Thus, even wholly trustworthy writers who kept company with Alexander at the time do not agree in their writings about events that were public and known to them personally.
- From 4.14.3, all quotes from The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander, translation by Pamela Mensch
Arrian seems to give the game away on his history—how much can you rely on him given this admission? If public events cannot be trusted because of disagreement between writers, how much can we trust anything else, including the speeches?
I’ll start by looking at Kallisthenes’ speech opposing Alexander's requirement for proskynesis, the Persian custom of prostrating before the king. Editor James Romm notes that “There is no consensus as to how closely the speech that follows reflects Kallisthenes’ actual words. It contains much that could have been easily invented, but nothing that obviously has been. … Clearly Arrian wanted to give full play to the themes developed here … .” (footnote 4.11.2a) Kallisthenes begins by confirming that Alexander deserves to be honored as a human but he should beware of claiming divine honors. There are some echoes of Kleitos’ earlier speech (which ended in his death at Alexander’s hand) reminding Alexander he is the son of Philip and that “Even Herakles himself did not receive divine honors from the Greeks during his lifetime”. But then Alexander seeks to attain things Herakles did not achieve.
Kallisthenes ends his speech by pointedly asking Alexander how he intends to be greeted once he returns to Greece or Macedonia. Will he “compel the Greeks, the freest of men, to bow before you, or will you keep your distance from the Greeks but impose this dishonor on the Macedonians?” (emphasis mine) This assumes Alexander intended to return home, although as I explored in a previous post this might not be a valid assumption. In addition, there is an undercurrent in the speeches by Kleitos and Kallisthenes when they remind Alexander of his mortal parentage. Why did they feel the need to remind him that Philip was his father? Was it something to do with his behavior after the visit to the oracle of Ammon in Egypt?
Alexander’s rousing speech in 5.25-26 to his officers after learning of the weary troops' discontent about pressing the campaign across the Hyphasis River demonstrates a masterful spin on what he hopes to accomplish. Of course it may be a fabrication or a mixture of fact and fancy, but it is a stirring read. Alexander begins by saying he itends to persuade the officers to continue the campaign or be persuaded by them to "turn back" (again note that doesn't mean go home). He lists their conquests and how much they control. Hitting the high points of the remainder:
- Alexander says that there is not much more land to conquer as they are near the Eastern Sea,
- As long as the empire has borders they run the risk of attack and rebellion,
- This labor will add to our glory and immortal fame, and
- I fight with you to increase your wealth.
The final paragraph of the speech contains that last point and more:
”Certainly, if I had led you into toils and dangers without incurring these myself, I would understand it if you lost heart before I did, since you would have borne the toils alone and reaped their rewards for others. Bus as it is, we have shared the toils, and have shared just as much in the dangers, and the prizes are there for all of us. The country is yours, and you govern it as satraps [he is addressing only his officers]. As for treasure, the larger share is already coming to you; and when we have completed the conquest of Asia, then by Zeus, when I have not merely fulfilled byt exceeded your hopes of wealth, I will send home those who wish to return to their own country or will lead them back myself, and make those who remain here the envy of those who depart.” (5.26.7-8)
Once again, maybe I’m reading too much into some of these speeches but there seems to be a constant theme of being worshipped or revered or considered non-mortal while alive. Arrian then gives Koinos, later described as one of Alexander’s most trusted Companions (intimate friends in war, society, and politics), an equally remarkable speech. Koinos says he speaks not for the officers, since they are there and can speak for themselves, but for the average soldier. Koinos paints a bleak picture for those soldiers that have followed Alexander since the beginning of the campaigns, saying most of them have been wounded, killed, taken ill, or left behind to populate cities far from their home. Koinos frames his arguments as best for Alexander—return home, get new, young, fresh troops (unafraid of war…I like that touch) to conquer the rest of the world. When we show them how wealthy you have made us, they will make eager soldiers. The ending has several barbs: “Finally, sire, nothing is so honorable as self-restraint in the midst of good fortune. For while you are in command of such an army we have nothing to fear from our enemies, but it is not in men’s power to anticipate and thereby guard against what comes from god.” (from 5.27.8) Not only does he target Alexander’s increasing lack of self-restraint but it also recalls Solon’s advice to Croesus in Book One of Herodotus’ Histories (no man can be called truly fortunate until he is dead since bad things can happen at any moment).
These speeches in Books 4 & 5 are the longest in Arrian’s history, probably included because they fit nicely with some of the themes Arrian wanted to advance about Alexander, including his lack of self-restraint and wanting to be viewed as divine (among other themes). Arrian makes sure we see that the speeches are argued in order to appeal to the desires and well-being of their target. The ultimate irony resides in the results—those arguing for something fail to benefit from the speeches:
- Kallisthenes is soon after put to death, and while Alexander backs off his demand for Macedonian/Greek obeisance, the initial requirement has damaged his relationship with his friends and troops,
- Alexander’s troops still insist on going home, frustrating his desires for an unlimited empire, and
- Koinos dies shortly after his speech (although not presented as suspicious by Arrian), and
- the troops will pay a terrible price for their lack of support in Alexander's desires.