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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

 p225  The Life of Alexander
(Part 3 of 7)

(685) 34 1 The battle having had this issue, the empire of the Persians was thought to be utterly dissolved, and Alexander, proclaimed king of Asia, made magnificent sacrifices to the gods and rewarded his friends with wealth, estates, and provinces. 2 And being desirous of honour among the Greeks, he wrote them that all their tyrannies were abolished and they might live under their own laws; moreover, he wrote the Plataeans especially that he would rebuild their city, because their ancestors had furnished their  p329 territory to the Greeks for the struggle in behalf of their freedom.​66 3 He sent also to the people of Croton in Italy a portion of the spoils, honouring the zeal and valour of their athlete Phaÿllus, who, in the Median wars, when the rest of the Greeks in Italy refused to help their brother Greeks, fitted out a ship at his own cost and sailed with it to Salamis, that he might have some share in the peril there.​67 4 So considerate was Alexander towards every form of valour, and such a friend and guardian of noble deeds.

35 1 As he traversed all Babylonia, which at once submitted to him, he was most of all amazed at the chasm from which fire continually streamed forth as from a spring, and at the stream of naphtha, so abundant as to form a lake, not far from the chasm. 2 This naphtha is in other ways like asphaltum, but is so sensitive to fire that, before the flame touches it, it is kindled by the very radiance about the flame and often sets fire also to the intervening air. 3 To show its nature and power, the Barbarians sprinkled the street leading to Alexander's quarters with small quantities of the liquid; then, standing at the farther end of the street, they applied their torches to the moistened spots; for it was now getting dark. 4 The first spots at once caught fire, and without an appreciable interval of time, but with the speed of thought, the flame darted to the other end, and the street was one continuous fire. 5 Now, there was a certain Athenophanes, an Athenian, one of those who were accustomed to minister to the person of the king when he bathed and anointed himself, and to furnish suitable diversion for his thoughts. 6 This man, one time when there was standing by Alexander  p331 in the bath-room a youth who had a ridiculously plain countenance, but was a graceful singer 7 (his name was Stephanus), said, "Wilt thou, O King, that we make a trial of the liquid upon Stephanus? For if it should lay hold of him and not be extinguished, I would certainly say that its power was invincible and terrible." 8 The youth also, strangely enough, offered himself for the experiment, and as soon as he touched the liquid and began to anoint himself with it, his body broke out into so great a flame and was so wholly possessed by fire that Alexander fell into extreme perplexity and fear; 9 and had it not been by chance that many were standing by holding vessels of water for the bath, the youth would have been consumed before aid reached him. 686Even as it was, they had great difficulty in putting out the fire, for it covered the boy's whole body, and after they had done so, he was in a sorry plight.

10 It is natural, then, that some who wish to bring fable into conformity with truth should say that this naphtha is the drug which Medeia used, when, in the tragedies, she anoints the crown and the robe. 11 For it was not from these objects themselves, they say, nor of its own accord, that the fire shot up, but a flame was placed near them, which was then so swiftly drawn into conjunction with them that the sense could not take cognisance of it. 12 For the rays and emanations of fire which come from a distance impart to some bodies merely light and warmth; but in those which are dry and porous, or which have sufficiently rich moisture, they collect themselves together, break into fierce flame, and transform the material. 13 There has been much discussion about  p333 the origin of​68 . . . . or whether rather the liquid substance that feeds the flame flows out from a soil which is rich and productive of fire. 14 For the soil of Babylonia is very fiery, so that grains of barley often leap out of the ground and bound away, as if its inflammation made the ground throb; and the inhabitants, during the hot season, sleep on skins filled with water. 15 Harpalus, moreover, when he was left as overseer of the country and was eager to adorn the royal gardens and walks with Hellenic plants, succeeded with all except ivy; this the soil would not support, but always killed it. The plant could not endure the temper of the soil, for the soil was fiery, while the plant was fond of coolness. 16 However, if such digressions are kept within bounds, perhaps my impatient readers will find less fault with them.

36 1 On making himself master of Susa, Alexander came into possession of forty thousand talents of coined money in the palace, and of untold furniture and wealth besides.​69 2 Among this they say was found five thousand talents' weight of purple from Hermione, which, although it had been stored there for a hundred and ninety years, still kept its colours fresh and lively. 3 The reason for this, they say, is that honey was used in the purple dyes, and white olive oil in the white dyes; for these substances, after the like space of time, are seen to have a brilliancy that is pure and lustrous. 4 Moreover, Deinon says that the Persian kings had water also brought from the Nile and the Danube and stored  p335 up among their treasures, as a sort of confirmation of the greatness of their empire and the universality of their sway.

37 1 Persis was difficult of access, owing to the roughness of the country, and was guarded by the noblest of the Persians (for Dareius had taken to flight); but Alexander found a guide to conduct him thither by a circuit of no great extent. The man spoke two languages, since his father was a Lycian and his mother a Persian; 2 and it was he, they say, whom the Pythian priestess had in mind when she prophesied, Alexander being yet a boy, that a "lycus," or wolf, would be Alexander's guide on his march against the Persians.​70 3 In this country, then, as it turned out, there was a great slaughter of the prisoners taken; for Alexander himself writes that he gave orders to have the inhabitants butchered, thinking that this would be to his advantage; and they say that as much coined money was found there​71 as at Susa, 4 and that it took ten thousand pairs of mules and five thousand camels to carry away the other furniture and wealth there.

5 On beholding a great statue of Xerxes which had been carelessly overthrown by a throng that forced its way into the palace, Alexander stopped before it, and accosting it as if it had been alive, said: "Shall I pass on and leave thee lying there, because of thine expedition against the Hellenes, or, because of thy magnanimity and virtue in other ways, shall I set thee up again?" But finally, after communing with himself a long time in silence, he passed on. 6 Wishing to refresh his soldiers (for it was winter  p337 time), he spent four months in that place. 6877 And it is said that when he took his seat for the first time under the golden canopy on the royal throne, Demaratus the Corinthian, a well-meaning man and a friend of Alexander's, as he had been of Alexander's father, burst into tears, as old men will, and declared that those Hellenes were deprived of great pleasure who had died before seeing Alexander seated on the throne of Dareius.

38 1 After this, as he was about to march forth against Dareius, it chanced that he consented to take part in a merry drinking bout of his companions, at which women also came to meet their lovers and shared in their wine and revelry. 2 The most famous among these women was Thaïs, an Athenian, the mistress of Ptolemy, who was afterwards king. She, partly in graceful praise of Alexander, and partly to make sport for him, as the drinking went on, was moved to utter a speech which befitted the character of her native country, but was too lofty for one of her kind. 3 She said, namely, that for all her hardships in wandering over Asia she was being requited that day by thus revelling luxuriously in the splendid palace of the Persians; 4 but it would be a still greater pleasure to go in revel rout and set fire to the house of the Xerxes who burned Athens, she herself kindling the fire under the eyes of Alexander, in order that a tradition might prevail among men that the women in the train of Alexander inflicted a greater punishment upon the Persians in behalf of Hellas than all her famous commanders by sea and land. 5 As soon as she had thus spoken, tumultuous applause arose, and the companions of the king eagerly urged him on,  p339 so that he yielded to their desires, and leaping to his feet, with a garland on his head and a torch in his hand, led them the way. 6 The company followed with shouts and revelry and surrounded the palace, while the rest of the Macedonians who learned about it ran thither with torches and were full of joy. 7 For they hoped that the burning and destruction of the palace was the act of one who had fixed his thoughts on home, and did not intend to dwell among Barbarians. 8 This is the way the deed was done, according to some writers; but others say it was premeditated.​72 However, it is agreed that Alexander speedily repented and gave orders to put out the fire.

39 1 Alexander was naturally munificent, and became still more so as his wealth increased. His gifts, too, were accompanied by a kindly spirit, with which alone, to tell the truth, a giver confers a favour. 2 I will mention a few instances. Ariston, the captain of the Paeonians, having slain an enemy, brought his head and showed it to Alexander, saying: "In my country, O King, such a gift as this is rewarded with a golden beaker." "Yes," said Alexander with a laugh, "an empty one; but I will pledge thy health with one which is full of pure wine." 3 Again, a common Macedonian was driving a mule laden with some of the royal gold, and when the beast gave out, took the load on his own shoulders and tried to carry it. The king, then, seeing the man in great distress and learning the facts of the case, said, as the man was about to lay his burden down, "Don't give out,  p341 but finish your journey by taking this load to your own tent." 4 Furthermore, he was generally more displeased with those who would not take his gifts than with those who asked for them. And so he wrote to Phocion in a letter that he would not treat him as a friend in future if he rejected his favours. 5 Again, to Serapion, one of the youths who played at ball with him, he used to give nothing because he asked for nothing. Accordingly, whenever Serapion had the ball, he would throw it to others, until the king said: "Won't you give it to me?" "No," said Serapion, "because you don't ask for it," whereat the king burst out laughing and made him many presents. 6 With Proteas, however, a clever wag and boon companion, he appeared to be angry; but when the man's friends begged his forgiveness, as did Proteas himself with tears, the king said he was his friend again, whereat Proteas said: "In that case, O King, give me something to prove it first." Accordingly, the king ordered that five talents should be given him. 6887 What lofty airs his friends and bodyguards were wont to display over the wealth bestowed by him, is plain from a letter which Olympias wrote to him. She says: "I beg thee to find other ways of conferring favours on those thou lovest and holdest in honour; as it is, thou makest them all the equals of kings and providest them with an abundance of friends, whilst thyself thou strippest bare." 8 Olympias often wrote him in like vein, but Alexander kept her writings secret, except once when Hephaestion, as was his wont, read with him a letter which had been opened; the king did not prevent him, but took the ring  p343 from his own finger and applied its seal to the lips of Hephaestion. 9 Again, though the son of Mazaeus, the most influential man at the court of Dareius, already had a province, Alexander gave him a second and a larger one. He, however, declined it, saying: "O King, formerly there was one Dareius, but now thou has made many Alexanders." 10 To Parmenio, moreover, Alexander gave the house of Bagoas at Susa, in which it is said that there was found apparel worth a thousand talents. 11 Again, he wrote to Antipater bidding him keep guards about his person, since plots were being laid against him. 12 To his mother, also, he sent many presents, but would not suffer her to meddle in affairs nor interfere in his campaigns; and when she chided him for this, he bore her harshness patiently. 13 Once, however, after reading a long letter which Antipater had written in denunciation of her, he said Antipater knew not that one tear of a mother effaced ten thousand letters.

40 1 He saw that his favourites had grown altogether luxurious, and were vulgar in the extravagance of their ways of living. For instance, Hagnon the Teian used to wear silver nails in his boots; Leonnatus had dust for his gymnastic exercises brought to him on many camels from Egypt; Philotas had hunting-nets a hundred furlongs long; when they took their exercise and their baths, more of them actually used myrrh than olive oil, and they had in their train rubbers and chamberlains. Alexander therefore chided them in gentle and reasonable fashion. 2 He was amazed, he said, that after they had undergone so many and so great contests they did not remember that those who conquer by toil sleep more sweetly than those who are conquered  p345 by their toil, and did not see, from a comparison of their own lives with those of the Persians, that it is a very servile thing to be luxurious, but a very royal thing to toil. 3 "And yet," said he, "how can a man take care of his own horse or furbish up his spear and helmet, if he is unaccustomed to using his hands on his own dear person? Know ye not," said he, "that the end and object of conquest is to avoid doing the same thing as the conquered?" 4 Accordingly, he exerted himself yet more strenuously in military and hunting expeditions, suffering distress and risking his life, so that a Spartan ambassador who came up with him as he was bringing down a great lion, said: "Nobly, indeed, Alexander, hast thou struggled with the lion to see which should be king." 5 This hunting-scene Craterus dedicated at Delphi, with bronze figures of the lion, the dogs, the king engaged with the lion, and himself coming to his assistance; some of the figures were moulded by Lysippus, and some by Leochares.

41 1 Alexander, then, in exercising himself and at the same time inciting others to deeds of valour, was wont to court danger; but his friends, whose wealth and magnificence now gave them a desire to live in luxury and idleness, were impatient of his long wanderings and military expeditions, and gradually went so far as to abuse him and speak ill of him. 2 He, however, was very mildly disposed at first toward this treatment of himself, and used to say that it was the lot of a king to confer favours and be ill-spoken of therefor. 3 And yet in the most trifling attentions which he paid his familiar friends there were marks of great good-will and esteem. 4 I will instance a few of these.

 p347  He found fault with Peucestas by letter because, after being bitten by a bear, he wrote about it to the rest of his friends but did not tell him. 689"Now, however," said he, "write me how you are, and tell me whether any of your fellow-huntsmen left you in the lurch, that I may punish them." 5 To Hephaestion, who was absent on some business, he wrote that while they were diverting themselves with hunting an ichneumon, Craterus encountered the lance of Perdiccas and was wounded in the thighs. 6 After Peucestas had safely recovered from an illness, Alexander wrote to the physician, Alexippus, expressing his thanks. While Craterus was sick, Alexander had a vision in his sleep, whereupon he offered certain sacrifices himself for the recovery of his friend, and bade him also sacrifice. 7 He wrote also to Pausanias, the physician, who wished to administer hellebore to Craterus, partly expressing distress, and partly advising him how to use the medicine. 8 Those who first brought word to him that Harpalus had absconded, namely, Ephialtes and Cissus, he put in fetters, on the ground that they were falsely accusing the man. 9 When he was sending home his aged and infirm soldiers, Eurylochus of Aegae got himself enrolled among the sick, and then, when it was discovered that he had nothing the matter with him, confessed that he was in love with Telesippa, and was bent on following along with her on her journey to the sea-board. 10 Alexander asked of what parentage the girl was, and on hearing that she was a free-born courtezan, said: "I will help you, O Eurylochus, in your amour; but see to it that we try to persuade Telesippa either by arguments or gifts, since she is free-born."

 p349  42 1 And it is astonishing that he had time to write so many letters for his friends. For instance, he wrote one giving orders to seek out a slave of Seleucus who had run away into Cilicia; and one in commendation of Peucestas for arresting Nicon, a servant of Craterus; and one to Megabyzus about an attendant who had taken refuge in a sanctuary, bidding him, if possible, entice the slave outside the sanctuary and then arrest him, but not to lay hands upon him in the sanctuary. 2 It is said, too, that at first, when he was trying capital cases, he would put his hand over one of his ears while the accuser was speaking, that he might keep it free and unprejudiced for the accused. 3 But afterwards the multitude of accusations which he heard rendered him harsh, and led him to believe the false because so many were true. 4 And particularly when he was maligned he lost discretion and was cruel and inexorable, since he loved his reputation more than his life or his kingdom.

5 Now, however, he marched out against Dareius,​73 expecting to fight another battle; but when he heard that Dareius had been seized by Bessus, he sent his Thessalians home, after distributing among them a largess of two thousand talents over and above their pay. 6 In consequence of the pursuit of Dareius, which was long and arduous (for in eleven days he rode thirty-three hundred furlongs), most of his horsemen gave out, and chiefly for lack of water. 7 At this point some Macedonians met him who were carrying water from the river in skins upon their mules. And when they beheld Alexander, it being now midday, in a  p351 wretched plight from thirst, they quickly filled a helmet and brought it to him. To his enquiry for whom they were carrying the water, they replied: 8 "For our own sons; but if thou livest, we can get other sons, even if we lose these." 9 On hearing this he took the helmet into his hands, but when he looked around and saw the horsemen about him all stretching out their heads and gazing at the water, he handed it back without drinking any, but with praises for the men who had brought it; "For," said he, "if I should drink of it alone, these horsemen of mine will be out of heart." 10 But they beheld his self-control and loftiness of spirit, and began to goad their horses on, declaring that they would not regard themselves as weary, or thirsty, or as mortals at all, so long as they had such a king.

43 690 So, then, all were alike ready and willing; but only sixty, they say, were with Alexander when he burst into the camp of the enemy. 2 There, indeed, they rode over much gold and silver that was thrown away, passed by many waggons full of women and children which were coursing hither and thither without their drivers, and pursued those who were foremost in flight, thinking that Dareius was among them. 3 But at last they found him lying in a waggon, his body all full of javelins, at the point of death. Nevertheless, he asked for something to drink, and when he had drunk some cold water which Polystratus gave him, he said to him: 4 "My man, this is the extremity of my ill-fortune, that I receive good at thy hands and am not able to return it; but Alexander will requite thee for thy good offices, and the gods will reward Alexander for his kindness to  p353 my mother, wife, and children; to him, through thee, I give this right hand." With these words he took the hand of Polystratus and then expired.​74 5 When Alexander came up, he was manifestly distressed by what had happened, and unfastening his own cloak threw it upon the body and covered it. 6 And when, at a later time,​75 he found Bessus, he had him rent asunder. Two straight trees were bent together and a part of his body fastened to each; then when each was released and sprang vigorously back, the part of the body that was attached to it followed after. 7 Now, however, he sent the body of Dareius, laid out in royal state, to his mother,​76 and admitted his brother, Exathres, into the number of his companions.

The Editor's Notes:

66 In 479 B.C.

67 Cf. Herodotus, VIII.47.

68 "This naphtha," and the first "whether"-clause, have fallen out of the text.

69 Cf. Arrian, Anab. III.16.7. A talent's weight was something over fifty pounds.

70 Arrian (Anab. III.18.1 f.) speaks only of a forced march through the mountains.

71 In Persepolis.

72 So Arrian, Anab. III.18.11 f., where there is none of Plutarch's romance. For this, cf. Diodorus, XVII.72; Curtius, V.7.1‑7.

73 In the spring of 330 B.C.

74 These details of the death of Dareius are not to be found in Arrian (Anab. III.21 fin.), but in Curtius (V.13.24)º and Diodorus (XVII.73).

75 In the spring of 329 B.C. Cf. Arrian, Anab. III.30.5; IV.7.3 ff.

76 "To Persepolis, with orders that it should be buried in the royal sepulchre" (Arrian, Anab. III.22.1).

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