The Death of Persia, and the Death of Alexander the Great – Frederick the Great

Synopsis:

Frederick the Great devotes a small corner of his Anti-Machiavel to answer why the Persian Empire of Darius III did not rise again following the death of its conqueror – Alexander the Great. Rather than destroy the empire Alexander in a sense co-opted it, and used the institutions of the Persian Empire for his new Macedonian Empire. Frederick also keenly compares from a cultural/political context the nation-states of Europe in his own era with those of Alexander and Darius.

Excerpts:

“The same policy which carried the King’s ministers to the establishment of an absolute despotism to France, also taught them to distract the nation by using its lightness and inconstancy, to make it less dangerous: a thousand frivolous occupations, the trifles and the pleasures, was given in exchange for their rights and their power.

“France’s powerful armies, and a very large number of fortresses, ensure that the French Sovereign will possess the throne forever, and they do not have anything to fear now concerning internal wars or their neighbors invading France.

“The author (Machiavelli) considers these things from only one point of view. He does not discuss the structure each government has: he appears to believe that the power of the empire of Persia and the Turks was founded only on the general slavery of these nations, and on the single rise of only one man who is the absolute ruler. He is of the idea that a despotism without restriction, established well, is the surest means that a prince has to ensure reign without disorder, and resist its enemies vigorously.

“The difference of the climates, the peoples’ diets, and their level of education, establish a total difference between their way of living and of thinking – like the difference between an Italian monk and a Chinese scholar. The temperament of the English, stout-hearted but hypochondriacal, is completely different from the proud courage of the Spanish; and the French have as little resemblance to the Dutch as the promptness of a monkey-cry has with the phlegm of a tortoise.

“It was noticed from time immemorial that the custom of the Eastern people was a spirit of constancy in their practices and their old habits, of which they almost never depart. Their religion, different from that of Europeans, still obliges them in some way, for fear of trouble visiting their Masters, the company of not to consort with those which they call the infidel; and to avoid carefully all that could pollute their religion and upset the structure of their government. Here is what, in their countries, makes for security of the throne, rather than that of the monarch: the Emperors are often dethroned, but the empire is never destroyed.

*All excerpts have been taken from Anti-Machiavel, Newark Press.

The Career of Alexander the Great – H.G. Wells

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Synopsis:

In The Outline of History H.G. Wells chronicles the metamorphosis of humanity from its earliest beginnings until the time of his own contemporary epoch. He maps the rise and decline of civilizations by describing the world historical individuals that were influential in setting the course of society. His biography of Alexander the Great offers his own keen insights, and exhibits the intellectual dispositions of the era in which Wells lived.

Excerpts:

“Alexander was, as few other monarchs have ever been, a specially educated king; he was educated for empire. Aristotle was but one of the several able tutors his father chose for him. Philip confided his policy to him, and entrusted him with commands and authority by the time he was sixteen. He commanded the cavalry at Chaeronea under his father’s eye. He was nursed into power – generously and unsuspiciously. To any one who reads his life with care it is evident that Alexander started with an equipment of training and ideas of unprecedented value.

“The strong sanity he inherited from his father had made him a great soldier; the teaching of Aristotle had given him something of the scientific outlook upon the world. He had destroyed Tyre; in Egypt, at one of the mouths of the Nile, he now founded a new city, Alexandria, to replace that ancient centre of trade. To the north of Tyre, near Issus, he founded a second port, Alexandretta. Both of these cities flourish to this day, and for a time Alexandria was perhaps the greatest city in the world.

“…he was forming no group of statesmen about him; he was thinking of no successor; he was creating no tradition – nothing more than a personal legend. The idea that the world would have to go on after Alexander, engaged in any other employment than the discussion of his magnificence, seems to have been outside his mental range. He was still young, it is true, but well before Philip was one and thirty he had been thinking of the education of Alexander.

“We are too apt to consider the career of Alexander as the crown of some process that had long been afoot; as the climax of a crescendo. In a sense, no doubt, it was that; but much more true is it that it was not so much an end as a beginning; it was the first revelation to the human imagination of the oneness of human affairs. The utmost reach of the thought of Greece before his time was of a Persian empire Hellenized, a predominance in the world of Macedonians and Greeks. But before Alexander was dead, and much more after he was dead and there had been time to think him over, the conception of a world law and organization was a practicable and assimilable idea for the minds of men.

“For some generations Alexander the Great was for mankind the symbol and embodiment of world order and world dominion. He became a fabulous being. His head, adorned with the divine symbols of the demi-god Hercules or the god Ammon Ra, appears on the coins of such among his successors as could claim to be his heirs. Then the idea of world dominion was taken up by another great people, a people who for some centuries exhibited considerable political genius, the Romans; and the figure of another conspicuous adventurer, Caesar, eclipsed for the western half of the old world the figure of Alexander.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Outline of History, Norwood Press.

The Life of Pyrrhus – Plutarch

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Synopsis and Commentary:

Plutarch wrote the life of Pyrrhus as part of his Parallel Lives in which he pairs a famous Greek and Roman with independent biographies of each. Pyrrhus is paired with Gaius Marius the famous Roman general that defeated Jugurtha as well as a major Germanic invasion of Italy and later helped to undermine the Roman Republic in his quest for power. Pyrrhus and Marius have very little in common, and conceivably were only paired to sustain the motif of the book.

Among the countless generals in the history of Western warfare perhaps none has won more battles in concert with ultimate defeat in wars than Pyrrhus of Epirus. Even though he failed in nearly all of his endeavors he was able to gain a lasting reputation for military genius which has endured and will endure in Western culture. His most towering opponent – republican Rome – possessed that crucial additive in warfare which Pyrrhus lacked: the resolve to never accept defeat. Such resolve was manifest in the belief that every war was a life-and-death struggle for republican Rome. Despite the ability of Pyrrhus to achieve awe-inspiring battlefield victories the war itself was more of a passing enthusiasm than a life-and-death struggle for him, and so he met failure after failure in the eventual aims of the wars he fought.

Pyrrhus remains an enigma in Western culture. His battlefield successes, his spectacular military genius, and his Alexander like charisma ought to have produced an unstoppable military juggernaut, but rather than climbing the heights that Alexander once did he met ultimate failure in war after war.

Excerpts:

“…Pyrrhus only by arms and in action, represented Alexander. Of his knowledge of military tactics and the art of a general, and his great ability that way, we have the best information from the commentaries he left behind him. Antigonus, also, we are told, being asked who was the greatest soldier, said, ‘Pyrrhus, if he lives to be old’…

“…Hannibal of all great commanders esteemed Pyrrhus for skill and conduct the first, Scipio the second, and himself the third, as is related in the life of Scipio.

“The armies separated; and, it is said, Pyrrhus replied to one that gave him joy of his victory that one other such would utterly undo him. For he had lost a great part of the forces he brought with him, and almost all his particular friends and principal commanders; there were no others there to make recruits, and he found the confederates in Italy backward. On the other hand, as from a fountain continually flowing out of the city, the Roman camp was quickly and plentifully filled up with fresh men, not at all abating in courage for the loss they sustained, but even from their very anger gaining new force and resolution to go on with the war.

“…What he got by great actions he lost again by vain hopes, and by new desires of what he had not, kept nothing of what he had. So that Antigonus used to compare him to a player with dice, who had excellent throws, but knew not how to use them.

*All excerpts have been taken from Plutarch’s Lives – Vol. I, Modern Library.