Alexander the Great
- For other uses, see Alexander (disambiguation).
Alexander III of Mecedon (20/21 July 356 BC – 11 June 323 BC), commonly known as Alexander the Great, was a king of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon. He succeeded his father King Philip II to the throne at the age of 20, and spent most of his ruling years conducting a lengthy military campaign throughout Western Asia and Northeastern Africa. By the age of thirty, he had created one of the largest empires in history, stretching from Greece to northwestern India. He was undefeated in battle and is widely considered to be one of history's greatest and most successful military commanders.
- What an excellent horse do they lose, for want of address and boldness to manage him! ... I could manage this horse better than others do.
- Know ye not that the end and object of conquest is to avoid doing the same thing as the conquered?
- As quoted in Lives by Plutarch, VII, "Demosthenes and Cicero. Alexander and Caesar" (40.2), as translated by Bernadotte Perrin
- Holy shadows of the dead, I'm not to blame for your cruel and bitter fate, but the accursed rivalry which brought sister nations and brother people, to fight one another. I do not feel happy for this victory of mine. On the contrary, I would be glad, brothers, if I had all of you standing here next to me, since we are united by the same language, the same blood and the same visions.
- If I were not Alexander, I should wish to be Diogenes.
- I do not steal victory.
- If it were not my purpose to combine barbarian things with things Hellenic, to traverse and civilize every continent, to search out the uttermost parts of land and sea, to push the bounds of Macedonia to the farthest Ocean, and to disseminate and shower the blessings of the Hellenic justice and peace over every nation, I should not be content to sit quietly in the luxury of idle power, but I should emulate the frugality of Diogenes. But as things are, forgive me Diogenes, that I imitate Herakles, and emulate Perseus, and follow in the footsteps of Dionysos, the divine author and progenitor of my family, and desire that victorious Hellenes should dance again in India and revive the memory of the Bacchic revels among the savage mountain tribes beyond the Kaukasos...
- As quoted in "On the Fortune of Alexander" by Plutarch, 332 a-b
- Our enemies are Medes and Persians, men who for centuries have lived soft and luxurious lives; we of Macedon for generations past have been trained in the hard school of danger and war. Above all, we are free men, and they are slaves. There are Greek troops, to be sure, in Persian service — but how different is their cause from ours! They will be fighting for pay — and not much of at that; we, on the contrary, shall fight for Greece, and our hearts will be in it. As for our foreign troops — Thracians, Paeonians, Illyrians, Agrianes — they are the best and stoutest soldiers in Europe, and they will find as their opponents the slackest and softest of the tribes of Asia. And what, finally, of the two men in supreme command? You have Alexander, they — Darius!
- Your ancestors came to Macedonia and the rest of Hellas [Greece] and did us great harm, though we had done them no prior injury. I have been appointed leader of the Greeks, and wanting to punish the Persians I have come to Asia, which I took from you.
- So would I, if I were Parmenion.
- As quoted in Lives by Plutarch, after Parmenion suggested to him after the Battle of Issus that he should accept Darius III of Persia's offer of an alliance, the hand of his daughter in marriage, and all Minor Asia, saying "If I were Alexander, I would accept the terms" (Variant translation: I would accept it if I were Alexander).
- Variants: I too, if I were Parmenion. But I am Alexander.
So would I, if I were Parmenion.
So should I, if I were Parmenion.
So should I, if I were Parmenion: but as I am Alexander, I cannot.
I would do it if I was Parmenion, but I am Alexander.
If I were Parmenion, that is what I would do. But I am Alexander and so will answer in another way.
So would I, if I were Parmenion, but I am Alexander, so I will send Darius a different answer.
If I were Perdicas, I shall not fail to tell you, I would have endorsed this arrangement at once, but I am Alexander, and I shall not do it. (as quoted from medieval French romances in The Medieval French Alexander (2002) by Donald Maddox and Sara Sturm-Maddox, p. 81)
- Youths of the Pellaians and of the Macedonians and of the Hellenic Amphictiony and of the Lakedaimonians and of the Corinthians... and of all the Hellenic peoples, join your fellow-soldiers and entrust yourselves to me, so that we can move against the barbarians and liberate ourselves from the Persian bondage, for as Greeks we should not be slaves to barbarians.
- As quoted in the Historia Alexandri Magni of Pseudo-Kallisthenes, 1.15.1-4
- Now you fear punishment and beg for your lives, so I will let you free, if not for any other reason so that you can see the difference between a Greek king and a barbarian tyrant, so do not expect to suffer any harm from me. A king does not kill messengers.
- As quoted in the Historia Alexandri Magni of Pseudo-Kallisthenes, 1.37.9-13
- Are you still to learn that the end and perfection of our victories is to avoid the vices and infirmities of those whom we subdue?
- As quoted in Lives by Plutarch, as translated by Arthur Hugh Clough
- To the strongest!
- After being asked, by his generals on his deathbed, who was to succeed him. It has been speculated that his voice may have been indistinct and that he may have said "Krateros" (the name of one of his generals), but Krateros was not around, and the others may have chosen to hear "Kratistos" — the strongest. As quoted in The Mask of Jove: a history of Graeco-Roman civilization from the death of Alexander to the death of Constantine (1966) by Stringfellow Barr, p. 6
- There is nothing impossible to him who will try.
- On taking charge of an attack on a fortress, in Pushing to the Front, or, Success under Difficulties : A Book of Inspiration (1896) by Orison Swett Marden, p. 55
- I consider not what Parmenion should receive, but what Alexander should give.
- On his gifts for the services of others, as quoted in Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: Giving the Derivation, Source, or Origin of Common Phrases, Allusions, and Words That Have A Tale To Tell (1905) by Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, p. 30
- Variant: It is not what Parmenio should receive, but what Alexander should give.
- quoted in Alexander : A History of the Origin and Growth of the Art of War from Earliest Times to the Battle Of Ipsus, B. C. 301 (1899) by Theodore Ayrault Dodge
- Sex and sleep alone make me conscious that I am mortal.
- As quoted in Alexander the Great (1973) by Robin Lane Fox
- Unsourced variant : Only sex and sleep make me conscious that I am mortal.
- Shall I pass by and leave you lying there because of the expedition you led against Greece, or shall I set you up again because of your magnanimity and your virtues in other respects?
- Dinocrates, I appreciate your design as excellent in composition, and I am delighted with it, but I apprehend that anybody who should found a city in that spot would be censured for bad judgement. For as a newborn babe cannot be nourished without the nurse's milk, nor conducted to the approaches that lead to growth in life, so a city cannot thrive without fields and the fruits thereof pouring into its walls.
- For my part, I assure you, I had rather excel others in the knowledge of what is excellent, than in the extent of my power and dominion.
Quotes about Alexander
- What is the purpose of adventuring around the world? A king must be an administrator. ... Alexander was a man full of great sound, lighting, and thunderbolt; [he was] like a cloud in spring or summer, which passed over the kings of the earth, rained upon them, and disappeared—indeed a summer's cloud disappears very soon [saying italicized].
- Alexander sacrificed to the gods to whom it was his custom to sacrifice, and gave a public banquet, seated all the Persians, and then any persons from the other peoples who took precedence for rank or any other high quality, and he himself and those around him drank from the same bowl and poured the same libations, with the Greek soothsayers and Magi initiating the ceremony. Alexander prayed for various blessings and especially that the Macedonians and Persians should enjoy harmony as partners in government. The story prevails that those who shared the banquet were nine thousand and that they all poured the same libation and gave the one victory cry as they did.
- [Diogenes speaking to Alexander] “Now perhaps you kings are also doing something like that: each of you has playmates — the eager followers on his side — he [Darius] his Persians and the other peoples of Asia, and you [Alexander] your Macedonians and the other Greeks.”
- Dio Chrysostom, “Orationes”, 4.48
- “Demades said that Xerxes fortified the sea with his ships, covered the land with his armies, concealed the sky with his weapons, and filled Persia with Greek prisoners. And now justly the barbarian is praised by Athenians because he took captive Greeks, but Alexander, a Greek, and leading Greeks, did not take captive those arrayed against him.[...]No one of the Greek kings went to Egypt except Alexander alone, and he went, not to make war, but to consult an oracle as to where he should found a city which would forever bear his name.[...]So Alexander was the first of the Greeks to take Egypt, and so became the first both of Greeks and of barbarians.”
- Remota itaque iustitia quid sunt regna nisi magna latrocinia? [...] Eleganter enim et ueraciter Alexandro illi Magno quidam comprehensus pirata respondit. Nam cum idem rex hominem interrogaret, quid ei uideretur, ut mare haberet infestum, ille libera contumacia: Quod tibi, inquit, ut orbem terrarum; sed quia <id> ego exiguo nauigio facio, latro uocor; quia tu magna classe, imperator.
- Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? ... Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, "What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor."
- After fighting, scheming and murdering in pursuit of the secure tenure of absolute power, he found himself at last on a lonely pinnacle over an abyss, with no use for his power and security unattainable. His genius was such that he ended an epoch and began another - but one of unceasing war and misery, from which exhaustion produced an approach to order after two generations and peace at last under the Roman Empire. He himself never found peace. One is tempted to see him, in medieval terms, as the man who sold his soul to the Devil for power: the Devil kept his part of the bargain but ultimately claimed his own. But to the historian, prosaically such allegory, we must put it differently: to him, when he has done all the work - work that must be done, and done carefully - of analysing the play of faction and the system of government, Alexander illustrates with startling clarity the ultimate loneliness of supreme power.
- Ernst Badian, Studies in Greek and Roman History, Alexander the Great and the Loneliness of Power, 1964 p. 204
- Alexander the Great, reflecting on his friends degenerating into sloth and luxury, told them that it was a most slavish thing to luxuriate, and a most royal thing to labour.
- Isaac Barrow, in "Sermon 51 : Of Industry in General", in Sermons on Various Subjects (1823), Vol. 3. p. 33
- The ancient writers tell of the peculiar "melting" glance of his eyes, or of the way in which, as Plutarch says, his body seemed to glow. They are evidently trying to describe something which they found it difficult to express. He also grew up, to the delight of Philip, serious-minded, untiring, passionately keen to succeed in any difficult task, and yet more keen the more difficult it was.
He was a great reader, too. He had been early caught by the glamour of the Tale of Troy, like most Greek boys; and he never grew weary of it. As far as the Oxus and the Indus, he carried with him his personal copy of the Iliad...
- A. R. Burn, in Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Empire (1948), p. 11
- When he says that in that day all his thoughts perish, or flow away, perhaps under this expression he censures the madness of princes in setting no bounds to their hopes and desires, and scaling the very heavens in their ambition, like the insane Alexander of Macedon, who, upon hearing that there were other worlds, wept that he had not yet conquered one, although soon after the funeral urn sufficed him.
- John Calvin, in his interpretation of Psalm 146 in On The Book Of Psalms (1557) as translated by Rev. James Anderson (1849)
- Having only that one hope, the accomplishment of it, of consequence, must put an end to all my hopes; and what a wretch is he who must survive his hopes! Nothing remains when that day comes, but to sit down and weep like Alexander, when he wanted other worlds to conquer.
- William Congreve, in words for the character Fainall in Way of the World (1700)
- Variants on this theme:
- Then he sat down and wept because there were not other worlds for him to conquer.
- He cried because there were no more worlds to conquer.
- And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.
- "Hans Gruber" in Die Hard (1988); this is sometimes mistaken as a quote from more ancient sources; Hans claims it is from Plutarch, who wrote Life of Alexander. While ancient sources record that Alexander sat and wept because he had conquered the known world, the actual wording of this quote is the same as the Twilight Zone episode "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville" (1963).
- Of the life of Alexander we have five consecutive narratives...Here, it might, he thought, are authorities enough; hut unluckily, among all the five, there is not a single contemporary chronicler. All five write at secondhand, ... Diodorus we believe to be perfectly honest, but he is, at the same time, impenetrably stupid. Plutarch, as he himself tells us, does not write history... his object is to recount anecdotes, rather to point a moral than to give a formal narrative of political and military events. Justin is a feeble and careless epitomizer. Quintus Curtius is, in our eyes, little better than a romance-writer; he is the only one of the five whom we should suspect of any wilful departure from the truth.
- We must remember too that Philip and Alexander were Greeks, descended from Heracles, wished to be recognised as Greeks, as benefactors of the Greeks, even as Heracles had been.
- N. G. L. Hammond, British scholar and expert on Macedon, Alexander the Great: King, Commander and Statesman, p. 257
- After Philip's assassination at Aegae in 336, Alexander inherited, together with the Macedonian kingdom, his father's Panhellenic project to lead the Greeks in the conquest of Persia.
- Waldemar Heckel, Lawrence A. Tritle, Alexander the Great: A New History, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009, p.99
- Dhu al-Qarnain is Alexander the Greek, the king of Persia and Greece, or the king of the east and the west, for because of this he was called Dhul-Qarnayn [meaning, "the two-horned one"]...
- We are not in the situation of poor Alexander the Great, who wept, as well indeed he might, because there were no more worlds to conquer; for, to do justice to this queer, odd, rantipole city, and this whimsical country, there is matter enough in them to keep our risible muscles and our pens going until doomsday.
- Washington Irving in Salmagundi : Or, The Whim-whams and Opinions of Launcelot Langstaff, Esq. and Others (1835)
- In the east the day was reddening,
When the warriors pass'd;
In the west the night was deadening,
As they looked their last;
As they looked their last on him —
He, their comrade — their commander
He, the earth's adored —
He, the godlike Alexander !
Who can wield his sword ?
As they went their eyes were dim,
The silver-shielded warriors,
The warriors of the world !
- Letitia Elizabeth Landon, "The Death-Bed of Alexander the Great", The New Monthly Magazine, Volume 45, Part 3 (1835), p. 303
- The only human being with whom I felt any kinship died three hundred years before the birth of Christ. Alexander of Macedonia. I idolized him. A young army commander, he'd swept along the coasts of Turkey and Phoenicia, subduing Egypt before turning his armies towards Persia. He died, thirty-three, ruling most of the civilized world. Ruling without barbarism! At Alexandria, he instituted the ancient world's greatest seat of learning. True, people died ... perhaps unnecessarily, though who can judge such things? Yet how he nearly approached his vision of a united world! I was determined to measure my success against his. Firstly, I gave away my inheritance. to demonstrate the possibility of achieving anything starting from nothing. Next, I departed for Northern Turkey, to retrace my hero's steps. I wanted to match his accomplishment, bringing an age of illumination to a benighted world. Heh. I wanted to have something to say should we meet in the hall of legends. I followed the path of Alexander's war machine along the black sea coast, imagining his armies taking port after port, blood on ancient bronze. Perhaps because of the challenge it represented: the ancient world's greatest puzzle was there, a knot that couldn't be untied. Alexander cut it in two with his sword. Lateral thinking, you see. Centuries ahead of his time. Heading south, he entered Egypt through Memphis, where they proclaimed him son of Amon, judge of the dead, whose name means "hidden one." Under rule from Alexandria, the classic culture of the great Pharaohs was restored. I followed him through Babylon, up through Kabul to Samarkhand then down the Indus, where he met the first elephants of war. Where he'd turned back to quell dissent at home, I travelled on, through China and Tibet, gathering martial wisdom as I went. Alexander returned to Babylon to die of an infection, aged thirty-three, amongst its ruined ziggurats. I saw at last his failings. He'd not united all the world, nor built a unity that would survive him. Disillusioned, but determined, to complete my odyssey, I followed his corpse to its resting place in Alexandria.
- I have wrestled with Thanatos knee to knee and I know how death is vanquished. Man's immortality is not to live forever; for that wish is born of fear. Each moment free from fear makes a man immortal.
- It is better to believe in men too rashly, and regret, than believe too meanly. Men could be more than they are, if they would try for it. He has shown them that. How many have tried, because of him? Not only those I have seen; there will be men to come. Those who look in mankind only for their own littleness, and make them believe in that, kill more than he ever will in all his wars.
- When magic through nerves and reason passes, imagination, force, and passion will thunder. The portrait of the world is changed.
- Dejan Stojanovic in Circling, ”Alexander the Great” (Sequence: “A Warden with No Keys”) (1993)
- Once upon a time, in days of long ago, Alexander the Great complained bitterly that there were no worlds left for him to conquer.
- Alfred Wainwright, A Pennine Journey : The Story of a Long Walk in 1938 (1986), p. 1
- ONCE upon a time, Aristotle taught Alexander that he should restrain himself from frequently approaching his wife, who was very beautiful, lest he should impede his spirit from seeking the general good. Alexander acquiesed to him. The queen, when she perceived this and was upset, began to draw Aristotle to love her. Many times she crossed paths with him alone, with bare feet and disheveled hair, so that she might entice him.
At last, being enticed, he began to solicit her carnally. She says,
"This I will certainly not do, unless I see a sign of love, lest you be testing me. Therefore, come to my chamber crawling on hand and foot, in order to carry me like a horse. Then I'll know that you aren't deluding me."
When he had consented to that condition, she secretly told the matter to Alexander, who lying in wait apprehended him carrying the queen. When Alexander wished to kill Aristotle, in order to excuse himself, Aristotle says,
If thus it happened to me, an old man most wise, that I was deceived by a woman, you can see that I taught you well, that it could happen to you, a young man."
Hearing that, the king spared him, and made progress in Aristotle's teachings.
- Anonymous, Phyllis and Aristotle.
- Alexander the Great: An annotated list of primary sources from Livius.org
- Wiki Classical Dictionary, extant sources and fragmentary and lost sources
- Plutarch, Life of Alexander (in English)
- Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus (in English)
- Plutarch, Of the Fortune or Virtue of Alexander the Great (in English)
- Quintus Curtius Rufus, Histories of Alexander (in Latin)
- Alexander the Great on the Web, a comprehensive directory of some 1,000 sites
- Livius Project articles on Alexander by Jona Lendering
- Pothos.org: Alexander's Home on the Web
- Wiki Classical Dictionary: Category Alexander the Great, a Mediawiki based project, with stricter guidelines and editors