We are now speaking of Alexander not yet intoxicated by prosperity, the seductions of which no man was less capable of withstanding.
But, if he is to be judged from the tenor of his conduct in the new state of his fortune, and from the new disposition,
as I may say, which he put on after his successes, he would have entered Italy more like Darius than Alexander; and would have brought thither an army who had forgotten Macedonia, and were degenerating into the manners of the Persians.
It is painful, in speaking of so great a king, to recite his ostentatious change of dress; his requiring that people should address him with adulation, [p. 585]
prostrating themselves on the ground, a practice insupportable to the Macedonians, had they even been conquered, much more so when they were victorious;
the shocking cruelty of his punishments; his murdering his friends in the midst of feasting and wine; with the folly of his fiction respecting his birth. What must have been the consequence, if his love of wine had daily become more intense?
if his fierce and uncontrollable anger? And as I mention not any one circumstance of which there is a doubt among writers, do we consider these as no disparagements to the qualifications of a commander?
But then, as is frequently repeated by the silliest of the Greeks, who are fond of exalting the reputation, even of the Parthians, at the expense of the Roman name, the danger was that the Roman people would not have had resolution to bear up against the splendour of Alexander's name, who, however, in my opinion, was not known to them even by common fame;
and while, in Athens, a state reduced to weakness by the Macedonian arms, which at the very time saw the ruins of Thebes smoking in its neighbourhood, men had spirit enough to declaim with freedom against him, as is manifest from the copies of their speeches, which have been preserved; [we are to be told] that out of such a number of Roman chiefs, no one would have freely uttered his sentiments.
How great soever our idea of this man's greatness may be, still it is the greatness of an individual, constituted by the successes of a little more than ten years;
and those who give it pre-eminence on account that the Roman people have been defeated, though not in any entire war, yet in several battles, whereas Alexander was never once unsuccessful in a single fight, do not consider that they are comparing the actions of one man, and that a young man, with the exploits of a nation waging wars now eight hundred years.
Can we wonder if, when on the one side more ages are numbered than years on the other, fortune varied more in so long a lapse of time than in the short term of thirteen years?1
But why not compare the success of one general with that of another? How many Roman commanders might I name who never lost a battle? In the annals of the magistrates, and the records, we may run over whole pages of consuls and dictators, with whose bravery, and successes also, the Roman [p. 586]
people never once had reason to be dissatisfied.
And what renders them more deserving of admiration than Alexander, or any king, is, that some of these acted in the office of dictator, which lasted only ten, or it might be twenty days;
none, in a charge of longer duration than the consulship of a year; their levies obstructed by plebeian tribunes; often late in taking the field;
recalled, before the time, on account of elections; amidst the very busiest efforts of the campaign, their year of office expired; sometimes the rashness, sometimes the perverseness of a colleague, proving an impediment or detriment; and finally succeeding to the unfortunate administration of a predecessor, with an army of raw or ill-dis- ciplined men.
But, on the other hand, kings, being not only free from every kind of impediment, but masters of circumstances and seasons, control all things in subserviency to their designs, themselves uncontrolled by any.
So that Alexander, unconquered, would have encountered unconquered commanders; and would have had stakes of equal consequence pledged on the issue.
Nay, the hazard had been greater on his side; because the Macedonians would have had but one Alexander, who was not only liable, but fond of exposing himself to casualties;
the Romans would have had many equal to Alexander, both in renown, and in the greatness of their exploits; any one of whom might live or die according to his destiny, without any material consequence to the public.