall with what I hoped passed for amusing commentary, the idea was that it would motivate me to keep reading by adding a social dimension etc. I got the idea from doing a bit of the same kind of thing while reading through Suetonius, only it turns out Suetonius is much better suited to that kind of thing (should have seen that one coming). Plutarch is chock full of the weird, the amusing and the absurd.
But his style is different and didn’t lend itself that well to the Facebook format (which may well be a form of praise…..), quotations often had to be longer to establish context and a lot of stuff that was funny to me would be extremely difficult to explain, This fact and the lack of general responsiveness to my quotes made the task more of a chore than a motivator but I had committed myself and so Plutarch week ended up being more like Plutarch month. Basically this is not a list of the most interesting and certainly not close to the most profound or useful of Plutarch’s passages nor those of Arrian as passage’s from him were selected along the same lines. Nor are they even necessarily the funniest just the humorous ones I happened to post that were deemed serviceable (ish) as wall posts.
Fair warning Alexanderphiles, I don’t like Alexander. This dislike does not come from any aversion to the concept of the Great man in history (I have my hope’s/delusions for myself where that is concerned) nor a distaste for dead white males (I am morbidly aware that one day- barring expensive surgery or enough tattooing to give me ink poisoning- I will become one myself) or Conquerors for that matter. I find him and his times fascinating and acknowledge his genius. I do however think him overrated and think he gets off far too easily as far as the Ancient sources are concerned, particularly in regards to people he is often compared to like Caesar, above all I just think he was frankly more than a bit of a spoiled narcissistic ego-maniacal dick. Their disclaimer given we can have a serious or semi-serious conversation about Alexander another time for now: amusing quotes!
“It was Stasicrates who had remarked to Alexander at an earlier interview that of all mountains it was Mount Athos which could most easily be carved into the form and shape of a man and that if it pleased Alexander to command him, he would shape the mountain into the most superb and durable statue of him in the world: its left hand would enfold a city of ten thousand inhabitants, while out of its right would flow the abundant waters of a river which would pour, like a libation, into the sea.”- Plutarch, life of Alexander, 72. When founding a city and naming it after yourself isn’t enough what is left but to BE the city! Interesting coincidence that Mount Athos is now a very prominent Eastern Orthodox Holy site, littered with monasteries. Still at least it wasn’t Olympus…..
Note: this idea was almost certainly never actually mooted (at the very least on this scale) and according to the story Alexander declined the suggestion anyway.
“Aristobulus declares that his drinking bouts were prolonged not for their own sake- for he was never, in fact, a heavy drinker- but simply because he enjoyed the companionship of his friends”- Arrian, The campaigns of Alexander, book 7. Aha, sure Aristobulous you just keep telling yourself that your man crush wasn’t an alcoholic, and he didn’t like fighting either, after all he only did it socially;).
“He founded a city in his [his favorite horse] memory on the banks of the Hydraspes and called it Bucephalia, and there is a story that when he lost a dog named Peritas of which he was very fond and which he had brought up from a puppy, he again founded a city and called it after the dog”- Plutarch, life of Alexander, 61. He must have been barking mad…
“Alexander was also more moderate in his drinking than was generally supposed. The impression that he was a heavy drinker arose because when he had nothing else to do, he liked to linger over each cup, but in fact he was usually talking rather than drinking: he enjoyed long conversations, but only when he had plenty of leisure. Whenever there was urgent business to attend to, neither wine, nor sleep, nor sport, nor sex, nor spectacle could ever distract his attention….The proof of this is his life-span, which although so short, was filled to overflowing with the most prodigious achievements…He sat long over his wine, as I have remarked, because of his fondness for conversation…When the drinking was over it was his custom to take a bath and sleep, often until midday, and sometimes for the whole of the following day.”- Plutarch, life of Alexander, 21.
So let me get this strait Plutarch, Alexander gained a reputation for excessive drinking because, when he had the time he liked to linger over his drinks for social purposes? time which judging by how busy you claim he was, he rarely had, quick question, just how often (and for how long) do you have to be seen “lingering” over drinks with friends to secure a reputation as a raging alcoholic? Considerably more so I imagine than if you were in the habit of downing the good stuff by the gallon as soon as you sat down at the court social, time old Alex may well not have had. Furthermore sleeping through the whole of the next day is not what typically happens after lingering over a few drinks. it’s time you attended a meeting of the AAAA (Alexander’s alcoholism apologists anonymous) Plutarch, Arrian’s there, you’d like him.
note: highly selective quoting has been used here and as such the above does not fully represent Plutarch’s views on Alexander’s drinking habits.
“Not long afterwards a Macedonian named Pausanias assasinated the king: he did this because he had been humiliated by Attalus and Cleopatra and could get no redress from Phillip [the translater notes that Pausanias had been “outraged” by Attalus some eight years prior…EIGHT YEARS!]”- Plutarch, life of Alexander, 10. Isn’t it interesting how often an assassination seems to be perpetrated by a lone assassin (mind to be fair to Plutarch he does briefly cast some suspicion on old Alex) motivated by insanity or “personal reasons”, but aside from the fact that he had people waiting for him with get-away horses, I find it difficult to believe he waited 8 years to act on his grudge? Which you know only directly harmed one (Phillip) of the people he bore a grudge against.
Attalus, the guy who actually “outraged” him could not be harmed as he was in Asia with Parmenio (a general and relative), though you’d think he’d be first on Pausanias list. However as a result of Pausanias actions Alexander came to power and he and his mother were enemies of Attalus and Cleo who as a result were soon killed, Pausanias himself being cut down by close friends of Alexander as he fled the scene before he could talk. I’ve sat on the fence on this one for a while but I’m now of the opinion that Alexander probably had his own father assassinated in a fairly well planned and orchestrated coup d’etat (seriously I’m a little impressed), that Olympias likely knew and Antipater may have.
“In Uxia, once, Alexander lost him [his horse Baucephalas], and issued an edict that he would kill every man in the country unless he was brought back- as he promptly was”- Arrian, The campaigns of Alexander, book 5. Imagine that on a modern sign for a lost pet. “My horse! My horse! your lives for my horse!”. Good old Alexander threatening genocide over lost pets…….
in fairness to poor old Alex, I have my doubts that this actually happened.
“One of these daughters was named Roxane. She was a girl of marriageable age, and men who took part in the campaign used to say she was the loveliest woman they had seen in Asia, with the one exception of Darius’s wife. Alexander fell in love with her at sight; but, captive though she was, he refused, for all his passion, to force her to his will, and condescended to marry her. For this act I have, on the whole, more praise than blame”- Arrian, The campaigns of Alexander, Book 4. I Arrian hereby declare that, on balance, the lack of extra-marital rape was probably a good thing, I am Arrian, that is all.
“While he was in camp on the Oxus( Amu Darya), a spring of water and another of oil quite near it came up from the ground close to his tent…………Aristander declared that the spring of oil was a sign of difficulties to come”- Arrian, The campaigns of Alexander, Book 4. You can say that again Aristander! Also Translater guy claims this is the ‘first mention of petroleum in Greek literature’, I thought that was worth noting.
“Alexander was compelled to make a temporary withdrawal to his original position”- Arrian, the campaigns of Alexander, book 3. What a dissimulating way to describe a retreat…….nothing to see here folks where simply advancing in the opposite direction!
“We are also told that while he was in Egypt he listened to the lectures of Psammon the philosopher, and especially approved his saying to the effect that all men are ruled by God, because in every case that element which imposes itself and achieves the mastery is divine.”- Plutarch, life of Alexander, 27. I can think of two ways of interpreting this saying, 1. that whatever actions or behavior comes most naturally to you or otherwise prevails is the right one- therefore you can literally do no wrong, but simply acting in accordance with your divinely appointed nature. 2. might isn’t just right, its divine…..no wonder Alexander approved….