Not long afterwards came the affair of Cleitus,
which those who simply learn the immediate circumstances will think more savage than that of Philotas; if we take into consideration, however, alike the cause and the time, we find that it did not happen of set purpose, but through some misfortune of the king, whose anger and intoxication furnished occasion for the evil genius of Cleitus. It happened on this wise.
Some people came bringing Greek fruit to the king from the sea-board. He admired its perfection and beauty and called Cleitus, wishing to show it to him and share it with him. It chanced that Cleitus was sacrificing, but he gave up the sacrifice and came; and three of the sheep on which libations had already been poured came following after him.
When the king learned of this circumstance, he imparted it to his soothsayers, Aristander and Cleomantis the Lacedaemonian. Then, on their telling him that the omen was bad, he ordered them to sacrifice in all haste for the safety of Cleitus. For he himself, two days before this, had seen a strange vision in his sleep; he thought he saw Cleitus sitting with the sons of Parmenio in black robes, and all were dead.
However, Cleitus did not finish his sacrifice, but came at once to the supper of the king, who had sacrificed to the Dioscuri. After boisterous drinking was under way, verses were sung which had been composed by a certain Pranichus, or, as some say, Pierio, to shame and ridicule the generals who had lately been defeated by the Barbarians.
The older guests were annoyed at this and railed at both the poet and the singer, but Alexander and those about him listened with delight and bade the singer go on. Then Cleitus, who was already drunk and naturally of a harsh temper and wilful, was more than ever vexed, and insisted that it was not well done, when among Barbarians and enemies, to insult Macedonians who were far better men than those who laughed at them, even though they had met with misfortune.
And when Alexander declared that Cleitus was pleading his own cause when he gave cowardice the name of misfortune, Cleitus sprang to his feet and said: ‘It was this cowardice of mine, however, that saved thy life, god-born as thou art, when thou wast already turning thy back upon the spear of Spithridates;
and it is by the blood of Macedonians, and by these wounds, that thou art become so great as to disown Philip and make thyself son to Ammon.’