and we are speaking of an Alexander not yet overwhelmed with prosperity, which none has ever been less able to bear.
for viewing him in the light of his new fortune and of the new character —if I may use the expression —which
he had assumed as conqueror, he would evidently have come to Italy more like Darius than like Alexander, at the head of an army that had forgotten Macedonia and was already adopting the degenerate customs of the Persians.
i am loath, in writing of so great a prince, to remind the reader of the ostentatious alteration in his dress, and of his desire that men should prostrate themselves in adulation, a thing which even conquered Macedonians would have found oppressive, much more then those who had been victorious;
of his cruel punishments and the murder of his friends as they drank and feasted; of the boastful lie about his origin.1
what if his love of wine had [p. 233]
every day grown stronger? and his truculent and2
i mention only things which historians regard as certain. can we deem such vices to be no detraction from a general's good qualities? but there was forsooth the danger —as the silliest of the Greeks,3
who exalt the reputation even of the Parthians against the Romans, are fond of alleging —that
the Roman People would have been unable to withstand the majesty of Alexander's name, though I think that they had not so much as heard of him; and that out of all the Roman nobles not one would have dared to lift up his voice against him, although in Athens, a city crushed by the arms of Macedonia, at the very moment when men had before their eyes the reeking ruins of the
neighbouring Thebes, they dared inveigh against him freely, as witness the records of their speeches.4
however imposing the greatness of the man may appear to us, still this greatness will be that of one man only, and the fruits of little more than ten years of success. those who magnify it for this reason, that the Roman People, albeit never in any war, have yet suffered defeat in a number of battles, whereas Alexander's fortune was never aught but prosperous in any battle, fail to perceive that they are comparing the achievements of a man —and
a young man too —with those of a people that was now in its four hundredth year of warfare.
should it occasion us surprise if, seeing that upon the one side are counted more generations than are years [p. 235]
upon the other,5
fortune should have varied more6
in that long time than in a life of thirteen years?
why not compare a man's fortune with a man's, and a general's with a general's? How many Roman generals could I name who never suffered a reverse in battle! in our annals and lists of magistrates you may run through pages of consuls and dictators of whom it never on any day repented the Roman People, whether of their generalship or fortune.
and what makes them more wonderful than Alexander or any king is this: some were dictators of ten or twenty days, and none held the consulship above a year;
their levies were obstructed by the tribunes of the plebs; they were late in going to war, and were called back early to conduct elections;
in the midst of their undertakings the year rolled round; now the rashness, now the frowardness of a colleague occasioned them losses or difficulties; they succeeded to affairs which others had mismanaged, they received an army of raw recruits, or one badly disciplined.
now consider kings: not only are they free from all impediments, but they are lords of time and circumstance, and in their counsels carry all things with them, instead of following in their train.
so then, an undefeated Alexander would have warred against undefeated generals, and would have brought the same pledges of Fortune to the crisis.
nay, he would have run a greater risk than they, inasmuch as the Macedonians would have had but a single Alexander, not only exposed to many dangers, but [p. 237]
incurring them voluntarily, while there would have7
many Romans a match for Alexander, whether for glory or for the greatness of their deeds, of whom each several one would have lived and died as his own fate commanded, without endangering the State.