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Bill Thayer

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Quintus Curtius Rufus:
Life of Alexander the Great

The Life of Alexander is a prime candidate for the Web. Short, written like a novel and in very easy Latin, it tells the fascinating story of a man whose aura remains quite undimmed after more than two millennia, and of exploits that fire the imagination of little boys: it is an ideal text for Latin beginners.

So, as with the other texts on LacusCurtius, I waited and waited for someone else to put it online; grew amazed, then disappointed, that it found no takers; and again, finally did it myself. This time though, there was a twist to it: as I was nearing the end of my inputting, David Camden beat me to it, following what appears to be a very slightly different text. In view of server downtimes and so forth, you may want to bookmark David's version as well.

As almost always, I retyped the text rather than scanning it: not only to minimize errors prior to proofreading, but as an opportunity for me to become intimately familiar with the work, an exercise which I heartily recommend. (Well-meaning attempts to get me to scan text, if successful, would merely turn me into some kind of machine: gambit declined.)

Anyway, the text has been thoroughly proofread, and I believe it to be free of errors (but if there are errors, please do report them).

Book Highlights

333 B.C.: Alexander wends his way thru Asia Minor. The Gordian Knot. Composition of the Macedonian and Persian armies. The Cilician Gates. Alexander catches a chill upon bathing in the Cydnus River, nearly dies, and is cured thanks to the bravery of his doctor and his own faith in him. The Battle of Issus. Darius's mother, wife and children taken captive by Alexander, as well as the immense state treasure of Persia.

332‑331 B.C.: Darius writes a haughty letter to Alexander: Alexander sends a predictable reply. The siege of Tyre: the city thought itself safe on its island; Alexander attaches the island to the mainland and takes Tyre. (To this day, it remains the only major instance of such a tactic in war.) Darius sues for peace, sweetening the offer, and is refused. Alexander conquers Egypt, then heads off across hundreds of miles of trackless desert to visit the Saharan oracle of Jupiter Ammon, where the priests declare him the son of the god. Darius' wife dies in captivity, and Alexander mourns her and gives her a lavish funeral. The battle of Arbela.

331‑330 B.C.: Darius flees, and Alexander captures Babylon; then Persepolis, the capital of Darius' empire. Egged on by a drunken whore at a banquet, the equally drunk Alexander leads his guests in burning down the royal palace of Persepolis, regretting it the morning after. Bessus, a high-placed Persian, betrays his master Darius in the hope of grabbing power himself, eventually killing him as he fled, then abandoning his body. Alexander mourns Darius and hands over his body to the Persian king's mother Sisigambis for a lavish funeral.

330 B.C.: Back in Greece, the Lacedemonians find the time ripe to rebel; their revolt is quelled. Le repos du guerrier: Alexander consolidates his hold on his new empire, but also spends a lot of his time drinking and feasting. He is visited by the Queen of the Amazons and an escort of 300 female warriors: she wants to beget a girl by him, offering him any boy that might be born; he demurs. Alexander requires his own Greeks and Macedonians to perform obeisance to him in the Persian style, by prostrating themselves (προσκυνησις): this leads to serious unrest among them. Several high-ranking officers of Alexander's plot to kill him, the plot is discovered thru a comic-opera squabble of two homosexual lovers, and the guilty parties commit suicide or are tortured and executed.

330‑328 B.C.: The purges continue. In all this, Alexander crosses the Caucasus mountains, makes allies of various nations and hash of the others. The Scythians are beaten but offered mild terms.

328‑326 B.C.: Alexander weds Roxane, the daughter of a Persian satrap. A second plot against Alexander is detected and the conspirators executed. He then leads his army into India: Curtius tells us of the climate and manners of that country. Alexander frightens a major enemy into submission by some sleight-of‑hand in which a small commando of Alpine troops scales a peak reputed to be utterly inaccessible; his enemy realizes suddenly that Macedonians can fly, and caves in without fighting. Alexander makes war against King Porus on the Jhelum River: Porus believes his elephants will insure victory, but Alexander's tactics win the day and the elephants are worse than useless, bringing about the rout of their own forces. Porus shows himself a magnanimous leader and a worthy enemy, and Alexander shows himself equally magnanimous in return.

326‑325 B.C.: Alexander pushes his army further into India, apparently as far as the Punjab. At one point, they get restive, but he persuades them to go further. Eventually he realizes he can't hold them much longer if he doesn't turn back: an altar is set up on the shore of the Ocean, and the army starts back towards Babylon in a triumphal procession consciously imitating the mythical Indian progress of Bacchus.

325‑323 B.C.: In Carmania (now the SE area of Iran) the army splits into two groups. Alexander returns by land with the bulk of his men, but a smaller force sails with Nearchus, in the Indian Ocean and then up the Persian Gulf. Both routes are very difficult. [A large gap in our text, then] Alexander's final illness. When he dies, Sisigambis chooses death as well. In the absence of any succession arrangements, the generals discuss what should be done. Roxane is pregnant, and some feel that the delivery of her child should be awaited and that if it is a boy he should become the new king; but eventually, Perdiccas parcels out the empire among the generals. (Some of them will keep their share and found long-lived dynasties; others will lose in the inevitable fighting.) Ptolemy conveys Alexander's body to Egypt.

Background Material

Additional material on Curtius may appear here in the fullness of time, but as usual I'm not about to let that delay anything: I'm getting the texts online first. Offsite, this brief account of Curtius' life (at Livius) will be useful.

The Texts of Curtius on LacusCurtius

Text and Translations

The Latin text is that of the Teubner edition of 1880 by Theodor Vogel.

I have no intention of putting online any translations of Curtius. Precisely because he is such an easy author, he is used as homework material around the world: and I will not undercut the work of thousands of Latin teachers by making it easy to cheat.

Chapter and Section Numbering, Passages of Supplied Text

I followed Teubner's numbering, which appears to have been that used by the Loeb edition as well.

Since not all of Curtius is extant, scholars have exercised their ingenuity in piecing together some Latin text, drawn from other ancient sources, to bridge the gaps and provide a continuous flow of narrative. Following Teubner, I include these passages of supplied text, in italics.


Vogel provides a simple apparatus criticus. His preface, dealing in part with his choice to stick to a summary apparatus, is here; that is also where you will find his list of sigla.

The entries of this apparatus are usually short enough to be inserted as Javascript prompts, so you'll find them marked by little hollow bullets. Again, float your cursor over them (no need to click on them); like the section numbers, they're transparent to searches: º

The apparatus applies to the word(s) preceding the bullet; if just to the one word before it, I do not repeat that word in the prompt.

Some few entries are longer than the space available in a standard Javascript prompt: in the status bar at the bottom of your screen you'll be directed to click on the bullet, and the entry will be at the bottom of the page. In late Aug 01, I moved from the standard status bar scheme to the pop-up boxes and unlimited space is now available for these prompts: eventually I expect to eliminate these hybrid-format notes, further streamlining these pages.

[image ALT: A large, sturdy building with a porticoed ground story and a mansarded second story, crowned by a small lantern. It is the Cabildo in New Orleans.]

The icon I use to indicate this subsite is a montage of a detail of the famous Alexander Mosaic in Pompeii on a map of his conquests, indicated in sand-color. The "previous page" and "next page" thumbnails look forward and back in Alexander's career.

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Site updated: 2 Mar 09