Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Arrian: Book Two—he firmly refused to suspect his friends and had the strength to face death

In Book One Arrian establishes Alexander as trusting and generous with his friends while not hesitating to punish turncoats. The latter group includes Greeks who found it more expedient to follow or sympathize with the Persians. Greek mercenaries were harshly punished, at least at the battle of the Granicus River. However Alexander spared the small band of Greek mercenaries at Miletus as long as they enlisted in his army. The difference in the two cases may have had to do with the surrender of the mercenaries at the Granicus River as compared to the mercenaries at Miletus making clear they were going to fight until the death, causing Alexander to be “seized with pity for their nobility and steadfastness.” (1.19.6) Even painted in such a positive light, the mercenaries at Miletus may have felt they didn’t have a choice if they had heard about the fate of the other group of mercenaries.

Alexander had punished the city of Aspendos by doubling their tribute when the city renounced their treaty with Alexander. (1.27) Early in Book Two there are additional examples of Alexander’s trust of friends and anger at Greek treachery. This is one of several themes I wanted to follow throughout Arrian’s book. All quotes are from The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander, translation by Pamela Mensch.

Arrian goes into detail about the anecdote of Philip of Acarnania (2.4.8-11):
Thus Alexander came down with cramps, high fever, and unending insomnia. All of his doctors doubted he would live except Philip of Acarnania, a doctor who kept company with Alexander and who was especially trusted for his medical knowledge and who carried weight in the army for his grasp of affairs in general; this man wanted to treat Alexander with a purgative, and Alexander urged him to do so. It is said that while Philp was preparing the cup, Alexander was given a letter in which Parmenion warned him to be on his guard against Philip; he said he had heard that Philip had been bribed by Darius to poison Alexander. Alexander, it is said, read the letter, and while still holding it, took the cup containing the drug and gave the letter to Philip to read; and while Philip was reading Parmenion’s letter, Alexander swallowed the dose. Philip quickly made it clear that the drug was harmless: for he was not disconcerted by the letter, but merely encouraged Alexander and advised him to follow all his other instructions, saying he would recover if he did so. The medicine took effect and Alexander’s illness lifted; he showed Philip that he was trusted as a friend, and made it clear to the others in his suite that he firmly refused to suspect his friends and had the strength to face death.

Alexander made it clear at the Granicus River that he had the strength to face death during his battlefield exploits. As far as refusing to suspect his friends, he did follow up on the rumors that Alexander son of Aeropos was working with Darius to assassinate Alexander (1.25). It’s not clear how much of a friend the other Alexander was considered, but since he had been one of the first to recognize the legitimacy of Alexander’s claim to the throne he had been rewarded with prestigious and important positions, which made arresting him an embarrassing situation for the king. Even so, Alexander’s dedication to his friends at this part in the story seems mostly unshakable. The anecdote gives Arrian another opportunity to cast Parmenion in a bad light, or it may be Arrian continuing the character assassination from earlier histories. It’s possible Arrian simply uses Parmenion as a literary device to make Alexander’s character shine brighter. There may a more sinister intention here, though. Is the implication that Parmenion knew of Alexander’s sickness and wanted to deny him aid from the one doctor that could help him? Parmenion stood to benefit greatly with Alexander’s death. Arrian’s version isn’t clear on what Parmenion knew and when he knew it, if such a warning even took place, but his account can raise that question.

Shortly after his health was restored, Alexander and his army marched to Soloi (near Tarsus in modern-day south-central Turkey). “From Anchiale Alexander reached Soloi, where he established a garrison and imposed a fine of two hundred silver talents because the city’s inhabitants were more favorably disposed to the Persians.” (2.5.5) The first note for this section helps fill in some detail on Alexander’s actions. “Soloi was largely a Greek town, and so Alexander took its pro-Persian sympathies very seriously.” Many towns facing possible conflict asked themselves who posed the greatest immediate threat—Alexander or Darius? Choosing expediency, most (but not all) towns allied with the force at the gate. In Soloi’s case, as with other cities, that would not be enough to escape retribution if they were perceived unfaithful. How bad was the fine? From the second note to this section: “Two hundred talents was a crushing fine for such a place, to judge by the fact that Alexander later forgave the quarter of it the city had not yet paid… .” Not mentioned here—Alexander took hostages from the city to guarantee payment. Despite the future forgiveness, Alexander took such alliances against him to heart.

Book Two opens with Memnon of Rhodes and his successor commanders retaking some of the cities that had aligned with Alexander, showing little mercy on the “renegade” cities (like Mitylene) as the Persians reneged on promised terms for their realignment with Darius. The rewarding of friends and punishment of enemies by Alexander, including punishing natural allies harshly, wasn’t uncommon. What will be interesting to watch is Alexander’s consistency, the reasons for any deviation from this formula, and impact of his actions on friends and foes as his campaign continues.


Tollemensch said...

If only Alexander and Parmenion knew about the possible threat to Alexander's life, then how could Alexander be proving his trust in his friend in the momement? No one would know of the accusation of Philip till after the letter was read out loud to everyone. That makes me think that this story was invented later to convince others that Alexander did trust his friends and was not quick to betray them.

Dwight said...

Have to agree—my guess is there is some truth about doubt being cast on Philip, but Parmenion is used so often for such stories that you can’t take it at face value. It does sound very much like Arrian’s self-confessed penchant for “fake but accurate” stories surrounding Alexander.