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38. After this, as he was about to march forth against Dareius, it chanced that he consented to take part in a merry drinking bout of his companions, at which women also came to meet their lovers and shared in their wine and revelry. The most famous among these women was Thaïs, an Athenian, the mistress of Ptolemy, who was afterwards king. She, partly in graceful praise of Alexander, and partly to make sport for him, as the drinking went on, was moved to utter a speech which befitted the character of her native country, but was too lofty for one of her kind. [2] She said, namely, that for all her hardships in wandering over Asia she was being requited that day by thus revelling luxuriously in the splendid palace of the Persians; but it would be a still greater pleasure to go in revel rout and set fire to the house of the Xerxes who burned Athens, she herself kindling the fire under the eyes of Alexander, in order that a tradition might prevail among men that the women in the train of Alexander inflicted a greater punishment upon the Persians in behalf of Hellas than all her famous commanders by sea and land. [3] As soon as she had thus spoken, tumultuous applause arose, and the companions of the king eagerly urged him on, so that he yielded to their desires, and leaping to his feet, with a garland on his head and a torch in his hand, led them the way. [4] The company followed with shouts and revelry and surrounded the palace, while the rest of the Macedonians who learned about it ran thither with torches and were full of joy. For they hoped that the burning and destruction of the palace was the act of one who had fixed his thoughts on home, and did not intend to dwell among Barbarians. This is the way the deed was done, according to some writers; but others say it was premeditated. 1 However, it is agreed that Alexander speedily repented and gave orders to put out the fire.

1 So Arrian, Anab. iii. 18. 11 f., where there is none of Plutarch's romance. For this, cf. Diodorus, xvii. 72; Curtius, v. 7, 1-7.

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    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 17.72.1
    • Arrian, Anabasis, 3.18.11
    • Curtius, Historiarum Alexandri Magni, 5.7.1
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