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Anabasis of Alexander 4.10–12
Callisthenes of Olynthus, a pupil of Aristotle and a man somewhat rough in manner, did not approve of this idea. I myself agree with him about this, though, if his remarks have been accurately reported, I do not accept his claim that Alexander and his deeds depended on his skill as a historian, and that he had not come to gain fame from Alexander, but rather to make him famous amongst men. Another claim he made was that Alexander’s share in divinity was not dependent on the lies Olympias told about his birth, but rather on what he would record in his history on Alexander’s behalf and publish to mankind.
The following story is told about how he opposed Alexander over obeisance. Alexander had agreed with the sophists and the most distinguished Persians and the Medes in his entourage that they would bring up this issue at a drinking bout. Anaxarchus started the ball rolling by saying that it would be much more just to consider Alexander a god than Dionysus and Heracles, not because of the scale and nature of what Alexander had done, but because Dionysus was a Theban and had no relationship the Macedonians, and Heracles was from Argos, with no link to Macedon except for the family of Alexander; for Alexander was descended from Heracles. Macedonians would more properly offer divine honours to their own king. For there was no question that when Alexander departed this life the Macedonians would honour him as a god; it would be so much more just to honour him in this way while he was alive than after his death, when he would gain nothing from it.
When Anaxarchus had said something along these lines, those who were in on the plot commended what he had said and where in fact willing to begin doing obeisance, but the majority of Macedonians were annoyed by his words but kept quiet, though Callisthenes responded,
“In my opinion, Alexander is worthy of all honours appropriate for men; but men have marked out which honours are suitable for men and which for gods in many ways. For example, we build temples and set up statues and sanctuaries for the gods and offer sacrifices to them and libations, and hymns are composed for the gods, while panegyrics are written for men; not the least significant difference concerns the custom of obeisance. Men receive a kiss when someone greets them, but the gods, because I suppose they sit above us and it is not right to touch them, are honoured for this reason with
obeisance; dances are also held for the gods and paeans are sung in their praise. There is nothing wonderful about this, since even among the gods some honours are prescribed for one but not another, and, by Zeus, there are further honours prescribed for heroes, which are different from those offered to the gods. So it is not right to throw all of this into confusion and make men look more important than they are through excess of honours, while casting the gods down, in so far as we have the power to do so, to a lower level not fitting for them, by giving equal honours to men.
If some ordinary person were to take upon himself royal honours through an unjust vote or election, Alexander would not put up with it. The gods would have much better reason to be angry with all those men who took on divine honours or allowed others to bestow them. Alexander both is and appears to be the bravest of brave men, and the most kingly of kings, and the best possible commander of all commanders. You, Anaxarchus, should have offered an explanation like this, if anyone should, and should have prevented those who argued against you, because you spend time with Alexander on account of your wisdom and the training you offer. It was not appropriate for you to start a discussion of this sort, as you should remember that you are not advising or attending the court of Cambyses or Xerxes, but the son of Philip, descended from Heracles and Aeacus, whose ancestors came from Argos to Macedonia and have continued ruling the Macedonians not through force but through custom.
Divine honours were not offered by the Greeks even to Heracles himself, while he was still alive, and in fact not even after his death until the God in Delphi declared that he should be honoured like a god. If we must think in a barbarian way, because we are having this conversation in a barbarian country, I ask you, Alexander, to remember Greece, for whom you made this whole campaign, to bring Asia under Greek control. And consider this, when you return home, will you compel the Greeks, who are the most free men there are, to perform obeisance before you, or will you leave the Greeks alone, and only force this disgrace on the Macedonians; or will you make a broad distinction regarding the honours due to you, that you will be honoured by Greeks and Macedonians in a Greek and human way, and by barbarians alone in a barbarian way?
But if it is said that Cyrus, the son of Cambyses, was the first to accept obeisance and that this humiliating practice has become a custom for the Persians and the Medes because of him, you should remember that the Scythians, poor men but independent, brought Cyrus back down to earth, and later Darius as well, and the Athenians and the Spartans did the same for Xerxes, while Clearchus and Xenophon together with their Ten Thousand brought Artaxerxes to his senses, and then Alexander, without receiving the obeisance, did the same for Darius.”
By saying this, Callisthenes annoyed Alexander a great deal, but the Macedonians tended to agree with him. Alexander noted their reaction, so he told the Macedonians not to concern themselves any further about obeisance. When silence fell, the oldest of the Persians stood up and in turn offered obeisance before Alexander. When one of the Persians seemed to make his obeisance in an awkward fashion, one of the companions, Leonnatus, poked fun at his abject posture. Alexander was angry with him at the time, though this did not last for long.
The following story is also told. Alexander sent round a golden loving cup, first to those with whom there had been an agreement about obeisance; the first to receive it drank from the cup and then stood up and performed obeisance and was kissed by Alexander, and this was done in turn by all of them. When it was Callisthenes’ turn to drink, he stood up and drank from the cup and approached Alexander, wanting to kiss him without performing obeisance. At the time, Alexander happened to be speaking to Hephaestion, and so did not notice whether Callisthenes had performed the ceremony of obeisance. As Callisthenes approached Alexander to kiss him, Demetrius, the son of Pythonax, one of the companions, told Alexander that he had not performed obeisance. Alexander did not allow him to embrace him, and Callisthenes said “I will leave you, deprived of one kiss.”