The death of Alexander #3 - Diodorus of Sicily

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Alexias
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The death of Alexander #3 - Diodorus of Sicily

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Diodorus Siculus 'Library of History' Translated by C. Bradford Welles © 1963
Book XVII

116. After the funeral, the king turned to amusements and festivals, but just when it seemed that he was at the peak of his power and good fortune, Fate cut off the time allowed him by nature to remain alive. Straightway heaven also began to foretell his death, and many strange portents and signs occurred.

Once when the king was being rubbed with oil and the royal robe and diadem were lying on a chair, one of the natives who was kept in bonds was spontaneously freed from his fetters, and passed through the doors of the palace with no one hindering. He went to the royal chair, put on the royal dress and bound his head with the diadem, then seated himself upon the chair and remained quiet. As soon as the king learned of this, he was terrified by the odd event, but walked to the chair and without showing his agitation asked the man quietly who he was and what he meant by doing this. When he made no reply whatsoever, Alexander referred the portent to the seers for interpretation and put the man to death in accordance with their judgement, hoping the trouble which was forecast by his act might light upon the man's own head. He picked up the clothing and sacrificed to the gods who avert evil, but continued to be seriously troubled. He recalled the prediction of the Chaldaeans and was angry with the philosophers who had persuaded him to enter Babylon. He was impressed anew with the skill of the Chaldeans and their insight, and generally railed at those who used specious reasoning to argue away the power of Fate.

A little while later heaven sent him a second portent about his kingship. He had conceived the desire to see the great swamp of Babylonia and set sail with his friends in a number of skiffs. For some days his boat became separated from the others and he was lost and alone, fearing he might never get out alive. As his craft was proceeding through a narrow channel where the reeds grew thickly and overhung the water, his diadem was caught and lifted from his head by one of them and then dropped into the swamp. One of the oarsmen swam after it and, wishing to return it safely, placed it on his head and so swam back to the boat. After three days and nights of wandering, Alexander found is way to safety just as he had again put on the diadem when this seemed beyond hope. Again he turned to the soothsayers for the meaning of all this.

117. They bade him sacrifice to the gods on a grand scale and with all speed, but he was then called away by Medius, the Thessalian, one of his Friends, to take part in a comus. There he drank much unmixed wine in commemoration of the death of Heracles, and finally, filling a huge beaker, downed in a gulp. Instantly he shrieked aloud as if smitten by a violent blow and was conducted by his Friends, who led him by the hand back to his apartments. His chamberlains put him to bed and attended him closely, but the pain increased and the physicians were summoned. No one was able to do anything helpful and Alexander continued in great discomfort and acute suffering. When he, at length, despaired of life, he took off his ring and handed it to Perdiccas. His Friends asked: "To whom do you leave the kingdom?" and he replied: "To the strongest." He added, and these were his last words, that all of his leading Friends would stage a vast contest in honour of his funeral. This was how he died after a reign of twelve years and seven months. He accomplished greater deeds than any, not only of the kings who had lived before him but also of those who were to come later down to our time.

Since some historians disagree about the death of Alexander, and state that this occurred in consequence of a draft of poison, it seems necessary for us to mention their account also.

118. They say that Antipater, who had been left by Alexander as viceroy in Europe, was at variance with the king's mother Olympias. At first he did not take her seriously because Alexander did not heed her complaints against him, but later, as their enmity kept growing and the king showed an anxiety to gratify his mother in everything out of piety, Antipater gave many indications of his disaffection. This was bad enough, but the murder of Parmenion and Philotas struck terror into Antipater as into all of Alexander's Friends, so by the hand of his own son, who was the king's wine-pourer, he administered poison to the king. After Alexander's death, Antipater held the supreme authority in Europe and then his son Cassander took over the kingdom, so that many historians did not dare write about the drug. Cassander, however, is plainly disclosed by his own actions as a bitter enemy to Alexander's policies. He murdered Olympias and threw out her body without burial, and with great enthusiasm restored Thebes, which had been destroyed by Alexander.

After the king's death Sisygambis, Dareius's mother, mourned his passing and her own bereavement, and coming to the limit of her life she refrained from food and drink and died on the fifth day, abandoning life painfully but not ingloriously.
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