The Jealousy and Play of Alexander the Great

Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae, 7.4.277a

“Chares the Mytilenaian claims that when Alexander found the most beautiful apples in the land of Babylon, he had his ships filled with them and put on an “apple war” from the ships that was a great delight to see.”

Χάρης δ᾽ ὁ Μυτιληναῖος ἱστορεῖ ὡς κάλλιστα μῆλα εὑρὼν ὁ ᾽Αλέξανδρος περὶ τὴν Βαβυλωνίαν χώραν τούτων τε πληρώσας τὰ σκάφη μηλομαχίαν ἀπὸ τῶν νεῶν ἐποιήσατο, ὡς τὴν θέαν ἡδίστην γενέσθαι.

Gnomologium Vaticanum, 78; 10, p. 3

“Alexander, after he arrived at Troy and looked upon the tomb of Achilles, said as he stood there: “Achilles, you obtained the magnificent herald, Homer, because you were so great.” Anaximenes, who was nearby, responded, “King, I too will make you famous”. And Alexander responded, “By the gods, I would prefer to be Homer’s Thersites instead of an Achilles for you.”

ὁ αὐτὸς (sc. ᾽Αλέξανδρος) ἐλθὼν εἰς ῎Ιλιον καὶ θεασάμενος τὸν ᾽Αχιλλέως τάφον στὰς εἶπεν· «ὦ ᾽Αχιλλεῦ, ὡς σὺ μέγας ὢν μεγάλου κήρυκος ἔτυχες ῾Ομήρου». παρόντος δὲ ᾽Αναξιμένους καὶ εἰπόντος· «καὶ ἡμεῖς σε, ὦ βασιλεῦ, ἔνδοξον ποιήσομεν», «ἀλλὰ νὴ τοὺς θεούς», ἔφη, «παρ᾽ ῾Ομήρωι ἐβουλόμην ἂν εἴναι Θερσίτης ἢ παρὰ σοὶ ᾽Αχιλλεύς».

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Alexander the Great on Homer, Amazons, and Diogenes

These sayings come from the Gnomologium Vaticanum

 

78 “When Alexander arrived in Troy and gazed upon the tomb of Achilles he stopped and said “Achilles, how lucky you were to have Homer as your great herald!” Anaximenes, who was present, said, “but I, lord, will tell your tale.” “By the gods”, Alexander responded, “I’d rather be Homer’s Thersites’ than your Achilles.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐλθὼν εἰς ῎Ιλιον καὶ θεασάμενος τὸν ᾿Αχιλλέως τάφον στὰς εἶπεν· „ὦ ᾿Αχιλλεῦ· ὡς [οὐ] μέγας ὢν μεγάλου κήρυκος ἔτυχες ῾Ομήρου!” παρόντος δὲ ᾿Αναξιμένους καὶ εἰπόντος· „καὶ ἡμεῖς σέ, ὦ βανιλεῦ, ἔνδοξον ποιήσομεν”, „ἀλλὰ νὴ τοὺς θεοὺς”, ἔφη, „παρ’ ῾Ομήρῳ ἐβουλόμην ἂν εἶναι Θερσίτης ἢ παρὰ σοὶ ᾿Αχιλλεύς.”

 

94 “When some of his friends were encouraging him to wage war against the Amazons, Alexander said “it will not bring me honor to conquer women, but it will bring me dishonor if I lose to them”

῾Ο αὐτὸς παραινούντων αὐτῷ τῶν φίλων στρατεύειν ἐπὶ τὰς ᾿Αμαζόνας εἶπε· „τὸ μὲν νικῆσαι γυναῖκας οὐκ ἔνδοξον τὸ δὲ νικηθῆναι ὑπ’ αὐτῶν ἄδοξον.”

 

104 “When Diogenes the Cynic was asking Alexander for a drachma he said “this is not a kingly gift.” When he then said, “give me a talent”, Alexander responded “That’s not a Cynic request.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς αἰτήσαντος αὐτὸν Διογένους δραχμὴν ἔφη· „οὐ βασιλικὸν τὸ δῶρον·” τοῦ δὲ εἰπόντος· „καὶ δὸς τάλαντον” εἶπεν· „ἀλλ’ οὐ κυνικὸν τὸ αἴτημα.”

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Countless Universes and Critical Horses: Two Anecdotes about Alexander

Aelian, 2.3 and 4.28

Alexander india

(I know I have been painting this site with an Aelian brush, but these two anecdotes are too precious).

2.3: “When Alexander gazed at a likeness of himself in Ephesus painted by Apelles, he didn’t praise it to the worth of its craftsmanship. After his horse approached and neighed toward the horse in the image as if it were real, Apelles said “King, your horse seems to appreciate art much more than you do.”

᾿Αλέξανδρος θεασάμενος τὴν ἐν ᾿Εφέσῳ εἰκόνα ἑαυτοῦ τὴν ὑπὸ ᾿Απελλοῦ γραφεῖσαν οὐκ ἐπῄνεσε κατὰ τὴν ἀξίαν τοῦ γράμματος. ἐσαχθέντος δὲ τοῦ ἵππου καὶ χρεμετίσαντος πρὸς τὸν ἵππον τὸν ἐν τῇ εἰκόνι ὡς πρὸς ἀληθινὸν καὶ ἐκεῖνον ‘ὦ βασιλεῦ’ εἶπεν ὁ ᾿Απελλῆς, ‘ἀλλ’ ὅ γε ἵππος ἔοικέ σου γραφικώτερος εἶναι κατὰ πολύ.

4.28:  “I am unable to resist laughing at Alexander the son of Philip if, indeed, when he heard what Democritus says in his writings–that there are endless numbers of universes–he was upset that he wasn’t even master of the one we all share. How much would Democritus have laughed at him, do I even need to say, when laughter was his job?”

Οὐ γὰρ δὴ δύναμαι πείθειν ἐμαυτὸν μὴ γελᾶν ἐπ’ ᾿Αλεξάνδρῳ τῷ Φιλίππου, εἴ γε ἀπείρους ἀκούων εἶναί τινας κόσμους λέγοντος Δημοκρίτου ἐν τοῖς συγγράμμασιν ὃ δὲ ἠνιᾶτο μηδὲ τοῦ ἑνὸς καὶ κοινοῦ κρατῶν. πόσον δ’ ἂν ἐπ’ αὐτῷ Δημόκριτος ἐγέλασεν αὐτός, τί δεῖ καὶ λέγειν, ᾧ ἔργον τοῦτο ἦν;

Awkward Letters Home: Alexander and Olympias

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 13.iv

A transcript of a letter from Alexander to his mother Olympias; and what Olympias wrote back to him.

“In the majority of the records of the deeds of Alexander and rather recently in the book of Marcus Varro, which is called “Orestes” or “On Insanity”, we find that Olympias, the wife of Philipp, most cleverly replied to her son. For, when he wrote to his mother, “King Alexander, the son of Zeus Ammon, sends his greetings to his mother Olympias”, she said “My son, hush! lest you defame me or incriminate me before Juno! She will certainly allot me some great harm once you have confessed in your letters that I am her husband’s adultress.” This courtesy from a wise and prudent woman to a boastful son moderately and elegantly warned him that his puffed-up belief, which he had inflated from great victories, the charms of praise and from successes beyond belief–the idea that he was the offspring of Zeus–ought to be abandoned.”

Descripta Alexandri ad matrem Olympiadem epistula; et quid Olympias festive ei rescripserit.

In plerisque monumentis rerum ab Alexandro gestarum et paulo ante in libro M. Varronis, qui inscriptus est Orestes vel de insania, Olympiadem Philippi uxorem festivissime rescripsisse legimus Alexandro filio. 2 Nam cum is ad matrem ita scripsisset: “Rex Alexander Iovis Hammonis filius Olympiadi matri salutem dicit”, Olympias ei rescripsit ad hanc sententiam: “Amabo”, inquit “mi fili, quiescas neque deferas me neque criminere adversum Iunonem; malum mihi prorsum illa magnum dabit, cum tu me litteris tuis paelicem esse illi confiteris”. 3 Ea mulieris scitae atque prudentis erga ferocem filium comitas sensim et comiter admonuisse eum visa est deponendam esse opinionem vanam, quam ille ingentibus victoriis et adulantium blandimentis et rebus supra fidem prosperis inbiberat, genitum esse sese de Iove.

Adventures in Clothing: Ancient Greeks Try to Describe Indian Cotton

Herodotus, 3.106

“The most distant parts of the inhabited world have in some way received the finest things, just as Greece has drawn the lot of the best seasons by far. As I mentioned a bit before, India is at the easternmost part of the inhabited world: in India living creatures, both four-footed and flying, are much greater than in other lands, except for the horses—these are smaller than the Median horses (which are called Nêsaian). In addition, the gold there, both that excavated and that washed up by rivers or acquired as I have described, is abundant. The wild trees there produce as a fruit a beautiful and exceptional wool, better than that of sheep. The Indians use the material from these trees for clothing.”

αἱ δ᾽ ἐσχατιαί κως τῆς οἰκεομένης τὰ κάλλιστα ἔλαχον, κατά περ ἡ Ἑλλὰς τὰς ὥρας πολλόν τι κάλλιστα κεκρημένας ἔλαχε. [2] τοῦτο μὲν γὰρ πρὸς τὴν ἠῶ ἐσχάτη τῶν οἰκεομενέων ἡ Ἰνδική ἐστι, ὥσπερ ὀλίγῳ πρότερον εἴρηκα: ἐν ταύτῃ τοῦτο μὲν τὰ ἔμψυχα, τετράποδά τε καὶ τὰ πετεινά, πολλῷ μέζω ἢ ἐν τοῖσι ἄλλοισι χωρίοισι ἐστί, πάρεξ τῶν ἵππων (οὗτοι δὲ ἑσσοῦνται ὑπὸ τῶν Μηδικῶν, Νησαίων δὲ καλευμένων ἵππων), τοῦτο δὲ χρυσὸς ἄπλετος αὐτόθι ἐστί, ὃ μὲν ὀρυσσόμενος, ὁ δὲ καταφορεύμενος ὑπὸ ποταμῶν, ὁ δὲ ὥσπερ ἐσήμηνα ἁρπαζόμενος. [3] τὰ δὲ δένδρεα τὰ ἄγρια αὐτόθι φέρει καρπὸν εἴρια καλλονῇ τε προφέροντα καὶ ἀρετῇ τῶν ἀπὸ τῶν ὀίων: καὶ ἐσθῆτι Ἰνδοὶ ἀπὸ τούτων τῶν δενδρέων χρέωνται.

tree vasetree vase

Arrian, Historia Indica, 16

“For clothing the Indians use a flax, just as Nearchus describes, a flax from trees about which I have already discussed. This linen is either brighter than any other linen or the dark skin that they have makes it appear brighter. They wear a robe of this fabric down to the middle of their shin and the have a garment which is partly thrown around their shoulders and partly furled around their heads.”

ἐσθῆτι δὲ ᾿Ινδοὶ λινέῃ χρέονται, κατάπερ λέγει Νέαρχος, λίνου τοῦ ἀπὸ τῶν δενδρέων, ὑπὲρ ὅτων μοι ἤδη λέλεκται. τὸ δὲ λίνον τοῦτο ἢ λαμπρότερον τὴν χροιήν ἐστιν ἄλλου λίνου παντός, ἢ μέλανες αὐτοὶ ἐόντες λαμπρότερον τὸ λίνον φαίνεσθαι ποιέουσιν. ἔστι δὲ κιθὼν λίνεος αὐτοῖς ἔστε ἐπὶ μέσην τὴν κνήμην, εἷμα δὲ τὸ μὲν περὶ τοῖσιν ὤμοισι περιβεβλημένον, τὸ δὲ περὶ τῇσι κεφαλῇσιν εἰλιγμένον.

Alexander The Great, Philosopher

Pseudo-Callisthenes, Alexander Romance 3.6-7 (Go here for collated Greek texts and a translation)

Alexander continues his conversation with the gymnosophists in India and ends it with an epic mic-drop.

 

“He asked again, “What is greater, land or the sea.?” And one responded, “Land, for the sea rests upon the earth.” Then he asked “Which of all the beasts is the most capable?” And another answered, “man…” Then he said to another, “Whom can we not deceive but must always present with the truth?” And he answered, “God: for we cannot deceive one who knows everything?” And then he said to them, “What do you want to ask of me?” And he said “Immortality.” Alexander said, “I do not have this wealth—for I too am merely mortal.” And they said, “Since you are mortal, why do you make so much war? Is it so that you may seize everything and carry it off somewhere? You will leave them to others in turn.”

And Alexander said to them, “These things depend on the will of those above—and we are but servants of their assignment. The sea will not move unless the wind blows. The trees will not dance unless the air strikes them. Man accomplishes nothing without the will of those above. Even though I wish to stop warring, the tyrant of my mind does not allow it.   If we were all in agreement; the universe would be sluggish, the sea would not fill; the land would not be farmed; marriages would not be completed, and there would be no child-bearing.  How many met misfortune in the wars I waged by losing all their possessions? Well, how many profited from their losses? For all who steal from others eventually leave their possessions to others still. Nothing belongs to anyone.” After he said this, Alexander walked away…”

Gymnosophists

εἶπε πάλιν· ‘τί πλεῖον, ἡ γῆ ἢ ἡ θάλασσα;’ εἶπεν· ‘ἡ γῆ· καὶ γὰρ αὐτὴ ἡ θάλασσα ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἵδρυται.’ ὁ δὲ εἶπε· ‘τί πάντων τῶν θηρίων πανουργότερον;’ καὶ εἶπεν· ‘ὁ ἄνθρωπος.’ . . . ἑτέρῳ ἔφη· ‘τίνα οὐ δυνάμεθα ψεύσασθαι, ἀλλὰ τὸν ἀληθινὸν λόγον αὐτῷ προσφέρομεν;’ — ‘θεόν· οὐ γὰρ δυνάμεθα ψεύσασθαι τὸν πάντα εἰδότα.’ . . . Εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· ‘τί θέλετε ἐξαιτήσασθαί με;’ οἱ δὲ εἶπον· ‘ἀθανασίαν.’ ὁ δὲ Ἀλέξανδρος εἶπεν· ‘ταύτην ἐγὼ οὐκ ἔχω τὴν ἐξουσίαν· καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ θνητὸς ὑπάρχω.’ οἱ δὲ εἶπον· ‘τί τοίνυν θνητὸς ὑπάρχων τοσαῦτα πολεμεῖς; ἵνα πάντα ἄρας που ἀπενέγκῃς; σὺ πάλιν αὐτὰ ἑτέροις καταλείψεις.’ καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἀλέξανδρος· ‘ταῦτα ἐκ τῆς ἄνωθεν προνοίας διοικοῦνται, ἵνα ἡμεῖς [ὑμῖν] διάκονοι γενώμεθα τῆς ἐκείνων ἐπιταγῆς. οὐ γὰρ κινεῖται θάλασσα, εἰ μὴ πνεύσῃ ἄνεμος, οὐδὲ σαλεύεται δένδρα, εἰ μὴ ῥιπίζῃ πνεῦμα, οὐκ ἐνεργεῖται ἄνθρωπος εἰ μὴ ἐκ τῆς ἄνωθεν προνοίας. κἀγὼ δὲ παύσασθαι θέλω τοῦ πολεμεῖν, ἀλλ´ οὐκ ἐᾷ με ὁ τῆς γνώμης μου δεσπότης. εἰ γὰρ πάντες ὁμογνώμονες ἦμεν, ἀργὸς ἐτύγχανεν ὁ κόσμος, θάλασσα οὐκ ἐπλέετο, γῆ οὐκ ἐγεωργεῖτο, γάμοι οὐκ ἐπετελοῦντο, παιδοποιίαι οὐκ ἦσαν. πόσοι γὰρ ἐν τοῖς ὑπ´ ἐμοῦ γενομένοις πολέμοις ἐδυστύχησαν ἀπολέσαντες τὰ ἴδια, ἄλλοι δὲ ηὐτύχησαν ἐκ τῶν ἀλλοτρίων; πάντες γὰρ τὰ πάντων λαμβάνοντες ἑτέροις παραχωροῦμεν καὶ οὐδενὶ οὐδὲν ὑπάρχει.’ Οὕτως εἰπὼν ὁ Ἀλέξανδρος ἀπεχώρει . . .

Naked-Philosophers: Alexander in India

I am currently jet-lagged in India. So, what Greek should I decide to read but the Alexander Romance attributed to Pseud0-Callisthenes. There are dozens of versions of this legendary version of Alexander’s exploits and journeys–and some of the details are extraordinary, to say the least. You can find a collated translation online for free. Now, I do not mean by any measure to compare myself to Alexander. The reading is merely thematic!

In the passage below, Alexander meets and interrogates the famous ascetic philosophers of India, the gymnosophists (lit. “naked philosophers”).

Alexander

 

“After these events [Alexander] made an expedition to the Oksudrakai, not because they were bellicose, but because they were gymnosophists who inhabited caves and thickets. They wrote a letter to him: We, the Brakhmanes, write to Alexander, the human being. If you come to us in an act of war, you will benefit in no way. For you will be able to carry nothing away from us. But if you want what we have, there is no reason to fit for it. For it is your nature to war, ours to philosophize.”

After he read this, Alexander went to them in peace and saw that all of them were half naked. So he asked: “Don’t you live in tombs? And they responded: “This is the place we inhabit and it is ours….” …And turning to another he asked, “Who are greater in number, the living or the dead?” they answered “The dead are more numerous, but do no measure those who no longer are. For those who are seen outnumber those who no longer appear. “ Then he inquired of another “What is stronger, death or life?” And he answered, “Life, because the rising sun has stronger rays, but as it sets it is much weaker.”

[5] E   Μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα τὴν ὁδοιπορίαν πρὸς Ὀξυδράκας ἐποιεῖτο οὐχ ὡς ὄντας πολεμιστάς, ἀλλ´ ὡς γυμνοσοφιστὰς εἰς καλύβας καὶ εἰς κατάγαια καταμένοντας. οἱ δὲ γράφουσιν αὐτῷ ἐπιστολήν· ‘Βραχμᾶνες γυμνοσοφισταὶ Ἀλεξάνδρῳ ἀνθρώπῳ ἐγράψαμεν. εἰ μὲν πρὸς ἡμᾶς παραγίνῃ πολεμήσων, οὐδὲν ὀνήσῃ· τὶ γὰρ 〈παρ´〉 ἡμῶν βαστάσαι οὐκ ἔχεις. εἰ δὲ θέλεις ὅσα ἔχομεν, οὐ δέεται ταῦτα 〈τοῦ〉 πολεμῆσαι· σοὶ γὰρ ἕπεται πολεμεῖν, ἡμῖν δὲ φιλοσοφεῖν.’

[6] E   Οὕτως ὁ Ἀλέξανδρος ἀναγνοὺς εἰρηνικῶς πρὸς αὐτοὺς πορεύεται καὶ ὁρᾷ πάντας γυμνοπεριβόλους. ἐξετάζει οὖν· ‘Τάφους οὐκ ἔχετε;’ οἱ δὲ εἶπον· ‘Τοῦτο τὸ χώρημα, ὅπου μένομεν, ἔστιν ἡμῶν . . .’ καὶ στραφεὶς ἑτέρῳ εἶπε· ‘τίνες πλείονες, ἐκεῖνοι οἱ τελευτήσαντες ἢ οἱ ζῶντες;’ καὶ ἀπεκρίθησαν· ‘οἱ μὲν τελευτήσαντες πλείονες, ἀλλὰ μὴ μέτρει τοὺς μηκέτι ὄντας· οἱ γὰρ ὁρώμενοι πλείονές εἰσι τῶν μηκέτι φαινομένων.’ καὶ ἑτέρου ἐπύθετο· ‘τί ἰσχυρότερον, θάνατος ἢ ζωή;’ εἶπεν· ‘ζωή, ὅτι ὁ ἥλιος ἀνατέλλων ἰσχυροτέρας τὰς ἀκτῖνας ἔχει, ἑσπέρας δὲ δύνων ἀσθενέστερος ὁρᾶται.’

Alexander the Great’s Humanistic Education

Plutarch, Alexander 8.1-2

“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.”

 

Alexander and Aristotle
Alexander and Aristotle (Artist Unknown)

Δοκεῖ δέ μοι καὶ τὸ φιλιατρεῖν ᾿Αλεξάνδρῳ προστρίψασθαι μᾶλλον ἑτέρων ᾿Αριστοτέλης. οὐ γὰρ μόνον τὴν θεωρίαν ἠγάπησεν, ἀλλὰ καὶ νοσοῦσιν ἐβοήθει τοῖς φίλοις, καὶ συνέταττε θεραπείας τινὰς καὶ διαίτας, ὡς ἐκ τῶν ἐπιστολῶν λαβεῖν ἔστιν. ἦν δὲ καὶ φύσει φιλόλογος καὶ φιλομαθὴς καὶ φιλαναγνώστης, καὶ τὴν μὲν  ᾿Ιλιάδα τῆς πολεμικῆς ἀρετῆς ἐφόδιον καὶ νομίζων καὶ ὀνομάζων, ἔλαβε μὲν ᾿Αριστοτέλους διορθώσαντος ἣν ἐκ τοῦ νάρθηκος καλοῦσιν, εἶχε δ’ ἀεὶ μετὰ τοῦ ἐγχειριδίου κειμένην ὑπὸ τὸ προσκεφάλαιον, ὡς ᾿Ονησίκριτος ἱστόρηκε (FGrH 134 F 38)· τῶν δ’ ἄλλων βιβλίων οὐκ εὐπορῶν ἐν τοῖς ἄνω τόποις, ῞Αρπαλον ἐκέλευσε πέμψαι, κἀκεῖνος ἔπεμψεν αὐτῷ τάς τε Φιλίστου βίβλους καὶ τῶν Εὐριπίδου καὶ Σοφοκλέους καὶ Αἰσχύλου τραγῳδιῶν συχνάς, καὶ Τελέστου καὶ Φιλοξένου διθυράμβους. ᾿Αριστοτέλην δὲ θαυμάζων ἐν ἀρχῇ καὶ ἀγαπῶν οὐχ ἧττον, ὡς αὐτὸς ἔλεγε, τοῦ πατρός, ὡς δι’ ἐκεῖνον μὲν ζῶν, διὰ τοῦτον δὲ καλῶς ζῶν, ὕστερον ὑποπτότερον ἔσχεν, οὐχ ὥστε ποιῆσαί τι κακόν, ἀλλ’ αἱ φιλοφροσύναι τὸ σφοδρὸν ἐκεῖνο καὶ στερκτικὸν οὐκ ἔχουσαι πρὸς αὐτόν, ἀλλοτριότητος ἐγένοντο τεκμήριον.

 

Maybe It Was For the Best that Alexander Died

 Arrian, History of Alexander 7.16.8

 

“Perhaps it was also a better fate for him to die at the height of his reputation and when he would be missed by men before he could suffer that common human fate, which is the very thing Solon warned Kroisos about: that it is best to look to the end of even a long life and never to say openly that some man is fortunate before he is dead.”

καί που τυχὸν καὶ ἄμεινον αὐτῷ ἦν ἐν ἀκμῇ τῆς τε ἄλλης δόξης καὶ τοῦ πόθου τοῦ παρ’ ἀνθρώπων ἀπηλλάχθαι, πρίν τινα ξυμβῆναι αὐτῷ ξυμφορὰν ἀνθρωπίνην, ἧς ἕνεκα καὶ Σόλωνα Κροίσῳ παραινέσαι εἰκὸς τέλος ὁρᾶν μακροῦ βίου μηδὲ πρόσθεν τινὰ ἀνθρώπων ἀποφαίνειν εὐδαίμονα. ἐπεὶ καὶ αὐτῷ

A Quip, The Sense of a Man; A Sip, The Character of a Wine: Philostratus on Anecdotes

Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists, 537

“This is another wonderful saying of that Lucius:

The Emperor Marcus [Aurelius] was excited about the philosopher Sextus from Boeotia, appearing at his lectures and visiting his home. Lucius, who had recently arrived in Rome, asked the emperor as he approached where he was going and why and Marcus responded “Learning is good, even for a man growing old. I am going to learn what I do not yet know from Sextus the Philosopher.” Then Lucius raised his hand to the sky and said “Zeus! The aging Emperor of Rome dons a writing tablet and goes to school, but my king Alexander died at thirty-two!”

These sayings suffice to show the character of the work Lucius performed in his philosophy. Such anecdotes, I suppose, give a sense of the man the way a taste betrays the character of a wine.”

Λουκίου τούτου κἀκεῖνο θαυμάσιον·

ἐσπούδαζε μὲν ὁ αὐτοκράτωρ Μάρκος περὶ Σέξτον τὸν ἐκ Βοιωτίας φιλόσοφον, θαμίζων αὐτῷ καὶ φοιτῶν ἐπὶ θύρας, ἄρτι δὲ ἥκων ἐς τὴν ῾Ρώμην ὁ Λούκιος ἤρετο τὸν αὐτοκράτορα προιόντα, ποῖ βαδίζοι καὶ ἐφ’ ὅ τι, καὶ ὁ Μάρκος „καλὸν” ἔφη „καὶ γηράσκοντι τὸ μανθάνειν· εἶμι δὴ πρὸς Σέξτον τὸν φιλόσοφον μαθησόμενος, ἃ οὔπω οἶδα.” καὶ ὁ Λούκιος ἐξάρας τὴν χεῖρα ἐς τὸν οὐρανὸν „ὦ Ζεῦ,” ἔφη „ὁ ῾Ρωμαίων βασιλεὺς γηράσκων ἤδη δέλτον ἐξαψάμενος ἐς διδασκάλου φοιτᾷ, ὁ δὲ ἐμὸς βασιλεὺς ᾿Αλέξανδρος δύο καὶ τριάκοντα ἐτῶν ἀπέθανεν.” ἀπόχρη καὶ τὰ εἰρημένα δεῖξαι τὴν ἰδέαν, ἣν ἐφιλοσόφει Λούκιος, ἱκανὰ γάρ που ταῦτα δηλῶσαι τὸν ἄνδρα, καθάπερ τὸν ἀνθοσμίαν τὸ γεῦμα.

The sentiment in the final line is similar to the more famous assertion of Plutarch in the Life of Alexander (1.2-3)

“A brief deed or comment or even some joke often shows the imprint of a man’s character more than battles of a thousand corpses, the greatest campaigns or sieges of cities.”

ἀλλὰ πρᾶγμα βραχὺ πολλάκις καὶ ῥῆμα καὶ παιδιά τις ἔμφασιν ἤθους ἐποίησε μᾶλλον ἢ μάχαι μυριόνεκροι καὶ παρατάξεις αἱ μέγισται καὶ πολιορκίαι πόλεων.

The full text.

Plutarch.