Alexander’s Jeopardy!

Plutarch, Lives (Alexander), LXIV.1-4.

. . . These men [philosophers] were reputed to be especially clever and succinct at answering questions, so he [Alexander] put hard questions to them. He said he would kill the first one who answered incorrectly, and then, one by one, do likewise to the others.

The first was asked which he thinks is more numerous: the living or the dead. He said “the living, for the dead no longer exist.”

The second was asked which has larger beasts: the earth or the sea. “The earth,” he answered, ”for the sea is part of the earth.”

The third was asked what animal is the most cunning. “The one which, up to now,” he said, “mankind has not discovered.”

The fourth, questioned about his reasons for encouraging Sabbas to revolt, answered: “I wanted him to live well or to die well.”

The fifth was asked which he thought came first, day or night. “Day,” he said, “and by one day.” He added, in response to the king’s astonishment, “there must be hard answers to hard questions.”

…δεινοὺς δοκοῦντας εἶναι περὶ τὰς ἀποκρίσεις καὶ βραχυλόγους, ἐρωτήματα προὔβαλεν αὐτοῖς ἄπορα, φήσας ἀποκτενεῖν τὸν μὴ ὀρθῶς ἀποκρινάμενον πρῶτον, εἶτα ἐφεξῆς οὕτω τοὺς ἄλλους. . . ὁ μὲν οὖν πρῶτος ἐρωτηθείς πότερον οἴεται τοὺς ζῶντας εἶναι πλείονας ἢ τοὺς τεθνηκότας, ἔφη “τοὺς ζῶντας: οὐκέτι γὰρ εἶναι τοὺς τεθνηκότας.” ὁ δὲ δεύτερος, πότερον τὴν γῆν ἢ τὴν θάλατταν μείζονα τρέφειν θηρία, “τὴν γῆν: ταύτης γὰρ μέρος εἶναι τὴν θάλατταν.” ὁ δὲ τρίτος, ποῖόν ἐστι ζῷον πανουργότατον, “ὃ μέχρι νῦν,” εἶπεν, ἄνθρωπος οὐκ ἔγνωκεν.” ὁ δὲ τέταρτος ἀνακρινόμενος τίνι λογισμῷ τὸν Σάββαν ἀπέστησεν, ἀπεκρίνατο, “καλῶς ζῆν βουλόμενος αὐτὸν ἢ καλῶς ἀποθανεῖν.” ὁ δὲπέμπτος ἐρωτηθείς πότερον οἴεται τὴν ἡμέραν ἢ τὴν νύκτα προτέραν γεγονέναι, τὴν ἡμέραν, εἶπεν, ἡμέρᾳ μιᾷ καὶ προσεπεῖπεν οὗτος, θαυμάσαντος τοῦ βασιλέως, ὅτι τῶν ἀπόρων ἐρωτήσεων ἀνάγκη καὶ τὰς ἀποκρίσεις ἀπόρους εἶναι.

color photograph of Alex Trebek of Jeopardy standing at a lectern in front of the gameboard
His questions were easier, and wrong answers
were less consequential.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

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