Tuesday, May 23, 2006
"Did you know that Alexander got the idea of adopting Persian dress from a book he read in his youth? Had you realised that Alexander?s pursuit of divine honours was merely an aspect of his emulation of Achilles? Would you be interested to discover that Bagoas the Eunuch undertook a diplomatic mission in Bactria or that Hephaistion?s diplomacy kept Athens from joining the Spartan rebellion of King Agis? Are you aware that Aetion?s famous painting of Alexander?s marriage depicted Hephaistion and Bagoas as well as Roxane and that it was really a depiction of the King?s various passions? Had you heard that Alexander first met his mistress Barsine when they were both children in Macedon and that she was the great-granddaughter of a Great King? Can you name the girl betrothed to Alexander?s son? Would it surprise you to learn that Alexander?s mourning and funeral arrangements for Hephaistion were conducted according to precepts dictated by Homer and Euripides? If you are intrigued by any of these questions and would like to get to know Alexander on a more personal level than is feasible from the conventional histories, then you need to read Alexander?s Lovers."
"The tragic history of Barsine and her son Heracles poses some intriguing
questions, which merit some further deliberation.
Why did Alexander fail to marry Barsine, when he subsequently insisted upon
marrying Roxane? In the first place, Barsine had already been married twice to
Alexander?s enemies and had children from those previous marriages. An heir
would have been the younger half-brother of those children, which would have
been a potentially uncomfortable situation, especially vis-à-vis the succession.
Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, what indications we have (excepting
the unreliable Justin) suggest that the relationship with Barsine was more a
matter of convenience for Alexander than an affair of the heart. The king will
have been under some political pressure to beget an heir, especially in view of a
conspicuous lack of any sexual liaisons with women prior to the battle of Issus.
This was not at all a question of morality, but a matter of political stability and
state security. If a king should die without an heir, there was a very real threat of
a chaotic and bloody power struggle over the succession, which would have
been in the interests of few. Furthermore, a king with no apparent heir was
arguably more exposed to assassination attempts, since the rebels might believe
that their objectives were more easily achievable with a lesser risk of retribution.
In fact, we have the direct testimony of Aristobulus, a reputable primary source,
that Alexander took Barsine as his first mistress at Parmenion?s instigation,
which confirms both the existence of the pressure and the dispassionate nature
of the decision. This is underlined by indications that Alexander packed Barsine
off to Pergamon without compunction, when he found a princess whom he
actually wished to make his bride. In fact, the particular choice of Barsine was
probably due to her knowledge of Greek and of Greek culture and sensibilities,
her reputed beauty and possibly also because Alexander had known her in
childhood. Amorous feelings were subordinate to pragmatic considerations."