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This webpage reproduces one of
The Parallel Lives

by
Plutarch

published in Vol. VII
of the Loeb Classical Library edition,
1919

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

p225 The Life of Alexander
(Part 1 of 7)

1 1 It is the life of Alexander the king, and of Caesar, who overthrew Pompey, that I am writing in this book, and the multitude of the deeds to be treated is so great that I shall make no other preface than to entreat my readers, in case I do not tell of all the famous actions of these men, nor even speak exhaustively at all in each particular case, but in epitome for the most part, not to complain. 2 For it is not Histories that I am writing, but Lives; and in the most illustrious deeds there is not always a manifestation of virtue or vice, 665nay, a slight thing like a phrase or a jest often makes a greater revelation of character than battles when thousands fall, or the greatest armaments, or sieges of cities. 3 Accordingly, just as painters get the likenesses in their portraits from the face and the expression of the eyes, wherein the character shows itself, but make very little account of the other parts of the body, so I must be permitted to devote myself rather to the signs of the soul in men, and by means of these to portray the life of each, leaving to others the description of their great contests.

2 1 As for the lineage of Alexander, on his father's side he was a descendant of Heracles through Caranus, and on his mother's side a descendant of Aeacus through Neoptolemus; this is accepted without any question. 2 And we are told that Philip, after p227being initiated into the mysteries of Samothrace at the same time with Olympias, he himself being still a youth and she an orphan child, fell in love with her and betrothed himself to her at once with the consent of her brother, Arymbas. 3 Well, then, the night before that on which the marriage was consummated, the bride dreamed that there was a peal of thunder and that a thunder-bolt fell upon her womb, and that thereby much fire was kindled, which broke into flames that travelled all about, and then was extinguished. 4 At a later time, too, after the marriage, Philip dreamed that he was putting a seal upon his wife's womb; and the device of the seal, as he thought, was the figure of a lion. 5 The other seers, now, were led by the vision to suspect that Philip needed to put a closer watch upon his marriage relations; but Aristander of Telmessus said that the woman was pregnant, since no seal was put upon what was empty, and pregnant of a son whose nature would be bold and lion-like. 6 Moreover, a serpent was once seen lying stretched out by the side of Olympias as she slept, and we are told that this, more than anything else, dulled the ardour of Philip's attentions to his wife, so that he no longer came often to sleep by her side, either because he feared that some spells and enchantments might be practised upon him by her, or because he shrank for her embraces in the conviction that she was the partner of a superior being.

7 But concerning these matters there is another story to this effect: all the women of these parts were addicted to the Orphic rites and the orgies of Dionysus from very ancient times (being called Klodones and Mimallones)1 and imitated in many p229ways the practices of the Edonian women and the Thracian women about Mount Haemus, 8 from whom, as it would seem, the word "threskeuein"2 came to be applied to the celebration of extravagant and superstitious ceremonies. 9 Now Olympias, who affected these divine possessions more zealously than other women, and carried out these divine inspirations in wilder fashion, used to provide the revelling companies with great tame serpents, which would often lift their heads from out the ivy and the mystic winnowing-baskets,3 or coil themselves about the wands and garlands of the women, thus terrifying the men.

3 1 However, after his vision, as we are told, Philip sent Chaeron of Megalopolis to Delphi, by whom an oracle was brought to him from Apollo, who bade him sacrifice to Ammon and hold that god in greatest reverence, 2 but told him he was to lose that one of his eyes which he had applied to the chink in the door when he espied the god, in the form of a serpent, sharing the couch of his wife. 3 Moreover, Olympias, as Eratosthenes says, when she sent Alexander forth upon his great expedition, told him, and him alone, the secret of his begetting, and bade him have purposes worthy of his birth. 4 Others, on the contrary, say that she repudiated the idea, and said: "Alexander must cease slandering me to Hera."4

5 Be that as it may, Alexander was born early in the month Hecatombaeon,5 the Macedonian name for p231which is Loüs, on the sixth day of the month, and on this day the temple of Ephesian Artemis was burnt. 6 It was apropos of this that Hegesias the Magnesian made an utterance frigid enough to have extinguished that great conflagration. He said, namely, it was no wonder that the temple of Artemis was burned down, since the goddess was busy bringing Alexander into the world. 6667 But all the Magi who were then at Ephesus, looking upon the temple's disaster as a sign of further disaster, ran about beating their faces and crying aloud that woe and great calamity for Asia had that day been born. 8 To Philip, however, who had just taken Potidaea, there came three messages at the same time: the first that Parmenio had conquered the Illyrians in a great battle, the second that his race-horse had won a victory at the Olympic games, while a third announced the birth of Alexander. 9 These things delighted him, of course, and the seers raised his hopes still higher by declaring that the son whose birth coincided with three victories would be always victorious.

4 1 The outward appearance of Alexander is best represented by the statues of him which Lysippus made, and it was by this artist alone that Alexander himself thought it fit that he should be modelled. 2 For those peculiarities which many of his successors and friends afterwards tried to imitate, namely, the poise of the neck, which was bent slightly to the left, and the melting glance of his eyes, this artist has accurately observed. 3 Apelles, however, in painting him as wielder of the thunder-bolt, did not reproduce his complexion, but made it too dark and swarthy. Whereas he was of a fair colour, as they say, and his p233fairness passed into ruddiness on his breast particularly, and in his face. 4 Moreover, that a very pleasant odour exhaled from his skin and that there was a fragrance about his mouth and all his flesh, so that his garments were filled with it, this we have read in the Memoirs of Aristoxenus.

5 Now, the cause of this, perhaps, was the temperament of his body, which was a very warm and fiery one; for fragrance is generated, as Theophrastus thinks, where moist humours are acted upon by heat. 6 Wherefore the dry and parched regions of the world produce the most and best spices; for the sun draws away the moisture which, like material of corruption, abounds in vegetable bodies. 7 And in Alexander's case, it was the heat of his body, as it would seem, which made him prone to drink, and choleric.

8 But while he was still a boy his self-restraint showed itself in the fact that, although he was impetuous and violent in other matters, the pleasures of the body had little hold upon him, and he indulged in them with great moderation, while his ambition kept his spirit serious and lofty in advance of his years. 9 For it was neither every kind of fame nor fame from every source that he courted, as Philip did, who plumed himself like a sophist on the power of his oratory, and took care to have the victories of his chariots at Olympia engraved upon his coins; 10 nay, when those about him inquired whether he would be willing to contend in the foot-race at the Olympic games, since he was swift of foot, "Yes," said he, "if I could have kings as my contestants." 11 And in general, too, Alexander appears to have been averse to the whole race of athletes; at any rate, though he instituted very many contests, not only p235for tragic poets and players on the flute and players on the lyre, but also for rhapsodists, as well as for hunting of every sort and for fighting with staves, he took no interest in offering prizes either for boxing or for the pancratium.

5 1 He once entertained the envoys from the Persian king who came during Philip's absence, and associated with them freely. He won upon them by his friendliness, and by asking no childish or trivial questions, 2 but by enquiring about the length of the roads and the character of the journey into the interior, about the king himself, what sort of a warrior he was, and what the prowess and might of the Persians. 3 The envoys were therefore astonished and regarded the much-talked‑of ability of Philip as nothing compared with his son's eager disposition to do great things. 4 At all events, as often as tidings were brought that Philip had either taken a famous city or been victorious in some celebrated battle, Alexander was not very glad to hear them, but would say to his comrades: "Boys, my father will anticipate everything; and for me he will leave no great or brilliant achievement to be displayed to the world with your aid." 6675 For since he did not covet pleasure, nor even wealth, but excellence and fame, he considered that the more he should receive from his father the fewer would be the successes won by himself. 6 Therefore, considering that increase in prosperity meant the squandering upon his father of opportunities for achievement, he preferred to receive from him a realm which afforded, not wealth nor luxury and enjoyment, but struggles and wars and ambitions.

7 In the work of caring for him, then, many persons, p237as was natural, were appointed to be his nurturers, tutors, and teachers, but over them all stood Leonidas, a man of stern temperament and a kinsman of Olympias. Although he did not himself shun the title of tutor, since the office afforded an honourable and brilliant occupation, yet by other people, owing to his dignity and his relationship, he was called Alexander's foster-father and preceptor. 8 The man, however, who assumed the character and the title of tutor was Lysimachus, a native of Acarnania, who had no general refinement, but because he called himself Phoenix,6 Alexander Achilles, and Philip Peleus, was highly regarded and held a second place.

6 1 Once upon a time Philoneicus the Thessalian brought Bucephalas, offering to sell him to Philip for thirteen talents,7 and they went down into the plain to try the horse, who appeared to be savage and altogether intractable, neither allowing any one to mount him, nor heeding the voice of any of Philip's attendants, but rearing up against all of them. 2 Then Philip was vexed and ordered the horse to be led away, believing him to be altogether wild and unbroken; but Alexander, who was near by, said: "What a horse they are losing, because, for lack of skill and courage, they cannot manage him!" 3 At first, then, Philip held his peace; but as Alexander many times let fall such words and showed great distress, he said: "Dost thou find fault with thine elders in the belief that thou knowest more than they do or art better able to manage a horse?" p2394 "This horse, at any rate," said Alexander, "I could manage better than others have." "And if thou shouldst not, what penalty wilt thou undergo for thy rashness?" "Indeed," said Alexander, "I will forfeit the price of the horse." 5 There was laughter at this, and then an agreement between father and son as to the forfeiture, and at once Alexander ran to the horse, took hold of his bridle-rein, and turned him towards the sun; for he had noticed, as it would seem, that the horse was greatly disturbed by the sight of his own shadow falling in front of him and dancing about. 6 And after he had calmed the horse a little in this way, and had stroked him with his hand, when he saw that he was full of spirit and courage, he quietly cast aside his mantle and with a light spring safely bestrode him. 7 Then, with a little pressure of the reins on the bit, and without striking him or tearing his mouth, he held him in hand;8 but when he saw that the horse was rid of the fear that had beset him, and was impatient for the course, he gave him his head, and at last urged him on with sterner tone and thrust of foot. 8 Philip and his company were speechless with anxiety at first; but when Alexander made the turn in proper fashion and came back to them proud and exultant, all the rest broke into loud cries, but his father, as we are told, actually shed tears of joy, and when Alexander had dismounted, kissed him, saying: "My son, seek thee out a kingdom equal to thyself; Macedonia has not room for thee."

7 1 And since Philip saw that his son's nature was unyielding and that he resisted compulsion, but was easily led by reasoning into the path of duty, p241he himself tried to persuade rather than to command him; 2 and because he would not wholly entrust the direction and training of the boy to the ordinary teachers of poetry and the formal studies, feeling that it was a matter of too great importance, and, in the words of Sophocles,9

"A task for many bits and rudder-sweeps as well,"

668he sent for the most famous and learned of philosophers, Aristotle, and paid him a noble and appropriate tuition-fee. 3 The city of Stageira, that is, of which Aristotle was a native, and which he had himself destroyed, he peopled again, and restored to it those of its citizens who were in exile or slavery.

4 Well, then, as a place where master and pupil could labour and study, he assigned them the precinct of the nymphs near Mieza, where to this day the visitor is shown the stone seats and shady walks of Aristotle. 5 It would appear, moreover, that Alexander not only received from his master his ethical and political doctrines, but also participated in those secret and more profound teachings which philosophers designate by the special terms "acroamatic" and "epoptic,"10 and do not impart to many. 6 For after he had already crossed into Asia, and when he learned that certain treatises on these recondite matters had been published in books by Aristotle, he wrote him a letter on behalf of philosophy, and put it in plain language. And this is a copy of the letter. "Alexander, to Aristotle, greeting. 7 Thou hast not done well to publish thy acroamatic p243doctrines; for in what shall I surpass other men if those doctrines wherein I have been trained are to be all men's common property? But I had rather excel in my acquaintance with the best things than in my power. Farewell." 8 Accordingly, in defending himself, Aristotle encourages this ambition of Alexander by saying that the doctrines of which he spoke were both published and not published; 9 for in truth his treatise on metaphysics is of no use for those who would either teach or learn the science, but is written as a memorandum for those already trained therein.

8 1 Moreover, in my opinion Alexander's love of the art of healing was inculcated in him by Aristotle preeminently. For he was not only fond of the theory of medicine, but actually came to the aid of his friends when they were sick, and prescribed for them certain treatments and regimens, as one can gather from his letters. 2 He was also by nature a lover of learning and a lover of reading. And since he thought and called the Iliad a viaticum of the military art, he took with him Aristotle's recension of the poem, called the Iliad of the Casket,11 and always kept it lying with his dagger under his pillow, as Onesicritus informs us; 3 and when he could find no other books in the interior of Asia, he ordered Harpalus to send him some. So Harpalus sent him the books of Philistus, a great many of the tragedies of Euripides, Sophocles, and Aeschylus, and the dithyrambic poems of Telestes and Philoxenus. 4 Aristotle he admired at the first, and loved him, as he himself used to say, more than he did his father, for that the one had given him life, but the other had taught him a noble life; later, however, p245he held him in more or less of suspicion, not to the extent of doing him any harm, but his kindly attentions lacked their former ardour and affection towards him, and this was proof of estrangement. 5 However, that eager yearning for philosophy which was imbedded in his nature and which ever grew with his growth, did not subside from his soul, as is testified by the honour in which he held Anaxarchus, by his gift of fifty talents to Xenocrates, and by the attentions which he so lavishly bestowed upon Dandamis and Calanus.12

9 1 While Philip was making an expedition against Byzantium,13 Alexander, though only sixteen years of age, was left behind as regent in Macedonia and keeper of the royal seal, and during this time he subdued the rebellious Maedi, and after taking their city, drove out the Barbarians, settled there a mixed population, and named the city Alexandropolis. 2 He was also present at Chaeroneia and took part in the battle against the Greeks,14 and he is said to have been the first to break the ranks of the Sacred Band of the Thebans. 6693 And even down to our own day there was shown an ancient oak by the Cephisus, called Alexander's oak, near which at that time he pitched his tent; and the general sepulchre of the Macedonians is not far away.

4 In consequence of these exploits, then, as was natural, Philip was excessively fond of his son, so that he even rejoiced to hear the Macedonians call Alexander their king, but Philip their general. 5 However, the disorders in his household, due to the fact that his marriages and amours carried into the kingdom the infection, as it were, which reigned in the p247women's apartments, produced many grounds of offence and great quarrels between father and son, and these the bad temper of Olympias, who was a jealous and sullen woman, made still greater, since she spurred Alexander on. 6 The most open quarrel was brought on by Attalus at the marriage of Cleopatra, a maiden whom Philip was taking to wife, having fallen in love with the girl when he was past the age for it.15 7 Attalus, now, was the girl's uncle, and being in his cups, he called upon the Macedonians to ask of the gods that from Philip and Cleopatra there might be born a legitimate successor to the kingdom. 8 At this Alexander was exasperated, and with the words, "But what of me, base wretch? Dost thou take me for a bastard?" threw a cup at him. 9 Then Philip rose up against him with drawn sword, but, fortunately for both, his anger and his wine made him trip and fall. 10 Then Alexander, mocking over him, said: "Look now, men! here is one who was preparing to cross from Europe into Asia; and he is upset in trying to cross from couch to couch." 11 After this drunken broil Alexander took Olympias and established her in Epirus, while he himself tarried in Illyria.

12 Meanwhile Demaratus the Corinthian, who was a guest-friend of the house and a man of frank speech, came to see Philip. 13 After the first greetings and welcomes were over, Philip asked him how the Greeks were agreeing with one another, and Demaratus replied: "It is surely very fitting, Philip, that thou shouldst be concerned about Greece, when thou hast filled thine own house with such great p249dissension and calamities." 14 Thus brought to his senses, Philip sent and fetched Alexander home, having persuaded him to come through the agency of Demaratus.

10 1 But when Pixodarus, the satrap of Caria, trying by means of a tie of relationship to steal into a military alliance with Philip, wished to give his eldest daughter in marriage to Arrhidaeus the son of Philip, and sent Aristocritus to Macedonia on this errand, once more slanderous stories kept coming to Alexander from his friends and his mother, who said that Philip, by means of a brilliant marriage and a great connexion, was trying to settle the kingdom upon Arrhidaeus. 2 Greatly disturbed by these stories, Alexander sent Thessalus, the tragic actor, to Caria, to argue with Pixodarus that he ought to ignore the bastard brother, who was also a fool, and make Alexander his connection by marriage. And this plan was vastly more pleasing to Pixodarus than the former. 3 But Philip, becoming aware of this, went to Alexander's chamber, taking with him one of Alexander's friends and companions, Philotas the son of Parmenio, and upbraided his son severely, and bitterly reviled him as ignoble and unworthy of his high estate, in that he desired to become the son-in‑law of a man who was a Carian and a slave to a barbarian king. 4 And as for Thessalus, Philip wrote to the Corinthians that they should send him back to Macedonia in chains. 5 Moreover, of the other companions of Alexander, he banished from Macedonia p251Harpalus and Nearchus, as well as Erigyius and Ptolemy, men whom Alexander afterwards recalled and had in the highest honours.

6 And so when Pausanias, who had been outrageously dealt with at the instance of Attalus and Cleopatra and could get no justice at Philip's hands, slew Philip, most of the blame devolved upon Olympias, on the ground that she had added her exhortations to the young man's anger and incited him to the deed; but a certain amount of accusation attached itself to Alexander also. 6707 For it is said that when Pausanias, after the outrage that he had suffered, met Alexander, and bewailed his fate, Alexander recited to him the iambic verse of the "Medeia":—16

"The giver of the bride, the bridegroom, and the bride."

8 However, he did seek out the participants in the plot and punished them, and was angry with Olympias for her savage treatment of Cleopatra during his absence.17

11 1 Thus it was that at the age of twenty years Alexander received the kingdom, which was exposed to great jealousies, dire hatreds, and dangers on every hand. 2 For the neighbouring tribes of Barbarians would not tolerate their servitude, and longed for their hereditary kingdoms; and as for Greece, although Philip had conquered her in the field, he had not had time enough to make her tame under his yoke, but had merely disturbed and changed the p253condition of affairs there, and then left them in a great surge and commotion, owing to the strangeness of the situation. 3 The Macedonian counsellors of Alexander had fears of the crisis, and thought he should give up the Greek states altogether and use no more compulsion there, and that he should call the revolting Barbarians back to their allegiance by mild measures and try to arrest the first symptoms of their revolutions; 4 but he himself set out from opposite principles to win security and safety for his realm by boldness and a lofty spirit, assured that, were he seen to abate his dignity even but a little, all his enemies would set upon him. 5 Accordingly, he put a speedy stop to the disturbances and wars among the Barbarians by overrunning their territories with an army as far as to the river Danube, where he fought a great battle with Syrmus, the king of the Triballi, and defeated him; 6 and on learning that the Thebans had revolted and that the Athenians were in sympathy with them, he immediately led his forces through the pass of Thermopylae, declaring that since Demosthenes had called him a boy while he was among the Illyrians and Triballians, and a stripling when he had reached Thessaly, he wished to show him that before the walls of Athens he was a man.

7 Arrived before Thebes,18 and wishing to give her still a chance to repent of what she had done, he merely demanded the surrender of Phoenix and Prothytes, and proclaimed an amnesty for those who came over to his side. 8 But the Thebans made p255a counter-demand that he should surrender to them Philotas and Antipater, and made a counter-proclamation that all who wished to help in setting Greece free should range themselves with them; and so Alexander set his Macedonians to the work of war. 9 On the part of the Thebans, then, the struggle was carried on with a spirit and valour beyond their powers, since they were arrayed against an enemy who was many times more numerous than they; 10 but when the Macedonian garrison also, leaving the citadel of the Cadmeia, fell upon them in the rear, most of them were surrounded, and fell in the battle itself, and their city was taken, plundered, and razed to the ground. 11 This was done, in the main, because Alexander expected that the Greeks would be terrified by so great a disaster and cower down in quiet, but apart from this, he also plumed himself on gratifying the complaints of his allies; for the Phocians and Plataeans had denounced the Thebans. 12 So after separating out the priests, all who were guest-friends of the Macedonians, the descendants of Pindar,19 and those who had voted against the revolt, he sold the rest into slavery, and they proved to be more than thirty thousand; those who had been slain were more than six thousand.

12 1 Among the many and grievous calamities which thus possessed the city, some Thracians broke into the house of Timocleia, a woman of high repute and chastity, and while the rest were plundering her property, their leader shamefully violated her, and then asked her if she had gold or silver concealed anywhere. 2 She admitted that she had, and after p257leading him by himself into the garden and showing him a well, 671told him that when the city was taken she had with her own hands cast in there her most valuable possessions. 3 Then, as the Thracian was bending over and inspecting the place, she came behind him and pushed him in, cast many stones upon him, and killed him. 4 And when the Thracians led her, with hands bound, to Alexander, she showed by her mien and gait that she was a person of great dignity and lofty spirit, so calmly and fearlessly did she follow her conductors; 5 and when the king asked her who she was, she replied that she was a sister of Theagenes, who drew up the forces which fought Philip in behalf of the liberty of the Greeks, and fell in command at Chaeroneia. 6 Amazed, therefore, at her reply and at what she had done, Alexander bade her depart in freedom with her children.a

13 1 Furthermore, he was reconciled with the Athenians, although they showed exceeding sorrow at the misfortunes of Thebes; for although they had begun the festival of the mysteries, they gave it up in consequence of their grief,20 and upon the Thebans who sought refuge in their city they bestowed every kindness. 2 But notwithstanding this, whether his rage was now sated, as a lion's might be, or whether he wished to offset a deed of the most sullen savagery with one that was merciful, he not only remitted all his charges against the city, but even bade it give good heed to its affairs, since, if anything should happen to him, it would have the rule over Greece. 3 In later times, moreover, as we are told, the calamity of the Thebans often gave him remorse, and made him milder towards many people. 4 And certainly the p259murder of Cleitus,21 which he committed in his cups, and the cowardly refusal of his Macedonians to follow him against the Indians,22 whereby they as it were robbed his expedition and his glory of their consummation, he was wont to attribute to the vengeful wrath of Dionysus.23 5 And there was not a Theban of those that survived who afterwards came to him with any request and did not get what he wanted from him. Thus much concerning Thebes.24

14 1 And now a general assembly of the Greeks was held at the Isthmus,25 where a vote was passed to make an expedition against Persia with Alexander, and he was proclaimed their leader. 2 Thereupon many statesmen and philosophers came to him with their congratulations, and he expected that Diogenes of Sinope also, who was tarrying in Corinth, would do likewise. 3 But since that philosopher took not the slightest notice of Alexander, and continued to enjoy his leisure in the suburb Craneion, Alexander went in person to see him; and he found him lying in the sun. 4 Diogenes raised himself up a little when he saw so many persons coming towards him, and fixed his eyes upon Alexander. And when that monarch addressed him with greetings, and asked if he wanted anything, "Yes," said Diogenes, "stand a little out of my sun." 5 It is said that Alexander was so struck by this, and admired so much the haughtiness and grandeur of the man who had nothing but scorn for him, that he said to his followers, who were laughing and jesting about the philosopher as they went away, "But verily, if I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes."

p261 6 And now, wishing to consult the god concerning the expedition against Asia, he went to Delphi; and since he chanced to come on one of the inauspicious days, when it is not lawful to deliver oracles, in the first place he sent a summons to the prophetess. 7 And when she refused to perform her office and cited the law in her excuse, he went up himself and tried to drag her to the temple, whereupon, as if overcome by his ardour, she said: "Thou art invincible, my son!" On hearing this, Alexander said he desired no further prophecy, but had from her the oracle which he wanted.

8 Moreover, when he set out upon his expedition,26 it appears that there were many signs from heaven, and, among them, the image of Orpheus at Leibethra (it was made of cypress-wood) sweated profusely at about that time. 9 Most people feared the sign, but Aristander bade Alexander be of good cheer, assured that he was to perform deeds worthy of song and story, 672which would cost poets and musicians much toil and sweat to celebrate.27

15 1 As to the number of his forces, those who put it at the smallest figure mention thirty thousand foot and four thousand horse; those who put it at the highest, forty-three thousand foot and five thousand horse.28 2 To provision these forces, Aristobulus says he had not more than seventy talents; Duris speaks of maintenance for only thirty days; and Onesicritus says he owed two hundred talents besides. 3 But although he set out with such meagre and narrow resources, he would not set foot upon his ship until p263he had enquired into the circumstances of his companions and allotted to one a farm, to another a village, and to another the revenue from some hamlet or harbour. 4 And when at last nearly all of the crown property had been expended or allotted, Perdiccas said to him: "But for thyself, O king, what art thou leaving?" And when the king answered, "My hopes," "In these, then," said Perdiccas, "we also will share who make the expedition with thee." 5 Then he declined the possessions which had been allotted to him, and some of the other friends of Alexander did likewise. 6 But upon those who wanted and would accept his favours Alexander bestowed them readily, and most of what he possessed in Macedonia was used up in these distributions. 7 Such was the ardour and such the equipment with which he crossed the Hellespont.

Then, going up to Ilium, he sacrificed to Athena and poured libations to the heroes. 8 Furthermore, the gravestone of Achilles he anointed with oil, ran a race by it with his companions, naked, as is the custom, and then crowned it with garlands, pronouncing the hero happy in having, while he lived, a faithful friend, and after death, a great herald of his fame. 9 As he was going about and viewing the sights of the city, someone asked him if he wished to see the lyre of Paris. "For that lyre," said Alexander, "I care very little; but I would gladly see that of Achilles, to which he used to sing the glorious deeds of brave men."29

16 1 Meanwhile the generals of Dareius had assembled a large force and set it in array at the crossing of the river Granicus, so that it was practically p265necessary to fight, as it were at the gates of Asia, for entrance and dominion there. 2 But most of the Macedonian officers were afraid of the depth of the river, and of the roughness and unevenness of the farther banks, up which they would have to climb while fighting. Some, too, thought they ought to observe carefully the customary practice in regard to the month (in the month of Daesius the kings of Macedonia were not wont to take the field with an army). This objection Alexander removed by bidding them call the month a second Artemisius; 3 and when Parmenio, on the ground that it was too late in the day, objected to their risking the passage, he declared that the Hellespont would blush for shame, if, after having crossed that strait, he should be afraid of the Granicus, and plunged into the stream with thirteen troops of horsemen. 4 And since he was charging against hostile missiles and precipitous positions covered with infantry and cavalry, and through a stream that swept men off their feet and surged about them, he seemed to be acting like a frenzied and foolish commander rather than a wise one. 5 However, he persisted in his attempt to cross, gained the opposite banks with difficulty and much ado, though they were moist and slippery with mud, and was at once compelled to fight pell-mell and engage his assailants man by man, before his troops who were crossing could form into any order. 6 For the enemy pressed upon them with loud shouts, and matching horse with horse, plied their lances, and their swords when their lances were shattered. 7 Many rushed upon Alexander, for he was conspicuous by his buckler and by his helmet's crest, on either side of which was fixed a plume of wonderful size and p267whiteness. But although a javelin pierced the joint of his breastplate, he was not wounded; 6738 and when Rhoesaces and Spithridates, two Persian commanders, made at him together, he avoided the one, and smote Rhoesaces, who wore a breastplate, with his spear; and when this weapon snapped in two with the blow, he took to his sword. 9 Then, while he was thus engaged with Rhoesaces, Spithridates rode up from one side, raised himself up on his horse, and with all his might came down with a barbarian battle-axe upon Alexander's head. 10 Alexander's crest was broken off, together with one of its plumes, and his helmet could barely and with difficulty resist the blow, so that the edge of the battle-axe touched the topmost hair of his head. 11 But while Spithridates was raising his arm again for another stroke, Cleitus, "Black Cleitus," got the start of him and ran him through the body with his spear. At the same time Rhoesaces also fell, smitten by Alexander's sword.

12 While Alexander's cavalry were making such a dangerous and furious fight, the Macedonian phalanx crossed the river and the infantry forces on both sides engaged. 13 The enemy, however, did not resist vigorously, nor for a long time, but fled in a rout, all except the Greek mercenaries. These made a stand at a certain eminence, and asked that Alexander should promise them quarter. 14 But he, influenced by anger more than by reason, charged foremost upon them and lost his horse, which was smitten through the ribs with a sword (it was not Bucephalas, but another); and most of the Macedonians who were slain or wounded fought or fell there, since they came to close quarters with men who knew how to fight and were desperate.

p269 15 Of the Barbarians, we are told, twenty thousand footmen fell, and twenty-five hundred horsemen.30 But on Alexander's side, Aristobulus says there were thirty-four dead in all, of whom nine were footmen. 16 Of these, then, Alexander ordered statues to be set up in bronze, and Lysippus wrought them.31 17 Moreover, desiring to make the Greeks partners in his victory, he sent to the Athenians in particular three hundred of the captured shields, and upon the rest of the spoils in general he ordered a most ambitious inscription to be wrought: 18 "Alexander the son of Philip and all the Greeks except the Lacedaemonians from the Barbarians who dwell in Asia." 19 But the drinking vessels and the purple robes and whatever things of this nature he took from the Persians, all these, except a few, he sent to his mother.

17 1 This contest at once made a great change in the situation to Alexander's advantage, so that he received the submission even of Sardis, the bulwark of the barbarian dominion on the sea-coast, and added the rest of the country to his conquests. 2 Halicarnassus alone withstood him, and Miletus, which cities he took by storm32 and subdued all the territories about them. Then he was in doubt as to his future course. 3 Many times he was eager to encounter Dareius and put the whole issue to hazard, and many times he would make up his mind to practice himself first, as it were, and strengthen himself by acquiring the regions along the sea with their resources, and p271then to go up against that monarch. 4 Now, there is in Lycia, near the city of Xanthus, a spring, which at this time, as we are told, was of its own motion upheaved from its depths, and overflowed, and cast forth a bronze tablet bearing the prints of ancient letters, in which it was made known that the empire of the Persians would one day be destroyed by the Greeks and come to an end. 5 Encouraged by this prophecy, Alexander hastened to clear up the sea-coast as far as Cilicia and Phoenicia. 6 His rapid passage along the coasts of Pamphylia has afforded many historians material for bombastic and terrifying description. They imply that by some great and heaven-sent good fortune the sea retired to make way for Alexander, although at other times it always came rolling in with violence from the main, and scarcely ever revealed to sight the small rocks which lie close up under the precipitous and riven sides of the mountain.33 7 And Menander, in one of his comedies,34 evidently refers jestingly to this marvel:—

"How Alexander-like, indeed, this is; and if I seek some one,

674Spontaneous he'll present himself; and if I clearly must

Pass through some place by sea, this will lie open to my steps."

8 Alexander himself, however, made no such prodigy out of it in his letters, but says that he marched by p273way of the so‑called Ladder, and passed through it, setting out from Phaselis. 9 This was the reason for his spending several days in that city, during which he noticed that a statue of Theodectas, a deceased citizen of Phaselis, had been erected in the market-place. Once, therefore, after supper and in his cups, he led a band of revellers to the statue and crowned it with many of their garlands, thus in pleasantry returning no ungraceful honour for the past association with the man which he owed to Aristotle and philosophy.

18 1 After this, he overpowered such of the Pisidians as had offered him resistance, and subdued Phrygia; 2 and after he had taken the city of Gordium,35 reputed to have been the home of the ancient Midas, he saw the much-talked‑of waggon bound fast to its yoke with the bark of the cornel-tree, and heard a story confidently told about it by the Barbarians, to the effect that whosoever loosed the fastening was destined to become king of the whole world. 3 Well, then, most writers say that since the fastenings had their ends concealed, and were intertwined many times in crooked coils, Alexander was at a loss how to proceed, and finally loosened the knot by cutting it through with his sword, and that when it was thus smitten many ends were to be seen. 4 But Aristobulus says that he undid it very easily, by simply taking out the so‑called "hestor," or pin, of the waggon-pole, by which the yoke-fastening was held together, and then drawing away the yoke.36

5 Setting out from there, he subdued Paphlagonia and Cappadocia, and on hearing of the death of Memnon, one of the commanders of Dareius on the p275sea-board, who was thought likely to give Alexander abundant trouble and infinite annoyance, he was all the more encouraged for his expedition into the interior. 6 Moreover, Dareius was already coming down to the coast from Susa, exalted in spirit by the magnitude of his forces (for he was leading an army of six hundred thousand men), and also encouraged by a certain dream, which the Magi interpreted in a way to please him rather than as the probabilities demanded. 7 For he dreamed that the Macedonian phalanx was all on fire, and that Alexander, attired in a robe which he himself formerly used to wear when he was a royal courier, was waiting upon him, after which service he passed into the temple of Belus and disappeared. 8 By this means, as it would seem, it was suggested to Dareius from Heaven that the exploits of the Macedonians would be conspicuous and brilliant, that Alexander would be master of Asia, just as Dareius became its master when he was made king instead of royal courier, and would speedily end his life with glory.

19 1 Dareius was still more encouraged by Alexander's long delay in Cilicia, which he attributed to cowardice. 2 The delay was due, however, to a sickness, which assailed him in consequence of fatigues, according to some,37 but according to others, because he took a bath in the river Cydnus, whose waters were icy cold. 3 Be that as it may, none of the other physicians had the courage to administer remedies, but thinking that the danger was too great to be overcome by any remedy whatever, they were afraid of the charges which would be made against them by the Macedonians in consequence of their failure; p2774 but Philip the Acarnanian, who saw that the king was in an evil plight, put confidence in his friendship, and thinking it a shameful thing not to share his peril by exhausting the resources of art in trying to help him even at great risk, prepared a medicine and persuaded him to drink it boldly, if he was anxious to regain his strength for the war. 5 Meanwhile, however, Parmenio sent a letter to Alexander from the camp, urging him to be on his guard against Philip, for the reason that he had been persuaded by Dareius, 675with the promise of large gifts and a marriage with his daughter, to kill Alexander. Alexander read the letter and placed it under his pillow, without showing it to any one of his friends. 6 When the time appointed was at hand, and Philip came in with the king's companions, carrying the medicine in a cup, Alexander handed him the letter, while he himself took the medicine from him with readiness and no sign of suspicion. 7 It was an amazing sight, then, and one worthy of the stage, — the one reading the letter, the other drinking the medicine, and then both together turning their eyes upon one another, but not with the same expression; for Alexander, by his glad and open countenance, showed his good will towards Philip and his trust in him, 8 while Philip was beside himself at the calumny, now lifting up his hands towards heaven and calling upon the gods to witness his innocence, and now falling upon the couch on which Alexander lay and beseeching him to be of good courage and obey his physician. 9 For at first the medicine mastered the patient, and as it were drove back and buried deep his bodily powers, so that his voice failed, he fell into a swoon, and became almost wholly unconscious. 10 However, he p279was speedily restored to his senses by Philip, and when he had recovered strength he showed himself to the Macedonians, who refused to be comforted until they had seen Alexander.

20 1 Now, there was in the army of Dareius a certain Macedonian who had fled from his country, Amyntas by name, and he was well acquainted with the nature of Alexander. 2 This man, when he saw that Dareius was eager to attack Alexander within the narrow passes of the mountains, begged him to remain where he was, that he might fight a decisive battle with his vast forces against inferior numbers in plains that were broad and spacious. 3 And when Dareius replied that he was afraid the enemy would run away before he could get at them, and Alexander thus escape him, "Indeed," said Amyntas, "on this point, O king, thou mayest be without fear; for he will march against thee, nay, at this very moment, probably, he is on the march." 4 Dareius would not listen to these words of Amyntas, but broke camp and marched into Cilicia, and at the same time Alexander marched into Syria against him. 5 But having missed one another in the night, they both turned back again, Alexander rejoicing in his good fortune, and eager to meet his enemy in the passes, while Dareius was as eager to extricate his forces from the passes and regain his former camping-ground. 6 For he already saw that he had done wrong to throw himself into places which were rendered unfit for cavalry by sea and mountains and a river running through the middle (the Pinarus), which were broken up in many parts, and favoured the small numbers of his enemy. 7 And not only was the place for the battle a gift of Fortune to Alexander, but p281his generalship was better than the provisions of Fortune for his victory. 8 For since he was so vastly inferior in numbers to the Barbarians, he gave them no opportunity to encircle him, but leading his right wing in person, extended it past the enemy's left, got on their flank, and routed the Barbarians who were opposed to him fighting among the foremost, 9 so that he got a sword-wound in the thigh. Chares says this wound was given him by Dareius, with whom he had a hand-to‑hand combat, but Alexander, in a letter to Antipater about the battle, did not say who it was that gave him the wound; he wrote that he had been wounded in the thigh with a dagger, but that no serious harm resulted from the wound.

10 Although he won a brilliant victory and destroyed more than a hundred and ten thousand of his enemies, he did not capture Dareius, who got a start of four or five furlongs in his flight; but he did take the king's chariot, and his bow, before he came back from the pursuit. 11 He found his Macedonians carrying off the wealth from the camp of the Barbarians, and the wealth was of surpassing abundance, although its owners had come to the battle in light marching order and had left most of their baggage in Damascus; 676he found, too, that his men had picked out for him the tent of Dareius, which was full to overflowing with gorgeous servitors and furniture, and many treasures. 12 Straightway, then, Alexander put off his armour and went to the bath, saying: "Let us go and wash off the sweat of the battle in the bath of Dareius." "No, indeed," said one of his companions, "but rather in that of Alexander; for the property of the conquered must belong to the conqueror, and be called his." 13 And when he p283saw the basins and pitchers and tubs and caskets, all of gold, and curiously wrought, while the apartment was marvellously fragrant with spices and unguents, and when he passed from this into a tent which was worthy of admiration for its size and height, and for the adornment of the couch and tables and banquet prepared for him, he turned his eyes upon his companions and said: "This, as it would seem, is to be a king."

21 1 As he was betaking himself to supper, someone told him that among the prisoners were the mother, wife, and two unmarried daughters of Dareius, and that at sight of his chariot and bow they beat their breasts and lamented, believing that he was dead. 2 Accordingly, after a considerable pause, more affected by their affliction than by his own success, he sent Leonnatus, with orders to tell them that Dareius was not dead, and that they need have no fear of Alexander; for it was Dareius upon whom he was waging war for supremacy, but they should have everything which they used to think their due when Dareius was undisputed king. 3 If this message was thought by the women to be mild and kindly, still more did the actions of Alexander prove to be humane. 4 For he gave them permission to bury whom they pleased of the Persians, and to use for this purpose raiment and adornment from the spoils, and he abated not one jot of their honourable maintenance, nay, they enjoyed even larger allowances than before. 5 But the most honourable and most princely favour which these noble and chaste women received from him in their captivity was that they neither heard, nor suspected, nor p285awaited anything that could disgrace them, but lived, as though guarded in sacred and inviolable virgins' chambers instead of in an enemy's camp, apart from the speech and sight of men. 6 And yet it is said that the wife of Dareius was far the most comely of all royal women, just as Dareius himself also was handsomest and tallest of men, and the daughters resembled their parents.

7 But Alexander, as it would seem, considering the mastery of himself a more kingly thing than the conquest of his enemies, neither laid hands upon these women, nor did he know any other before marriage, except Barsiné. 8 This woman, Memnon's widow, was taken prisoner at Damascus. 9 And since she had received a Greek education, and was of an agreeable disposition, and since her father, Artabazus, was son of a king's daughter, Alexander determined (at Parmenio's instigation, as Aristobulus says) to attach himself to a woman of such high birth and beauty. 10 But as for the other captive women, seeing that they were surpassingly stately and beautiful, he merely said jestingly that Persian women were torments to the eyes.38 11 And displaying in rivalry with their fair looks the beauty of his own sobriety and self-control, he passed them by as though they were lifeless images for display.

22 1 Moreover, when Philoxenus, the commander of his forces on the sea-board, wrote that there was with him a certain Theodorus, of Tarentum, who had two boys of surpassing beauty to sell, and enquired whether Alexander would buy them, Alexander was incensed, and cried out many times to his friends, asking them what shameful thing Philoxenus had ever p287seen in him that he should spend his time in making such disgraceful proposals. 2 And on Philoxenus himself he heaped so much reproach in a letter, 677bidding him send Theodorus to perdition, merchandize and all. 3 He severely rebuked Hagnon also for writing to him that he wanted to buy Crobylus, whose beauty was famous in Corinth, as a present for him. 4 Furthermore, on learning that Damon and Timotheus, two Macedonian soldiers under Parmenio's command, had ruined the wives of certain mercenaries, he wrote to Parmenio ordering him, in case the men were convicted, to punish them and put them to death as wild beasts born for the destruction of mankind. 5 In this letter he also wrote expressly concerning himself: "As for me, indeed, it will be found not only that I have not seen the wife of Dareius or desired to see her, but that I have not even allowed people to speak to me of her beauty." 6 And he used to say that sleep and sexual intercourse, more than any thing else, made him conscious that he was mortal, implying that both weariness and pleasure arise from one and the same natural weakness.

7 He had also the most complete mastery over his appetite, and showed this both in many other ways, and especially by what he said to Ada, whom he honoured with the title of Mother and made queen of Caria.39 8 When, namely, in the kindness of her heart, she used to send him day by day many viands and sweetmeats, and finally offered him bakers and cooks reputed to be very skilful, he said he wanted none of them, 9 for he had better cooks which had been given him by his tutor, Leonidas; for his breakfast, p289namely, a night march, and for his supper, a light breakfast. 10 "And this same Leonidas," he said, "used to come and open my chests of bedding and clothing, to see that my mother did not hide there for me some luxury or superfluity."b

23 1 To the use of wine also he was less addicted than was generally believed. The belief arose from the time which he would spend over each cup, talking than in drinking, always holding some long discourse, and this too when he had abundant leisure. 2 For in the stress of affairs he was not to be detained, as other commanders were, either by wine, or sleep, or any sport, or amour, or spectacle. This is proved by his life, which, though altogether brief, he filled to overflowing with the greatest exploits. 3 In his times of leisure, however, after rising and sacrificing to the gods, he immediately took breakfast sitting; then, he would spend the day in hunting, or administering justice, or arranging his military affairs, or reading. 4 If he were making a march which was not very urgent, he would practise, as he went along, either archery or mounting and dismounting from a chariot that was under way. Often, too, for diversion, he would hunt foxes or birds, as may be gathered from his journals. 5 After he had taken quarters for the night, and while he was enjoying bath or anointing, he would enquire of his chief cooks and bakers whether the arrangements for his supper were duly made. 6 When it was late and already dark, he would begin his supper, reclining on a couch, and marvellous was his care and circumspection at table, in order that everything might be served impartially and without stint; but p291over the wine, as I have said, he would sit long, for conversation's sake. 7 And although in other ways he was of all princes most agreeable in his intercourse, and endowed with every grace, at this time his boastfulness would make him unpleasant and very like a common soldier. Not only was he himself carried away into blustering, but he suffered himself to be ridden by his flatterers. There were a great annoyance to the finer spirits in the company, who desired neither to vie with the flatterers, nor yet to fall behind them in praising Alexander. The one course they thought disgraceful, the other had its perils. 8 After the drinking was over, he would take a bath and sleep, frequently until midday; 678and sometimes he would actually spend the entire day in sleep.

9 In the matter of delicacies, too, he himself, at all events, was master of his appetite, so that often, when the rarest fruits or fish were brought to him from the sea-coast, he would distribute them to each of his companions until he was the only one for whom nothing remained. 10 His suppers, however, were always magnificent, and the outlay upon them increased with his successes until it reached the sum of ten thousand drachmas. There it stood, and that was the prescribed limit of expenditure for those who entertained Alexander.

24 1 After the battle at Issus,40 he sent to Damascus and seized the money and baggage of the Persians together with their wives and children. 2 And most of all did the Thessalian horsemen enrich themselves, for they had shown themselves surpassingly brave in the battle, and Alexander sent them on this expedition purposely, wishing to have them enrich p293themselves. But the rest of the army also was filled with wealth. 3 Then for the first time the Macedonians got a taste of gold and silver and women and barbaric luxury of life, and now that they had struck the trail, they were like dogs in their eagerness to pursue and track down the wealth of the Persians.


The Editor's Notes:

1 Macedonian names for Bacchantes.

2 Plutarch apparently derives this verb from Θρῇσσαι (Thracian women).

3 Sacred to Dionysus, and carried on the heads of the celebrants.

4 The lawful spouse of Zeus Ammon.

5 356 B.C. The day of birth has probably been moved back two or three months for the sake of the coincidence mentioned below (§ 5). Hecatombaeon corresponds nearly to July.

6 The preceptor of Achilles.

7 The talent was worth about £235, or $1,200, with four or five times the purchasing power of modern money.

Thayer's Note: A reminder that this equivalent dates to 1919 (notice the pound at $5); in 2007, a talent would be about $15,600.

8 Amyot, "le remeit gentiment."

9 Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag.2 p315.

10 i.e. fit for oral teaching only, and for the initiated, "esoteric," as opposed to "exoteric" doctrines.

11 Cf. chapter xxvi.1.

Thayer's Note: Also, Strabo, XIII.1.27.

12 See chapter lxv.

13 In 340 B.C.

14 In 338 B.C.

15 Amyot, "hors d'age et de saison." In consequence of this passion Philip had divorced Olympias.

16 The Medeia of Euripides, v. 289 (Kirchhoff). The context makes the verse suggest the murder of Attalus, Philip, and Cleopatra.

17 "After his death Olympias killed Philip's infant son, together with his mother Cleopatra, niece of Attalus, by dragging them over a bronze vessel filled with fire" (Pausanias, VIII.7.5).

18 In September, 335 B.C. Plutarch makes no mention of a previous expedition of Alexander into Southern Greece, immediately after Philip's death, when he received the submission (p253)of all the Greek states except Sparta, and was made commander-in‑chief of the expedition against Persia, in Philip's place. See Arrian, Anab. I.1.

19 "And we are told that Alexander preserved the house of Pindar the poet, and the descendants of Pindar, out of regard for Pindar" (Arrian, Anab. I.9.10).

20 According to Arrian (1.10.2), it was from panic fright.

21 See chapter li.

22 See chapter lxii.

23 This god was said to have been born of Semele, daughter of Cadmus the founder of Thebes.

24 For a full account of Alexander's capture and destruction of Thebes, see Arrian, Anab. I.8 f.

25 See the note on xi.5.

Thayer's Note: The Loeb edition has no note on xi.5, there is nothing in chapter xi that has anything to do with the Isthmus nor a general assembly, nor is the Isthmus mentioned anywhere else in the Life of Alexander.

26 In the early spring of 334 B.C.

27 Cf. Arrian, Anab. I.11.2.

28 "Not much more than thirty thousand foot, including light-armed troops and archers, and over five thousand horse" (Arrian, Anab. I.11.3).

29 See the Iliad, IX.185‑191.

30 Diodorus (XVII.21.6) says that more than ten thousand Persian footmen fell, and not less than two thousand horsemen; while over twenty thousand were taken prisoners.

31 According to Arrian (Anab. I.16.4), about twenty-five of Alexander's companions, a select corps, fell at the first onset, and it was of these that Alexander ordered statues to be made by Lysippus.

32 The siege and capture of these cities occupied Alexander till the late autumn of 334 B.C.

33 According to Arrian (Anab. I.26.1 f.), there is no route along this beach except when the north wind blows. "But at that time, after strong south winds, the north winds (p271)blew, and rendered his passage easy and quick, not without the divine intervention, as both he and his followers interpreted."

34 Kock, Com. Att. Frag. III. p240.

35 Early in 333 B.C.

36 Cf. Arrian, Anab. II.3.

37 So Aristobulus (Arrian, Anab. II.4.7).

38 Cf. Herod. V.18.

39 Cf. Arrian, Anab. I.23.8.

40 November, 333 B.C.


Thayer's Notes:

a The story of Timocleia is recounted in fuller detail in chapter 24 of Plutarch's work on the Bravery of Women.

b Mothers have not changed, nor the military: at West Point, this is (or used to be) called a "boodle inspection"; and when I was a cadet at the Air Force Academy, too much of the stuff, and we'd be expected to share with our classmates.


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