Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Arrian: Book Two—destiny

All quotes are from The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander, translation by Pamela Mensch.

Many signs and divinations appear throughout Arrian’s account of Alexander’s campaigns. The seer Aristrandros interprets the omens extremely well, at least according to Arrian. Factor in Alexander’s insistence on propitiating the gods, before and after an action, and you have a religious tone being set on the campaigns.

The aspect of the religious tone I wanted to touch on involves the interpretation of the gods’ blessings for Alexander’s operations that makes his conquests seem foreordained. Plutarch provides a foretaste of Alexander’s regard with his visit to the oracle at Delphi where he was told he was invincible. Of course that declaration could have been the priestess’ reaction to a pushy kid insisting on a consultation on her day off.

Darius’ move away from his superior position at Sochoi (before the battle of Issus) is referred to as an influence of some deity in order to assist Alexander. As footnote 2.6.7b in The Landmark Arrian notes, Darius’ move from Sochoi in no way guaranteed Alexander’s victory at Issus since the narrow field of battle limited Alexander just as much as it limited Darius. Arrian notes the divine help several times. Darius notes in his first letter to Alexander that the “outcome had doubtless accorded with the will of some god” (2.14.3), putting the outcome out of his control. Alexander acknowledges and reinforces the idea in his reply: “[T]he gods have given me possession of the country” (2.14.7).

An entire post (or several) could be devoted to Alexander’s deliberate tie-in with characters and events from the heroic age. He aligns himself with the Iliad in many ways, whether as an heir of Achilles or in restaging several events from the epic while he was at Troy. But I’ll end my posts on Book Two (until the book group's conference call, at least) with some questions on Alexander’s destiny. It’s clearly expanded from Philip’s creation of the League of Corinth, established to punish the Persians. At some point it’s clear Alexander has more in mind, but what does he see as his destiny? Does it change during the campaign? Is his army on board with it? Do they even comprehend Alexander? Just some questions to keep in mind as the campaigns continue…

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