This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
In short, if Solon's statesmanship also was due to Fortune, and if Miltiades' generalship, and Aristeides'1 justice were but the result of Fortune, then surely there is no work of Virtue in these men, but it is a name only, talk based on appearance, pervading their lives to no purpose, a figment of the sophists and legislators. But if every one of these men and of others like them became poor or rich, weak or strong, ugly or handsome, lived to a ripe old age or met an untimely death through Fortune, or if each one of them proved himself a great general, a great lawgiver, or great in government and statesmanship through Virtue and Reason, then consider Alexander and compare him with them all. Solon2 brought about a cancellation of debts in Athens which he called the ‘Relief from Burdens’ (Seisachtheia); but Alexander himself paid the debts which his men owed to their creditors.3 Pericles collected tribute from the Greeks and with the money adorned the Acropolis [p. 479] with temples ; but Alexander captured the riches of barbarians and sent them to Greece with orders that ten thousand talents4 be used to construct temples for the gods.5 Brasidas's6 dash along the shore to Methonê through the armed host of the enemy amid showers of missiles made him renowned in Greece ; but that daring leap of Alexander in the country of the Oxydrachae,7 incredible to them that hear of it and fearful to them that saw it, when he hurled himself down from the walls into the midst of the enemy, who received him with spears and arrows and naked swords-with what may one compare it, save with the levin bolt that breaks and flashes in the midst of a hurricane, like the apparition of Phoebus that darted down to earth,8 gleaming round about with flaming armour. The enemy at first were amazed and affrighted and retired with trembling fear ; but a moment later, when they saw that he was but one man attacking many, they made a stand against him. There indeed Fortune made manifest great and splendid results of her kindliness toward Alexander, when she cast him into an insignificant foreign town and shut him in and fenced him round about! And when his men wTere earnestly trying to bring help from without and were attempting to scale the wails, Fortune, by breaking and shattering their ladders, took away their foothold and hurled them from the walls. And of the three9 men who alone were quick enough to grasp the wall and, throwing themselves [p. 481] down inside, to take their stand beside the king, Fortune straightway snatched up one and made away with him before he could strike a blow ; and a second, pierced through by many arrows, was only so far from death that he could see and perceive his king's danger. But the charges and shouting of the Macedonians were unavailing for they had no machines nor siege engines with them ; but in their zeal they tried to hack the walls with their swords, and were forced to break them off with their bare hands, and all but bite their way through. But the king, who was Fortune's favourite, and was always guarded and personally protected by her, was caught within like a wild beast in the toils, alone and without succour ; nor was he struggling for Susa or Babylon, nor to capture Bactriaj nor to vanquish the great Porus ; for in great and glorious conflicts, even though men fail, disgrace, at least, can find no place. But so contentious and malicious was Fortune, so greatly did she favour barbarians and hate Alexander, that she tried to destroy not only his body and his life, but also, in so far as she could, to destroy his repute and to wipe out his fair fame. For it were not a terrible thing for Alexander to fall and lie buried beside the Euphrates or the Hydaspes, nor ignoble to meet death by coming into close combat with Darius or in confronting the horses and swords and battle-axes of the Persians as they fought to defend their king, nor to be overthrown while he bestrode the walls of Babylon and to fall from his high hope. Thus fell Pelopidas and Epameinondas ; their death was a death belonging to Virtue, not to misfortune, engaged as they were in such a high emprise. But of what sort was the deed of Fortune, who is now [p. 483] under scrutiny? Was it not that on the farthest outposts of a land beside a foreign river within the walls of an obscure hamlet, which surrounded and hid away. from sight the lord and master of the inhabited world, he should perish, smitten and stricken by ignominious weapons and whatever else lay at hand? For his head was wounded through his helmet by an axe, and someone shot an arrow through his breastplate so that it penetrated the bones of his breast and was lodged there firmly, while the shaft protruded and hampered him and the iron point was four fingers broad and five fingers long.10 But - the extreme of all the dangers he confronted - while he was defending himself against those who attacked him in front, the archer who shot him had plucked up courage to approach him with a sword, but Alexander with his dagger was too quick for the man and knocked him down and killed him ; but while he was thus occupied, someone ran out from a mill, and gave him a blow on the neck with a cudgel from behind ; this confused his senses, and his head swam. But Virtue was by his side and in him she engendered daring, and in his companions strength and zeal. For men like Limnaeus and Ptolemy and Leonnatus and all those who had surmounted the wall or had broken through it took their stand before him and were a bulwark of Virtue, exposing their bodies in the face of the foe and even their lives for the goodwill and love they bore their king. Surely it is not due to Fortune that the companions of good kings risk their lives and willingly die for them ; but this they do [p. 485] through a passion for Virtue, even as bees, as if under the spell of love-charms, approach and closely surround their sovereign. What spectator, then, who might without danger to himself have been present at that scene, would not exclaim that he was witnessing the mighty contest of Fortune and Virtue ; that through Fortune the foreign host was prevailing beyond its deserts, but through Virtue the Greeks were holding out beyond their ability? And if the enemy gains the upper hand, this will be the work of Fortune or of some jealous deity or of divine retribution ; but if the Greeks prevail, it will be Virtue and daring, friendship and fidelity, that will win the guerdon of victory? These were, in fact, the only support that Alexander had with him at this time, since Fortune had put a barrier between him and the rest of his forces and equipment, fleets, horse, and camp. Finally, the Macedonians routed the barbarians, and, when they had fallen, pulled down their city on their heads. But this was no help to Alexander ; for he had been hurried from the field, arrow and all, and he had the shaft in his vitals ; the arrow was as a bond or bolt holding his breastplate to his body. And when they tried forcibly to pull it out of the wound by the roots, as it were, the iron would not budge, since it was lodged in the bony part of the breast in front of the heart. They did not dare to saw off the protruding portion of the shaft, since they were afraid that the bone might be split by the jarring and cause excruciating pain, and that an internal haemorrhage might result. But when Alexander perceived their great perplexity and hesitation, he himself tried with his dagger to cut off the arrow [p. 487] close to his breastplate ; but his hand was unsteady and affected by a torpid languor from the inflammation of the wound. Accordingly with encouraging words he urged those that were unwounded to take hold and not to be afraid; and he railed at some who were weeping and could not control themselves, others he branded as deserters, since they had not the courage to Come to his assistance. And he cried aloud to his Companions, ‘Let no one be fainthearted even for my sake ! For it will not be believed that I do not fear death, if you fear death for me !’ 11
1 Cf. Moralia, 97 c.
2 Cf. Moralia, 828 f; Life of Solon, chaps. xv., xvi. (86 d, 87 d); Aristotle, Constitution of Athens, 10. 1.
3 Cf. 339 c, supra, and the note.
4 £2,000,000 or $10,000,000.
5 Cf. Diodorus, xviii. 4. 4.
6 Cf. Thucydides, ii. 25. 2.
7 The Mallians: cf. 327 b, supra.
8 Cf. perhaps Homer, Il. xv. 237; iv. 75-80.
9 327 b, supra, and Life of Alexander, chap. lxiii. (700 c) mention only two; but Plutarch here seems to follow the authority used by Arrian, Anabasis, vi. 10, who gives the number as three; cf. also 344 d, infra.
10 Plutarch the rhetorician increases by one finger's-breadth the dimensions of the arrow-point which are given by Plutarch the biographer in his Life of Alexander, chap. lxiii. (700 e).
11 Some think the narrative closes abruptly, and that it should have been continued to include at least Alexander's recovery, but the Greeks did not always insist on a happy ending narrated in full.