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Dating Kleitarchos (Cleitarchus)

The untitled history of Kleitarchos is perhaps the most famous 'lost source' on Alexander the Great. Kleitarchos wrote in Alexandria near the end of the 4th century BC and, although he was not an eyewitness, this historian is believed to have been the true father of the influential Vulgate tradition that presents Alexander as a king corrupted by good fortune. In this essay Karl Soundy debates a proper dating for Kleitarchos' lost history.

Jona recently mooted the opinion that Kleitarchos preceded Ptolemy and Aristoboulos. This view has a good pedigree being the opinion of Droysen in 1877, Schwartz in the Realencyclopaedie and Berve, A B Bosworth is an acolyte too. The first main dissenter was dear old Tarn who thought the order should be Aristoboulos-Ptolemy-Kleitarchos, unfortunately his case suffers from his usual sloppiness in argument and, at times, bizarre analysis. For instance he denies that Kleitarchos is the main source for Diodoros and Curtius inventing the so-called ‘Mercenary Source’ and alleging an equally unsubstantiated hostile Peripatetic tradition.

Tarn’s order is preserved by L Pearson ‘Lost Historians of Alexander the Great’ and by T S Brown in his article ‘Cleitarchus’ American Journal of Philology 71 (1950). There are three main ways of establishing a sources place in the chronology; by their biographical details (a writer born in 323 is unlikely to be publishing by 310), by reference in their works to historical events (if Ptolemy is called ‘the future King’ it must have been written after 305 when he assumed the title), and by evidence of using an earlier source (if A can be shown to have used B then B is earlier than A).

Tackling these criteria in order; biographical details are scanty. Diodoros II 7 iii ‘os Kleitarchos kai ton hysteron met’ Alexandrou diabanton eis ten Asian tines anagraphan’ (as has been written by Kleitarchos and some of the men who later crossed to Asia with Alexander). On the face of it a strange statement as it appears to make Kleitarchos write a history of Alexander before he had crossed to Asia (the point of contention is Ctesias’ dimensions for the walls of Babylon). Brown thinks that hysteron refers back to Ctesias and dismisses the value of this testimonium, Pearson suggests that Diodoros lifted the phrase from Kleitarchos, himself ie Kleitarchos had written ‘ Ctesias is wrong as those men who later crossed to Asia with Alexander have written.’ He is supporting his criticism and incidentally distinguishing himself from members of the expedition. Diodoros citing him by name appends the other authorities using Kleitarchos’ phrase and makes a nonsense. This seems an economic explanation.

Further biographical evidence comes from Diogenes Laertius, who states, II 13 that Kleitarchos left the school of Aristotle the Cyrenaic to study under Stilpo of Megara on the authority of Philip the Megarian.

Now, this is a late source but Stilpo is known from Plutarch Demetrius 9 as well as Diogenes. He was famous by 307 when the incidents there occurred and was invited to Egypt by Ptolemy but declined. By analysing his known pupils Zeller suggests that he may have begun teaching c322 shortly after Theophrastos became head of the Lyceum. So, Kleitarchos cannot have studied with him during Alexander’s lifetime, since Stilpo lived to a great age we may assign Kleitarchos studies anywhere between 322 and 307 as Plutarch says he had chosen ‘ a life of tranquillity and study’ which, I think, precludes active teaching.

So far not much help. Internal evidence is weak too. He stated that the Caspian was as long as the Black Sea Pliny Nhist. VI 36. This was the conclusion of the explorer Patrokles who wrote c280, however anyone can speculate on geographical matters, we know that Onesikritos made a guess at the size of Sri Lanka (Strabo XV 1 xv), and Aristoboulos made a wild guess at the number of towns between the Hypanis and Hydaspes. That Kleitarchos guess is right need not trouble us too much as it certainly does not prove any knowledge of Patrokles. The other point is the incident at the Malli town (which also falls into the third category). Heckel in his notes to the Penguin ‘Curtius’ asserts that since Arrian (VI 11 viii) says that the writers who said that Ptolemy was present derived his name Soter (Saviour) from the incident and that none of the vulgate authors mention this Kleitarchos must have written before Ptolemy assumed the title Soter, which the Rhodians granted him for assistance during Demetrius’ siege 305-4. However, the title is not used in Egypt until after his death. Diodoros does not mention Ptolemy at all, Curtius only to pooh-pooh the story and Plutarch only in passing, so we should not expect them to mention the origin of Soter. Perhaps the posthumous Egyptian usage points rather to the popularisation of the title through this very derivation in what we know was a popular history.

As mentioned Curtius IX 5 xxi and Arrian VI 11 viii, have been used to say that Ptolemy corrected Kleitarchos. But this is not what they say, in both cases it is the author who is correcting him by reference to Ptolemy. It has been argued that it would be unthinkable for anyone to contradict Ptolemy on this once he had published but this is a weak argument and after his death the flattery may well have been welcome.

Similarly, the incident with Thais’ incendiarism is easier to place after her and Ptolemy’s deaths, when there would be no hint of libel.

There is a hint that Kleitarchos elaborated on Aristoboulos’ account of Indian techniques for catching monkeys but both may go back to Onesikritos. The situation looks bleak until we consider Curtius’ account of the trial of Amyntas; we must thank Smitty for inviting critical analysis of this passage. For nowhere have I heard this cited in the debate about the relative chronology before.

Curtius’ story dovetails with Arrian’s much abbreviated tale quite well, III 27 I ff . ‘They (Ptolemy and Aristoboulos) also say that Amyntas son of Andromenes was brought to trial at the same time, together with, Polemon Attalos and Simmias, his brothers, on the charge that they too had joined the conspiracy against Alexander as loyal comrades of Philotas. Moreover the conspiracy seemed more credible too the masses, because Polemon, one of Amyntas’ brothers, had deserted to the enemy as soon as Philotas was arrested. However, Amyntas at least with his other brothers stood his trial, made a vigorous defence before the Macedonians, and was acquitted of the charge; and the moment he was acquitted, he asked leave to go and bring Polemon back again to Alexander; the Macedonians agreed.’

Substantially this is Curtius’ story, only he heightens the drama by having the hearing take place on ground still wet with Alexander Lynkestes’ blood and by having Polemon dragged in while the trial is proceeding to be vilified by his brothers. The question then arises did Curtius actually get his story from Ptolemy?

Aristophanes title, ‘scriba equis’ is not a Roman rank, these officers were called ‘stratores’ but it is a translation of ‘grammatea de epi ton hippon’ which may be imputed to have existed by comparison with the ‘grammatea de epi ton xenon’ of Arr III 5 iii. This title must go back to Ptolemy or Aristoboulos as they alone preserved the Macedonian technical terms found in Arrian, all the other writers being Greeks.

So Curtius is using Ptolemy, whom we know him to have read. No, he is using a writer who has dramatised Ptolemy’s scenario and even improved upon it, supplying speeches for the protagonists, which Curtius has re-worked to give a more contemporary relevance (I still think it reads as an apologia for being a friend of Sejanus in the 30’s AD) and re-jigging the events for effect.

This suits Kleitarchos and is further evidence that he wrote later than Ptolemy.

I believe that Ptolemy mentioned the supporting charges including that of Antiphanes whose rank he gave. Arrian omits these details since this is only a sideshow for him whereas Kleitarchos saw the rhetorical possibilities, and Curtius further improved on them. Kleitarchos retained the technical vocabulary he found in Ptolemy (or Aristoboulos) since he had to identify the otherwise anonymous Antiphanes.

If we accept this reasoning then it would seem likely that both Aristoboulos and Ptolemy wrote earlier than Kleitarchos. We are told (Pseudo-Lucian Macrobii) that Aristoboulos started writing when he was eighty-three unfortunately we don’t know when he was born! However it would be reasonable to assume he was between 25 and 35 when he set out with Alexander which would give a date of 286-276 for the composition of his work.

Arrian’s work shows two distinct changes of style; up until c II 18, the siege of Tyre Arrian calls the Macedonian foot ‘hoplites’ rather than ‘pezhetairoi’; these sections go back to Kallisthenes, surely, who uses the standard Greek term and who is transmitted via Ptolemy. The evidence for this being the narrative of the Triballian campaign where Ptolemy is cited for casualty figures at I 2 vii. So it appears that Ptolemy began by copying Kallisthenes. Yet Kallisthenes certainly wrote upto, and probably passed, the battle of Gaugamela yet Ptolemy seems to switch to the more technical terms of ‘pezhetairoi’ and ‘asthetairoi’; why?

Books One and Two do contain Macedonian terms, hypaspist, agema etc I suggest that these come from Aristoboulos and that the appearance of his work prompted Ptolemy to adopt the more technical language but that his death in 283 prevented him revising his work, which may account for its relative obscurity in antiquity. He certainly continued to use Kallisthenes as the details of appointments and orders of battle surely come from him. Once this source was no longer available the quality of the reporting suffers, the appointments are not as fully noticed and comparison of the Persian battle narratives with the Indian, especially the Hydaspes betrays a loss of clarity.

It may be objected that Kallisthenes was published and such plagiarism could not go unnoticed. But there is no direct statement to that effect. Is it not just as likely that Ptolemy took over the drafts of that History and used them and only after his death was the original added to the Great Library, there to be copied along with the King’s First Draft? The proximity of the lower date of Aristoboulos writing and Ptolemy dying is suggestive.

The case of Kleitarchos’ account of the Granikos may be explained by his elaboration of Parmenion’s plan of attack which he found in Ptolemy who lifted the Alexander vs Parmenion motif from Kallisthenes and not Ptolemy correcting his version by relegating it to the rejected plan.

Essay submitted by Karl Soundy, juli 2004. © Karl Soundy.

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