Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Alexander the Great

I have just finished reading a book "Alexander the Great" by Jacob Abbott, when I bumped into a bust of Alexander in Greektown (Danforth Avenue) in Toronto. When he set out to conquer Persia, he had only 35,000 men.  He conquered everything in his path, and by 30, created an empire stretching from Greece in Europe to the Himalayas in Asia.

What I learned this time was how he changed over the course of his victories.  When he was still a prince, he was described as having maturity of mind, far seeing, and reflective.  After conquering rebellious Thebes, he decided to destroy the city as punishment, as a measure not of angry resentment, but of calm adn deliberate retribution.  He discriminated carefully between those who had favoured the rebellion, and those who had been true to their allegiance to him.  After a battle, he went to see the wounded, listened to them, and recounted to them his own adventures.

After he defeated Darius, king of Persia, he conveyed to  Darius that he felt no animosity, that Darius was technically his enemy in an honest and honorable contest for the empire of Asia. 

However, prosperity and power were beginning to exert their usual unfavourable influence upon Alexander’s character. He became haughty, imperious and cruel.  He lost the modesty and gentleness, and began to assume the moral character of a military hero. 

He got exasperated by Betis at Gaza, who refused to surrender to him.  He was even wounded in the fighting.   When he finally conquered the city after a two-month siege, he treated the wretched captives with extreme cruelty.  He sold the inhabitants to slavery.  He ordered holes to be made through the heels of Betis, and passing a rope through them, had the body fastened to a chariot, and dragged about the city till no life remained.

He got himself declared a god at the temple of a famous deity Jupiter Ammon, at the Oasis of Siwah, in North Africa.

He lost the simplicity, the temperance, the moderation, and the sense of justice which characterize his early years. He adopted the dress and the luxurious manners of the Persians.  He lived in the palaces of the Persian kings, imitating their state and splendor.  He provided himself with 360 young females, in whose company he spent his time.

Then he started killing off the old generals such as Parmenio, who had helped him conquered the world.

After one more wild drinking party, he got a violent fever, and soon died. 

Even a great man such as Alexander succumb to the corrupting temptation of power.  It is no surprise that numerous not-so-great-but-who-believe-themselves-so men fall into the same fate.

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