The Anabasis of Alexander/Book VI/Chapter XXVI

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The Anabasis of Alexander by Arrian, translated by E. J. Chinnock
Book VI, Chapter XXVI.
Alexander's Magnanimous Conduct


Alexander's Magnanimous Conduct.

Here I have resolved not to pass over in silence the most noble deed perhaps ever performed by Alexander, which occurred either in this land or, according to the assertion of some other authors, still earlier, among the Parapamisadians.[1] The army was continuing its march through the sand, though the heat of the sun was already

scorching, because it was necessary to reach water before halting. They were far on the journey, and Alexander himself, though oppressed with thirst, was nevertheless with great pain and difficulty leading the, army on foot, so that his soldiers, as is usual in such a case, might more patiently bear their hardships by the equalization of the distress. At this time some of the light-armed soldiers, starting away from the army in quest of water, found some collected in a shallow cleft, a small and mean spring. Collecting this water with difficulty, they came with all speed to Alexander, as if they were bringing him some great boon. As soon as they approached the king, they poured the water into a helmet and carried it to him. He took it, and commending the men who brought it, immediately poured it upon the ground in the sight of all. As a result of this action, the entire army was re-invigorated to so great a degree that any one would have imagined that the water poured away by Alexander had furnished a draught to every man. This deed beyond all others I commend as evidence of Alexander's power of endurance and self-control, as well as of his skill in managing an army. The following adventure also occurred to the army in that country. At last the guides declared that they no longer remembered the way, because the tracks of it had been rendered invisible by the wind blowing the sand over them. Moreover, in the deep sand which had been everywhere reduced to one level, there was nothing by which they could conjecture the right way, not even the usual trees growing along it, nor any solid hillock rising up; and they had not practised themselves in making journeys by the stars at night or' by the sun in the daytime, as sailors do by the constellations of the Bears — the Phoenicians by the Little Bear, and other men by the Greater Bear.[2] Then at length Alexander perceived that it was necessary for him to lead the way by declining to the left; and taking a few horsemen with him he advanced in front of the army. But when the horses even of these were exhausted by the heat, he left most of these men behind, and rode away with only five men and found the sea. Having scraped away the shingle on the sea-beach, he found water fresh and pure, and then went and fetched the whole army. For seven days they marched along the sea-coast, supplying themselves with water from the shore. Thence he led his expedition into the interior, for now the guides knew the way.

  1. Curtius (vii. 20) mentions a similar act of magnanimity as having Occurred on the march in pursuit of Bessus through the desert to the river Oxus. Plutarch (Alex. 42) says it was when Alexander was pursuing Darius; Frontinus (Strategematica, i. 7, 7) says it was in the desert of Africa; Polyaemus (iv. 3, 25) relates the anecdote without specifying where the event occurred, μετεξέτεροι is an Ionic form very frequently used by Herodotus.
  2. Compare note on page 146.