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Plutarch - Sayings of Alexander and Philip

  1. While Alexander was still a boy and Philip was winning many successes, he was not glad, but said to his playmates, “My father will leave nothing for me to do.” “But,” said the boys, “he is acquiring all this for you.” “But what good is it,” said Alexander, “if I possess so much and accomplish nothing?”
  2. Being nimble and swift of foot, he was urged by his father to run in the foot-race at the Olympic games. “Yes, I would run,” said he, “if I were to have kings as competitors.”
  3. A girl was brought to him late in the evening with the intent that she should spend the night with him, and he asked her, “Why at this time?” She replied, “I had to wait to get my husband to go to bed”; whereupon Alexander bitterly rebuked his servants, since, owing to them, he had so narrowly escaped becoming an adulterer.
  4. On a time when he was offering incense to the gods with lavish hand, and often taking up handfuls of the frankincense, Leonidas, who had been his attendant in boyhood, happening to be present, said, “My boy, you may offer incense thus lavishly when you have made yourself master of the land that bears it.” And so, when Alexander had become master of it, he sent a letter to Leonidas: “I have sent to you a half-ton of frankincense and cassia, so that you may never again count any petty cost to dealing with the gods, since you know that we are now masters of the land that bears these fragrant things."
  5. Just before he fought the battle at Granicus he urged the Macedonians to eat without stint, and to bring out all they had, since on the morrow they should dine from the enemy’s stores.
  6. When Perillus, one of his friends, asked him for dowry for his girls, Alexander bade him accept ten thousand pounds. He said that two thousand would be enough; but Alexander said, “Enough for you to accept, but not enough for me to give.”
  7. He bade his manager give to Anazarchus, the philosopher, as much as he asked for; and when the manager said that he asked for twenty thousand pounds, Alexander said, “He does well, for he knows that he has a friend who is both able and wiling to make such presents.”
  8. When he saw in Miletus many statues of athletes who had won victories in the Olympic and the Pythian games, he said, “Where were the men with bodies like these when the barbarians were besieging your city?”
  9. Ada, queen of the Carians, made it a point of honour to be always sending him fancy dishes and sweetmeats prepared in unusual ways by the hands of artists and chefs, but he said that he had better fancy cooks – his night marches for his breakfast, and for his dinner his frugal breakfast.
  10. Once, when all preparations had been made for battle, his generals asked him whether there was anything else in addition to what they had done. “Nothing,” said he, “except to shave the Macedonian beards.” And as Parmenio expressed his surprise, Alexander said, “Don’t you know that in battles there is nothing handier to grasp than a beard?”
  11. When Darius offered him two million pounds, and also offered to share Asia equally with him, Parmenion said, “I would take it if I were Alexander.” “And so indeed would I,” said Alexander, “if I were Parmenion.” But he made answer to Darius that the earth could not tolerate two suns, nor Asia two kings.
  12. When he was about to risk everything at Arbela against a million men arrayed against him, his friends came to him and accused the soldiers of talking together and making agreements in their tents that they would hand over none of the spoil to the royal treasury, but would keep everything for themselves. And he smiling said, “You bring good news; for I hear in this the talk of men prepared to conquer and not to flee.” And many of the soldiers came to him and said, “Be of good cheer, Sire, and do not fear the great numbers of the enemy; for they will not be able to stand the very smell of goat that clings to us.”
  13. As the army was being drawn up for battle, he saw one of the soldiers fitting the thong to his javelin, and he shoved him out of the line as a useless man who was making ready at this time when he ought to be using his weapons.
  14. As he was reading a letter from his mother, which contained secret slanders against Antipater, Hephaestion, as usual, was reading it with him. Alexander did not prevent Hephaestion from reading it, but, when he had finished the reading, he took off his ring, and placed the seal on Hephaestion’s lips.
  15. In the shrine of Ammon, he was hailed by the prophetic priest as the son of Zeus. “That is nothing surprising,” said he; “for Zeus is by nature the father of all, and he makes the noblest his own.”
  16. When he was hit in the leg by an arrow, and many of those who were oftentimes wont to hail him as a god hurried up to him, he, relaxing his countenance, said, “this is blood, as you see, and not Ichor, like that which flows from the wounds of the blessed Immortals.”
  17. When some commended the frugality of Antipater, who, they said, lived a plain and simple life, he remarked, “Outwardly Antipater is plain white, but within he is all purple.”
  18. When one of this friends was entertaining him in the cold of winter, and brought in a small brazier with a little fire in it, Alexander bade him bring in either firewood or incense.
  19. When Antipatrides brought to dinner a beautiful harp-player, Alexander, stirred to love at the sight of her, asked Antipatrides whether he happened to be at all in love with the girl; and when he admitted that he was, Alexander said, “You abominable wretch! Please take her away from here at once.”
  20. On another occasion Cassander forced Python, beloved by Evius the flute-player, to kiss him, and Alexander, seeing that Evius was vexed, leapt up in anger against Cassander, exclaiming “It isn’t allowable even to fall in love with anybody, because of you and people like you.”
  21. When he was sending away to the sea those of the Macedonians who were sick or incapacitated, a man was reported to have put down his name in the list of the sick although there was nothing the matter with him. When therefore the man was brought before Alexander and examined, he admitted that he had employed this ruse because of love for Telesippa, who was departing for the sea; and Alexander asked, “With whom must one talk concerning Telesippa?” And when he learned that she was not a slave, he said, “Then let us, Antigenes, try to persuade Telesippa to stay with us; for to coerce her, a free woman, is not within our right.”
  22. When Greek mercenaries serving on the enemy’s side came into his hands, he would order the Athenians among them to be kept in chains, because, while they could live at the expense of the State, they were serving as mercenaries, and so also the Thessalians, because, although they owned the very best land, they did not till it. But the Thebans he let go free, saying that these alone, because of us, have neither city nor land left to them.
  23. When he had taken captive the man who had the greatest repute for marksmanship among the Indians, of whom it was said that he could send an arrow through a finger-ring, Alexander bade him show his skill, and when he would not, the king in anger decreed his execution. The man, as he was being led away, said to those who were taking him that he had not practiced for many days, and was afraid of failing; and when this came to the ears of Alexander, he marvelled and let the man go with many gifts because he preferred to suffer himself to be put to death rather than to show himself unworthy of his reputation.
  24. When Taxiles, king of the Indians, met Alexander, he charged him not to fight or make war, but if he were inferior, to accept favors, and, if he were superior, to bestow them. To this Alexander replied that this was the very issue between them, to determine which could outdo the other in bestowing favors.
  25. When he was told concerning the ‘Birdless Rock,” as it is called, in India, that the place was extremely difficult to capture, but that the man who held it was a coward, he said, “In that case it is easy to capture."
  26. When another man who held a seemingly impregnable rock surrendered himself together with his stronghold to Alexander, Alexander bade him to continue to rule, and gave him additional country to govern, saying that “this person seems to me to show sense in trusting himself to a good man rather than to a strong place."
  27. After the capture of the rock his friends were saying that he had surpassed Heracles in his deeds, but he remarked, “No, I do not feel that my deeds, with my position as commander, are to be weighed against one word of Heracles.
  28. Learning that in gambling with dice some of his friends did not enter into the game as a sport, he punished them.
  29. Of his foremost and most influential friends he seems to have honoured Craterus most, and to have loved Hephaestion best. “For,” said he, “Craterus is fond of the king, but Hephaestion is fond of Alexander.”
  30. He sent ten thousand pounds to Xenocrates the philosopher, but when Xenocrates would not accept them, and said that he had no need of them, Alexander asked whether Xenocrates had not a single friend. “For, in my case,” said he, “the wealth of Darius was hardly enough for my friends.”
  31. Porus, after the battle, was asked by Alexander, “How shall I treat you?” “Like a king,” said he. Asked again if there were nothing else, he said, “Everything is included in those words.” Marvelling at his sagacity and manliness, Alexander added to his kingdom more land than he had possessed before.
  32. Learning that he as being maligned by a certain man, he said, “it is kingly to be ill spoken of for doing good.”
  33. As he was dying, he said, looking towards his companions, “I see that my funeral rites will be imposing.”
  34. When he had come to his end, Demades the orator said that the army of the Macedonians, because of its lack of leadership, looked like the Cyclops after his eye had been put out


  1. Theophrastus has recorded that Philip, the father of Alexander, was not only great among kings, but owing to his fortune and his conduct, proved himself still greater and more moderate.
  2. He said that he must congratulate the Athenians on their happy fortune if they could find ten men every year to elect as generals; for he himself in many years had found only one general, Parmenio.
  3. When several happy events were reported to him within a single day, he said, “O, Fortune, do me some little ill to offset so many good things like these!”
  4. After his victory over the Greeks, when some were advising him to hold the Greek cities in subjection by means of garrisons, he said that he preferred to be called a good man for a long time rather than a master for a short time.
  5. When his friends advised him to banish from his court a man who maligned him, he said he would not, so that the man should not go about speaking ill of him among more people.
  6. When Smicythus remarked maliciously of Nicanor that he was always speaking ill of Philip, and Philip’ companions thought that he ought to send for Nicanor and punish him, Philip said, “But really Nicanor is not the worst of the Macedonians. We must investigate therefore whether something is not happening for which we are responsible.” When he learned therefore that Nicanor was hard pressed by poverty, and had been neglected by him, he directed that a present be given to the man. So when again Smicythus said that Nicanor was continually sounding the praises of the Philip to everybody in a surprising way, Philip said, “You all see that we ourselves are responsible for the good and the ill that is said of us.”
  7. He said that he felt very grateful to the popular leaders of the Athenians, because by maligning him they made him better both in speech and in character, “For I try both by my words and by my deeds to prove that they are liars.”
  8. When all the Athenians who had been taken captive at Chaeroneai were set free by him without ransom, but asked for the return of their clothing and bedding besides, and complained against the Macedonians, Philip laughed and said to his men, “Does it not seem to you that the Athenians think they have been beaten by us in a game of knucklebones?”
  9. When the keybone of his shoulder had been broken in battle, and the attending physician insistently demanded a fee every day, he said, “Take as much as you wish: for you have the key in your charge!”
  10. Of two brothers, Both and Each, he observed that Each was sensible and practical, and Both was silly and foolish, and he remarked that Each was both and Both was neither!
  11. Those who counseled him to treat the Athenians harshly he said were silly in urging a man who did everything and underwent everything for the sake of repute to throw away his chance to exhibit it.
  12. Being called upon to decide a suit between two knaves, he ordered the one to flee from Macedonia, and the other to pursue him.
  13. When he was about to pitch his camp in an excellent place, he learned that there was no grass for the pack-animals. “What a life is ours,” he said, “If we must live to suit the convenience of the asses!”
  14. When he was desirous of capturing a certain stronghold, his scouts reported that it was altogether difficult and quite impregnable, whereupon he asked if it were so difficult that not even an ass laden with money could approach it.
  15. When the men associated with Lasthenes, the Olynthian, complained with indignation because some of Philip’s associates called them traitors, he said that the Macedonians are by nature a rough and rustic people who call a spade a spade.
  16. He recommend to his son that he associate with the Macedonians so as to win their favour, and thus acquire for himself influence with the masses while another was reigning and while it was possible for him to be humane.
  17. He also advised him that, among the men of influence in the cities, he should make friends of both the good and the bad, and later he should use the former and abuse the latter.
  18. Philon the Theban had been his benefactor and host during the time he spent as a hostage in Thebes, but later would not accept any gift from him; whereupon Philip said to him, “Do not deprive me of my invincibility by letting me be outdone in benefactions and favours.”
  19. On a time when many prisoners had been taken, Philip was overseeing their sale, sitting with his tunic pulled up in an unseemly way. So one of the men who were being sold cried out, “Spare me, Philip, for I am a friend of your father’s.” And when Philip asked, “Where, sirrah, and how came you to be such?” the man said, “I wish to tell you privately, if I may come near you.” And when he was brought forward, he said, “Put your cloak a little lower, for you are exposing too much of yourself as you are sitting now.” And Philip said, “Let him go free, for it had escaped me that he is truly a loyal friend.”
  20. Once when he was on the march, and was invited to dinner by a man of the land, he took a good many persons with him: and when he saw that his host was much perturbed, since the preparations that had been made were inadequate, he sent word in advance to each of his friends, and told them to “leave room for cake.” They took his advice and, expecting more to follow, did not eat much, and thus there was enough for all.
  21. When Hipparchus of Euboea died, it was plain that Philip took it much to heart; and when somebody remarked, “But, as a matter of fact, his death has come in the fullness of time,” Philip said, “Yes, in fullness of time for him, it is true, but swiftly for me, for he came to his end too soon to receive from me, as he ought, favours worthy of our friendship.”
  22. Learning that Alexander complained against him because he was having children by other women besides his wife, he said, “Well then, if you have many competitors for the kingdom, prove yourself honourable and good, so that you may obtain the kingdom not because of me, but because of yourself.” He bade Alexander give heed to Aristotle, and study philosophy, “so that.” as he said “you may not do a great many things of the sort that I am sorry to have done.”
  23. He appointed one of Antipater’s friends to the position of judge, but later, on learning that the man dyed his beard and hair, he removed him, at the same time remarking that he did not believe that a man who was untrustworthy in the matter of hair was to be trusted in actions.
  24. While he was hearing the case of Machaetas, he was near falling asleep, and did not give full attention to the rights of the case, but decided against Machaestas. And when Machaetas exclaimed that he appealed from the decision, Philip, thoroughly enraged, said, “To whom?” And Machaetas replied, “To you yourself, Your Majesty, if you will listen awake and attentive.” At the time Philip merely ended the sitting, but when he had gained more control of himself and realized that Machaetas was treated unfairly, he did not reverse his decision, but satisfied the judgement with his own money.
  25. When Harpalus, acting in behalf of his kinsman and intimate friend Crates, who was under condemnation for wrongdoing, proposed as a fair solution that Crates should pay the fine, but be absolved from the adverse judgement so that he should not be subject to reproach, Philip said, “It is better that the man himself, rather than that we because of him, should be ill spoken of.”
  26. When his friends were indignant because the people of the Peloponnesus hissed at him at the Olympic games, although they had been treated well, he said, “Well, what if they should be treated ill!”
  27. Once on a campaign he slept for an unusually long time, and later, when he arose, he said, “I slept safely, for Antipater was awake."
  28. On another occasion when he was asleep in the daytime, and the Greeks who had gathered at his doors were indignant and complaining, Parmenio said, “Do not be astonished that Philip is asleep now; for while you were asleep he was awake.”
  29. When he desired to correct a harp-player at dinner, and to discuss the playing of this instrument, the harp-player said, “God forbid, Your Majesty, that you should ever fall so low as to have a better knowledge of these matters than I.”
  30. At a time when he was at odds with Olympias, his wife, and with his son, Demaratus of Corinth arrived, and Philip inquired of him how the Greeks were feeling towards one another. And Demaratus said, “Much right have you to talk about the harmony of the Greeks when the dearest of your own household feel so towards you!” Philip, taking the thought to heart, ceased from his anger, and became reconciled with them.
  31. When a poor old woman insisted that her case should be heard before him, and often caused him annoyance, he said he had no time to spare, whereupon she burst out, “Then give up being king.” Philip, amazed at her words, proceeded at once to hear not only her case but those of the others.