The Anabasis of Alexander/Book VII/Chapter XXVII


Rumour that Alexander was Poinsoned.

I am aware that many other particulars have been related by historians concerning Alexander's death, and especially that poison was sent for him by Antipater, from the effects of which he died.[1] It is also asserted that the poison was procured for Antipater by Aristotle, who was now afraid of Alexander on account of Callisthenes.[2] It is said to have been conveyed by Cassander, the son of Antipater,[3] some recording that he conveyed ib in the hoof of a mule, and that his younger brother Iollas gave it to the king.[4] For this man was the royal cup-bearer, and he happened to have received some affront from Alexander a short time before his death. Others have stated that Medius, being a lover of Tollas, took part in the deed; for he it was who induced the king to hold the revel. They say that Alexander was seized with an acute paroxysm of pain over the wine-cup, on feeling which he retired from the drinking bout.[5] One writer has not even been ashamed to record that when Alexander perceived he was unlikely to survive, he was going out to throw himself into the river Euphrates, so that he might disappear from men's sight, and leave among the men of after-times a more firmly-rooted opinion that he owed his birth to a god, and had departed to the gods. But as he was going out he did not escape the notice of his wife Roxana, who restrained him from carrying out his design. Whereupon he uttered lamentations, saying that she forsooth envied him the complete glory of being thought the offspring of the god. These statements I have recorded rather that I may not seem to be ignorant that they have been made, than because I consider them worthy of credence or even of narration.

  1. Cf. Curtius, X. 31; Diodorus, xvii. 117, 118; Justin, xii. 13. Plutarch (Alex., 77) asserts that nothing was said about Alexander's being poisoned, until six years after, when Olympias, the enemy of Antipater, set the charge afloat.
  2. See Arrian, iv. 10 supra.
  3. Cassander was afterwards king of Macedonia and Greece. He put Olympias, Roxana, and her son Alexander Aegus to death, and bribed Polysperchon to put Barsine and her son Hercules to death. He died of dropsy, B.C. 297.
  4. Cf. Pausanias, xviii. 4; Curtius, x. 31; Plutarch (Alex., 77). The ancients called the poison, "the water of Styx"; it was obtained from Nonacris in the north of Arcadia, near which the river Styx took its origin. Justin (xii. 14) says: Cujus veneni tanta vis fuit, ut non aere, Hon ferro, non testa contineretur, neo aliter ferri nisi in ungula potuerit. Pliny (Hist. Nat., xxx. 53) says: Ungulas tantum mularum repertas, neque aliam ullam materiam quae nou perroderetur a veneno Stygis aquae, cum id dandum Alexandre magno Antipater mitteret, dignum memoria est, magna Aristotelis infamia excogitatum.
  5. Diodorus (xvii. 117) states that after drinking freely, Alexander swallowed the contents of a large goblet, called the cup of Heracles, and was immediately seized with violent pain. This statement, however, is contradicted by Plutarch. It seems from the last injunction of Calanus, the Indian philosopher, that it was considered the right thing to drink to intoxication at the funeral of a friend. See Plutarch (Alex., 69).