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Plutarch Fortuna 2b

Plutarch, Moralia
On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander II
But one might grow weary in the enumeration of these matters by which Alexander is shown to have made the most honourable and the most regal use of his authority. And even though he became great through Fortune, he is even greater in that he made good use of his Fortune. And the more we praise his Fortune the more shall we exalt his Virtue by reason of which he became worthy of his Fortune.

Now, however, I shall proceed at once to the first steps in his advancement and the beginnings of his power, and I shall examine in those matters the rôle played by Fortune, by reason of which men assert that Alexander became great through the instrumentality of Fortune. In Heaven's name! Why do they not assert this of one that never felt a wound nor lost a drop of blood nor ever served in war, whom the neighing of a horse placed upon the throne of Cyrus, even as the first Darius, the son of Hystaspes? Or of Xerxes, whom a king, flattered by his wife, as Darius was flattered by Atossa, set upon the throne? Did the royal diadem come to Alexander's doors, as to Oarses through the machinations of Bagoas, who stripped from him the garb of a courier and put upon him the royal raiment and the tiara that ever stands erect? Was he suddenly and unexpectedly chosen by lot and thus came to rule the inhabited world, as at Athens the Thesmothetae and Archons attain their office?

Would you learn how it is that men come to the throne by choice of Fortune? Once upon a time among the Argives the family of Heracleidae became extinct, from which family it was their ancestral custom to select the Argive kings. When in their search they made inquiry of the god at Delphi, he replied that an eagle would show them; and a few days later an eagle appeared on high and, swooping down, alighted on the house of Aegon, and Aegon was chosen king.

Again in Paphos when the reigning king was seen to be unjust and wicked, Alexander expelled him and searched for another, since the family of Cinyradae appeared to be already passing away or extinct. However, they told him that there still survived one poor and obscure person, who eked out a forsaken existence in a certain garden. Men were sent to fetch him and, when they arrived, he was found watering his garden-plots; and he was much perturbed when the soldiers laid hands on him and ordered him to come with them. He was brought before Alexander and, dressed as he was in a single cheap garment, he was proclaimed king, and received the royal purple, and became one of those who are styled the king's "Companions." His name was Abdalonymus. Thus does shifting Fortune create kings, change their raiment, and quickly and easily alter the status of men who expect nothing of the sort, and do not even hope for it.

But what greatness did Alexander acquire beyond his just merits, what without sweat, what without blood, what without a price, what without labour? He drank rivers fouled with blood, crossed streams bridged by dead bodies, through hunger ate the first grass that the he saw, dug through nations buried in deep snow and cities built beneath the earth, sailed over a battling sea; and as he traversed the parching strands of Gedrosia and Arachosia, it was in the sea, not on the land, that first he saw a living plant.

If to Fortune, as to a human being, one might present Frankness in Alexander's behalf, would she not say, "When and where did you ever vouchsafe a way for the exploits of Alexander? What fortress did he ever capture by your help without the shedding of blood? What city unguarded or what regiment unarmed did you deliver into his hands? What king was found to be indolent, or what general negligent, or what watchman asleep at the gate? But no river was easy to cross, no storm was moderate, no summer's heat was without torment. Betake yourself to Antiochus, the son of Seleucus, or to Artaxerxes, the brother of Cyrus; depart to Ptolemy Philadelphus! Their fathers, while yet alive, proclaimed them kings ; they won battles that did not cost a tear; they made merry all their lives in processions and theatres; and every one of them, because of good fortune, grew old upon the throne.

"But in the case of Alexander, though I were to mention nothing else, behold his body gashed with wounds tip to toe, bruised all over, smitten at the hands of his enemies

Now with the spear, now the sword, now with mighty masses of boulders.

On the banks of the Granicus his helmet was cleft through to his scalp by a sword; at Gaza his shoulder was wounded by a missile; at Maracanda his shin was so torn by an arrow that by the force of the blow the larger bone was broken and extruded. Somewhere in Hyrcania his sight was dimmed, and for many days he was haunted by the fear of blindness. Among the Assacenians his ankle was wounded by an Indian arrow; that was the time when he smilingly said to his flatterers, 'this that you see is blood, not

Ichor, that which flows from the wounds of the blessed immortals.'

At Issus he was wounded in the thigh with a sword, as Chares states, by Darius the king, who had come into hand-to-hand conflict with him. Alexander himself wrote of this simply, and with complete truth, in a letter to Antipater: 'I myself happened,' he writes, 'to be wounded in the thigh by a dagger. But nothing untoward resulted from the blow either immediately or later.' Among the Mallians he was wounded in the breast by an arrow three feet long, which penetrated his breastplate, and someone rode up under him, and struck him in the neck, as Aristobulus relates. When he had crossed the Tanaïs against the Scythians and had routed them, he pursued them on horseback an hundred and fifty stades, though he was grievously distressed with diarrhoea.

"Well done, Fortune! You exalt Alexander and make him great by running him through from every side, by making him lose his footing, by laying open every portion of his body. Not like Athena before Menelaüs did you guide the missile to the stoutest parts of his armour, and by breastplate, belt, and kilt take away the intensity of the blow, which only grazed his body with force enough to cause blood to flow; but you exposed to the missiles the vital portions of Alexander's body unprotected, you drove home the blows through his very bones, you circled around his body, you laid siege to his eyes and his feet, you hindered him in pursuing his foes, you endeavoured to strip him of his victories, you upset his expectations."

No other king seems to me to have felt the hand of Fortune more heavily upon him, even though on many it has fallen harshly and malignantly. But like a thunderbolt it cut down the other rulers, and destroyed them; toward Alexander, however, fortune's ill-will became but contentious and quarrelsome and hard to overpower, even as it was toward Heracles. For what manner of Typhons or monstrous giants did she not raise up to oppose him? Whom of his foes did she not fortify with a vast supply of weapons or deep rivers or jagged cliffs or the might of beasts from foreign lands? But if Alexander's thought had not been set on high emprise, if it had not derived its impelling force from great Virtue, and had not refused to submit to defeat in its wrestling with Fortune, would he not have grown tired and weary of marshalling and arming his forces, weary of his sieges and pursuits amid unnumbered revolts, desertions, and riots of subject peoples, defections of kings, against Bactria, Maracanda, Sogdiana, as if he were cutting off the heads of a hydra which ever grew again in renewed wars among these faithless and conspiring peoples?

I shall be thought to be making a strange statement, yet what I shall say is true: it was because of Fortune that Alexander all but lost the repute of being the son of Ammon! For what offspring of the gods could have toiled through such hazardous, toilsome, and painful Labours save only Heracles, the son of Zeus? But it was one arrogant man who imposed upon Heracles the task of capturing lions, of pursuing wild boars, of frightening off birds so that he might not have time to go about performing greater deeds, such as punishing men like Antaeus and stopping creatures like Busiris from their abominable murders. But upon Alexander it was Virtue who laid the kingly and god-like Labour, the end and aim of which was not gold, carried about by countless camels, nor Persian luxury, banquets, and women, nor the wine of Chalybon, nor the fish of Hyrcania, but to order all men by one law and to render them submissive to one rule accustomed to one manner of life. The desire which he cherished to accomplish this task was implanted in him from childhood, and was fostered and increased with the years that passed. Once, when ambassadors came from the Persian king to Philip, who was not at home, Alexander, while he entertained them hospitably, asked no childish questions, as the others did, about the vine of gold, or the Hanging Gardens, or how the Great King was arrayed; but he was completely engrossed with the most vital concerns of the dominion, asking how large was the Persian army; where the king stationed himself in battle (even as the famed Odysseus asked

Where are his arms that he wields in the battle, and where are his horses?);

and which roads were the shortest for travellers going inland from the sea — so that the strangers were astounded and said, "This boy is a 'great king'; our king is only wealthy." But after Philip's end, when Alexander was eager to cross over and, already absorbed in his hopes and preparations, was hastening to gain a hold upon Asia, Fortune, seizing upon him, blocked his way, turned him about, dragged him back, and surrounded him with countless distractions and delays. First she threw into the utmost commotion the barbarian elements among his neighbours, and contrived wars with the Illyrians and Triballians. By these wars he was drawn from his Asiatic projects as far away as the portion of Scythia that lies along the Danube; when, by sundry manoeuvres, he had subjugated all this territory with much danger and great struggles, he was again eager and in haste for the crossing. Again, however, Fortune stirred up Thebes against him, and thrust in his pathway a war with Greeks, and the dread necessity of punishing, by means of slaughter and fire and sword, men that were his kith and kin, a necessity which had a most unpleasant ending.

After this he crossed with provision for thirty days, as Phylarchus relates; but Aristobulus says, with seventy talents. He divided the greater part of his possessions at home and his royal revenues among his friends; Perdiccas alone would take nothing when Alexander offered, but asked, "What are you leaving for yourself, Alexander?" And when Alexander replied, "High hopes!", "Then," said Perdiccas, "we shall also share in these; for it is not right to take your possessions, but right to wait in expectation of those of Darius."

What, then, were the hopes on which Alexander relied when he crossed into Asia? Not a force counted by means of a wall that would hold a city of 10,000 men, nor fleets that sailed through mountains, nor scourges or fetters, insane and barbaric implements for chastising the sea; but externally they were the great ambition in his little army, mutual rivalry of hot youth, competition for repute and excellence among his Companions. And within himself he had his own high hopes, reverence for the gods, fidelity towards his friends, frugality, self-control, experience, fearlessness toward death, high courage, humanity, affability, integrity of character, constancy in counsel, quickness in execution, the height of good repute, and a disposition to gain his end in everything honourable. For not appropriately nor convincingly did Homer employ a combination of three similes in his comparison describing the fair appearance of Agamemnon:

Like in his eyes and his head unto Zeus who delighteth in thunder,
Like unto Ares in waist, and in breadth of his chest to Poseidon.

But if the god who begat Alexander made his natural endowment an harmoniously joined combination of many virtues, may we not say that he possessed the high spirit of Cyrus, the discretion of Agesilaüs, the intelligence of Themistocles, the experience of Philip, the daring of Brasidas, the eloquence and statesmanship of Pericles? And, to compare him with the men of still more ancient days, he was more self-restrained than Agamemnon; for Agamemnon set a captive woman above his wedded wife, but Alexander, even before his marriage, kept aloof from his captives. He was more magnanimous than Achilles; for Achilles gave back the body of Hector for a small ransom, but Alexander buried Darius at great expense; Achilles, when he had become reconciled, accepted gifts and recompense from his friends to requite him for ceasing from his Wrath, but Alexander enriched his enemies by conquering them. He was more reverent than Diomedes; for Diomedes was ready to fight with gods, but Alexander believed the gods to be the authors of all success. He was more deeply mourned by his relatives than was Odysseus; for Odysseus' mother died of grief, but the mother of Alexander's foe, for the goodwill she bore him, shared his death.

In short, if Solon's statesmanship also was due to Fortune, and if Miltiades' generalship, and Aristeides' justice were but the result of Fortune, then surely there is no work of Virtue in these men, but it is a name only, talk based on appearance, pervading their lives to no purpose, a figment of the sophists and legislators. But if every one of these men and of others like them became poor or rich, weak or strong, ugly or handsome, lived to a ripe old age or met an untimely death through Fortune, or if each one of them proved himself a great general, a great lawgiver, or great in government and statesmanship through Virtue and Reason, then consider Alexander and compare him with them all. Solon brought about a cancellation of debts in Athens which he called the "Relief from Burdens" (Seisachtheia); but Alexander himself paid the debts which his men owed to their creditors. Pericles collected tribute from the Greeks and with the money adorned the Acropolis with temples; but Alexander captured the riches of barbarians and sent them to Greece with orders that ten thousand talents be used to construct temples for the gods. Brasidas's dash along the shore to Methonê through the armed host of the enemy amid showers of missiles made him renowned in Greece; but that daring leap of Alexander in the country of the Oxydrachae, incredible to them that hear of it and fearful to them that saw it, when he hurled himself down from the walls into the midst of the enemy, who received him with spears and arrows and naked swords — with what may one compare it, save with the levin bolt that breaks and flashes in the midst of a hurricane, like the apparition of Phoebus that darted down to earth, gleaming round about with flaming armour. The enemy at first were amazed and affrighted and retired with trembling fear; but a moment later, when they saw that he was but one man attacking many, they made a stand against him.

There indeed Fortune made manifest great and splendid results of her kindliness toward Alexander, when she cast him into an insignificant foreign town and shut him in and fenced him round about! And when his men were earnestly trying to bring help from without and were attempting to scale the walls, Fortune, by breaking and shattering their ladders, took away their foothold and hurled them from the walls. And of the three men who alone were quick enough to grasp the wall and, throwing themselves down inside, to take their stand beside the king, Fortune straightway snatched up one and made away with him before he could strike a blow; and a second, pierced through by many arrows, was only so far from death that he could see and perceive his king's danger. But the charges and shouting of the Macedonians were unavailing for they had no machines nor engines with them; but in their zeal they tried to hack the walls with their swords, and were forced to break them off with their bare hands, and all but bite their way through.

But the king, who was Fortune's favourite, and was always guarded and personally protected by her, was caught within like a wild beast in the toils, alone and without succour; nor was he struggling for Susa or Babylon, nor to capture Bactria, nor to vanquish the great Porus; for in great and glorious conflicts, even though men fail, disgrace, at least, can find no place. But so contentious and malicious was Fortune, so greatly did she favour barbarians and hate Alexander, that she tried to destroy not only his body and his life, but also, in so far as she could, to destroy his repute and to wipe out his fair fame. For it were not a terrible thing for Alexander to fall and lie buried beside the Euphrates or the Hydaspes, nor ignoble to meet death by coming into close combat with Darius or in confronting the horses and swords and battle-axes of the Persians as they fought to defend their king, nor to be overthrown while he bestrode the walls of Babylon and to fall from his high hope. Thus fell Pelopidas and Epameinondas; their death was a death belonging to Virtue, not to misfortune, engaged as they were in such a high emprise. But of what sort was the deed of Fortune, who is now under scrutiny? Was it not that on the farthest outposts of a land beside a foreign river within the walls of an obscure hamlet, which surrounded and hid away from sight the lord and master of the inhabited world, he should perish, smitten and stricken by ignominious weapons and whatever else lay at hand? For his head was wounded through his helmet by an axe, and someone shot an arrow through his breastplate so that it penetrated the bones of his breast and was lodged there firmly, while the shaft protruded and hampered him and the iron point was four fingers broad and five fingers long. But — the extreme of all the dangers he confronted — while he was defending himself against those who had attacked him in front, the archer who shot him had plucked up courage to approach him with a sword, but Alexander with his dagger was too quick for the man and knocked him down and killed him; but while he was thus occupied, someone ran out from a mill, and gave him a blow on the neck with a cudgel from behind; this confused his senses, and his head swam. But Virtue was by his side and in him she engendered daring, and in his companions strength and zeal. For men like Limnaeus and Ptolemy and Leonnatus and all those who had surmounted the wall or had broken through it took their stand before him and were a bulwark of Virtue, exposing their bodies in the face of the foe and even their lives for the goodwill and love they bore their king. Surely it is not due to Fortune that the companions of good kings risk their lives and willingly die for them; but this they do through a passion for Virtue, even as bees, as if under the spell of love-charms, approach and closely surround their sovereign.

What spectator, then, who might without danger to himself have been present at that scene, would not exclaim that he was witnessing the mighty contest of Fortune and Virtue; that through Fortune the foreign host was prevailing beyond its deserts, but through Virtue the Greeks were holding out beyond their ability? And if the enemy gains the upper hand, this will be the work of Fortune or of some jealous deity or of divine retribution; but if the Greeks prevail, it will be Virtue and daring, friendship and fidelity, that will win the guerdon of victory? These were, in fact, the only support that Alexander had with him at this time, since Fortune had put a barrier between him and the rest of his forces and equipment, fleets, horse, and camp.

Finally, the Macedonians routed the barbarians, and, when they had fallen, pulled down their city on their heads. But this was no help to Alexander; for he had been hurried from the field, arrow and all, and he had the shaft in his vitals; the arrow was as a bond or bolt holding his breastplate to his body. And when they tried forcibly to pull it out of the wound by the roots, as it were, the iron would not budge, since it was lodged in the bony part of the breast in front of the heart. They did not dare to saw off the protruding portion of the shaft, since they were afraid that the bone might be split by the jarring and cause excruciating pain, and that an internal haemorrhage might result. But when Alexander perceived their great perplexity and hesitation, he himself tried with his dagger to cut off the arrow close to his breastplate; but his hand was unsteady and affected by a torpid languor from the inflammation of the wound. Accordingly with encouraging words he urged those that were unwounded to take hold and not to be afraid; and he railed at some who were weeping and could not control themselves, others he branded as deserters, since they had not the courage to come to his assistance. And he cried aloud to his Companions, "Let no one be faint-hearted even for my sake! For it will not be believed that I do not fear death, if you fear death for me!"


Cf. Herodotus, iii.84 ff.

Ibid. vii.3.

Artaxerxes cf. 336 E, 337 E, supra, Life of Artaxerxes, chap. i (1012 A): Reiske conjectured 71Arsh| from Diodorus, xvii.5, which may be right. But Bagoas also put Darius III on the throne of Persia. Cf. 326 F, supra.

For the upright tiara cf. e.g. Xenophon, Anabasis, ii.5.23; Life of Themistocles, chap. xxix (126 E); Life of Artaxerxes, chaps. xxvi, xxviii (1024 E, 1025 E).

Cobet's conjecture (Abdalonymus for Aralynomus) is only very partially supported by Diodorus, xvii.46, 47. But cf. the references ad loc. in Fischer's ed. (Leipzig 1906), especially Quintus Curtius, Hist. Alexandri, iv.1.19.

Cf. Diodorus, xvii.82; Quintus Curtius, Hist. Alexandri, v.3.

Cf. Arrian, Anabasis, vi.19; Quintus Curtius, Hist. Alexandri, ix.9.

Cf. Life of Alexander, chap. lxvi (702 A); Arrian, Anabasis, vi.22 ff.; Quintus Curtius, Hist. Alexandri, ix.10.

For the wounds of Alexander see the note on 327 A, supra, with the work of Nachstädt there referred to.

Homer, Il. xi.265, 541.

Cf. 327 A, supra, and the notes.

Homer, Il. v.340; Cf. Moralia, 180 E and the note.

Cf. Life of Alexander, chap. xx (675 E-F).

Cf. Life of Alexander, chap. lxiv (691 A); Arrian, Anabasis, iv.4.9; Quintus Curtius, Hist. Alexandri, vii.9.13.

Cf. Homer, Il. iv.129.

Presumably elephants.

Cf. 315 B, supra and Moralia 857 A.

A city in Syria; for the wine cf. Strabo, xv.3.22 (p735); Athenaeus, 28 D; Suidas and Hesychius, s.v.

Cf. Life of Alexander, chap. v (666 E-F).

Cf. Xenophon, Hellenica, vii.1.38; Diodorus, xix.48.

Homer, Il. x.407.

Cf. 327 D, supra.

Heracles, a reputed ancestor of the Macedonian kings, was born in Thebes.

The sack of Thebes and the enslaving of most of the surviving inhabitants; cf. Life of Alexander, chap. xi (670 E), and Arrian, Anabasis, i.8-9.

Cited on the authority of Duris in 327 E, supra.

Cf. 327 E, supra.

Cf. Life of Alexander, chap. xv (672 B).

Xerxes counted his army, according to Herodotus vii.60, by causing 10,000 men to fall in as compactly as possible; then a low wall was built around them; they then marched out, others marched in until the whole host (1,700,000 foot soldiers) had been counted.

By Xerxes' canal through Athos: cf. 335 E, supra; Herodotus, vii.22, 23.

Again referring to Xerxes; cf. Herodotus, vii.35.

Iliad, ii.478-479.

Chryseis: Iliad, i.113.

Iliad, xxiv.552-600.

Iliad, xix.140-147.

Iliad, v.335-352, 855-861.

Odyssey, xi.202-203.

Sisygambis, the mother of Darius; cf. Diodorus, xvii.118.3; Justin, xiii.1; Quintus Curtius, Hist. Alexandri, x.5.21.

Cf. Moralia, 97 C.

Cf. Moralia, 828 F; Life of Solon, chaps. xv, xvi (86 D, 87 D); Aristotle, Constitution of Athens, 10.1.

Cf. 339 C, supra, and the note.

£2,000,000 or $10,000,000.

Cf. Diodorus, xviii.4.4.

Cf. Thucydides, ii.25.2.

The Mallians: cf. 327 B, supra.

Cf. perhaps Homer, Il. xv.237; iv.75-80.

327 B, supra, and Life of Alexander, chap. lxiii (700 C) mention only two; but Plutarch here seems to follow the authority used by Arrian, Anabasis, vi.10, who gives the number as three; cf. also 344 D, infra.

Plutarch the rhetorician increases by one finger's-breadth the dimensions of the arrow-point which are given by Plutarch the biographer in his Life of Alexander, chap. lxiii (700 E).

Some think the narrative closes abruptly, and that it should have been continued to include at least Alexander's recovery, but the Greeks did not always insist on a happy ending narrated in full.