Alexander Romance ( "Pseudo-Callisthenes" )

Book 1 , Chapters 42-47

A combination of the Greek version translated by E.H.Haight (1955); the Armenian version translated by A.M.Wolohojian (1969); and the Syriac version translated by E.A.W.Budge (1889).

Most of the Armenian version is a fairly close translation of the Greek version. Sentences that appear in the Armenian version but not in the Greek version are shown in green.   Click on the G symbols to go the Greek text of each chapter.

Alexander attacks a city

  Alexander attacks a city of Darius

  BL Royal 15.E.VI (15th century)

← Previous chapters (33-41)

{ Greek & Armenian versions }


{ Syriac version }

[42] G   Darius, having fled in safety, assembled against Alexander larger forces than before. And he wrote to the nations subject to him to come to him with large armaments. Now a spy of Alexander learned that Darius was assembling a great army near the Euphrates river and the barbarians were gathering there, and he wrote Alexander about the facts. Alexander on learning them wrote to his general Scamander these words:

"I, King Alexander, send greetings to my general Scamander. Come to me quickly with all your forces. For it is reported that the barbarians are not far away."

Alexander himself, with the army which he had, proceeded to Achaia. Arriving there, he subdued many cities and in that way collected an army of 170,000. After he had crossed the so-called Taurus, he drove a huge spear into the earth and said:

"If any strong man of the Greeks, or the barbarians, or the other kings shall pull up this spear, he will have a sign hard upon himself. For his city will be pulled up from its foundations."

[42] And when Alexander was ready, with the spoil which he had taken, to go to Achaia, there too he captured a number of cities, and others of them he made horsemen and foot-soldiers.

Then he went to the Pierian city of Bebrycia where there was a temple and a statue of Orpheus and standing near him the Pierian Muses and the wild beasts. And when Alexander looked at the statue of Orpheus, the wooden image sweat on the forehead and the whole body. When Alexander asked what this sign meant, the soothsayer Melampūs said to him:

"King Alexander, you will grow weary from sweat and toil in subduing the tribes of the barbarians and the cities of the Greeks and travelling among wild beasts. But Orpheus by playing his lyre and singing won over the Greeks and by his sweet words turned the barbarians to love and tamed the wild beasts."

On hearing these words, Alexander gave great honours to Melampūs, the soothsayer.

And he departed from thence and went to the city of Pieria, which is in Bebrukia, of which city people say that the Nine Muses (that is, the Sciences) went forth from it.

Then he came to Phrygia and he entered the actual city of Ilium and offered sacrifices to Hector, Achilles, and the other heroes. But he especially worshipped Achilles and he begged that he himself protect him and accept graciously the gifts he brought, for these were dedicated not by a stranger, or a superstitious man, but by one of the same blood and one who was devout.

And from thence he came to Phrygia, that is Ilion, and in that place he offered sacrifices to Hector, whom in the Persian tongue they call Sôtî ; and he made offerings to Achilles, and to the river Âlîs, which they call Pôlîs, and to the rest of the warriors.

  Now first came Aeacus the son of Zeus,
  And then the realm of Phthia Peleus held,
  Where you his famous child sprang into fame.
  Next Pyrrhus added to the noble line,
  And Pielus who came next was not unlike,
  And his son Eubius thereafter reigned.
  Next ardent Nessus took the name of the house,
  And Argus came, the lord of Xanthus he.
  His child, Arete good, prolonged the line,
  Whose son in turn the name of Priam took.
  Tryinus next, Eurymachus after him.
  Rich Lycus followed and then Castor came.
  His son was Dromon, who begat Phocus.
  Then Metrias, first called Neoptolemus,
  But later Charopus, who was the king
  Of the Molossians, founder of our race.
  And there will be another famous son,
  His mother's cherished, who will start your line.
  I beg you to bestow your name on me.
  Be patron of our wars, and glories add
  As rich reward to one of your fierce seed,
  Which shall pervade all stretches of the earth.
  Let our goal be the bounds of Phaethon.
  Let all the universe see our realm expand.
{ These verses are found only in a Latin translation, not in the Greek text }

And he marvelled at the Scamander river into which Achilles leaped, because it was not five cubits wide, and at the shield of Ajax made of seven ox-hides, because it was not very large or remarkable, as Homer had recorded, and he said:

"Blessed are you both, because you had such a herald as Homer, for you became great in his poems. But in the visible proofs you are not worthy of what he wrote." And a certain poet presented himself to Alexander and said: "I will write of you more eloquently than Homer could." Alexander replied: "I prefer to be Thersites with Homer rather than Achilles with you."

His mother Olympias shared his travel and labour, but after he had celebrated a banquet with her, he sent her back to Macedonia giving her an escort of a fine group of noble captives, and he himself changing his course started out against Darius.

He saw the river which they call Eskamlîs {Scamander} into which Achilles leaped, the breadth of which was five cubits. He saw also the river Ôltîs (?), which was not very large, even as Homer wrote of it. And he answered and said to the rivers, "Happy are ye in that ye have found heralds to proclaim your merits, even Homer himself who has named you in his poem great and glorious ! Your deeds however, and the sight of your works, are not so worthy of admiration as the words of him who wrote of you." And when Alexander had made this speech, Krintîmos (?) drew near to Alexander the king of the Athenians and said, "O king Alexander, I too can put in writing this thy bravery and all thy actions in a better manner than Homer wrote concerning these rivers, because the might of thy deeds and thy wars is greater than these." Then Alexander said to him, "Would that thy deeds were better than the words which Homer spoke concerning them."

[43] G   From there, he went to Pyle and assembled the army of the Macedonians, with those whom he had taken prisoners in the war of Darius, and travelled to Abdera. The people of Abdera closed the gates of their city.   Alexander became angry and ordered his generals to sack the city   And they sent ambassadors to him who said:

"We have closed our gates, not in opposition to your power, but fearing the kingdom of the Persians, lest Darius remaining in power should sack our city on the ground that it welcomed you. So when you return, open the city's gates. For we will submit to the king who is stronger."

Alexander, on hearing these words, smiled and said to the ambassadors sent by them:

"You have feared the power of Darius lest hereafter, remaining in royal power, he will sack your city. Go and open your gates and live the lives of citizens in honour. For I will not enter your city until I conquer King Darius whom you have feared. And then I will take you under my sway."

After this speech, he sent the ambassadors off on their journey home.

[43] And Alexander departed thence and came to Macedonia, and when he had entered there he found his mother Olympias recovering from her sickness ; and he remained there with her a few days, and departed thence. And after these things he came to Abdera. and when the people of Abdera heard it, they shut the gates of their city that Alexander might not enter it. And when Alexander saw this, he was exceedingly angry, and gave orders to set fire to it. And when the inhabitants of the city saw that they were setting their city on fire, they cried out with a loud voice and said to Alexander, "O king Alexander, we have not closed the gates of the city on this account, as if we wished to fight against thee, but we have shut them for this reason, lest when Darius hears of it, he may think we have delivered up the city into thy hands of our own will, and may utterly destroy us out of the world." Then Alexander said to them, "Open the gates according to your former custom ; for I am not going to enter your city at present, but at the time when I shall have conquered Darius."

[44] G   Then in two days he arrived at Bottia and Olynthus and sacked all the country of the Chalcidians and destroyed those near. Then he came to the Euxine sea and made all the nearest cities subject to him;   for there was no one who dared oppose so much power. And, having very ceremoniously sacrificed to Poseidon, he passed on to Meotis, the rocky and unpassable lands.

He did not have enough provisions for food for the Macedonians so men were dying from hunger. Then the Macedonian, conceiving in his mind an original plan, had all the horses of the cavalry slaughtered, and their bodies flayed. Then he ordered the army to roast their flesh and have their fill of it. And under the compulsion of hunger they used it. But the soldiers kept talking about it and said:

"Why did Alexander decide to kill all the horses? For the present our hunger is satisfied, but we are unarmed without the cavalry to protect us."

[44] And he departed thence, and came to Kûsîtîres and to Nûtîrâ, to the shore of the river Ustîn, and he saw the lake which they call 'the second death', and the country was a place of cannibals ; and a scarcity of food overtook them in that place, and they had nothing to eat and were distressed in their souls therein. Alexander bade them slay the horses which were in the camp, that the horsemen and foot-soldiers might eat; and they ate and were satisfied; but they were all grieved about the horses, and were all without horses.

Alexander, hearing their grumbling, went to the camp and made this speech:

"Fellow-soldiers, I slew the horses even though they were necessary for war, that you might be fed. For what need have we of horses if the horsemen die? For one evil weighed against a lesser evil involves less woe. When we enter another land which is friendly, we will easily acquire other horses. But if you perish of hunger, where shall I, surviving, find other Macedonians?"

Then Alexander said to them, "O my comrades, ye are alive instead of the horses, and in very deed ye are more needed than they. I know that horses are also necessary, but God forbid that ye should die, for of what use would the horses be then ? But now our horses being dead and we alive, we shall be able by our strength to find a land of food, where we shall also find horses. Horses may be found in many places, but Macedonians cannot be found everywhere." And by these words he persuaded his forces.

[45] G   So Alexander, after calming the army, continued his march. And having passed by other cities, he came to Locri. The soldiers halted there one day. Then he came to the people of Acragas and there entered the shrine of Apollo and demanded that the priestess give him an oracle. And when she refused to give him an oracle, Alexander in anger said: "If you do not wish to prophesy, I will overthrow the tripod as Heracles overthrew the prophetic tripod which Croesus, king of the Lydians, set up."   And so saying, he seized the oracle and the tripod which King Croesus had donated.   Then a voice came to him from the shrine: "Alexander, Heracles did this, a god to a god, but do not you, being mortal, attack gods. For your deeds are talked of among gods." When this voice was borne to him, the prophetess said: "The god himself has given you an oracle, addressing you by the stronger name. For he called, from the shrine, 'Heracles Alexander,' foretelling that it is fated that you shall be stronger in prowess than all men and be remembered through the ages."

[45] And he departed thence and came to the Locri, whence they obtained food and horses ; and they remained there one day. And from thence he came to Akrantîs; and thence he went to the temple of Apollo, and there he begged and entreated of the priest to ask an oracle from Apollo for him. And the priest said to him, "Thou art not permitted to ask an oracle from here." When Alexander heard these words, he was angered and said to the priest, "If thou dost not ask an oracle for me, I will take this tripod of divination and carry it away from here, even as Heracles did to his gods when they did not wish to give him an oracle." Having spoken these words, he straightway took the tripod of divination, which king Krithithos [Croesus] of Lydia had made, from its place, and put it upon his shoulders. And when he had taken it, he heard a voice from within the temple which said, "Alexander, if Heracles did any such deed as this, he did it to the gods his equals ; but thou art a mortal man. Strive not with the immortal gods, that the gods may be thy helpers and may tell thy power in the world." And when he had heard a voice like this, again another voice from within the temple answered and said : "O Alexander, listen to the oracle of Apollo which I have heard, and hearken and I will speak to thee. Men shall tell of thy power and thy name in the world, and thy name shall last for ever, because thy might and thy deeds will be great and glorious." When Alexander had heard these words, he said, "O Apollo, henceforward I will believe this augury, as I likewise so believed thy father at yon time."

{ Greek & Armenian versions }


{ Syriac version }

[46] G   Now Alexander came to Thebes and demanded that the Theban nobles come out for a parley.   And he requested from them 4,000 brave men and tribute.   But the Thebans closed their gates: they did not send their old men out to Alexander, nor did they welcome him. Instead, they made ready an army as if they were going to fight Alexander. They sent five hundred armed men to proclaim to Alexander from their walls that he was to make war, or leave their city. He smiled and answered:

"Noble Thebans, why, when you have shut yourselves up within your walls, do you order those outside to make war, or depart? I will make war, by Zeus, not as against a city and seasoned soldiers, but as against private citizens and cowards. Yes, I swear, I will subdue all those who have shut themselves up within the walls. For brave men fight in the open plain, women shut themselves up."

[46] And he departed thence and began to march towards Thebes. And when he had drawn nigh and arrived at Thebes, he demanded of them four thousand men to recruit his army. But when they heard this request, they closed the gates of the city, and answered him never a word, but straightway armed themselves and mounted the wall And four hundred men said from the wall to Alexander, "Come and fight, or else depart from our city." When he heard this speech, he laughed, and answered and said, "Men of Thebes, who of your freewill have shut yourselves up, and who now command me saying, 'Either fight or depart from our city,' I am therefore going to fight with you, and by the fortune of Zeus, I will not make war with you as with brave and tried men, but I will fight with you as I would with weak and despicable fellows who are fit for nothing. Therefore shall ye be smitten with the point of the spear, because ye have of your own free will shut yourselves up in a cage. It is fitting to fight with valiant men and warriors in a plain or in a level place ; but for effeminate men who live in cages it is good that they should be shut up in chambers and die like young girls."

After this retort, he ordered four thousand horsemen to rush around the walls and shoot with their arrows all those standing on them and he commanded others with axes, two-edged weapons, and very long pikes and iron crowbars to undermine the foundation stones and to heave up the blocks swung in place by the music of Amphion and by Zethus and to drive the so-called battering rams with full force against the breach in the walls. These instruments of warfare, made of iron and wood, were pushed along on wheels by the soldiers' man-power and were operated from a long distance against the walls. Soon in their onset they were hurling showers of rocks. Alexander himself with other thousands of slingers and spearmen circled around Thebes to demolish it. Fire, rocks, darts, sharp pointed javelins were hurled. From the walls the wounded Thebans kept falling: as if smitten by thunderbolts from heaven, they were dying. Others kept going down as they rushed here and there unable to organize resistance.

And when he had said this, he commanded a thousand horsemen to ride round the wall, and to shoot arrows at those who stood upon the wall. He likewise commanded two thousand footmen to destroy the foundations of the wall with picks and spades, and the upper part of it with long hooks and iron crowbars. He also commanded four hundred other foot-soldiers to set fire to the gates of the city with burning torches, and other foot-soldiers to let go the battering rams with violence against the wall and to shatter the wall. Now the battering ram is a warlike instrument used for the assault of cities, made of a huge log, the head of which is bound with iron, and fashioned in the shape of a ram's head ; and it is fitted and fixed upon a revolving wheel, and men urge it forward with force from a distance, and grasp it and let it go with great violence, and it goes with impetus and strikes the wall or the gate, and wherever it strikes it makes a breach. Meanwhile Alexander with ten thousand men, slingers and casters of javelins was fighting against one of the gates of the city. And when the fire had taken hold of the wall on all sides, and the arrows and missiles from the slings were shaking the wall everywhere, and were shot over the wall into the midst of the city, and fell like lightnings when they flash from heaven to earth, the people who were wounded with the stones from the slings were many, and within the city and in the houses they were smitten by the arrows and missiles, and died.

In three days, the whole city of Thebes was destroyed by fire. First, the gate of Cadmus was breached, the gate where Alexander stood. At once through the narrow opening the king entered alone. Many of the opposing Thebans fled in confusion. Then from the other gates the survivors, soldiers and horsemen, three thousand in all, fled and perished. Now the walls were being undermined and were falling in ruins. For swiftly the Macedonian army carried out all Alexander's commands. With much bloodshed the stones laid by Cadmus were loosened. The narrow streets were filled with the bodies of many Thebans. Cithaeron rejoiced, exulting in the lamentation in the houses and in the works of war. For all the houses fell; the whole city of the Thebans was in flames; and the Macedonian hand did not weary in staining the death-dealing axe with blood. The Thebans, helpless, frenzied, were exterminated by Alexander.

The city of the Thebans was burning three days and three nights; and on the fourth day, the gate of the city, at which Alexander was fighting, fell down all at once, and Alexander entered the city with a number of men ; and when he had entered he commanded to throw open the other gates. And the four thousand horsemen with their horses entered the city, and Alexander commanded them and said to them, "Slay all the people of the city." Now the walls of the city and the houses were broken up by the fire and were falling down. Then the army of the Macedonians made haste to slay the people, as the king had commanded them ; and on a sudden much blood was shed in the city. When Alexander saw the great bloodshed and the destruction of the Thebans, he rejoiced in his mind and was glad.

At that time there was a Theban named Ismenias who was a skilled musician and also something of a philosopher. When he saw Thebes overthrown and razed and all the young men doomed, he mourned over his country and undertook a brave deed through his music. He decided, carrying his pipes, to go as a suppliant to the king and to sing a pitiful, humble, heart-rending song that through the appeal of the pipes, the melody, and the strains of his dirge he might be able to move Alexander to compassion. He decided first to address appealing words to the monarch, so, stretching out his hand and weeping bitterly, he began to speak:

As the Macedonians desisted not from slaughter, neither were the blades of their swords sated with blood, and the Thebans, since they had no deliverance nor place of refuge, were perishing [before them], a certain singer who was a Theban by race, a man well trained and wise and of understanding, and who knew the Macedonian language, - this man, when he saw that the whole city of Thebes was on fire, and that every class of people in it were perishing, groaned bitterly like a man who was mourning for his country. Then he took his pipe in his hand and chanted skilfully and cunningly in the Macedonian tongue in strains doleful and sad and full of lamentation, and came before Alexander. Now by that mournful song and lugubrious strain Alexander's anger was a little pacified, and he spoke with a loud voice to his forces saying, "Fellow soldiers, this singer knows how to work ill, for that implacable anger [of mine] against the Thebans, behold, he has extinguished."

King and son of the gods, glorious and beautiful   Alexander, we have learned by experience your godlike power and we reverence you. Hold back your unconquered hands from the Thebans. Our gods are famous. Rooted deep in the past is our common origin. Dionysus, son of Zeus and Semele, smitten by the thunderbolt, was born in Thebes. Heracles came from the union of Zeus and Alcmene here. They were the helpers of mankind, peace-lovers, guardians of security. They were your forefathers, Alexander. You should imitate them and be the benefactor of men. Since you are sprung from gods, do not see the Thebes of Dionysus and Heracles destroyed. Do not raze the city founded where the heifer lay. That will hereafter be a disgrace to the Macedonians. Are you unaware, Alexander, that you are a man of Thebes, not of Pella? All the land of Thebes cries to you through my voice, appealing in the names of your divine ancestors, Lyaeus, god of revelry and song, Heracles, just in deeds, saviour of men. Imitate your forefathers, who were generally noble and good. Turn from wrath to benefactions. Mercy is far greater than anger.

And when the singer came into the presence of Alexander, he said, "Mighty king, great in power, and rich in knowledge, listen with compassionate heart to the voice of the Thebans thy servants who have rightly received their chastisement, who have not understood that thy power is like unto that of the gods. Now therefore we worship thee as a god, and take thee as a lord, the greatest of the gods. All we Thebans are in thy victorious hands that never yield : let thy mind be pacified and spare us. Know also that the destruction of the Thebans will be an injury to thyself in the first place, because thou too art a Theban and a son of our divine race, and thy serpent's head, which [thou dost inherit] from thy father, is from here; for the country belongs to Zeus. Dionysus, glorious in his being, and beautiful and splendid in his appearance, was born here ; and Heracles, the hero of the twelve labours, the son of Zeus and Alcmene, appeared here ; and Ammon, clothed with pride and . . . his horns, was born in Thebes. All these gods are thy fathers and thy progenitors; and when they were born, they were born for the rest and the peace and the joy of men, and their aid and protection were extended over all mankind.

  Do not betray the gods who were your sires.
  Raze not the city of your ancestors.
  Sink not, in blindness, your own native land.
  These walls you see, the shepherd Zethus built,
  Amphion's lyre played the stones in place,
  Sons of Zeus they, whom secretly a nymph,
  Daughter of Nycteus, bore, as revelry's fruit.
  These walls, the royal palace, Cadmus built,
  Then wed the nymph Harmonia, Cypris' child,
  The secret gift in Thrace of the foam-born.
  Make not your plough-land barren, like a fool,
  Nor level wantonly all the walls of Thebes.
  Here was the house where the sad mother bore
  The slayer of his father, Oedipus.
  This was the precinct of Heracles
  Where first Amphitryon had made his home.
  There Zeus embraced his love, making three nights one.
  Behold those homes in flame and heaven's wrath.
  Here Zeus once smote with fatal thunderbolt
  The amorous Semele and saved her child,
  Lenaeus Eiraphiotes, from the flames.
  Here Heracles went mad and in his rage
  Smote Megara, his wife, with arrow swift.
  This altar which you see, erected high,
  Is Hera's. There the robe wracked Heracles,
  For Philoctetes' hands thus wrought his doom.
  This was Apollo's shrine, Teiresias' home,
  For he, the aged, was the prophet here,
  He whom the sea-god blinded for his wife.
  Athamas, frenzied, here shot down his son,
  Learchus ; fatal was his arrow's wound.
  Hence wandered Ino into the sea's depths
  With little Melicertes, - maddened queen.
  Hence wandered Oedipus, of sight bereft,
  At Creon's command: Ismene was his staff.
  Yon river coming from Cithaeron's heights
  Ismenus is: the stream is Bacchus' own.
  Behold the pine-tree tall with branches green.
  In that, once Pentheus spied on Bacchic dance,
  Then by his mother's hands was foully slain.
  Behold the spring where water gushes red
  And echoes the mad moaning of the bull.
  This is the blood of Dirce, dragged to death.
  See yonder high ridge rising from the road.
  There sat in state the awe-inspiring Sphinx,
  Posing her riddle to all travellers.
  It was wise Oedipus who wrought her doom.
  Here is the spring divine, the sacred fount
  That saw the ablutions of the shining nymphs.
  Once Artemis, descending to this pool,
  Bared all her body. And Actaeon saw
  (O horror !) the fair goddess as she bathed.
  But as he roamed the woods, the goddess' hounds
  Beset him and made banquet of his flesh.
  Once Ares raised a mighty war against Thebes
  And Polyneices led the Argive folk.
  Seven the captains numbered of the troops.
  'Twas there Capaneus was consumed by flames;
  and those gates are called Electran. They leave through these open and inviolate doors; Amphiaraus opened them and went to the Ogygian land, which is locked by three gates. He slew Hypomendota {Hippomedon}, the son of Hiposthenos, who had fallen into the hands of thieves at these gates. Parthenopos {Parthenopaeus} was called the murderer of ten thousand at these gates, when he came to this land. Tougeus {Tydeus}, the Calydonian, taking heart, came and stood there. Here Coulenices {? Polyneices} and Okles {Eteocles} fought one another. Hither Adratos {Adrastus} fled and died. These doors and this city of the Thebans defeated the ambuscade of the Argives.
  All died and Thebes gave burial to her foes
  Through pity for the fall of seven brave.
  Why wish to see the sacred shrines aflame,
  The shrines of Heracles and of your sire?
  Through folly can you wish to burn your home?
  Why offer insult to great sires and sons,
  O child of Bacchus and of Heracles?"
"Do thou too, therefore, rest from thine anger, and turn again to thy compassion ; put away wrath, and draw nigh to gentleness ; for thou too art of the race of the gods. Turn not away thy face from this beautiful gate which they call after Dionysus, which is now burning with flames of fire and ready to fall ; and do not uproot this place built with oxen (?), for a temple like this [has never been] made in all [the world]. With a kind heart turn thy face [toward us], and look upon thy servants; for behold, small and great are perishing by one blow ! Spare this great temple, thou that art of the race of the three gods ; despise not the strength of the mighty Heracles, nor the pride of the glorious Ammon, nor the watchfulness of the beloved Dionysus. That these walls are thus rent asunder and falling is a great disgrace to the Macedonians. Knowest thou not, king Alexander, that thou thyself art a Theban, and that Philip was not thy father ? Look and spare and have pity on the Thebans thy countrymen, for behold they all entreat thee with supplication, with the gods upon their hands, and they are seized with weeping on account of thee. Look at this Heracles, who for the sake of the peace of mankind wrought twelve wondrous deeds in the world. Do thou also be like him, and turn thy wrath to mercy; and as the rain that waters the ground, do thou too in thy mercy rain down goodness upon them. Please all the gods, and do not ignorantly uproot the city of thy ancestors. Look, O king; and see, for this wall Zethus the shepherd made, and Amphion who sang to the lyre , and they dwelt therein; and in this place Cadmus took Harmonia to wife ; and in this place Aphrodite committed adultery with the Thracian. Do not then stupidly and without counsel uproot and destroy this place, founded by all the gods. For Zeus the first of the gods slept in this place three nights and begat children here, and then ascended to heaven. This high altar which thou seest is that of Hera, the mother of the gods, and this tripod of divination belonged to Teiresias; and all augury went forth from here. In this place Ardîpos perished by the hands of Phôkos , and this river which thou seest is . . . and this is the fountain the pipes of which are silver, which the gods gave . This place dense with foliage belongs to Artemis; she came to bathe therein, and the lustful Actaeon appeared to her naked, but he was severely punished by her, because he desired to see what was not lawful. And in this mountain which thou commandest to be destroyed, Artemis followed the chase. Why then dost thou despise in this manner the gods whose offspring thou art? for thou art of the race of Heracles."

After this appeal, Ismenias prostrated himself at the feet of Alexander the King. The Macedonian looked at him long. Then, gnashing his teeth and filled with wrath, he spoke
  "O most contemptible son of Cadmus' race,
  O most contemptible, hated by the gods,
  O vile descendant of barbarian seed,
  O lasting relic of Ismene's woe,
  With specious and with wildly wandering words
  Hast striven Alexander to beguile?
  To the flames with all such! Men and homes I'll burn.
  Now if you knew so well my origin,
  My native land, and who my parents were,
  Why did you not in Thebes declare these truths:
  'Since Alexander is akin to us,
  Do not a fellow-citizen reject.
  Give him command and be his firm allies.
  We men of Thebes are all his kith and kin.
  Honour it were to our most ancient line,
  Should Macedonians and Thebans join.'
  Since for defence you have no power alone
  And all our might in warfare is thus scorned,
  Destruction be your fate and feckless doom.
  For Alexander's might you cannot match.
  And not on Thebans, not on you yourself
  Shall fate bear heaviest when the end shall come.
  I, I myself, will put the torch to Thebes.
  And you, Ismenias, greatest flautist brave,
  I order, standing by the burning homes,
  To sing to your pipes the final sack of Thebes."

While the singer was chanting these verses to Alexander in a lugubrious voice, anger seized on Alexander and he gnashed his teeth, saying, "O thou of evil race, fellow-counsellor and plotter with devils, thou stringest words together to the sound of the pipes, and thinkest that thou wilt be able to lead Alexander astray with words strung together and learned by heart, and knowest not that thou art leading thyself astray and not me. Even if this city be really, as thou sayest it is, the dwelling-place of the gods, thou knowest now that it has been destroyed on account of the baseness of the Thebans. Its temples too have been polluted and defiled, and therefore it is right that I should purify them by fire, because, according to what thou thyself hast said, the city belongs to my ancestors. This too I desire to know ; since ye know, as ye yourselves say, who I am and by whom I was begotten, and that I am the offspring of the gods whose temples are here, why did ye come forth with battle and war against your own countryman ? It would have been far more fitting, had ye given horsemen and foot-soldiers to aid me, and had ye thought within yourselves saying, 'Alexander is our countryman, and now that he is in difficulties it is good for us that we be his helpers;' it would also have been right for you to have received the Macedonians with kisses and affection as if they were your brethren. But now that ye have contended in war with Alexander, and have made trial of his arms, and have seen that ye are not able to stand before him, ye string words together, saying, 'Alexander is a Theban and our own countryman.'

  Then gave he orders to his soldiers all
  To raze Thebes' walls with the seven gates and the town.
  Again Cithaeron heard flying Theban feet.
  The stream Ismenus flowed again blood-red,
  Down fell the walls, the citadel of Thebes.
  Now all the ground was covered with the dead.
  Now all the homes were filled with cries of woe,
  And bitter groaning poured from every door,
  And on Ismenias sang, and played his pipes,
  A hymn of death for all the town of Thebes,
  For so decreed the Macedonian king.
  Now all the walls of Cadmus' children fell,
  Palace of Lycus, home of Labdacus.
  Only for reverence, from his far-off youth,
  The tomb of Pindar he did not destroy,
  For Pindar was his teacher when, a lad,
  He came to the old poet here in Thebes.
  Many the men whom Alexander slew.
  Only a few he finally left alive.
  The name of all the race was blotted out,
  For Thebes, he said, no longer should boast Thebes.
  No more the city should a city be,
  No name of Theban now for any man.

Such was the fate of Thebes. Long ago, when the walls were being built and finished, the music of Amphion's lyre set the blocks in place, and now, when they were being torn down, Ismenias piped their dirge. The walls built to music, to music fell. All the Thebans died with their city. To the few survivors, Alexander made proclamation: that wherever they went, they should have no city of their own. Then they started on their journey to other towns.

"Now therefore I make known to you that ye should not have contended with nor opposed in war one that is your countryman, more especially one who is of the race of the gods, as ye yourselves have said ; and on account of this deed ye are all guilty of death; but everyone who up to the present has escaped death I will let live for the sake of the skill of this singer. Go whithersoever ye please, for ye shall no longer have a home in Thebes, and no one shall be allowed to make mention again of the name of Thebes, and whoever shall name its name shall die; for henceforth this name shall no longer be a name, and this city shall be no city."

Then he straightway expelled from the country those Thebans who remained alive, and he himself departed with his troops.

[47] G   These Thebans who were left sent men to Delphi to get an oracle as to whether they should ever completely rebuild Thebes. This was the oracle Apollo gave:
  "Hermes, the great Alcides, and Polydeuces, the doughty,
  These three, working together, shall make arise a new Thebes."

So when the oracle had been received the Thebans went on their way.

[47] Those Thebans whom Alexander had expelled from their country went to Apollo at Delphi to divine and to ask an oracle, if a time would come to their country when their city should be rebuilt. Then the Pythia drank of the water of the fountain of Castalia, that she might receive an oracle therefrom : and straightway she answered and said to them, "When the three athletes Polynicus, Antimachus [Clitomachus] and Tarkâtîs (?) hold contest with one another, then will Thebes be rebuilt." When they heard this oracle, they turned and came from thence, and were continually awaiting [the fulfilment of] this augury.

Now Alexander went to Corinth and attended there the Isthmian games. And the Corinthians invited him to preside at them. He was persuaded to do so and took his place. Then the contestants came in and the victors were crowned by Alexander, who also bestowed gifts on the outstanding athletes. There was one handsome man, a Theban by birth, whose name was Cleitomachus, who had enrolled for wrestling, the pancratium, and boxing, three events. And in the stadium during the wrestling by skilful feints he downed all his antagonists so that he was praised by Alexander. For when he presented himself to receive the crown for wrestling, Alexander said to him: "If you win in the other two contests for which you are listed, I will give you three crowns and grant any request which you make." When he was victorious in the boxing bout and in the pancratium as well as in wrestling, he came to Alexander to receive the three crowns.

Alexander went to Corinth, and arrived there while the Olympic games of the Corinthians were going on. Then the people of Corinth asked Alexander to become a spectator of the Olympic games with them; and Alexander consented, and went to the place of the contest, and sat with the Corinthians, and distributed crowns and gifts to the athletes who were victorious in the contest. On that same day a man from the city of the Thebans was present at the Olympic games, and he contested bravely in the athletic exercises, and his name was Antimachus [Clitomachus]. Now this man had written down his name and held himself ready to contest with three athletes. And when the man came into the arena, he threw two of them dexterously and skilfully to the ground, at which even Alexander marvelled and applauded him greatly. And when he came to Alexander to receive the crown, Alexander said to him, "If thou art able to throw this third man also, go, first of all take up the contest with him, and then return, and thou shalt receive the three crowns at one time and gifts, and whatsoever favour thou shall ask of me I will give thee." Now when this athlete took up the third contest, he exhibited in it many tricks of skill in wrestling, and then he threw his adversary to the ground.

When the herald demanded of him: "Tell me your name and from what city you come, that I may announce you," he replied: "My name is Cleitomachus, but I have no city." Presently the king addressed him: "Noble young man, you are a very remarkable athlete. In one stadium, you have won three victories, in wrestling, boxing, the pancratium, and you have been presented by me with three olive crowns, yet you have no city?" Cleitomachus answered: "I had one before Alexander was king, but he destroyed my fatherland."

And when he rose up from off him, and came to receive the crowns, the herald said to him, "What is thy name, and from what city art thou, that I may proclaim concerning thee and may make known thy deeds?" He said to the herald, "My name is Antimachus [Clitomachus] but I have no city." Alexander said to him, "How is it that so brave and expert and trained and skilful a man as thou art, who in one contest hast thrown three athletes, and who art now about to receive from me the crowns of victory, hast no city?" The athlete said, "O illustrious king and doer of good things, formerly, when Alexander was not king, I had a city; but after Alexander became king, he destroyed my city and made its name no name."

Alexander, knowing what he meant and what he was going to request, said: "Let Thebes be rebuilt in honour of three gods, Hermes, Heracles, Polydeuces, in order that this may be my free gift to you, not your demand." So the oracle of Apollo was fulfilled:
  "Hermes, the great Alcides, and Polydeuces, the doughty,
  These three, working together, shall make arise a new Thebes."

Then Alexander recognised him by his speech to be a Theban, and handed to him the three crowns of victory, and bade the herald proclaim him to be of the city of Thebes; "but" , said he, "I command the city to be built anew, because of these three gods who aided him in this contest."

Book 2 →

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