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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces one of
The Parallel Lives


published in Vol. VII
of the Loeb Classical Library edition,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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(Vol. VII) Plutarch, The Parallel Lives

The Life of Alexander
(Part 7 of 7)

 p411  (701) 66 1 His descent of the rivers to the sea consumed seven months' time. And after emerging with his fleet into the ocean,104 he sailed out to an island to which he himself gave the name of Scillustis, others that of Psiltucis.105 2 Here he landed and sacrificed to the gods, and studied the nature of the sea and of all the sea-coast that was accessible. Then, after praying that no man after him might pass beyond the bounds of his expedition, he turned to go back. 702 3 His fleet he ordered to go round by sea, keeping India on the right; Nearchus was appointed admiral of the fleet, Onesicritus its chief-pilot. 4 But he himself proceeded by land through the country of the Oreites, where he was reduced to the direst straits and lost a multitude of men, so that not even the fourth part of his fighting force was brought back from India. 5 And yet his infantry had once numbered a hundred and twenty thousand, and his cavalry fifteen thousand. 6 But grievous diseases, wretched food, parching heats, and, worst of all, famine destroyed them, since they traversed an untilled country of men who dragged out a miserable existence, who possessed but few sheep and those of a miserable sort, since the sea-fish which they ate made their flesh unsavoury and rank. 7 It was with difficulty, then, that Alexander passed through this country in sixty days; but as soon as he reached Gedrosia he had all things in abundance, for the nearest satraps and princes had provided them.

 p413  67 1 Accordingly, after refreshing his forces here, he set out and marched for seven days through Carmania in a revelling rout. 2 He himself was conveyed slowly along by eight horses, while he feasted day and night continuously with his companions on a dais built upon a lofty and conspicuous scaffolding of oblong shape; 3 and waggons without number followed, some with purple and embroidered canopies, others protected from the sun by boughs of trees which were kept fresh and green, conveying the rest of his friends and commanders, who were all garlanded and drinking. 4 Not a shield was to be seen, not a helmet, not a spear, but along the whole march with cups and drinking-horns and flagons the soldiers kept dipping wine from huge casks and mixing-bowls and pledging one another, some as they marched along, others lying down; 5 while pipes and flutes, stringed instruments and song, with revelling cries of women, filled every place with abundant music. 6 Then, upon this disordered and straggling procession there followed also the sports of bacchanalian license, as though Bacchus himself were present and conducting the revel.106 7 Moreover, when he came to the royal palace of Gedrosia, he once more gave his army time for rest and held high festival. 8 We are told, too, that he was once viewing some contests in singing and dancing, being well heated with wine, and that his favourite, Bagoas, won the prize for song and dance, and then, all in his festal array, passed through the theatre and took his seat by Alexander's side; at sight of which the Macedonians clapped their hands and loudly bade the king kiss the victor, until at last he threw his arms about him and kissed him tenderly.

 p415  68 1 Here Nearchus came up to meet him, and Alexander was so delighted to hear of his voyage that he eagerly desired to sail down the Euphrates himself with a large fleet,107 and then, after circumnavigating Arabia and Africa, to enter the Mediterranean by way of the pillars of Heracles. 2 And vessels of every sort were built for him at Thapsacus, and sailors and pilots were assembled from all parts. 3 But the increasing difficulties of his march back, his wound among the Malli, and the losses in his army, which were reported to be heavy, led men to doubt his safe return, inclined subject peoples to revolt, and bred great injustice, rapacity, and insolence in the generals and satraps whom he had appointed. In a word, restlessness and a desire for change spread everywhere. 4 For even against Antipater, Olympias and Cleopatra had raised a faction, Olympias taking Epirus, and Cleopatra Macedonia. 5 When he heard of this, Alexander said that his mother had made the better choice; for the Macedonians would not submit to be reigned over by a woman.

6 For these reasons he sent Nearchus back to the sea,108 determined to fill all the regions along the sea with wars, 703while he himself, marching down from Upper Asia, chastised those of his commanders who had done wrong. 7 One of the sons of Abuletes, Oxyartes, he slew with his own hand, running him through with a spear; and when Abuletes failed to furnish him with the necessary provisions, but brought him instead three thousand talents in coin, Alexander  p417 ordered the money to be thrown to his horses. And when they would not touch it, "Of what use to us, then," he cried, "is the provision you have made?" and threw Abuletes into prison.

69 1 In Persia, to begin with, he distributed the money among the women, just as their kings were accustomed, as often as they came into Persia, to give each one a gold piece. 2 And this reason, it is said, some of their kings did not come often into Persia, and Ochus not even once, being so penurious as to expatriate himself. 3 In the second place, having discovered that the tomb of Cyrus had been rifled, he put to death the perpetrator of the deed, although the culprit was a prominent Macedonian native of Pella, by name Polymachus. 4 After reading the inscription upon this tomb, he ordered it to be repeated below in Greek letters. It ran thus: "O man, whosoever thou art and whencesoever thou comest, for I know that thou wilt come, I am Cyrus, and I won for the Persians their empire. Do not, therefore, begrudge me this little earth which covers my body." 5 These words, then, deeply affected Alexander, who was reminded of the uncertainty and mutability of life.109

6 In Persia, too, Calanus, who had suffered for a little while from intestinal disorder, asked that a funeral pyre might be prepared for him.110 7 To this he came on horseback, and after offering prayers, sprinkling himself, and casting some of his hair upon the pyre, he ascended it, greeting the Macedonians who were present, and exhorting them to make that  p419 day one of pleasure and revelry with the king, whom, he declared, he should soon see in Babylon. 8 After thus speaking, he lay down and covered his head, nor did he move as the fire approached him, but continued to lie in the same posture as at first, and so sacrificed himself acceptably, as the wise men of his country had done from of old. 9 The same thing was done many years afterwards by another Indian who was in the following of Caesar,111 at Athens; and the "Indian's Tomb" is shown there to this day.

70 1 But Alexander, after returning from the funeral pyre and assembling many of his friends and officers for supper, proposed a contest in drinking neat wine, the victor to be crowned. 2 Well, then, the one who drank the most, Promachus, got as far as four pitchers;112 he took the prize, a crown of a talent's worth, but lived only three days afterwards. And of the rest, according to Chares, forty-one died of what they drank, a violent chill having set in after their debauch.

3 At Susa he brought to pass the marriage of his companions, took to wife himself the daughter of Dareius, Stateira, assigned the noblest women to his noblest men, and gave a general wedding feast for those of his Macedonians who had already contracted other marriages. At this feast, we are told, nine thousand guests reclined at supper, to each of whom a golden cup for the libations was given. All the other appointments too, were amazingly splendid, and the host paid himself the debts which his guests owed, the whole outlay amounting to nine thousand  p421 eight hundred and seventy talents.113 4 Now Antigenes, the One-eyed, had got himself enrolled as a debtor fraudulently and, on producing somebody who affirmed that he had made a loan to him at the bank, the money was paid over; then his fraud was discovered, and the king, in anger, drove him from his court and deprived him of his command. 7045 Antigenes, however, was a splendid soldier, and while he was still a young man and Philip was besieging Perinthus, though a bolt from a catapult smote him in the eye, he would not consent to have the bolt taken out nor give up fighting until he had repelled the enemy and shut them up within their walls. 6 Accordingly, he could not endure with any complacency the disgrace that now fell upon him, but was evidently going to make away with himself from grief and despondency. So the king, fearing this, put away his wrath and ordered him to keep the money.

71 1 The thirty thousand boys whom he had left behind him under institution and training114 were now so vigorous in their bodies and so comely in their looks, and showed besides such admirable dexterity and agility in their exercises, that Alexander himself was delighted; his Macedonians, however, were filled with dejection and fear, thinking that their king would now pay less regard to them. 2 Therefore when he also sent the weak and maimed among them down to the sea-board, they said it was insult and abuse, after using men up in every kind of service, now to put them away in disgrace and cast them back upon their native cities and their parents, no longer  p423 the men they were when he took them. 3 Accordingly, they bade him send them all away and hold all his Macedonians of no account, since he had these young war-dancers, with whom he could go on and conquer the world.115 4 At these words of theirs Alexander was displeased, and heaped much abuse upon them in his anger, and drove them away, and committed his watches to Persians, and out of these constituted his body-guards and attendants. 5 When the Macedonians saw him escorted by these, while they themselves were excluded from him and treated with contumely, they were humbled; and when they reasoned the matter out they found that they had been almost mad with jealousy and rage. 6 So finally, after coming to their senses, they went to his tent, without their arms and wearing their tunics only, and with loud cries and lamentations put themselves at his mercy, bidding him deal with them as base and thankless men. 7 But Alexander would not see them, although his heart was softening. And the men would not desist, but for two days and nights persisted in standing thus before his door, weeping and calling upon their master. 8 So on the third day he came forth, and when he saw their piteous and humble plight, wept for some time; then, after chiding them gently and speaking kindly to them, he dismissed those who were past service with magnificent gifts, and wrote to Antipater that at all the public contests and in the theatres they should have the foremost seats and wear garlands. 9 He also ordained that the orphan children of those who had lost their lives in his service should receive their father's pay.116

 p425  72 1 When he came to Ecbatana in Media and had transacted the business that was urgent, he was once more much occupied with theatres and festivals, since three thousand artists had come to him from Greece. 2 But during this time it chanced that Hephaestion had a fever; and since, young man and soldier that he was, he could not submit to a strict regimen, as soon as Glaucus, his physician, had gone off to the theatre, he sat down to breakfast, ate a boiled fowl, drank a huge cooler of wine, fell sick, and in a little while died. 3 Alexander's grief at this loss knew no bounds.117 He immediately ordered that the manes and tails of all horses and mules should be shorn in token of mourning, and took away the battlements of the cities round about; he also crucified the wretched physician, and put a stop to the sound of flutes and every kind of music in the camp for a long time, until an oracular response from Ammon came bidding him honour Hephaestion as a hero and sacrifice to him. 4 Moreover, making war a solace for his grief, he went forth to hunt and track down men, as it were, and overwhelmed the nation of the Cossaeans, slaughtering them all from the youth upwards. This was called an offering to the shade of Hephaestion. 7055 Upon a tomb and obsequies for his friend, and upon their embellishments, he purposed to spend ten thousand talents, and wished that the ingenuity and novelty of the construction should surpass the expense. He therefore longed for Stasicratesa above all other artists, because in his innovations there was always promise of great  p427 magnificence, boldness, and ostentation. 6 This man, indeed, had said to him at a former interview that of all mountains the Thracian Athos could most readily be given the form and shape of a man; 7 if, therefore, Alexander should so order, he would make out of Mount Athos a most enduring and most conspicuous statue of the king, which in its left hand should hold a city of ten thousand inhabitants, and with its right should pour forth a river running with generous current into the sea. 8 This project, it is true, Alexander had declined; but now he was busy devising and contriving with his artists projects far more strange and expensive than this.

73 1 As he was on his way to enter Babylon, Nearchus (who had joined him again after sailing through the ocean into the Euphrates) told the king that certain Chaldaeans had met him and advised that Alexander should keep away from Babylon.118 2 Alexander paid no heed to this, but continued on his march; and when he was arrived at the walls, he saw many ravens flying about and clawing one another, and some of them fell dead at his feet. 3 Again, being informed that Apollodorus the commandant of Babylon had sacrificed to learn Alexander's fate, Alexander called Pythagoras the seer. 4 Pythagoras did not deny the fact, whereupon Alexander asked him what was the character of the sacrifice. And when the seer told that the victim's liver had no lobe, "Ah me!" said Alexander, "a forcible omen!" 5 and did Pythagoras no harm. He was sorry, too, that he had not obeyed Nearchus, and passed most of his time outside of Babylon, either  p429 living in his tent, or sailing about on the Euphrates. 6 And he was troubled by many omens. For instance, the largest and handsomest lion in his menagerie was attacked by a tame ass and kicked to death. 7 Again, he once took off his clothes for exercise and was playing ball, and when it was time to dress again, the young men who were playing with him beheld a man seated on the king's throne, in silence, wearing the royal diadem and robes. 8 When the man was asked who he was, he was speechless for a long time; but at last he came to his senses and said that his name was Dionysius, and that he was a native of Messenia; in consequence of some charge brought against him, he said, he had been brought thither from the sea-board, and for a long time had been in chains; 9 but just now the god Serapis had come to him and loosed his chains and brought him to this spot, bidding him put on the robe and diadem and sit on the throne and hold his peace.119

74 1 On hearing of this, Alexander put the man out of the way, as the seers directed; but he began to be low-spirited, and was distrustful now of the favour of Heaven and suspicious of his friends. 2 He was particularly afraid of Antipater and of his sons, one of whom, Iolas, was his chief cupbearer; the other, Cassander, had only recently come to Babylon, and when he saw some Barbarians doing obeisance to Alexander, since he had been reared as a Greek and had never seen such a sight as this before, he laughed boisterously. 3 But Alexander was enraged, and clutching him fiercely by  p431 the hair with both hands dashed his head against the wall. 4 And at another time, when Cassander would have said something in opposition to those who were bringing charges against Antipater, Alexander interrupted him, saying: "What meanest thou? Would men come so long a journey if they had not been wronged and were making false charges?" 5 And when Cassander declared that this very fact of their coming a long distance away from the proofs showed that they were making false charges, Alexander burst out laughing and said: 706"These are the famous sophisms of Aristotle's disciples for either side of the question; but ye shall rue the day if it appear that ye have done these men even a slight wrong." 6 And in general, as we are told, Cassander's spirit was deeply penetrated and imbued with a dreadful fear of Alexander, so that many years afterwards, when he was now king of Macedonia and master of Greece, as he was walking about and surveying the statues at Delphi, the sight of an image of Alexander smote him suddenly with a shuddering and trembling from which he could scarcely recover, and made his head swim.

75 1 Alexander, then, since he had now become sensitive to indications of the divine will and perturbed and apprehensive in his mind, converted every unusual and strange occurrence, were it never so insignificant, into a prodigy and portent; and sacrificers, purifiers, and diviners filled his palace. 2 So, you see, while it is a dire thing to be incredulous towards indications of the divine will and to have contempt for them, superstition is likewise a dire thing, which, after the manner of water ever seeking the  p433 lower levels, filled with folly the Alexander who was now become a prey to his fears. 3 Notwithstanding, in consequence of oracular responses regarding Hephaestion which were brought him, he laid aside his grief and betook himself once more to sacrifices and drinking-bouts. 4 He gave a splendid entertainment to Nearchus, and then, although he had taken his customary bath before going to bed, at the request of Medius he went to hold high revel with him;120 5 and here, after drinking all the next day, he began to have a fever. This did not come upon him after he had quaffed a "bowl of Heracles," nor after he had been seized with a sudden pain in the back as though smitten with a spear; these particulars certain writers felt obliged to give, and so, as it were, invented in tragic fashion a moving finale for a great action. 6 But Aristobulus says that he had a raging fever, and that when he got very thirsty he drank wine, whereupon he became delirious, and died on the thirtieth day of the month Daesius.

76 1 Moreover, in the court "Journals" there are recorded the following particulars regarding his sickness.121 On the eighteenth of the month Daesius122 he slept in the bathing-room because he had a fever. 2 On the following day, after his bath, he removed into his bed-chamber, and spent the day at dice with Medius. Then, when it was late, he took a bath, performed his sacrifices to the gods, ate a little, and had a fever through the night. 3 On the twentieth, after bathing again, he performed his customary sacrifice; and lying in the bathing-room  p435 he devoted himself to Nearchus, listening to his story of his voyage and of the great sea. 4 The twenty-first he spent in the same way and was still more inflamed, and during the night he was in a grievous plight, and all the following day his fever was very high. 5 So he had his bed removed and lay by the side of the great bath, where he conversed with his officers about the vacant posts in the army, and how they might be filled with experienced men. 6 On the twenty-fourth his fever was violent and he had to be carried forth to perform his sacrifices; moreover, he ordered his principal officers to tarry in the court of the palace, and the commanders of divisions and companies to spend the night outside. 7 He was carried to the palace on the other side of the river on the twenty-fifth, and got a little sleep, but his fever did not abate. And when his commanders came to his bedside, he was speechless, as he was also on the twenty-sixth; 8 therefore the Macedonians made up their minds that he was dead, and came with loud shouts to the doors of the palace, and threatened his companions until all opposition was broken down; and when the doors had been thrown open to them, without cloak or armour, one by one, they all filed slowly past his couch. 9 During this day, too, Python and Seleucus were sent to the temple of Serapis to enquire whether they should bring Alexander thither; and the god gave answer that they should leave him where he was. And on the twenty-eighth,123 towards evening, he died.

77 1 Most of this account is word for word as written in the "Journals." 2 And as for suspicions of poisoning, no one had any immediately, 707but five  p437 years afterwards, as we are told, upon information given, Olympias put many men to death, and scattered abroad the ashes of Iolas, alleging that he had administered the poison. 3 But those who affirm that Aristotle counselled Antipater to do the deed,124 and that it was entirely through his agency that the poison was provided, mention one Hagnothemis as their authority, who professed to have heard the story from Antigonus the king; 4 and the poison was water, icy cold, from a certain cliff in Nonacris; this they gathered up like a delicate dew and stored it in an ass's hoof; for no other vessel would hold the water, but would all be eaten through by it, owing to its coldness and pungency. 5 Most writers, however, think that the story of the poisoning is altogether a fabrication; and it is no slight evidence in their favour that during the dissensions of Alexander's commanders, which lasted many days, his body, although it lay without special care in places that were moist and stifling, showed no sign of such a destructive influence, but remained pure and fresh.

6 Now, Roxana was with child, and on this account was held in honour among the Macedonians; but she was jealous of Stateira, and therefore deceived her by a forged letter into coming where she was, and when she had got her there, slew her, together with her sister, threw their bodies into the well, and filled the well with earth, Perdiccas being privy to the deed and partner in it. 7 For it was he who was at once in the greatest authority, dragging Arrhidaeus around after him to safe-guard, as it were, the royal power. Arrhidaeus was Philip's son by an obscure and common woman named Philinna, and  p439 was deficient in intellect owing to bodily disease. 8 This, however, did not come upon him in the course of nature or of its own accord, indeed, it is said that as a boy he displayed an exceedingly gifted and noble disposition: but after Olympias gave him drugs which injured his body and ruined his mind.

The Editor's Notes:

104 In midsummer of 325 B.C.

105 It is Cilluta in Arrian (Anab. VI.19.3).

106 According to Arrian (Anab. VI.28.1 f.), this bacchanalian procession through Carmania rests on no credible authority.

107 It was after his return to Persepolis that this desire seized him (Arrian, Anab. VII.1.1).

108 Early in 324 B.C.

109 Cf. Arrian, Anab. VI.29.4‑8.

110 The self-sacrifice of Calanus is narrated by Arrian (Anab. VII.3).

111 Augustus Caesar.

112 The "chous," or pitcher, held about three quarts.

Thayer's Note: Well, maybe not: see the article Chous in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.

113 Alexander also paid the debts of all his soldiers, amounting to 20,000 talents (Arrian, Anab. VII.5.1‑3), (p421)unless this is the donation which Plutarch has here erroneously connected with the great wedding feast. Cf. Athenaeus, XII. pp538 ff.

114 Cf. chapter xlvii.6.º

115 The account of the quarrel between Alexander and the Macedonians in Arrian (Anab. VII.8‑11) differs materially from that of Plutarch.

116 Cf. Arrian, Anab. VII.12.

117 Arrian finds great diversity in the accounts of Alexander's displays of grief at Hephaestion's death (Anab. VII.14).

118 According to Arrian (Anab. VII.16.5), the Chaldaeans besought Alexander in person to suspend his march to Babylon. It was in the spring of 323 B.C.

119 Other predictions of Alexander's death are given in Arrian (Anab. VII.18, 22, and 24).

120 Cf. Arrian, Anab. VII.25.

121 They are also given by Arrian (Anab. VII.25).

122 June 2, 323 B.C.

123 June 13, 323 B.C.

124 Cf. Arrian, Anab. VII.28.

Thayer's Note:

a Vitruvius — or his MSS. — calls him Dinocrates, and adds interesting details (De Architectura, II, Introduction, § 2). Strabo, or his MSS., calls him Cheirocrates (XIV.1.23).

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