Monday, May 02, 2011

Arrian: Book One—additional thoughts during the conference call

A few stray thoughts during the conference call covering Book One of The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander, translation by Pamela Mensch this evening, some have been bubbling beneath the surface while others were spurred by other comments.

One of the first points discussed was Arrian’s assessment as a historian. For ancient historians, Herodotus and Thucydides would be an obvious comparison. And to some extent Arrian invites such a comparison in his two prefaces. Arrian sprinkles a few social comments in Book One along the lines of Herodotus, such as the origin and language of the Sidetans. Commentary such as this example feels natural in Herodotus’ many digressions but they stand out in Arrian’s history since he has fewer examples.

One feature that stands out in the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides are the speeches that provide context and advance the narrative. These speeches convey several topics or events in one neat quote. Arrian’s history uses few speeches in Book One, limited mostly to interaction between Alexander and his general Parmenion. There are two conversations between them in Book One, Alexander rejecting Parmenion’s advice in both situations. There will be at least two more examples of interaction between the general and his king similar to these examples, Alexander rejecting Parmenion’s advice and the Macedonians carrying the day. After the two examples in Book One I get the feeling this is a literary device similar to Herodotus’ or Thucydides’ use of speeches. (For those that don't know Parmenion’s fate at this point, let's just say it’s not good, adding to the feeling of embellishing how good Alexander looks at his general’s expense.)

The question was raised during the call if Alexander is presented as a romantic character in Arrian’s history. Alexander fits the mold of a romantic character on many counts, but… is it possible to be a romantic character in a Greek tragedy? Alexander demonstrates a maturity and ingenuity at the start of his reign that seems to deteriorate over the history. His flaws, self-induced in many ways, may have helped lead to his early demise. Or maybe not. Something to keep in mind as the history unfolds…

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