Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Arrian's Anabasis of Alexander the Great

I just finished listening to Arrian's anabasis of Alexander the Great. It seemed as though after Alexander's men refused to go any farther in India, Alexander seemed to have developed a death wish. Even before he was critically wounded by the Mallians, Arrian reports how he exposed himself recklessly to enemy fire several times, standing alone on the top of a wall or high point, very obvious in his glittering armor. Arrian also mentioned that in one of his major engagements on his trip south to the Indian Ocean he charged into combat without waiting for his infantry to catch up with his cavalry, like he usually did. Even Arrian makes the comment that Alexander never would have been satisfied to simply govern. He loved the challenge that conquest always presented and overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Arrian also pointed out that neither of his sources, Ptolemy or Aristabulous, mentioned that Alexander said anything about his successor. Arrian surmises that the story of Alexander saying his kingdom would go "to the best man" was probably just made up by later writers. One of the Alexander biographies I read speculated that he started to indicate Krateros, whose name is very similar to the Greek words for "the best" or "the strongest" but I noticed that Arrian said Krateros was getting quite old at the time Alexander sent him back to Macedon. In fact, Alexander even sent another officer to take charge if Krateros did not survive the trip so this would seem to indicate Alexander would not have considered Krateros as capable of ruling the entire empire.

Arrian also seemed to discount the later stories about animosity between Alexander and Antipater. Alexander's main concern about Antipater was trying to keep Antipater and Olympias from each other's throats. Arrian also mentioned nothing about a physical relationship with Hephaistion. So is this another case of people reading things into references to their friendship like they do with Achilles and Patroklas? I was surprised when I listened to the complete unabridged Iliad and found nothing definitive there either about the much talked about relationship between Achilles and Patroklas.

I always thought Arrian is considered the most reliable account because he bases his narrative on the eyewitness accounts of Ptolemy son of Lagos and Aristabulous. I had always heard that the account given by Curtius Rufus was more akin to the likes of Suetonius' gossipy passages. However, maybe I should read Rufus as well to get additional perspective. (I have already read Mary Renault's trilogy and biography of Alexander and Howard Lamb's biography. I purchased Manfredi's and plan to start it soon).