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After the conclusion of his war with the Cossaeans, Alexander set his army in motion and marched towards Babylon in easy stages, interrupting the march frequently and resting the army.1 [2] While he was still three hundred furlongs from the city, the scholars called Chaldaeans, who have gained a great reputation in astrology and are accustomed to predict future events by a method based on age-long observations, chose from their number the eldest and most experienced. By the configuration of the stars they had learned of the coming death of the king in Babylon, and they instructed their representatives to report to the king the danger which threatened. They told their envoys also to urge upon the king that he must under no circumstances make his entry into the city; [3] that he could escape the danger if he re-erected the tomb of Belus which had been demolished by the Persians,2 but he must abandon his intended route and pass the city by.

The leader of the Chaldaean envoys, whose name was Belephantes,3 was not bold enough to address the king directly but secured a private audience with Nearchus, one of Alexander's Friends, and told him everything in detail, requesting him to make it known to the king. [4] When Alexander, accordingly, learned from Nearchus4 about the Chaldaeans' prophecy, he was alarmed and more and more disturbed, the more he reflected upon the ability and high reputation of these people. After some hesitation, he sent most of his Friends into Babylon, but altered his own route so as to avoid the city and set up his headquarters in a camp at a distance of two hundred furlongs.5

This act caused general astonishment and many of the Greeks came to see him, notably among the philosophers Anaxarchus.6 [5] When they discovered the reason for his action, they plied him with arguments drawn from philosophy and changed him to the degree that he came to despise all prophetic arts, and especially that which was held in high regard by the Chaldaeans.7 It was as if the king had been wounded in his soul and then healed by the words of the philosophers, so that he now entered Babylon with his army. [6] As on the previous occasion,8 the population received the troops hospitably, and all turned their attention to relaxation and pleasure, since everything necessary was available in profusion.

These were the events of this year.

1 Justin 12.13.3-5; Plut. Alexander 73.1-2; Arrian. 7.16.5-18.6.

2 Arrian. 7.17.1-4 makes the reverse statement, that the priests wanted to keep the revenues of the temple of Bel to themselves.

3 The name is not otherwise reported.

4 Plut. Alexander 73.1.

5 Arrian does not think that Alexander heeded the warnings of the Chaldaeans, but quotes Aristobulus (Arrian. 7.17.5-6) to the effect that Alexander did wish to avoid the city, but could not pass it because of the swamps.

6 Justin 12.13.5. This was the celebrated philosopher of Abdera, of the school of Democritus. He had been with Alexander throughout the campaign.

7 That is, astrology. It is odd that Diodorus should speak so well of Greek rationalism, when in this case the Chaldaeans knew better.

8 Cp. chap. 64.4.

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    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Commentary on Sophocles: Trachiniae, 339
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