Monday, May 02, 2011

Arrian: Book One—Granicus: “Except for the Spartans”

A few additional thoughts I wanted to add to my previous post on the battle at the Granicus River…

To camp or not to camp
1. When Alexander learned of the concentration of the Persian forces, he advanced rapidly and encamped opposite the enemy, so that the Granicus flowed between the encampments. 2. The Persians, resting on high ground, made no move, intending to fall upon the foes as he crossed the river, for they supposed they could easily carry the day when the Macedonian phalanx was divided. 3. But Alexander at dawn boldly brought his army across the river and deployed in good order before they could stop him. In return, they posted their mass of horsemen all along the front of the Macedonians since they had decided to press the battle with these.

Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History, translation by C. Bradford Welles, Book XVII, 19.1-3

I think Diodorus’ narrative makes much more sense, where Alexander camps at the Granicus River the evening before the battle, although it's much less dramatic than Arrian’s version.

The new Achilles

A thousand years, said the histroians, divided the victory at the Granicus from the fall of Troy, which Callisthenes had calculated to occur in the same month as Alexander’s invasion; a thousand years, therefore, between one Achilles and the coming of his rival to the plains of Nemesis, goddess of revenge, as Callisthenes described the site of the battlefield. It was indeed the start of a new age, though none of those who turned away from the site could ever have realized how; not in a new philosophy or science, but in the geographical width of conquest and the incidental spread of a people’s way of life.

from Alexander the Great, Robin Lane Fox

Except for the Spartans

In addition to his biographers, Alexander also knew how to frame things to his advantage. After the battle at the Granicus River, Alexander “sent three hundred sets of Persian armor to Athens as a dedicatory offering to Athena on the acropolis, and even ordered the following words to be inscribed: “Alexander, son of Philip, and the Greeks, except for the Spartans, dedicated these spoils from the barbarians dwelling in Asia.” (1.16.7, The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander, translation by Pamela Mensch) The invasion of Asia had been cast as a Panhellinic crusade against the “barbarians,” former invaders of Greece (and more). The thousands of Greek mercenaries in Persian employ that Alexander slaughtered at the end of this battle didn't quite fit the narrative.

But my favorite part of the dedication was highlighting the Spartans opting out of the League of Corinth, even after Alexander's appeal to them. The Spartans had replied that they were the ones worthy to lead and would not be led. How much would “except for the Spartans” bother them? My guess is not that much. Apparently I’m not the only one that feels that way.

“Alexander, son of Philip, and the Greeks except the Lacedaimonians...”

We can very well imagine
how completely indifferent the Spartans would have been
to this inscription. “Except the Lacedaimonians”—
naturally. The Spartans
weren’t to be led and ordered around
like precious servants. Besides,
a pan-Hellenic expedition without
a Spartan king in command
was not to be taken very seriously.
Of course, then, “except the Lacedaimonians.”

That’s certainly one point of view. Quite understandable.

So, “except the Lacedaimonians” at Granikos,
then at Issus, then in the decisive battle
where the terrible army
the Persians mustered at Arbela was wiped out:
it set out for victory from Arbela, and was wiped out.

And from this marvelous pan-Hellenic expedition,
triumphant, brilliant in every way,
celebrated on all sides, glorified
as no other has ever been glorified,
incomparable, we emerged:
the great new Hellenic world.

We the Alexandrians, the Antiochians,
the Selefkians, and the countless
other Greeks of Egypt and Syria,
and those in Media, and Persia, and all the rest:
with our far-flung supremacy,
our flexible policy of judicious integration,
and our Common Greek Language
which we carried as far as Bactria, as far as the Indians.

Talk about Lacedaimonians after that!

“In the Year 200 B.C.” by C. P. Cavafy
C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992.

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