Alexander’s Earth

“He worked, not like someone who works in order to live, but like someone who wants nothing but to work, and that is because he has no regard for himself as a human being . . .” 

–Thomas Mann, “Tonio Kröger” 

Arrian, The Anabasis of Alexander, VII.1.5-6.

“I commend the wise Indians who, people say, were passing time in the open air of a meadow when Alexander came upon them.  When they saw his face and his army, none of them did anything but stamp his feet on the ground where he stood. 

Alexander asked through interpreters what this gesture meant. They replied with this: 

‘King Alexander, each man occupies as much of the earth as he stands on. You are a man like other men, except you’re hyperactive and brazen. You range much of the earth, away from your own land, doing this and that and making demands of other people. And yet, when you die in a little while, you too will occupy only as much of the earth as suffices to bury your body.’”


. . . ἐπαινῶ τοὺς σοφιστὰς τῶν Ἰνδῶν, ὧν λέγουσιν ἔστιν οὓς καταληφθέντας ὑπ᾽ Ἀλεξάνδρου ὑπαιθρίους ἐν λειμῶνι, ἵναπερ αὐτοῖς διατριβαὶ ἦσαν, ἄλλο μὲν οὐδὲν ποιῆσαι πρὸς τὴν ὄψιν αὐτοῦ τε καὶ τῆς στρατιᾶς, κρούειν δὲ τοῖς ποσὶ τὴν γῆν ἐφ᾽ ἧς βεβηκότες ἦσαν. ὡς δὲ ἤρετο Ἀλέξανδρος δι᾽ ἑρμηνέων τι νοοῖ αὐτοῖς τὸ ἔργον, τοὺς δὲ ὑποκρίνασθαι ὧδε: βασιλεῦ Ἀλέξανδρε, ἄνθρωπος μὲν ἕκαστος τοσόνδε τῆς γῆς κατέχει ὅσονπερ τοῦτό ἐστιν ἐφ᾽ ὅτῳ βεβήκαμεν: σὺ δὲ ἄνθρωπος ὢν παρα πλήσιος τοῖς ἄλλοις, πλήν γε δὴ ὅτι πολυπράγμων καὶ ἀτάσθαλος, ἀπὸ τῆς οἰκείας τοσαύτην γῆν ἐπεξέρχῃ πράγματα ἔχων τε καὶ παρέχων ἄλλοις. καὶ οὖν καὶ ὀλίγον ὕστερον ἀποθανὼν τοσοῦτον καθέξεις τῆς γῆς ὅσον ἐξαρκεῖ ἐντεθάφθαι τῷ σώματι.

Thomas Mann

Er arbeitete nicht wie jemand, der arbeitet, um zu leben, sondern wie einer, der nichts will als arbeiten, weil er sich als lebendiger Mensch für nichts achtet . . .

color photograph of a tombstone in front of an open graveLarry 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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