Alexander Romance ( "Pseudo-Callisthenes" )

Book 3 , Chapters 1-17

A combination of the Greek version translated by E.H.Haight (1955); the Armenian version translated by A.M.Wolohojian (1969); and the Syriac version translated by E.A.W.Budge (1889).

Most of the Armenian version is a fairly close translation of the Greek version. Sentences that appear in the Armenian version but not in the Greek version are shown in green.

Olympias, Nectanebus and Philip

  Alexander and the Gymnosophists   -   BL Royal 20.B.XX (15th century)

{ Greek & Armenian versions }


{ Syriac version }

[1] G   Then Alexander took his army and went straight to India, upon learning that Porus was coming to aid Darius in battle. When Alexander had inquired and ascertained that Porus was coming to the battle with elephants and other wild animals, he ordered that the bronze statues that had been made in Persia be put on chariots and taken along in his train behind him. The march lay through a great desert and land cut by ravines so that Alexander as well as the soldiers was exceedingly weary. Their captains said to him: "We think it was enough to make war on the Persians and subdue Darius because he refused to pay the Greek taxes. Why now are we worn out by advancing against the Indians into regions that do not belong to Greece? If Alexander is a warrior of peculiar ambition and wishes to subdue tribes of barbarians, why do we accompany him? It suffices that he caused many men to be devoured by savage beasts in wild and desolate places. Let him advance alone and make war; let him not also lead us along with him as his comrades, for we are already exhausted by numerous battles and constant danger." And, throwing themselves on the ground, they groaned and they showed their broken, useless weapons and the ragged garments they were wearing. For they had been on the march twelve years. And they recounted those they had lost, some their brothers, some their sons, some their fathers.

[1] And Alexander heard that Porus the king of the Indians had prepared troops and was wishing to come to the assistance of Darius, but when he heard that Darius was dead, he returned to his own land. And Alexander with all his hosts offered up sacrifices; then taking his army and troops, he went against Porus the king of the Indians. Now when he had gone round about and had marched for many days through a desert and torrents and terrible places and many rivers, all the chiefs of the army were worn out and said among themselves, " We have fought a great deal, we have had enough of war, and there is no need for us to fight any longer. We rightfully fought with Darius, for he imposed tribute upon us, and used to required impost and poll-tax from us every year, and we therefore destroyed Darius as was meet But now this war is unnecessary, because we are marching against the Indians, who never at any time made war with the Greeks, through this fearfully desert country, being weary and fatigued and worn out with toil. Alexander is brave and a lover of wars, and he wishes to seize all foreign countries; but why should we, who have toiled all this time and are worn out with many battles, go about with him ?"

On hearing their words, Alexander called an assembly and he placed the Persian army by itself and the Macedonian with the other Greeks, then spoke: "Comrades and fellow-soldiers, Macedonians and the other Greeks, (for these Persians were lately our enemies), you have directed me to advance against the barbarians alone, for I heard some saying: 'If Alexander wishes to fight with the barbarians, let him go by himself, alone. Let him not take us in his train.' I will remind you, however, of this, that it was I alone who conquered even those enemies and I alone will conquer as many barbarians as I wish to take. For my individual wise strategy for battle cheered the spirits of you all when you were discouraged before the numbers of Darius. Did I not lead the van of the army in the battles? Did I not go as my own ambassador to Darius? Did I not expose myself to dangers? Well then, go to Macedonia alone, saving yourselves, not arguing with each other, that you may learn that an army can accomplish nothing without the directing wisdom of a king."

When he finished speaking, they begged him not to be angry longer, but to keep them as his comrades until the end. He then permitted the old men to go back, arranging their return. And he ordered the Greeks to send him an army of fresh soldiers.

And when Alexander heard these things, he commanded that all his forces should be assembled, and he gave orders for the Persian army to stand by itself, and for the Greek and Macedonian armies to stand by themselves. And Alexander said to them with a loud voice : " To you I speak, you Macedonians and Greeks, my fellow soldiers and auxiliaries. You know that the Persian troops are now in my hands, and are neither enemies of mine nor yours. If you give me orders and it pleases you that I should go by myself, I will go by myself ; but I will speak now to you and call to your mind that I by myself was victor in the previous wars; and henceforth, with whomsoever I choose to fight, I by myself will be victor. In the war with Darius you were encouraged by my knowledge and my thoughts, because you did not understand the customs of the Persians neither did you know their skill. I stood at your head, and it was I who first went to Darius, and I escaped from the hands of Darius, from the river Gush and from my other straits. Turn now and go to Macedonia, and guide yourselves wisely if you are able, for there is no enemy in your way. If I hear that you have been able to guide yourselves and to arrive safely in Macedonia, I shall know and believe and be convinced that bravery is yours." And when he had spoken these words, all the hosts of the Greeks and Macedonians fell upon their faces and entreated Alexander, saying, "Be reconciled to us, and put away anger from thy heart, and forgive us this folly, and we will be with thee unto the end."

[2] G   And after some days, they approached the mountains of India. And letter-carriers of Porus met him and gave him a letter. He read these words: "I, Porus, King of the Indians, send orders to Alexander, sacker of cities. What can you, a mortal, do against a god? What, indeed? Because you destroyed the fortunes of the Persians, engaging in battle with weaker men, do you think you are stronger than others? For I am unconquered: I am king not only of men, but of gods. For when Dionysus, as they say, came here, the Indians drove him away by their own might. So I not only counsel you, but I order you to return quickly to Hellas. For I will not be intimidated by your battle against Darius, or by battle against other nations, whoever by their weakness suffer misfortune. You think you excel in strength. If we had had need of Hellas, long ago we would have subdued her for Xerxes. We did not turn to her because in her there was no man worthy of royal notice. For every man desires to possess what is greater than himself, not what is inferior to himself. So now, take notice. I say to you for a third time: 'Turn back and do not covet what you cannot rule.'"

[2] Now after a few days Alexander arrived with his troops at a flourishing district in the territory of the Indians. And at that time the letter carriers of Porus the king of the Indians came to him, and brought a letter from Porus to Alexander, in which was written as follows : " From Porus the great king of the Indians to Alexander. I have heard of thee, that thou doest damage in countries and cities, but what art thou able to do to the gods and how canst thou fight against them? Fate came to Darius king of the Persians; thou didst hurl thyself against him, and so thou thinkest that just as thou didst become strong and didst lift thyself up against Darius, so thou art able to exalt thyself against others. But I am he that has never been conquered; I am not only king of men but of the gods also; and the proof I give to thee is this, that the god Dionysus returned defeated by the hands of the Indians. I do not now advise thee, but I command thee to go quickly to Hellas thy country, for thou art not able to intimidate me by the war which thou didst carry on with Darius and with the other nations through whose feebleness thou hast become exalted ; and so thou thinkest that thou art a mighty man and more exalted than king Porus, the lord of gods and men. Turn now, go back, and depart to thy country Hellas. If we had wanted Hellas, we would have taken it before king Xerxes. But because it is a wretched place and has nothing worthy of a king, we have scorned and despised it and have not subdued it. Therefore I say to thee, every man desires to acquire whatever is good and excellent, and never desires what is hateful. So now for the third time I say to thee, turn and go back, for thou art not able to do anything, therefore do not covet."

On reading this, Alexander spoke to the people: "Fellow soldiers, let not the letter of Porus which you have heard disturb you. Just remember now what Darius wrote. Truly, the only sense in these barbarians was nonsense. For as animals on earth, tigers, leopards, lions, and elephants, priding themselves on their nobility and bodily capabilities, are easily hunted by man in his wisdom, so also kings of barbarians, priding themselves on the size of their armies, easily are subdued by the intelligence of the Greeks."

When Alexander had spoken to the troops in this manner, he encouraged them mightily and he made answer to Porus by letter as follows : " From Alexander to Porus, the king of the Indians, greeting. The minds of all the troops that are with me have been made proud by these words which thou hast written to me, and their desire has been made the more ready for war by what thou hast said, that there is nothing beautiful and noble to be found in Hellas. By thy saying too that the desire and longing of each man goes after what is beautiful, by reason of this saying I and my forces now long to do battle and to make war with thee. Thou hast by thy words greatly encouraged us against thee, for we Greeks are poor, and there is nothing costly in our land, while you Indians are rich and what is costly abounds in your land. And now our mind and longing and desire are set upon the fair things which are to be found in your land, and we will fight with all our heart until we take that which belongs to you. Thou didst also write that thou art king of gods and men, and thou hast exalted thyself above the gods ; but I am going to contend in war with thee as with a warrior, and I am not going to do battle with thee as with the gods; for all the weapons in the world are unable to contend against the gods, and how can mortal man contend with Him, before the cold of whose winters and the crashes of whose lightnings and thunders the world is unable to stand? And just as thou art not afraid of me by reason of the war which I carried on with Darius and with other nations, even so I am not afraid of these perverse words which thou hast written to me."

After he made this speech and encouraged the army, he wrote this answer to Porus: "King Alexander sends greetings to King Porus. You have made us yet more eager to engage in combat with you by saying that Greece has nothing of value for the land of India, and that you, the Indians, possess everything. You know that every human being desires better possessions. Since then the Greeks do not have these, and you the barbarians do have them, we the Greeks, desiring better possessions, have come to take them from you. You wrote to me also that you yourself are king of gods so that you are more powerful even than the gods. However, I enter on a war against a boastful and barbarian man, not a war against a god. For all the world cannot pierce the panoply of a god, the fire of the lightning, the roar of the thunder. So, as the nations fought by me do not marvel at you, your boastful words do not terrify me."

Then Alexander commanded that this letter should be read before his troops, and he said to them : " My fellow soldiers, let not your minds be afraid because of these words of king Porus which he has written to me in his letter. Be mindful too of those words which Darius used to write to me. Verily I say unto you that the barbarians and dwellers in all these regions are all as stupid and as ignorant as the wild beasts that live in their country. Leopards and lions and elephants and panthers are over confident by reason of the strength of their bodies, and it is well known that they can be easily captured by the knowledge of man with stratagems and artifices. In the same way the kings who dwell in these regions, and all the barbarians, are proud by reason of the number of their troops, but they will be easily defeated by the knowledge of the Greeks."

[3] G   He finished and dispatched the letter. Now Porus, on reading it, became very active: he assembled his soldiers and very many elephants and other wild beasts of the country which fought with the Indians. And when the Macedonians and Persians approached and saw the array for war, they did not fear the men, but the animals. Indeed, Alexander too was afraid on seeing wild beasts as mercenaries, for he was accustomed to fight with human beings. Then Alexander himself entered Porus' city in the guise of a soldier, as a messenger sent to buy food. And when they saw him, they took him before Porus. The king said to him, "Why have you come here?" He replied, "We are soldiers sent by Alexander." He said to them, "How is Alexander?" "He is alive," they replied, "and well." "Why does he wish to fight the great force of Porus?" he asked. "But I shall take care of him when he gets here." And he deliberated for a long while and personally oversaw the readying of the horde of animals. And after he had taken counsel within himself, he went to his troops. However, on meditating and employing all his reasoning powers on how to terrify the beasts, or drive them off, what did the resourceful Alexander do? He ordered that bronze statues should be very carefully heated and by means of iron contraptions moved forward against the wild beasts in the onset of the battle. And when the charge came, the animals rushed forward and in the rush grappled with the statues and lay hold on their bellies. And in this way the clever Alexander stopped the attack of the beasts.

[3] After Porus had seen this letter, he commanded the whole army to be assembled, and a number of elephants to be brought to the conflict, and mighty wild beasts with them. And when the Macedonians and Persians drew near and came to the ranks of Porus, they saw and trembled, for they observed that the ranks were formed of wild beasts and not of men; and even Alexander himself was afraid, because he was accustomed to fight with men and not with wild beasts. Then he sat down and reflected in his mind, and gave orders to bring such brazen images as could be found among his troops. And when the images were collected, which were in the form of men and quadrupeds, - now they were about twenty-four thousand in number - he ordered a smith's furnace to be set up ; and they brought much wood and set fire to it, and heated those images in the fire, and the images became glowing coals of fire. Then they took hold of them with iron tongs, and placed them upon iron chariots, and led the chariots before the ranks of the warriors ; and Alexander commanded horns and trumpets to be sounded. When the wild beasts that were in the ranks of the king of the Indians heard the sound of the trumpets, they rushed upon the ranks of Alexander's army; and since the brazen images which were full of fire were in the van, they laid hold of them with their mouths and lips, and burnt their mouths and their lips. Some of them died on the spot, and some of them retired beaten and fled away to the camp of the king of the Indians. The wise Alexander, having turned back the wild beasts by this artifice, began to fight with the Indians themselves.

Then the Persians overpowered the Indians and turned them to flight by hurling arrows and charging on horses. There was a great battle, men killing and being killed. And Bucephalus, the horse of Alexander, fell, shot by Porus, and breathed his last. When this happened, Alexander without regard to the battle, drew the horse out of the mêlée that he might not be taken away by the enemy.

Now the battle by day time was very fierce, and the Persian troops prevailed over the Indians in fighting on horseback and with bows and arrows, and many men died on both sides. The horse which was called Bucephalus, upon which Alexander rode, by the sorcery of Porus threw Alexander off his back. Then by reason of this Alexander was in great tribulation, and he went on foot, holding and leading with his hand the horse which was called Bull-head, for he thought, " Peradventure he may fall into the hand of the enemies." And the troops of Alexander did battle with the Indians continually for twenty days, and they were weary and sore enfeebled, and because of their fatigue they wished to surrender to the Indians.

[4] G   Now after fighting twenty-five days, the army of Alexander grew so tired that they began to surrender. And Alexander, observing this, demanded that there be silence and he addressed Porus: "Porus, if the army is lost by surrender, this is not the conquest of a king. But if each of us enters into single combat for the kingdom, our personal valour is proven." Porus was delighted at this and promised to enter a duel, for he saw that the stature of Alexander was not comparable to his own. For Porus was five cubits tall and Alexander three. Then when the armies of both sides were stationed opposite each other and inspected, suddenly there was a great uproar in the army of Porus. Then, when Porus turned in terror, Alexander, halting his own onset, sprang at him and driving his sword under the groin killed Porus. And he knocked the fleshy heap off the horse. When the Persians and Alexander's Macedonian troops saw this, they leaped about in joy upon seeing their king so mightily and nobly conquer his opponent in the arena.

[4] When Alexander perceived that his forces were desirous of doing this, he commanded them to cease [fighting]. He then drew near to the van, and cried with a loud voice to Porus and said to him : "O Porus, king of the Indians, there is neither renown nor glory when a king destroys his troops; but if thou art now willing, let the troops rest, and I and thou alone will fight together." When Porus heard this speech, he rejoiced and agreed with him to do so, saying, "I will fight with thee alone;" for he saw that Alexander was very small in stature, while he himself was very tall. Now Porus was five cubits high, and Alexander three cubits. Then Alexander commanded his troops to stand in order, and Porus also commanded his troops to do likewise. The two came to the contest on foot; and when they had approached one another, there was suddenly a confusion and a great noise in the ranks of the Indians ; and Porus was alarmed and turned round and looked upon his forces. When Alexander saw that Porus had turned round and was looking behind him, he ran at him and stabbed him under the shoulders and drove the weapon out beneath his navel and slew him.

Then when the armies were about to fight against each other, Alexander said: "Wretched Indians, why are you fighting now that your king has been killed?" They said: "That we too may not be slaughtered." He replied: "Cease from making war and go back to your own city. For you did not make war on my expeditionary force, but Porus did." He spoke these words because his army was not comparable to the Indians. Then he ordered the king to be given royal burial, and, carrying off all the treasures, he proceeded on his way. Alexander took possession also of the other regions of the Indian kingdom and subdued too the Indians under Pausanias. He saw also the place called Aorne, five stades high. It was called Aorne because it is not accessible to birds. Once Dionysus, making an assault on it, could not take it. And Heracles too could not take it on account of its height and strength. But Alexander took it in this way. He ordered that iron pegs should be prepared and that these should be driven into the cliffs. The Macedonians, mounting on these, (?) met the Indians fighting above them and were strong enough to take the rock. In this way he captured Aorne. And when he had mastered these places, he heard that, not far from the river Hydaspes, a king was ruling near the land of sunrise, who possessed a large force of soldiers and elephants. And he wished to make an expedition against them also. And, calling the Macedonians together, he urged them to make an expedition with him against this ruler too.

Now Alexander grew still more daring and reckless. Here is a striking instance of his daring. There was a city of India to which many refugees from the other cities had come because it was very large and strong. Alexander went there and began an attack. And when ladders had been set in position, they were broken down and the Macedonians were unable to take the city. Only the ladder of Alexander stood firm. Then, seeing what had happened, he went into the city with two friends, Peucestes and Ptolemy. And the citizens in amazement rushed against him. Then Peucestes and Ptolemy, standing by him, fought them off, valuing the safety of the king more than their own. Alexander, fighting bravely, was wounded in the chest. The Macedonians, perceiving what had happened, with one great rush broke through the gates and running into the city slaughtered all the people, not sparing women or children. They wreaked this vengeance for their king. After the city was captured, the Macedonians urged Alexander not to be so madly fond of strife and run such risks.

When the Indians saw that Porus was slain, they came to fight. Then Alexander said to the troops of the Indians, " You wretched Indians, your king is dead, and will you fight ?" The troops of the Indians answered and said to him, " We are fighting that we may not become captives." Then Alexander said to them : " Return to your city and do not fight, because I will leave you free and will impose no tax upon you ; for I know that the offence was not of you, but of Porus." Now Alexander said this because he saw that his own troops were few and he was not able to meet in battle the legions of the Indians. Then Alexander commanded the body of Porus to be buried honourably, and he made ready to go to another place, which was called Ratnîrôn, that he might fight with them, for he heard that they were sages and naked and that they dwelt in huts and holes of the earth.

{ Greek & Armenian versions }


{ Syriac version }

[5] G   Now Alexander made a journey to the Oxydraces, not because they were warriors, but because they were gymnosophists, who had retired to huts and caves. They wrote a letter to him: "We, the Brachmanes, the gymnosophists, have written to Alexander, a human being. If you come to us to make war, you will gain nothing. For we have nothing which you can carry oft. But if you wish what we have, there is no need to fight for it. For your occupation is to make war, ours is to study philosophy."

[5] When these people heard that Alexander was come, they sent certain sages that were among them to Alexander with their letter. And when he saw their letter, be found written therein as follows, "From the Brahmans, the naked sages {gymnosophists}, to the man Alexander greeting. We write to thee thus : if thou desirest to come in order to make war with us, thou wilt gain nothing at all from us, for we have no property at all that can be taken away from us by war; and if thou desirest to take away that which we have, thou canst only take it away by entreaty, for our property is knowledge, and knowledge cannot be taken away by war; but even this thou art not capable of learning, for the heavenly will distributed and gave to thee war, and to us knowledge." When Alexander had read this letter, he went to them peaceably, and he saw that they were all naked, and that they dwelt under booths and in caves, and that their wives and children went about the plain like sheep.

[6] G   Thus informed, Alexander made a peaceful approach to them and saw that all were half-naked. And the women and children had been taken away and left with the flocks. So he asked: "Do you not occupy tombs?" They said: "This is the place where we stay and ours . . . I shall lie here in the earth and bury myself in the sleep of those who dwell under the earth. For, in dying, I shall dwell in eternal sleep." And turning to another, he said: "Who are the more numerous, the dead or the living?" They replied: "The dead are the more numerous, but do not count those who no longer exist. For those seen are more numerous than those no longer visible." And he inquired of another: "Which is stronger, death or life?" He said : "Life, because the sun when it rises has stronger rays but, when it sets, it is clearly weaker."

[6] Then Alexander asked one of them, "Have you no graves here ?" The Brahman said, " The place where we live is our house, and it is also our grave ; here then we lie down, and bury our bodies continually in it, that our training and our teaching may be in this world and that the term of our life in yonder world may be for ever and aye." And he asked another Brahman, " Which men are the more numerous, those that are dead or those that are alive ?" The Brahman said, " Those that are dead are the more numerous, for those who will hereafter come are not to be counted among those who are now alive; and you must know of yourself what innumerable myriads have died through thee and these few legions that are with thee." He asked another Brahman, "Which is the mightier, death or life ?" The Brahman said, " life ; for when the sun rises and becomes warm like life, he covers over the feebleness of night by the beams of his radiance, and becomes strong. So also they who are dead are fallen beneath the darkness of death ; but when life rises upon them like the sun, they will again come to life."

He said again: "Which is greater, the land, or the sea?" He said: "The land. For the sea is placed upon the land." He asked: "Which of all creatures is more competent?" And he said: "Man." "Why is this?" "Ask yourself," he replied, "for see how many animals you have brought along with you in order to carry off all the other animals you capture." And the world conqueror did not get angry, knowing those who were speaking. And he asked another, "What is a king?" And he said, "An excess of greed, corrupt force, bold daring, a momentary success." And to another, he said, "Which is first, night or day?" And he replied, "Night." "Why is this?" And he said: "For he who is born grows in the dark of the womb, then comes forth to reach light." He asked: "Who is there whom we cannot deceive, to whom we always present the truth?" "God, for we cannot deceive the all-seeing." "And he said to another, "Which is the best side, the left or the right?" And he replied, "The left." And he asked, "Why?" And the other replied: "For, in the first place, the sun climbs from the left to the right. And we mate with women from the left. A woman nurses by giving the child the left breast first. And we lift and carry the gods on the left shoulder. And so, too, you kings carry your royal sceptres in your left hand." He asked another, "Who shall conquer all human races?" He replied, "Death. For it is violent and cruel towards all." And Alexander said, "At what things does God get angry?" He replied, "At the iniquity of the rich and the pride of the poor." He asked, "What is the sweetest thing in creation?" The answer, "Love from the heart." "And what is the most bitter?" "Envy and hate."

He asked another Brahman, "Which is the older, the earth or the sea?" The Brahman said, " The earth, for the sea too is placed upon the earth." He asked another Brahman, " Which is the most wicked of all living things?" The Brahman said, "Man." Alexander said, " Tell me how so." The Brahman said, " Ask thyself how many beings go about with thee, that thou mayest wrest the lands and countries of other living beings, thy fellow creatures, from their owners, and hold them thyself alone." Alexander was not enraged at this speech, for he wished to hear. He asked another Brahman, "What is kingdom?" The Brahman said, " Greed and brief power, and arrogance, and the insolence of wicked doings." He asked another Brahman, " Which existed first, night or day?" The Brahman said, "Night; for a child is first of all created in darkness in the womb of his mother, and then when he is brought forth, he sees the light" He asked another Brahman, "Who is he whom we cannot deceive by lying?" The Brahman said, "He to whom all secrets are revealed." He asked another Brahman, " Which limbs are the better, those on the left side or those on the right" The Brahman said, " Those on the left ; for the sun shines on the left side ; and a woman suckles her child first from the left breast ; and when we sacrifice to God, we make our offering to him with the left hand ; and kings hold the sceptre of their kingdom in their left hand."

[7] G   He said to them: "What do you wish to demand of me?" They said: "Immortality." Alexander said: "This power I do not have. For I am but a mortal." They said: "Why, then, being a mortal, do you enter upon such great wars? Is it that, having seized all treasures, you may carry them away to some other place? You again will leave them to others." And Alexander said to them: "These matters lie on the lap of the gods, that we may be servants of their rule. For the sea is not moved unless a wind blows, and trees are not shaken unless the air stirs, and man is not set in motion except by the will of god. I wish to cease from war, but the tyranny of my mind does not let me. For if we all were of one mind, the cosmos would be inactive, sea not be filled, earth not be cultivated, marriages not consummated, children not produced. How many in the wars instigated by me had the misfortune of losing their possessions? How many others made fortunes from the possessions of others? Yes, all who seize the possessions of all men give way to others, and nothing belongs permanently to any man."

After this speech, Alexander departed, undergoing many hardships in passing through impenetrable and untrodden places. And he was not a little troubled.

And when Alexander had asked this question, he said to them, " Whatsoever you desire ask of me all of you at once, and I will give it you." The Brahmans said, " We ask of thee immortality." Alexander said, "I am not master over immortality, because I am mortal." The Brahmans said, " Since thou art mortal, why dost thou make all these wars and battles? When thou hast seized the whole world, whither wouldst thou carry it ? for since thou art mortal, it will remain with others." Alexander said, " All these things happen by the providence and the will of heaven, and we wait on the heavenly command ; for just as the waves of the sea are not lifted up unless the wind blows upon them, nor do the trees shake when there is no wind, so neither are men able to do anything without a command from above. I very much desire to rest from wars, but if all men were of one mind and one will, the whole world would be a wilderness and without cultivation ; no man would sail on the sea in ships, neither would any cultivate the earth, and there would be no generation of children. How many unlucky men are there, who have got mixed up with these wars which I have carried on, and whose possessions have perished from them ! And on the other hand, how many lucky men have there chanced to be, who have become enriched by the possessions of others ! Every one of us then who plunders something from another leaves it again to someone else, and we depart naked and empty." When Alexander had spoken these words, he turned away from the Brahmans, and he was much fatigued and worn out by the journey, for the country through which he was marching was pathless, and no one had ever marched through it before.

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{ Syriac version }

[17] G   Now Alexander wrote a letter to Aristotle about his experiences:

"King Alexander sends greeting to Aristotle. I must relate our astonishing experiences in the land of India. For when we came to the city of Prasias, which is apparently the capital of India, we found near it a conspicuous promontory by the sea. When I went with a few companions to this cliff, we learned by inquiry that human beings with the forms of women lived there, who subsisted on fish. When I called some of them to me, I found that they spoke a barbarian language. And when I inquired about the region, they pointed out to me an island which we all saw far out at sea, and they said it was the burial place of an ancient king and in it there were many dedications of gold. The barbarians vanished leaving behind their small boats, twelve in all. Then Pheidon, my closest friend, and Hephaestion, and Craterus and my other companions would not allow me to go across, for Pheidon said: "Permit me to make the voyage before you in order that, if there is any danger there, I rather than you will run the risk of disaster. If there is not, I will later send back the skiff. For if I, Pheidon, perish, you will find other friends. But if you, Alexander, perish, the whole world has suffered loss." So, persuaded by them, I agreed to this plan, and permitted him to cross first with those twelve boats, in which 100 men embarked. The sailing was easy and they drew near to the island, for the evil barbarians had said it was an island, but it was a whale. And still they fearlessly got out and set and tied the boats with ropes as on an island. And after they had arrived and prepared passageways for the boats, they hauled the boats by rope into the lake-shaped place and came out where we could see them. After they landed on the so-called island and an hour passed, suddenly it proved to be no island, but a monster which plunged into the sea. We shouted and it disappeared, but some of my companions met a wretched death, among them my best friend. I was enraged, but, though I hunted for the barbarians, I did not find them.

[7] Then Alexander composed a letter to Aristotle his master concerning everything that had happened to him, and he wrote to him thus:

" From Alexander to our master Aristotle greeting. I desire, O my teacher, to write and inform thee of what has happened to me in this land of the Indians. When then we had drawn near to the place called Prasiakê, which, as they say, is the great city of the Indians and at a distance from the shores of the Great Sea, we saw figures of men ; and when we came close up to the spot, we saw men feeding upon the shores of the sea, and their faces were like those of horses, and they lived upon fish. And when we had called aloud to some of them, for we wished to enquire of them concerning that place, we perceived that their speech was barbarian. And we saw in the midst of the sea something of which they said that it was the grave of the ancients and very old, and that there was much gold in it. And I desired much to go in a boat to the island, but those barbarians suddenly hid their boats, and did not leave more than twelve. Then I gave orders to seize those twelve boats, and I was going to embark in them and go to the island, but my dear friend Philon, and Hephaestion, and Kartîl [Craterus], and other friends, would not allow me to embark in a boat and go to the island. Philon said to me, ' Bid me go in a boat first and cross over to the island ; and if (which God forbid) there be anything evil, I shall die before thee ; and if it be otherwise, I will come back and do thou also pass over ; for if Philon perishes, Alexander can find many friends like Philon, but if (which God forbid) Alexander were to perish, his like could not be found in the whole world.' Then I gave way and bade them embark in the boats and go over to the island ; and when they had embarked in the boats and had drawn near the island, the thing turned out to be an animal and not an island at all ; and it sank and vanished suddenly in the sea, and my friend Philôn disappeared in the vortex of the waters and perished ; and I was in great trouble and deep affliction. Then I ordered those barbarians to be seized, but they fled away and hid themselves.

We stayed eight days on the rock and on the seventh we saw the beast and it had tusks. That was long enough to stay, so we went back to the city of Prasias. We came upon many remarkable things which I must tell you about. For I saw all sorts of wild beasts and marvellous natural phenomena, many kinds of serpents, and, most wonderful of all, an eclipse of the sun and moon. The winter was severe.

And we remained where we were for eight days. And we saw a wild beast like an elephant, but its body was much larger than an elephant's ; and when we saw it, we ran at it with our weapons, but it suddenly fled away from our sight And when we saw this, we came from thence to Prasiakê disheartened and in sorrow. And since we have traversed a number of the countries of the world, and have seen many wonderful sights, I thought that I would write and inform thee, O my teacher; for I have seen beasts of all kinds and shapes, and wonderful sights, and marvels, and various and divers species of reptiles ; but the most wonderful thing of all was this, that I saw the failing of the sun and of the moon, which takes place in its appearance, which is in winter and from time to time; and so I thought it necessary for me to write to thee about each one of these things.

We conquered Darius, king of the Persians, and his army and after having subdued the whole region we proceeded on our way, and saw beautiful objects. There was gold. There were mixing bowls decorated with precious stones. One crater held (?) one and a half cotylae, another eight, and there were many other marvellous objects.

Now when I had slain Darius and had taken his country and had traversed it, I found therein a number of treasuries, and there was much gold therein, ingots and cups of gold for mixed wine, which were set with gems of various sorts ; some of them held ninety measures of wine, and some fifty measures; and there were goods of various kinds.

We started our trek from the Caspian Gates and from there went on. Soon the trumpeter announced it was the tenth hour of the day. For it was right that the traveling last five hours into the night and the remaining six hours be spent in bed at rest. For at sunrise the trumpet sounded and we marched four hours. The soldiers were equipped in this manner: the body of each was protected by shoes, leggings, leather coverings for thighs, cuirasses. For the natives had informed us that there were dangerous snakes on these roads. So I issued orders that everyone should be fitted out in this way.

And we began our march from the Caspian gates unto the border of the Indians ; and we heard that that country was a desert and a wilderness, and that wild beasts and snakes and other kinds of evil reptiles were abundant therein. And I commanded the trumpeters to sound at the tenth hour of the day, and to beat the drums ; and from the tenth hour of the day to the third hour of the night the phalanx was marching, and so we went on the whole night When it was day and the sun had spread abroad his rays, I commanded the trumpeters to sound, and the whole phalanx to encamp until the third hour of the day ; and I commanded the horsemen and foot soldiers to wear shoes and greaves and breastplates and arm-pieces of raw hide on account of the evil reptiles of that country, for no man was able to walk about without such clothing, lest perchance he himself should become the cause of his own death.

After we had travelled twelve days, we came to a city which was in the middle of the river. Reeds grew about the city, thirty cubits long, and surrounded it and the city was built out of them. It did not lie on the ground, but floated on the reeds I have mentioned. And there were boats on the river; and upon examining them, we saw that they had been made of boards of these reeds for protection. I gave orders to pitch camp here. So, after making camp, in the third hour of the day we went to the river and found the water more bitter than hellebore. When some men wished to swim into the city, hippopotami appeared and seized them. The only thing for us to do was to leave the region. So the trumpet sounded and we marched from the sixth hour until the eleventh and we were so distressed by lack of water that I saw soldiers using their own urine. By good fortune we came to a certain district where there was a fertile swamp with trees and assembling there we found water so sweet that it tasted like honey. So while we were in a very happy mood, we saw on the hill a stele with an inscription. These were the words carved on it: "Sesonchosis, ruler of the world, made this watering-place for those who sail the Red Sea."

Having marched along so strange a road as this for twelve days, we drew near to a city which was situated between rivers ; and we commanded a ditch to be made along the banks of that river. We saw in that river a reed the height of which was thirty cubits, and its thickness as that of a garland which a man puts on his head. The whole city was overshadowed by these reeds ; and when we observed the city, it was not built upon the ground, but upon the reeds. We found in that river a boat, and when we had embarked therein, we went and observed, and it was exactly as we had seen at a distance. When we tasted the water of the river, it was more bitter than bitter herbs; and I was very much annoyed when I observed its bitterness, for I did not find sweet water in that place. My ditch was dug along the bank of the river for two miles; and some of my fellow soldiers, thirty and six in number, scornfully cast off the skin garments from their backs, and wished to bathe in the river. When they had gone down to the water, a number of reptiles rose up against them, and seized those men, and dragged them into the river, and killed them in the water. When I saw these things, I crossed over again to the other side of the river. And when I saw the innumerable reptiles, I was in every way afflicted and distressed, and I departed from that place. And I commanded the horns to sound a halt from the sixth hour of the day until the eleventh. I saw too that the foot-soldiers and horsemen were drinking their own urine because of thirst. Now when we had departed thence, another obstacle fell in our way, for we drew near to a lake, and we found therein every species of animal and reptile. When we tasted those waters, we perceived that they were sweeter than honey, and we were very glad. And when the phalanx halted and went on foot towards the lake, they saw upon its shore a pillar with an inscription which ran thus: 'I Sîusînîkôs {Sesonchosis}, the ruler of the world, have caused this lake to be made for the watering of those who live on and travel by sea.'

Then I gave orders to make a camp and prepare for a rest and kindle a fire. There was a bright moon and stars. About the third hour of the night, wild beasts from the whole forest near the camp I have mentioned came to the watering-place. There were scorpions, a cubit long, sand burrowers, some white, some flame coloured. And we were not successful in fighting them; indeed, some men perished; you heard loud cries and groans of those who succumbed. Then four-footed beasts began to arrive at the watering-place. There were lions larger than our bulls and rhinoceroses. They all came out of the reeds in the wood. There were wild boars larger than the lions with tusks a cubit long, lynxes, leopards, tigers, scorpions, elephants and wild cattle and bull elephants, and men with six hands and crooked legs, and dog-birds and other monsters. We had to fight them at once and we warded them off with our axes, and we set fire to the woods. And the serpents ran into the fire. And there were those we stamped on and killed with our swords, but most of them were burnt; and this lasted until the sixth hour of the night, when the moon set. Shaken by fear and terrible dread, we stood wondering at their varied forms.

When the night drew nigh, I ordered a couch to be prepared and a fire to be lighted around it, and I commanded that each horseman and foot-soldier should likewise light a fire by the side of his head. When I lay down upon my couch, the moon rose soon after, - it was about the third hour of the night, - and wild beasts of various kinds came forth from the jungle and came to the lake. Out of the earth too and from the sand white and red scorpions issued, each of which was a cubit long. And in the midst of the phalanx there sprang up snakes with horns on their heads, some red and some white, and they bit and killed a number of the men, and there was a great outcry and weeping heard from within the camp. We saw a lion that came to drink water, and he was larger than the oxen that are in our country ; and we saw beasts with horns on their noses, and they were larger than elephants. We saw also wild boars that were larger than the lion, and the tusks of each of which were a cubit long; we saw too wolves and leopards and panthers and beasts with scorpions' tails, and elephants, and wild bulls, and ox-elephants, and men with six hands apiece ; and we saw men with twisted legs and teeth like dogs and faces like women. And we were afflicted in our soul and were in grief. Then I commanded my troops to put on every man his skin clothing, to take his weapons in his hand together with wood and fire, and all to go in a body to the jungle and set it on fire. When we had done this, a great number of reptiles hastened of their own free will to the fire, some of which were burnt therein, and some were slain by the hands of my troops and perished. Of the wild beasts we slew some and others fled away.

And suddenly a wild animal came that was larger than any elephant, called a unicorn; and it wanted to attack us. And I ran back and forth and beseeched my brave companions to make fires and protect themselves lest they meet a horrible death. And the beast in its eagerness to hurt the men ran and fell into the flames. From there he ran into the army, killing twenty-six men at once. And some of our other brave men struck down and slew the one-horned beast. And 1,300 men were hardly able to drag him away from the place. And with the setting of the moon, wolves came from the sand, some of them ten cubits, others of eight. And from the wood came crocodiles which destroyed our baggage. There were bats bigger than pigeons, bats with teeth. And near the swamp sat crows which we hunted. It was a marvellous sight . . . They never attacked humans nor did they dare to approach the fire. And when it was day, these animals all went away.

After the moon had set and it was dark, an animal which was bigger in its body than an elephant and which they call mashkglath in the language of the country, came into the ditch and wished to spring upon us, but I straightway called out to my troops to take courage and stand ready. Now the longing and desire of the animal was to enter the ditch and to kill men, and suddenly it rushed into the ditch and killed twenty-six men, and amid loud noises and struggles it too perished by the hands of my troops; and after it was dead, we with three hundred men dragged it with great toil from the ditch and lifted it out And we looked amid the darkness and saw reptiles which they call night-foxes, the length of which was from six to eight cubits. We saw also water crocodiles, the length of each of which was twelve cubits; and we saw bats which were as big as eagles, and their teeth were like those of men. We saw likewise night-ravens, the beaks and claws and talons of which were like those of eagles, and they sat around the lake, and did not harm human beings, neither did they come near the fire. My troops killed a great number of them, and when it was day they all hid themselves.

{ Greek & Armenian versions }


{ Syriac version }

{ The following episodes are missing from the Greek version. }

And we departed from thence and came to a wood, and in that wood there were trees bearing fruit, and their fruit was very luscious ; and within the wood there were wild men; whose faces resembled ravens, and they held missiles in their hands, and their clothing was of skins. When they saw us, they cast missiles at my troops and slew some of them ; and I commanded my troops to shout and to charge them at full speed; and when we had done this, we slew six hundred and thirty-three of them, and they slew of my horsemen one hundred and sixty-seven. And I ordered the bodies of those that were dead to be taken up and to be carried to their own country. We remained in that place three days and fed upon the fruit of the trees, because we had no other food.

And we departed thence and came to a river in which there was a copious spring of water; and I gave orders to encamp there that my troops might have a little rest At the ninth hour of the day, behold a creature half beast, half man, which in its body was like a wild boar reared upright; and it was not at all afraid of us. I commanded my troops to catch it, and when they drew near to it, it was not at all afraid and did not run away from them. Then I ordered a naked woman to go towards it, that we might easily seize it ; but when the woman went up to it, the beast took hold of the woman and rent her, and began to devour her. When we saw this, we went against it at full speed, and smote it and killed it. Then we departed from the country of the beast-men, for there was a countless number of men like this in it, and we slew myriads of them, because we all stood ready with arms. And I gave orders to cut down all their wood and to set it on fire, and we burnt them together with their wood.

And we departed thence and arrived at the country of the people whose feet are twisted ; and when they saw us, they began to throw stones, and they threw accurately and aimed at us. When I saw that they slew some of my troops, I ran at them alone with my sword drawn, and by great good luck I stabbed the chief of those people with twisted feet. The rest were afraid, and ran away, and hid themselves under the rocks in various places ; and there were some among them with asses. We set out again from thence and came to another place where there were men with lion's heads and scaly tails.

From thence we set out again and came to a river. And upon the bank of the river there was a tree, which grew and increased from dawn until the sixth hour, and from the sixth hour until evening it diminished in height until there was nothing to be seen of it. Its smell was very pleasant, and I gave orders to gather some of its leaves and fruit, when suddenly an evil wind burst forth upon my troops and distressed them pitilessly ; and we heard the sound of violent blows, and swellings and weals appeared upon the back of my troops ; and after this we heard a voice from heaven like the sound of thunder which spoke thus: 'Let no man cut ought from this tree, neither let him approach it, for if you approach it, all your troops will die.' And there were birds too which were like partridges. And I commanded that they should not cut aught from that tree, nor kill any of the birds. There were also stones in that river, the colour of which when in the water was deep black, but when we brought them out, they were quite white, and when we threw them in again, their colour again became deep black.

And from thence we set out and halted by a spring. And when we had marched through a desolate wilderness, we arrived at the ocean which goes round the whole world. And while we were going along the shores of the sea, I commanded the phalanx to encamp ; and I heard the voice of men speaking in the Greek tongue, but I did not see them, nor did we see anything else in the sea except something like an island, which was not very far from us. Then a certain number of my troops desired to go to that island by swimming; and when they had stripped off their clothing and plunged into the sea, beasts in the form of men, but whose bodies were very large, came up from the deep and seized twenty of my soldiers, and plunged down into the depths.

Then we departed thence through fear, and came to a certain place. And the people who were in that place had no head at all, but they had eyes and a mouth in their breasts, and they spoke like men, and used to gather mushrooms from the ground and eat them. Now each mushroom weighed twenty pounds. And those men were like children in their minds, and in their way of life they were very simple.

And from thence we set out and came to a certain place which was waste ; and in the midst of that place there was a bird sitting upon a tree without leaves and without fruit, and it had upon its head something like the rays of the sun, and they called the bird the ' palm bird ' {phoenix}.

Then we set out from thence and came to a place amid groves of trees which were large, and in these woods there were wild beasts like the wild asses of our own country. Each of them was fifteen cubits in length, and as they were not dangerous, my troops killed a number of them and ate them.

Then we marched on our road sixty-five days, and arrived at a place which they call Obarkia (?). And on the seventh day we saw two birds, the bodies of which were very large, and their faces were like the face of a man; and suddenly one of them said in the Greek language, 'O Alexander, thou art treading the land of the gods,' and again it said to me in the same language, ' Alexander, the victory over Darius and the subjection of king Porus are enough for thee.' And when we had heard such words as these, we turned and came back from the country of the Obarkenâyê (?).

Then I gave orders to set out from this place, and we came thence to the foot of a certain mountain. This mountain was very high, and a temple had been built on the top of it, the height of which was a hundred cubits. When I saw this, I marvelled greatly. It was girt round with a chain of gold, and the weight of the chain was three hundred pounds. I gave orders to open the door of the temple that I might go in with my troops. When we went in, we found in it two thousand five hundred steps of sapphire, and we saw inside a very large chamber the windows around which were of gold, and in them there were thirty figures of gems and of gold. And when we drew near to the chamber, we saw that the whole temple was of gold, and over its windows there were golden images, figures of Pan and the Satyrs, who were musicians, and in the windows there stood dancers. In the temple a golden altar was placed, and by it stood two candlesticks of sapphire, the height of each of which was forty cubits. Lamps of gold were set upon them, which shone like the light of a lamp. And upon the altar instead of fire was placed a lamp made of stone, which shone like a star. In the temple a couch of gold was placed, which was set with gems ; its length was forty cubits, and cushions of great value were laid upon it ; the form of a huge man reclined thereon, and an effulgence shot forth from him like the lightning flash. Over him was spread a garment worked with gold and emeralds and other precious stones in the form of a vine, the fruit of which was of gold set with gems, and before the couch an ivory table was placed. When I saw this, I was unwilling to draw near hastily and uncover his face and see who it was. Then I sacrificed in the temple to the god and did reverence, and I turned away and came out. And when I had come out and was in the doorway of the temple, there was suddenly a terrible sound like the noise of thunder, and like the noise of the uproar and billows of the sea. And when that roaring noise ceased, I heard a voice from within the temple which said to me thus : ' King Alexander, rest and cease from thy toils ; enter not the temple of the gods, neither reveal their mysteries; for he whom thou hast seen upon this couch is I Dionysus, and I tell thee that it is given to thee to conquer in this war for which thou art prepared, and to come to our country to rest, and they shall reckon thee among our number.' When I heard a voice like this, my mind was in fear and joy, and I again sacrificed and did reverence to him ; and I went out to go about that place and to record this sight in it.

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