“When a small box was brought to him—which seem more valuable than the rest of the possessions and baggage they had taken from Dareios, [Alexander] asked his friends what thing seem especially worthy of being put in it. Although many of them made many suggestions, Alexander said that he would keep the Iliad safe by placing it inside. Not a few of the most credible sources claim this.
If, as the Alexandrians say is true—since they believe Herakleides—Homer was no lazy or unprofitable travel companion…”
This passage refers to an earlier moment in the Life. Coincidentally, I also sleep the same way…
“[Alexander] was also naturally a lover of language, a lover of learning, and a lover of reading. Because he believed that the Iliad was a guidebook for military excellence—and called it that too—he took a copy of it which had been edited by Aristotle which they used to refer to as “Iliad-in-a-Box”. He always kept it with his dagger beneath his pillow—as Onêsikritos tells us.
When there were no other books in -and, he sent to Harpalos for some more. Then Harpalus sent him Philistos’ books along with some tragedies of Euripides, Sophokles and Aeschylus and the dithyrambs of Telestes and Philoxenos.”
Plutarch tells a slightly different story in the Moralia
Plutarch, On the Fortune—or Virtue—of Alexander 327f-328a
“Yes, indeed, the accoutrements he possessed thanks to Aristotle were greater than what he got from Phillip when he went against the Persians. But, while we believe those who claim that Alexander said that the Iliad and the Odyssey went with him as guides on his expedition—since we do think that Homer is sacred—don’t we dismiss anyone who claims that the epics followed him as his solace and distraction from work with sweet leisure when the true guide was the reason he had from philosophy and his ‘baggage’ was his notes on Bravery, Prudence, and greatness of spirit?”
“The discussion was about Alexander the king and decided that he did not drink too much but that he spent too much time drinking and distracted with his friends. Philînos accused everyone of talking nonsense using the royal accounts as proof in which it is written frequently that “he slept off his drinking the whole day” and at times “and the following day too”.
For this reason, he was also somewhat lazy about sex even though his sharp and emotional natural was an indication of the hottest body. It is also said that his skin had the nicest smell and that because of it his clothing was permeated with the most pleasant aroma. This too seems to be a mark of heat. This is why the driest and hottest places in the world produce frankincense and cassia. For Theophrastus says that a good smell comes from when the harmful amount of moisture is removed by heat.
Kallisthenes seems to have gotten on Alexander’s bad side because he had trouble joining him for dinner because of the strong wine. When it was passed to him, he pushed away the big cup, which was called Alexander’s cup, because he said he did not wish to need Asclepius’ tonic because he drank Alexander’s. This was the substance of the conversation about Alexander’s drinking.”
“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.”
“Aristotle, more than others, seems to me to have fostered in Alexander a love of healing. For he delighted not just in talking about medicine but he even used to help his sick friends and assign to them certain therapies and treatments, as one can see from his letters. He was by nature a lover of language, a lover of learning and a lover of reading. Because he believed and named the Iliad the roadmap of military excellence, he took a copy corrected by Aristotle which they called the “Box-Iliad” and he always had it with his knife lying under his pillow, as Onesikritos recounts. And when he did not have other books deep in Asia, he ordered Harpalos to send him some. Harpalos sent him the books of Philistos, the tragedies of Euripides, Sophocles and Aeschylus, and the dithyrambs of Telestos and Philoxenos.
In the beginning, Alexander revered Aristotle and said that he loved him no less than his father because he was alive thanks to one and living well thanks to the other. Later, he was rather suspicious of him, not so much that he harmed him at all, but his attachment and attention were not as eager as before—and this was a sign of their alienation.”
I have long been a fan of Classics and classical history, and though I ply my trade as a Homerist, I have been fascinated with ancient battles and military tactics. In teaching courses on Ancient Greek history, however, I have found many students confused by the issues that attend evaluating narrative descriptions of battles and even less prepared to critique either the presentation of the battles or the tactics themselves.