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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

p225 The Life of Alexander
(Part 2 of 7)

(678) 4 However, Alexander determined first to make himself master of the sea-coasts. As for Cyprus, then, its kings came at once and put the island in his hands, together with Phoenicia, with the exception of Tyre. 5 But Tyre he besieged for seven months,41 with moles, and engines-of‑war, and two hundred triremes by sea. During this siege he had a dream in which he saw Heracles stretching out his hand to him from the wall and calling him. 6 And many of the Tyrians dreamed that Apollo told them he was going away to Alexander, since he was displeased at what was going on in the city. 7 Whereupon, as if the god had been a common deserter caught in the act of going over to the enemy, they encircled his colossal figure with cords and nailed it down to its pedestal, calling him an Alexandrist. 8 In another dream, too, Alexander thought he saw a satyr who mocked him at a distance, and eluded his grasp when he tried to catch him, but finally, after much coaxing and chasing, surrendered. 9 The seers, dividing the word "satyros" into two parts, said to him, plausibly enough, "Tyre is to be thine." And a spring is pointed out, near which Alexander dreamed he saw the satyr.

10 While the siege of the city was in progress, he made an expedition against the Arabians who dwelt in the neighbourhood of Mount Antilibanus. On p295this expedition he risked his life to save his tutor, Lysimachus, who insisted on following him, declaring himself to be neither older nor weaker than Phoenix.42 11 But when the force drew near the mountains, they abandoned their horses and proceeded on foot, and most of them got far on in advance. Alexander himself, however, would not consent to abandon the worn and weary Lysimachus, since evening was already coming on and the enemy were near, but sought to encourage him and carry him along. Before he was aware of it, therefore, he was separated from the army with a few followers, and had to spend a night of darkness and intense cold in a region that was rough and difficult. 12 In this plight, he saw far off a number of scattered fires which the enemy were burning. So, since he was confident in his own agility, and was ever wont to cheer the Macedonians in their perplexities by sharing their toils, he ran to the nearest camp-fire. 13 Two Barbarians who were sitting at the fire he despatched with his dagger, and snatching up a fire-brand, brought it to his own party. 14 These kindled a great fire and at once frightened some of the enemy into flight, routed others who came up against them, and spent the night without further peril. Such, then, is the account we have from Chares.

25 1 The siege of the city had the following issue. While Alexander was giving the greater part of his forces a rest from the many struggles which they had undergone, and was leading up only a few men to attack the walls, 679in order that the enemy might have no respite, Aristander the seer made a sacrifice, and after taking the omens, declared very confidently p297to the bystanders that the city would certainly be captured during that month. 2 His words produced laughter and jesting, since it was then the last day of the month, and the king, seeing that he was perplexed, and being always eager to support his prophecies, gave orders to reckon that day, not as the thirtieth of the month, but as the twenty-eighth; and then, after the trumpet had sounded the signal, he attacked the walls with greater vigour than he had at first intended. 3 The assault became fierce, and even those troops which had been left in camp could not restrain themselves, but ran in throngs to help the assailants, and the Tyrians gave up the fight. So Alexander took the city on that day.

4 After this, as he was giving siege to Gaza,43 the principal city of Syria, a clod of earth, which had been dropped from on high by a bird, struck him on the shoulder. The bird alighted on one of the battering-engines, and was at once caught in the network of sinews which were used to give a twist to the ropes.44 5 And the omen was fulfilled as Aristander predicted; for though Alexander was wounded in the shoulder, he took the city. 6 Moreover, as he was dispatching great quantities of the spoils home to Olympias and Cleopatra and his friends, he sent also to Leonidas his tutor five hundred talents' weight of frankincense and a hundred of myrrh, in remembrance of the hope which that teacher had inspired his boyhood. 7 It would seem, namely, that Leonidas, as Alexander was one day sacrificing and taking incense with both hands to throw upon the altar-fire, said to him:— "Alexander, p299when thou hast conquered the spice-bearing regions thou canst be thus lavish with thine incense; now, however, use sparingly what thou hast." 8 Accordingly, Alexander now wrote him: "I have sent thee myrrh and frankincense in abundance, that thou mayest stop dealing parsimoniously with the gods."

26 1 When a small coffer was brought to him, which those in charge of the baggage and wealth of Dareius thought the most precious thing there, he asked his friends what valuable object they thought would most fittingly be deposited in it. 2 And when many answered and there were many opinions, Alexander himself said he was going to deposit the Iliad there for safe keeping.45 This is attested by many trustworthy authorities. 3 And if what the Alexandrians tell us on the authority of Heracleides is true, then it would seem that Homer was no idle or unprofitable companion for him in his expedition. 4 They say, namely, that after his conquest of Egypt he wished to found a large and populous Greek city which should bear his name, and by the advice of his architects was on the point of measuring off and enclosing a certain site for it. 5 Then, in the night, as he lay asleep, he saw a wonderful vision. A man with very hoary locks and of a venerable aspect appeared to stand by his side and recite these verses:—

"Now, there is an island in the much-dashing sea,

In front of Egypt; Pharos is what men call it."46

6 Accordingly, he rose up at once and went to Pharos, which at that time was still an island, a little above the Canobic mouth of the Nile, but now it has been p301joined to the mainland by a causeway. 7 And when he saw a site of surpassing natural advantages (for it is a strip of land like enough to a broad isthmus, extending between a great lagoon and a stretch of sea which terminates in a large harbour), he said he saw now that Homer was not only admirable in other ways, but also a very wise architect, and ordered the plan of the city to be drawn in conformity with this site. 8 There was no chalk at hand, so they took barley-meal47 and marked out with it on the dark soil a rounded area, to whose inner arc straight lines extended so as to produce the figure of a chlamys, or military cloak, the lines beginning from the skirts (as one may say), and narrowing the breadth of the area uniformly.48 6809 The king was delighted with the design; but suddenly birds from the river and the lagoon, infinite in number and of every sort and size, settled down upon the place like clouds and devoured every particle of the barley-meal, so that even Alexander was greatly disturbed at the omen.

10 However, the seers exhorted him to be of good cheer, since the city here founded by him would have most abundant and helpful resources and be a nursing mother for men of every nation, and so he ordered those in charge of the work to proceed with it, while he himself set out for the temple of Ammon. 11 The journey thither was long, full of toils and hardships, and had two perils. One is the dearth of water, which leaves the traveller destitute of it for many days; the other arises when a fierce south wind smites men travelling in sand of boundless depth, p30312 as is said to have been the case with the army of Cambyses, long ago; the wind raised great billows of sand all over the plain and buried up fifty thousand men, to their utter destruction.49 13 Almost all of Alexander's followers took all these things into consideration, but it was difficult to turn him aside from any course so ever when he had once set out upon it. 14 For Fortune, by yielding to his onsets, was making his purpose obstinate, and the high spirit which he carried into his undertakings rendered his ambition finally invincible, so that it subdued not only enemies, but even times and places.

27 1 At all events, during the journey which he made at this time, the assistance rendered him by Heaven in his perplexities met with more credence than the oracles which he afterwards received, nay, in a way, the oracles obtained credence in consequence of such assistance. 2 For, to begin with, much rain from heaven and persistent showers removed all fear of thirst, quenched the dryness of the sand, so that it became moist and compact, and made the air purer and good to breathe. 3 Again, when the marks for the guides became confused, and the travellers were separated and wandered about in ignorance of the route, ravens appeared and assumed direction of their march,50 flying swiftly on in front of them when they followed, and waiting for them when they marched slowly and lagged behind. 4 Moreover, what was most astonishing of all, Callisthenes tells us that the birds by their cries called back those who straggled away in the night, p305and cawed until they had set them in the track of the march.

5 When Alexander had passed through the desert and was come to the place of the oracle, the prophet of Ammon gave him salutation from the god as from a father; whereupon Alexander asked him whether any of the murderers of his father had escaped him. 6 To this the prophet answered by bidding him be guarded in his speech, since his was not a mortal father. Alexander therefore changed the form of his question, and asked whether the murderers of Philip had all been punished; and then, regarding his own empire, he asked whether it was given to him to become lord and master of all mankind. 7 The god gave answer that this was given to him, and that Philip was fully avenged. Then Alexander made splendid offerings to the god and gave his priests large gifts of money.

8 This is what most writers state regarding the oracular responses; but Alexander himself, in a letter to his mother, says that he received certain secret responses, which he would tell to her, and to her alone, on his return. 9 And some say that the prophet, wishing to show his friendliness by addressing him with "O paidion," or O my son, in his foreign pronunciation ended the words with "s" instead of "n," and said, "O paidios," and that Alexander was pleased at the slip in pronunciation, and a story became current that the god had addressed him with "O pai Dios," or O son of Zeus. 10 We are told, also, that he listened to the teachings of Psammon the philosopher in Egypt, and accepted most readily this utterance of his, namely, that all mankind are under the kingship of God, since in every case that p307which gets the mastery and rules is divine. 68111 Still more philosophical, however, was his own opinion and utterance on this head, namely that although God was indeed a common father of all mankind, still, He made peculiarly His own the noblest and best of them.

28 1 In general, he bore himself haughtily towards the Barbarians, and like one fully persuaded of his divine birth and parentage, but with the Greeks it was within limits and somewhat rarely that he assumed his own divinity. 2 However, in writing to the Athenians concerning Samos, he said: "I cannot have given you that free and illustrious city; for ye received it from him who was then your master and was called my father," meaning Philip. 3 At a later time, however, when he had been hit by an arrow and was suffering great pain, he said: "This, my friends, that flows here, is blood, and not

'Ichor, such as flows from the veins of the blessed gods.' "51

4 Once, too, there came a great peal of thunder, and all were terrified at it; whereupon Anaxarchus the sophist who was present said to Alexander: "Couldst thou, the son of Zeus, thunder like that?" At this, Alexander laughed and said: "Nay, I do not wish to cause fear in my friends, as thou wouldst have me do, thou who despisest my suppers because, as thou sayest, thou seest the tables furnished with fish, and not with satraps' heads."52 5 For, in fact, we are told that Anaxarchus, on seeing a present of small fish which the king had sent to Hephaestion, had uttered the speech above mentioned, as though he were disparaging p309and ridiculing those who undergo great toils and dangers in the pursuit of eminence and power, since in the way of enjoyments and pleasures they have little or nothing more than other men. 6 From what has been said, then, it is clear that Alexander himself was not foolishly affected or puffed up by the belief in his divinity, but used it for the subjugation of others.

29 1 When he had returned from Egypt into Phoenicia,53 he honoured the gods with sacrifices and solemn processions, and held contests of dithyrambic choruses and tragedies which were made brilliant, not only by their furnishings, but also by the competitors who exhibited them. 2 For the kings of Cyprus were the choregi, or exhibitors, just like, at Athens, those chosen by lot from the tribes, and they competed against each other with amazing ambition. 3 Most eager of all was the contention between Nicocreon of Salamis and Pasicrates of Soli. For the lot assigned to these exhibitors the most celebrated actors, to Pasicrates Athenodorus, and to Nicocreon Thessalus, in whose success Alexander himself was interested. 4 He did not reveal this interest, however, until, by the votes of the judges, Athenodorus had been proclaimed victor. But then, as it would appear, on leaving the theatre, he said that he approved the decision of the judges, but would gladly have given up a part of his kingdom rather than to have seen Thessalus vanquished. 5 And yet, when Athenodorus, who had been fined by the Athenians for not keeping his engagement in the dramatic contest of their Dionysiac festival, asked the king to write a letter to them in his behalf, p311though he would not do this, he sent them the amount of the fine from his own purse. 6 Furthermore, when Lycon of Scarpheia, who was acting successfully before Alexander, inserted into the comedy a verse containing a request for ten talents, Alexander laughed and gave them to him.54

7 When Dareius sent to him a letter and friends,55 begging him to accept ten thousand talents as ransom for the captives, to hold all the territory this side of the Euphrates, to take one of his daughters in marriage, and on these terms to be his ally and friend, Alexander imparted the matter to his companions. 8 "If I were Alexander," said Parmenio, "I would accept these terms." "And so indeed would I," said Alexander, "were I Parmenio." 9 But to Dareius he wrote: "Come to me, and thou shalt receive every courtesy; but otherwise I shall march at once against thee."56

30 1 Soon, however, he repented him of this answer, when the wife of Dareius died in childbirth, 682and it was evident that he was distressed at this loss of opportunity to show great kindness. Accordingly, he gave the woman a sumptuous burial. 2 One of the eunuchs of the bed-chamber who had been captured with the women, Teireos by name, ran away from the camp, made his way on horseback to Dareius, and told him of the death of his wife. 3 Then the king, beating upon his head and bursting into lamentation, said: "Alas for the evil genius of the Persians, if the sister and wife of their king p313must not only become a captive in her life, but also in her death be deprived of royal burial." 4 "Nay, O King," answered the chamberlain, "as regards her receiving every fitting honour, thou hast no charge to make against the evil genius of the Persians. 5 For neither did my mistress Stateira, while she lived, or thy mother or thy children, lack any of their former great blessings except the light of thy countenance, which Lord Oromazdes will cause to shine again with lustre; nor after her death was she deprived of any funeral adornment, nay, she was honoured with the tears of enemies. 6 For Alexander is as gentle after victory as he is terrible in battle."

7 When Dareius heard this, his agitation and grief swept him into absurd suspicions, and leading the eunuch away into a more secluded part of his tent, he said: 8 "If thou also, together with the fortune of the Persians, dost not side with the Macedonians, and if I, Dareius, am still thy lord and master, tell me, as thou reverest the great light of Mithras and the right hand of thy king, is it not the least of Stateira's misfortunes that I am now lamenting? While she was alive did I not suffer more painful evils? And would not my wretched fortune have been more compatible with my honour if I had met with an angry and savage enemy? 9 For what intercourse that is proper can a young man have with an enemy's wife when it leads to such marks of honour?" 10 While the king was still speaking, Teireos threw himself down at his feet and besought him to hold his peace, and neither to wrong Alexander, nor shame his dead sister and wife, nor rob himself of the greatest consolation for his disasters, p315namely, the belief that he had been conquered by a man who was superior to human nature; nay, he should even admire Alexander for having shown greater self-restraint in dealing with Persian women than valour against Persian men. 11 Then, while the eunuch was confirming his testimony with the most solemn oaths, and discoursing on the general self-mastery and magnanimity of Alexander, Dareius went out to his companions, and lifting his hands towards heaven, prayed: 12 "O ye gods of my race and kingdom, above all things else grant that I may leave the fortune of Persia reëstablished in the prosperity wherein I found it, in order that my victory may enable me to requite Alexander for the favours which I received at his hands when I had lost my dearest possessions; 13 but if, then, a fated time has now come, due to divine jealousy and the vicissitudes of things, and the sway of the Persians must cease, grant that no other man may sit upon the throne of Cyrus but Alexander." 14 That these things were thus done and said is the testimony of most historians.57

31 1 But to return to Alexander, when he had subdued all the country on this side of the Euphrates, he marched against Dareius,58 who was coming down to meet him with a million men. 2 On this march one of his companions told him, as a matter worth laughing at, that the camp-followers, in sport, had divided themselves into two bands, and set a general and commander over each of them, one of whom they called Alexander, and the other Dareius; 3 and that they had begun by pelting one another with clods of earth, then had fought with their fists, and finally, heated with the desire of battle, had taken p317to stones and sticks, being now many and hard to quell. 6834 When he heard this, Alexander ordered the leaders themselves to fight in single combat; to the one called Alexander he himself gave armour, and to the one called Dareius, Philotas. The army were spectators of the combat, counting the issue as in some measure an omen of the future. 5 After a strenuous battle, the one called Alexander was victorious, and received as a reward twelve villages and the right to wear Persian dress. This, at any rate, is what we are told by Eratosthenes.

6 Now, the great battle against Dareius was not fought at Arbela, as most writers state, but at Gaugamela.59 7 The word signifies, we are told, "camel's house," since one of the ancient kings of the country, after escaping from his enemies on a swift camel, gave the animal a home here, assigning certain villages and revenues for its maintenance. 8 It so happened that in the month Boëdromion the moon suffered an eclipse,60 about the beginning of the Mysteries at Athens, and on the eleventh night after the eclipse, the armies being now in sight of one another, Dareius kept his forces under arms, and held a review of them by torch-light; 9 but Alexander, while his Macedonians slept, himself passed the night in front of his tent with his seer Aristander, celebrating certain mysterious sacred rites and sacrificing to the god Fear. 10 Meanwhile the older of his companions, and particularly Parmenio, when they saw the plain between the Niphates and the Gordyaean mountains all lighted up with the barbarian fires, while an indistinguishably mingled and tumultuous sound of voices arose from their camp as p319if from a vast ocean, 11 were astonished at their multitude and argued with one another that it was a great and grievous task to repel such a tide of war by engaging in broad day-light. They therefore waited upon the king when he had finished his sacrifices, and tried to persuade him to attack the enemy by night, and so to cover up with darkness the most fearful aspect of the coming struggle. 12 But he gave them the celebrated answer, "I will not steal my victory"; whereupon some thought that he had made a vainglorious reply, and was jesting in the presence of so great a peril. Others, however, thought that he had confidence in the present situation and estimated the future correctly, not offering Dareius in case of defeat an excuse to pluck up courage for another attempt, by laying the blame this time upon darkness and night, as he had before upon mountains, defiles, and sea.61 For Dareius would not give up the war for lack of arms or men when he could draw from so great a host and so vast a territory, but only when he had lost courage and hope, under the conviction brought by a downright defeat in broad day-light.

32 1 After the men were gone, Alexander lay down in his tent, and is said to have passed the rest of the night in a deeper sleep than usual, so that when his officers came to him in the early morning they were amazed, and on their own authority issued orders that the soldiers should first take breakfast. 2 Then, since the occasion was urgent, Parmenio entered the tent, and standing by his couch called Alexander twice or thrice by name; and when he p321had thus roused him, he asked him how he could possibly sleep as if he were victorious, instead of being about to fight the greatest of all his battles. 3 Then Alexander said with a smile: "What, pray? Dost thou not think that we are already victorious, now that we are relieved from wandering about in a vast and desolate country in pursuit of a Dareius who avoids a battle?" 4 And not only before the battle, but also in the very thick of the struggle did he show himself great, and firm in his confident calculations. 5 For in the battle the left wing under Parmenio was thrown back and in distress, when the Bactrian cavalry fell upon the Macedonians with great impetuosity and violence, and when Mazaeus sent horsemen round outside the line of battle to attack those who were guarding the Macedonian baggage. 6846 Therefore, too, Parmenio, much disturbed by both occurrences, sent messengers to Alexander telling him that camp and baggage were gone, unless he speedily sent strong reinforcements from front to rear.62 7 Now, it chanced that at that instant Alexander was about to give the signal for the onset to those under his command; but when he heard Parmenio's message, he declared that Parmenio was beside himself and had lost the use of his reason, and had forgotten in his distress that victors add the baggage of the enemy to their own, and that those who are vanquished must not think about their wealth or their slaves, but only how they may fight gloriously and die with honour.

8 After sending this message to Parmenio, he put on his helmet, but the rest of his armour he had on as p323he came from his tent, namely, a vest of Sicilian make girt about him, and over this a breastplate of two-ply linen from the spoils taken at Issus. 9 His helmet was of iron, but gleamed like polished silver, a work of Theophilus; and there was fitted to this a gorget, likewise of iron, set with precious stones. 10 He had a sword, too, of astonishing temper and lightness, a gift from the king of the Citieans, and he had trained himself to use a sword for the most part in his battles. 11 He wore a belt also, which was too elaborate for the rest of his armour; for it was a work of Helicon the ancient, and a mark of honour from the city of Rhodes, which had given it to him; this also he was wont to wear in his battles. 12 As long, then, as he was riding about and marshalling some part of his phalanx, or exhorting or instructing or reviewing his men, he spared Bucephalas, who was now past his prime, and used another horse; but whenever he was going into action, Bucephalas would be led up, and he would mount him and at once begin the attack.

33 1 On this occasion, he made a very long speech to the Thessalians and the other Greeks,63 and when he saw that they encouraged him with shouts to lead them against the Barbarians, he shifted his lance into his left hand, and with his right appealed to the gods, as Callisthenes tells us, praying them, if he was really sprung from Zeus, to defend and strengthen the Greeks. 2 Aristander the seer, too, wearing a white mantle and having a crown of gold upon his head, rode along the ranks pointing out to p325them an eagle which soared above the head of Alexander and directed his flight straight against the enemy, 3 at which sight great courage filled the beholders, and after mutual encouragement and exhortation the cavalry charged at full speed upon the enemy and the phalanx rolled on after them like a flood. 4 But before the foremost ranks were engaged the Barbarians gave way, and were hotly pursued, Alexander driving the conquered foe towards the centre of their array, where Dareius was.64 5 For from afar he was seen by Alexander through the deep ranks of the royal squadron of horse drawn up in front of him, towering conspicuous, a fine-looking man and tall, standing on a lofty chariot, fenced about by a numerous and brilliant array of horsemen, who were densely massed around the chariot and drawn up to receive the enemy. 6 But when they saw Alexander close at hand and terrible, and driving those who fled before him upon those who held their ground, they were smitten with fear and scattered, for the most part. 7 The bravest and noblest of them, however, slain in front of their king and falling in heaps upon one another, obstructed the Macedonians in their pursuit, weaving and twining themselves in their last agonies about riders and horses.

8 But Dareius, now that all the terrors of the struggle were before his eyes, and now that the forces drawn up to protect him were crowded back upon him, since it was not an easy matter to turn his chariot about and drive it away, seeing that the wheels were obstructed and entangled in the great numbers of the fallen, while the horses, surrounded and hidden p327away by the multitude of dead bodies, were rearing up and frightening the charioteer, 685forsook his chariot and his armour, mounted a mare which, as they say, had newly foaled, and took to flight. 9 However, it is thought that he would not then have made his escape, had not fresh horsemen come from Parmenio65 summoning Alexander to his aid, on the ground that a large force of the enemy still held together there and would not give ground. 10 For there is general complaint that in that battle Parmenio was sluggish and inefficient, either because old age was now impairing somewhat his courage, or because he was made envious and resentful by the arrogance and pomp, to use the words of Callisthenes, of Alexander's power. 11 At the time, then, although he was annoyed by the summons, the king did not tell his soldiers the truth about it, but on the ground that it was dark and he would therefore remit further slaughter, sounded a recall; and as he rode towards the endangered portion of his army, he heard by the way that the enemy had been utterly defeated and was in flight.

The Editor's Notes:

41 January-August, 332 B.C.

42 Cf. chapter v.8.º

43 During September and October of 332 B.C.

44 Cf. Curtius, Hist. Alex. IV.6.11 f.

45 Cf. chapter viii.2.

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

46 Odyssey, iv.354 f.

47 Cf. Arrian, Anab. III.2.1.

48 See Tarbell, "The Form of the Chlamys," Classical Philology, 1906, p285.

49 Cf. Herod. III.26.

50 According to Ptolemy, son of Lagus, two serpents served Alexander's army as guides to the oracle and back again. "But Aristobulus, whose account is generally admitted to (p303)be correct, says that two ravens flew in front of the army and acted as Alexander's guides" (Arrian, Anab. III.3.5 f.).

51 IliadV.340.

Thayer's Note: See also Diog. Laërt. IX.60.

52 Cf. Athenaeus, pp250 f.

53 Early in 331 B.C.

54 Cf. Morals, pp334 f.

55 This was during the siege of Tyre, according to Arrian (Anab. II.25.1).

56 This was but the conclusion of an arrogant letter. Cf. Arrian, Anab. II.25.3.

57 Cf. Arrian, Anab. IV.20.

58 In June or July of 331 B.C.

59 Cf. Arrian, Anab. III.8.7.

60 September 20, 331 B.C.

61 Cf. Arrian, Anab. III.10, where it is Parmenio who advises a night attack.

62 Cf. Arrian, Anab. III.15.1, where Parmenio's message recalls Alexander from the pursuit of Dareius.

63 Sometimes the term "Hellenes" excludes, and sometimes it includes, the Macedonians. The context must decide. Cf. xlvii.5.

64 Alexander's tactics are minutely described by Arrian (Anab. III.14.1‑3).

65 Arrian makes no mention of a second appeal for aid from Parmenio.

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