Tag Archives: Alexander the Great

Diogenes of Sinope wrote to Alexander the Great…

Puget_-_Diogenes_Alexander_LouvrePeople can appreciate or not Oliver Stone’s movie : Alexander. But I will never thank him enough to make me discover Alexander the great’s life. The film had the merit to give me the need to know more. And since then, I continued to read and learn about this great man. I started first to write some fan fiction. But even if I write fiction and fantasy, I always use a historical base which obliges me to do a lot of research. What I like a lot.

Lately translating a note, for the last chapter of ‘Nothing is ever finished’, about Diogenes of Sinope and reading again my french notes, some questioning crossed my mind. And I decided to write a little article about it. I have no other presence than to share my reflexions in instant.

Diogenes of Sinope (philosopher, Cynic school) sent those words to Alexander the Great when this one was already a king. In the letter of which we know only some fragments, he says :

« If you wish to become beautiful and good, throw the rags on your head and come to us. However you will not be able to do it, because you are hold by Hephaistion’s thighs. »
(Sources : Letter 24)

Erudites translate the first sentence by : give up power and possession and join a life of simplicity. Simplicity that Diogenes applied to himself, living humbly.

Jean-Léon_Gérôme_-_Diogenes_-_Walters_37131

The rags being a metaphor for the crown that from now Alexander wore, symbol of his fonction and power.

Out of context, it is difficult to know if Diogenes, in the second sentence, meant that in reality it was Hephaistion who owned the reins of power as the letter seems to presuppose. But, at last this shows that the relationship between Alexander and Hephaistion was known. And that in the eyes of their contemporaries, and in regard of what Diogenes suggested, it was not platonic.

And knowing that, in his writing, Diogenes advocated all total freedom in sexuality, it is unlikely that it was a criticism about this aspect but rather the way Alexander let Hephaistion have some power upon him.

Did Diogene suggest that Hephaistion was eager for power ?

In regard of his life, it could seem that he had a lot of ambition. And it could explain the dislike that some people in Alexander’s entourage has against him. I don’t think the other was less avid of power but Hephaistion succeeded where the others failed.

But we can consider this sentence under other aspects.
Could it be that Diogenes suggest that Alexander was the slave of his desires forgetting what is essential in Diogenes’ opinion ?

Or else, could Diogenes suggest that Alexander was wrong to love Hephaistion ? The philosopher thought love as being absurd. In his opinion, people hadn’t to grow attached to someone else. This joins in a way the previous question.

In Politeia, Diogenes preached the freedom and the detachment : sexual freedom, self-sufficiency, suppression of money and weapon, the indifference to the grave, the negation of sacred but too the equality between woman and man, and more. He tried to free himself from the social conventions. And questioned the value of his world. The modernity of his thought shook up, and explain certainly that his work was forgotten. In fact, some philosophers close of cynic philosophy preferred to forget this inheritance who seemed too embarrassing.

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When Alexander meets Euripides

LEADER

Admetus, you must endure this calamity. You are not the first and will not be the last to lose a noble wife. We all are doomed to die.

ADMETUS

I know it.
Not unawares did this woe swoop down on me; for long it has gnawed at me.

But, since I shall ordain the funeral rites for this dead body, you must be there, and meanwhile let a threnody re-echo to the implacable God of the Underworld. And all you men of Thessaly whom I rule-I order you to share the mourning for this woman with severed hair and black-robed garb. You who yoke the four-horsed chariot and the swift single horses, cut the mane from their necks with your steel.

Let there be no noise of flutes or lyre within the city until twelve moons are fulfilled. Never shall I bury another body so dear to me, never one that has loved me better. From me she deserves all honour, since she alone would die for me!

_ Euripides, Alcestis, second episode.

In reading this text, I couldn’t help myself to think about Alexander the Great after Hephaistion’s death. We know Alexander organised the most expensive funeral from all time for his Chiliarq. His behavior were seen by ancient historians like disproportionate.

But in regard of his theatrical character, it is certainly more understandable. Euripides in a late age came in Macedon at Archelaos’ court, a far ancestor of Alexander the Great. There, Euripides wrote deux plays, The Bacchae and Archelaos (a lost play). Euripides and his work must be known by well-read Macedonians.

And we know that Alexander had a passion for theater. So, for all these reasons, it is not ridiculous to think that the young Alexander knew Euripides’work.

Some like Arrian saw in Alexander’s attitude after Hephaistion’s death a mirror of Achilles’ behavior after Patroclus’ death. Knowing that Alexander was a fervor admirer of Iliad. But without doubt, there is too some similarities between what the ancient historians reported about Hephaistion’s death and Alcestis. The severed hair, cut mane of horses, no noise of flutes or lyre. Plutarq describes that very well in Parallel lives :

He [Alexander] ordered to cut as soon as mane of all horses and mules in sign of bereavement, to destroy ramparts of cities surroundings and to put in croce the miserable medecin ; he forbade during a long time the use of flutes and all kind of music until the day where arrived Ammon’s oracle ordering to honor Hephaistion like a hero.

But, too we can wonder if it was not Plutarq who was influenced by Euripides’ play. We know that Plutarq was not the most rigorous historian.

 

 

Music in Antiquity

Making some search about music and instruments in Antiquity for one of my stories, I found this very interesting website that I want to share with you :
http://kerylos.fr/index_en.php

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(Click on the photos to extend)

Photos legends : 1. Aulos (transverse flute), 2. Greek zither, 3. Kroupeza (percussion), 4. Lyre with seven strings, 5. Lyre with eight strings,
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It is about a specialist in Ancient Greek and Roman music, Annie Bélis, who wanted to revive Ancient musical repertoire. For this, her and her ensemble were helped by two lutthiers who built the instruments like the authentic ones used in Greek and Roman antiquity.

After 15 centuries of oblivion, Annie Bélis and the Ensemble Kerylos bring back to life some part of pieces like Euripides’ Oreste, The Seikilos Song or the two Delphic Hymns to Pythian Apollo. What it is interesting on this website is that you can listen some extracts of music, even without buying the album. So, you can have an idea of what was like the music of this age. And I must say that I was really surprised in a nice way and also moved to discover this music after centuries of silence.

On the website, you will find too a presentation of the instruments used and their recording project (I chose to show you only the Greek ones). Sadly, on the english version they didn’t translated the articles about the repertoire, the extracts and the videos. So if you want to listen some extracts you have to go in the french version there :
http://kerylos.fr/repertoire_extr.php

In the videos, the first one, Anne Bélis pays hommage to Alexander the Great in saying they will listen to a music that this music’s conoisseur has loved and others, more recent, that he certainly would love. Each video is a presentation of different musical pieces. Anne Bélis and her musicians plunge us back in the universe of each chosen moments through history first. And it is very interesting to learn some story about musicians’ life and creation of some pieces.

Like, for example, the famous Themoteus of Miley who revolutionized antique music in adding until to four strings to the lyre. Creating innovative compositions who were criticated by the conservative Spartans and Athenians. These critics was so severe that Themotheus thought to suicide. But, fortunately, he received the support of Euripides who made him change his mind. Euripedes would have said : ” Those people who hate you, they will be one day to your knees “. Finally Themoteus joined Euripides in Macedon under the reign of Archaleus I (ancestor of Alexander the Great). So Alexander must have known and listened to his music.

About the Ensemble KERYLOS :
It was created in 1990 by Annie Bélis. Its interest goes to the interpretation of vocal and instrumental partitions from Greek and Roman Antiquity.
Its name came from a poetic term by which Ancients designated the legendary bird Halcyon and from the “hellenistic” villa built in Beaulieu-sur-mer (France) under archeologist Theodore Reinach‘s direction, a pionner in the study of antique music. This one with the help of Henri Weil, sigh-readed two hymns to Apollo discovered in Delphi and published in 1893 and 1894.

6. Riding for Eternity

O my mind ! Tourmented and sad
Running on the wind without respite.

Searching the impossible,
Wanting the pinnacle.

My desire will never stop.
The world is not enough
Infinity, not an end.

Holding out my hand,
I brought you in my world.
Excessiveness and madness.

Your faithfull was not fruitless
Pantheon is our last family.
Riding side by side for Eternity.

5. The Stars

Under a rain of stars, you walk on the sand.
While in a rhythm without end, the waves come and wash up on the beach.
Your silhouette appears in the night, so fragile in front of the immensity.
I join you. Without noise, I came and hold you.
Useless try to surprise you. You smile without turning over.
« Am I so predictable ? »
Your sole answer, your body that give up against mine.
You sigh with pleasure. While the pressure gives way.

Without a word, we share this moment of eternity.
The wind makes fly your hair, stroking my face.
Under my lips put on your skin, the taste of salt.
My tongue doesn’t resist, under the caress you tremble.
Being bold by this spontaneous answer,
I continue my way from your naked shoulder to the neck, so desired.
Trembling under the caresses, you give up your head on my shoulder.
Letting appear under the moon, a white and virgin skin.
My eyes enjoy a moment this purity.
But in all lovers a conqueror lies dormant.

Without waiting, my teeth mark with their seal and almost until blood, their new territory.
Under my hands, your body tense an instant, surprised by this amorous attack.
Your livid gaze say that the response is close.
I prepare myself against the next attack but it is you who surprise me.
Escaping my arms, You flee in laughing, a challenge in your eyes.
I am not Alexander, Prince of Macedon for nothing, I take the challenge.

I go to your chase. One length in advance, you run fast but not enough for me.
At the edge of the waves, I catch you.
Pulled away by the run-up, I bring you in my fall.
Laid on the wet sand, the freshness of a wave cuts your breath.
You cry with surprise.

Under the Stars and the moonlight, your wet chiton let no place to imagination.
In seeing my trouble, your laugh fade.
The breath short yet from our run, your lips are half-open.
My resistance has limits.
Surrounding the place shameless, I take your mouth.

When our lips pull apart, closed eyes, you search your breath.
Then, all of sudden, you lift eyelids, full of stars in your eyes.
I can see my whole universe who materializes. Images of battles and conquest.
Do you understand how much the task will be heavy ?
Do you get the measure of it ?

Hiding my trouble, I distract your gaze, astonished by my silence.
Letting my hand gets lost on your body. Teasing the fire that shines in your eyes.
The insolent stops between your thighs, there, where the skin is so soft.
I smile in feeling the rhythm of your heart accelerates.
Your skin tremble under my fingers.

My gaze crosses yours, bringing a mute question.
Tightening your lips, you nod your acceptation.
Do you know what your agree means ?
The engagement you take by my side will be long and difficult.
If you capitulate now, no possible return.
Your gaze so serious sudden say all I need to know.
Your abandon without restriction to all my desires.
So giving up on my turn, between your thighs, I take my trophy.
Ravishing this body that resisted me such a long time.

You will stay forever my most beautiful conquest.

4. The Sun

Overpowering on the path to Siwa,
Assassin in the desert of Gedrosia,
Bitting our skin, on the long way.
Burning our eyes as we went away
In trying to escape the cruel caress.
We praised the Gods to be alive. O yes !

As, on the horizon, the Sun faded away.
Eased to be not anymore his prey,
Lady night re-covered little by little the world.
In the darkness, as the flames whirled,
Men around the fire searched the warmth
As the coldness invaded the earth.

By you, all their eyes are attracted.
You shined by the way you acted,
Finding in your presence, force to continue.
I came by your side, walking with you
Like a butterfly following the light,
In the silence of the night.

You were always my Sun.
You were always the one.
Without you… Without you, I broke apart
In lack of the warmth of your heart.
Maybe I have burnt my wings to your heat.
But… It was worth it to drop off my life to your feet.

3. The Rain

The rain falls without stopping since days, maybe weeks.
And storms and lightnings run out of patience our nerves.
Our body already on our last legs, are soaked and dirty.
The soil can’t drink more. Mud and water are everywhere.
Impregnating all. Nothing escape this ambient humidity.
Nothing !

Nobody can fight the feeling of despair and exhaustion that is filling us.
This invisible enemy out of control can’t be vanquish.
We can only wait and see.
But the waiting is killing us, making us crazy.
The Nature, become hostile, reminds us to our mortal state.
The rain falls. And it seems, it will fall until the end of all days.

In this moment of doubt, the lower glow feeds our hope of bright lights.
But as soon as this one disappears, our hope disappears in the same time.
Tiring a little more our nerves. Increasing our resentment.

My hope is somewhere else. When my despair becomes too high.
I touch my necklace and sigh.
Finding in this simple touch, the reassurance I need in dark hours.
I look at you and my mind calms down. I found the force to continue.
To forget for a moment, even few, the rain and the storm.
No need light, no need hope when you enlighten my heart.