Alexander the Grate

Is it that time again? Yes, you can set your watch by it, Spring is here, I'm sitting in the sunshine and reading about the Ancient Greeks and wishing I was one.

This is from 'The Campaigns of Alexander' by Arrian, Penguin edition translated by Aubrey De Selincourt. (And incidentally, why can't I be called Aubrey De Selincourt?)

[After Alexander had won his first victory in Asia and invested Sardis]:

'Meanwhile, news of the cavalry engagement had reached Ephesus. The mercenaries who formed the garrison of the town seized two warships and made their escape, accompanied by Amyntas, son of Antiochus, who had left Macedonia in order to avoid Alexander. He had not, to be sure, anything to complain of in Alexander's treatment; he merely disliked him and was disinclined to be made uncomfortable by his presence.'

I find that hilarious. For one thing, imagine trying to avoid Alexander. Really, I don't think there's ever been anyone in history as shit out of luck as Amyntas. If there was one person it was difficult to avoid in the Alexandrian age, it was Alexander. Because the man really got around.

But what I really love, though, is that it doesn't sound like any burning hatred, just a mild irritation. The sort that might make you move on from one pub to another to avoid someone you didn't quite gel with, only in Amyntas's case he took it so far as to move from Greece to Asia Minor. 'He merely disliked him and was disinclined to be made uncomfortable by his presence.' That's not some great rage or jealousy, just some little almost inexplicable aversion. Except he went to the length of changing continents because of it.

So the poor bastard moves to Ephesus to get away from Alexander, and the next thing he knows... 'Oh, shit, he's here now. Quick, finish your drinks, let's move on. I just really can't stand to be around him.'

'I don't get it, why don't you like him? Everyone loves Alexander. He's been nothing but lovely to you.'

'I don't know, I really can't analyse it, he just rubs me up the wrong way. He's just so...blond, and... capable... I just find him a bit square, that's all. Every time you see him, he's all 'Unite the Greeks and fight the Persians', and courage and honour and blah blah blah, he really needs some new material... he's always prancing around on his stupid horse and doing noble and heroic things, he just pisses me off a bit. It's my problem, I know, it's just chemical. I don't hate the guy, I would just feel more relaxed somewhere else.'

'Oh, you're being stupid, we just got here.'

'No, please, let's go, get your coat. He'll come and say hello and we'll be caught and I'll have to be nice. We'll find another city.'

But where? Where? Where the hell could you go that Alexander would not turn up and conquer sooner or later? And be cheered and hailed by everyone? And his face on the currency, and statues, and cities named after him. It would be like if someone you didn't quite get along with at school became a film star or a famous footballer or something, only 8000 times worse. And Alexander would be in the news all the time and everyone would be talking about him, and he was one of the most charismatic men ever, and Amyntas was the only one who didn't get it and would have become increasingly vexed.

'Did you hear? Alexander conquered Babylon, and they gave him this huge procession.'

'Yeah, that's nice, but let's change the subject. Oh, did I tell you I bought a new pair of sandals.'

Amyntas would have turned psychotic about it after a while. But it's funnier if you imagine him at the beginning, just mildly annoyed, a naturally laid-back guy trying to keep his cool, he's moved from one continent to another just to avoid any possible friction. He's just trying to find somewhere to have a quiet drink in congenial company. So imagine he leaves Ephesus to try and avoid Alexander, and he goes to another city, and he's just got settled in and ordered a pint, and then a fanfare of trumpets, da-da-da-dahhh, 'Alexander!' 'Oh, shit, I don't believe it, he's followed us.'

So he moves to the next city and then the next, Alexander relentlessly dogging his footsteps. 'Oh for Christ's sake... he gets where water couldn't... Can I get no peace...'

And he tramps with increasing irritation all over Persia, Alexander always two minutes behind him taking over any city he sets foot in.

So then he snaps and decides to get right out of it, and he runs away and goes to bloody Afghanistan, and he lives in this tiny little remote dirt-poor nothing village on the top of an inaccessible mountain, sheer cliffs all around... 'Ah, peace at last, now I can relax.'

'Hey, who's that building a siege engine down in the valley?'

'For fuck's sake... come on, get your coat, we're leaving.'

So then he goes to India. 'I must be safe here. He won't come to India. Why would he come to India? No European comes to India. He wouldn't dare set foot in India.'

Two days later: 'Great shining golden warrior come from the west conquer all before him.'

'Fuck an extremely large duck.'

In his desperation Amyntas flees down the river Indus and strikes out across the desert wastes along the coast of the Persian Gulf. Terra incognita; no man in recorded history has travelled that way and lived to tell the tale. 'He won't possibly come here... only a madman would come this way... I'm free, free I tell you! Mneeyahahahaa!' By this point he has a twitch in his eye like Herbert Lom in the Pink Panther films. He trudges through scenes of utter desolation, sees things no civilised man has seen before: tribes of savage figures covered all over in hair, possibly the last surviving Neanderthals, who live on raw fish and brackish water. Then nothing but desert, for day after countless day an endless desert of cloying soft sand dunes raked by an unforgiving sun. Soon his strength gives way, his food and water has run out, there is nothing to forage, he is dying of thirst; doggedly he continues. His one consolation, here he can die in peace. Then ahead, a ray of hope. He crawls on hands and knees to a meagre oasis, collapses face-first in a tiny puddle of water. Briefly he passes out... When he comes to, a familiar noble voice that sends uncontrollable shudders up his spine comes from over the next dune: 'No, I refuse to drink when my men cannot. See, I pour the water into the sand out of solidarity with them.' 'NOOOOOOOO!'

And then I started fantasizing, what if Alexander really was following Amyntas? Because if you look at the route of Alexander's travels, there are all kinds of detours and zig-zags and switchbacks that look inexplicable to the untutored eye. And when Diogenes was lukewarm towards him, Alexander respected him for it. What if Alexander tramped all over Asia trying to catch up to Amyntas because he wanted to be friends with him?

'Oh, what happened to that bloke... Amyntas, I never see him around any more, I like him, he never crowds me, he never kisses my arse, he's his own man, he's a top bloke.'

'Oh, he's been seen over in Ephesus.'

'Oh, well let's go there, I'd like to hook up with him again, catch up.'

Or what if Alexander knew that Amyntas was the one person in the world who didn't really like him, and it bugged the hell out of him because he knew there was no reason, and he was all, 'Oh, if I could have one more chance, if I could just meet him again, I would really charm the hell out of him this time.' And he followed him all over the world and it became like an unrequited love, Alexander obsessed with meeting Amyntas and Amyntas going insane trying to keep the hell away from him.

Anyway, I put down Arrian while I was having all these fantasies, and I decided I wouldn't try to find out any more about Amyntas before I'd written this, because the truth almost certainly wouldn't be as much fun.

But I've just looked up Amyntas son of Antiochus in the index (not to be confused with a couple of other Amyntases) and read the other references to him - and the truth is as good if not better, as far as I can see the truth fits perfectly with what I've been imagining.

In his desperation to get away from Alexander, Amyntas ends up defecting to the Persian King Darius. If he isn't safe with him there's no hope left. Darius, I remember from other accounts, is as keen as Amyntas to avoid Alexander but with as little success. Anyway on page 110 there's this:

[Apropos of debates as to whether the Persian army should hold its position or move]

'Darius had no apparent intention of making a move; he had chosen for his position a part of Assyria where the country was... suitable for manouevring the vast numbers under his command... but later, when there was still no sign of Alexander... he began to have his doubts... flattering courtiers, such as always are, and always will be, the bane of kings, had persuaded him into thinking that Alexander no longer wished to advance further into Asia...

Now get this:

'Only Amyntas opposed them, persistently affirming that Alexander would seek out Darius in any place where he knew him to be and urging him not to shift his ground.'

In other words, Amyntas broke down and screamed:

'Don't you get it? There is no escape! He's a scourge! He's a plague! He doesn't know where he's not wanted! He will scour the earth seeking out people who try to avoid him! Take it from me, there's nowhere you can go! He just won't leave a man alone! I can't take it any more! End it! End it here! All or nothing, either we put an end to this pathologically gregarious amiable blond pest or we find the blessed release of death.'

But his counsel is not heeded, Darius is defeated, and Amyntas takes to his heels again. He is last seen fleeing Alexander in the company of a few like-minded companions and reaches Tripolis in Phoenicia: 'finding hauled ashore there the ships which had brought them from Lesbos, they launched as many as they thought would serve their purpose, burnt the rest as they lay in the yards, to delay pursuit, and sailed first for Cyprus and thence to Egypt.'

'That's right! Burn them! Burn them all! He won't follow me that way! Hahaha! I'll put the sea between us. To Egypt! Beautiful Egypt! I'll be free there, free at last I tell you!'

Of course some time later Alexander turns up in Egypt, conquers the whole place and is worshipped as a God.

Amyntas died in Egypt.

26th May 06