Alexander The Great

, king of Macedon, whose life has been written by Curtius, and Arian, Plutarch, and Diodorus, was one of the most renowned monarchs of ancient times, and his life has formed a conspicuous article in all works of the biographical kind, although much of it belongs to history. His extraction was illustrious, though perhaps fabulous; his father Philip having been descended from Hercules, and his mother Olympias from Achilles. He was born at Pella the first year of the 106th olympiad, the 398th from the building of Rome, and the 356th before the oirth of Christ. On the night of his birth, the | temple of Diana at Ephesus was set on fire, and burnt t9 the ground: which latter circumstance, said Timaeus, an historian, “was not to be wondered at, since the goddess was so engaged at Olympias’s labour, that she could not be present at Ephesus to extinguish the flames.” This Cicero praises as an acute and elegant saying; but Plutarch and Longinus condemn it, with better reason, as quaint and frigid.

At fifteen years of age, Alexander was delivered to the tuition of Aristotle. He discovered very early a mighty spirit, and symptoms of that vast and immoderate ambition which was afterwards to make him the scourge of mankind and the pest of the world. One day, when it was told him that Philip had gained a battle, instead of rejoicing, he looked much chagrined, and said, that “if his father went on at this rate, there would be nothing left for him to do.” Upon Philip’s shewing some wonder, that Alexander did not engage in the Olympic games, “Give me,” said the youth, “kings for my antagonists, and I will present myself at once.” The taming and managing of the famous Bucephalus is always mentioned among the exploits of his early age. This remarkable horse was brought from Thessaly, and purchased at a very great price; but upon trial he was found so wild and vicious, that neither Philip nor any of his courtiers could mount or manage him; and he was upon the point of being sent back as useless, when Alexander, expressing his grief that so noble a creature should be rejected, merely because nobody had the dexterity to manage him, was at length permitted to try what he could do. Alexander, we are told, had perceived, that the frolicksome spirit and wildness of Bucephalus proceeded solely from the fright which the animal had taken at his own shadow: turning his head, therefore, directly to the sun, and gently approaching him with address and skill, he threw himself upon him; and though Philip at first was extremely distressed and alarmed for his son, yet when he saw him safe, and perfectly master of his steed, he received him with tears of joy, saying, “O, my son thou must seek elsewhere a kingdom, for Macedonia cannot contain thee.” One more instance of this very high spirit may suffice. When Philip had repudiated Olympias for infidelity to his bed, the young prince felt a most lively resentment on the occasion; yet, being invited by his father to the nuptials with his new uife, he did not refuse | to go. In the midst of the entertainment, Attalus, a favourite of Philip, had the imprudence to say, that the Macedonians must implore the gods to grant the king a lawful successor. “What, you scoundrel do you then take me for a bastard r” says Alexander; and threw a cup that instant at his head. Philip, intoxicated with wine, and believing his son to be the author of the quarrel, rushed violently towards him with his sword; but, slipping with his foot, fell prostrate upon the floor; upon which Alexander said insultingly, “See, Macedonians, wnat a general you have for the conquest of Asia, who cannot take a single step without falling;” for Philip had just before been named for this expedition in a common assembly of the Greeks, and was preparing for it, when he was murdered by Pausanius at a feast.

Alexander, now twenty years of age, succeeded his father as king of Macedon: he was also chosen, in room of his father, generalissimo in the projected expedition against the Persians; but the Greeks, agreeably to their usual Jickleness, deserted from him, taking the advantage of his absence in Thrace and lllyricum, where he began his military enterprises. He hastened immediately to Greece, and the Athenians and other states returned to him once; but the Thebans resisting, he directed his arms against them, slew a prodigious number of them, and destroyed their city; sparing nothing but the descendants and the house of Pindar, out of respect to the memory of that poet. This happened in the second year of tue third olympiad. It was about this time that he went to consult the oracle at Delphi; when, the priestess pretending that it was not, on some account, lawful for her to enter the temple, he being impatient, hauled her along, and occasioned her to cry out, “Ah, my son, there is no resisting thee” upon which, Alexander, seizing the words as ominous, replied, “I desire nothing farther: this oracle suffices.” It was also probably at tnis time that the remarkable interview passed between our hero and Diogenes the cynic. Alexander had the curiosity to visit this philosopher in his tub, and complimented him with asking “if he Could do any thing to serve nim” “Nothing,” said the cynic, “but to stand from betwixt me and the sun.” The attendants were expecting what resentment would be shewn to this rude behaviour; when Alexander surprised them by saying, “Positively, if I was not Alexander, I would he Diogenes.| Having settled the affairs of Greece, and left Antipater as nis viceroy in Macedonia, he passed the Hellespont, in uie taird year of his reign, with an army of no more than 30,000 foot and 4,500 horse; and with these brave and veteran forces he overturned the Persian empire. His first battle was at the Granicus, a river of Phrygia, in which the Persians were routed. His second was at Issus, a city of Cilicia, where he was also victorious in an eminent degree; for the camp of Darius, with his mother, wife, and children, fell into his hands; and the humane and generous treatment which he shewed them is justly reckoned the noblest and most amiable passage of his life. While he was in this country, he caught a violent fever by battling, when hot, in the cold waters of the river Cydnus; and this fever was made more violent from his impatience at being detained by it. The army was under the utmost consternation; and no physician durst undertake the cure. At length one Philip of Acarnania desired time to prepare a potion, which he was sure would cure him; and while the potion was preparing, Alexander received a letter from his most intimate confident Parmenio, informing him, that his physician was a traitor, and employed by Darius to poison him, at the price of a thousand talents and his sister in marriage. The same fortitude, however, which accompanied him upon all occasions, did not forsake him here. He carefully concealed from his physician every symptom of apprehension; but, after receiving the cup into his hands, delivered the letter to the Acarnanian, and with eyes fixed upon him, drank it off. The medicine at first acted so powerfully, as to deprive him of his senses, and then, without doubt, all concluded him poisoned: however, he soon recovered, and, by a cure so speedy that it might almost be deemed miraculous, was restored to his army in perfect health.

It was at Anchyala, a town of Cilicia, that he was shewn a monument of Sardanapalus, with this inscription “Sardanapalus built Anchyala and Tarsus in a day Passenger, eat, drink, and enjoy thyself all else is nothing.” This, probably, moved his contempt very strongly, when he compared such petty acquisitions to what he projected. From Cilicia he marched forwards to Phoenicia, which all surrendered to him, except Tyre; and it cost him a siege of seven months to reduce this city. The vexation of Alexander, atbeing unseasonably detained by this | obstinacy of the Tyrians, occasioned a vast destruction and carnage; and the cruelty he exercised here is among the deepest stains on his character. After besieging and taking Gaza, he went to Jerusalem, where he was received by the high priest; and, making many presents to the Jews, sacrificed in their temple. He told Jadduas (for that was the priest’s name), that he had seen in Macedonia a god, in appearance exactly resembling him, who had exhorted him to this expedition against the Persians, and given him the firmest assurance of success. Afterwards, entering Ægypt, he went to the oracle of Jupiter Ammon, and upon his return built the city of Alexandria. It was now that he took it into his head to assume divinity, and to pretend himself the son of the said Jupiter Ammon, for which his mother Olympias would sometimes rally him, not unpleasantly, “Pray,” she would say, “cease to be called the son of Jupiter: thou wilt certainly embroil me in quarrels with Juno.” Policy, however, was at the bottom of this: it was impossible that any such belief should be really rooted in his breast, but he found by experience that this opinion inclined the barbarous nations to submit to him; and therefore he was content to pass for a god, and to admit, as he did, of divine adoration. So far, indeed, was he from believing this of himself, that he used among his friends to make a jest of it. Thus, afterwards, when he was bleeding from a wound he had received, “See here,” says he, “this is your true genuine blood, and not that ixpp, or thin fine liquor, which issues, according to Homer, from the wounds of the immortals.” Nay, even his friends sometimes made free with this opinion, which shews that he did not hold it sacred: for once, when it thundered horridly loud, and somewhat terrified the company, the philosopher Anaxarchus, who was present, said to Alexander, “And when wilt thou, son of Jupiter, do the like” “Oh,” said Alexander, “I would not frighten my friends.

His object now was to overtake and attack Darius in another battle; and this battle was fought at Arbela, when victoiy granting every thing to Alexander, put an end to the Persian empire. Darius had offered his daughter in marriage, and part of his dominions to Alexander, and Parmenio advised him to accept the terms “I would,” says he, “if I were Alexander;” “and so would I,” replied the conqueror, “if I were Parmenio.” The same | Parmenio, counselling the prince to take the advantage of the night in attacking Darius, “No,” said Alexander, “I would not steal a victory.” Darius owed his escape from Arbela to the swiftness of his hofse; and while he was collecting forces to renew the war, was insidiously slain by Bessus, governor of the Bactrians. Alexander wept at the fate of Darius; and afterwards procuring Bessus to be given up to him, punished the inhuman governor according to his deserts. From Arbela Alexander pursued his conquests eastward; and everything fell into his hands, even to the Indies. Here he had some trouble with king Porus, whom however he subdued and took. Porus was a man of spirit, and his spirit was not destroyed even by his defeat; for, when Alexander asked him, “how he would be treated,” he answered very intrepidly, “like a king;” which, it is said, so pleased the conqueror, that he ordered the greatest attention to be paid him, and afterwards restored him to his kingdom. Having ranged over all the east, and made even the Indies provinces of his empire, he returned to Babylon; where he died in the 33d year of his age; some say by poison, others by drinking.

The character of this hero is so familiar, that it is almost needless to draw it. It was equally composed of very great virtues and very great vices. He had no mediocrity in any thing but his stature: in his other properties, whether good or bad, he was all extremes. His ambition rose even to madness. His father was not at all mistaken in supposing the bounds of Macedon too small for his son: for how could Macedon bound the ambition of a man, who reckoned the whole world too small a dominion He wept at hearing the philosopher Anaxarchus say, that there was an infinite number of worlds: his tears were owing to his despair of conquering them all, since he had not yet been able to conquer one. Livy, in a short digression, has attempted to inquire into the events which might have happened, if Alexander, after the conquest of Asia, had brought his arms into Italy Doubtless things might have taken a very different turn with him; and all the grand projects, which succeeded so well against an effeminate Persian monarch, might easily have miscarried if he had had to do with hardy Roman armies. And yet the vast aims of this mighty conqueror, if seen under another point of view, may appear to have been confined within a very ­narrow compass; since, as we are told, the utmost wish of | that great heart, for which the whole earth was not enough, was, after all, to be praised by the Athenians. It is related, that the difficulties which he encountered in order to pass the Hydaspes, forced him to cry out, “O Athenians, could you believe to what dangers I expose myself for the sake of being celebrated by you” But Bayle affirms, that this was quite consistent with the vast unbounded extent of his ambition, as he wanted to make all future time his own, and be an object of admiration to the latest posterity; yet did not expect this from the conquest of worlds, but from books. And he was right, continues that author, “for if Greece had not furnished him with good writers, he would long ago have been as much forgotten as the kings who reigned in Macedon before Arh> phitryon.”­Alexander has been praised upon the score of continency, and his life m’ght not be quite regular in that respect, yet his behaviour to the Persian captives shews him to have had a great command over himself in this particular. The wife of Darius was a finished beauty; her daughters likewise were all beauties; yet this young prince, who had them in his power, not only bestowed on them all the honours due to their hisfh rank, but consulted their reputation with the utmost delicacy. They were kept as in a cloister, concealed from the world, and secured from the reach not only of every dishonourable attack, but even from imputation. He gave not the least occasion to censure, either by his visits, his looks, or his words: and for other Persian dames his prisoners, equally beautiful in face and shape, he contented himself with saying gaily, that they gave indeed much pain to his eyes. Notwithstanding these facts, he has been accused of those licentious gallantries common to princes in his age and country.

His excesses with regard to wine were more notorious, and beyond all imagination; and he committed, when intoxicated, a thousand extravagances. It was owing to wine, that he killed Clytus, who saved his life; and burnt Persepolis, one of the most beautiful cities of the east: he did this last indeed at the instigation of the courtezan Thais: a circumstance which makes it the more atrocious. It is generally believed, that he died by drinking immoderately; and even Plutarch, who affects to contradict it, owns that he did nothing but drink the whole day he was taken ill. | His character has been so often the theme of history, nd the subject of discussion, tfyat it would be superfluous to analyze the various opinions entertained. The reader, however, to whom the subject is interesting, may be referred, with confidence, to a work, entitled “A critical Inquiry into the Life of Alexander the Great, by the ancient historians from the French of the baron de St. Croix; with notes and observations, by sir Richard Clayton, bart.” Lond. 1793, 4to. 1


The authors mentioned above. Gen. Dict. Universal History, &c.