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country, he gave up a position of greater glory and power than any
Greek before or since ever held, with the single exception of
Alexander.

III. Looking at them from another point of view, I suppose that even
Xenophon himself would not think of comparing the number of the
victories won by Pompeius, the size of the armies which he commanded,
and that of those which he defeated, with any of the victories of
Agesilaus; although Xenophon has written so admirably upon other
subjects, that he seems to think himself privileged to say whatever he
pleases about the life of his favourite hero. I think also that the
two men differ much in their treatment of their enemies. The Greek
wished to sell the Thebans for slaves, and to drive the Messenians
from their country, although Thebes was the mother city of Sparta,
and the Messenians sprang from the same stock as the Lacedæmonians. In
his attempts to effect this, he all but lost Sparta herself, and did
lose the Spartan empire; while Pompeius even gave cities to be
inhabited by such of the Mediterranean pirates as abandoned that mode
of life; and when Tigranes the king of Armenia was in his power, he
did not lead him in his triumph, but chose rather to make him an ally
of Rome; observing, that he preferred an advantage which would last
for all time to the glory which only endured for a single day.

If, however, we place the chief glory of a general in feats of arms
and strategy, the Laconian will be found greatly to excel the Roman.
Agesilaus did not abandon Sparta even when it was attacked by seventy
thousand men, when he had but few troops with which to defend it, and
those too all disheartened by their recent defeat at Leuktra.
Pompeius, on hearing that Cæsar, with only five thousand three hundred
men, had taken a town in Italy, left Rome in terror, either yielding
to this small force like a coward, or else falsely supposing it to be
more numerous than it was. He carefully carried off his own wife and
children, but left the families of his partizans unprotected in Rome,
when he ought either to have fought for the city against Cæsar, or
else to have acknowledged him as his superior and submitted to him,
for Cæsar was both his fellow-countryman and his relative. Yet, after
having violently objected to the prorogation of Cæsar's term of office
as consul, he put it in his power to capture Rome itself, and to say
to Metellus that he regarded him and all the rest of the citizens as
prisoners of war.

IV. Agesilaus, when he was the stronger, always forced his enemy to
fight, and when weaker, always avoided a battle. By always practising
this, the highest art of a general, he passed through his life without
a single defeat; whereas Pompeius was unable to make use of his
superiority to Cæsar by sea, and was forced by him to hazard
everything on the event of a land battle; for as soon as Cæsar had
defeated him, he at once obtained possession of all Pompeius's
treasure, supplies, and command of the sea, without gaining which he
must inevitably have been defeated, even without a battle. Pompeius's
excuse for his conduct is, in truth, his severest condemnation. It is
very natural and pardonable for a young general to be influenced by
clamours and accusations of remissness and cowardice, so as to abandon
the course which he had previously decided upon as the safest; but
that the great Pompeius, of whom the Romans used to say that the camp
was his home, and that he only made an occasional campaign in the
senate house, at a time when his followers called the consuls and
generals of Rome traitors and rebels, and when they knew that he was
in possession of absolute uncontrolled power, and had already
conducted so many campaigns with such brilliant success as
commander-in-chief - that he should be moved by the scoffs of a
Favonius or a Domitius, and hazard his army and his life lest they
should call him Agamemnon, is a most discreditable supposition. If he
were so sensitive on the point of honour, he ought to have made a
stand at the very beginning, and fought a battle in defence of Rome,
not first to have retreated, giving out that he was acting with a
subtlety worthy of Themistokles himself, and then to have regarded
every day spent in Thessaly without fighting as a disgrace. The plain
of Pharsalia was not specially appointed by heaven as the arena in
which he was to contend with Cæsar for the empire of the world, nor
was he summoned by the voice of a herald either to fight or to avow
himself vanquished. There were many plains, and innumerable cities and
countries which his command of the sea would have enabled him to
reach, if he had wished to imitate Fabius Maximus, Marius, Lucullus,
or Agesilaus himself, who resisted the same kind of clamour at Sparta,
when his countrymen wished to fight the Thebans and protect their
native land; while in Egypt he endured endless reproaches, abuse, and
suspicion from Nektanebis because he forbade him to fight, and by
consistently carrying out his own judicious policy saved the Egyptians
against their will. He not only guided Sparta safely through that
terrible crisis, but was enabled to win a victory over the Thebans in
the city itself, which he never could have done had he yielded to the
entreaties of the Lacedæmonians to fight when their country was first
invaded. Thus it happened that Agesilaus was warmly praised by those
whose opinions he had overruled, while Pompeius made mistakes to
please his friends, and afterwards was reproached by them for what he
had done. Some historians tell us, however, that he was deceived by
his father-in-law, Scipio, who with the intention of embezzling and
converting to his own use the greater part of the treasure which
Pompeius brought from Asia, urged him to fight as soon as possible, as
though there was likely to be a scarcity of money. In these respects,
then, we have reviewed their respective characters.

V. Pompeius went to Egypt of necessity, fleeing for his life; but
Agesilaus went there with the dishonourable purpose of acting as
general for the barbarians, in order that he might employ the money
which he earned by that means in making war upon the Greeks. We blame
the Egyptians for their conduct to Pompeius; but the Egyptians have
equal reason to complain of the conduct of Agesilaus towards
themselves; for though Pompeius trusted them and was betrayed, yet
Agesilaus deserted the man who trusted him, and joined the enemies of
those whom he went out to assist.


LIFE OF ALEXANDER.


I. In writing the Lives of Alexander the Great and of Cæsar the
conqueror of Pompeius, which are contained in this book, I have before
me such an abundance of materials, that I shall make no other preface
than to beg the reader, if he finds any of their famous exploits
recorded imperfectly, and with large excisions, not to regard this as
a fault. I am writing biography, not history; and often a man's most
brilliant actions prove nothing as to his true character, while some
trifling incident, some casual remark or jest, will throw more light
upon what manner of man he was than the bloodiest battle, the greatest
array of armies, or the most important siege. Therefore, just as
portrait painters pay most attention to those peculiarities of the
face and eyes, in which the likeness consists, and care but little for
the rest of the figure, so it is my duty to dwell especially upon
those actions which reveal the workings of my heroes' minds, and from
these to construct the portraits of their respective lives, leaving
their battles and their great deeds to be recorded by others.

II. All are agreed that Alexander was descended on his father's side
from Herakles through Karanus, and on his mother's from Æakus through
Neoptolemus.

We are told that Philip and Olympias first met during their initiation
into the sacred mysteries at Samothrace, and that he, while yet a boy,
fell in love with the orphan girl, and persuaded her brother Arymbas
to consent to their marriage. The bride, before she consorted with her
husband, dreamed that she had been struck by a thunderbolt, from which
a sheet of flame sprang out in every direction, and then suddenly died
away. Philip himself some time after his marriage dreamed that he set
a seal upon his wife's body, on which was engraved the figure of a
lion. When he consulted the soothsayers as to what this meant, most of
them declared the meaning to be, that his wife required more careful
watching; but Aristander of Telmessus declared that she must be
pregnant, because men do not seal up what is empty, and that she would
bear a son of a spirited and lion-like disposition. Once Philip found
his wife asleep, with a large tame snake stretched beside her; and
this, it is said, quite put an end to his passion for her, and made
him avoid her society, either because he feared the magic arts of his
wife, or else from a religious scruple, because his place was more
worthily filled. Another version of this story is that the women of
Macedonia have been from very ancient times subject to the Orphic and
Bacchic frenzy (whence they were called Clodones and Mimallones), and
perform the same rites as do the Edonians and the Thracian women about
Mount Haemus, from which the word "threskeuein" has come to mean "to
be over-superstitious." Olympias, it is said, celebrated these rites
with exceeding fervour, and in imitation of the Orientals, and to
introduce into the festal procession large tame serpents,[394] which
struck terror into the men as they glided through the ivy wreaths and
mystic baskets which the women carried on their heads.

III. We are told that Philip after this portent sent Chairon of
Megalopolis to Delphi, to consult the god there, and that he delivered
an oracular response bidding him sacrifice to Zeus Ammon, and to pay
especial reverence to that god: warning him, moreover, that he would
some day lose the sight of that eye with which, through the chink of
the half-opened door, he had seen the god consorting with his wife in
the form of a serpent. The historian Eratosthenes informs us that when
Alexander was about to set out on his great expedition, Olympias told
him the secret of his birth, and bade him act worthily of his divine
parentage. Other writers say that she scrupled to mention the subject,
and was heard to say "Why does Alexander make Hera jealous of me?"

Alexander was born on the sixth day of the month Hekatombæon,[395]
which the Macedonians call Lous, the same day on which the temple of
Artemis at Ephesus was burned. This coincidence inspired Hegesias of
Magnesia to construct a ponderous joke, dull enough to have put out
the fire, which was, that it was no wonder that the temple of Artemis
was burned, since she was away from, it, attending to the birth of
Alexander.[396] All the Persian magi who were in Ephesus at the time
imagined that the destruction of the temple was but the forerunner of
a greater disaster, and ran through the city beating their faces and
shouting that on that day was born the destroyer of Asia. Philip, who
had just captured the city of Potidæa, received at that time three
messengers. The first announced that the Illyrians had been severely
defeated by Parmenio; the second that his racehorse had won a victory
at Olympia, and the third, that Alexander was born. As one may well
believe, he was delighted at such good news and was yet more overjoyed
when the soothsayers told him that his son, whose birth coincided with
three victories, would surely prove invincible.

IV. His personal appearance is best shown by the statues of Lysippus,
the only artist whom he allowed to represent him; in whose works we
can clearly trace that slight droop of his head towards the left, and
that keen glance of his eyes which formed his chief characteristics,
and which were afterwards imitated by his friends and successors.

Apelles, in his celebrated picture of Alexander wielding a
thunderbolt, has not exactly copied the fresh tint of his flesh, but
has made it darker and swarthier than it was, for we are told that his
skin was remarkably fair, inclining to red about the face and breast.
We learn from the memoirs of Aristoxenes, that his body diffused a
rich perfume, which scented his clothes, and that his breath was
remarkably sweet. This was possibly caused by the hot and fiery
constitution of his body; for sweet scents are produced, according to
Theophrastus, by heat acting upon moisture. For this reason the
hottest and driest regions of the earth produce the most aromatic
perfumes, because the sun dries up that moisture which causes most
substances to decay.

Alexander's warm temperament of body seems to have rendered him fond
of drinking, and fiery in disposition. As a youth he showed great
power of self-control, by abstaining from all sensual pleasures in
spite of his vehement and passionate nature; while his intense desire
for fame rendered him serious and high-minded beyond his years.

For many kinds of glory, however, Alexander cared little; unlike his
father Philip, who prided himself on his oratorical powers, and used
to record his victories in the chariot races at Olympia upon his
coins. Indeed, when Alexander's friends, to try him, asked him whether
he would contend in the foot race at Olympia, for he was a remarkably
swift runner, he answered, "Yes, if I have kings to contend with." He
seems to have been altogether indifferent to athletic exercises; for
though he gave more prizes than any one else to be contended for by
dramatists, flute players, harp players, and even by rhapsodists,[397]
and though he delighted in all manner of hunting and cudgel playing,
he never seems to have taken any interest in the contests of boxing or
the pankratium.[398] When ambassadors from the King of Persia arrived
in Macedonia, Philip was absent, and Alexander entertained them. His
engaging manners greatly charmed them, and he became their intimate
friend. He never put any childish questions to them, but made many
enquiries about the length of the journey from the sea coast to the
interior of Persia, about the roads which led thither, about the king,
whether he was experienced in war or not, and about the resources and
military strength of the Persian empire, so that the ambassadors were
filled with admiration, and declared that the boasted subtlety of
Philip was nothing in comparison with the intellectual vigour and
enlarged views of his son. Whenever he heard of Philip's having taken
some city or won some famous victory, he used to look unhappy at the
news, and would say to his friends, "Boys, my father will forestall us
in everything; he will leave no great exploits for you and me to
achieve." Indeed, he cared nothing for pleasure or wealth, but only
for honour and glory; and he imagined that the more territory he
inherited from his father, the less would be left for him to conquer.
He feared that his father's conquests would be so complete, as to
leave him no more battles to fight, and he wished to succeed, not to a
wealthy and luxurious, but to a military empire, at the head of which
he might gratify his desire for war and adventure.

His education was superintended by many nurses, pedagogues, and
teachers, the chief of whom was Leonidas, a harsh-tempered man, who
was nearly related to Olympias. He did not object to the title of
pedagogue,[399] thinking that his duties are most valuable and
honourable, but, on account of his high character and relationship to
Alexander, was generally given the title of tutor by the others. The
name and office of pedagogue was claimed by one Lysimachus, an
Akarnanian by birth, and a dull man, but who gained the favour of
Alexander by addressing him as Achilles, calling himself Phœnix, and
Philip, Peleus.

VI. When Philoneikus the Thessalian brought the horse Boukephalus[400]
and offered it to Philip for the sum of thirteen talents, the king and
his friends proceeded to some level ground to try the horse's paces.
They found that he was very savage and unmanageable, for he allowed no
one to mount him, and paid no attention to any man's voice, but
refused to allow any one to approach him. On this Philip became
angry, and bade them take the vicious intractable brute away.
Alexander, who was present, said, "What a fine horse they are ruining
because they are too ignorant and cowardly to manage him." Philip at
first was silent, but when Alexander repeated this remark several
times, and seemed greatly distressed, he said, "Do you blame your
elders, as if you knew more than they, or were better able to manage a
horse?" "This horse, at any rate," answered Alexander, "I could manage
better than any one else." "And if you cannot manage him," retorted
his father, "what penalty will you pay for your forwardness?" "I will
pay," said Alexander, "the price of the horse."

While the others were laughing and settling the terms of the wager,
Alexander ran straight up to the horse, took him by the bridle, and
turned him to the sun; as it seems he had noticed that the horse's
shadow dancing before his eyes alarmed him and made him restive. He
then spoke gently to the horse, and patted him on the back with his
hand, until he perceived that he no longer snorted so wildly, when,
dropping his cloak, he lightly leaped upon his back. He now steadily
reined him in, without violence or blows, and as he saw that the horse
was no longer ill-tempered, but only eager to gallop, he let him go,
boldly urging him to full speed with his voice and heel.

Philip and his friends were at first silent with terror; but when he
wheeled the horse round, and rode up to them exulting in his success,
they burst into a loud shout. It is said that his father wept for joy,
and, when he dismounted, kissed him, saying, "My son, seek for a
kingdom worthy of yourself: for Macedonia will not hold you."

VII. Philip, seeing that his son was easily led, but could not be made
to do anything by force, used always to manage him by persuasion, and
never gave him orders. As he did not altogether care to entrust his
education to the teachers whom he had obtained, but thought that it
would be too difficult a task for them, since Alexander required, as
Sophokles says of a ship:

"Stout ropes to check him, and stout oars to guide."

he sent for Aristotle, the most renowned philosopher of the age, to
be his son's tutor, and paid him a handsome reward for doing so. He
had captured and destroyed Aristotle's native city of Stageira; but
now he rebuilt it, and repeopled it, ransoming the citizens, who had
been, sold for slaves, and bringing back those who were living in
exile. For Alexander and Aristotle he appointed the temple and grove
of the nymphs, near the city of Mieza, as a school-house and dwelling;
and there to this day are shown the stone seat where Aristotle sat,
and the shady avenues where he used to walk. It is thought that
Alexander was taught by him not only his doctrines of Morals and
Politics, but also those more abstruse mysteries which are only
communicated orally and are kept concealed from the vulgar: for after
he had invaded Asia, hearing that Aristotle had published some
treatises on these subjects, he wrote him a letter in which he
defended the practice of keeping these speculations secret in the
following words: -

"Alexander to Aristotle wishes health. You have not done well in
publishing abroad those sciences which should only be taught by word
of mouth. For how shall we be distinguished from other men, if the
knowledge which we have acquired be made the common property of all? I
myself had rather excel others in excellency of learning than in
greatness of power. Farewell."

To pacify him, Aristotle wrote in reply that these doctrines were
published, and yet not published: meaning that his treatise on
Metaphysics was only written for those who had been instructed in
philosophy by himself, and would be quite useless in other hands.

VIII. I think also that Aristotle more than any one else implanted a
love of medicine in Alexander, who was not only fond of discussing the
theory, but used to prescribe for his friends when they were sick, and
order them to follow special courses of treatment and diet, as we
gather from his letters. He was likewise fond of literature and of
reading, and we are told by Onesikritus that he was wont to call the
Iliad a complete manual of the military art, and that he always
carried with him Aristotle's recension of Homer's poems, which is
called 'the casket copy,' and placed it under his pillow together
with his dagger. Being without books when in the interior of Asia, he
ordered Harpalus to send him some. Harpalus sent him the histories of
Philistus, several plays of Euripides, Sophokles, and Æschylus, and
the dithyrambic hymns of Telestus and Philoxenus.

Alexander when a youth used to love and admire Aristotle more even
than his father, for he said that the latter had enabled him to live,
but that the former had taught him to live well. He afterwards
suspected him somewhat; yet he never did him any injury, but only was
not so friendly with him as he had been, whereby it was observed that
he no longer bore him the good-will he was wont to do. Notwithstanding
this, he never lost that interest in philosophical speculation which
he had acquired in his youth, as it proved by the honours which he
paid to Anaxarchus, the fifty talents which he sent as a present to
Xenokrates, and the protection and encouragement which he gave to
Dandamris and Kalanus.

IX. When Philip was besieging Byzantium he left to Alexander, who was
then only sixteen years old, the sole charge of the administration of
the kingdom of Macedonia, confirming his authority by entrusting to
him his own signet.[401] He defeated and subdued the Mædian[402]
rebels, took their city, ejected its barbarian inhabitants, and
reconstituted it as a Grecian colony, to which he gave the name of
Alexandropolis.

He was present at the battle against the Greeks at Chæronea, and it is
said to have been the first to charge the Sacred Band of the Thebans.
Even in my own time, an old oak tree used to be pointed out, near the
river Kephissus,[403] which was called Alexander's oak, because his
tent was pitched beside it. It stands not far from the place where the
Macedonian corpses were buried after the battle. Philip, as we may
imagine, was overjoyed at these proofs of his son's courage and
skill, and nothing pleased him more than to hear the Macedonians call
Alexander their king, and himself their general. Soon, however, the
domestic dissensions produced by Philip's amours and marriages caused
an estrangement between them, and the breach was widened by Olympias,
a jealous and revengeful woman, who incensed Alexander against his
father. But what especially moved Alexander was the conduct of Attalus
at the marriage feast of his niece Kleopatra. Philip, who was now too
old for marriage, had become enamoured of this girl, and after the
wedding, Attalus in his cups called upon the Macedonians to pray to
the gods that from the union of Philip and Kleopatra might be born a
legitimate heir to the throne.

Enraged at these words, Alexander exclaimed, "You villain, am I then a
bastard?" and threw a drinking cup at him. Philip, seeing this, rose
and drew his sword to attack Alexander; but fortunately for both he
was so excited by drink and rage that he missed his footing and fell
headlong to the ground. Hereupon Alexander mocking him observed, "This
is the man who was preparing to cross from Europe to Asia, and has
been overthrown in passing from one couch[404] to another."

After this disgraceful scene, Alexander, with his mother Olympias,
retired into Epirus, where he left her, and proceeded to the country
of the Illyrians. About the same time Demaratus of Corinth, an old
friend of the family, and privileged to speak his mind freely, came on
a visit to Philip. After the first greetings were over, Philip
enquired whether the states of Greece agreed well together. "Truly,
King Philip," answered Demaratus, "it well becomes you to show an
interest in the agreement of the Greeks, after you have raised such
violent quarrels in your own family."

These words had such an effect upon Philip that Demaratus was able to
prevail upon him to make his peace with Alexander and to induce him to
return.

X. Yet when Pixodarus, the satrap of Karia, hoping to connect himself
with Philip, and so to obtain him as an ally, offered his eldest
daughter in marriage to Arrhidæus, Philip's natural son, and sent
Aristokrites to Macedonia to conduct the negotiations, Olympias and



Online Library46 PlutarchPlutarch's Lives Volume III → online text (page 29 of 55)