Alexander Romance ( "Pseudo-Callisthenes" )

Book 2 , Chapters 21-40

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.

Alexander and the headless men

  Alexander and the headless men

  BL Royal 15.E.VI (15th century)

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{ Greek & Armenian versions }


{ Syriac version }

[21] G   Meanwhile, Alexander commiserated in his sad lot and was moved to pity; and he wept bitterly.   Then Alexander gave orders that his body should have royal burial in accordance with the custom of the country and that the leading Macedonians and Persians in full regalia should carry him forth. And he himself in company with the Persians bore on his shoulder the bier of Darius. And the grief of the Persians for Darius was no greater than their sympathy and love for Alexander. And Alexander placed him in the royal tomb and instituted funeral games and performed the rites of burial, then made the following proclamation to the Persians:

[13] Then Alexander gave orders to wash the body of Darius, and to array him in royal apparel, and that all the officers of the Macedonian and Persian armies should march in full armour before Darius; and he together with the Persian nobles bore the bier of Darius, and he went on foot to the grave, and the bier of Darius was carried to the grave upon their shoulders. When the Persians saw these things, they applauded Alexander's care for Darius ; and their minds were led away by love for him. And when Alexander had buried Darius with honour and had returned from the grave, the whole army of the Persians submitted to him. Then Alexander ordered a proclamation to be written to the rest of the people in the land of Persia as follows :

"King Alexander, son of the divine King Ammon and Olympias, the queen, speaks to all inhabitants of Persia,   to the Aryans and the non-Aryans  , in the country or in the cities. It was the answer to prayer that so many thousands did not perish miserably. If fortune wished me to be victorious over the Persians, (?) I owe this to all the gods. Know then that I have set over you satraps, whom you must obey as in the time of Darius, that you may see no other king but Alexander, a younger man. I do not hinder your using your own customs and celebrating your festivals and assemblies and all your native rituals. (?) You shall in so far live for yourselves. But if a Persian leaves his city, he will be punished as a deserter. As to your property, I propose these conditions: let each man have control of his own possessions except gold and silver, in which good and bad pride themselves. I approve the coinage which you have.   So I order that all the gold and silver be used by those who live in our towns and cities. And let the money which everyone has be given as a gift to each man to use as he pleases.   All weapons of defence I order to be assembled at the designated storehouses. And to the satraps whom I approve I will assign a limited force and suitable arms for them. And the festivals which are usually held the people shall celebrate if the satrap is willing. And tribe shall not mingle with tribe except to hold markets, and then only in groups of twenty, or it will be punished as a rebellion against Persian law. And let all merchants be grouped in the same company as in the times of Darius and I will take taxes from all the farms and gardens, tribe by tribe. For I wish to establish the land in prosperity, and the roads of Persia to be maintained in a peaceful condition in order that men from Greece may travel easily to whatever city they wish in Persia. For from the ford of the Euphrates river and the beginning of the road through half a schoenus I have directed each satrap to make a road and to indicate at each schoenus where the road leads, and to put up some sign if there are two roads or more to the same place and where they are unusable. (?) In regard to the customs that have grown up on the roads and arrangements executed in the time of Darius for holy places, I gladly conform in honour of the gods, especially divine Sarapis and Zeus. And when you wish in addition to the festival of Cyrus to celebrate fittingly my birthday, consult Moschylos, the satrap, that you may celebrate both my festival and the festival of Cyrus with feasting and games. Let Persian directors be appointed for the contests, and what sort of games you have shall be determined by Persians. And I wish the maiden who wears the crown, if she is our fellow-citizen, up to the end to receive as an annual honour the equivalent of the crown and to remain a priestess up to the end. But if nature takes possession of her and makes her a woman, ready to marry, let her be given the honour fitting according to reason. And this is proper also for her successor in the priesthood. Let the gymnasium be in a distinguished quarter as in the city of Pella. I myself will make the selection while I live and after my death those to whom I have given the power. The gift for the war chariot shall be a libation bowl full of gold staters,   which shall weigh 1,200 staters,   and five others of silver, each holding a measure, from which a wise man will be able to get drunk. For the war horse, a libation bowl of equal weight and a Persian robe, and . . . the right of attending the banquet of Alexander all his life. The man who wins according to the law of the Persians, shall have a golden crown (?) . . . and the simple Persian robe and a gold girdle, two libation bowls, staters up to one hundred and seventy. Let it be customary (?) to entertain at the shrine of Alexander all my satraps who are in Persia, and rulers who are not tyrants. (?) Let the presidents of the games be men from Alexandria and the priests of the Alexander shrine. Moschylos who built the shrine of Alexander wears a gold crown and a purple robe, especially on the illustrious days. Courtesans {hetairai} are not to enter the shrine. Finally let the Medes (?) be set apart. I wish that there should be no decision among yourselves when any of you has some charge against another, nor in whatever you desire, especially in regard to matters of life or death. And if anyone is found making an assembly of either satraps or allies outside the bouleuterion, let him perish as an enemy of the state."

"From Alexander the king, whose father is the god Ammon and whose mother is the queen Olympias, to all the Persians that dwell in the cities and towns of the land of Persia, greeting. I desire that all men should live and not die an evil death ; and now God has made me master of the country of Persia, and has exalted me over you. Let the lords, the nobles of your country, who served of old in the army of Darius, come now and march with me in my army, even as they formerly marched with Darius. Let them not accept any other master in their thoughts save me, Alexander. And I will give orders that every single man of you shall retain his own religion and gods and laws, and shall keep his festivals and his sacrifices, and no one shall be allowed to do anything to you by violence. Every one shall rejoice in his own possessions, save the gold and silver which we command to be gathered together and to be conveyed to our city to be coined into money and into dinars bearing my image; and we order that, if zûzê or darics be found with you, even though our own money be struck, they shall be left there with you. Let all the lords {satraps} and generals, together with the rest of the people who are fit for war, come to help my army. Nation shall not be mingled with nation, neither shall one man go from his own land to another, except those who travel for the sake of merchandise, and even of these not more than ten or twenty shall be allowed to go. Till the land and dwell in it in prosperity as in the days of Darius the king ; for we desire that prosperity and abundance should be in your land. Whosoever of you desires to go to Hellas to trade and to come back from Hellas to the land of Persia, shall be allowed to go and to come. And I command the lords {satraps} and all the inhabitants that are on this road from the bank of the Euphrates to Hellas to divide and measure the road in equal portions, to pave it with stones and lime, to set up mile stones, and to write directions at the turnings of the roads, that every man may know by the writings whither the road goes, and may not have trouble and be compelled to ask questions on the road. And we command that what Darius gave every year, year by year, to the temple of the ministers of the gods for the salvation of his soul, shall now be given each year where it is due, from the crops and taxes of the land, for the salvation of his soul. And let them make a feast and offerings every year on his birthday as they do upon the birthday of king Cyrus. And we command that damsels, the daughters of free men, virgins whom men have not known, shall enter into the temple of the god whom my mother Olympias worships, for the space of one year for the service of the gods; and they have arrived at the age for marriage, they shall go forth from the ministry, and shall receive a dowry of five thousand dinars from the treasury of the god, and shall marry. And ire command that all youths and men who are in the country of the Persians shall train themselves continually in warlike exercises and arms until we come to them and select from them those that please us. And if there be any one now who is well trained in horsemanship and arms, weapons shall be given him out of the armoury of the king, and a war horse, and a beaker of gold worth twelve dinars, each weighing eight mithkâls, and five cups of silver, each of them holding what a man can take at a draught, and one suit of Persian raiment, and a belt of gold ; and he shall be sent to the army. And if there be any one of them who is trained in war and who has made himself a famous name, there shall be given to him a Persian crown of gold, and a suit of white raiment, and two cups of gold, and one hundred darics, and seventy staters; and his likeness shall be painted and shall be sent to the temple of the god of Alexander. We command too that the priests of the gods shall be held in honour by all men, and they shall set a crown of gold upon their heads, and shall wear purple clothing; especially on festival days. We desire also that ye shall bring before the priests any dispute which ye may have one with another, and they shall decide it, and terminate the matter for them with moderation."

When he had finished this proclamation, Alexander added these words.

"Fallen is a great ruler, my enemy, your lord, Darius. I did not kill him, but men whom I do not know did, men to whom I owe great gifts. I shall be pleased to bestow on them whatever satrapies they wish and extensive lands. For they destroyed my enemy."

After Alexander had composed this writing, he turned and looked upon the hosts of the Macedonians and Persians with a sad face, and he made known to them and said, "He whom I have removed from his kingdom was a great and mighty king; but he was not my lord, neither did I slay him. Now the men who slew him are those whom I know not, and it befits me to give them great gifts, and high posts, and honours; and lands, and many men, because they have slain mine enemy."

When Alexander made this announcement, the Persian populace were afraid as if they were to be ruined. On hearing this, Alexander said: "I am going to honouur those who killed my enemy.   For if Darius were alive, he would once again be collecting soldiers for war against me. But now that he has been slain, all warfare has been stilled and stopped.   So if any Macedonian killed him, let him come to me with courage. And if he is a Persian, let him have no fear. I swear by the safety of my mother that I will make them exalted above all men."

When Alexander had made this speech, every Persian regarded his fellow, and the colour in their faces was changed by reason of fear, and one said to another, "Alexander is trying to search out our minds, wishing to know who it is that slew Darius." And again he said to them: "I am Alexander. Him that slew mine enemy I seek to honour, whether he be Macedonian or Persian; let him come and fear not; for I swear by the gods, and by the life of my mother Olympias, that I will make renowned and great him that slew Darius, and I will exalt him over my troops."

When he took this oath, the crowd wept. And those wicked men, Bessus and Ariobarzanes, voluntarily came to Alexander and said: "Master, we killed your enemy Darius." On hearing this, he ordered that they be fettered and crucified at the tomb of Darius. And when they said: "Master, you took oath in the name of the gods and the safety of Olympias,   that you would make the murderers of Darius conspicuous and notable. Why now, ignoring the promises that you made, do you order that we be crucified? " Alexander said: "I made that speech not on account of you, but of the people. For in no other way was it possible to make you appear before me unless for a short time I praised the death of Darius. For I was in honour bound to punish his murderers. For if they killed their own ruler, they are much more dangerous to me. And, scoundrels, I did not swear falsely to you. For I swore to make you conspicuous and lifted high over all men. And you shall be conspicuous and lifted high above all men, hanging on the cross." After this speech of self-defence, all Persia lauded him as a god.

When Alexander had sworn this oath, the Persian host began to weep. Then the evildoers Bâgîz and Ânâbdêh came near to Alexander of their own free will and answered and said to him, "O king, doer of good things, it is we who slew Darius." When Alexander heard this, he commanded that they should be bound, and should be carried to the grave of Darius, and impaled upon a lofty stake. Then these evildoers said to him with a loud voice, "Our lord, the oath which thou hast sworn by all the gods and by the life of Olympias thy mother is false." Then Alexander said: "I spoke not this word of persuasion for your sakes, but for the sake of the armies who stand listening, because I was unable to bring you into the way of justice in any other manner than this. Had I not done so, I should have appeared to be rejoicing in the death of Darius, the more so as I accounted him an enemy. But my supplication and entreaty to the gods was this, that I might be enabled to destroy him that slew Darius ; for how can a man who was not true to his lord, but who slew his lord audaciously and unmercifully, be true to us ? See then, we do not lie with respect to the oath which we have sworn; for now, just as I swore to you, I will make you a spectacle and a marvel to the whole camp, and I will lift you up on stakes." So he straightway commanded them to be led away and impaled upon high stakes. Then all the hosts of the Persians applauded Alexander.

[22] G   After a few days, when Alexander had established peace in Persia, he ordered them to select whatever satrap pleased the nation. They shouted: "We wish (?) prince Adulites, the brother of Darius' father." Alexander approved. Then he wrote the following letter:

"Alexander sends greetings to Stateira and Rhodogunē. I defended myself against Darius, who revolted against me, in accordance with the divine will, and I wished to bring him alive under my sway. But I found him fallen, wounded by his own people, just as he was breathing his last breath. In pity, I covered him with my own cloak and inquired about his murder. He gave me his daughter Roxane for my consort, but he failed to inform me about the other matters. However, I found his murderers by a clever plan, and executed them as they deserved. I decided to send his holy body that you might lay out the corpse and chant over it your dirges. I urge you to bear this news and not feed upon grief. I have ordered an heroon for him near his heroic ancestors. And I have sent his body to be prepared for the honour. Now cease from grieving. For I will establish you in the palace, permitting you to rule what tribes you choose. For the present, delay where you are until I shall stabilize matters there. For some are still in mad revolt. In accordance with the directions of Darius, I myself have deemed it fitting that Roxane should be my consort. Therefore, do obeisance to her as Alexander's wife."

[14] After a few days Alexander wrote a letter to the mother and wife of Darius as follows. " From king Alexander to Îrândokht and Estĕhar {Stateira} greeting. At the time when king Darius opposed us with hostility, we sought to avenge ourselves according to the will of God. Although we sought the victory over Darius, we did not desire his death. On the contrary, our desire was that he might live and be under our dominion. We found him however stabbed by the hand of his troops and lying upon the ground, with very little life left in him. I was very grieved for him, and because of my sorrow I threw over him the purple robe with which I was clothed, and covered him. And I asked him, 'Who is he that slew thee ?' But when he had begun to give me instructions concerning his mother and his wife and Rôshnâk {Roxane} his daughter, his life departed from him, and he was unable to speak to me concerning other matters. We therefore sought out the evil-doers by stratagem, and found them, and slew them as they deserved. We ordered the body of Darius to be buried and to be guarded honourably and fittingly. And we commanded a new grave to be made beside the grave of his father, and his body to be embalmed with spices, and to be laid in the grave. And now we bid you keep yourselves from sorrow and grief, for we will re-establish you in your royalty; therefore remain where ye are, until we have arranged the matters which require arrangement. We command also that Rôshnâk the daughter of Darius be our consort; therefore do reverence to Rôshnâk as to the wife of Alexander."

The ladies replied to Alexander in this letter: "Rhodogunē and Stateira send greetings to King Alexander. We have prayed the gods of heaven, who have overthrown the crown of Darius and the eternal boasting of the Persians, to establish you as king of the whole world since in reason, intelligence, and power you rank equal to the Olympian gods. We know indeed that in your hands we live in security. And we pray to Fortune to bless you and give you life for uncounted years because you came to us not as though we were captives who had fallen under your sceptre, but (?) . . . as those who had been in high position, and then were cast down. And now we are no longer captives. Now we have seen Alexander as a young Darius and we do obeisance to him. And we have written to the people of Persia that they beg the gods in Persia to enthrone you with Zeus and that they do obeisance to you. Roxane, whom you have decreed shall share your throne, we will worship as you ordered when you shall conduct her to wedlock. We have written to the Persian people (this is for your information) that now we have recognized a young Darius and the sceptre of Darius is again in the hand of Alexander, the godlike, the benefactor of the Persians. Know that Alexander will wed Roxane. So pray to all the gods and, bringing forth all the gods in Persia, present them to Alexander with their blessing because he has exalted the glory of the Persians to greater heights.   And at the wedding, we Persians shall announce and proclaim our reverence to Alexander."

Then they made answer to him and wrote to him as follows : "From Îrândokht and Estĕhar to king Alexander greeting. We make supplication to the heavenly gods, the gods whom Olympias your mother worships, the gods who have bowed down the crown of Darius and brought it to the ground, and have taken the supremacy and dominion from the Persians, that they may make you lord of the world for ever and aye, and that they may exalt you and magnify you in words and in knowledge and in. power above all nations. We know that we shall live happily under your wings ; and we wish that we may find your luck to be good, and the days of your life without number, because you have not treated us as enemies are wont to treat their captive enemies when they fall into their hands. We have therefore no anxiety in our minds, for in seeing you we see Darius ; and from henceforth we will write that all the people that are in the land shall make supplication and prayer to the gods that you may rule the land and the world for over and aye, and may your dominion be like that of Hormizd {Ahuramazda}. Rôshnâk {Roxane} greets you with reverence because it has pleased you that she should be your consort; and we shall be very joyful on the day that we see your marriage feast, and Zeus gives you Rôshnâk to wife." And they wrote another proclamation to all the hosts of the Persians, as follows: "Do not suppose that Darius is dead, for Darius is alive, because the kingdom belongs to Alexander, and Rôshnâk, the daughter of Darius, is the wife of Alexander. Therefore take ye all the gods that are in Persia, and go to meet Alexander, and honour him as a god, and pray to the gods on his behalf that his dominion may be for ever and aye ; for the kingdom of the Persians belongs to Alexander, and he has exalted it greatly."

Alexander, on receiving the letter, said: "I beg off from honours equal to the gods. For I am a mortal man and I fear such ceremonies. For they bring danger to the soul. But I praise and welcome your consideration. I shall try to be worthy (?) of your line." And he wrote also to his mother Olympias and confirmed the marriage and sent the letter to Macedonia. Next . . . he wrote to Roxane:

When Alexander had read this writing, he said: "These words are strange and useless; I do not seek that men should honour me as they do the gods, for I am a mortal man, and I am afraid of anything like this, for there is a heavy penalty for a man when he goes beyond his proper limit I applaud you and praise your knowledge, for when I made trial of your wisdom it pleased me ; and I wrote a letter to Olympias my mother and begged of her the favour that she would come to my marriage feast, if it so pleased her."

"Alexander sends greetings to his sister Roxane. When I wrote to my mother Olympias about other matters that had come up, I enjoined upon her to send to me the possessions, jewelry and robes, of the mother of Darius and of his wife Stateira. I have dispatched to you as a guardian Caranus, not giving him to Olympias or Stateira for a care-taker. Now, in fear, reverence Nemesis, the omniscient, and Dike {Justice}, and put away from yourself all strong and persistent resentment, whenever you meditate. For it is proper in the eyes of gods and men not to set oneself up against Fortune. And try yourself to think thoughts worthy of Alexander and to honour the awe inspiring authority of Olympias. If you observe these directions, you will bring great glory to yourself and to me. Farewell."

On this account . . . Alexander wrote a letter to Rôshnâk as follows : "From Alexander to Rôshnâk my sister greeting. I send thee clothes and other ornaments for thine own self, and to Îrândokht the mother of Darius, and Estĕhar {Stateira} his wife, for themselves. Accept then and keep for thyself these clothes and ornaments. First of all be pleasing to the gods ; then pay due reverence to Îrândokht and Estĕhar, and hold them in honour ; and fear thou the command of Olympias my mother, and do not exalt thyself beyond measure. If thou doest these things, both I and thou shall be praised exceedingly and all the gods be well pleased with us." Then Alexander took Rôshnâk to wife.

Then he sacrificed to the gods of the country and mustered his forces. On learning that Porus was intending to fight on the side of Darius, he made an expedition against the Indians.

{ Greek version }


{ Armenian version }

{ This letter to Olympias is absent from the Greek and Syriac versions. Click on the links below to go to the corresponding text of a different Greek recension ( β ). }

[209] Meanwhile, Olympias prepared the royal vestment, which was splendid and more wonderful than any king had seen, and sent it from Macedon. And the wedding was quickly performed. And after the great rejoicing in Roxane's and Alexander's palace, he wrote his mother, Olympias, a letter.

[23]   Greek text

"Alexander, king of kings, greets his dear mother, Olympias, and the learned Aristotle, his venerable guide and great teacher. I deemed it essential to write you concerning the conflict beyond the Taurus between me, my troops, and my Macedonians and Darius. When I heard that he was moving with many kings and satraps toward the gulf of Issus, I collected a lot of goats and tied torches on their horns and attacked them by night. And when they saw us, they turned to flight thinking that the body of troops was vast and that it was moving upon them. And thus we achieved the glory of victory against them. And on the spot, I built a city named Ayes {Greek: Aegae, "goats"}, and on the gulf of Issus, I built a city named Alexandria Kattison. And from there, I pursued Darius to the approaches of the land of Armenia where the Dklat' is and the source of the Euphrates. There Darius fell into the hands of his generals and was slain by Bessus and Ariobarzanes, Median generals. I was deeply grieved; for although I had conquered him, I was able neither to slay him nor to hold him under my royal sceptre. But when I reached him, I found him still breathing. And taking off my (?) anamesidon cloak, I threw it over him. Then he saw the precariousness of fate in the present situation. And after I had shrouded Darius and honoured him, I ordered those who were guarding his tomb to cut off his nose and ears according to Persian custom. Then we went away from there and came to a dense cedar grove. I ordered that my insignia be put there and the names of those who had been conquered, of Bessus and Ariobarzanes and so, too, the kingdom of Mazacus and the Medes and the Armenians and the Nomads and the whole Persian world which Darius, the great, ruled.

[32]   Greek text

"And taking many guides there, I wished to go to the other side of the Median desert, guided by the movement of Arcturus. The inhabitants of that place said that there are wild men and evil beasts there. Since I wanted all the more to see the places and the people, I ordered that we go see those places with a large army of natives and of our own soldiers. And then we came to a place where there was a roadway and a very deep valley. We went through there and saw deserted places and various kinds of wild animals. And coming to a place about nine o'clock, we found a forest of trees called (?) Anaphneton, which bore fruit similar to an apple. And in that forest, there were men who were called (?) Plantings {Phytoi}. And they were each twenty-four cubits tall; and they had long necks, and their hands and ringers were like saws. They came and gathered about us. But I was deeply saddened by looking at such beasts. I thought of capturing some of them, but when we attacked them with shouting and the sound of horns, they turned and fled when they saw us. And we slew 432 of them, and they, 164 of our soldiers. And we moved on and subsisted on the fruit of the trees, as other men did too. This was the only food we had.

[33]   Greek text

"Then, departing from there, we came to a verdant place where there were giant-like wild men, as big as the first, barrel-chested, hairy, and reddish coloured. And they had faces like lions. And others called Oxoli had hair four cubits long, and they were as wide as a spear. These very powerful men came to us in tunics of rawhide, ready to fight without spears or arrows. They slew many of our group. And since many of our friends and youths were lost, I ordered that a blaze be started in order to fight them with fire. Thus the men went away, And of our soldiers, losses numbered 120,000; I ordered that pyres be lit and their remaining bones be taken to Spetriada. But they disappeared completely. And we quickly entered their caves and found tied to their doors wild beasts as large as the dogs we call (?) dandēkes, four cubits long, three-eyed, and of motley colouring. And we saw a flea, like tortoises in our country, an earthen-coloured and troublesome breed. And departing from there, we came to a place where a delicious and abundant spring rose. And I ordered the army to camp and, mindful of the carnivores, to make a ditch and a barricade around us so that the troops might rest and recuperate a bit. Then there appeared to us, about nine or ten o'clock, a man as hairy as a goat. And once again, I was startled and disturbed to see such beasts. I thought of capturing the man, for he was ferociously and brazenly barking at us. And I ordered a woman to undress and go to him on the chance that he might be vanquished by lust. But he took the woman and went far away where, in fact, he ate her. And he roared and made strange noises with his thick tongue at all our men who had run forth to reach her and to set her free. And when his other comrades heard him, countless myriads of them attacked us from the brushes. There were 40,000 of us. So I ordered that the brushes be set afire; and when they saw the fire, they turned and fled. And we pursued them and tied up 400,000 of them, but they died since they refused to eat. And they did not have human reason, but, rather, barked wildly like dogs.

[36]   Greek text

"And from here, we moved on to a river that flowed abundantly. Then I ordered the army to camp and arm themselves according to military custom and to eat dinner in this fashion. And at that river, there were some marvellous trees. They appeared at sunrise and grew until six o'clock. And from six on, they shrank and withered until nothing of them was visible at all. Their sap was like Persian incense and had a very sweet and lovely smell. And I ordered them to hew the trees and to collect the sap with a sponge. And suddenly those men of mine were tortured by invisible evil spirits. We heard the murmurs of the torturers and we saw the blows that fell on their backs, but the torturers themselves were not visible. Instead, a voice came forth saying: 'Neither collect nor hew. Otherwise, he who does so will meet a horrible death.' Then I ordered them not to collect nor to hew. And there were black stones in that river, and everyone who approached these stones took upon their bodies the same colour as the stone. And there were many snakes in the water there and many kinds of fish which were cooked not by fire but rather by cold spring water. For one of the soldiers washed one in cold water, put it in a pan and left it, and then he found the fish cooked in the pan. And an hour after he had tried this, he showed it to the others. And in the river there, there were fowl similar to those in our land. But if anyone approached them, fire came out of them. And I ordered that no one approach them.

[37]   Greek text

"And we quickly moved out of there and went and journeyed about. And the guides said: 'King, we do not know where we are going. Let us turn back so that we do not once again cross difficult terrains.' But I was not willing. And many five-footed beasts ran up to meet us. They were five-eyed ones, and others were six-eyed and six-footed. And they were thirty cubits long; and they rushed upon us. And there were many other kinds: there were those which turned and fled, and those which attacked us. And we came to a sandy place where forty-two beasts emerged. They had six eyes of which only two had sight, and they could not see with the others. Moving on, we came to a place where there were headless men. They had no heads at all, but had their eyes and their mouths on their chests, and they talked with their tongues like men. They were hairy and dressed in skins, a fish-eating sea people. And they gathered there, on land and from the sea, truffles {hydna}, which we have at home. They got twenty-five litres worth and gave them to us. And we saw many huge sea lions slithering on the ground. And we saw, too, lobsters as big as ships. Friends frequently beseeched me to turn back, but I was unwilling, for I wished to see the end of that land.

[38]   Greek text

"Then moving on, we travelled through a desert toward the seacoast. And not again after that did we see anything, neither bird nor beast, other than sky and earth. And we did not see the sun again; but went on through darkness for ten days. And when we came to the coast, we boarded our boats after putting all the troops and tents aboard. And we sailed to an island in the sea which was not far from shore, on which we heard human speech in Greek; but we did not see who was speaking. And the soldiers risked death to swim from the ship over to the island. And a lobster rose and knocked 54 soldiers into the water. And we were frightened and moved on from that area.

[39]   Greek text

"And in two days, we came to a place where the sun does not rise. And when I wished to instruct and send servants to see where the lands of the Blessed were, Callisthenes, my friend, advised me to approach with 40 friends, and 100 youths, and 1,200 soldiers. And later, on the way, we heard a female ass giving birth to a little one, which we joined to the army.

[40]   Greek text

And when we advanced fifteen miles, two birds with human faces met us, and they were larger than our birds at home. And they were crying from above in Greek: 'Why do you tread the earth looking for the home of the gods? For, you are not able to set foot in the Blessed Islands of the skies. Why do you struggle to rise to heaven, which is not within your power?' And fear and trembling seized me, since I was of course frightened when I heard the divine utterance spoken by the two birds. And another bird spoke in Greek and said: 'The East summons you. And you shall conquer Porus, king of the Indians.' And having said this, the bird flew off. And turning back from that place, we set our guiding star by Arcturus and thus came out in twenty-two days. And I put the gates together and carefully sealed up the place. And I wrote on a stone all that we had seen. And only then did I rise and go offer sacrifices to the local deities."

More episodes were added to the letter to Olympias in later Greek recensions. Two of these additional episodes were very popular in medieval times:

  • The descent of Alexander into the depths of the sea
    ( chapter 38B - Greek text )
  • The ascent of Alexander, carried up into the sky by birds
    ( chapter 41 - Greek text )

These two chapters are included in the translation by K.Dowden, reprinted in "Anthology of Ancient Greek Popular Literature" ( p.220 - Google Books ).


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