Alexander in India: Talking Trees Prophesy Death

For previous translations from the Alexander Romance (attributed to Pseudo-Callisthenes but available in many different versions and languages), including Alexander’s visit with the naked-philosophers, go here.

Alexander’s Letter to Aristotle about India (Alexander Romance 3.17)

“Once we had organized everything, we went by the road that naturally leads to the Prasiakan land. And when I was ready to go, around the sixth hour, a wonder appeared in the sky in the third month, named Dios. First, a wind arose suddenly with a force that knocked the tents to the ground along with those of us who were standing around [the Armenian version goes on to describe a great deal of snow that killed many men]. After thirty days the road was passable and we departed. After five days we conquered Prasaikê along with Poros and all this stuff. His city overflowed with goods which I have already described to you.

When this happened and I was setting everything in perfectly good order, many of the Indians came to me willingly and were saying, “King Alexander, you will take cities, and palaces, mountains, and tribes, place where no living man or king has ever gone…” And then some very smart men came out and were saying to me “King, we have something beyond belief to show you. For we will show you plants that talk like men….” Then they led us to some preserve, a guard [for them]…and a temple of the sun and the moon. There are two trees there that talked. They were close in size to the cypress. The trees were in a circle, similar to the Egyptian chestnut tree and with similar fruit. They claimed that one was male with male offspring and one was female with female offspring—and that the name of one was the sun and the name of the female was the moon.

The trees had been draped with the skins of all sorts of animals (female skins on the female tree; male skins on the male tree). Near them there was neither iron, nor bronze, nor tin, nor clay for pottery. When I asked them what these hides seemed to be, they said they were from lions and leopards It is not possible to conduct a burial here without the priest of the sun and the moon. They use the skins of the beasts for ceremonial purposes.

I set out to learn about the origin of the trees. They said “When it is the first part of dawn and the sun is rising, a voice issues from the tree. And when the sun is at the middle of the sky and then again when it is about to set, a third time. The same thing occurs with the moon.” Men who appeared to be priests approached me saying “Enter cleansed and fall to your knees.” I took with me my friends Parmenion, Krateros, Iollas, Makhêtês, Thrasuleon, Theodektês, Diiphilos, Neokles, altogether ten. And the priest was saying “King, it is not permitted for iron to enter the shrine.” I ordered my men to put aside their swords. Unarmed men came from my army and I ordered them all to observe the place in a circle. Then I selected some men from the Indians to accompany us so they might interpret for me. I prayed to the Olympian Ammon, Athena the bringer of victory, and the other gods.

Just as the sun went down an Indian voice issued from the tree. It was interpreted by the Indians who were present with us. Because of fear, they were unwilling to translate it. I became agitated and berated them one by one. Eventually the Indians said this: “You will die soon at the hands of your friends.” Even though I and those with me were thunderstruck, I desired to get another oracle from the moon as it rose into sight. Now armed with knowledge of the future I entered and asked if I should embrace my mother Olympias and my relatives. Again then as my friends stood around the tree issued a voice to me, but this time in Greek, “King Alexander, you must die in Babylon. You will be slain by your own people and you will not return to your mother Olympias.”

“Even as my friends and I were distraught by this, I desired to bestow the finest garlands upon the gods. Then the priest was saying “It is not possible to do this. But if you will force it, do what you want. For there is no law written for a king.”

As I was laying in deep grief and disturbed, Parmenion and Philip encouraged me to go to sleep. But I was not able to sleep, I got up and left near dawn with my ten friends, the priest and the Indians and again when to the shrine giving out orders. I went to the shrine with the priest and once I placed my hand on the tree I questioned it asking “if the years of my life are done, I wish to learn this from you, whether I will return to Macedonia and greet my mother and my wife and die after.” Again, at the breaking of dawn when a ray of light it the top of the tree, a voice issued from it saying, “The years of your life are at end. You will not return to your mother Olympias, but you will die in Babylon. After a short time, your mother and wife will died badly at the hands of your friends. Your brother too, killed by those around you. Do not ask about these things any longer: you will not hear anything more about what you ask.”

Alexander india

Ταῦτα δὲ πάντα διοικονομήσαντες ἤλθομεν εἰς τὴν κατὰ φύσιν ὁδὸν τὴν φέρουσαν εἰς τὴν Πρασιακὴν γῆν. καὶ ἑτοίμως μου ἔχοντος ἀναζεῦξαι περὶ ἕκτην ὥραν γίνεται περὶ τὸν ἀέρα τοιαύτη θεωρία μηνὶ Δίῳ ἡμέρᾳ τρίτῃ· πρῶτον μὲν ἐξαίφνης πνοή, ὥστε τὰ σκηνώματα καταρριφῆναι καὶ ἡμᾶς ἑστῶτας εἰς τὸ ἔδαφος καταπεσεῖν . . . Μετὰ δὲ ἡμέρας λʹ τῆς ὁδοῦ εὐβάτου γενομένης ἀνεζεύξαμεν καὶ μεθ´ ἡμέρας εʹ ἐκυριεύσαμεν τῆς Πρασιακῆς πόλεως σὺν Πώρῳ καὶ τοῖς σὺν αὐτῷ [καὶ τοὺς ἐκείνῳ πᾶσιν]. παμπληθὴς δὲ ἦν ἀγαθοῖς, περὶ ὧν ἡμῖν γέγραπται. γενομένου δὲ 〈τούτου〉 καί μου τὰ πέριξ κατὰ φύσιν οἰκονομήσαντος καὶ τῶν Ἰνδῶν προθύμως συνελθόντων ἔλεγόν μοι· ‘Βασιλεῦ Ἀλέξανδρε, λήψῃ πόλεις καὶ βασιλείας καὶ ὄρη καὶ ἔθνη, εἰς ἃ οὐδεὶς τῶν ζώντων ἐπέβη 〈ποτὲ βασιλεύς〉.’ . . . τινὲς δὲ ἐκ τῶν πολυϊδρίων ἐλθόντες ἔλεγον· ‘Βασιλεῦ, ἔχομέν σοι δεῖξαί τι παράδοξον ἄξιόν σου· δείξομεν γάρ σοι 〈φυτὰ〉 ἀνθρωπιστὶ λαλοῦντα.’ . . . καὶ εἰσήνεγκαν ἡμᾶς εἴς τινα παράδεισον, ἔνθα . . . ἥλιος καὶ [ἡ] σελήνη ἐν μέσῳ τοῦ παραδείσου· † κατὰ δὲ αὐτοὺς φρουρὰ . . . ἱερὸν ἡλίου καὶ σελήνης. δύο δὲ ἦν δένδρα τὰ προειρημένα, ἃ ἦν παραπλήσια κυπαρίσσοις . . . κύκλῳ δὲ ἦν δένδρα [τὰ προειρημένα] παρόμοια τῇ ἐν Αἰγύπτῳ μυροβαλάνῳ, καὶ ὁ καρπὸς ὅμοιος. προσηγόρευον δὲ τὸ μὲν ἀρρενικὸν ἀρρένων λογισμόν, τὸ δὲ θηλυκὸν θηλειῶν· ὄνομα δὲ ἦν τοῦ ἑνὸς ἥλιος, τῆς δὲ θηλείας σελήνη, 〈ἃ〉 ἔλεγον τῇ ἰδίᾳ φωνῇ μουθοῦ ἐμαοῦσαι. ταῦτα δὲ περιεβέβλητο δορὰς παντοίων 〈θηρίων〉, τὸ μὲν ἄρρεν ἀρρένων τὸ δὲ θῆλυ θηλειῶν. παρ´ αὐτοῖς δὲ σίδηρος οὐχ ὑπῆρχεν οὔτε χαλκὸς οὔτε κασσίτερος οὔτε πηλὸς 〈εἰς〉 πλάσιν. ἐμοῦ δὲ ἐρωτῶντος τίνες αἱ δοραὶ δοκοῦσιν εἶναι, ἔφησαν λεόντων καὶ παρδάλεων. οὐκ ἔξεστι δὲ ὧδε τάφον ἔχειν εἰ μὴ τὸν τοῦ ἡλίου καὶ τῆς σελήνης 〈ἱερέα〉. περιβολαῖς δὲ ἐχρῶντο τῶν θηρίων ταῖς δοραῖς.

Περὶ δὲ τῶν δένδρων τὴν αἰτίαν ἐζήτουν μαθεῖν· οἱ δὲ ἔφησαν· ‘Πρωίας γενομένης, ὅταν ὁ ἥλιος ἀνατείλῃ, φωνὴ ἐκ τοῦ δένδρου φέρεται, καὶ ὅταν κατὰ μέσον τοῦ οὐρανοῦ γένηται, καὶ ὅταν μέλλῃ δύνειν, τοῦτο τρίτον· τὸ δ´ αὐτὸ καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς σελήνης.’ καὶ οἱ δοκοῦντες ἱερεῖς εἶναι προσῆλθόν μοι λέγοντες· ‘Εἴσελθε καθαρὸς καὶ προσκύνησον.’ συνεισῆγον δὲ τοὺς φίλους Παρμενίωνα Κρατερὸν 〈Φίλιππον〉 Ἰόλλαν Μαχήτην Θρασυλέοντα 〈Μαχάονα〉 Θεοδέκτην Διίφιλον Νεοκλῆν, ἄνδρας ιʹ. ὁ δὲ ἱερεὺς ἔλεγεν· ‘Βασιλεῦ, σίδηρον οὐ καθήκει εἰς τὸ ἱερὸν εἰσελθεῖν.’ Προστάσσω οὖν τοῖς φίλοις τὰ ξίφη ἀποθέσθαι ἔξω τοῦ περιβόλου· συνεισῆλθον δέ μοι ἐκ τῆς δυνάμεως ἄνδρες τʹ ἀμάχαιροι. ἐκέλευσα οὖν τοὺς σὺν ἐμοὶ πάντας κατοπτεῦσαι κύκλῳ τὸν τόπον. καὶ προσκαλοῦμαι ἐκ τῶν συνακολουθησάντων μοι Ἰνδῶν, ἵνα ἑρμηνείας τύχω παρ´ αὐτῶν. ὄμνυμι δὲ Ὀλύμπιον Ἄμμωνα Ἀθηνᾶν νικηφόρον θεοὺς ἅπαντας . . . ἅμα τῷ δῦναι τὸν ἥλιον φωνὴ ἠνέχθη Ἰνδικὴ ἐκ τοῦ δένδρου, ἣ ἑρμηνεύθη μοι ὑπὸ τῶν Ἰνδῶν τῶν ὄντων σὺν ἡμῖν. καὶ φοβούμενοι οὐκ ἤθελον μεθερμηνεῦσαι· σύννους ἐγενάμην καὶ εἵλκυσα αὐτοὺς κατὰ μόνας, καὶ εἶπον τοῦτο οἱ Ἰνδοί· ‘Ταχὺ ἀπολέσθαι ἔχεις ὑπὸ τῶν ἰδίων.’ ἐμοῦ δὲ καὶ τῶν παρεστηκότων μοι ἀποτερατωθέντων ἀπὸ τῆς σελήνης ἠβουλήθην πρὸς τὴν ἀνατολὴν ὀψίας πάλιν χρηματισθῆναι. εἰκάσας δὲ τὸ μέλλον εἰσῆλθον καὶ ἠξίωσα, εἰ ἀσπάσομαι τὴν μητέρα μου Ὀλυμπιάδα καὶ τοὺς γνησίους μου φίλους. πάλιν δέ μοι τῶν φίλων παρεστώτων ἅμα τῷ τὴν σελήνην ἀνατεῖλαι φωνὴν τὸ δένδρον τὴν αὐτὴν ἐξήνεγκεν Ἑλληνικῇ διαλέκτῳ· ‘Βασιλεῦ Ἀλέξανδρε, ἐν Βαβυλῶνι δεῖ σε ἀποθανεῖν· ὑπὸ τῶν ἰδίων ἀναιρῇ καὶ οὐ δύνασαι ἀνακομισθῆναι πρὸς τὴν μητέρα σου Ὀλυμπιάδα.’

Ἐμοῦ δὲ λίαν καὶ τῶν φίλων μου θαυμαζόντων ἐβουλόμην στεφάνους καλλίστους περιθεῖναι τοῖς θεοῖς. τοῦ δὲ ἱερέως λέγοντος· ‘Οὐκ ἐξὸν τοῦτο γενέσθαι· εἰ δὲ βιάζει, πρᾶξον ὃ θέλεις· βασιλεῖ γὰρ νόμος ἄγραφος’ . . . περιλύπου δέ μου διακειμένου καὶ λίαν δυσφοροῦντος ὅ τε Παρμενίων καὶ ὁ Φίλιππος παρεκάλουν με περὶ τὸν ὕπνον γενέσθαι· μὴ βουληθέντος δέ μου ἀναστὰς ὤρθρισα 〈καὶ〉 περὶ τὴν ἀνατολὴν σὺν τοῖς ιʹ φίλοις καὶ τῷ ἱερεῖ καὶ τοῖς Ἰνδοῖς πάλιν εἰς τὸ ἱερὸν ἀπελθὼν καὶ διαστολὰς δοὺς προσελθών τε εἰς τὸ ἱερὸν σὺν τῷ ἱερεῖ καὶ ἐπιθεὶς τὴν χεῖρα πρὸς τὸ δένδρον ἐπηρώτησα λέγων· ‘Εἰ πεπλήρωταί μοι τὰ τῆς ζωῆς ἔτη, τοῦτο βούλομαι παρ´ ὑμῶν μαθεῖν, εἰ ἀνακομισθήσομαι εἰς Μακεδονίαν καὶ ἀσπάσομαι τὴν μητέρα μου καὶ τὴν γυναῖκα, καὶ τότε † ἀπαναλῦσαι.’ Ἅμα δὲ τῷ γενέσθαι τὴν ἀνατολὴν τοῦ ἡλίου καὶ βαλεῖν τὴν αὐγὴν εἰς τὴν κορυφὴν τοῦ δένδρου φωνὴ ἐξαυδᾷ διαρρήδην λέγουσα· ‘Πεπλήρωταί σου τὰ τῆς ζωῆς ἔτη καὶ ἀνακομισθῆναι οὐκ ἔχεις πρὸς Ὀλυμπιάδα τὴν μητέρα σου, ἀλλ´ ἐν Βαβυλῶνι ἔχεις ἀπολέσθαι. μετὰ δὲ ὀλίγον χρόνον καὶ ἡ μήτηρ σου καὶ ἡ γυνή σου κακὴν κακῶς ἀπολοῦνται ὑπὸ τῶν ἰδίων καὶ αἱ ἀδελφαί σου ὑπὸ τῶν περὶ σέ. καὶ περὶ τούτων μηκέτι ἀξίου· οὐ γὰρ ἀκούσῃ ἔτι πρὸς ἃ ἀξιοῖς.’

One thought on “Alexander in India: Talking Trees Prophesy Death

  1. Pingback: Two Weeks of Posts on India | SENTENTIAE ANTIQUAE

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