Wednesday, October 12, 2011


The Ancient offers up this quotation from Mary Beard:
In a now fragmentary passage of [Cicero's] treatise On the State, he seems to have quoted an anecdote that would turn up again, almost five hundred years later, in the pages of Saint Augustine. The story was that a petty pirate had been captured and brought before Alexander. What drove him, Alexander asked, to terrorize the seas with his pirate ship? “The same thing as drives you to terrorize the whole world,” the man sharply replied.

FLG thought he had posted that portion of Cicero before, but guess he never got around to it. FLG began reading the article thinking he was going to hate it because he reads Mary Beard's blog. She refers to Alexander as a drunken juvenile thug. But, somewhat surprisingly, FLG enjoyed the article.

Besides pirate references, it also includes support for FLG's theory that all ambitious men are motivated by daddy issues:
Or, to follow Ian Worthington’s theory in Philip II of Macedon, after modest beginnings, Alexander was driven to continue in his campaign of conquest right up to the Punjab specifically to outdo his father in every possible way

And FLG had a face palm moment here:
“Some say,” writes Arrian, “that for most of that day…Alexander mourned and wept and refused to leave until his Companions carried him off by force.” Soon after he established a cult to Hephaestion as a “hero.” This is almost exactly what the Roman emperor Hadrian (under whom Arrian served) is said to have done at the death of his own favorite, Antinous. Maybe Hadrian was aping Alexander. Much more likely Arrian was modeling his own picture of Alexander on the behavior of the emperor under whom he served.


The Ancient said...

FLG's theory that all ambitious men are motivated by daddy issues

Do you really think men are more likely to be successful when they have "daddy issues"? (I will grant that the men I've known who had "mommy issues" mostly wound up in the ditch.)

Maybe it's just that someone who emerges from childhood with a burning urge to slay dragons -- or to overturn complacent consensus, wherever he finds it -- does better on average than someone who comes into his twenties fat, dumb and happy.

The Ancient said...

P.S. Perhaps we could interrupt The Dormition of Alpheus on that last bit in your post: Much more likely Arrian was modeling his own picture of Alexander on the behavior of the emperor under whom he served.

How is that any different than, say, claiming that Hadrian had his boy toy drowned to create a more exact parallel between his life and Alexander's? Because the evidence seems non-existent.

arethusa said...

Alexander's not the only one Mary Beard [insert unpleasant word] all over. Try her biography of Jane Ellen Harrison some day. The jealousy just leaps right off the page.

Alpheus said...

"Dormition of Alpheus"? I like that....

In Classics / ancient historiography, it has become popular to argue that ancient historians tended to "spin" the past to make it look more like the time in which the historian was writing. For example, Livy's portrait of the Roman dictator Furius Camillus (early 300s B.C.) is often seen as heavily influenced by the policies of Augustus, who was Livy's contemporary.

The idea isn't inherently crazy bit it's obviously hard to prove in any particular case. I'd never heard the Arrian / Antinous theory before.

Isn't Alexander's grief over Hephaestion itself a lot like Achilles' grief over Patroclus in the Iliad? Nothing new under the sun.

Andrew Stevens said...

In any event, assuming it was all true, we need no theory of sexual love to explain Alexander's behavior. Hephaestion shared Alexander's childhood and was his lifelong closest friend. Alexander's grief is entirely understandable and we need no sexual theory to account for it.

That sort of speculation always irritates me. It's even made about fictional characters, like Holmes and Watson or Sam and Frodo. "They're a little too close to be friends, eh? Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Must have been lovers." Well, of course, they bloody well weren't. The idea probably never even occurred to Conan Doyle and it certainly never occurred to Tolkien. It is an idea, really, too silly to even consider, but I hear people say it seriously all the time. We live in an age which reads homo-erotic content into every male friendship (and we're not the first such age).

Alexander and Hephaestion might have been lovers, of course, but I have seen no good evidence for it, even if we assume the truth of all the evidence on offer.

maryb said...

I'd like to be jealous of JEH. But the truth is that it is hard to work up much jealousy of someone who died 90 years ago.
I thought that I was trying to unpick the hagiography -- which is a bit different (no?). Maybe what leaps off the page is a kind of wearied irritation with having her lauded to me since I was 18.
She was brilliant, but a bit of a pain too, I more than suspect.
And when was the last time any of us actually got through Themis?

arethusa said...

Wearied irritation probably explains what I was picking up on - apologies for misunderstanding. I certainly did appreciate the way you addressed the hagiography.

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