Some Talk of Alexander
“Our enemies are Medes and Persians,” said Alexander, seated on a strutting Bucephalus, rallying up his men as Argamemnon did a thousand years before him, in front of them was the The Persian Empire, the taking of which would would be his greatest achievement.
As he galloped along the front lines, he shouted;
“These are men who for centuries have lived soft and luxurious lives! But we of Macedon have been trained in the hard school of danger and war!”
He earned the title “The Great” from such military exploits, and his expansionism in the east saw him conquer the then known world.
He was brought up under the belief that the blood of the gods flowed through his veins, and that his father, being a descendant of Heracles, and his mother of Achilles, both first sons of Zeus, made him divine.
Before crossing the Hellespont towards his conquests in the east, he had consulted the oracle of Apollo in Delphi to confirm this. He made his libations, gave his alms, and made his prayers. He needed to hear a prophecy that would affirm his already stern beliefs, chiefly, that he was destined to conquer the world.
The priestess Pythia, who was renowned for her divination at the time, was ambiguous in her response and couldn't give a straight answer, so he forced an answer until she uttered;
“You are invincible, my son”
The moment he heard these words he dropped her, saying; “Now I have my answer.”
From thereon he set on south on a great trek that would see him enter Asia Minor, fling his spear onto the ground, and proclaim the continent of Asia as his rightful reward from the gods. On his way onward however, presumably not satisfied with the coerced prophecy of the priestess of Apollo in Delphi — he sought to consult the Oracle of Ammon, his father, to get true confirmation of his divinity.
Through myth, the oracle of Ammon was renowned for its infallibility in divination and prophecy, having been visited a thousand years earlier by his ancestors Heracles and Perseus. Alexander was pressed with 2 burning questions in mind; was he indeed the son of Zeus, and was he indeed invincible, as the Oracle of Delphi proclaimed.
Arriving at the temple he was met warmly in embrace by the priest who spoke poor greek, who, upon seeing him, proclaimed;
“O, paidios!” which translates to “Oh, son of God!”.
Some suggests he most likely shouted;
“O, paidion!” translating to “Oh, my son!” but in poor dialect.
Nevertheless, Alexander was pleased with the greeting and was fully content. He needed no further divination, he paid his alms and left the temple exultant. From thereon he would see himself as a god-king, the invincible son of Zeus.
After this he marched on east to the conquest of Egypt and established Alexandria, he marched on north-east for another 3 years and did to every city what Julius Caesar poetically proclaimed of himself when he said “I came, I saw, I conquered.”
Diodorus, a historian, accounts of one of his most extraordinary acts of courage on the borders of India, the result of which would ironically and among other events, sow a seed that would act as one of the catalysts for his deep self reflection later in his life.
In a campaign against the Sydracae, an Indian City State and a warlike people known as the Mallians, Alexander looked to take it by storm;
“One of the seers named Demopho,” writes Diodorus, “came to him and reported that there had been revealed to him by numerous portents a great danger which would come to the king from a wound in the course of the operation.
He begged Alexander to leave that city alone for the present and to turn his mind to other activities. Alexander scolded him for dampening the enthusiasm of the soldiers, and then, positioning his army for the attack. He led the siege in person [from the front] to the city, eager to reduce it by force.”
He lost patience with the engines of war which were slow in barraging the gate;
“He seized a ladder, leaned it against the walls of the citadel, and clambered up holding a light shield above his head.
The Indians did not dare come within his reach, for they knew it was Alexander, but flung javelins and shot arrows at him from a distance. He was staggering under the weight of their blows when the fellow Macedonians soldiers raised two ladders and swarmed up in a mass beside him, but both broke and the soldiers tumbled back upon the ground.
He then climbed on top of the wall and jumped over it onto the other side, alone, inside the city. As the Indians thronged around him, he held off the attacks, standing between a tree and a wall. He was eager to make this, if it were the last stand of his life, a supremely glorious one.
He took many blows on the helmet and shield, and was finally struck by an arrow below the breast and fell to one knee. The Indian who shot him, thinking he was helpless, rushed up to land the finishing blow, when Alexander lifted his sword and speared him in his flank. Alexander then caught hold of a branch close by and getting on his feet, called on the Indians to come forward and fight him.
At this point Peucestes, one of his guards, had mounted another ladder and was the first to cover Alexander with his shield. More soldiers jumped over and the natives fled, saving Alexander. The city was taken.
“In a fury at the injury to their king, the Macedonians killed all whom they met and filled the city with corpses.”
He eventually recovered from his wound, but the incident and injury, which nearly saw him dead, would years later make him question his invincibility.
He went on to conquer India, and then took the entire Persia empire, which ruled all the continents at the time. He ruled for 12 years 8 months, ushering in a new era the world had never seen before. The amount of cultural exchange that occurred was unparalleled.
The empire he built spread philosophy, science, art and literature throughout the known world. The Roman culture for centuries after was synonymous with Greek culture.
To the great commanders who followed him such as Hannibal and Caesar, Alexander was the yardstick against whom they measured their own victories. Hannibal called him the greatest general of all time while Caesar wept at the sight of his statue.
He was gifted with both intelligence and courage, often fighting against armies which vastly outnumbered him. He always led his men from the front. And fought besides them, eating when and what they ate, and refusing water if there wasn’t enough for all.
From the time of his father’s death, he continually proved himself his own man, a capable leader and one who led by example.