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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces one of
The Parallel Lives


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

The text is in the public domain.

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


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(Vol. VII) Plutarch, The Parallel Lives

The Life of Alexander
(Part 6 of 7)

 p399  (699) 62 1 As for the Macedonians, however, their struggle with Porus blunted their courage and stayed their further advance into India.​101 2 For having had  p401 all they could do to repulse an enemy who mustered only twenty thousand infantry and two thousand horse, they violently opposed Alexander when he insisted on crossing the river Ganges also, the width of which, as they learned, was thirty-two furlongs, its depth a hundred fathoms, while its banks on the further side were covered with multitudes of men-at‑arms and horsemen and elephants. 3 For they were told that the kings of the Ganderites and Praesii were awaiting them with eighty thousand horsemen, two hundred thousand footmen, eight thousand chariots, and six thousand fighting elephants. 4 And there was no boasting in these reports. For Androcottus, who reigned there not long afterwards, made a present to Seleucus of five hundred elephants, and with an army of six hundred thousand men overran and subdued all India.

5 At first, then, Alexander shut himself up in his tent from displeasure and wrath and lay there, 700feeling no gratitude for what he had already achieved unless he should cross the Ganges, nay, counting retreat a confession of defeat. 6 But his friends gave him fitting consolation, and his soldiers crowded about his door and besought him with loud cries and wailing, until at last he relented and began to break camp, resorting to many deceit­ful and fallacious devices for the enhancement of his fame. 7 For instance, he had armour prepared that was larger than usual, and mangers for horses that were higher, and bits that were heavier than those in common use, and left them scattered up and down. Moreover, he erected altars for the gods, 8 which down to the present time are revered by the kings of the Praesii when they cross the river, and on them they offer  p403 sacrifices in the Hellenic manner. 9 Androcottus, when he was a stripling, saw Alexander himself, and we are told that he often said in later times that Alexander narrowly missed making himself master of the country, since its king was hated and despised on account of his baseness and low birth.

63 1 From thence, being eager to behold the ocean, and having built many passage-boats equipped with oars, and many rafts, he was conveyed down the rivers​102 in a leisurely course. 2 And yet his voyage was not made without effort nor even without war, but he would land and assault the cities on his route and subdue everything. However, in attacking the people called Malli, who are said to have been the most warlike of the Indians, he came within a little of being cut down. 3 For after dispersing the inhabitants from the walls with missiles, he was the first to mount upon the wall by a scaling ladder, and since the ladder was broken to pieces and he was exposed to the missiles of the Barbarians who stood along the wall below, almost alone as he was, he crouched and threw himself into the midst of the enemy, and by good fortune alighted on his feet. 4 Then, as he brandished his arms, the Barbarians thought that a shape of gleaming fire played in front of his person. 5 Therefore at first they scattered and fled; but when they saw that he was accompanied by only two of his guards, they ran upon him, and some tried to wound him by thrusting their swords and spears through his armour as he defended himself, 6 while one, standing a little further off, shot an arrow at him with such accuracy and force that it cut its way through his breastplate and fastened itself in his ribs at the breast. 7 Such was  p405 the force of the blow that Alexander recoiled and sank to his knees, whereupon his assailant ran at him with drawn scimitar, while Peucestas and Limnaeus​103 defended him. 8 Both of them were wounded, and Limnaeus was killed; but Peucestas held out, and at last Alexander killed the Barbarian. 9 But he himself received many wounds, and at last was smitten on the neck with a cudgel, and leaned against the wall, his eyes still fixed upon his foes. 10 At this instant the Macedonians flocked about him, caught him up, already unconscious of what was going on about him, and carried him to his tent. 11 And straightway a report that he was dead prevailed in the camp; but when with much difficulty and pains they had sawn off the shaft of the arrow, which was of wood, and had thus succeeded at last in removing the king's breastplate, they came to the excision of the arrow-head, which was buried in one of the ribs. 12 We are told, moreover, that it was three fingers broad and four long. Its removal, therefore, threw the king into swoons and brought him to death's door, but nevertheless he recovered. 13 And after he was out of danger, though he was still weak and kept himself for a long time under regimen and treatment, perceiving from their tumult at his door that his Macedonians were yearning to see him, he took his cloak and went out to them. 14 And after sacrificing to the gods he went on board ship again and dropped down the river, subduing much territory and great cities as he went.

64 1 He captured ten of the Gymnosophists who had done most to get Sabbas to revolt, and had made the most trouble for the Macedonians. These philosophers were reputed to be clever and concise  p407 in answering questions, and Alexander therefore put difficult questions to them, declaring that he would put to death him who first made an incorrect answer, 701and then the rest, in an order determined in like manner; and he commanded one of them, the oldest, to be the judge in the contest. 2 The first one, accordingly, being asked which, in his opinion, were more numerous, the living or the dead, said that the living were, since the dead no longer existed. 3 The second, being asked whether the earth or the sea produced larger animals, said the earth did, since the sea was but a part of the earth. 4 The third, being asked what animal was the most cunning, said: "That which up to this time man has not discovered." 5 The fourth, when asked why he had induced Sabbas to revolt, replied: "Because I wished him either to live nobly or to die nobly." 6 The fifth, being asked which, in his opinion, was older, day or night, replied: "Day, by one day"; 7 and he added, upon the king expressing amazement, that hard questions must have hard answers. 8 Passing on, then, to the sixth, Alexander asked how a man could be most loved; "If," said the philosopher, "he is most power­ful, and yet does not inspire fear." 9 Of the three remaining, he who was asked how one might become a god instead of man, replied: "By doing something which a man cannot do"; 10 the one who was asked which was the stronger, life or death, answered: "Life, since it supports so many ills." 11 And the last, asked how long it were well for a man to live, answered: "Until he does not regard death as better than life." 12 So, then, turning to the judge, Alexander bade him give his opinion. The judge declared that they had answered one worse than another. "Well, then," said Alexander, "thou shalt  p409 die first for giving such a verdict." "That cannot be, O King," said the judge, "unless thou falsely saidst that thou wouldst put to death first him who answered worst."

65 1 These philosophers, then, he dismissed with gifts; but to those who were in the highest repute and lived quietly by themselves he sent Onesicritus, asking them to pay him a visit. 2 Now, Onesicritus was a philosopher of the school of Diogenes the Cynic. And he tells us that Calanus very harshly and insolently bade him strip off his tunic and listen naked to what he had to say, otherwise he would not converse with him, not even if he came from Zeus; 3 but he says that Dandamis was gentler, and that after hearing fully about Socrates, Pythagoras, and Diogenes, he remarked that the men appeared to him to have been of good natural parts but to have passed their lives in too much awe of the laws. 4 Others, however, say that the only words uttered by Dandamis were these "Why did Alexander make such a long journey hither?" 5 Calanus, nevertheless, was persuaded by Taxiles to pay a visit to Alexander. His real name was Sphines, but because he greeted those whom he met with "Cale," the Indian word of salutation, the Greeks called him Calanus. 6 It was Calanus, as we are told, who laid before Alexander the famous illustration of government. It was this. He threw down upon the ground a dry and shrivelled hide, and set his foot upon the outer edge of it; the hide was pressed down in one place, but rose up in others. 7 He went all round the hide and showed that this was the result wherever he pressed the edge down, and then at last he stood in the middle of it, and lo! it was all held down firm and still.  p411 8 The similitude was designed to show that Alexander ought to put most constraint upon the middle of his empire and not wander far away from it.

The Editor's Notes:

101 Alexander carried his conquests from the Indus to the Hyphasis (Arrian, Anab. V.25), subduing the Punjab. It was now September, 326 B.C.

102 Hydaspes, Acesines, and Indus (Arrian, Anab. VI.1).

103 Leonnatus, according to Arrian, VI.10.2.

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Page updated: 26 Apr 07