Edited by James Romm, Series Editor Robert B. Strassler, Translation by Pamela Mensch, Introduction by Paul Cartledge
If you haven’t noticed by now, I am a huge fan of the Landmark series, created by Robert B. Strassler. If you haven’t picked up a volume in the series, check out these sample pages from various parts of The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander. The introduction by Paul Cartledge provides an excellent introduction, especially with his focus on the sources. The appendices, many by editor James Romm, provide context for various aspects of Arrian’s work and Alexander’s time.
Arrian’s work covers Alexander III of Macedon’s reign from his ascension to the throne until his death in Babylon in 323 BC. This twelve-year reign saw remarkable achievements that earned him the moniker “the Great.” Arrian wrote almost five hundred years after Alexander’s reign, his admiring portrait (with an occasional finger wag) meant to be “for the benefit of mankind.” His task was all the harder because it is almost impossible to discover the historical Alexander—the propaganda and myth-making began during his reign with his own appointed historian. Arrian spells out his approach to his subject and his book in his two prologues, both of which provide an important framework to keep in mind when reading and assessing the work.
As I noted early in Arrian’s work, the reading of Alexander’s life would be a study in contrasts and that carried through to his death. Because of the many facets of Alexander’s life he could be a poster child for the adage that each generation writes its own history—depending on which side you emphasize you get a very different portrait. Arrian, to his credit, focuses on Alexander the person (most of the time), a complex man taking every advantage of what was provided and overcoming what wasn’t. A. B. Bosworth’s comment that “The study of Alexander…is in large part the study of Arrian, who provides the constant thread against which the rest of the tradition must be assessed” shows how influential Arrian has become in evaluating the ruler. (From Arrian to Alexander: Studies in Historical Interpretation. New York, Clarendon Press of Oxford University Press, 1988). In addition to being a history, Arrian’s work has to be evaluated as a literary work. For example, the speeches provide Arrian with an opportunity to “invent” the Alexander he wants his readers to see, following in the footsteps of Herodotus and Thucydides (among others) in using this rhetorical device in their histories.
The following links will give you a flavor for the book, which I hope anyone with even just a passing interest will explore. Highest recommendation.
A series of weekly conversations between historians James Romm and Paul A. Cartledge at Forbes.com
The link to Reading Odyssey, Inc., which hosted a reading group of the book
A mini-review of James Romm’s Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great and the War for Crown and Empire
The Reading Odyssey's 2011 conference calls on the book
Alexander and the Triballoi
A study in contrasts, part one
A study in contrasts, part two
I am the greatest, at least by association (a look at Arrian’s prologues)
Loyalty and betrayal
Granicus: “Thou art invincible”
Granicus: “Except for the Spartans”
Book One conference call
He firmly refused to suspect his friends and had the strength to face death
Leadership and legend
Address yourself to me as the king of Asia
Siege, wrath, and amnesty
A look at Arrian in his text (so far)
The oracle of Ammon
Alexander, the great administrator?
Burning down the house
Books Four and Five
Link to Books Four and Five reading group questions
How Books Four and Five fit in with Arrian’s prefaces
They “do not remain there entirely of their own will”
The good, the bad and the ugly of Books Four and Five
Speeches in Books Four and Five
An overview of Book Six
Be gone, all of you!
Consider who you are in comparison to Alexander
For the benefit of mankind
Clips from the 1968 TV movie “Alexander the Great”, filmed in 1964 and starring William Shatner as Alexander and Adam West as Cleander
Excerpt from Robert Lowell’s "Death of Alexander"
Map of the Macedonian Empire under Alexander and his journeys