(326) D On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander the Great
(Original English translation by John Philips,
First Oration of Plutarch
This is the oration of Fortune, asserting and challenging Alexander to be her masterpiece, and hers alone. In contradiction to which it behooves us to say something on the behalf of philosophy, or rather in the defence of Alexander himself, who cannot choose but to spurn away the very thought of having received his empire as a gift at the hands of Fortune, knowing that it was so dearly bought with the price of his lost blood and many wounds, and that in gaining it,
Full many a bloody day In toilsome fight he spent, And many a wakeful night In battle's management;
and all this in opposition to armies almost irresistible, numberless nations, rivers before impassable, and rocks impenetrable; choosing, however, for his chiefest guides and counselors prudence, endurance, fortitude, and steadiness of mind.
2. And now, methinks, I hear him speaking thus to Fortune, when she signalizes herself with his successes:
Envy not my virtue, nor go about to detract from my honor. Darius was a fabric of thy own rearing, who of a servant and the king's courier was by thee advanced to be monarch of all Persia. The same was F Sardanapalus, who from a comber of purple wool was raised by thee to wear the royal diadem. But I, subduing as I marched, from Arbela forced my passage even to Susa itself. Cilicia opened me a broad way into Egypt; and the Granicus, o'er which I passed without resistance, trampling under foot the slain carcasses of Mithridates and Spithridates, opened the way into Cilicia. Pamper up thyself, and boast thy kings that never felt a wound nor ever saw a finger bleed; for they were fortunate, it is true - thy (327) A Ochi and thy Artaxerxes - who were no sooner born but they were by thee established in the throne of Cyrus. But my body carries many marks of Fortune's unkindness, who rather fought against me as an enemy than assisted me as her friend. First, among the Illyrians I was wounded in the head with a stone, and received a blow in the neck with an iron mace. Then, near the Granicus my head was a second time gashed with a barbarian scimitar; at Issus I was run through the thigh with a sword; at Gaza I was shot in the ankle with a dart; and not long after, falling heavy from my saddle, I forced my shoulder out of joint. Among the Maracadartae my shinbone was split with an arrow. The wounds I received in India and my strenuous acts of daring courage will declare the rest. B Then among the Assacani I was shot through the shoulder with another arrow. Encountering the Gandridae, my thigh was wounded; and one of the Mallotes drew his bow with that force, that the well-directed arrow made way through my iron armor to lodge itself in my breast; besides the blow in my neck, when the scaling-ladders brake that were set to the walls, and Fortune left me alone, to gratify with the fall of so great a person not a renowned or illustrious enemy, but ignoble and worthless barbarians. So that had not Ptolemy covered me with his shield, and Limnaeus, after he had received a thousand wounds directed at my body, fallen dead before me; or if the Macedonians, breathing nothing but courage and their prince's rescue, had not opened a timely breach, that barbarous and nameless village might have proved Alexander's tomb.
C 3. Take the whole expedition together,and what was it but a patient endurance of cold winters and parching droughts; depths of rivers, rocks inaccessible to the winged fowl, amazing sights of strange wild beasts, savage diet, and lastly revolts and treasons of far-controlling potentates. As to what before the expedition befell me, it is well known that all Greece lay gasping and panting under the fatal effects of the Philippic wars. But then the Thebans, raising themselves upon their feet again after so desperate a fall, shook from their arms the dust of Chaeronea; with them also joined the Athenians, reaching forth their helping hands. The treacherous Macedonians, studying nothing but revenge, cast their eyes upon the sons of Aeropus; the Illyrians brake out into an open war; and the Scythians hung in equal balance, seeing their neighbors meditating new revolutions; while Persian gold, liberally scattered among the D popular leaders of every city, put all Peloponnesus into motion.
King Philip's treasuries were at that time empty, and besides he was in debt, as Onesicritus relates, two hundred talents. In the midst of so much pressing want and such menacing troubles, a youth but new past the age of childhood durst aspire to the conquest of Babylon and Susa, or rather project in his thoughts supreme dominion over all mankind; and all this, trusting only to the strength of thirty thousand foot and four thousand horse. For so many there were, by the account which Aristobulus gives; by the relation of E King Ptolemy, there were five thousand horse; from both which Anaximenes varying musters up the foot to three and forty thousand, and the horse to five thousand five hundred. Now the glorious and magnificent sum which Fortune had raised up to supply the necessities of so great an expedition was no more than seventy talents, according to Aristobulus; or, as Duris records it, only thirty days' provision.
4. You will say therefore that Alexander was too rash and daringly inconsiderate; with such a slender support to rush upon so vast an opposition. By no means: for who was ever better fitted than he for splendid enterprises, with all the choicest and most excelling precepts of magnanimity, consideration, wisdom, and virtuous fortitude, with which a philosophical education largely supplied him for his expedition? So that we may properly affirm that F he invaded Persia with greater assistance from Aristotle than from his father Philip. As for those who write how Alexander was wont to say that the Iliad and Odyssey had always followed him in his wars, in honor to Homer I believe them. Nevertheless, if any one affirm that the Iliad and Odyssey were admitted of his train merely as the recreation of his wearied thoughts or pastime of his leisure hours, but (328) A that philosophical learning, and commentaries concerning contempt of fear, fortitude, temperance, and nobleness of spirit, were the real cabinet provision which he carried along for his personal use, we contemn their assertion. For he was not a person that ever wrote concerning arguments or syllogisms; none of those who observed walks in the Lyceum, or held disputes in the Academy; for they who thus circumscribe philosophy believe it to consist in discoursing, not in action. And yet we find that neither Pythagoras nor Socrates, Arcesilaus nor Carneades, was ever celebrated for his writings, though they were the most approved and esteemed among, all the philosophers. B Yet no such busy wars as these employed their time in civilizing wild and barbarous kings, in building Grecian cities among rude and unpolished nations, nor in settling government and peace among people that lived without humanity or control of law. They only lived at ease, and surrendered the business and trouble of writing to the more contentious Sophists. Whence then came it to pass that they were believed to be philosophers? It was either from their sayings, from the lives they led, or from the precepts which they taught. Upon these grounds let us take. a prospect of Alexander, and we shall soon find him, by what he said, by what he acted, and by the lessons he taught, to be a great philosopher.
5. And first, if you please, consider that which seems the farthest distant of all from the common received opinion, and compare the disciples of Alexander with the pupils of Plato and Socrates. The latter instructed persons ingenuous, such as speak the same speech, well understanding (if nothing else) C the Grecian language, But there were many with whom their precepts did not prevail; for men like Critias, Alcibiades, and Cleitophon shook off their doctrine like a bridle, and followed the conduct of their own inclinations.
On the other side, take a view of Alexander's discipline, and you shall see how he taught the Hyrcanians the conveniency of wedlock, introduced husbandry among the Arachosians, persuaded the Sogdians to preserve and cherish not to kill their aged parents; the Persians to reverence and honor not to marry their mothers. Most admirable philosophy! which induced the Indians to worship the Grecian Deities, and wrought upon the Scythians to bury their deceased friends, not to feed upon their carcasses. D We admire the power of Carneades's eloquence, for forcing the Carthaginian Clitomachus, called Asdrubal before, to embrace the Grecian customs. No less we wonder at the prevailing reason of Zeno, by whom the Babylonian Diogenes was charmed into the love of philosophy. Yet no sooner had Alexander subdued Asia, than Homer became an author in high esteem, and the Persian, Susian, and Gedrosian youth sang the tragedies of Euripides and Sophocles. Among the Athenians, Socrates, introducing foreign Deities, was condemned to death at the prosecution of his accusers. But Alexander engaged both Bactria and Caucasus to worship the Grecian Gods, which they had never known before. Lastly, Plato, though he proposed but one single form of a commonwealth, E could never persuade any people to make use of it, by reason of the austerity of his government. But Alexander, building above seventy cities among the barbarous nations, and as it were sowing the Grecian customs and constitutions all over Asia, quite weaned them from their former wild and savage manner of living. The laws of Plato here and there a single person may peradventure study, but myriads of people have made and still make use of Alexander's. And they whom Alexander vanquished were more greatly blessed than they who fled his conquests. For these had none to deliver them from their ancient state of misery; the others the victor compelled to better fortune. True therefore was that expression of Themistocles, when he was a fugitive from his native country, and F the king entertained him with sumptuous presents, assigning him three stipendiary cities to supply his table, one with bread, a second with wine, a third with all manner of costly viands; Ah! young men, said he, had we not been undone, we had surely been undone. It may, however, be more justly averred of those whom Alexander subdued, had they not been vanquished, they had never been civilized. Egypt had not vaunted her Alexandria, nor Mesopotamia her Seleucia; Sogdiana had not gloried in her Propthasia, nor the Indians boasted their Bucephalia, nor (329) A Caucasus its neighboring Grecian city; by the founding of all which barbarism was extinguished and custom changed the worse into better.
If then philosophers assume to themselves their highest applause for cultivating the most fierce and rugged conditions of men, certainly Alexander is to be acknowledged the chiefest of philosophers, who changed the wild and brutish customs of so many various nations, reducing them to order and government.
6. It is true indeed that the so much admired commonwealth of Zeno, first author of the Stoic sect, aims singly at this, that neither in cities nor in towns we should live under laws distinct one from another, but that B we should look upon all men in general to be our fellow countrymen and citizens, observing one manner of living and one kind of order, like a flock feeding together with equal right in one common pasture. This Zeno wrote, fancying to himself, as in a dream, a certain scheme of civil order, and the image of a philosophical commonwealth. But Alexander made good his words by his deeds; for he did not, as Aristotle advised him, rule the Grecians like a moderate prince and insult over the barbarians like an absolute tyrant; nor did he take particular care of the first as his friends and domestics, and scorn the latter as mere brutes and vegetables; which would have filled his empire with fugitive incendiaries and perfidious tumults. C But believing himself sent from Heaven as the common moderator and arbiter of all nations, and subduing those by force whom he could not associate to himself by fair offers, he labored thus, that he might bring all regions, far and near, under the same dominion. And then, as in a festival goblet, mixing lives, manners, customs, wedlock, all together, he ordained that every one should take the whole habitable world for his country, of which his camp and army should be the chief metropolis and garrison; that his friends and kindred should be the good and virtuous, and that the vicious only should be accounted foreigners. Nor would he that Greeks and barbarians should be distinguished by long garments, targets, scimitars, or turbans; but that D the Grecians should be known by their virtue and courage, and the barbarians by their vices and their cowardice; and that their habit, their diet, their marriage and custom of converse, should be everywhere the same, engaged and blended together by the ties of blood and pledges of offspring.
7. Therefore it was that Demaratus the Corinthian, an acquaintance and friend of Philip, when he beheld Alexander in Susa, bursting into tears of more than ordinary joy, bewailed the deceased Greeks, who, as he said, had been bereaved of the greatest blessing on earth, for that they had not seen Alexander sitting upon the throne of Darius. Though most assuredly, for my part, I do not envy the beholders this show, which was only a thing of chance and a happiness of more ordinary kings. But I would gladly have been a spectator of those majestic and sacred nuptials, when, after E he had betrothed together a hundred Persian brides and a hundred Macedonian and Greek bridegrooms, he placed them all at one common table within the compass of one pavilion embroidered with gold, as being all of the same family; and then, crowned with a nuptial garland, and being himself the first to sing an epithalamium in honor of the conjunction between two of the greatest and most potent nations in the world, of only one the bridegroom, of all the brideman, father, and moderator, he caused the several couples to be severally married. Had I but beheld this sight, ecstasied with pleasure I should have then cried out: "Barbarous and stupid Xerxes, how vain was all thy toil to cover the Hellespont with a floating bridge! Thus rather wise and prudent princes join Asia to Europe. They join and fasten nations together not with boards or planks, or surging brigandines, not with inanimate and insensible bonds, but F by the ties of legitimate love, chaste nuptials, and the infallible gage of progeny."
8. But then, when he considered the Eastern garments, Alexander preferred the Persian before the Median habit, though much the meaner and more frugal garb. Therefore (330) A rejecting the gaudy and scenical ornament of barbarian gallantry, such as were the tiara and candys, together with the upper breeches, according to the report of Eratosthenes, he ordered a mixture of the Macedonian and Persian modes to be observed in all the garments which he wore. As a philosopher, he contented himself with mediocrity; but as the common chieftain of both and as a mild and affable prince, he was willing to gain the affection of the vanquished by the esteem which he showed to the mode of the country; that so they might continue the more steadfast and loyal to the Macedonians, not hating them as their enemies, but loving them as their princes and rulers. B This behavior was contrary to that of persons insipid and puffed up with prosperity, who wedded to their own humors admire the single colored robe but cannot endure the tunic bordered with purple, or else are well pleased with the latter and hate the former, like young children, in love with the mode in which, as another nurse, their country's custom first apparelled them. And yet we see that they who hunt wild beasts clothe themselves with their hairy skins; and fowlers make use of feathered jerkins; nor are others less wary how they show themselves to wild bulls in scarlet or to elephants in white; for those creatures are provoked and enraged at the sight of these colors. If then this potent monarch, designing to reclaim and civilize stubborn and warlike nations, took the same course to soften and allay their inbred fury which others take with wild beasts, and at length C brought them to be tame and tractable by making use of their familiar habits and by submitting to their customary course of life, thereby removing animosity from their breasts and sour looks from their countenances, shall we blame his management; or rather must we not admire the wisdom of him who by so slight a change of apparel ruled all Asia, subduing their bodies with his arms and vanquishing their minds with his habit? It is a strange thing; we applaud Socratic Aristippus, because, being sometimes clad in a poor threadbare cloak, sometimes in a Milesian robe, he kept a decency in both; but they censure Alexander, because he gave some respect to the garb and mode of those whom he had vanquished, as well as to that of his native country; not considering that he was laying the foundation of vast achievements. D It was not his design to ransack Asia like a robber, or to despoil and ruin it, as the prey and rapine of unexpected good fortune, as afterwards Hannibal pillaged Italy, and before him the Treres ravaged Ionia and the Scythians harassed Media, but to subdue all the kingdoms of the earth under one form of government, and to make one nation of all mankind. So that if the same Deity which hither sent the soul of Alexander had not too soon recalled it, one law had overlooked all the world, and one form of justice had been as it were the common light of one universal government; while now E that part of the earth which Alexander never saw remains without a sun.
9. Thus, in the first place, the very scope and aim of Alexander's expedition speaks him a philosopher, as one that sought not to gain for himself luxurious splendor or riches, but to establish concord, peace, and mutual community among all men.
Next, let us consider his sayings, seeing that the souls of other kings and potentates betray their conditions and inclinations by their expressions. Antigonus the Aged, having heard a certain poet sing before him a short treatise concerning justice, said, Thou art a fool to mention justice to me, when thou seest me thundering down the cities belonging to other people about their ears. F Dionysius the Tyrant was wont to say that children were to be cheated with dice, but men with oaths. Upon the monument of Sardanapalus this inscription is to be seen:
All I did eat and drink, and all that lust To me vouchsafed, I have; all else is gone.What now can a man say of these apophthegms, but that the first denotes injustice and immoderate desire of sovereignty; the next impiety; and the third sensuality? But as for the sayings of Alexander, set aside his diadem, his claimed descent from Ammon, and the nobility of his Macedonian extraction, and (331) A you would believe them to have been the sayings of Socrates, Plato, or Pythagoras. For we omit the swelling hyperboles of flattery which poets have inscribed under his images and statues, studying rather to extol the power of Alexander than his moderation and temperance; as, for example,
The statue seems to look to Jove and say, Take thou Olympus; me let Earth obey! and that other, This is Alexander the son of Jove.But these, as I said, were only the flashes of poetic adulation magnifying his good success. Let us therefore come to such sentences as were really uttered by Alexander himself, beginning first with the early blossoms of his childhood.
B It is well known that for swiftness in running he exceeded all that were of his years; for which reason some of his most familiar play-fellows would have persuaded him to show himself at the Olympic games. He asked them whether there were any kings to contend with him. And when they replied that there were none, he said, The contest then is unequal, for I can conquer only private men, while they may conquer a king.
His father, King Philip, being run through the thigh in a battle against the Triballi, and, though he escaped the danger, being not a little troubled at the deformity of his limping; "Be of good cheer, father," said he, "and show yourself in public, that you may be reminded of your bravery at every step."
C Are not these the products of a mind truly philosophical, which by an inspired inclination to what is noble already contemns the disfigurings of the body? Nor can we otherwise believe but that he himself gloried in his own wounds, which every time he beheld them called to his remembrance the conquered nation and the victory, what cities he had taken, what kings had surrendered themselves; never striving to conceal or cover those indelible characters and scars of honor, which he always carried about him as the engraven testimonies of his virtue and fortitude.
10. Then again, if any dispute arose or judgment were to be given upon any of Homer's verses, either in the schools or at meals, this that follows he always preferred above the rest,
Both a good king, and far renowned in war;
D believing that the praise which another by precedency of time had anticipated was to be a law also to himself, and saying that Homer in the same verse had extolled the fortitude of Agamemnon and prophesied of Alexander's. Crossing therefore the Hellespont, he viewed the city of Troy, revolving in his mind the heroic acts of antiquity. At this time one of the chief citizens proffering to him Paris's harp, if he pleased to accept it; I need it not, said he, for I have that with which Achilles pleased himself already,
When he the mighty deeds of heroes sung, Whose fame so loudly o'er the world has rung;
but as for Paris, his soft and effeminate harmony was devoted only to the pleasures of amorous courtship. E Now it is part of a true philosopher's soul to love wisdom and chiefly to admire wise men; and this was Alexander's praise beyond all other princes. His high esteem for his master Aristotle we have already mentioned. No less honor did he give to Anaxarchus the musician, whom he favored as one of his choicest friends. To Pyrrhon the Elean, the first time he saw him, he gave a thousand crowns in gold. To Xenocrates, the companion of Plato, he sent an honorary present of fifty talents. Lastly, it is recorded by several that he made Onesicratus, the disciple of Diogenes the Cynic, chief of his pilots. But when he came to discourse with Diogenes himself at Corinth, F he was struck in such a manner with wonder and astonishment at the course of life and sententious learning of the person, that frequently calling him to mind he was wont to say, "Were I not Alexander, I would be Diogenes." That is, "I would have devoted myself to the study of words, had I not been a philosopher in deeds." He did not say, "Were I not a king, I would be Diogenes;" nor, "Were I not opulent, an Argeades." For (332) A he did not prefer fortune before wisdom, nor the purple robe or regal diadem before the beggar's wallet and threadbare mantle; but he said, Were I not Alexander, I would be Diogenes. That is, "Had I not designed to intermix barbarians and Greeks and to civilize the earth as I marched forward, and had I not proposed to search the limits of sea and land, and so, extending Macedon to the land-bounding ocean, to have sown Greece in every region all along and to have diffused justice and peace over all nations, I would not have sat yawning upon the throne of slothful and voluptuous power, but would have labored to imitate the frugality of Diogenes. But now pardon us, Diogenes. We follow the example of Hercules, we emulate Perseus, B and tread in the footsteps of Bacchus, our divine ancestor and founder of our race; once more we purpose to settle the victorious Greeks in India, and once more to put those savage mountaineers beyond Caucasus in mind of their ancient Bacchanalian revels. There, by report, live certain people professing a rigid and austere philosophy, and more frugal than Diogenes, as going altogether naked; pious men, governed by their own constitutions and devoted wholly to God. They have no occasion for scrip or wallet, for they never lay up provision, having always fresh and new gathered from the earth. The rivers afford them drink, and at night they rest upon the grass and the leaves that fall from the trees. By our means shall they know Diogenes, and Diogenes them. C But it behooves us also, as it were, to make a new coin, and to stamp a new face of Grecian civility upon the barbarian metal."
11. Tell me now; can such generous acts of Alexander as these be thought to speak the spontaneous favors of Fortune, only an impetuous torrent of success and strength of hand? Do they not rather demonstrate much of fortitude and justice, much of mildness and temperance, in one who managed all things with decorum and consideration, with a sober and intelligent judgment? Not that I (believe me) go about to distinguish between the several acts of Alexander, and to ascribe this to fortitude, that to humanity, another to temperance; but I take every act to be an act of all the virtues mixed together. This is conformable to that Stoic sentence, D "What a wise man does he does by the impulse of all the virtues together; only one particular virtue seems to head every action, and calling the rest to her assistance drives on to the end proposed." Therefore we may behold in Alexander a warlike humanity, a meek fortitude, a liberality poised with good husbandry, anger easily appeased, chaste amours, a busy relaxation of mind, and labor not wanting recreation. Who ever like him mixed festivals with combats, revels and jollity with expeditions, nuptials and bacchanals with sieges and difficult attempts? To those that offended against the law who more severe? To the unfortunate who more pitiful? E To those that made resistance who more terrible? To suppliants who more merciful?
This gives me an occasion to insert here the saying of Porus. For he being brought a captive before Alexander, and by him being asked how he expected to be treated, Royally, said he, 0 Alexander. And being further asked whether he desired no more, he replied, Nothing; for all things are comprehended in that word "royally." And for my part, I know not how to give a greater applause to the actions of Alexander, than by adding the word "philosophically," for in that word all other things are included. Being ravished with the beauty of Roxana, the daughter of Oxyarthes, dancing among the captive ladies, he never assailed her with injurious lust, but married her philosophically. F Beholding Darius stuck to the heart with several arrows, he did not presently sacrifice to the Gods or sing triumphal songs to celebrate the end of so long a war, but unclasping his own cloak from his shoulders he threw it over the dead corpse philosophically, as it were to cover the shame of royal calamity. Another time, as he was perusing a private letter sent him by his mother, he observed Hephaestion, who was sitting by him, to read it along with him, little understanding what he did. (333) A For which unwary act Alexander forbore to reprove him; only clapping his signet to his mouth, he thus kindly admonished him that his lips were then sealed up to silence by the friendly confidence which he reposed in him, all this philosophically. And indeed if these were not acts done philosophically, where shall we find them?
12. Let us compare with his some few acts of those who are by all allowed to be philosophers. Socrates yielded to the lustful embraces of Alcibiades. Alexander, when Philoxenus, governor of the sea-coasts, wrote to him concerning an Ionian lad that had not his equal for youthful beauty, and desired to know whether he should be sent to him or not, returned him this nipping answer: "Vilest of men, when vast thou ever privy to any desires of mine, that thou shouldst think to flatter me with such abhorred allurements?" B We admire the abstinency of Xenocrates for refusing the gift of fifty talents which Alexander sent him; but do we take no notice of the munificence of the giver? Or is the bountiful person not to be thought as much a contemner of money as he that refuses it? Xenocrates needed not riches, by reason of his philosophy; but Alexander wanted wealth, by reason of the same philosophy, that he might be more liberal to such persons... How often has Alexander borne witness to this in the midst of a thousand dangers? It is true, we believe that it is in the power of all men to judge rightly of things; for nature guides us of herself to virtue and bravery. But herein philosophers excel all others, that they have by education acquired a fixed and solid judgment to encounter whatever dangers they meet with. C For most men have no such maxims to defend them as this in Homer,
Without a sign his sword the brave man draws, And needs no omen but his country's cause.*And that other of Demosthenes,
Death is the certain end of all mankind.
But sudden apparitions of imminent danger many times break our resolutions; and the fancy troubled with the imagination of approaching peril chases away true judgment from her seat. For fear not only astonishes the memory, according to the saying of Thucydides, but it dissipates all manner of consideration, sense of honor, and resolution; while philosophy binds and keeps them together. . . .
(NOTE from William Goodwin: The text is defective at the end, and elsewhere in the last chapter. The sense of the clause just preceding the quotation from Homer is chiefly conjectural. A similar deficiency is found at the end of the Second Oration on Alexander, which immediately follows.)
The Second Oration of Plutarch
D Concerning the Fortune or Virtue of Alexander the Great
1. We forgot in our yesterday's discourse to tell you, that the age wherein Alexander flourished had the happiness to abound in sciences and in persons of transcending natural endowments. E Yet this is not to be ascribed to Alexander's but their own good fortune, which favored them with such a judge and such a spectator of their particular excellencies as was both able rightly to discern and liberally to reward their understood deserts. Therefore it is recorded of Archestratus, born some ages after, an elegant poet but buried in his own extreme poverty, that a certain person meeting him said, Hadst thou but lived when Alexander lived, for every verse he would have gratified thee with an island of Cyprus or a territory fair as that of Phoenicia. Which makes me of opinion that those former famous artists and soaring geniuses may not so properly be said to have lived in the time of Alexander as by Alexander. For as the temperature of the season and limpid thinness of the surrounding air produce plenty of grain and fruit; so the favor, the encouragement, and benignity of a prince increase the number of aspiring geniuses, and advance perfection in sciences. F And on the other side, by the envy, covetousness, and contentiousness of those in power, whatever soars to the height of true bravery or invention is utterly quelled and extinguished.
Therefore it is reported of Dionysius the Tyrant that, being pleased with the music of a certain player on a harp, he promised him a talent for his reward; but when the musician claimed his promise the next day, "Yesterday," said he, (334) A "by thee delighted, while thou sangest before me, I gave thee likewise the pleasure of thy hopes; and thence immediately didst thou receive the reward of thy delightful pastime, enjoying at the same time the charming expectation of my promise."
In like manner Alexander tyrant of the Pheraeans (for it behooves us to distinguish him by that addition, lest we should dishonor his namesake), sitting to see a tragedy, was so affected with delight at the acting, that he found himself moved to a more than ordinary compassion. Upon which, leaping suddenly from his seat, as he hastily flung out of the theatre, How poor and mean it would look, said he, if I, that have massacred so many of my own citizens and subjects, should be seen here weeping at the misfortunes of Hecuba and Polyxena! And it was an even lay but B that he had mischiefed the tragedian for having mollified his cruel and merciless disposition, like iron softened by fire.
Timotheus also, singing to Archelaus who seemed too parsimonious in remuneration, frequently upbraided him with the following sarcasm:
Base earth-bred silver thou admirest.To whom Archelaus not unwittily reparteed,
But thou dost beg it.
Ateas, king of the Scythians, having taken Ismenias the musician prisoner, commanded him to play during one of his royal banquets. And when all the rest admired and applauded his harmony, Ateas swore that the neighing of a horse was more delightful to his ears. So great a stranger was he to the habitations of the Muses; as one whose soul lodged always in his stables, fitter however to hear asses bray than horses neigh. Therefore, C among such kings, what progress or advancement of noble sciences or esteem for learning can be expected? And surely no more can be expected from such as would themselves be rivals, who therefore persecute real artists with all the hatred and envy imaginable. In the number of these was Dionysius before mentioned, who condemned Philoxenus the poet to labor in the quarries, because, being by the tyrant commanded only to correct a tragedy by him written, he struck out every line from the beginning to the end.
Nay, I must needs say that Philip, who became a student not till his latter years, in these things descended beneath himself. For it being once his chance to enter into a dispute about sounds with a musician whom he thought he had foiled in his art, D the person modestly and with a smile replied, "May never so great a misfortune befall thee, 0 King, as to understand these things better than I do."
2. But Alexander, well considering of what persons and things it became him to be the hearer and spectator, and with whom to contend and exercise his strength, made it his business to excel all others in the art of war, and according to Aeschylus, to be
A mighty warrior, terrible to his foes.
For having learned this art from his ancestors, the Aeacidae and Hercules, he gave to other arts their due honor and esteem without the least emulation; embracing and favoring what was in them noble and elegant, but never suffering himself to be carried away with the pleasure of being a practitioner in any. In his time flourished the two tragedians, Thessalus and Athenodorus, E who contending for the prize, the Cyprian kings supplied the charges of the theatre, and the judges were to be the most renowned captains of the age. But at length Athenodorus being adjudged the victor; "I could have wished," said Alexander, "rather to have lost a part of my kingdom than to have seen Thessalus vanquished." Yet he neither interceded with the judges nor anywhere disapproved or blamed the judgment; believing it became him to be superior to all others, only to submit to justice.
To the comedian Lyco of Scarphe, who had inserted into one of his scenes certain verses in the nature of a begging petition, he gave ten talents, laughing heartily at the conceit.
Aristonicus was in the number of the most famous musicians of those times. F This man being slain in battle, strenuously fighting to assist and save his friend, Alexander commanded his statue to be made in brass and set up in the temple of Pythian Apollo, holding his harp in one hand and his spear upright in the other, not only in memory of the person, but in honor of music itself, as exciting to fortitude and inspiring those who are rightly and generously bred to it with a kind of supernatural courage and bravery.
(335) A Even Alexander himself, when Antigenides played before him in the Harmatian mood, was so transported and warmed for battle by the charms of lofty airs, that leaping from his seat all in his clattering armor he began to lay about him and attack those who stood next him, thereby verifying to the Spartans what was commonly sung among themselves,
The masculine touches of' the well-tuned lyre Unsheathe the sword and warlike rage inspire.Furthermore, there were also Apelles the painter and Lysippus the statuary both living under the reign of Alexander. The first of which painted him grasping Jupiter's thunderbolt in his hand, so artfully and in such lively colors, that it was said of the two Alexanders that Philip's was invincible, but Apelles's inimitable. Lysippus, B when he had finished the first statue of Alexander looking up with his face to the sky (as Alexander was wont to look, with his neck slightly bent), not improperly added to the pedestal the following lines:
The statue seems to look to Jove and say, Take thou Olympus; me let Earth obey!For which Alexander gave to Lysippus the sole patent for making all his statues; because he alone expressed in brass the vigor of his mind, and in his lineaments represented the lustre of his virtue; while others, who strove to imitate the turning of his neck and softness and brightness of his eyes, failed to observe the manliness and lion-like fierceness of his countenance.
C Among the great artists of that time was Stasicrates, who never studied elegance nor what was sweet and alluring to the eye, but only bold and lofty workmanship and design, becoming the munificence of royal bounty. He attended upon Alexander, and found fault with all the paintings, sculptures, and cast figures that were made of his person, as the works of mean and slothful artificers. "But I," said he, "will undertake to fix the likeness of thy body on matter incorruptible, such as has eternal foundations and a ponderosity steadfast and immovable. D For the mountain Athos in Thrace, where it rises largest and most conspicuous, having a just symmetry of breadth and height, with members, limbs, and distances answerable to the shape of human body, may be so wrought and formed as to be, not only in imagination and fancy but really, the effigy and statue of Alexander; with his feet reaching to the seas, grasping in his left hand a fair and populous city, and with his right pouring forth an ever-flowing river into the ocean from a bowl, as a perpetual drink-offering. E But as for gold, brass, ivory, wood, stained figures, and little wax images, toys which may be bought or stolen, I despise them all." When Alexander heard this discourse, he admired and praised the spirit and confidence of the artist; "But," said he, "let Athos alone; for it is sufficient that it is the monument of the vanquished folly and presuming pride of one king already. Our portraiture the snowy Caucasus, and towering Emodon, Tanais, and the Caspian Sea shall draw. They shall remain eternal monuments of our renown."
3. But grant that so vast an undertaking should have been brought to perfection; is there any person living, do ye think, that would have believed such a figure, such a form, and so great a design, to be the spontaneous and accidental production of fantastic Nature? F Certainly, not one. What may we think of the statue representing him grasping thunder, and that other with his spear in his hand? Is it possible that a Colossus of a statue should ever be made by Fortune without the help of art; nay, though she should profusely afford all the materials imaginable of gold, brass, ivory, or any other substance whatever? Much more, is it probable that so great a personage, and indeed the greatest of all who have ever lived, should be the workmanship of Fortune without the assistance of virtue? And all this, perhaps, because she has made him the potent master of arms, horses, money, and wealthy cities - (336) A which he who knows not how to use shall rather find to be destructive and dangerous than aids to advance his power and magnificence, as affording proofs of his weakness and pusillanimity? Noble therefore was the saying of Antisthenes, that we ought to wish an enemy all things beneficial to mankind except fortitude; for so these blessings will belong not to their possessors but to the conqueror. Therefore it was, they say, that Nature provided for the hart, one of the most timorous of creatures, such large and branchy horns, to teach us that strength and weapons nothing avail where conduct and courage are wanting. B In like manner, Fortune frequently bestowing wealth and empire upon princes simple and fainthearted, who blemish their dignity by misgovernment, honors and more firmly establishes virtue, as being that which alone makes a man most truly beautiful and majestic. For indeed, according to Epicharmus,
'Tis the mind only sees, the mind That hears; the rest are deaf and blind.For as for the senses, they seem only to have their proper opportunities to act.
But that the mind alone is that which gives both assistance and ornament, the mind that overcomes, that excels, and acts the kingly part, while those other blind, deaf, and inanimate things do but hinder, depress, and disgrace the possessors void of virtue, is easily made manifest by experience.
C For Semiramis, but a woman, set forth great navies, raised mighty armies, built Babylon, covered the Red Sea with her fleets and subdued the Ethiopians and Arabians. On the other side, Sardanapalus possessing the same power and dominion, though born a man, spent his time at home combing purple wool, lying among his harlots in a lascivious posture upon his back, with his heels higher than his head. After his decease, they made for him a statue of stone, resembling a woman dancing, who seemed to snap with her fingers. as she held them over her head, with this inscription,
Eat, drink, indulge thy lust; all other things are nothing.Whence it came to pass that Crates, seeing the golden statue of Phryne D the courtesan standing in the temple of Delphi, cried out, There stands a trophy of the Grecian luxury. But had he viewed the life or rather burial (for I find but little difference) of Sardanapalus, would he have imagined that statue to have been a trophy of Fortune's indulgences? Shall we suffer the fortune of Alexander to be sullied by the touch of Sardanapalus, or endure that the latter should challenge the majesty and prowess of the former? For what did Sardanapalus enjoy through her favor, more than other princes receive at her hands arms, horses, weapons, money, and guards of the body? Let Fortune, with all these assistances, make Aridaeus famous, if she can; let her, if she can, advance the renown of Ochus, Amasis, Oarses, E Tigranes the Armenian, or Nicomedes the Bithynian. Of which last two, the one, casting his diadem at Pompey's feet, ignominiously surrendered up his kingdom a prey to the victor; and as for Nicomedes, he, after he had shaved his head and put on the cap of liberty, acknowledged himself no more than a freed vassal of the Roman people.
4. Rather let us therefore affirm that Fortune makes her favorites little, poor-spirited, and pusillanimous cowards. But it is not just to ascribe vice to misfortune, fortitude and wisdom to prosperity. Fortune indeed was herself made great by Alexander's reign; for in him she appeared illustrious, invincible, magnanimous, merciful, and just. F Insomuch that after his decease Leosthenes likened this vast bulk of power - wandering as in a mist, and sometimes violently rushing one part against the other - to the giant Cyclops, who after he had lost his eye went feeling and groping about with his hands before him, not knowing where to lay them. So strangely did that vast pile of dominion roll and tumble about in the dark of confusion, when shattered into anarchy by the loss of its supreme head. Or rather, as dead bodies, when the soul takes her flight, no longer grow together, no longer act together, but are broken up and dissolved, and are finally dissipated; thus Alexander's empire, wanting his enlivening conduct, (337) A panted, gasped, and boiled with fever, struggling with Perdiccas, Meleager, Seleucus, and Antigonus, as with vital spirits still remaining hot, and with irregular and intermittent pulses, till at length, totally corrupted and putrefied, it produced a sort of degenerate kings and faint-hearted princes, like so many worms. This he himself seemed to prophesy, reproving Hephaestion for quarrelling with Craterus: "What power," said he, "or signal achievement couldst thou pretend to, should any one deprive thee of thy Alexander?" The same will I be bold to say to the Fortune of that time: "Where would have been thy grandeur, where thy glory, where thy vast empire, thy invincibility, should any one have bereaved thee of thy Alexander" - B that is, "should any one have deprived thee of thy skill and dexterity in war, thy magnificence in expense, thy moderation in the midst of so much affluence, thy prowess in the field, thy meekness to the vanquished? Frame, if thou canst, another piece like him, that missing all his noble qualities shall neither be magnificently liberal nor foremost in battle, that shall not regard nor esteem his friends, that shall not be compassionate to his captives, that shall not moderate his pleasures, that shall not be watchful to take all opportunities, whom victory shall make inexorable and prosperity insolent; and try if thou canst make him another Alexander. What ruler ever obtained renown by folly and improbity? C Separate virtue from the fortunate, and he everywhere appears little; among those that deserve his bounty, for his close-handed illiberality; among the laborious, for his effeminacy; among the Gods, for his superstition; among the good, for his envious conditions; among men, for his cowardice; among women, for his inordinate lust. For as unskilful workmen, erecting small figures upon huge pedestals, betray the slightness of their own understandings; so Fortune, when she brings a person of a poor and narrow soul upon the stage of weighty and glorious actions, does but expose and disgrace him, as a person whom the vanity of his own ill conduct has rendered worthless."
5. So that true grandeur does not consist in the possession but in the use of noble means. D For new-born infants frequently inherit their father's kingdoms and empires. Such an one was Charillus, whom Lycurgus carried in his swaddling-bands to the public table, and resigning his own authority proclaimed king of Lacedaemon. Yet was not the infant thereby the more famous, but he who surrendered to the infant his paternal right, scorning fraud and usurpation.
But who could make Aridaeus great, whom Meleager seated in Alexander's throne, differing from a child only in having his swaddling-clothes of purple? Prudently done, that so in a few days it might appear how men govern by virtue, and how by fortune. For after the true prince who swayed the empire, he brought in a mere player; or rather E he exposed the diadem of the habitable world upon the brainless head of a mere mute on the stage.
Women may bear the burden of a crown, When a renowned commander puts it on.Yet some may say, it is possible for women and children to confer dignity, riches, and empire upon others. Thus the eunuch Bagoas took the diadem of Persia, and set it upon the head of Oarses and Darius. But for a man to take upon him the burden of a vast dominion, and so to manage his ponderous affairs as not to suffer himself to sink and be overwhelmed under the immense weight of wakeful cares and incessant labor, that is the character which signalizes a person endued with virtue, understanding, and wisdom. F All these royal qualities Alexander had, whom some accuse of being given to wine. But he was a really great man, who was always sober in action and never drunk with the pride of his conquests and vast power; while others intoxicated with the smallest part of his prosperity have ceased to be masters of themselves. For, as the poet sings,
The vainer sort, that view their heaps of gold, Or else advanced at court high places hold, Grow wanton with those unexpected showers That Fortune on their happy greatness pours.(338) A Thus Clitus, having sunk some three or four of the Grecians galleys near the island Amorgus, called himself Neptune and carried a trident. So Demetrius, to whom Fortune vouchsafed a small portion of Alexander's power, assumed the title of Kataibates (as if descended from heaven), to whom the several cities sent their ambassadors, by the name of God-consulters, and his determinations were called oracles. Lysimachus, having made himself master of some part of the skirts of Alexander's empire, viz., the region about Thrace, swelled to such excess of pride and vainglory as to break forth into this ranting expression: "Now the Byzantines make their addresses to me, because I touch heaven with my spear." B At which words, Pasiades of Byzantium being then present said, "Let us be gone, lest he pierce heaven with the point of his lance."
What shall we, in the next place, think of those who presumed, as imitators of Alexander, to have high thoughts of themselves? Clearchus, having made himself tyrant of Heraclea, carried a sceptre like that of Jupiter's in his hand, and named one of his sons Thunderbolt. Dionysius the Younger called himself the son of Apollo in this inscription:
The son of Doris, but from Phoebus sprung.His father put to death above ten thousand of his subjects, betrayed his brother out of envy to his enemies, and not enduring to expect the natural death of C his mother, at that time very aged, caused her to be strangled, writing in one of his tragedies,
For tyranny is the mother of injustice.Yet after all this, he named one of his daughters Virtue, another Temperance, and a third Justice. Others there were that assumed the titles of benefactors, others of glorious conquerors, others of preservers, and others usurped the title of great and magnificent. But should we go about to recount their promiscuous marriages like horses, their continual herding among impudent and lawless women, their contaminations of boys, their drumming among effeminate eunuchs, their perpetual gaming, their piping in theatres, their nocturnal revels, and days consumed in riot, it would be a task too tedious to undertake.
D 6. As for Alexander, he breakfasted by break of day, always sitting; and supped at the shutting in of the evening; he drank when he had sacrificed to the Gods. With his friend Medius he played for diversion when he was sick with a fever. He also played upon the road as he marched, learning between whiles to throw a dart and leap from his chariot. He married Roxana merely for love; but Statira, the daughter of Darius, upon the account of state policy, for such a conjunction of both nations strengthened his conquest. As to the other Persian women, he excelled them in chastity and continence as far as he surpassed the men in valor. He never desired the sight of any virgin that was unwilling; and those he saw, he regarded less than if he had not seen them; mild and affable to all others, proud and lofty only to fair youth. E As for the wife of Darius, a woman most beautiful, he never would endure to hear a word spoken in commendation of her features. When she was dead, he graced her funeral with such a regal pomp, and bewailed her death so piteously, that his kindness cast discredit upon his chastity, and his very courtesy incurred the obloquy of injustice. Indeed, Darius himself had been moved with suspicion at first, when he thought of the power and the youth of the conqueror; for he was one of those who thought Alexander to be only the darling of Fortune. But when he understood the truth, "Well," said he, "I do not yet perceive the condition of the Persians so deplorable, since the world can never tax us now with imbecility or effeminacy, whose fate it was to be vanquished by such a person. Therefore my prayers shall be to the Gods for his prosperity, and that he may be still victorious in war; to the end that in well-doing I may surpass Alexander. F For my emulation and ambition lead me in point of honor to show myself more cordial and friendly than he. If then the Fates have otherwise determined as to me and mine, 0 Jupiter preserver of the Persians, and you, 0 Deities, to whom the care of kings belongs, hear your suppliant, and suffer none but Alexander to sit upon the throne of Cyrus." This was the manner in which Darius adopted Alexander, after he had called the Gods to witness the act.
(339) A 7. So true it is that virtue is the victor still. But now, if you please, let us ascribe to Fortune Arbela and Cilicia, and those other acts of main force and violence; say that Fortune thundered down the walls of Tyre, and that Fortune opened the way into Egypt. Believe that by Fortune Halicarnassus fell, Miletus was taken, Mazaeus left Euphrates unguarded, and the Babylonian fields were strewed with the carcasses of the slain. Yet was not his prudence the gift of Fortune, nor his temperance. Neither did Fortune, as it were empaling his inclinations, preserve him impregnable against his pleasures or invulnerable against the assaults of his fervent desires. These were the weapons with which he overthrew Darius. B Fortune's advantages, if so they may be called, were only the fury of armed men and horses, battles, slaughters, and flights of routed adversaries. But the great and most undoubted victory which Darius lost was this, that he was forced to yield to virtue, magnanimity, prowess, and justice, while he beheld with admiration his conqueror, who was not to be overcome by pleasure or by labor, nor to be matched in liberality.
True it is, that among the throngs of shields and spears, in the midst of warlike shouts and the clashing of weapons, Tarrias the son of Dinomenes, Antigenes the Pellenian, and Philotas the son of Parmenio were invincible; but in respect of their inordinate debauchery, their love of women, their insatiable covetousness, they were nothing superior to the meanest of their captives. For the last of these vices Tarrias was particularly noted; and when Alexander set the Macedonians out of debt and paid off all their creditors, C Tarrias pretended among the rest to owe a great sum of money, and brought a suborned person to demand the sum as due to him; but being discovered, he would have laid violent hands upon himself, had not Alexander forgiven him and ordered him the money, remembering that at the battle of Perinthus fought by Philip, being shot into the eye with a dart, he would not suffer the head of it to be pulled out till the field was clear of the enemy.
Antigenes, when the sick and maimed soldiers were to be sent back into Macedon, made suit to be registered down in the number, pretending himself utterly disabled in the wars; D which very much troubled Alexander, who was well acquainted with his valor and knew that he wore the scars about him of many a bloody field. But the fraud being detected, that was concealed under some little present infirmity, Alexander asked him the reason of his design; and he answered, he did it for the love of Telesippe, that he might accompany her to the sea, not being able to endure a separation from her. Presently the King demanded to whom the wench belonged, and who was to be dealt with in regard to her. To which he replied, she was free from any tie. Well, then, said the King, let us persuade her to stay, if promises or gifts will prevail. So ready was he to pardon the dotages of love in others, so rigorous to himself.
But Philotas the son of Parmenio E exercised his incontinency after a more offensive manner. Antigona was a Pellaean virgin among the captives taken about Damascus, a prisoner before to Autophradates, who took her going by sea into Samothrace. The beauty of this damsel was such as kept Philotas constant to her embraces. Nay, she had so softened and mellowed this man of steel, I know not how, that he was not master of himself in his enjoyments, but told her the very secrets of his breast; among other things he said: "What had Philip been, but for Parmenio? And what would Alexander now be, but for Philotas? What would become of Ammon and the dragons, should we be once provoked?" These words Antigona F prattled to one of her companions, and she told them to Craterus. Craterus brings Antigona privately to Alexander, who forbore to offer her the least incivility, but by her means piercing into Philotas's breast, he detected the whole. Yet for seven years after he never discovered so much as the least sign of jealousy, either in his wine or in his anger; nor did he ever disclose it to any friend, (340) A even to Hephaestion, from whom he never concealed the most inward of his counsels and designs. For it is said that once, when Alexander had just opened a private letter from his mother and was quietly reading it, Hephaestion looked over his shoulder and began to read it likewise; but Alexander forbore to reprove him, and only took off his signet and clapped it to Hephaestion's mouth.
8. These recitals may suffice, without being tedious, to show that he exercised his authority according to all the most illustrious and royal methods of government. To which grandeur if he arrived by the assistance of Fortune, he is to be acknowledged the greater, because he made so glorious a use of her. So that the more any man extols his fortune, B the more he advances his virtue, which made him worthy of such fortune.
But now I shall return to the beginnings of his advancement and the early dawnings of his power, and endeavor to discover what was there the great work of Fortune, which rendered Alexander so great by her assistance. First then, how came it to pass that some neighing barb did not seat him in the throne of Cyrus, free from wounds, without loss of blood, without a toilsome expedition, as formerly it happened to Darius Hystaspes? Or that some one flattered by a woman, as Darius by Atossa, did not deliver up his diadem to him, as the other did to Xerxes, so that the empire of Persia came home to him, even to his own doors? Or why did not some eunuch aid him, as Bagoas did the son of Parysatis, who, C only throwing off the habit of a messenger, immediately put on the royal turban? Or why was he not elected on a sudden and unexpectedly by lot to the empire of the world, as at Athens the lawgivers and rulers are wont to be chosen?
Would you know how men come to be kings by Fortune's help? At Argos the whole race of the Heraclidae happened to be extinct, to whom the sceptre of that kingdom belonged. Upon which consulting the oracle, answer was made to them that an eagle should direct them. Within a few days the eagle appeared towering aloft, but stooping he at length lighted upon Aegon's house; thereupon Aegon was chosen king.
Another time in Paphos, the king that there reigned being an unjust and wicked tyrant, Alexander resolved to dethrone him, and therefore sought out for another, D the race of the Kinyradae seeming to be at an end. They told him there was one yet in being, a poor man and of no account, who lived miserable in a certain garden. Thereupon messengers were sent, who found the poor man watering some few small beds of pot-herbs. The miserable creature was strangely surprised to see so many soldiers about him, but go he must; and so being brought before Alexander in his rags and tatters, he caused him presently to be proclaimed king and clad in purple; which done, he was admitted into the number of those who were called the king's corn-pardons. The name of this person was Alynomus. Thus Fortune creates kings suddenly, E easily changing the habits and altering the names of those that never expected or hoped for any such thing.
9. All this while, what favors did Fortune shower upon Alexander but what he merited, what he sweat for, what he bled for? What came gratis? What without the price of great achievements and illustrious actions? He quenched his thirst in rivers mixed with blood; he marched over bridges of slain carcasses; he grazed the fields to satisfy his present hunger; he dug his way to nations covered with snow and cities lying under ground; he made the hostile sea submit to his fleets; and, marching over the thirsty and barren sands of the Gedrosians and Arachosians, he discovered green at sea before he saw it at land.
So that if I might use the same liberty of speech for Alexander to Fortune as to a man, I would thus expostulate with her: F "Insulting Fortune, when and where didst thou make an easy way for Alexander's vast performances? What impregnable rock was ever surrendered to him without a bloody assault, by thy favor? What city didst thou ever deliver unguarded into his hands? Or what unarmed battalion of men? What fainthearted prince, what negligent captain, or sleepy sentinels did he ever surprise? When didst thou ever befriend him with so much as a fordable river, a mild winter, or an easy summer? (341) A Get thee to Antiochus the son of Seleucus, to Artaxerxes the brother of Cyrus. Get thee to Ptolemy Philadelphus. Their fathers proclaimed them kings in their own lifetime; they won battles which no mothers wept for; they spent their days in festivals, admiring the pomp of shows and theatres; and still more happy, they prolonged their reigns till scarce their feeble hands could wield their sceptres.
"But if nothing else, behold the body of Alexander wounded by the enemy, mangled, battered, bruised, from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet,
With spears, and swords, and mighty stones.B At the battle of the Granicus his helmet was cleft to his very skull; at Gaza he was wounded in the shoulder witha dart. Among the Maragandi he was shot in the shin so desperately, that the bone of his shank was broken and started out of the skin. In Hyrcania he was struck in the neck with a stone, which caused such a dimness in his eyes that for many days he was in danger of losing his sight. Among the Assaracans he was wounded in the heel with an Indian dart; at which time he thus derided his flatterers with a smiling countenance, saying, This is blood, and no immortal ichor,
Such stream as issues from a wounded God.At Issas he was run through the thigh with a sword by Darius (as Chares relates), who encountered him hand to hand. C Alexander also himself, writing the truth with all sincerity to Antipater, said, It was my fortune to be wounded with a poniard in the thigh, but no ill symptoms attended it either when it was newly done or afterwards during the cure. Another time, among the Malli he was wounded with an arrow two cubits in length, that went in at his breast and came out at his neck, as Aristobulus relates. Crossing the Tanais against the Scythians and winning the field, he pursued the flying enemy a hundred and fifty furlongs, though at the same time laboring with a dysentery.
10. "Well contrived, vain Fortune! to advance and aggrandize Alexander D by lancing, broaching, boring every part of his body. Not like Minerva - who, to save Menelaus, directed the dart against the most impenetrable parts of his armor, blunting the force of the weapon with his breastplate, belt, and scarf, so that it only glanced upon his skin, and drew forth two or three drops of blood - but contrariwise, thou hast exposed his principal parts naked to mischief, driving the wounds through the very bones, rounding every corner of his body, besieging the eyes, undermining the pursuing feet, stopping the torrent of victory, and disappointing the prosecution of noble designs."
For my part, I know no prince to whom Fortune ever was more unkind, though she has been envious and severe enough to several. E However, other princes she destroyed with a swift and rapid destruction, as with a whirlwind; but in her hatred against Alexander she prolonged her malice, and persisted still implacable and inexorable, as she showed herself to Hercules. For what Typhons and monstrous giants did she not oppose against him? Which of his enemies did she not fortify with store of arms, deep rivers, steep mountains, and the foreign strength of massy elephants? Now had not Alexander been a personage of transcending wisdom, actuated by the impulse of a more than ordinary virtue, but had he been supported only by Fortune, he would have trusted to her as her favorite, and spared himself the labor and the turmoil of ranging so many armies and fighting so many battles, the toil of so many sieges and pursuits, F the vexations of revolting nations and haughty princes not enduring the curb of foreign dominion, and all his tedious marches into Bactria, Maracanda, and Sogdiana, among faithless and rebellious nations, who were ever breaking out afresh with new wars, like the Hydra putting forth a new head so soon as one was cut off."
11. And here I may seem to utter an absurdity, but I will venture to speak it, as being an undoubted truth; that it was by Fortune that he came very near losing the reputation of being the son of Jupiter Ammon. For who but one sprung from the Gods, Hercules excepted, would ever have undertaken and finished those hazardous and toilsome labors which he did? (342) A Yet what did Hercules do but terrify lions, pursue wild boars, and scare birds; enjoined thereto by one evil man, that he might not have leisure for those greater actions of punishing Antaeus and putting an end to the murders of Busiris. But it was virtue that enjoined Alexander to undertake that godlike labor, not covetousness of the golden burden of ten thousand camels, not the possession of the Median women or glorious ornaments of Persian luxury, not greediness of the Chalybonian wine or the fish of Hyrcania, but that he might reduce all mankind as it were into one family, under one form of government and the same custom of intercourse and conversation. B This love of virtue was thoroughly inbred, and increased and ripened as he grew in years; so that once being to entertain the Persian ambassadors in his father's absence, he never asked them any questions that savored of boyish imbecility, never troubled them to answer any questions about the golden vine, the pendent gardens, or what habit the king wore, but still desired to be satisfied in the chiefest concerns of the empire, what force the Persians brought into the field, and in what part of the army the king fought; as Ulysses asked,
Where are the magazines of arms? And where The barbed steeds provided for the war?C He also enquired which were the nearest roads for them that travelled from the sea up into the country; at all of which the ambassadors were astonished, and said, This youth is a great prince, but ours a rich one. No sooner was Philip interred, but his resolution hurried him to cross the sea; and having already grasped it in his hopes and preparations, he made all imaginable haste to set foot in Asia. But Fortune opposed him, diverted him, and kept him back, creating a thousand vexatious troubles to delay and stop him. First, she contrived the Illyrian and Triballic wars, exciting to hostility the neighboring barbarians. But they, after many dangers run and many terrible encounters, being at length chased even as far as Scythia beyond the river Ister, D he returned back to prosecute his first design. But then again spiteful Fortune stirred up the Thebans against him, and entangled him in the Grecian war, and in the dire necessity of defending himself against his fellow countrymen and relations with fire and sword and hideous slaughter.
Which war being brought to a dreadful end, away he presently crossed into Asia, as Phylarchus relates, with only thirty days' provision; as Aristobulus reports, with seventy talents, having before sold and divided among his friends his own revenues and those of his crown. Only Perdiccas refused what he offered him, E asking him at the same time what he had left for himself. And when Alexander replied, "Nothing but hopes," "Then," said he, "we will be content with the same; for it is not just to accept of thy goods, but we must wait for those of Darius."
12. What were then the hopes with which Alexander passed into Asia? Not a vast power mustered out of populous cities, nor fleets sailing through mountains; not whips and fetters, the instruments of barbarians' fury, to curb and manacle the sea. But in his small army there was surpassing desire of glory, emulation among those of equal age, and a noble strife to excel in honor and virtue among friends. Then, as for himself, he carried with him all these great hopes, F piety towards the Gods, fidelity to his friends, generous frugality, temperance, beneficence, contempt of death, magnanimity, humanity, decent affability, candid integrity, constancy in counsel, quickness in execution, love of precedence in honor, and an effectual purpose to follow the steps of virtue. And though Homer, in describing the beauty of Agamemnon, seems not to have observed the rules of decorum or probability in any of his three similitudes,
(343) A Like thundering Jove's, his awful head and eyes The gazing crowd with majesty surprise; In every part with form celestial graced, His breast like Neptune's, and like Mars his waist;yet as for Alexander, if his celestial parents formed and composed him of several virtues, may we not conclude that he had the wisdom of Cyrus, the temperance of Agesilaus, the foresight of Themistocles, the skill of Philip, the daring courage of Brasidas, the shrewdness and political skill of Pericles? Certainly, if we compare him with the most ancient heroes, he was more temperate than Agamemnon, who preferred a captive before his lawful wife, though but newly wedded, while Alexander, before he was legally married, abstained from his prisoners. B He was more magnanimous than Achilles, who accepted a small sum of money for the redemption of Hector's dead body, while Alexander spared no expense to adorn the funeral of Darius. Achilles accepted gifts and bribes from his friends, as the atonement of his wrath; Alexander, when once a victor, enriched his enemies. He was much more pious than Diomede, who scrupled not to fight against the Gods, while Alexander ascribed to Heaven all his successes. Finally, he was more bewailed of his relations than Ulysses, whose mother died for grief, while the mother of Alexander's enemy, out of affection, bare him company in his death.
13. In short, if Solon proved so wise a ruler by Fortune, C if Miltiades led his armies by Fortune, if Aristides was so renowned for his justice by Fortune, then there is nothing that can be called the work of virtue. Then is virtue only an airy fiction, and a word that passes with some show of glory through the life of man, but feigned and magnified by Sophists and lawgivers. But if every one of these whom we have mentioned was wealthy or poor, weak or strong, deformed or beautiful, long or short lived, by Fortune, but made himself a great captain, a great lawgiver, famous for governing kingdoms and commonwealths, by virtue and reason; then in God's name let us compare Alexander with the best of them. Solon by a law made a great abatement upon the payment of the Athenians' private debts, D which he called his burden-easing law; Alexander discharged the debts of his Macedonians at his own expense. Pericles, laying a tax upon the Greeks, expended the money in building temples to beautify the citadel of Athens; Alexander sent home ten thousand talents out of the spoils of the barbarians, for the building of temples to the Gods all over Greece. Brasidas advanced his fame all over Greece, by breaking through the enemy's army lying encamped by the seaside near Methane; but when you read of that daring jump of Alexander's (so astonishing to the hearers, much more to them that beheld it) when he threw himself from the walls of the Oxydracian metropolis among the thickest of the enemy, E assailing him on every side with spears, darts, and swords, tell me where you meet with such an example of matchless prowess, or to what you can compare it but to a gleam of lightning violently flashing from a cloud, and impetuously driven by the wind? Such was the appearance of Alexander, as he leaped like an apparition to the earth, glittering in his flaming armor. The enemy, at first amazed and struck with horror, retreated and fell back; till seeing him single they came on again with a redoubled force.
Now was not this a great and splendid testimony of Fortune's kindness, to throw him into an inconsiderable and barbarous town, and there to enclose and immure him a prey to worthless enemies? And when his friends made haste to his assistance, F to break the scaling ladders, and to overthrow and cast them down? Of three that got upon the walls and flung themselves down in his defence, endearing Fortune presently despatched one; the other, pierced and struck with a shower of darts, could only be said to live. (344) A Without, the Macedonians foamed and filled the air with helpless cries, having no engines at hand. All they could do was to dig down the walls with their swords, tear out the stones with their nails, and almost to rend them out with their teeth.
All this while, Alexander, Fortune's favorite, whom she always covered with her protection, like a wild beast entangled in a snare, stood deserted and destitute of all assistance, not laboring for Susa, Babylon, Bactria, or to vanquish the mighty Porus. For to miscarry in great and glorious attempts is no reproach; but so malicious was Fortune, so kind to the barbarians, such a hater of Alexander, that B she aimed not only at his life and body, but at bereaving him of his honor and sullying his renown. For Alexander's fall had never been so much lamented had he perished near Euphrates or Hydaspes by the hand of Darius, or by the horses, swords, and axes of the Persians fighting with all their might and main in defence of their king, or had he tumbled from the walls of Babylon, and all his hopes together. Thus Pelopidas and Epaminondas fell; whose death was to be ascribed to their virtue, not to such a poor misfortune as this. But what was the singular act of Fortune's favor which we are now enquiring into? C What indeed, but in the farthest nook of a barbarous country, on the farther side of a river, within the walls of a miserable village, to pen up and hide the lord and king of the world, that he might there perish shamefully at the hands of barbarians, who should knock him down and pelt him with whatever came next to hand? There the first blow he received with a battle axe cleft his helmet and entered his skull; at the same time another shot him with an Indian arrow in the breast near one of his paps, the head being four fingers broad and five in length, which, together with the weight of the shaft which projected from the wound, did not a little torment him. But, what was worst of all, while he was thus defending himself from his enemies before him, D when he had laid a bold attempter that approached his person sprawling upon the earth with his sword, a fellow from a mill close by came behind him, and with a great iron pestle gave him such a bang upon the neck as deprived him for the present both of his senses and his sight. However, his virtue did not yet forsake him, but supplied him still with courage, infusing strength withal and speed into those about him For Ptolemy, Limnaeus, and Leonnatus, and some others who had mounted or broken through the wall, made to his succor, and stood about him like so many bulwarks of his virtue; out of mere affection and kindness to their sovereign exposing their bodies, their faces, and their lives in his defence. For it is not Fortune that overrules men to run the hazard of death for brave princes; E but the love of virtue allures them as natural affection charms and entices bees to surround and guard their chief commander.
What person then, at that time beholding in security this strange adventure, would not have confessed that he had seen a desperate combat of Fortune against virtue, and that the barbarians were undeservedly superior through Fortune's help, but that the Greeks resisted beyond imagination through the force of virtue! So that if the barbarians had vanquished, it had been the act of Fortune or of some evil genius or divine retribution; but as the Greeks became the victors, they owed their conquest to their virtue, their prowess, their friendship and fidelity to each other. For these were all the lifeguard Alexander had at that time; F Fortune having interposed a wall between him and all his other forces, so that neither fleets nor armies, cavalry nor infantry, could stand him in any stead.
Therefore the Macedonians routed the barbarians, and buried those that fell under the ruins of their own town. But this little availed Alexander; for he was carried off with the dart sticking in his breast, having now a war in his own bowels, while the arrow in his bosom was a kind of cord, or rather nail, that was driven through his breastplate and fastened it to his body. (345) A When they went about to dress him, the forked shape of the iron head would not permit the surgeons to draw it forth from the root of the wound, being fixed in the solid parts of the breast that fortify the heart. Nor durst they attempt to cut away the shaft that stuck out, fearing they should put him to an excess of torment by the motion of the iron in the cleft of the bone, and cause a new flux of blood not easy to be stopped. Alexander, observing their hesitation and delay, endeavored himself with a little knife to cut off the shaft close to the skin; but his hand failed him, being seized with a heavy numbness by reason of the inflammation of the wound. Thereupon he commanded the surgeons and those that stood about him to try the same thing themselves and not to be afraid, giving them all the encouragement he could. B Those that wept he upbraided for their weakness; others he called deserters, that refused him their assistance in such a time of need. At length, calling to his friends, he said: "Let no one of you fear for me; for how shall I believe you to be contemners of death, when you betray yourselves to be afraid of mine?"
(Copyright© 2003 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)