Reading a life of Alexander the Great, Alexander
whose rough father, Philip, hired Aristotle to tutor
the young scion and warrior, to put some polish
on his smooth shoulders. Alexander who, later
on the campaign trail into Persia, carried a copy of
The Iliad in a velvet-lined box, he loved that book so
much. He loved to fight and drink, too.
I came to that place in the life where Alexander, after
a long night of carousing, a wine-drunk (the worst kind of drunk–
hangovers you don’t forget), threw the first brand
to start a fire that burned Persepolis, capital of the Persian Empire
(ancient even in Alexander’s day).
Razed it right to ground. Later, of course,
next morning–maybe even while the fire roared–he was
remorseful. But nothing like the remorse felt
the next evening when, during a disagreement that turned ugly
and, on Alexander’s part, overbearing, his face flushed
from too many bowls of uncut wine, Alexander rose drunkenly to his feet,
grabbed a spear and drove it through the breast
of his friend Cletus, who’d saved his life at Granicus.
For three days Alexander mourned. Wept. Refused food. “Refused
to see to his bodily needs.” He even promised
to give up wine forever.
(I’ve heard such promises and the lamentations that go with them.)
Needless to say, life for the army came to a full stop
as Alexander gave himself over to his grief.
But at the end of those three days, the fearsome heat
beginning to take its toll on the body of his dead friend,
Alexander was persuaded to take action. Pulling himself together
and leaving his tent, he took out his copy of Homer, untied it,
began to turn the pages. Finally he gave orders that the funeral
rites described for Patroklos be followed to the letter:
he wanted Cletus to have the biggest possible send-off.
And when the pyre was burning and the bowls of wine were
passed his way during the ceremony? Of course, what do you
think? Alexander drank his fill and passed
out. He had to be carried to his tent. He had to be lifted, to be put
into his bed.