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Trial of Philotas (by Apostolos Daskalakis)

Trial of Philotas (by Apostolos Daskalakis)

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History of Macedonia
History of Macedonia

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Published by: Macedonia Forever Greek on Jun 09, 2013
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 By Apostolos Daskalakis Member of Athens Academy Abstract from the book “the Hellenism of Ancient Macedonians”, pages 69-76, Institute of Balkan Studies, Thessaloniki, 1965 
But the passage which right from the beginning has been the strongest card in the hands of those whosupport the theory of a non-Greek Macedonian language having existed in ancient times, is the one inthe Latin author Curtius Rufus recounting the trial for conspiracy and the execution of Alexander'sgeneral Philotas, son of Parmenion.[1] In spite of its interpretation and refutation by many Greek andforeign experts, this passage is still quoted as a fundamental argument by those denying the Hellenismof the ancient Macedonians; hence we must deal with it at length.In reporting the plot of Philotas and his execution by Alexander, C. Rufus presents him as being tried by the army. After numerous speeches and the pronouncement of the charge, Alexander permitsPhilotas to defend himself "patrio sermone." Philotas replied that he preferred to use the same languageas had just been used by Alexander (in order to be understood by a greater number of those present).Philotas prefers to speak in the language used by Alexander because he sees present in larger numbersthose who he thinks will thus understand more easily what he has to say. Upon this Alexander chidesPhilotas before the onlookers for loathing his paternal tongue because he was bored at having to learn itthoroughly. Next, before leaving the trial, Alexander charges the judges not to forget that "Philotasequally loathes our customs and our language," obviously, in the author's view, with the object of weighing the scales against Philotas. A prolix rhetorical trend and a bombastic manner with continuedorations marks the whole of Curtius Rufus' work. No earlier writer records these and it would have been impossible to have them verbatim if no minutes were kept.So no weight need be given to these bombastic declamations and texts with dialogue in them thecontext of which is to be found nowhere else. Fertile imagination and a literary bent carry him awayfrom the facts of history into descriptions of the life, achievements and adventures of Alexander theGreat, obviously mythical in character and written with the unconcealed intent of delighting hisreaders. In fact elsewhere he himself admits that he transcribes more items than he believes.[2] Thisapplies more truly to the long harangues abundant in Curtius Rufus' work, which recall the fireworks inthe Roman schools of rhetoric, so customary at that time in dealing with rhetorical subjects. The subjectof Philotas' trial naturally proved highly interesting to them.But even if after critical scrutiny we take this narrative of Curtius as a reliable source of history, weshould still be justified in feeling astonishment that it should be put forward so persistently in anattempt to derive "Macedonian," from it, that is, not a Greek dialect, but another language, notunderstood by the Greeks. According to Curtius, Philotas answers Alexander clearly that he wouldrather speak the language in which the king had spoken (obviously Greek), because he would thus bemore easily understood by a larger number, that is by the non-Macedonians too, or the Greeks present.But if it were a case of a non-Greek Macedonian tongue, then the question of its being easilyunderstood would not arise, for the simple reason that the Greek bystanders would not have understooda word of what Philotas was saying. Thus, even if we take this passage of Curtius Rufus as a verifiedand unimpeachable historical source, the only deduction we can make is that he is referring to aMacedonian dialect of the Greek language, to which the non-Macedonian Greeks present wouldnaturally prefer standard Greek.
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But in the examples already cited as well as in the present trial of Philotas, we maintain that not even aGreek-Macedonian dialect is to be thought of. We regard this extract from Curtius as whollyimaginary, or as arbitrary the addition of the passage giving Alexander's remarks in usual Greek or aMacedonian vernacular, either from misunderstanding or through the desire to tell a good story. It isnot certain when Curtius Rufus lived, certainly not before Augustus, and in the view of some scholarsduring the time of Constantine the Great. In the course of the many centuries which had elapsed sincethe events he deals with, Alexander's personality and the feats of his expedition in Asia had beenembellished with all sorts of agreeable legends, which were not derived from the stories of eye-witnesses, but from later traditions. The lost work of Cleitarchus, itself widespread during Romantimes, which contributed much to the growth of legend around Alexander's campaigns and was drawnon by Curtius, is found to be based largely on anecdote; as a source of history it is of very questionableauthority.Looking at the subject from a logical point of view we are led to the conclusion that Philotas' defense isa figment of the imagination and a rhetorical exercise which was never delivered. How can we possiblyimagine that this young general, son of the illustrious Parmenion, till the day before enjoying power and renown, when dragged in tatters, with his hands bound and the prospect of frightful tortures aheadof him, would have the presence of mind to deliver in reply to Alexander's charges an extremely longex tempore speech to the army, full of rhetorical forms and profoundest syllogisms ! In our view, thiswhole passage of Curtius is a purely rhetorical exercise based on no historical foundation whatever.[3]Curtius' account of Philotas' trial does not tally with the known sources on this subject. The passageabout the use of the Macedonian or the usual Greek language is found in no other historical writer.More specifically, neither Plutarch, nor Arrian, not even Diodorus has anything to say about it. Thesewriters, recording the history of Alexander and the adventures met with on his campaigns in Asia onthe basis of genuine contemporary accounts, be it even that of Cleitarchus, would be the only peoplequalified to know and would not have omitted anything of the sort.Plutarch[4] in recording the scene of Philotas' arrest and execution says that the unfortunate son of Parmenion, on suspicion of plotting against Alexander's life, was suddenly arrested and subjected totorture to make him reveal his accomplices. Certainly the troops would not have been present at theloathsome scene of torturing a brave and distinguished Macedonian, son of Alexander's bravestgeneral; but only some trusted courtiers, "the
witnessing the torture," and those administeringthe inquisition. Alexander, as Plutarch clearly records, was not present, but listening behind a curtain tothe loud cries of the tortured man and his prayers to those about Hephaestion administering theinquisition, deplored his guilt. Philotas was straightway put to death. Thus, as far as Plutarch goes, thistrial and defense in front of the army in Alexander's presence never took place. But if Plutarch had hadreliable sources of such a court martial for Philotas, and of a defense speech before the Macedonians atAlexander's command, it seems very doubtful that he would have omitted them, both on account of thedramatic story and because he would have been able to draw many and typical moral lessons from it,with apt judgments thereon.Throughout the whole of Macedonian history, we cannot find anything definite about the existence -like a hard and fast unwritten law - of a Macedonian custom that persons guilty of conspiring againstthe king's life should be tried by the Macedonians. On the contrary, because of the very frequentconspiracies and ceaseless danger of the throne being seized by some other member of the family, thekings of Macedonia for the most part settled such matters in the fashion of absolute monarchs: byordering the execution of the guilty person, or the murder of the one suspected. Parmenion had receivedan order from Alexander immediately after the latter came to the throne, to kill Attalus. At the revoltnear Opis, Alexander himself arrested 13 Macedonians and ordered that they should be put to death
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forthwith. During his campaign in Asia, he ordered the death of many of his brothers-inarms without atrial, either because he suspected them of plotting against him, or else because they blocked his plans.Olympias sought from Kassander to be tried before all the Macedonian Army, but he refused and shewas executed. Sometimes it is stated that the Macedonians had "equal rights of speech," but that meantthe right to express an opinion in other circumstances, particularly in military operations, but not incases of conspiracy or of a death verdict. According to Polybius[5] the Macedonians asked of their king- by virtue of equal rights of speech - that they might take part in the trial of Leontius, but their requestwas not considered at all.It is true that in the affair of Philotas the circumstances were altogether exceptional. The man arrestedand accused of conspiracy had been till the day before a renowned general, son of a famous general,commander of the most prominent battle corps, the
. Even if this custom had not existed, itwould have been justifiable to bring him before the Macedonians in order to persuade them of his guilt.But in that event, his appearing before them would have had to come after the torture and extraction of a confession; not beforehand, when he was denying his guilt with rhetorical sword-play. In other words, historically speaking and apart from the words which Curtius puts into his mouth, the secondalternative after the torture and confession would have been possible, just before Philotas wasexecuted; but in no circumstances the first, with the rhetorical flights which Curtius intersperses,inventing among other things that conceit about the "paternal tongue of the Macedonians," for greater elaboration.Most fitted of all to provide detailed information on the subject is Arrian who undoubtedly used as hissources the accounts of contemporaries and eye-witnesses that had accompanied Alexander on hisAsiatic campaign. Arrian clearly states that he took his account of Philotas's plot and execution fromPtolemy and Aristobulus, who evidently were eye-witnesses.[6] What Arrian writes about the trial of Philotas is pretty vague, because from the phrase ''to be brought before the Macedonians" which hetakes from Ptolemy we cannot judge with any certainty whether he is referring to a trial before theMacedonian Army, as Curtius has it, or within a close circle of Alexander's generals and other men of high rank. But the fact of his recording Alexander's charge, Philotas' defense, the exhaustiveexamination of accusers in order to nullify the defendant's claims of innocence and establish his guilt,leads us to the latter. From a logical angle, a case so grave could only have been tried in a closed circleconstituting a court of law and not amid the hurly-burly of the Macedonian Army. Obviously, in thatclosed circle of the generals and courtiers of Alexander, who had been nurtured on Homer's epics, bywhom as is often recounted the ancient tragedies were recited from memory and which included menrivalling one another in Greek learning and verbal elegance, a proposal of Alexander that Philotasshould speak in a Macedonian dialect, and a reproach too for loathing his native tongue, as part of theindictment, would have appeared inconceivable, if not laughable. At any rate, Arrian writes nothing atall about Alexander's proposal. We may draw the conclusion that the eye-witnesses Ptolemy andAristobulus, from whom he took his account, had heard nothing of it and had not included it in their works.It now remains to examine the related passage in Diodorus, who is not apt to scrutinize very closely theinformation which comes to his hand from every source, but who all the same is possessed by a feelingfor historic truth. In his narrative Diodorus[7] divides the incident into three stages: First, theexamination during which Philotas did not confess his guilt, but during which damaging facts emergedagainst him. Second, his being sent for judgement before "the Macedonians" who after hearing manyspeeches "passed sentence of death." In this case it is not disclosed whether "Macedonians" refers tothe army or to the generals and first lords of Alexander's court. Diodorus gives more or less the sameorder of procedure as Curtius (presumably because he is using Cleitarchus as his reference), connectingthe incidents of his arrest, judgement by a court of Macedonians and execution, with many speeches(i.e. a great deal of discussion). Very probably this mention of "words" by Cleitarchus, or someone in

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