Thursday, August 25, 2011

Returning to Alexander: reading group discussion questions

It will be a few days before I have time to read anything so I'll take an opportunity to post a few things I've been meaning to mention about Arrian and Alexander. (On a side note, I'm listening to a few lectures on Arrian's teacher Epictetus...funny how things tie together at times.)

Reading Odyssey's next conference call will be on September 12 to discuss Books 4 and 5 of Arrian's The Campaigns of Alexander (see this post for the schedule). Our discussion leader posted a series of questions that will be helpful when reading these books. Here is the summary for these books and the first two topic areas listed:
Books IV & V include Alexander’s campaigns in Central Asia and the Indus river valleys in India spanning the years 329-326 B.C. Book IV begins at the Tanais/Iaxartes river on the western side of the Indian Caucasus mountains and ends with Alexander reaching the Indus River on the wastern side. Book V involves Alexander’s campaign on the river plains of five rivers that merge into the Indus, a campaign which is his farthest east.

1. Between the Scythians and Spitamenes [4.3.6-4.6.5, pp. 156-160]
As Alexander continues to subjugate and, to some extent, colonize the northeast corner of the former Persian empire, he finds himself dealing with rebel tribes as well as intervening incursions from the Scythians. His most pressing moment at the beginning of Book IV comes when “Alexander suddenly faces two new difficulties: Scythians threatening his northern frontier and an uprising led by Spitamenes against his troops in Marakanda” (p. 156, side note). Why does Arrian decide to include the anecdote about the omen in connection with the Scythian battle? How does Alexander manage to rout the Scythian cavalry given that he has a river to cross and that the Scythians on the other side are famous for their mobile cavalry? How does Alexander manage to chase off Spitamenes and his forces? What do these two very different encounters have in common when it comes to Alexander’s strategy and planning?

2. Alexander and the limits of power [4.7.3-4.14, pp. 160-172]
Alexander’s mutilation of Bessos raises some very pressing questions for Arrian and for us. How does Arrian assess Alexander’s decision making at this point? Why does Arrian compare the Bessos episode with a later episode that involves Alexander killing his fellow officer and friend Kleitos? What important issues does the altercation between Alexander and Kleitos raise in terms of Alexander’s overall mission? or his ability to lead? How does the episode of Kallisthenes and Alexander’s concern for his image relate to the previous anecdotes? As Arrian relates the “Pages’ Conspiracy” against Alexander, what does Hermolaos say that resonates deeply among the Macedonian officers? Is Kallisthenes’ ultimate punishment the result of paranoia or cruelty on Alexander’s part? or is it rational and practical?

I highly recommend the Reading Odyssey's reading group format--the calls have been fun, fast-flowing and informative. It's not too late to sign up (link to do so can be found in the "Welcome!" post at their site) and enjoy Arrian's history of Alexander!

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