You are on page 1of 3

ARRIAN AND PLUTARCH - A ROSE-TINTED VIEW OF ALEXANDER?

Plutarch's stories of Alexander's conception, birth and childhood indicate that he had at least divine favour and was destined for greatness. Plutarch says that his warmth of temperament gave him a special fragrance but that it also led to his over fondness of drinking and bouts of rage. He also says that Alexander showed little interest in "pleasures of the senses" and was always moderate except in his passion for fame. Plutarch says that Alexander was fascinated by many things other than war, including philosophy, poetry, the art of healing and books of all kinds, most especially his great love - Homer's Iliad. He describes himon succeeding to the throne of Macedonia as acting with "audacity and a lofty spirit". He emphasises Alexander's chivalry towards Timocleia in Thebes and towards the women of Darius's family after the Battle of Issus. He stresses Alexander's great remorse for the destruction of Thebes and for his killing of Cleitus. In fact, Plutarch links these two events and the mutiny at the Hyphasis by saying that they were caused by Dionysus's anger at him over the destruction of Thebes. Plutarch says that it was Cleitus's "evil genius" that took advantage of Alexander's drunkenness and rage at Samarkand. Both Arrian and Alexander stress the often dismissed advice of Parmenio. (Eg. At the Granicus, Gaugamela and over the terms offered by Darius after Issus). This is probably due to the fact that Parmenio's reputation must have suffered badly after his assassination by Alexander. Alexander's own personal bravery is constantly mentioned: (The Granicus; Issus; Mallian Siege; Gedrosian Desert). Both writers make many references to the inspirational effect he had on his men and his extraordinary rapport with them (Egs: wagons in Thrace; Siege at Tyre; sending newly married men home; his behaviour towards them after battles; paying their debts; their devotion when they think he is dying after the Mallian Siege; his forbearance and fortitude crossing the Gedrosian Desert and his extreme generosity to those who were loyal to him). Plutarch mentions his high moral standards in refusing to buy beautiful slave boys; reprimanding his men who behaved badly and encouraging his officers not to live too luxuriously. Plutarch says he drank till late, not out of love of drink, rather because he loved to talk with his friends. (But he does contradict this by saying that he did have drinking binges and often slept off the wine till late in the day).

Plutarch says his determination was so strong that he ended up defeating not only his enemies, but also even places and seasons of the year. Both Arrian and Plutarch take his miraculous crossing of the desert to Siwah, when they got lost , but were then guided by the gods as proof of the fact that Fate must have singled him out for success. Plutarch excuses his adoption of Persian style and customs by saying that he did it only to exert authority over others and to "soften men's hearts". Plutarch says he refused the offer of a sculptor, Stasicrates, to carve out Mount Athos in his likeness. What stands out in Arrian's account is Alexander's military genius and his sheer willpower and mental strength. It is above all Alexander as a general that interests Arrian. For him, it is the outstanding nature of his achievements that make his faults insignificant. Arrian emphasises that the destruction of Persepolis was a matter of military policy, not a wanton act of destruction as Plutarch sees it. Arrian excuses his executions of Philotas and Parmenio on the basis that he could not afford to spare them if they were plotting. Arrian seems largely to blame Cleitus for his own death, he says that Cleitus should not have spoken out the way he did. He implies that Alexander was the "victim" of the two vices of anger and drunkeness and he greatly admires Alexander's deep remorse and full acceptance of responsibilty for the incident. Again in the Callisthenes incident, although he does not completely exonerate Alexander, he does blame Callisthenes more for his stupid conceit and outspokenness. Arrian emphasises his courteous and generous treatment of Porus, a worthy opponent. Arrian praises the fact that Alexander allowed himself to be defeated by his own men when they wanted to go home at the Hyphasis and he turned back. Arrian singles out his personal forbearance and kindness to his men in the terrible journey across the Gedrosian desert, especially the helmet of water episode. Arrian's conclusion is a paean of praise to Alexander and certainly shows that he admired him hugely. (See pp.99-101 for a key section of the text). He lists his extraordinary talents and achievements and says that if he made mistakes " I do not think it mattered". He goes on to explain the mitigating circumstances in anything that Alexander did wrong: 1. He was very young. 2. He had so much success that he often was surrounded by flatterers. 3. He always regretted what he did wrong and admitted it openly. 4. His claims to divinity were only a device to gain dignity in the eyes of his

subjects. 5. His adoption of Persian dress and appointment of Persian "Successors" was only to gain respect of the Persians. 6. His drinking parties were primarily due to the fact that he enjoyed his friends' company. Arrian finishes by saying that Alexander was so momentous a leader, so powerful and famous, then who are we "nonentities" to criticise him? He admits that there are things to criticise but that overall, he was worthy of "complete admiration" and must have had divine influence in his life.*

* You could say that this is a bit like excusing Wayne Rooney or Roy Keane by maintaining that if you are a good enough soccer player, it doesn't really matter how you behave!

Related Interests