Wine, by Raymond Carver


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.

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