Front Page Titles (by Subject) THE SECOND ORATION OF PLUTARCH CONCERNING THE FORTUNE OR VIRTUE OF ALEXANDER THE GREAT. - The Morals, vol. 1
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THE SECOND ORATION OF PLUTARCH CONCERNING THE FORTUNE OR VIRTUE OF ALEXANDER THE GREAT. - Plutarch, The Morals, vol. 1 
Plutarch’s Morals. Translated from the Greek by Several Hands. Corrected and Revised by William W. Goodwin, with an Introduction by Ralph Waldo Emerson. 5 Volumes. (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1878). Vol. 1.
Part of: Plutarch’s Morals, 5 vols.
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THE SECOND ORATION OF PLUTARCH CONCERNING THE FORTUNE OR VIRTUE OF ALEXANDER THE GREAT.
1. We forgot in our yesterday’s discourse to tell you, that the age wherein Alexander flourished had the happiness to abound in sciences and in persons of transcending natural endowments. Yet this is not to be ascribed to Alexander’s but their own good fortune, which favored them with such a judge and such a spectator of their particular excellencies as was both able rightly to discern and liberally to reward their understood deserts. Therefore it is recorded of Archestratus, born some ages after, an elegant poet but buried in his own extreme poverty, that a certain person meeting him said, Hadst thou but lived when Alexander lived, for every verse he would have gratified thee with an island of Cyprus or a territory fair as that of Phoenicia. Which makes me of opinion that those former famous artists and soaring geniuses may not so properly be said to have lived in the time of Alexander as by Alexander. For as the temperature of the season and limpid thinness of the surrounding air produce plenty of grain and fruit; so the favor, the encouragement, and benignity of a prince increase the number of aspiring geniuses, and advance perfection in sciences. And on the other side, by the envy, covetousness, and contentiousness of those in power, whatever soars to the height of true bravery or invention is utterly quelled and extinguished. Therefore it is reported of Dionysius the Tyrant that, being pleased with the music of a certain player on a harp, he promised him a talent for his reward; but when the musician claimed his promise the next day, Yesterday, said he, by thee delighted, while thou sangest before me, I gave thee likewise the pleasure of thy hopes; and thence immediately didst thou receive the reward of thy delightful pastime, enjoying at the same time the charming expectation of my promise. In like manner Alexander tyrant of the Pheraeans (for it behooves us to distinguish him by that addition, lest we should dishonor his namesake), sitting to see a tragedy, was so affected with delight at the acting, that he found himself moved to a more than ordinary compassion. Upon which, leaping suddenly from his seat, as he hastily flung out of the theatre, How poor and mean it would look, said he, if I, that have massacred so many of my own citizens and subjects, should be seen here weeping at the misfortunes of Hecuba and Polyxena! And it was an even lay but that he had mischiefed the tragedian for having mollified his cruel and merciless disposition, like iron softened by fire. Timotheus also, singing to Archelaus who seemed too parsimonious in remuneration, frequently upbraided him with the following sarcasm: —
Base earth-bred silver thou admirest.
To whom Archelaus not unwittily reparteed, —
But thou dost beg it.
Ateas, king of the Scythians, having taken Ismenias the musician prisoner, commanded him to play during one of his royal banquets. And when all the rest admired and applauded his harmony, Ateas swore that the neighing of a horse was more delightful to his ears. So great a stranger was he to the habitations of the Muses; as one whose soul lodged always in his stables, fitter however to hear asses bray than horses neigh. Therefore, among such kings, what progress or advancement of noble sciences or esteem for learning can be expected? And surely no more can be expected from such as would themselves be rivals, who therefore persecute real artists with all the hatred and envy imaginable. In the number of these was Dionysius before mentioned, who condemned Philoxenus the poet to labor in the quarries, because, being by the tyrant commanded only to correct a tragedy by him written, he struck out every line from the beginning to the end. Nay, I must needs say that Philip, who became a student not till his latter years, in these things descended beneath himself. For it being once his chance to enter into a dispute about sounds with a musician whom he thought he had foiled in his art, the person modestly and with a smile replied, May never so great a misfortune befall thee, O King, as to understand these things better than I do.
2. But Alexander, well considering of what persons and things it became him to be the hearer and spectator, and with whom to contend and exercise his strength, made it his business to excel all others in the art of war, and according to Aeschylus, to be
A mighty warrior, terrible to his foes.
For having learned this art from his ancestors, the Aeacidae and Hercules, he gave to other arts their due honor and esteem without the least emulation; embracing and favoring what was in them noble and elegant, but never suffering himself to be carried away with the pleasure of being a practitioner in any. In his time flourished the two tragedians, Thessalus and Athenodorus, who contending for the prize, the Cyprian kings supplied the charges of the theatre, and the judges were to be the most renowned captains of the age. But at length Athenodorus being adjudged the victor; I could have wished, said Alexander, rather to have lost a part of my kingdom than to have seen Thessalus vanquished. Yet he neither interceded with the judges nor anywhere disapproved or blamed the judgment; believing it became him to be superior to all others, only to submit to justice. To the comedian Lyco of Scarphe, who had inserted into one of his scenes certain verses in the nature of a begging petition, he gave ten talents, laughing heartily at the conceit. Aristonicus was in the number of the most famous musicians of those times. This man being slain in battle, strenuously fighting to assist and save his friend, Alexander commanded his statue to be made in brass and set up in the temple of Pythian Apollo, holding his harp in one hand and his spear upright in the other, not only in memory of the person, but in honor of music itself, as exciting to fortitude and inspiring those who are rightly and generously bred to it with a kind of supernatural courage and bravery.
Even Alexander himself, when Antigenides played before him in the Harmatian mood, was so transported and warmed for battle by the charms of lofty airs, that leaping from his seat all in his clattering armor he began to lay about him and attack those who stood next him, thereby verifying to the Spartans what was commonly sung among themselves,—
Furthermore, there were also Apelles the painter and Lysippus the statuary both living under the reign of Alexander. The first of which painted him grasping Jupiter’s thunderbolt in his hand, so artfully and in such lively colors, that it was said of the two Alexanders that Philip’s was invincible, but Apelles’s inimitable. Lysippus, when he had finished the first statue of Alexander looking up with his face to the sky (as Alexander was wont to look, with his neck slightly bent), not improperly added to the pedestal the following lines: —
For which Alexander gave to Lysippus the sole patent for making all his statues; because he alone expressed in brass the vigor of his mind, and in his lineaments represented the lustre of his virtue; while others, who strove to imitate the turning of his neck and softness and brightness of his eyes, failed to observe the manliness and lion-like fierceness of his countenance.
Among the great artists of that time was Stasicrates, who never studied elegance nor what was sweet and alluring to the eye, but only bold and lofty workmanship and design, becoming the munificence of royal bounty. He attended upon Alexander, and found fault with all the paintings, sculptures, and cast figures that were made of his person, as the works of mean and slothful artificers. “But I,” said he, “will undertake to fix the likeness of thy body on matter incorruptible, such as has eternal foundations and a ponderosity steadfast and immovable. For the mountain Athos in Thrace, where it rises largest and most conspicuous, having a just symmetry of breadth and height, with members, limbs, and distances answerable to the shape of human body, may be so wrought and formed as to be, not only in imagination and fancy but really, the effigy and statue of Alexander; with his feet reaching to the seas, grasping in his left hand a fair and populous city, and with his right pouring forth an ever-flowing river into the ocean from a bowl, as a perpetual drink-offering. But as for gold, brass, ivory, wood, stained figures, and little wax images, toys which may be bought or stolen, I despise them all.” When Alexander heard this discourse, he admired and praised the spirit and confidence of the artist; “But,” said he, “let Athos alone; for it is sufficient that it is the monument of the vanquished folly and presuming pride of one king already. Our portraiture the snowy Caucasus, and towering Emodon, Tanais, and the Caspian Sea shall draw. They shall remain eternal monuments of our renown.”
3. But grant that so vast an undertaking should have been brought to perfection; is there any person living, do ye think, that would have believed such a figure, such a form, and so great a design, to be the spontaneous and accidental production of fantastic Nature? Certainly, not one. What may we think of the statue representing him grasping thunder, and that other with his spear in his hand? Is it possible that a Colossus of a statue should ever be made by Fortune without the help of art; nay, though she should profusely afford all the materials imaginable of gold, brass, ivory, or any other substance whatever? Much more, is it probable that so great a personage, and indeed the greatest of all who have ever lived, should be the workmanship of Fortune without the assistance of virtue? And all this, perhaps, because she has made him the potent master of arms, horses, money, and wealthy cities? — which he who knows not how to use shall rather find to be destructive and dangerous than aids to advance his power and magnificence, as affording proofs of his weakness and pusillanimity. Noble therefore was the saying of Antisthenes, that we ought to wish an enemy all things beneficial to mankind except fortitude; for so these blessings will belong not to their possessors but to the conqueror. Therefore it was, they say, that Nature provided for the hart, one of the most timorous of creatures, such large and branchy horns, to teach us that strength and weapons nothing avail where conduct and courage are wanting. In like manner, Fortune frequently bestowing wealth and empire upon princes simple and faint-hearted, who blemish their dignity by misgovernment, honors and more firmly establishes virtue, as being that which alone makes a man most truly beautiful and majestic. For indeed, according to Epicharmus,
For as for the senses, they seem only to have their proper opportunities to act.
But that the mind alone is that which gives both assistance and ornament, the mind that overcomes, that excels, and acts the kingly part, while those other blind, deaf, and inanimate things do but hinder, depress, and disgrace the possessors void of virtue, is easily made manifest by experience. For Semiramis, but a woman, set forth great navies, raised mighty armies, built Babylon, covered the Red Sea with her fleets and subdued the Ethiopians and Arabians. On the other side, Sardanapalus possessing the same power and dominion, though born a man, spent his time at home combing purple wool, lying among his harlots in a lascivious posture upon his back, with his heels higher than his head. After his decease, they made for him a statue of stone, resembling a woman dancing, who seemed to snap with her fingers as she held them over her head, with this inscription, —
Eat, drink, indulge thy lust; all other things are nothing.
Whence it came to pass that Crates, seeing the golden statue of Phryne the courtesan standing in the temple of Delphi, cried out, There stands a trophy of the Grecian luxury. But had he viewed the life or rather burial (for I find but little difference) of Sardanapalus, would he have imagined that statue to have been a trophy of Fortune’s indulgences? Shall we suffer the fortune of Alexander to be sullied by the touch of Sardanapalus, or endure that the latter should challenge the majesty and prowess of the former? For what did Sardanapalus enjoy through her favor, more than other princes receive at her hands — arms, horses, weapons, money, and guards of the body? Let Fortune, with all these assistances, make Aridaeus famous, if she can; let her, if she can, advance the renown of Ochus, Amasis, Oarses, Tigranes the Armenian, or Nicomedes the Bithynian. Of which last two, the one, casting his diadem at Pompey’s feet, ignominiously surrendered up his kingdom a prey to the victor; and as for Nicomedes, he, after he had shaved his head and put on the cap of liberty, acknowledged himself no more than a freed vassal of the Roman people.
4. Rather let us therefore affirm that Fortune makes her favorites little, poor-spirited, and pusillanimous cowards. But it is not just to ascribe vice to misfortune, fortitude and wisdom to prosperity. Fortune indeed was herself made great by Alexander’s reign; for in him she appeared illustrious, invincible, magnanimous, merciful, and just. Insomuch that after his decease Leosthenes likened this vast bulk of power — wandering as in a mist, and sometimes violently rushing one part against the other — to the giant Cyclops, who after he had lost his eye went feeling and groping about with his hands before him, not knowing where to lay them. So strangely did that vast pile of dominion roll and tumble about in the dark of confusion, when shattered into anarchy by the loss of its supreme head. Or rather, as dead bodies, when the soul takes her flight, no longer grow together, no longer act together, but are broken up and dissolved, and are finally dissipated; thus Alexander’s empire, wanting his enlivening conduct, panted, gasped, and boiled with fever, struggling with Perdiccas, Meleager, Seleucus, and Antigonus, — as with vital spirits still remaining hot, and with irregular and intermittent pulses, — till at length, totally corrupted and putrefied, it produced a sort of degenerate kings and faint-hearted princes, like so many worms. This he himself seemed to prophesy, reproving Hephaestion for quarrelling with Craterus: What power, said he, or signal achievement couldst thou pretend to, should any one deprive thee of thy Alexander? The same will I be bold to say to the Fortune of that time: Where would have been thy grandeur, where thy glory, where thy vast empire, thy invincibility, should any one have bereaved thee of thy Alexander? — that is, should any one have deprived thee of thy skill and dexterity in war, thy magnificence in expense, thy moderation in the midst of so much affluence, thy prowess in the field, thy meekness to the vanquished? Frame, if thou canst, another piece like him, that missing all his noble qualities shall neither be magnificently liberal nor foremost in battle, that shall not regard nor esteem his friends, that shall not be compassionate to his captives, that shall not moderate his pleasures, that shall not be watchful to take all opportunities, whom victory shall make inexorable and prosperity insolent; and try if thou canst make him another Alexander. What ruler ever obtained renown by folly and improbity? Separate virtue from the fortunate, and he everywhere appears little; — among those that deserve his bounty, for his close-handed illiberality; among the laborious, for his effeminacy; among the Gods, for his superstition; among the good, for his envious conditions; among men, for his cowardice; among women, for his inordinate lust. For as unskilful workmen, erecting small figures upon huge pedestals, betray the slightness of their own understandings; so Fortune, when she brings a person of a poor and narrow soul upon the stage of weighty and glorious actions, does but expose and disgrace him, as a person whom the vanity of his own ill conduct has rendered worthless.
5. So that true grandeur does not consist in the possession but in the use of noble means. For new-born infants frequently inherit their father’s kingdoms and empires. Such an one was Charillus, whom Lycurgus carried in his swaddling-bands to the public table, and resigning his own authority proclaimed king of Lacedaemon. Yet was not the infant thereby the more famous, but he who surrendered to the infant his paternal right, scorning fraud and usurpation. But who could make Aridaeus great, whom Meleager seated in Alexander’s throne, differing from a child only in having his swaddling-clothes of purple? Prudently done, that so in a few days it might appear how men govern by virtue, and how by fortune. For after the true prince who swayed the empire, he brought in a mere player; or rather he exposed the diadem of the habitable world upon the brainless head of a mere mute on the stage.
Yet some may say, it is possible for women and children to confer dignity, riches, and empire upon others. Thus the eunuch Bagoas took the diadem of Persia, and set it upon the head of Oarses and Darius. But for a man to take upon him the burden of a vast dominion, and so to manage his ponderous affairs as not to suffer himself to sink and be overwhelmed under the immense weight of wakeful cares and incessant labor, that is the character which signalizes a person endued with virtue, understanding, and wisdom. All these royal qualities Alexander had, whom some accuse of being given to wine. But he was a really great man, who was always sober in action and never drunk with the pride of his conquests and vast power; while others intoxicated with the smallest part of his prosperity have ceased to be masters of themselves. For, as the poet sings, —
Thus Clitus, having sunk some three or four of the Grecians galleys near the island Amorgus, called himself Neptune and carried a trident. So Demetrius, to whom Fortune vouchsafed a small portion of Alexander’s power, assumed the title of Kataibates (as if descended from heaven), to whom the several cities sent their ambassadors, by the name of God-consulters, and his determinations were called oracles. Lysimachus, having made himself master of some part of the skirts of Alexander’s empire, viz., the region about Thrace, swelled to such excess of pride and vain-glory as to break forth into this ranting expression: Now the Byzantines make their addresses to me, because I touch heaven with my spear. At which words, Pasiades of Byzantium being then present said, Let us be gone, lest he pierce heaven with the point of his lance.
What shall we, in the next place, think of those who presumed, as imitators of Alexander, to have high thoughts of themselves? Clearchus, having made himself tyrant of Heraclea, carried a sceptre like that of Jupiter’s in his hand, and named one of his sons Thunderbolt. Dionysius the Younger called himself the son of Apollo in this inscription: —
The son of Doris, but from Phoebus sprung.
His father put to death above ten thousand of his subjects, betrayed his brother out of envy to his enemies, and not enduring to expect the natural death of his mother, at that time very aged, caused her to be strangled, writing in one of his tragedies, —
For tyranny is the mother of injustice.
Yet after all this, he named one of his daughters Virtue, another Temperance, and a third Justice. Others there were that assumed the titles of benefactors, others of glorious conquerors, others of preservers, and others usurped the title of great and magnificent. But should we go about to recount their promiscuous marriages like horses, their continual herding among impudent and lawless women, their contaminations of boys, their drumming among effeminate eunuchs, their perpetual gaming, their piping in theatres, their nocturnal revels, and days consumed in riot, it would be a task too tedious to undertake.
6. As for Alexander, he breakfasted by break of day, always sitting; and supped at the shutting in of the evening; he drank when he had sacrificed to the Gods. With his friend Medius he played for diversion when he was sick with a fever. He also played upon the road as he marched, learning between whiles to throw a dart and leap from his chariot. He married Roxana merely for love; but Statira, the daughter of Darius, upon the account of state-policy, for such a conjunction of both nations strengthened his conquest. As to the other Persian women, he excelled them in chastity and continence as far as he surpassed the men in valor. He never desired the sight of any virgin that was unwilling; and those he saw, he regarded less than if he had not seen them; mild and affable to all others, proud and lofty only to fair youth. As for the wife of Darius, a woman most beautiful, he never would endure to hear a word spoken in commendation of her features. When she was dead, he graced her funeral with such a regal pomp, and bewailed her death so piteously, that his kindness cast discredit upon his chastity, and his very courtesy incurred the obloquy of injustice. Indeed, Darius himself had been moved with suspicion at first, when he thought of the power and the youth of the conqueror; for he was one of those who thought Alexander to be only the darling of Fortune. But when he understood the truth, “Well,” said he, “I do not yet perceive the condition of the Persians so deplorable, since the world can never tax us now with imbecility or effeminacy, whose fate it was to be vanquished by such a person. Therefore my prayers shall be to the Gods for his prosperity, and that he may be still victorious in war; to the end that in well-doing I may surpass Alexander. For my emulation and ambition lead me in point of honor to show myself more cordial and friendly than he. If then the Fates have otherwise determined as to me and mine, O Jupiter preserver of the Persians, and you, O Deities, to whom the care of kings belongs, hear your suppliant, and suffer none but Alexander to sit upon the throne of Cyrus.” This was the manner in which Darius adopted Alexander, after he had called the Gods to witness the act.
7. So true it is that virtue is the victor still. But now, if you please, let us ascribe to Fortune Arbela and Cilicia, and those other acts of main force and violence; say that Fortune thundered down the walls of Tyre, and that Fortune opened the way into Egypt. Believe that by Fortune Halicarnassus fell, Miletus was taken, Mazaeus left Euphrates unguarded, and the Babylonian fields were strewed with the carcasses of the slain. Yet was not his prudence the gift of Fortune, nor his temperance. Neither did For tune, as it were empaling his inclinations, preserve him impregnable against his pleasures or invulnerable against the assaults of his fervent desires. These were the weapons with which he overthrew Darius. Fortune’s advantages, if so they may be called, were only the fury of armed men and horses, battles, slaughters, and flights of routed adversaries. But the great and most undoubted victory which Darius lost was this, that he was forced to yield to virtue, magnanimity, prowess, and justice, while he beheld with admiration his conqueror, who was not to be overcome by pleasure or by labor, nor to be matched in liberality.
True it is, that among the throngs of shields and spears, in the midst of war-like shouts and the clashing of weapons, Tarrias the son of Dinomenes, Antigenes the Pellenian, and Philotas the son of Parmenio were invincible; but in respect of their inordinate debauchery, their love of women, their insatiable covetousness, they were nothing superior to the meanest of their captives. For the last of these vices Tarrias was particularly noted; and when Alexander set the Macedonians out of debt and paid off all their creditors, Tarrias pretended among the rest to owe a great sum of money, and brought a suborned person to demand the sum as due to him; but being discovered, he would have laid violent hands upon himself, had not Alexander forgiven him and ordered him the money, remembering that at the battle of Perinthus fought by Philip, being shot into the eye with a dart, he would not suffer the head of it to be pulled out till the field was clear of the enemy. Antigenes, when the sick and maimed soldiers were to be sent back into Macedon, made suit to be registered down in the number, pretending himself utterly disabled in the wars; which very much troubled Alexander, who was well acquainted with his valor and knew that he wore the scars about him of many a bloody field. But the fraud being detected, that was concealed under some little present infirmity, Alexander asked him the reason of his design; and he answered, he did it for the love of Telesippe, that he might accompany her to the sea, not being able to endure a separation from her. Presently the King demanded to whom the wench belonged, and who was to be dealt with in regard to her. To which he replied, she was free from any tie. Well, then, said the King, let us persuade her to stay, if promises or gifts will prevail. So ready was he to pardon the dotages of love in others, so rigorous to himself. But Philotas the son of Parmenio exercised his incontinency after a more offensive manner. Antigona was a Pellaean virgin among the captives taken about Damascus, a prisoner before to Autophradates, who took her going by sea into Samothrace. The beauty of this damsel was such as kept Philotas constant to her embraces. Nay, she had so softened and mellowed this man of steel, I know not how, that he was not master of himself in his enjoyments, but told her the very secrets of his breast; among other things he said: What had Philip been, but for Parmenio? And what would Alexander now be, but for Philotas? What would become of Ammon and the dragons, should we be once provoked? These words Antigona prattled to one of her companions, and she told them to Craterus. Craterus brings Antigona privately to Alexander, who forbore to offer her the least incivility, but by her means piercing into Philotas’s breast, he detected the whole. Yet for seven years after he never discovered so much as the least sign of jealousy, either in his wine or in his anger; nor did he ever disclose it to any friend, even to Hephaestion, from whom he never concealed the most inward of his counsels and designs. For it is said that once, when Alexander had just opened a private letter from his mother and was quietly reading it, Hephaestion looked over his shoulder and began to read it likewise; but Alexander forbore to reprove him, and only took off his signet and clapped it to Hephaestion’s mouth.
8. These recitals may suffice, without being tedious, to show that he exercised his authority according to all the most illustrious and royal methods of government. To which grandeur if he arrived by the assistance of Fortune, he is to be acknowledged the greater, because he made so glorious a use of her. So that the more any man extols his fortune, the more he advances his virtue, which made him worthy of such fortune.
But now I shall return to the beginnings of his advancement and the early dawnings of his power, and endeavor to discover what was there the great work of Fortune, which rendered Alexander so great by her assistance. First then, how came it to pass that some neighing barb did not seat him in the throne of Cyrus, free from wounds, without loss of blood, without a toilsome expedition, as formerly it happened to Darius Hystaspes? Or that some one flattered by a woman, as Darius by Atossa, did not deliver up his diadem to him, as the other did to Xerxes, so that the empire of Persia came home to him, even to his own doors? Or why did not some eunuch aid him, as Bagoas did the son of Parysatis, who, only throwing off the habit of a messenger, immediately put on the royal turban? Or why was he not elected on a sudden and unexpectedly by lot to the empire of the world, as at Athens the lawgivers and rulers are wont to be chosen? Would you know how men come to be kings by Fortune’s help? At Argos the whole race of the Heraclidae happened to be extinct, to whom the sceptre of that kingdom belonged. Upon which consulting the oracle, answer was made to them that an eagle should direct them. Within a few days the eagle appeared towering aloft, but stooping he at length lighted upon Aegon’s house; thereupon Aegon was chosen king. Another time in Paphos, the king that there reigned being an unjust and wicked tyrant, Alexander resolved to dethrone him, and therefore sought out for another, the race of the Kinyradae seeming to be at an end. They told him there was one yet in being, a poor man and of no account, who lived miserable in a certain garden. Thereupon messengers were sent, who found the poor man watering some few small beds of pot-herbs. The miserable creature was strangely surprised to see so many soldiers about him, but go he must; and so being brought before Alexander in his rags and tatters, he caused him presently to be proclaimed king and clad in purple; which done, he was admitted into the number of those who were called the king’s companions. The name of this person was Alynomus. Thus Fortune creates kings suddenly, easily changing the habits and altering the names of those that never expected or hoped for any such thing.
9. All this while, what favors did Fortune shower upon Alexander but what he merited, what he sweat for, what he bled for? What came gratis? What without the price of great achievements and illustrious actions? He quenched his thirst in rivers mixed with blood; he marched over bridges of slain carcasses; he grazed the fields to satisfy his present hunger; he dug his way to nations covered with snow and cities lying under ground; he made the hostile sea submit to his fleets; and, marching over the thirsty and barren sands of the Gedrosians and Arachosians, he discovered green at sea before he saw it at land. So that if I might use the same liberty of speech for Alexander to Fortune as to a man, I would thus expostulate with her: —
“Insulting Fortune, when and where didst thou make an easy way for Alexander’s vast performances? What impregnable rock was ever surrendered to him without a bloody assault, by thy favor? What city didst thou ever deliver unguarded into his hands? Or what unarmed battalion of men? What faint-hearted prince, what negligent captain, or sleepy sentinels did he ever surprise? When didst thou ever befriend him with so much as a fordable river, a mild winter, or an easy summer? Get thee to Antiochus the son of Seleucus, to Artaxerxes the brother of Cyrus. Get thee to Ptolemy Philadelphus. Their fathers proclaimed them kings in their own lifetime; they won battles which no mothers wept for; they spent their days in festivals, admiring the pomp of shows and theatres; and still more happy, they prolonged their reigns till scarce their feeble hands could wield their sceptres. But if nothing else, behold the body of Alexander wounded by the enemy, mangled, battered, bruised, from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet,
With spears, and swords, and mighty stones.*
At the battle of the Granicus his helmet was cleft to his very scull; at Gaza he was wounded in the shoulder with a dart. Among the Maragandi he was shot in the shin so desperately, that the bone of his shank was broken and started out of the skin. In Hyrcania he was struck in the neck with a stone, which caused such a dimness in his eyes that for many days he was in danger of losing his sight. Among the Assaracans he was wounded in the heel with an Indian dart; at which time he thus derided his flatterers with a smiling countenance, saying, This is blood, and no immortal ichor, —
Such stream as issues from a wounded God.*
At Issus he was run through the thigh with a sword by Darius (as Chares relates), who encountered him hand to hand. Alexander also himself, writing the truth with all sincerity to Antipater, said, It was my fortune to be wounded with a poniard in the thigh, but no ill symptoms attended it either when it was newly done or afterwards during the cure. Another time, among the Malli he was wounded with an arrow two cubits in length, that went in at his breast and came out at his neck, as Aristobulus relates. Crossing the Tanais against the Scythians and winning the field, he pursued the flying enemy a hundred and fifty furlongs, though at the same time laboring with a dysentery.
10. “Well contrived, vain Fortune! to advance and aggrandize Alexander by lancing, broaching, boring every part of his body. Not like Minerva, — who, to save Menelaus, directed the dart against the most impenetrable parts of his armor, blunting the force of the weapon with his breastplate, belt, and scarf, so that it only glanced upon his skin, and drew forth two or three drops of blood, — but contrariwise, thou hast exposed his principal parts naked to mischief, driving the wounds through the very bones, rounding every corner of his body, besieging the eyes, undermining the pursuing feet, stopping the torrent of victory, and disappointing the prosecution of noble designs. For my part, I know no prince to whom Fortune ever was more unkind, though she has been envious and severe enough to several. However, other princes she destroyed with a swift and rapid destruction, as with a whirlwind; but in her hatred against Alexander she prolonged her malice, and persisted still implacable and inexorable, as she showed herself to Hercules. For what Typhons and monstrous giants did she not oppose against him? Which of his enemies did she not fortify with store of arms, deep rivers, steep mountains, and the foreign strength of massy elephants? Now had not Alexander been a personage of transcending wisdom, actuated by the impulse of a more than ordinary virtue, but had he been supported only by Fortune, he would have trusted to her as her favorite, and spared himself the labor and the turmoil of ranging so many armies and fighting so many battles, the toil of so many sieges and pursuits, the vexations of revolting nations and haughty princes not enduring the curb of foreign dominion, and all his tedious marches into Bactria, Maracanda, and Sogdiana, among faithless and rebellious nations, who were ever breaking out afresh with new wars, like the Hydra putting forth a new head so soon as one was cut off.”
11. And here I may seem to utter an absurdity, but I will venture to speak it, as being an undoubted truth; that it was by Fortune that he came very near losing the reputation of being the son of Jupiter Ammon. For who but one sprung from the Gods, Hercules excepted, would ever have undertaken and finished those hazardous and toilsome labors which he did? Yet what did Hercules do but terrify lions, pursue wild boars, and scare birds; enjoined thereto by one evil man, that he might not have leisure for those greater actions of punishing Antaeus and putting an end to the murders of Busiris. But it was virtue that enjoined Alexander to undertake that godlike labor, not covetousness of the golden burden of ten thousand camels, not the possession of the Median women or glorious ornaments of Persian luxury, not greediness of the Chalybonian wine or the fish of Hyrcania, but that he might reduce all mankind as it were into one family, under one form of government and the same custom of intercourse and conversation. This love of virtue was thoroughly inbred, and increased and ripened as he grew in years; so that once being to entertain the Persian ambassadors in his father’s absence, he never asked them any questions that savored of boyish imbecility, — never troubled them to answer any questions about the golden vine, the pendent gardens, or what habit the king wore, — but still desired to be satisfied in the chiefest concerns of the empire, what force the Persians brought into the field, and in what part of the army the king fought; as Ulysses asked,
He also enquired which were the nearest roads for them that travelled from the sea up into the country; at all of which the ambassadors were astonished, and said, This youth is a great prince, but ours a rich one. No sooner was Philip interred, but his resolution hurried him to cross the sea; and having already grasped it in his hopes and preparations, he made all imaginable haste to set foot in Asia. But Fortune opposed him, diverted him, and kept him back, creating a thousand vexatious troubles to delay and stop him. First, she contrived the Illyrian and Triballic wars, exciting to hostility the neighboring barbarians. But they, after many dangers run and many terrible encounters, being at length chased even as far as Scythia beyond the river Ister, he returned back to prosecute his first design. But then again spiteful Fortune stirred up the Thebans against him, and entangled him in the Grecian war, and in the dire necessity of defending himself against his fellow-countrymen and relations with fire and sword and hideous slaughter. Which war being brought to a dreadful end, away he presently crossed into Asia, — as Phylarchus relates, with only thirty days’ provision; as Aristobulus reports, with seventy talents, — having before sold and divided among his friends his own revenues and those of his crown. Only Perdiccas refused what he offered him, asking him at the same time what he had left for himself. And when Alexander replied, Nothing but hopes, Then, said he, we will be content with the same; for it is not just to accept of thy goods, but we must wait for those of Darius.
12. What were then the hopes with which Alexander passed into Asia? Not a vast power mustered out of populous cities, nor fleets sailing through mountains; not whips and fetters, the instruments of barbarians’ fury, to curb and manacle the sea. But in his small army there was surpassing desire of glory, emulation among those of equal age, and a noble strife to excel in honor and virtue among friends. Then, as for himself, he carried with him all these great hopes, — piety towards the Gods, fidelity to his friends, generous frugality, temperance, beneficence, contempt of death, magnanimity, humanity, decent affability, candid integrity, constancy in counsel, quickness in execution, love of precedence in honor, and an effectual purpose to follow the steps of virtue. And though Homer, in describing the beauty of Agamemnon, seems not to have observed the rules of decorum or probability in any of his three similitudes, —
yet as for Alexander, if his celestial parents formed and composed him of several virtues, may we not conclude that he had the wisdom of Cyrus, the temperance of Agesilaus, the foresight of Themistocles, the skill of Philip, the daring courage of Brasidas, the shrewdness and political skill of Pericles? Certainly, if we compare him with the most ancient heroes, he was more temperate than Agamemnon, who preferred a captive before his lawful wife, though but newly wedded, while Alexander, before he was legally married, abstained from his prisoners. He was more magnanimous than Achilles, who accepted a small sum of money for the redemption of Hector’s dead body, while Alexander spared no expense to adorn the funeral of Darius. Achilles accepted gifts and bribes from his friends, as the atonement of his wrath; Alexander, when once a victor, enriched his enemies. He was much more pious than Diomede, who scrupled not to fight against the Gods, while Alexander ascribed to Heaven all his successes. Finally, he was more bewailed of his relations than Ulysses, whose mother died for grief, while the mother of Alexander’s enemy, out of affection, bare him company in his death.
13. In short, if Solon proved so wise a ruler by Fortune, if Miltiades led his armies by Fortune, if Aristides was so renowned for his justice by Fortune, then there is nothing that can be called the work of virtue. Then is virtue only an airy fiction, and a word that passes with some show of glory through the life of man, but feigned and magnified by Sophists and lawgivers. But if every one of these whom we have mentioned was wealthy or poor, weak or strong, deformed or beautiful, long or short lived, by Fortune, but made himself a great captain, a great lawgiver, famous for governing kingdoms and commonwealths, by virtue and reason; then in God’s name let us compare Alexander with the best of them. Solon by a law made a great abatement upon the payment of the Athenians’ private debts, which he called his burden-easing law; Alexander discharged the debts of his Macedonians at his own expense. Pericles, laying a tax upon the Greeks, expended the money in building temples to beautify the citadel of Athens; Alexander sent home ten thousand talents out of the spoils of the barbarians, for the building of temples to the Gods all over Greece. Brasidas advanced his fame all over Greece, by breaking through the enemy’s army lying encamped by the seaside near Methone; but when you read of that daring jump of Alexander’s (so astonishing to the hearers, much more to them that beheld it) when he threw himself from the walls of the Oxydracian metropolis among the thickest of the enemy, assailing him on every side with spears, darts, and swords, tell me where you meet with such an example of matchless prowess, or to what you can compare it but to a gleam of lightning violently flashing from a cloud, and impetuously driven by the wind? Such was the appearance of Alexander, as he leaped like an apparition to the earth, glittering in his flaming armor. The enemy, at first amazed and struck with horror, retreated and fell back; till seeing him single they came on again with a redoubled force.
Now was not this a great and splendid testimony of Fortune’s kindness, to throw him into an inconsiderable and barbarous town, and there to enclose and immure him a prey to worthless enemies? And when his friends made haste to his assistance, to break the scaling-ladders, and to overthrow and cast them down? Of three that got upon the walls and flung themselves down in his defence, endearing Fortune presently despatched one; the other, pierced and struck with a shower of darts, could only be said to live. Without, the Macedonians foamed and filled the air with helpless cries, having no engines at hand. All they could do was to dig down the walls with their swords, tear out the stones with their nails, and almost to rend them out with their teeth. All this while, Alexander, Fortune’s favorite, whom she always covered with her protection, like a wild beast entangled in a snare, stood deserted and destitute of all assistance, not laboring for Susa, Babylon, Bactria, or to vanquish the mighty Porus. For to miscarry in great and glorious attempts is no reproach; but so malicious was Fortune, so kind to the barbarians, such a hater of Alexander, that she aimed not only at his life and body, but at bereaving him of his honor and sullying his renown. For Alexander’s fall had never been so much lamented had he perished near Euphrates or Hydaspes by the hand of Darius, or by the horses, swords, and axes of the Persians fighting with all their might and main in defence of their king, or had he tumbled from the walls of Babylon, and all his hopes together. Thus Pelopidas and Epaminondas fell; whose death was to be ascribed to their virtue, not to such a poor misfortune as this. But what was the singular act of Fortune’s favor which we are now enquiring into? What indeed, but in the farthest nook of a barbarous country, on the farther side of a river, within the walls of a miserable village, to pen up and hide the lord and king of the world, that he might there perish shamefully at the hands of barbarians, who should knock him down and pelt him with whatever came next to hand? There the first blow he received with a battle-axe cleft his helmet and entered his skull; at the same time another shot him with an Indian arrow in the breast near one of his paps, the head being four fingers broad and five in length, which, together with the weight of the shaft which projected from the wound, did not a little torment him. But, what was worst of all, while he was thus defending himself from his enemies before him, when he had laid a bold attempter that approached his person sprawling upon the earth with his sword, a fellow from a mill close by came behind him, and with a great iron pestle gave him such a bang upon the neck as deprived him for the present both of his senses and his sight. However, his virtue did not yet forsake him, but supplied him still with courage, infusing strength withal and speed into those about him. For Ptolemy, Limnaeus, and Leonnatus, and some others who had mounted or broken through the wall, made to his succor, and stood about him like so many bulwarks of his virtue; out of mere affection and kindness to their sovereign exposing their bodies, their faces, and their lives in his defence. For it is not Fortune that overrules men to run the hazard of death for brave princes; but the love of virtue allures them — as natural affection charms and entices bees — to surround and guard their chief commander.
What person then, at that time beholding in security this strange adventure, would not have confessed that he had seen a desperate combat of Fortune against virtue, and that the barbarians were undeservedly superior through Fortune’s help, but that the Greeks resisted beyond imagination through the force of virtue? So that if the barbarians had vanquished, it had been the act of Fortune or of some evil genius or divine retribution; but as the Greeks became the victors, they owed their conquest to their virtue, their prowess, their friendship and fidelity to each other. For these were all the life-guard Alexander had at that time; Fortune having interposed a wall between him and all his other forces, so that neither fleets nor armies, cavalry nor infantry, could stand him in any stead. Therefore the Macedonians routed the barbarians, and buried those that fell under the ruins of their own town. But this little availed Alexander; for he was carried off with the dart sticking in his breast, having now a war in his own bowels, while the arrow in his bosom was a kind of cord, or rather nail, that was driven through his breastplate and fastened it to his body. When they went about to dress him, the forked shape of the iron head would not permit the surgeons to draw it forth from the root of the wound, being fixed in the solid parts of the breast that fortify the heart. Nor durst they attempt to cut away the shaft that stuck out, fearing they should put him to an excess of torment by the motion of the iron in the cleft of the bone, and cause a new flux of blood not easy to be stopped. Alexander, observing their hesitation and delay, endeavored himself with a little knife to cut off the shaft close to the skin; but his hand failed him, being seized with a heavy numbness by reason of the inflammation of the wound. Thereupon he commanded the surgeons and those that stood about him to try the same thing themselves and not to be afraid, giving them all the encouragement he could. Those that wept he upbraided for their weakness; others he called deserters, that refused him their assistance in such a time of need. At length, calling to his friends, he said: Let no one of you fear for me; for how shall I believe you to be contemners of death, when you betray yourselves to be afraid of mine?*
end of vol. i.
[* ]Alcman, Frag. 27.
[* ]Aristophanes, Knights, 1056.
[† ]From the Erechtheus of Euripides.
[* ]Il. XI. 265.
[* ]Il. V. 340.
[* ]Il. X. 407.
[* ]Il. II. 478.
[* ]See foot-note at the end of the First Oration on Alexander.