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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book IX Chapter 18: Comparison continued.[319 BC]
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I am speaking of Alexander as he was before he was submerged in the flood of success, for no man was less capable of bearing prosperity than he was. If we look at him as transformed by his new fortunes and presenting the new character, so to speak, which he had assumed after his victories, it is evident he would have come into Italy more like Darius than Alexander, and would have brought with him an army which had forgotten its native Macedonia and was rapidly becoming Persian in character. It is a disagreeable task in the case of so great a man to have to record his ostentatious love of dress; the prostrations which he demanded from all who approached his presence, and which the Macedonian must have felt to be humiliating, even had they been vanquished, how much more when they were victors; the terribly cruel punishments he inflicted; the murder of his friends at the banquet-table; the vanity which made him invent a divine pedigree for himself. What, pray, would have happened if his love of wine had become stronger and his passionate nature more violent and fiery as he grew older? I am only stating facts about which there is no dispute. Are we to regard none of these things as serious drawbacks to his merits as a commander? Or was there any danger of that happening which the most frivolous of the Greeks, who actually extol the Parthians at the expense of the Romans, are so constantly harping upon, namely, that the Roman people must have bowed before the greatness of Alexander's name -- though I do not think they had even beard of him -- and that not one out of all the Roman chiefs would have uttered his true sentiments about him, though men dared to attack him in Athens, the very city which had been shattered by Macedonian arms and almost well in sight of the smoking ruins of `Thebes, and the speeches of his assailants are still extant to prove this? |
However lofty our ideas of this man's greatness, still it is the greatness of one individual, attained in a successful career of little more than ten years. Those who extol it on the ground that though Rome has never lost a war she has lost many battles, whilst Alexander has never fought a battle unsuccessfully, are not aware that they are comparing the actions of one individual, and he a youth, with the achievements of a people who have had 8oo years of war. Where more generations are reckoned on one side than years on the other, can we be surprised that in such a long space of time there have been more changes of fortune than in a period of thirteen years? Why do you not compare the fortunes of one man with another, of one commander with another? How many Roman generals could I name who have never been unfortunate in a single battle! You may run through page after page of the lists of magistrates, both consuls and dictators, and not find one with whose valour and fortunes the Roman people have ever for a single day had cause to be dissatisfied. And these men are more worthy of admiration than Alexander or any other king. Some retained the dictatorship for only ten or twenty days; none held a consulship for more than a year; the levying of troops was often obstructed by the tribunes of the plebs; they were late, in consequence, in taking the field, and were often recalled before the time to conduct the elections; frequently, when they were commencing some important operation, their year of office expired; their colleagues frustrated or ruined their plans, some through recklessness, some through jealousy; they often had to succeed to the mistakes or failures of others and take over an army of raw recruits or one in a bad state of discipline. kings are free from all hindrances; they are lords of time and circumstance, and draw all things into the sweep of their own designs.
Thus, the invincible Alexander would have crossed swords with invincible captains, and would have given the same pledges to Fortune which they gave. Nay, he would have run greater risks than they, for the Macedonians had only one Alexander, who was not only liable to all sorts of accidents but deliberately exposed himself to them, whilst there were many Romans equal to Alexander in glory and in the grandeur of their deeds, and yet each of them might fulfil his destiny by his life or by his death without imperiling the existence of the State.