BMCR 1997.04.08

1997.4.8, Hammond, Sources for Alexander the Great

, , , Sources for Alexander the Great : an analysis of Plutarch's Life and Arrian's Anabasis Alexandrou. Cambridge classical studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. xvi, 345 pages ; 22 cm.. ISBN 9780521432641 $64.95.

Ten years after the appearance of Hammond’s Three Historians of Alexander the Great, this study of Plutarch’s Alexander and Arrian’s Anabasis completes the ‘source-critical’ examination of the five major extant sources for Alexander. The method and results of the first volume did not augur well for the ‘sequel’. Hammond’s perverse views on the use of Diyllos were rightly and soundly criticised by Badian ( EMC 4 (1985) 454-68) and Atkinson ( JHS 105 (1985) 216). Nor will Three Historians and this companion volume bring about a revolution in our thinking about the ‘Alexander Vulgate’ or have the desired (by H.) effect of banishing the term and the concept from scholarly literature. Indeed, Hammond’s decision to omit the Metz Epitome from his discussions altogether and to compare the main historical (i.e., chronologically ordered) narrative of Plutarch’s Alexander with the works of Trogus/Justin, Diodoros and Curtius, can only lead to an evasion the inevitable conclusion that the Alexander Vulgate—however one chooses to define the term—is an undeniable fact in the field of Quellenforschung. At some point, too, one must consider the ‘Alexander history’ of Strabo, which, with its use of Aristoboulos (but, apparently, not Ptolemy: P. Paedech, Grazer Beiträge 2 (1974) 129-45, esp. 144-5), would make a more interesting partner for study of Arrian. For the coupling of Plutarch’s Life (treated on pp. 1-187) and Arrian (pp. 189-333) there is little logic, except that both present views of Alexander more to H.’s liking. (Note H.’s comment on p. xii that “it has become customary with some recent writers that they turn more to the ‘Vulgate’ authors and cut Alexander down to an ordinary size”. I am not sure why this should be treated as an offense.).

It is not my intention to review both volumes—indeed, I declined an offer to review Three Historians in 1984 because I found myself strongly in disagreement with the views of a scholar whose contributions to Alexander scholarship had been both substantial and generally kind to the efforts of others. The curious introduction to Three Historians does, however, take issue with the views of A. B. Bosworth and E. Badian on the Royal Journal, and now in Sources Hammond delivers what amounts to a sustained polemic against Bosworth. In Sources, Hammond is back on the podium hammering out once again his doctrine of the Journal (i.e., the Diary or Ephemerides), long ago discredited by A. E. Samuel, L. Pearson and A. B. Bosworth ( CQ 21 (1971), 112 ff. and now in From Arrian to Alexander (Oxford, 1988); cf. Badian, ‘The Ring and the Book’, in W. Will ed., Zu Alexander d. Gr. (Amsterdam 1987) ii. 605-25). Hammond’s view of the Journal as an essential document for the history of Alexander can be found elsewhere, particularly in The Macedonian State and in ‘The Royal Journal of Alexander’, Historia 27 (1988) 129-50. What the evidence says it dealt with and what Hammond wants it to have contained are in fact two very different things, and it strikes me as highly risky to postulate a work known only to have discussed Alexander’s drinking, sleeping and bathing habits as the underlying source of military campaigns. Now I realise that quotation from and citation of a primary source by an extant one is a highly selective process, one which reflects the interests of the extant writer rather than the true nature of the original. And it is important to avoid the trap of judging the lost work solely by its fragments. Thus, for example, did E. N. Borza, PACA 11 (1968) 25 ff., conclude (against the grain of scholarship and logic) that Kleitarchos was the not the main source of Diodoros xvii, and E. W. Marsden, The Campaign of Gaugamela, rejected the military knowledge of a man who ‘wrote a book on the trees of India’ (p. xi; cf. FGrH 138 T2)—that ancient writer was Ptolemy son of Lagos! But in the cases cited there was sufficient information to be gleaned from the Testimonia and Fragments collected by Jacoby to suggest otherwise. What the surviving extracts from the Journal tell us is that it was (i) not extensively used by the lost or extant sources; (2) that the citations from the section on the last days of Alexander found in Plutarch and Arrian do not come from the same version of the Journal; (3) that there is no evidence whatsoever that the Journal contained anything of a military or political nature; and (4) that, given the suspicious nature of the portions cited, there is a strong possibility that the Journal is a fabrication, an attempt to disguise the truth about the king’s last days with the false claim that details given were extracted verbatim from an official journal. This is not to say, as Hammond believes, that the opponents of the Journal theory believe that some forger invented an entire Journal in order to misrepresent the events of those final days in Babylon—though the sensational ‘Hitler Diaries’, which appeared, by a peculiar coincidence, about the same time as Three Historians, prove that such a thing can indeed be done and that an eminent scholar can be taken in by them. An author need only say that he is quoting from a document which he has in front of him. That document then disappears completely ( because it never existed in the first place) and the source-critic, grateful whenever an ancient author mentions a primary document, accepts its existence and assumes that it is genuine, until cogent arguments to the contrary are brought forward—or, if that source-critic is Hammond, even after such arguments are adduced. For Hammond, there is no question of either the authenticity or the importance of the Journal : “As a record of events ‘as they happened’ , it provided a bedrock of facts for Ptolemy in composing his history” (321). That Ptolemy could, and probably did, get his detailed information from Kallisthenes is an inconcinity that Hammond chooses to ignore. Ptolemy may have had reasons for disliking Kallisthenes personally or for omitting some of his more excessive flatteries (e.g., Ptolemy may have chosen not to mention the sea doing proskynesis at Mt Klimax; cf. FgrHist 124 F31), but this does not mean that he used his Praxeis Alexandrou any less than, in a later age, Bernal Diaz (who admits to forgetfulness after so many years) used Francisco Lopez de Gomara, an author he chastises at every conceivable opportunity.

Now, on the whole, there is much in Hammond’s Sources that is useful. Whether it is as new or as important to our understanding of Alexandergeschichte as the author maintains 1 is debatable. For the source-critic, Plutarch and Arrian provide a welcome change from the Three Historians of the 1983 study: Plutarch frequently cites a wide variety of sources (see Hamilton, PA 1968), and Arrian’s History is unique amongst the Alexander histories in stating clearly what his method will be. Conspicuously absent from Hammond’s bibliography and notes are E. Kornemann’s Die Alexandergeschichte des König Ptolemaios I. von Aegypten (Leipzig 1935) and H. Strasburger’s Ptolemaios und Alexander (Leipzig 1938). The former is admittedly simplistic in its application of the principles of Quellenforschung but the ignoring of Strasburger’s seminal study is inexplicable and inexcusable.

The greatest flaw in H.’s analysis of the extant sources is his failure to acknowledge the simple fact that these authors were not content to copy their sources faithfully and unquestioningly (Arrian, if anyone is more guilty of this than the others), but rather that they changed details or emphasis to suit the purposes of their own works. Hence disagreement in detail or emphasis does not indicate, as H. so often assumes, use of different primary sources but rather manipulation of a common source by different writers whose works are extant (cf. my ‘Notes on Q. Curtius Rufus’History of Alexander,Acta Classica 37 (1994), 67-78).

Refutation of individual arguments proves little. I note a few examples of subjective and unfounded comments, and faulty reasoning: p. 83 on Plut. Alex. 47. 9-12 and the complex relationships of Krateros, Hephaistion and Alexander: “The author who was most likely to have written about these relations with insight and sympathy was Aristobulus” [my emphasis]. Just how Aristoboulos found himself so well informed about the personal relationships in Alexander’s inner circle, H. does not say. 2 H.’s reasoning from the Greek of Arr. 3. 26. 3 “that Parmenio was an accomplice” in the Philotas affair (p. 88, with n.6) is most unconvincing and a demonstration of how the philologist can read too much into the text. On Kallisthenes’ death we have a curious note (p. 100, n.25): ‘To be lousy was debilitating in itself (as I have found in 1943). The conditions of detention were not necessarily harsh; for Alexander Lyncestes was held in this way for more than three years’. But Plutarch makes it clear that, according to Chares, Kallisthenes died of obesity and disease of lice. Hence, what H. may have found tolerable in 1943, must have affected Kallisthenes differently in 327/6. Why Chares ‘is probably to be believed, because he was a Greek at court…’ (p.100, my italics) escapes me. Having pointed out that Kallisthenes did not join the expedition until it moved into Asia, H. says ‘[h]e [sc. Arrian] chose Ptolemy and Aristobulus precisely because they had campaigned with Alexander’ (p. 193); but surely Aristoboulos did not campaign with Alexander in the Balkans! At 6. 11. 1, if Arrian got his information about the doctor Kritodemos from Aristoboulos, why does he not says so. If both Ptolemy and Aristoboulos gave the information then this would be the accepted version (by Arrian’s method). It is hard to believe that Ptolemy gave the variant account which saw Perdikkas extract the arrow and, by implication, save his life; esp. when Ptolemy has already rejected Kleitarchos’ story that he was present at the Mallian town and himself saved the king.

The nature of the common source of the Vulgate tradition (dare I say, Kleitarchos) will become clear only when the works of Trogus/Justin, Diodoros, Curtius, the Metz Epitome and Plutarch’s Alexander are studied ‘from the top down’ rather than ‘from the bottom up’. All scholars will derive at least some benefit from Hammond’s studies of the five major extant Alexander historians, particularly for the understanding of individual problems. But, in general, Sources and its predecessor ( Three Historians) constitute an unsuccessful and misguided attempt to turn back the clock of Alexander studies to the time when W. W. Tarn dismissively rejected the fruitful work of German Quellenforschung in an attempt to lay the foundations for his “Alexander the Nice”.

1. Hammond boldly goes “where no man has gone before”, accepting the challenge from that venerable source-critic W. W. Tarn (ii 296): “No one has yet made any real attempt to analyse its [Plutarch’s Life] sources, and it is not likely that anyone ever will, for its ultimate sources must have embraced the whole Alexander-literature, whether known or unknown to ourselves” (quoted on pp. 2-3).

2. Nor do I understand how Alexander’s comment to Hephaistion that “he was a madman if he did not realise that without Alexander he would be nothing” can be construed as ‘sympathetic’.