Plutarch's - Life of Alexander the Great
My intention is not to write histories, but lives. Sometimes small incidents rather than glorious exploits, give us the best evidence of character. So, as portrait painters are more exact in doing the face (where the character is revealed) than the rest of the body, I must be allowed to give my more particular attention to the marks of the souls of men. By these, rather than the historical events they participated in, I try to portray their lives. I leave the task of a more complete historical chronicle to others.
On the day that Alexander was born, the temple of Diana at Ephesus burned down, an omen which the fortune-tellers of the East interpreted as a sign that on that day, the force that would destroy Asia had entered the world.
Alexander had light skin, blond hair, and melting blue eyes. A sweet natural fragrance came from his body, so strong that it perfumed his clothes.
Action and glory, rather than pleasure and wealth, were what Alexander wanted from life. Fame was his passion. When he heard of the conquests of his father, King Philip of Macedonia, Alexander was not happy about the additional wealth and power that he would inherit, but instead was sad that there would be less left for him to conquer. Alexander often lamented to his friends that the way things were going, nothing would be left for him to do once he became king.
Alexander wanted a kingdom involved in trouble and war, where he would have an ample field to exercise his courage and make his mark on history. He disdained a life of comfortable sloth. This young warrior was always a great patron of the arts and of learning. He enjoyed and encouraged hunting and the martial arts, except for boxing.
* * *
Bucephalus was Alexander's horse throughout most of his career. Some horse traders had brought this magnificent animal to King Philip and offered him for sale, but no man could ride him. The traders were taking Bucephalus away when Alexander remarked that it was a shame to lose such a fine horse just because no one knew the right way to manage him. Philip at first ignored the boy, but Alexander persisted. Finally Philip said: "Do you presume to criticize those who are older than you, as if you knew more, and could do better?" Alexander boldly declared that he would ride the horse, and everyone laughed. He bet the price of the horse, and got the chance to try.
Alexander had noticed that Bucephalus was afraid of his own shadow, so he turned the horse to face the sun and settled him down, then walked him in that direction for a while, stroking him whenever he became eager and fiery. Suddenly, Alexander jumped on his back and drew in the bridle gently, but firmly, until all rebelliousness was gone. Then he let Bucephalus go at full speed, urging him on with a commanding voice.
Alexander's father and the others looked on nervously until they saw Alexander turn at the end of his run and come back in triumph. "Oh my son," said King Philip with tears in his eyes, "find yourself a kingdom equal to and worthy of yourself, for Macedonia is too little for you."
After this, Philip sent for Aristotle to be Alexander's tutor. Ordinary teachers would not be enough for Alexander, who could easily be led by reason but refused to submit to compulsion. All kinds of learning and reading interested him, but Homer’s Iliad was by far his favorite book. He always took a copy, annotated by Aristotle, along on his campaigns. Aristotle had a profound influence on Alexander, who said that he loved Aristotle as much as Philip -- his father had given him life, and his teacher had taught him to use it.
* * *
When Alexander was sixteen, Philip left him in charge of Macedonia while he went away on a campaign against the people of Byzantium. The Maedi rebelled while Philip was gone, and Alexander led an army against their largest city. He moved out the Maedi and renamed the city "Alexandropolis," after himself.
Philip put Alexander in command of the cavalry at the Battle of Chaeronea, and Alexander led the charge that broke the Theban Sacred Band. This early bravery made his father so fond of him that Philip liked nothing better than to hear his soldiers say that Philip was their general, but Alexander was their king.
Philip had a stormy home life with Alexander's mother, Olympias. Philip had spied on her once and seen a snake in her bed, and ever since then they had been estranged. Philip's new marriages enraged Olympias, who was a violent, jealous, and unforgiving woman. The trouble in the women's chambers spread to the whole kingdom. Olympias even managed to turn Alexander against his father.
The breaking point came when Philip married Cleopatra, the very young niece of Attalus. At the wedding feast, Attalus (who was drunk), in his toast, asked the Macedonians to pray to the gods for a lawful successor to the kingdom through his niece. This so irritated Alexander that he threw a cup at Attalus and shouted: "What am I then -- a bastard?" Philip (who was also drunk) took Attalus' side and came at Alexander with a sword, but he slipped and fell down on the floor. Alexander derided his drunk and clumsy father and then left Macedonia, along with Olympias.
An old friend of the family came to visit Philip, and Philip asked him if the Greeks were at peace with each other. The visitor replied: "It is strange that you are so worried about Greece when your own house is torn apart by so many wars." Philip got the point, and called Alexander home. But soon another matter came between Alexander and his father.
By yet another wife, Philip had a son named Arrhidaeus, who had been a healthy boy until Olympias gave him some drugs that damaged his brains. The satrap of Caria asked for a marriage between his daughter and Arrhidaeus, hoping to ally himself with Philip's family. Olympias, aided by a few of Alexander's companions, filled Alexander's head with suspicions that Philip was preparing to hand over the kingdom to Arrhidaeus. So Alexander sent Thessalus, an actor, to the satrap with instructions to disparage Arrhidaeus and to offer a marriage with Alexander instead.
Of course the satrap was much happier with the prospect of Alexander rather than Arrhidaeus as his son-in-law. But when Philip heard about Alexander's proposal, he emphatically told his son that it was unworthy of the power he was due to inherit to beg for an alliance with a man who was no more than the slave of a barbarian king. Philip had Thessalus sent to him in chains, and he banished some of Alexander's companions who had talked Alexander into this.
Shortly afterwards, Philip was was murdered. The assassin was Pausanias, who was angry because Philip had refused to give him justice for some injury done to him by Attalus. But it was Philip's wife who was the instigator. Olympias took this enraged young man and made him the instrument of her revenge against her husband. Once Philip was out of the way, Olympias tortured her hated young rival, Cleopatra, to death.
So, at the age of only twenty, Alexander became king of Macedonia.
The neighboring states and the cities of Greece rebelled against Macedonian rule now that they saw a boy on the throne. Alexander's council advised him to give up trying to subjugate the Greeks and to concentrate his resources on keeping the barbarian nations of the north under control. Treat the Greeks kindly, they said, and that will dissipate the first impulses of rebellion.
But Alexander rejected this advice. If any sign of weakness were perceived at the beginning of his government, everyone would be encouraged to attack, so only in bravery was there safety. First Alexander marched to the Danube and beat down all opposition from the tribes in that area. When everything there was peaceful again, he turned south and marched to Greece.
There had been a revolution in Thebes. The demagogues there were urging all of the other Greeks to join Thebes and free themselves from Macedonian domination. Athens also was being agitated by talk of war and rebellion, particularly from the demagogue Demosthenes.
After a march of two weeks, Alexander appeared at the walls of Thebes and demanded that the city send him the two leaders of the rebellion. To show how willing he was to forgive what was in the past, Alexander offered a full pardon for all those that would take it. The Thebans gave him an insulting reply, so Alexander killed six thousand of them, demolished their city, and sold all of the surviving inhabitants as slaves.
This severe example would make the other Greeks think twice about the consequences of disobedience. And soon the Athenians repented and reaffirmed their allegiance to Macedonia. Whether Alexander's new gentleness toward the Athenians was the result of remorse over the horrible cruelty done to Thebes, or merely that his passion for blood was satisfied, is not certain. However, from then on Alexander always showed kindness to any Theban survivor he could find.
Soon afterwards, representatives of the Greeks assembled at Corinth and named Alexander to lead them in a war against Persia. While Alexander was at Corinth, politicians and philosophers came to congratulate him, but he noticed that the famous philosopher Diogenes, who lived there in Corinth, did not come.
So Alexander went to visit Diogenes at his home and found him lying down, sun-bathing. Diogenes raised himself up a little when he heard the crowd approaching, and Alexander asked the philosopher very courteously if there was any favor a king could do for him. Diogenes only said: "Yes, please take your shadow off me." Alexander's companions, on the way back, were making fun of the simple-minded old man, but Alexander told them: "Laugh if you must, but if I were not Alexander I would choose to be Diogenes."
* * *
Between 30,000 and 43,000 infantry and between 3,000 and 4,000 horsemen followed Alexander into Asia Minor [334 B.C.]. He had only 70 talents for their pay, and no more than thirty days' provisions. Alexander was 200 talents in debt, having spent everything he had in making sure that his best men were able to provide for their families. When one of his generals asked what he had kept for himself, Alexander answered: "My hope." This general then refused the pension that Alexander offered him, saying: "Your soldiers will be your partners in that."
With such desire and determination, Alexander and his army crossed the Hellespont into Asia and came to Troy. At the tomb of Achilles, who was his ancestor on his mother’s side, Alexander anointed the gravestone with oil and then ran around it naked with his companions, according to the ancient custom. Achilles, he said, was a lucky man to have had a good friend while he was alive and a good poet to preserve his memory after he was dead.
Meanwhile, the Persians had camped on the other side of the Granicus River to prevent Alexander from crossing. The Persian force numbered 20,000 infantry and 20,000 cavalry, and their position was strong. The river was deep, and its banks were high. The task of assault seemed to be impossible, but Alexander immediately led thirteen squadrons of horsemen across under a shower of arrows. With frenzied persistence they managed to get up the muddy banks and close with the enemy.
Alexander's white plume and brilliant armor made him easy to pick out, so the bravest Persians clustered where he was, and that is where the fight was most furious. One Persian chieftain knocked Alexander dizzy with a battle-ax, but Clitus saved Alexander's life by spearing the assailant before he could finish the kill.
The Macedonian phalanx, meanwhile, had managed to get across the river and form up on the other side. The Persians could not stand up against their push, and soon the whole Persian army was running for their lives. The losses on the Persian side were 20,000 infantry and 2,500 cavalry, but Alexander lost only 34 men.
This first victory changed everything. All of the cities on the coast surrendered to Alexander, except for Halicarnassus and Miletus, which he had to take by force.
Now Alexander faced a difficult decision: whether to consolidate his conquests, in order that their resources could provide a secure base for later operations, or to move immediately against the Persian king Darius in the heart of his empire. Consolidation was Alexander's choice, so he moved down the coast to take control of Lycia, then turned north to Phrygia.
There, in the city of Gordium, he accepted the challenge of the Gordian Knot. A very intricate knot tied together the yoke of an ancient chariot, and there was a legend that whoever could undo the knot would become the master of the world. Alexander pulled out his sword and chopped through the Gordian Knot, instead of involving himself in its mysterious entanglements.
King Darius of Persia was on the way from Susa with an army of 600,000 men. For some time, Alexander stayed in Cilicia, which Darius and his advisors attributed to Alexander’s fear of encountering the overwhelmingly large Persian force. The real reason for Alexander's delay was that he was getting over a serious illness.
All of Alexander's attendants were afraid to try any remedies, because if their remedy failed, and Alexander died, the Macedonians might blame the physician. But there was one, Philip the Acarnanian, who dared to try, and he risked his own life to save Alexander's. Alexander received a letter from Parmenio, warning of treachery by this physician, who, said the letter, had been bribed by Darius to give poison instead of medicine. Alexander read the letter, then put it under his pillow, showing it to no one. When Philip came in with the potion, Alexander took out the letter and handed it to him, and while Philip read the letter, Alexander drank the potion with a smile. In a short time, Alexander was well.
The Persians had camped in flat and open country, where they could take advantage of their superiority in cavalry. But as weeks passed with no sign of Alexander (who was recovering from his sickness), Darius' flatterers convinced him that the Greeks were afraid to fight, and therefore Darius should move his army to Issus to cut off their escape. Darius marched to Issus at the same time that Alexander marched into Syria to meet him, and the two armies passed each other. When Alexander heard that the Persians were behind him at Issus, he immediately turned back and hurried to fight there.
Darius was in an equal hurry to get out of Issus, because when he saw the rough terrain, which made his cavalry useless, and split up his army, he realized that the Greeks could have the advantage. Before Darius could escape from his own trap, Alexander had arrived. Alexander personally commanded the right wing, which crushed the Persian left. Darius panicked and rode away, leaving behind his chariot, his bow, his shield, his mantle, his army, and 110,000 Persian casualties.
* * *
Among the captives taken in the Persian camp were the mother, wife, and daughters of Darius. Alexander assured these women that they had nothing to fear from him or his men, since he fought with Darius only for his empire, and not for personal spite. He guaranteed that they would continue to be treated according to their rank and would have everything they used to have from Darius. Alexander was always very chaste and courteous in his relations with the opposite sex, and he had a great respect for the institution of marriage. He used to say that two things reminded him that he was human, and not a god: sleeping and the act of generation, as if to say that both weariness and lust are produced by the same weakness and imbecility of human nature.
In eating, also, Alexander was totally in command of his appetite, and neither a glutton nor a gourmet. When offered the services of some cooks who were said to have great skill, he declined, saying that the best stimulus to a good appetite was a long march before breakfast and a moderate breakfast to create an appetite for dinner. It was generally believed that Alexander was addicted to wine, but that impression arose from the fact that he liked to stay up late over wine talking.
When he had free time, Alexander would read, write, or hunt. He would not have dinner until after dark, and this would be a very long meal because he loved good conversation. Usually, his own talk was amusing and intelligent, but Alexander sometimes would lapse into braggadocio. This gave his flatterers a chance to ride him, and put his friends in the unpleasant position of choosing between shame and danger -- they disdained to compete in flattery but were afraid not to join in.
* * *
After the Battle of Issus [333 B.C.], Alexander sent some men to Damascus to take possession of the money and baggage that the Persian army had left there. Every soldier in the Greek army became a rich man, with beautiful women for slaves. Alexander allowed this because he wanted them to get a taste of barbaric luxury that would make them more eager to conquer more territory. He considered it to be like giving bloodhounds the scent.
Then Alexander proceeded down the coast to the city of Tyre, which refused to surrender to him. While his army sat down for a siege at Tyre [332 B.C.], Alexander went into Arabia.
One day, he fell behind the rest of his army because his old teacher, Lysimachus (whom he used to compare to Phoenix, the guardian of Achilles) could not keep up. Night found Alexander in a very dangerous position: far behind his army and without any fire to combat the cold. He noticed some enemy campfires, so he ran over to one, killed two soldiers with his knife, then carried back a burning stick to his men. This was typical of Alexander -- he was always encouraging his men by a personal example of readiness to work and face danger.
During the seven months that it took before Tyre finally was sacked, Darius wrote to Alexander and offered to pay ransom for the prisoners held by Alexander. Darius also offered to give Alexander one of his daughters in marriage if Alexander would be satisfied with dominion over all of the countries west of the Euphrates. Alexander told his friends about the offer, and asked their advice. Parmenio said, "If I were you, I would take it gladly."
Alexander responded, "So would I, if I were Parmenio, but I am Alexander, so I will send Darius a different answer." This was Alexander's answer to Darius: "All of Asia is mine, including all of its treasure. This money you offer is already mine. As for your daughter, if I want to marry her, I will do so, whether or not you approve. If there is something you want from me, you may come in person and ask for it. Otherwise, I will have to go to where you are."
* * *
After Tyre and Gaza had been taken, Alexander went into Egypt. He founded the city of Alexandria [331 B.C.] at the mouth of the Nile, pursuant to a dream he had. His fortune-tellers predicted that Alexandria would become a great city that would feed many strangers, and so it came to pass.
Then Alexander decided to take a long journey to an oasis in the middle of a vast desert, to visit the temple of the god Ammon. Not only would water be scarce along the way, but sandstorms had buried whole armies there before. All of these dangers and difficulties did not matter to Alexander, who could not be diverted from his plan once he had decided to do something. Alexander's good luck made him firm in his opinions, and his natural courage made him delight in overcoming difficulties, as if conquering armies was not enough, and only Nature herself was a fit opponent for him.
Alexander's good luck continued. Heavy rain solved the water problem, and also prevented sand from blowing. When the Macedonians lost their way, some ravens came to guide them. These birds flew ahead to indicate the right direction, and at night the ravens' calls kept them on the right path.
At the temple of Ammon, Alexander asked the oracle whether he would be allowed to conquer the world, and the oracle said yes. Returning out of Egypt, Alexander accepted the surrender of all countries west of the Euphrates. Then he went after Darius, who by this time had gathered another army, this time of a million men.
The two armies came in sight of each other one night at Gaugamela [also known as Arbela, on October 1, 331 B.C.]. The noise and campfires of the vast barbarian camp were so frightening that some of Alexander's generals advised a night attack because it would be too dangerous to take on such a huge force in daylight. But Alexander replied: "I will not steal victory." To some, this sounded immature and conceited, but it was a wise strategy: if Darius lost this battle, in broad daylight on a field he had chosen, he would have no excuse for defeat, as he had before at Issus. With his heart broken, Darius would not try again. The war would be over, even though in his empire Darius had plenty of men and resources to keep up the fight for a long time. So Alexander and his men rested until late the next morning. He awoke alert and cheerful after a long sleep.
As long as Alexander was riding around before battle, he used another horse besides Bucephalus, who by now was growing old. But when the time came for fighting, he mounted Bucephalus, and commenced the attack. On this day Alexander gave a long speech to the Thessalians and other Greeks, who answered him with loud shouts, whereupon he put his javelin into his left hand and lifted up his right to the gods in a prayer for victory. Just at that moment, an eagle soared over him and then flew toward the enemy, and this omen put fire in each man's heart. The horsemen charged at full speed, followed by the Macedonian phalanx. The Persians did not wait for them, but fell back, and Alexander kept herding them into the center, where Darius stood, along with his best men. These fugitives crowded in and impaired the ones who stood their ground, so that none of them could do any fighting. Dead Persian bodies piled so high around Darius that they almost covered the horses of his chariot. Darius mounted a mare, and once again he left his army behind him.
Parmenio, who had command of the left wing, sent an urgent message to Alexander, saying that if reinforcements were not sent from the front to the rear, the Greek camp and all of the baggage would be lost to the Persians. Alexander replied to Parmenio that he should remember that if they won, they would not only recover their own baggage but also take the enemy's; and if they lost, then they would not have to worry about possessions because their only business would be to die like brave men.
* * *
Without opposition, Alexander marched to Babylon, which immediately surrendered. Then he went to Susa, where he took possession of an immense amount of gold and other treasures. He continued on into Persia itself and took Persepolis, the capital, where he spent the winter with his army [January - May, 330 B.C.]. Darius, meanwhile, escaped to the north with a small remnant of his once-splendid force.
Before going to find Darius, Alexander held a party for his officers. He even let them bring women with them, one of whom was a certain courtesan named Thais from Athens. After the drinking had gone on for some time, Thais announced that she would like to burn down the palace built by King Xerxes, who had burned down Athens. Thus, she said, it might be said that even the women who followed Alexander took greater revenge on the Persians than all of the Greek generals who had tried before. This flattering and amusing proposal naturally got a good reaction from the drunken crowd, and Alexander went along. He led the way with a lighted torch in his hand, and the others followed, yelling and dancing. When the rest of the Macedonians heard the noise and found out what was going on, they joined in. They hoped that by burning the palace of the monarch of Persia, Alexander would clearly indicate his intention to return to Macedonia instead of settling among the barbarians. However, after the fire had burned for a while, Alexander gave orders to put it out.
Of all the things that Alexander won from Darius, the most precious was an exquisite box. He asked his friends what treasure he should keep in it. There were various suggestions, and good arguments why each was the most precious thing that he owned, but Alexander finally declared that the honor would not go to any of these but to his annotated copy of the Iliad.
Among the presents that he sent back to Greece, a huge quantity of frankincense and myrrh went to his tutor, Leonidas. The reason for this gift was that one day, when Alexander was still a boy, Leonidas had told him not to use so much of these spices in the sacrifice he was performing, saying: "When you have conquered the countries where these things grow, then you may be more liberal, but for now do not waste the little that we have." Alexander sent the following note with the gift: "We send you plenty of frankincense and myrrh so that in the future you will not be a niggard to the gods."
Alexander's natural generosity increased along with his wealth, and he gave with the grace that makes a gift really appreciated. For example, Ariston had killed an enemy, and as he showed Alexander the head to prove it, he mentioned that the customary reward for such a service in his country was a gold cup. Alexander smiled and said: "Yes, an empty one. But here is one full of good wine, and a toast to your good service and friendship."
Another time, one of the common soldiers was driving a mule that carried some of Alexander's treasure. The mule was too exhausted to go on, so the soldier put the load on his own shoulders. Alexander saw the man staggering along, and he asked what was the matter. The soldier told him that the mule was too tired to carry the load, and that he was about at the end of his endurance too. "Don't give up now," said Alexander, "but carry what you have there to the end of the journey, then take it to your own tent, to keep for yourself."
Alexander was always more displeased with those who refused his generosity than with those who abused it.
His mother, Olympias, wrote to Alexander often, and she repeatedly advised him not to make his friends so rich that they would become kings themselves, with the power to buy their own retinue, while Alexander became poor and weak through his generosity. Alexander sent his mother many presents, and stayed in close touch with her, but he declined to follow her advice. This made Olympias angry, and Alexander patiently endured her wrath. Olympias also tried to meddle in the government of Macedonia, and he bore with this as well. Antipater, his governor in Macedonia, wrote Alexander a long letter full of grievances against Olympias, and Alexander said to his friends: "Antipater does not realize that one tear of a mother erases ten thousand letters like this."
* * *
Now that they were rich, and addicted to pleasure, Alexander's soldiers began to be lax about their military training. He gently scolded them, saying that he wondered how they could not have learned, after all of their battles and hardships, that those who labor sleep better than those who are labored for, and that luxury leads to slavery, while royalty goes with pain and work. "Haven't you learned yet," he said, "that the honor and perfection of our victory consists in avoiding the vices that have made our enemies so easy to beat?"
Alexander was particularly concerned about their lack of exercise. He made his point by saying that no one could claim to be a soldier if he did not take care of the equipment that was nearest to himself, i.e. his body -- even though he might have splendid armor and a fine horse. Alexander led by his own example in this: instead of enjoying lazy days of pleasure, he hunted lions. But his followers had become arrogant now that they were rich. They were tired of marching and fighting. Finally, their bad attitude led them to say bad things about their leader.
At first Alexander was patient with them, saying that a king should do good to others, even if he is paid back with evil words. He continued to show kind attention to his friends. But there was one thing Alexander would never tolerate: any disrespect to his reputation as a soldier, which was more precious to him than his life and possessions.
* * *
Finally, the time came to track down Darius. After covering four hundred miles in eleven days, Alexander and his soldiers were nearly dead from thirst. Some Macedonian scouts had brought back a few bags of water from a distant river, and they offered Alexander a helmet-full. Although his mouth was so dry that he nearly was choking, he gave back the helmet with his thanks and explained: "There is not enough for everyone, and if I drink, the others will faint." When his men saw this, they spurred their horses forward and shouted for him to lead them. With such a king, they said, they would defy any hardships.
News came that one Bessus had betrayed Darius and made him a prisoner in his own camp. Alexander moved on at a furious pace, and no more than 160 of his horsemen could keep up with him. When they got to the camp, they found that Bessus had left Darius to die. Darius was barely alive, and as he died he told one of Alexander's men that it was the culmination of all of his bad luck not to be able to live long enough to pay back Alexander for the courtesy he had shown to his mother, wife, and children. Darius died before Alexander could get to see him [July 330 B.C.]. Alexander put his own cloak over Darius and sincerely lamented his death. The body was sent to Darius' mother for an honorable funeral, suitable to his rank. The reward of the traitor Bessus was to be torn apart by bent trees.
* * *
In Parthia, Alexander rested his army. It was there that he first put on barbarian clothes, which at first he wore only when he talked to the barbarians, as if to win them over by conforming to their customs. But afterwards he dressed that way in front of his soldiers. This filled them with grief, but they were willing to indulge a few eccentricities in such a brave commander.
Alexander continued into Bactria and conquered it [328 B.C.]. There, among the captives, he saw Roxane, the daughter of the king. It was true love at first sight, and Alexander married her. Instead of taking Roxane by force, Alexander went through all of the Bactrian ceremonies for an official marriage. This demonstration of his self-control and respect for their culture endeared him to the barbarians.
Hephaestion was the friend who most approved of Alexander's adoption of foreign customs, and he imitated Alexander in these changes. But Craterus continued to adhere to Macedonian ways. Alexander used Hephaestion in dealing with the barbarians, and Craterus in dealing with the Greeks. He showed more affection for Hephaestion, whom he called Alexander's friend, and more respect for Craterus, whom he called the king's friend. These two friends always had a secret grudge against each other, sometimes even quarrelling openly in front of the soldiers.
In the army there was widespread resentment over Alexander's change to foreign clothes and customs. To the barbarians, he would demand the groveling due to an oriental despot, and would claim the title of Son of God. But to the Greeks, Alexander was more modest. He used to say that God was the common father of all of us, but especially of the best. Among his friends he made no effort to keep up the persona he projected to the barbarians.
* * *
Philotas, the son of Parmenio, had a reputation among the Macedonians second only to Alexander himself. Philotas was brave and able to endure any fatigue of war, and he was almost as generous to friends as Alexander.
But Philotas carried his arrogance and his pride of wealth too far. In him there was none of the grace and gentleness of true greatness, so his spurious majesty drew a lot of envy and hatred. For a long time Alexander had heard complaints about Philotas. Philotas' father, Parmenio, knowing this, advised Philotas to behave more modestly.
One of the slaves that Philotas had won was Antigone of Pydna. One day, Philotas was drunk, and he boasted to Antigone that he and his father had won all of the victories, even though the boy Alexander had taken the credit. Antigone passed this on to another woman. Eventually, Craterus heard about this remark, and he brought Antigone secretly to Alexander. Alexander listened to her account and then told her to continue to pump Philotas and bring him reports of what he said. But Alexander did not take any action because he was afraid to disturb his army still further.
The breaking point came with the matter of Limnus. This Limnus, a Macedonian, conspired to assassinate Alexander, and he tried to bring in Nicomachus, who refused to go along. Nicomachus confided the secret to his brother, and the two brothers went to Philotas and asked to see Alexander on a matter of the greatest importance. Both of them tried again and again, but Philotas kept putting them off by telling them that Alexander was too busy.
So the two brothers went to someone else, who arranged an interview with Alexander. The brothers told Alexander about Limnus' conspiracy, then went on and told how Philotas had prevented them from warning him earlier. This enraged Alexander. He sent a soldier to bring Limnus in for questioning. When this soldier reported back that Limnus had died avoiding arrest, Alexander became even more angry because he had lost all means of finding out who else was involved.
But Philotas' enemies told Alexander that certainly such an insignificant person as Limnus could not be the ringleader of the conspiracy. They suggested that interrogation should start with those who apparently had such an interest in preventing detection. Once they had Alexander's attention for this sort of insinuation, they went on to show a thousand reasons why Philotas should be suspected. They succeeded so well that Alexander ordered Philotas arrested and questioned under torture. Although Philotas denied that he had any part in the conspiracy, Alexander had him executed. Alexander also sent assassins to kill Philotas' father, Parmenio, who was second in command of the army and had been a loyal friend of Alexander’s father, King Philip.
These proceedings made Alexander a terror to his friends. And soon afterwards, Alexander personally killed his close friend Clitus. Alexander had received a present of fresh fruit from Greece, and, as was his custom, he invited some of his friends to come and share the fruit with him. Among these was Clitus.
After everyone had had plenty to drink, including Clitus and Alexander, some of them started to sing a song making fun of some Macedonians who recently had been defeated in a battle with the barbarians. The older men were displeased, but Alexander and the younger men enjoyed it, and called on the singers to continue. Clitus remarked that it was not good to entertain the barbarians with jokes about Macedonians, especially when the subjects of the satire were better men than those who made fun of them, even if their luck had been worse.
Alexander joked that Clitus was pleading for himself, giving cowardice the name of bad luck. Clitus then got to his feet and said: "This cowardice, as you are pleased to call it, saved the life of the Son of God at the battle of Granicus. Those poor Macedonians you laugh at have, by their wounds fighting for you, made you so great now that you disown your father Philip and call yourself the son of Ammon."
Stung by these words, Alexander threatened Clitus: "Do you think you are not going to be punished for those words, which you say to make the Macedonians rebel against me?" Still Clitus would not shut up. "We are punished enough already," he said, "if this is our reward for our work, and those men are lucky who did not live to see Macedonians have to beg Persians for access to their king, and to see Greeks beaten by barbarian rods." Alexander grabbed a spear and threw it, killing Clitus.
All that night and the next day, Alexander cried bitterly, until finally he ran out of tears and could only lie on the floor of his chamber and sigh. His friends thought that this silence meant he was in danger, so they broke in. But Alexander paid no attention until they brought Callisthenes, a close friend of Aristotle, to see him, along with another philosopher named Anaxarchus.
Callisthenes tried soothing moral arguments, but Alexander was not comforted. Anaxarchus awoke Alexander from his depression by saying: "So there is Alexander the Great, who is feared by the whole world. Look at him lying on the ground, sobbing because he fears what men might say about him -- as if he himself should not give them law, and establish the boundaries of justice and injustice. He who conquers is the lord and master, not the slave, of the idle opinions of little men." With speeches like this, Anaxarchus comforted Alexander but corrupted his character, making him bolder to do wrong than he had been before.
These two philosophers, Anaxarchus and Callisthenes, warred over the soul of Alexander. The flatterers and parasites around Alexander already hated Callistenes because of his popularity with both the young soldiers and the old. The old men admired Callisthenes for his simple life and contentment, and the young men for his eloquence. His detractors said that Callisthenes seemed to have an attitude of superiority. When he was invited to a party, most of the time he would not come. If he did, he would usually sit silently as if he disapproved of what was going on.
One night Callisthenes was present where a large crowd had been invited to dine with Alexander. When the cup was passed to Callisthenes, he was called upon to make an extemporaneous oration in praise of the Macedonians. Callisthenes spoke with such eloquence that everyone present gave him a standing ovation and threw flowers. Alexander remarked that it was easy to be eloquent on such a good subject, and he gave Callisthenes a greater challenge: to speak about the faults of the Macedonians, so they might all learn to be better in the future.
It was truly said by Aristotle that Callisthenes was a powerful speaker, but he had bad judgment. Callisthenes did so well at describing the faults of the Macedonians that they all hated him from then on. Some say that Callisthenes died in prison after seven months in chains; others say that he was hanged.
* * *
Alexander wanted to invade India, but his soldiers were so burdened with booty that they moved very slowly on the march. One day, at dawn, after all of the wagons were loaded, Alexander set fire to his own and to those of his friends. Then he commanded the rest of the army to burn their wagons too. By now, Alexander had become very severe and pitiless in punishing any disobedience. Although a few were unhappy, most of the army was glad to see this barbaric baggage burn away so that they could be warriors again.
King Taxiles ruled a large area in India. When he heard that Alexander was coming, Taxiles did not wait, but went in person to meet him in peace. "Why should we make war on each other," Taxiles said, "if the reason for your coming is not to rob us of our water and our food? Those are the only things that a wise man has no choice but to fight for. As for any other riches or possessions, if I have more than you I am ready to share. But if fortune has been better to you than to me, then I have no objection to being in your debt."
These courteous words pleased Alexander, and he replied: "Do you think your kind words and courteous conduct will avoid a contest between us? No, I will not let you off so easily. I will do battle with you on these terms: no matter how much you give me, I will give more in return." Thereupon Taxiles made many fine presents to Alexander, but Alexander responded with presents of even greater value and topped them off with a thousand talents in gold coins. This generosity displeased Alexander's old friends but won the hearts of many of the Indians.
King Porus, however, refused to submit, and he took up a position to prevent Alexander from crossing the Hydaspes River. Porus was a huge man, and when mounted on his war elephant he looked in the same proportion as an ordinary man on a horse. After a long fight, Alexander won the victory, and Porus came to him as a prisoner. Alexander asked him how he expected to be treated, and Porus replied: "As a king." When Alexander asked a second time, Porus explained that in those words was included everything that a man could possibly want. Alexander not only allowed Porus to keep his kingdom as a satrap, but he also gave him more territory.
This was a costly victory, however. Many Macedonians died, and so did Alexander's old war horse, Bucephalus. This grieved Alexander so much that it seemed as though he had lost an old friend. On that spot he ordered a city to be built, named Bucephalia.
Such a difficult victory over only 22,000 Indians [May 326 B.C.] took the edge off the courage of the Macedonians. They had no enthusiasm for Alexander's proposed crossing of the Ganges, a river said to be four miles wide and six hundred feet deep, to encounter an army on the other side consisting of 200,000 infantry, 80,000 cavalry, 8,000 chariots, and 6,000 war elephants. Alexander was so angry at their reluctance that he shut himself up in his tent, saying that if they would not cross the Ganges, he owed them no thanks for anything they had done so far. But finally the persuasions of his friends, and the pleas of his soldiers, got Alexander to agree to turn back.
To exaggerate his reputation, Alexander left bridles and armor that were much bigger than normal, and huge altars to the gods. On a flotilla of rafts and barges, Alexander's army floated down the Indus River.
Along the way, they stopped to take some fortified cities, and at one of them Alexander came very close to losing his life. Alexander was the first one up the ladders onto the wall of the city of the Mallians, and then he jumped down into the town with only two of his guards behind him. Before the rest of the Macedonians could catch up and save him, Alexander had taken an arrow in the ribs and had been knocked dizzy by a club. He was unconscious when they carried him away, and he fainted when the doctors cut out the arrow. Rumors spread that Alexander was dead.
* * *
While in India, Alexander took ten of the Brahmins prisoner. These men had a great reputation for intelligence, so Alexander decided to give them a test. He announced that the one who gave the worst answer would be the first to die, and he made the oldest Brahmin the judge of the competition.
Which are more numerous, Alexander asked the first one, the living or the dead? "The living," said the Brahmin, "because the dead no longer count."
Which produces more creatures, the sea or the land? Alexander asked the second. "The land," was his answer, "because the sea is only a part of it."
The third was asked which animal was the smartest of all, and the Brahmin replied: "The one we have not found yet."
Alexander asked the fourth what argument he had used to stir up the Indians to fight, and he answered: "Only that one should either live nobly or die nobly."
Which is older: day or night? was Alexander's question to the fifth, and the answer he got was: "Day is older, by one day at least." When he saw that Alexander was not satisfied with this answer, the Brahmin added: "Strange questions get strange answers."
What should a man do to make himself loved? asked Alexander, and the sixth Brahmin replied: "Be powerful without being frightening."
What does a man have to do to become a god? he asked the seventh, who responded: "Do what is impossible for a man."
The question to the eighth was whether death or life was stronger, and his answer: "Life is stronger than death, because it bears so many miseries."
The ninth Brahmin was asked how long it was proper for a man to live, and he said: "Until it seems better to die."
Then Alexander turned to the judge, who decided that each one had answered worse than another. "You will die first, then, for giving such a decision," said Alexander. "Not so, mighty king," said the Brahmin, "if you want to remain a man of your word. You said that you would kill first the one who made the worst answer." Alexander gave all of the Brahmins presents and set them free, even though they had persuaded the Indians to fight him.
* * *
Alexander's voyage down the Indus took seven months. When he finally arrived at the Indian Ocean, he decided not to take the army home by ship but to march them through the Gedrosian Desert. After sixty miserable days, they arrived at Gedrosia, where they finally found enough to eat and drink. Many died in that desert: out of the 120,000 infantry and 15,000 cavalry that Alexander took with him into India, only one in four came back.
The news about the difficulties he had in India, his brush with death, and the huge attrition of his army in the desert, all made the conquered nations think of revolution. The satraps and commanders he had left in the provinces thought that now they could do anything they wanted. Even in Macedonia, Alexander's mother had deposed the man Alexander had left in charge. But still Alexander wanted to go on to new adventures. This time, he proposed to sail around Africa to the Pillars of Hercules [Gibraltar].
The tomb of Cyrus had been looted by one of the Macedonians, and for this Alexander ordered the grave-robber executed. The inscription on the tomb was: "Whoever you are, and wherever you come from (for I know that you will come), I am Cyrus, the founder of the Persian Empire. Please let me keep this dirt that covers my corpse." It greatly disturbed Alexander to see by this example how fragile human fame could be.
At the same time, Calanus (one of the Brahmins who had accompanied Alexander back from India) asked that a funeral pyre be built for him. Once everything was ready, Calanus did the customary ceremonies for a funeral, then said goodbye to his Macedonian friends. He told them to tell Alexander that Calanus would be seeing him in Babylon soon. Then he climbed on the pyre, lit it, and stayed perfectly still until he was ashes.
That night, Alexander held a banquet for a large number of his friends and officers, and he offered a prize for the man who could drink the most wine. Promachus drank twelve quarts and got the prize, but three days later he died. Forty-one others also died from this debauch.
* * *
At Susa [324 B.C.], Alexander took Statira, the daughter of King Darius, as another wife. At the same time, he married the best-bred ladies of Persia to his friends. These marriages were jointly celebrated by a magnificent festival for nine thousand guests, each of whom got a gold wine-cup. Alexander also paid off all of the debts of his soldiers, which took 10,000 talents.
When he had left for India, Alexander had put 30,000 Persian boys into Greek military training, and by now they had developed into strong and expert fighters. They put on a demonstration of their military exercises, which pleased him, but depressed the Macedonians, who now believed that Alexander had no more use for them.
When Alexander allowed some of the sick and wounded to return to Macedonia, the other Greeks asked to leave too. They added that Alexander no longer needed their services, now that he had such a fine bunch of Persian dancing boys, with which he could go on to conquer the world. This infuriated Alexander, and after a long and abusive tirade he fired all of his guards and replaced them with Persians. Not long afterwards, the Greeks repented. They stood outside Alexander's tent for two days and nights until he finally relented and sent them back with rewards for their services.
Alexander continued on to Ecbatana, where he took care of some business of his empire and then relaxed and enjoyed himself with public spectacles. Three thousand actors and artists had just arrived from Greece to amuse him. But Alexander's happiness did not last long, because his best friend, Hephaestion, died of a fever.
Alexander's grief over Hephaestion went beyond all reasonable bounds. He crucified the doctor who had treated Hephaestion. He ordered all of the manes and tails of the animals in his army to be cut off as a sign of mourning, and he tore down the walls of the cities nearby. He banned all music. Then he went into the country of the Cossaeans and for no reason massacred the entire nation.
The tomb of Hephaestion was to be a memorial of unprecedented magnificence, and Alexander spent most of his time going over the plans with his architects. On his way to Babylon, the local fortune-tellers prophesied that he would die if he entered the city. But Alexander paid no attention. As he came to the walls, he saw some crows fighting with each other, and some fell near him. Even this omen could not deter Alexander from entering Babylon.
Other strange omens, however, did get Alexander's attention. A donkey kicked his biggest lion to death. And one day there was a man sitting on Alexander's throne in a trance. After this, Alexander lost his confidence in the gods and in his friends. Once he allowed fears of supernatural influence to take root in his mind, he became so easily frightened that the smallest event took on enormous significance. Crowds of fortune-tellers and priests infested his court.
Contempt of divine power makes a man miserable, but, on the other hand, so does superstition. Like water, it seeps in to fill the depressed mind with fear and foolish notions. Alexander drank heavily, and he caught a fever. After suffering for twelve days, he died in Babylon [June 10, 323 B.C.].