Plutarch: The Education of Children

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Alexias
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Plutarch: The Education of Children

Post by Alexias »

A story to match and couple with this, and much more dreadful, is what the sophist Theocritus said and suffered. Alexander had bidden the Greeks to make ready crimson robes so thatº on his return he might offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving for his victory in the war against the barbarians, and all the states had to pay a poll-tax in money, when Theocritus remarked, "Before this I used to be in doubt, but now I know for a certainty that this is Homer's 'Crimson Death.' "​26 And thereby he made an enemy of Alexander.

26 Il. V.83, and elsewhere.
I think the reference to crimson robes is to Odysseus's crimson cloak that he wore on his return to Ithaca, and the subsequent bloodbath.
hiphys
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Re: Plutarch: The Education of Children

Post by hiphys »

Plutarch quotes this passage as an example of inability to control tongue. The rhetorician Theocritus of Chios was at loggerheads with Alexander, but, above all with Antigonus, the One-Eyed. Alexander wished that his companions wore Persian purple clothes, but his wish was misinterpreted in many ways. Some historian, like Justin, said that this use was imposed by Alexander in order to remove people's envy from himself, for he feared it if he were the one to wear purple clothes. Curtius said quite the same:"He [Alexander] had also forced Persian clothing on his friends and on the cavalry, the élite of the troops. They found it distasteful, but did not dare refuse to wear it" (Q.Curtius Rufus, History of Alexander the Great, 6, 6, 7). But there is another interpretation of this story; Plutarch, quoting a letter of Olympias to Alexander, said:" You must find another way to benefit your friends: now you make them all like kings, and get them full of friendships, but leave you alone" (Life of Alexander, 39, 7). Usually here the word "basileas (kings)" isn't interpreted literally, but we'd remember that in ancient world royalty was strictly connected with purple clothing. Plutarch (Moralia 15, 180e 17) bore out this interpretation: he said Alexander called Antipater 'holoporphyros', because his governor apparently had a lower standard of living, but, in the depths of his heart he was "all of purple", that is Antipater assumed an attitude of king. Therefore Olympias' letter must be correlated with Alexander's order to his companions to wear purple, thus, in a certain sense, widening the original Persian royalty, and "democratizing" it. This was an unselfish, but misunderstood act of Alexander: no wonder his enemies found fault with it. Theocritus, trying to be witty, connected the purple with a well known Homeric formula "porphyreos thanatos" (the purple death , Il. 5, 83; 16, 334; 20, 477), so called in epics because it came after a profuse bleeding. It was a joke in bad taste, and Alexander took it badly. But it was Antigonus afterwards who put Theocritus to death for another bad joke of the rhetorician on the diadochos.
Alexias
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Re: Plutarch: The Education of Children

Post by Alexias »

Thanks for this. However Plutarch's quote seems to imply that Theocritus was talking about Alexander returning to Greece, and perhaps forcing everyone to wear purple clothes? But purple is not crimson, or red. He may have muddled the colours, or they were mis-translated, but what interested me was the notion that Alexander apparently appears to have planned on returning to Greece.
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