In a span of less than a year:
Darius is betrayed by Bessus.
Parmenion is betrayed by Alexander.
Bessus is betrayed by Spitamenes.
MP3 coming soon
Teacher, my teacher, I hope you are well
By now I am sure you have heard Persia fell
I sought a kind gesture for this, my new land
So despite your advice, mercy was my command
Teacher, my teacher, perhaps you'll be pleased
The spectre of Athens could not be appeased
Persepolis once occupied by the Greeks
Was put to the torch in a matter of weeks
The Persian army now in flight
Bessus has a plan
Darius as a hostage might
Be traded for reprieve
The Greeks once more in hot pursuit
Panic strikes the band
Darius of no further use
Run through and left to bleed
At last we meet, most cunning king
Though not as I had dreamed
One such as you would never beg
But kneel, perhaps, to kiss
My graciously offered signet ring
I'd stand, but now it seems
I have no feeling in my legs...
No, not like this... not like this!
I was surrounded by fools and traitors, yet alone
Better to die in the arms of a worthy foe
Three camels race across the sand
An innocent to die by our hand
By Alexander's command
Before grim news can reach one man
This morning a story of treason was wrung
Straight from the would-be assassin's own tongue
Parmenion's son was convicted and hung
But for now by his father my praises are sung
He offers us wine; I approach as he pours
The fearless commander the army adores
The triumphant hero of how many wars?
The abhorrent orders my conscience ignores
The least I can do is look him in the eye
As my dagger slips in, his one question is "why"
To his dying request I can only reply
For the sins of the son now the father must die
Bessus, what a pleasure!
Your allies send their best
It seems they tire of running
And so you're now my guest
Why so apprehensive?
Because my chance is lost
To be tested by Darius
Had our swords ever crossed?
Relax; that fight's behind me
I face one greater still
I'm learning Persian customs
Remind me, if you will
What's the normal punishment
That Persian king slayers earn?
Dismemberment or crucifixion?
I'm simply trying to learn...
A word of explanation:
The title has a double meaning beyond the obvious surface context.
But first, the story behind those dramatic personal betrayals:
A few months after the fall of Persepolis, the palace of Xerxes burns, along
with much of the city. While Alexander was certainly capable of brutal reprisals
against recalcitrant foes, it seems out of character for him to punish a city that
capitulated fairly easily, and to wait so long to do so. Some accounts say Thais
(a Greek army groupie from Attica, or a prostitute according to the Persian
accounts, maybe not much difference) suggested it at a drunken celebration
after the city fell. It's possible that in the eyes of the Greeks in Alexander's
army, his disrespect of Xerxes' statue was inaequate revenge for the burning
of Athens 150 years earlier, and they started the fire without his knowledge.
At any rate, I can imagine Alexander being disgusted with the arson but not
punishing anyone so as to maintain morale, and dashing off a sarcastic letter
to Aristotle that basically says "There you go. Happy now?"
After consolidating his position in the heart of Persia, Alexander resumes
his pursuit of Darius. However, Darius is no longer in control of his
army, and is in fact being held hostage by Bessus. Bessus kills Darius
when Alexander gets close, mortally wounding him and leaving him to
bleed out slowly so he will still be alive when Alexander finds him, and
then proclaims himself Persian king. Before dying, Darius remarks he is
glad he will not die alone, perhaps a belated admission he considered
Alexander his equal. Alexander gives him a full military funeral and
buries him with honors next to his Achaemenid predecessors.
The lingering resentment caused by Alexander's acceptance of the
Siwa oracle's declaration
that Alexander is the son of Zeus starts
to smolder even hotter as Alexander declares himself the legitimate
successor to Darius, accepts the Persian title "King of Kings", and
adopts the Persian custom of requiring those in his service to kiss his
hand or prostrate themselves before him. As that resentment reaches
a fever pitch, Alexander is informed that Philotas, son of Parmenion
and commander of the Companions, and Demetris, one of Alexander’s
personal bodyguards, are involved in a conspiracy against his life. This
must have given Alexander flashbacks of his father's assassination.
Among the accusers are supporters of Alexander's new policies, including
Hephaestion, Craterus and Coenus, who is married to Philotas’ sister.
Philotas and Demetris are court-martialed and executed. Parmenion is
in no way implicated in the conspiracy, but his son was just put to death
and Alexander realizes a pissed-off Parmenion would be a serious threat,
since he is second-in-command of the army, stationed near Alexander's
treasury and on his supply lines. Alexander sends three officers on racing
camels, across the desert by the most direct route possible. They reach
Parmenion before he hears about Philotas, and stab him to death on the spot.
Alexander then tracks down Bessus in Bactria (modern Afghanistan) or
Sogdia (modern Uzbekistan). Spitamenes, a Sogdian official, betrays Bessus
and delivers him to Ptolemy. They don’t realize it at the time, but Spitamenes
is only buying time and is not to be trusted (he will lead the rebellion that starts
off the song
Alexander kills Bessus unpleasantly for betraying Darius.
His nose & ears are cut off, a Persian custom for those involved in regicide,
and he is eventually either tortured and decapitated, crucified, or drawn and
quartered, according to different historical accounts. Oxyartes of Bactria, a
local ruler and one of Bessus’ companions, escapes and sends his wife and
daughters to the Sogdian Rock (aka the Rock of Ariamazes, a fortress north
of Bactria) for safekeeping because the fortress is considered impregnable.
The taking of that fortress is the main story in the song
, and one of
Oxyartes' daughters is
, who eventually becomes Alexander's wife.
And now for the more subtle subtext of betrayal alluded to earlier:
It is difficult to imagine the elation of the Macedonians and Greeks
in Alexander's army after the final and total defeat of Persia. Having
avenged Achilles, Leonidas, Philip and a legendary list of grievances
against an ancient foe, having achieved a goal that no heroes of myth
or history had ever been able to accomplish and which they themselves
may not have initially even believed possible, Alexander's committment
to press on to India surely must have seemed like a betrayal. Although
some commentators attribute Alexander's eventual fall to later events,
I personally believe this decision was the beginning of the end.
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Buser.
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