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Diodorus Siculus and Hephaestion's Pyre1

  • Paul Mckechnie (a1)

Chapters 114 and 115 of Diodorus Siculus Book 17 give rise to impressive difficulties, considering their relative brevity. At the beginning of Chapter 113 Diodorus has announced the opening of the year 324/3 (Athenian archon, Roman consuls, 114th Olympic Games)—the last year of Alexander the Great's life. Alexander by then has already, at the end of the previous year (112.5), taken the fateful step of entering Babylon: wounded in his soul by Chaldaean prophecy, Diodorus says, but healed by Anaxarchus and the philosophical corps of the Macedonian army. The new year, 324/3, begins with Alexander dealing with diplomatic missions from three continents; and then, at the beginning of Chapter 114, Diodorus brings in the funeral of Hephaestion.

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2 In these translated sections I shall give ‘funeral’ for taphe and ‘funeral ceremony’ for ecphora.

3 At present I shall translate pyra as ‘pyre'; this will be discussed below.

4 Epotides: beams projecting like ears on each side of a ship's bows (LSJ, s.v.).

5 Reading proedros with the Lucian MSS., Calumniae non temere credendum 17, referring to sacrifices to Hephaestion, uses paredros, which would mean ‘an assistant god’, cf. LSJ s.v. paredros III. Editors of Diodorus have emended to follow Lucian.

6 Justin (12.12.11–12.13.1) puts his whole brief note on Hephaestion's death before the journey to Babylon; Plutarch , Alexander 72.3 to 73.1 has the Cossaean war after Hephaestion's death, then deals with the tomb and the funeral, then moves on to the journey to Babylon.

7 Arr.Anab. 7.14.8–10.

8 Sacks Kenneth S., Diodorus Siculus and the First Century (Princeton, 1990). For my (qualified) positive view of Sacks' position see my review at Prudentia 24.2 (1992), pp. 72–5.

9 Stylianou P. J., review of Sacks Kenneth S., Diodorus and the First Century, BMCR 2 (1991), pp. 388–95 at p. 395. Note also that W. Spoerri in a recent discussion (Diodorea’, MH 48 (1991), pp. 310–19) gives little attention to Sacks and applies the usual model.

10 Arrian will be considered below.

11 The phrase ‘a few pages later’ may be misleading: Books 17 and 18 as published by Diodorus would have been separate scrolls.

12 D.S. 18.4.1–4.

13 Geer Russel M., Diodorus of Sicily ix (Loeb ed., London and Cambridge, MA, 1947), p. 21, n. 1.

14 Schachermeyr Fritz, ‘Die letzten Pläne Alexanders des Grossen’, JÖAI 41 (1954), pp. 118—40, atp. 127. This paper reprinted at G. T. Griffith, Alexander the Great: the Main Problems (Cambridge, 1966), pp. 322–44. Schachermeyr's comments will be examined more fully below.

15 Fox Robin Lane, Alexander the Great (London, 1973), pp. 457 (main text) and 547 (notes).

16 Sophocles , Electra 901; Euripides , Hecuba 386 and Iphigenia in Tauris 26. LSJ also offers Pindar , Isthmian 8.63, which speaks of the Muses standing by the ‘pyra and grave’ of Achilles; rendering pyra as ‘burial-mound’ here depends on reading the phrase as a hendiadys, which is not necessary: translators including J. E. Sandys (Loeb ed., 1927) and Conway Geoffrey S. (The Odes of Pindar [London, 1972]) give ‘pyre and grave’ or similar phrases.

17 Mr. Lane Fox points out to me that this does not have to be so, but the difficulties involved in thinking of the ‘pyra’ in the Last Plans as an inflammable pyre are great.

18 D.S. 18.4.5.

19 Theopompus (Jacoby F.FGrHist 115 F 253): one at Athens and the other at Babylon, and all for just 200 talents—an outlay which is modest by comparison with what Alexander had in mind.

20 Malcolm Colledge, ‘Greek and non-Greek Interaction in the Art and Architecture of the Hellenistic East’ in Kuhrt Amélie and Sherwin-White Susan, Hellenism in the East (London, 1987), pp. 134–62, at p. 140.

21 But see Wüst F. R., ‘Zu den Hypomnematen Alexanders: das Grabmal Hephaistions’, JÖAI 44 (1959), pp. 147–57 arguing (at pp. 149–151) against the step pyramid shape. Bosworth A. B. follows Wust, describing the edifice as a ‘huge brick cube’: From Arrian to Alexander (Oxford, 1988), p. 206.

22 Heckel Waldemar, The Marshals of Alexander's Empire (London and New York, 1992), p. 89 n. 145, briefly reasserts a distinction in Geer's terms between a cancelled monument and a completed pyre.

23 Schachermeyr , op. cit, p. 119.

24 Contrast Tarn's W. W. approach six years earlier (Alexander the Great ii (Cambridge, 1948), pp. 381–2). He comments: ‘Diodorus…in XVII had made use of some work, perhaps a monograph, perhaps a Life, which “featured” Hephaestion and gave several things about him which are quite untrue (Arrian perhaps used it also), and Diodorus may have taken his description of the pyre from this work. No one can say how the matter of the pyre really stands; in any case (1)’ [i.e. the plan to complete the pyra at D.S. 18.4.2] ‘can hardly be called a plan, and is quite immaterial.’ This angle of attack is the opposite of Schachermeyr's: it focuses on the funeral passage and is dismissive about the Last Plans passage.

25 Schachermeyr , op. cit., p. 127 (my English translation).

26 Arr. Anab. 7.14.2.

27 Arr. Anab. 7.14.2–7.

28 Arr. Anab. 7.14.8–10.

29 As at Bosworth , op. cit., pp. 204–5. Bosworth accepts with Arrian and his sources that the order was given for a pyre to be constructed, but concludes that Diodorus ‘reported a project which was merely anticipated as completely finished, a blunder only too characteristic of his work…’

30 I am grateful to Mr. Lane Fox for drawing my attention to the importance of this phrase.

31 Brunt P. A. (ed.), Arrian i (Loeb ed., Cambridge, MA. and London, 1976), p. xxi n. 12. In a footnote to the passage about Alexander's alleged bacchanalian procession through Carmania (Arr. Anab. 6.28.2; ii p. 187 n. 1) Brunt argues that Arrian ‘is…citing a late version of the “vulgate” (not Clitarchus)’.

32 D.S. 17.115.2–1.

33 Indeed, it did not stop Wüst , op. cit., pp. 150–51, or Fox Lane, op. cit., p. 457. Yet Schachermeyr has claimed more attention, e.g. from Colledge (cf. above).

34 D.S. 17.115.1.

35 Wüst's argument (op. cit., p. 150) that domoi (‘rooms’) should be read as meaning ‘courses/layers of stones’ (Steinlage, Steinschichi) cannot be regarded as persuasive. In any case it requires acceptance of D. T. Fischer's drastic emendation (Teubner ed., 1905) of ton topon ‘the place’ to tous toichous ‘the walls’ at 17.115.2.

36 Assume a uniform thickness of 10 m for the wall (a generous assumption). A stade is 182 m, near enough. Thus the ground area of wall demolished would be (182.10.10) = 18,200 square metres: The ground area of the pyra would be 182.182 = 33,124 square metres. Thus by using all the demolition material one could build a solid structure roughly 55% of the height of the city wall. Quintus Curtius Rufus 5.1.26 says the wall was 50 cubits high (22.5 metres), which if correct would not imply a very tall resultant edifice. Diodorus by contrast posits for the pyra a height, in a stepped structure, of 130 cubits (58.5 metres, roughly). This is far higher than a city wall.

37 See in addition to Colledge e.g. Kurtz Donna C. and Boardman John, Greek Burial Customs (London, 1971), p. 305, and Hornblower S., Mausolus (Oxford, 1982), p. 238 and n. 125.

38 Bosworth , op. cit., p. 205.

39 Aelian V.H. 7.8.

40 Bosworth , op. cit., p. 204 n. 76.

41 Hence Bosworth's strictures in this note against Schachermeyr and Wüst: ‘both scholars unnecessarily stress the distinction between pyre and tomb’. The distinction is in fact sensible and fundamental.

42 Badian E., ‘A King's Notebooks’, HSCP 72 (1968), pp. 183204, at p. 189: ‘it is the frequent penalty of excessive concentration on Quellenforschung —the importance of which study, of course, no one will deny—that it can become the aim of scholarship to find out what was said by whom rather than what in fact happened’. Badian's premise in this article is that (p. 190) ‘Diodorus' account, in outline (though not necessarily in detail) is wholly credible’. Therefore Badian, convinced by the Last Plans passage at least as a description of what was read out to the army by Perdiccas, is with Schachermeyr in wishing to correct 17.115 from 18.4.

43 The word ‘patchwork’ used in Tarn W. W., ‘Alexander's hypomnemata and the “World-Kingdom”’. JHS 41 (1921), pp. 121 at p. 13. Cf. Schachermeyr , op. cit., p. 120; Badian , op. cit., p. 183.

44 Hornblower Jane, Hieronymus of Cardia (Oxford, 1981), p. 94.

45 Mr Lane Fox points out to me the possible relevance of the carved ivory portraits found in the Vergina tomb. Traces of gold on the surviving ivory portions hint that the perished parts of these might have been made in rich materials. See Andronicos Manolis, Vergina: the Royal Tombs and the Ancient City (Athens, 1991), pp. 129–32 with plates 76–86. Despite the reconstruction drawings (plates 76 and 80), these were not necessarily portrait heads in the round: the flat backs of the ivory (see plate 77) might suggest a sort of high-relief portrait head as part of a composition built up on a back board. The writer could be referring to something like this.

46 ‘After this he began to decorate the outside with a complete scheme of ornamentation. Golden prows of quinqueremes, two hundred and forty in number, filled the bottom layer…’

47 In reality Alexander established hero-cult, not divine worship, for Hephaestion: a fact which emerges, as Mr Lane Fox reminds me, from Hyperides 6 (Epitaphios). 21 (322 B.C.). This evidence is conclusive, and is borne out by what Arrian (Anab. 7.14.7) describes as the majority view among writers: the story given by Arrian that the oracle of Ammon expressly refused permission to sacrifice to Hephaestion as a god may perfectly well also be true. All the same, it would not be satisfactory to regard as a blunder the presentation of this occasion as a deification (not heroization) ceremony: it is obviously deliberate, and intended to suit the scale of the occasion. A branch of the tradition latched on to the ‘god-version’, which occurs in Justin 12.12.12 and (with a moral point) in Lucian , Calumniae non temere credendum 17; in theory, a widely-read author had the choice.

48 The moral point in Lucian is different from this and involves the decision to appoint (cheirotonesat) Hephaestion a god being divisive: ‘if anyone either smiled at what was going on or appeared less than totally reverent, the penalty established was death’. In the Diodorus passage the possible conflict between common sense and loyalty is resolved by the messenger from Ammon.

49 On the assumption that this means ‘four-cubits-high-when-kneeling’, the archers are of superhuman height, like the armoured statues.

50 Cf. use of a red banner as a signal for action in a sea battle by Conon at D.S. 13.77.4. A line of red banners celebrates a man who was ready to go into battle.

51 Athenaeus , Deipnosophists 201D–E; 202A–B. Translation from Rice E. E., The Grand Procession of Ptolemy Philadelphia (Oxford, 1983), pp. 21–3.

52 Rice , op. cit., p. 1 and pp. 138–50. Her focus is on whether the artefacts described are plausible for the period under discussion, and she concludes that they are. This approach is open to question: describing something which could, technically and artistically, be done is not the same thing as describing something which has actually been done.

53 This is essentially the view taken by Hornblower in Hieronymus of Cardia: she argues (p. 94) for Cleitarchus as the writer of the original of the pyre passage.

54 Hammond N. G. L., Three Historians of Alexander the Great (Cambridge, 1983), pp. 74–9.

55 No punches pulled in the review by Brunt P. A. at Times Literary Supplement 83 (1984), p. 597. Measured discussion by Errington Malcolm at Gnomon 66 (1984), pp. 779–81, and by Hornblower Simon at CR 34 (1984), pp. 261–4. Perhaps least critical was Fisher N. R. E. at Greece and Rome 31 (1984), p. 216.

56 Bosworth , op. cit., p. 207 n. 89.

57 ‘Burial’: taphe. FGrHist 126 F 1 and 3.

58 ‘Passing’: metallage. FGrHist 126 F 2.

59 ‘Decease’: teleute. FGrHist 126 F 4.

60 This would have been in Ecbatana: as the Last Plans passage shows, no monument was set up at Babylon.

61 Aelian V.H. 7.8. I am not in agreement with Bosworth's suggestion (op. cit., p. 204) that in this brief story (seventeen lines in the Teubner text) Aelian records two traditions according to one of which Hephaestion's funeral was not completed.

62 This suggestion was put forward in a lecture by Prof. H. Luschey: cf. Fox Lane, op. cit., pp. 434–5 and 544.

63 Strabo , Geog. 15.3.7, stating that the tomb is a tower with ten stories, and that the remains of Cyrus lie in the top storey. The tomb is in fact a stone chamber on a stepped plinth: see Stronach D., Pasargadae (Oxford, 1978), esp. at pp. 24–5.

64 Hammond N. G. L., Sources for Alexander the Great (Cambridge, 1993), p. 296.

65 This is another point at which I am in debt to Mr Lane Fox's suggestions—all the more so because I have profited from them without coining round to his way of thinking.

66 Arr. Anab. 3.5.3, = FGrHist 126 T 2, with commentary ad loc.

67 As Hammond points out in ‘The Royal Journal of Alexander (Hist. 37 [1988], pp. 129–50 at p. 142), an ‘Olynthian’ cavalryman does appear in Egypt on a Petrie papyrus dating from about 240 (Mahaffy J. P. and Smyly GilbertFlinders Petrie Papyri (Dublin, 1905), p. 115 col. 1.15, = Br. Lib. Pap. 573 [2] verso). The possibility that Ephippus was of a later generation than Alexander's is still remote.

68 Arr. Anab. preface 2.

69 Wiseman's T. P. article ‘Lying Historians: Seven Types of Mendacity’ in Gill Christopher and Wiseman T. P. (eds.), Lies and Fiction in the Ancient World (Exeter, 1993) at pp. 122–46, is a reminder that historians in the ancient world did not always even try to tell the truth.

70 Shrewdly , Wüst (op. cit., pp. 156–7) figures that one could not have built the edifice described in D.S. 17.115 for 12,000 talents. His answer is to say that the figure of 12,000 comes from a different source. An unnecessary complication. As with the Grand Procession of Ptolemy II, one can describe on paper as much gold as one likes.

71 It was in any case never plausible to think that Alexander, basing his empire at Babylon, would pull down a whole section of wall. Note that Babylon was besieged by Eumenes in 317/6: see Grainger John D., Seleukos Nikator (London, 1990), pp. 38–9. Its walls had not become redundant. Perhaps the detail about demolition of walls had an origin in Alexander demolishing the walls of the acropolis of Ecbatana (so Aelian), and Ephippus moved the action, along with the body of Hephaestion, to Babylon?

1 I wish to thank Mr R. J. Lane Fox, who as referee for the Classical Quarterly has waived anonymity and allowed me to acknowledge his suggestions—both those I have accepted and those I have persisted in questioning. A draft of this paper was presented to the University of Auckland Department of Classics and Ancient History Staff-Student Research Seminar in April 1994: I wish to thank those present on that occasion and particularly Dr W. R. Barnes, Prof. V. J. Gray and Miss L. Bligh for their comments and suggestions. None of the above is responsible for any errors which remain in this paper.

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