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Aristotle, Assassin?!?

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franciscosan View Drop Down
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    Posted: 05 Apr 2015 at 19:03
In Arrian, there is a theory (expressed in passing) that Alexander was poisoned, and Aristotle mixed the poison.  Therefore, Aristotle may have killed Alexander the Great, or helped his friends, the Macedonian generals, do the deed. 
We should note that Arrian does not show much confidence in this theory, he just addressing it because some of his readers may have heard about it.  As far as me putting it forth here, I am not saying that I believe in it, or that I disbelieve in it.  To me at the start of this thread, it is perfectly plausible.  Whether or not it is perfectly plausible to the reader by the end of this thread, is the important question.  At that point, if you cannot stand ambiguity, then you will have to judge for yourself, whether it is true or not. To me, there is no way to confirm (or for that matter, completely deny) these arguments, although I invite others to try as we walk along the path.  No machine guns though, or daisy cutters.  
The tradition would say that this is absolute (but ancient) nonsense, but once upon a time Troy was fictional until Schliemann dug it up.  What is known changes in unforeseen ways.  I also remind the reader that we are dealing with alternative history, that some of those alternatives are possible (even plausible??), and that the truth, as always, is stranger than fiction.

So Alexander may have been poisoned, according to Arrian, and Aristotle was said to have mixed the poison.  This is not impossible, for Aristotle was a philosopher, but he was not "just" a philosopher.  Like his father before him, he was a doctor, and so he knew how to save lives, and conversely, how to take them through drugs and chemicals.
 
John
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franciscosan View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 Apr 2015 at 22:17
Arrian refers to the poisoning theory, but so do most of our other major sources, Plutarch, Justin and Quintus Curtius.  Not that all of these support the poisoning theory.  They are more just putting it out there so the rumor of it can be accounted for by them.  They are all going in the same direction, which not surprising because most of them are of the vulgate tradition and therefore using the same sources.  

The vulgate tradition is the popular tradition and includes Diodorus Siculus as well as Plutarch, Justin and QUintus Curtius.  Being the popular tradition, these accounts are a little in awe of Alexander, etc, but also point out their feet of clay.  Little 'd' democrats tend to favor the vulgate tradition, not just in antiquity, but in modernity as well.  It is not only a question of how such characters succeed, but also about hubris and how the mighty fall in the end.  
Peter Green's book 'Alexander of Macedon' is expressly of the vulgate tradition, he does not intentionally call Alexander, "Alexander the Great," but 'of Macedon.'  Peter Green, in addition to being a Classicist, was a journalist and a publisher, so he writes rather well.  I would recommend Green to anyone interested in learning more about Alexander.  But, if you want an impeccable hero, then Green or other works of the vulgate tradition are not for you.  
In addition to being the vulgate traditions example of tyrant, Alexander also does present in another tradition a model more for the authoritarian leadership, the enlightened despot if you will. whether it was the Colonels in Greece post WWII, the Prussian state (Wilckin, Droysen) or the British Empire (Hammond).  The ancient origin of the more authoritarian version of the Alexander tradition rests on Arrian's "Campaigns of Alexander" which in turn rest on the lost journals of Ptolemy, general of Alexander and, later, king of Egypt.  
Again, the other, the "majority" tradition is the popular or "vulgate" tradition, whereas Arrian is the lone surviving example of the "official" tradition.  It seems to me to be appropriate for the poisoning conspiracy to be mentioned in vulgate tradition, kind of like JFK conspiracies in popular culture. However, I am not so sure that this is the case with Arrian, even with his expressed scepticism towards the whole deal.  Should Arrian be taken at face value or is there something more, or at least different from the vulgate that is going on here?  On the other hand, we shouldn't forget Green quoting Badian, Green saying, "the poisoning charge, as Badian rightly says, 'if true. . . was bound to be denied or ignored, and if false, bound to be asserted.'"  But that is what makes it so interesting, if it is true it is an amazing story, but even if it is false, it is amazing in a different way, as propaganda.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Apr 2015 at 01:39
But why would Aristotle want Alexander dead?

First of all, Alexander had Aristotle's nephew executed.  Kallisthenes of Olynthos was along with Alexander's army, acting as a historian.  Alexander ordered people to prostrate themselves before him, 
like the Persians did and got resistance from the Macedonian old guard.  Kallisthenes also got into the issue, made a nuissance of himself, and got himself framed for treason.  

Second of all, Aristotle was a Greek chauvinist.  Better to be a Greek than a barbarian, better a freeman, then a slave, better a man than a woman.  Alexander, however, wanted to integrate the Macedonian elite with the Persian elite, hosting mass marriages between his soldiers and Persian women.  He also ordering his men to prostrate themselves before like the prostration that had happened before the Persian king.  In other words, Alexander was setting himself up to be the divine ruler of his empire in a Persian, not a Greek model.  Aristotle would have hated that, as a threat to the Greek way of life.

Third, Alexander in Babylon was considering going West, conquering the Greek, Phoenician and other cities in the Western Mediterranean, thus putting the rest of the Greek world under his boot.  If Greek vitality relied on the polis, a Westward conquering Alexander might snuff it out.

Aristotle had good reason to want Alexander dead, although Aristotle also died a year after Alexander.  After the death of Alexander, Aristotle fled Athens "lest Athens sin against philosophy twice."
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Apr 2015 at 02:58
According to the tales, Aristotle mixed the poison, but it was given to Antipater's son Cassander, who brought it to Babylon and gave it another of Antipater's son, Iolaus who was Alexander's cupbearer.  There it was mixed with unmixed wine, according to the legend.  Antipater was regent at the time for
Macedonia and Greece.
But why would Alexander's seasoned veterans want Alexander dead?
1) The Macedonian officers had been fighting for 10 years, and getting tired of it.  
2) Now in Babylon it looked like Alexander wanted to go West this time, and conquer the other half of the known world.  Adding perhaps another 10 years to their time away from home. 
3) Alexander was a great officer, but he also purged some trusted generals like Parmenio along the way, why be loyal to Alexander if Alexander ultimately wasn't loyal to them?  
4) They wanted to live like kings, to benefit from the wealth and luxuries that they had taken on their campaigns, if they started campaigning once again, they might never benefit from the wealth. 
5) Although the Macedonians were only vaguely Greek in culture, they still would have found strange and alienating the mass marriages between Macedonians and Persian women.
So there was a wide range of motives for an assassination of Alexander, and undoubtably more for specific individuals of the elite surrounding him.  
Motives for Alexander's death are not a problem, but that does not mean he was "done away with" by foul means.  If someone deserved to be assassinated, I would say Alexander deserved it.  When news of Alexander's death reached Athens, the orator Demades said, "Alexander dead? Impossible; the whole earth would stink of his corpse."  (Peter Green, Alexander of Macedon, p. 477) 
On the other hand, the whole story of the Assassination could be propaganda, probably against Antipater and Cassander.  Alexander's supposed poisoning makes a great story, and we must admit the possibility that it is just that, a great story, albeit with a purpose of political propaganda in the quarrels amongst Alexander's Successors.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 Jun 2015 at 04:00
The Landmark Arrian
The Campaigns of Alexander
edited by James Romm

This work has two appendices dealing with Alexander's death, that may be of some interest to someone wishing to investigate whether Alexander III died from illness or poisoning.  
Appendix O: Alexander's Death: A Medical Analysis by Eugene N. Borza, The Pennsylvania State University, suggests disease did in Alexander.  Specifically, Typhoid Fever.  This is the favored conclusion of a clinico-pathological conference occurring yearly at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, which in 1996, choose Alexander as their topic.  Past years have included Custer, Claudius, Beethoven, and the plague of the Peloponnesian War.  Poison is mentioned, but dismissed considering our knowledge of ancient poisons and the range of the symptoms.

Appendix P: Alexander's Death: The Poisoning Rumors, by A. B. Bosworth, deals with the literary sources regarding the poisoning, and tangential issues, but cannot conclude that it was poisoning, or merely propaganda.

It is not my point to conclude this for the reader, rather, I wish to point to relevant accounts, and let the reader to draw their conclusions for themselves.  Now I do hope they have a little imagination concerning the issue, but it should entice them, not carry them away.  On the other hand, new eyes may think of a new angle to approach the issue, in the words of that great philosopher, Yogi Berra, "it ain't over until it's over."


Edited by franciscosan - 13 Jun 2015 at 04:22
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