XCI. BIRTH OF ALEXANDER.
When Philip died, he was succeeded by his son Alexander, a young man of twenty, who had already earned a good name by leading part of the army at the battle of Chæronea. His efforts, as you know, had defeated the Sacred Battalion of the Thebans, and helped much to secure the victory.
Through his mother, O-lym´pi-as, Alexander was a descendant of Achilles, the well-known hero of the Trojan War. He was born at Pel´la, a city of Macedon, three hundred and fifty-six years before Christ. His father was so pleased to have a son, that he said that all the boys born in his kingdom on the same day should be brought up with Alexander in the palace, and become his bodyguard.
Thus you see the young prince had plenty of playmates; and, as there was nothing he liked better than fighting, he soon began to play soldiers, and to train his little regiment.
From the very first, the Macedonians had declared that Alexander was born to greatness, and several noted events that took place on the day of his birth served to confirm this belief.
In the first place, Par-me´ni-o, Philip’s general, won a grand victory on that day; then Philip’s horses, which had been sent to Olympia, got the prize at the chariot races; and, lastly, the famous temple at Ephesus, dedicated to Diana, was burned to the ground.
The first two events were joyful in the extreme; but the burning of this temple, which was among the wonders of the world, was a great calamity. Every one was anxious to know how it had happened; and all were very angry when they found out that it was not an accident, but had been done on purpose.
The man who had set fire to it was crazy. His name was E-ros´tra-tus; and when he was asked why he had done such a wicked thing, he said that it was only to make his name immortal. The people were so indignant, that they not only condemned him to die, but forbade all mention of his name, hoping that it would be forgotten.
In spite of this care, Erostratus’ name has come down to us. It is immortal indeed, but who except a crazy man would wish to win such fame, and could bear to think that all who ever heard of him would condemn his action, and consider him as wicked as he was insane?
Alexander was first given over to the care of a nurse. He loved her dearly as long as he lived, and her son Cly´tus was always one of his best friends and most faithful comrades.
As soon as he was old enough, Alexander began to learn the Iliad and Odyssey by heart; and he loved to hear about the principal heroes, and especially about his own ancestor, Achilles.
He admired these poems so much that he carried a copy of them with him wherever he went, and always slept with it under his pillow. Both the Iliad and the Odyssey were kept in a box of the finest gold, because Alexander thought nothing was too good for them.
XCII. THE STEED BUCEPHALUS.
When only thirteen years of age, Alexander once saw some horsedealers bringing a beautiful steed before the king. The animal had a white spot on his nose shaped somewhat like the head of an ox, and on this account was named Bu-ceph´a-lus, which means “ox-head.”
Philip admired the horse greatly, and bade the grooms try him, to see if his gait was good. One after another mounted, only to be thrown a few minutes later by the fiery, restless steed, which was becoming very much excited.
The horse seemed so skittish that Philip finally told the men to lead him away, adding that a man would be foolish to purchase such a useless animal. Alexander then stepped forward and begged permission to try him.
His father first made fun of him for asking to mount a horse which none of the grooms could manage; but, as Alexander persisted in his wish, he was finally allowed to make the attempt.
The young prince then quietly walked up to the excited horse, took the bridle, held it firmly, and began to speak gently and pat the steed’s arched neck. After a moment, Alexander led Bucephalus forward a few steps, and then turned him around, for he had noticed that the horse was frightened by his shadow.
Then, when the shadow lay where he could not see it, and where it could no longer frighten him, the young man dropped his cloak quietly, and vaulted upon the horse’s back. Once more Bucephalus reared, pranced, kicked, and ran; but Alexander sat firmly on his back, spoke to him gently, and, making no effort to hold him in, let him speed across the plain.
In a few moments the horse’s wildness was over, and Alexander could ride back to his proud father, sitting upon a steed which obeyed his slightest touch.
Philip was so delighted with the coolness, courage, and good horsemanship that Alexander had shown on this occasion, that he made him a present of the steed. Bucephalus became Alexander’s favorite mount, and, while he would allow no one else to ride him, he obeyed his master perfectly.
Although most young men began the study of philosophy only at sixteen, Alexander was placed under the tuition of Ar´is-totle soon after his first ride on Bucephalus. This philosopher was a pupil of Plato. He was so learned and well known, that Philip, in writing to him to tell him of Alexander’s birth, expressed his pleasure that the gods had allowed his son to live in the same age with so great a teacher.
Alexander loved Aristotle dearly, and willingly learned all that was required of him. He often said that he was very grateful, for this philosopher had taught him all the good he knew. Alexander’s remarkable coolness, judgment, and perseverance were largely owing to his teacher, and, had he always followed Aristotle’s advice, he would have been truly great.
But although Alexander did not always practice the virtues which Aristotle had tried to teach him, he never forgot his old tutor. He gave him large sums of money, so that the philosopher could continue his studies, and find out new things; and during his journeys he always sent him complete collections of the animals and plants of the regions he visited.
XCIII. ALEXANDER AS KING.
Philip, King of Macedon, as we have seen, had one great fault. He drank; and often his reason was clouded, and his step unsteady. Now, it is impossible to respect a man who is drunk, and everybody used to make fun of Philip when he was in that state.
Even Alexander, his own son, felt great contempt for him when he thus disgraced himself; and once when he saw his father stagger and fall after one of his orgies, he scornfully exclaimed, “See! here is a man who is getting ready to cross from Europe to Asia, and yet he cannot step safely from one couch to another.”
Alexander, we are told, was greatly displeased by his father’s conquests, and once angrily cried that if Philip really beat the Persians, and took possession of Asia, there would be nothing left for him to do.
You may readily imagine, therefore, that he was not very sorry when his father died before the expedition could be undertaken; for he thus became, at twenty, master of an immense army and of great riches, and head of all the Greek cities, which were then the finest in the world.
The news of Philip’s death was received with great joy by the Athenians also, who thought they would now be free. Demosthenes, in particular, was so glad to be rid of his hated foe, that he ran all through the city with a crown of flowers on his head, shaking hands with everybody he met, and shouting his congratulations.
His joy was so great, because he and all his fellow-citizens fancied that a mere boy like Alexander would never be able to hold his own, and because they hoped to become again the leading people of Greece.
The Thracians, who also thought that Alexander would not be able to carry out his father’s plans, now revolted, and the young king was obliged to begin his reign by marching against them.
Three months passed. The Greeks heard no news of Alexander or of his army, and fancied that he had been defeated and killed. The Thebans, thinking the right moment had come, suddenly rose up, and said that they would never again submit to the Macedonian yoke, but would stay free.
They soon had cause to repent of this rash talk. Alexander was not dead, but had conquered the Thracians completely. Without stopping to rest, he now marched straight down into Bœotia, and besieged and took Thebes. All the inhabitants were either slain or sold into slavery, the walls torn down, and not a single building was left standing, except the house of Pin´dar, a Greek poet, whose songs Alexander had always admired.
The other Greek cities, frightened by the terrible punishment of Thebes, sent messengers to the young king, offering not only to obey him as their chief, but also to supply all the men, money, and stores he wished for the expedition to Asia. Alexander graciously accepted all these proposals, and then marched southward as far as Corinth.
XCIV. ALEXANDER AND DIOGENES.
Everybody bowed down before Alexander, and all looked at him with awe and respect, as he made his triumphant progress through Greece,—all except the sage Di-og´e-nes.
This man belonged to a class of philosophers who were called “cynics,” which means “doglike,” because, as some say, they did not care for the usual comforts of life.
It is said that Diogenes, the principal philosopher of this kind, chose as his home a great earthenware tub near the Temple of Ce´res. He wore a rough woolen cloak, summer and winter, as his only garment, and ate all his food raw. His only utensil was a wooden bowl, out of which he drank.
One day, however, he saw a child drinking out of its hollow palm. Diogenes immediately threw away the bowl, saying he could do without luxury as well as the child; and he drank henceforth from his hand.
As you see, Diogenes was a very strange man. He prided himself upon always telling the truth, and upon treating all men alike. Some of his disciples once met him wandering about the streets with a lantern, anxiously peering into every nook and corner, and staring fixedly at every person he met. When asked what he was looking for so carefully, yet apparently with so little hope, he bluntly answered, “An honest man.”
Alexander had heard of this queer philosopher, and was anxious to see him. He therefore went to the Temple of Ceres, escorted by all his courtiers, on purpose to visit him. Diogenes was lying on the ground in front of his tub, warming himself in the rays of the sun.
Alexander, drawing near, stood between the philosopher and the sun, and tried to begin a conversation; but Diogenes gave surly answers, and seemed to pay little heed to his visitor.
At last the young king proudly remarked, “I am Alexander the king!”
“And I,” replied the philosopher in exactly the same tone, “am Diogenes the cynic!”
As he could win nothing but short or rude answers, Alexander was about to go away, but he first asked the sage if there was anything he could do for him. “Yes,” snapped Diogenes; “stand out of my sunshine!”
The courtiers were shocked at this insolent behavior, and began to talk of the philosopher in a scornful tone as they were moving away. Alexander, overhearing them, soon stopped them by saying, “If I were not Alexander, I should like to be Diogenes.”
By this remark he wished them to understand, that, if he could not be master of all earthly things, he would rather despise them.
Strange to relate, Alexander the king, and Diogenes the cynic, died on the same night, and from the same cause. Diogenes died in his tub, after a too plentiful supper from the raw leg of an ox; while Alexander breathed his last in a Bab-y-lo´ni-an palace, after having eaten and drunk to excess at a rich banquet.