Chapters 95 – 98

XCV. ALEXANDER’S BRILLIANT BEGINNING.

As soon as the Greek states had all been brought to a proper state of obedience, Alexander prepared to conquer Persia, although he had a force of only 34,500 men. These men were very well trained, however, and promised to be more powerful on the battlefield than the million warriors of Xerxes.

In his joy at departing, Alexander made rich presents to everybody, until one of his advisers modestly reminded him that his treasure was not boundless, and asked him what he would have left when he had given away all he owned.

“My hopes!” answered Alexander proudly, for he expected to conquer not only Persia and Asia Minor, but all the known world.

While his army slowly made its way along the coast and across the Hellespont, Alexander, attended by only a few followers, sailed straight for Troy, the ancient Asiatic city.

He landed on the desert plain where the proud city had once stood, visited all the scenes of the mighty conflict, and offered sacrifices on the tomb of Achilles, while his friend He-phæs´ti-on did the same on that of Patroclus.

When this pious pilgrimage to the tomb of his ancestor was over, Alexander hastened to join the army, for he longed to do like the ancient Greeks, and win a glorious victory.

His wishes were soon granted, for before long he met the Persian army near the Gra-ni´cus River, where a terrible battle was fought. Alexander himself joined in the fighting, and would certainly have been killed had not his friend Clytus, the son of his old nurse, rushed to his rescue and saved his life.

In spite of the size of the Persian army, which was much larger than his own, Alexander won a complete victory at the Granicus. Then, marching southward, he took the cities of Sardis and Ephesus without striking another blow. These towns were very rich, and offered of their own free will to pay him the same tribute that they had given to the Persians.

Alexander, however, would not take it, but bade them use the money to rebuild the Temple of Diana, which had been burned to the ground on the night he was born. As the sacred image of the goddess had been saved, the E-phe´sians gladly built a second magnificent shrine, which was visited many years later by Paul, the disciple of Christ.

From Sardis and Ephesus, Alexander marched on into the province of Ca´ri-a. Here the queen of the country warmly welcomed him, adopted him as her son, and even proposed to give him her best cooks, so that they might prepare his food for him on the march.

Alexander thanked her heartily for this kind offer, but declined it, saying that his tutor Aristotle had given him the very best recipe for making him relish his meals.

The queen, whose appetite was fanciful, eagerly asked what it was; and Alexander smilingly answered, “A march before daybreak as the sauce for my dinner, and a light dinner as the sauce for my supper.”

This was, as you may see, a very good recipe; and if Alexander had always remembered to be temperate, as Aristotle had advised, he would not have died of over eating and drinking at the age of thirty-three.

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XCVI. THE GORDIAN KNOT.

Alexander did not stop long in Caria. Marching onward, he soon came to the city of Gor´di-um, in Phryg´i-a, where Mi´das had once reigned. In one of the temples the people proudly showed Alexander the cart in which this king rode as he entered their city.

The yoke was fastened to the pole by a rope tied in a peculiar and very intricate knot. Now, it seems that an ancient prophecy had declared that whoever untied the Gordian knot would surely be master of all Asia.

Of course, as Alexander had set his heart upon conquering the whole world, he looked at this knot with great interest; but a few moments’ careful examination made him feel sure that he would not be able to untie it.

Rather than give it up, however, Alexander drew his sword, and cut it with a single quick stroke. Ever since then, when a person has settled a difficulty by bold orviolent means instead of patiently solving it, the custom has been to say that he has “cut the Gordian knot,” in memory of this feat of Alexander’s.

Alexander cutting the Gordian Knot.
Alexander cutting the Gordian Knot.

From Gordium, Alexander next passed on to Tar´sus, which also became subject to him; and shortly after that the young conqueror nearly lost his life.

He had been exposed to the hot sun, and had thus become terribly overheated, when he came to the river Cyd´nus. This stream was a torrent whose waters were very cold, but, in spite of all that his attendants could say, Alexander insisted upon taking a bath in it.

The sudden chill brought on a cramp, and he would have been drowned had not some of his people plunged into the water, and pulled him out. As it was, his imprudence brought on a serious illness, and for a short time Alexander’s life was in great danger.

His physician, however, was Philip, a Greek doctor, who had attended him ever since he was born, and who now took great care of him. When the fever was at its worst, he said he hoped to save the king by means of a strong medicine which he was going to prepare.

Just after Philip went out to brew this potion, Alexander received a letter which warned him to beware of his physician, as the man had been bribed by the Persian king, Darius III., to poison him.

After reading the letter, Alexander slipped it under his pillow, and calmly waited for the return of his doctor. When Philip brought the cup containing the promised remedy, Alexander took it in one hand, and gave him the letter with the other. Then, while Philip was reading it, he drank every drop of the medicine.

When the physician saw the accusation, he turned deadly pale, and looked up at his master, who smilingly handed back the empty cup. Alexander’s great trust in his doctor was fully justified; for the medicine cured him, and he was soon able to go on with his conquests.

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XCVII. ALEXANDER’S ROYAL CAPTIVES.

Alexander was marching southward, and Darius was hastening northward with a vast army, hoping to meet him and to prevent his advancing any farther.

By a singular chance it happened that the two armies missed each other, and passed through separate defiles in the same range of mountains. Alexander became aware of this first, and retraced his steps without delay, for he was anxious to find and defeat the enemy.

The two armies soon met at a place called Is´sus, where the Persians were routed. Darius was forced to flee, and his mother, wife, and family were made captives.

As soon as the battle was over, Alexander went to visit the royal ladies in their tent, to assure them that they would be treated with all respect. He was accompanied by his friend Hephæstion, who was somewhat taller and larger than he.

As they entered the tent, in their plain armor, the queen mother, Sis-y-gam´bis, mistook Hephæstion for the king, and fell down upon her knees before him, begging his mercy for herself and her children. When she found out her mistake, she was greatly dismayed; but Alexander kindly reassured her by leaning upon his friend’s shoulder, and saying of him, “He is my other self.”

The young conqueror treated the Persian ladies with the utmost kindness, and often visited them in their own tent, to talk for a while with them. As he always found them idle, he fancied that time must hang very heavily upon their hands, and once offered to have them taught to spin and weave, as the Greek ladies were wont to do.

At this proposal, Sisygambis burst into tears, and asked if he wished to make slaves of them, for Persian ladies considered any labor a disgrace. Alexander, seeing her grief, hastened to comfort her, and tried to explain how happy the Greek ladies always seemed over their dainty work.

But when he understood that the royal family would rather remain idle, he never again proposed to furnish them with occupation of any kind. On the contrary, he was so gentle and respectful, that Sisygambis soon learned to love him, and used to treat him like her own son.

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XCVIII. ALEXANDER AT JERUSALEM.

Darius, as we have seen, had fled after the disastrous battle of Issus. His terror was so great that he never stopped in his flight until he had reached the other side of the river Ti´gris, where he still believed himself safe.

Instead of going after Darius at once, Alexander first went southward along the coast; for he thought it would be wiser to take all the cities near the sea before he went farther inland, so as to make sure that he had no enemies behind his back.

Marching down through Syr´i-a and Phœ-nic´ia, Alexander took the cities of Da-mas´cus and Si´don, and came at last to Tyre, a prosperous commercial city built on an island at a short distance from the shore.

The Tyr´i-ans would not open their gates and surrender, so Alexander prepared to besiege the city. As he had no fleet, he began to build a great causeway out to the island.

This was a very difficult piece of work, because the water was deep; and while his men were building it, they were greatly annoyed by showers of arrows, stones, and spears from the walls of the city and from the decks of the Tyrian vessels.

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A storm, also, broke the causeway to pieces once, when it was nearly finished, and the army had to begin the work anew. The obstinate resistance of Tyre made Alexander so angry, that he celebrated his final victory by crucifying a large number of the richest citizens.

After offering up a sacrifice to Hercules on the flaming ruins of Tyre, Alexander went on toward Je-ru´sa-lem. His plan was to punish the Jews, because they had helped his enemies, and had supplied the Tyrians with food.

The news of his coming filled the hearts of the Jews with terror, for they expected to be treated with the same frightful cruelty as the Tyrians. In their fear they knew not whether to surrender or fight.

Finally Jad-du´a, the high priest, had a vision, in which an angel of the Lord appeared to him, and told him what to do. In obedience to this divine command, he made the Le´vites put on their festal garments, and then, dressed in his priestly robes, he led them down the hill to meet the advancing conqueror.

When Alexander saw the beautiful procession, headed by such a dignified old man, he quickly got down from his horse, knelt before Jaddua, and worshiped the name written on his holy vestments.

His officers, astonished at this unusual humility, finally asked him why he did such honor to a foreign priest. Then Alexander told them of a vision he had had before leaving Macedon. In it he had beheld Jaddua, who bade him come over to Asia without fear, as it was written that the Persians would be delivered into his hands.

Walking beside the aged Jaddua, Alexander entered the holy city of Jerusalem and the courts of the temple. Here he offered up a sacrifice to the Lord, and saw the Books of Daniel and Zech-a-ri´ah, in which his coming and conquests were all foretold.