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lean, hair neglected, and the air of a pedant exhausted by study. The soldiers of Alexander are called Quirites, as if they were Romans. The month of June in Greece is described as if it were in Rome:
"Mensis erat, cujus juvenum de nomine nomen." 1
Events connected with the passion of Jesus Christ are treated as having already passed in the time of Alexander.
The poem is divided into ten books, corresponding to the number in the original of Curtius,2 and the ten initial letters of the books, when put together like an acrostic, spell the name of the Archbishop, Guillermus, the equivalent for William at that time, the patron of the poet. Besides this conceit, there is a dedication both at the beginning and the end. Quantity, especially in Greek or Asiatic words, is disregarded; and there are affectations in style, of which the very beginning is an instance :
"Gesta ducis Macepûm totum digesta per orbem,
In the same vein is the verse,
"Inclitus ille Clitus," etc.;4
and another verse, describing the violence of the soldiers after victory:
"Extorquent torques, et inaures perdidit auris." 5
A rapid analysis will at least exhibit the order of events in the poem, and its topics, with something of its character.
1 Lib. I. 249.
2 Vossius (De Poetis Latinis, Cap. VI.) is mistaken in saying that it had nine books, instead of ten.
See also Menagiana, Tom. I. p. 174.
8 Lib. L. 11-15.
5 Lib. III. 237.
Alexander appears, in the first book, a youth panting for combat with the Persians, enemies of his country and of his father. There also is his teacher, Aristotle. Philip dies, and the son repairs to Corinth for coronation. Under the counsels of Demosthenes, the Athenians declare against him. The young king arrives under the walls of Athens. Demosthenes speaks for war; Æschines for peace. The party of peace prevails; and the Macedonian turns to Thebes, which he besieges and captures by assault. The poet Cloades, approaching the conqueror, chants in lyric verses an appeal for pardon, and reminds him that without clemency a kingdom is unstable:
"Instabile est regnum quod non clementia firmat.” 1 And the words of this chant are still resounding. But Alexander, angry and inexorable, will not relent. He levels the towers, which had first risen to the music of Amphion, and delivers the city to the flames, thus adding a new act to that tragic history which made Dante select Thebes as the synonym of misfortune.2 Turning from these smoking ruins, he gathers men and ships against Persia. Traversing the sea, he lands in Asia; and here the poet describes geographically the different states of that continent, - Assyria, Media, Persia, Arabia, with its Sabaean frankincense and its single phoenix, ending with Palestine, where a God was born of a Virgin, at whose death the world shook with fear. Commencing his march through Cilicia and Phrygia, the ambitious youth stops at Troy, and visits the tomb of Achilles, where he makes a long speech.
The second book opens with the impression on the 2 Inferno, Canto XXXIII. 89.
1 Lib. I. 352.
mind of Darius, menaced by his Macedonian enemy. He writes an insolent letter, which Alexander answers by moving forward. At Sardes he cuts the Gordian knot, and then advances rapidly. Darius quits the Euphrates with his vast army, which is described. Alexander bathes in the cold waters of the Cydnus, is seized with illness, and shows his generous trust in the physician that attended him, - drinking the handed cup, although said to be poisoned. Restored to health, he shows himself to his troops, who are transported with joy. Meanwhile the Persians advance. Darius harangues. Alexander also. The two armies prepare for battle.
The third book is of battle and victory at Issus, described with minuteness and warmth. Here dies Zoroas, the Egyptian astronomer, than whom nobody was more skilled in the stars, the origin of winter's cold or summer's heat, or in the mystery of squaring the circle,
circulus an possit quadrari."1 The Persians are overcome. Darius seeks shelter in Babylon. His treasures are the prey of the conqueror. Horses are laden with spoils, and the sacks are so full that they cannot be tied. Rich ornaments are torn from the women, who are surrendered to the brutality of the soldiers. Only the royal family is spared. Conducted to the presence of Alexander, they are received with the regard due to their sex and misfortune. The siege and destruction of Tyre follow; then the expedition to Egypt and the temple of Jupiter Ammon. Here is a description of the Desert, which is said, like the sea, to have its perils, with its Scylla and its Charybdis of sand:
1 Lib. III. 157. This is the passage translated into blank verse by the early English poet, Nicholas Grimoald. See Ritson, Bibliographia Poetica, p. 228.
"Hic altera sicco
Scylla mari latrat; hic pulverulenta Charybdis."1 Meanwhile Darius assembles new forces. Alexander leaves Egypt and rushes to meet him. An eclipse of the moon causes sedition among his soldiers, who dare to accuse their king. The phenomenon is explained by soothsayers, and the sedition is appeased.
The fourth book opens with a funeral. It is of the Persian queen. Alexander laments her with tears. Darius learns at the same time her death and the generosity of his enemy. He addresses prayers to the gods for the latter, and offers propositions of peace. Alexander refuses these, and proceeds to bestow funeral honors upon the spouse of him he was about to meet in battle. Then comes an invention of the poet, which may have suggested afterwards to Dante that most beautiful passage of the "Purgatorio," where great scenes are sculptured on the walls.2 At the summit of a mountain a tomb is constructed by the skilful Hebrew Apelles, to receive the remains of the Persian queen; and on this tomb are carved, not only kings and names of Greek renown, but histories from the beginning of the world:
"Nec solum reges et nomina gentis Achææ,
Here in breathing gold is the creation in six days; the fall of man, seduced by the serpent; Cain a wanderer; the increase of the human race; vice prevailing over
2 Canto X.
1 Lib. III. 389, 390. There is a contemporary poem in leonine verses on the death of Thomas à Becket, with the same allusion to opposite dangers:
"Ut post Syrtes mittitur in Charybdim navis,
Flatibus et fluctibus transitis tranquille,
DU MERIL, Poésies Pop Lat du Moyen Age, p. 82.
virtue; the deluge; the intoxication of Noah; the story of Esau, of Jacob, of Joseph; the plagues of Egypt,"Hic dolet Ægyptus denis percussa flagellis "; 1
the flight of the Israelites,
1 Lib. IV. 218.
"Et puro livescit pontus in auro"; 2
the manna in the Desert; the giving of the Law; the gushing of water from the rock; and then the succession of Hebrew history, stretching to the time of Esdras,
"Totaque picturæ series finitur in Esdra." 8
At once, after these great obsequies, Alexander marches against Darius. And here the poet dwells on the scene of the Persian army watching by its camp-fires. Helmets rival the stars; the firmament is surprised to see fires like its own reflected from bucklers, and fears lest the earth be changed into sky and the night become day. Instead of the sun, there is the helmet of Darius, which shines like Phoebus himself, and at its top a gem of flame, obscuring the stars and yielding only to the rays of the sun; for, as much as it yields to the latter, so much does it prevail over the former. The youthful chieftain, under protection of a benignant divinity, passes the night in profound repose. His army is all marshalled for the day, and he still sleeps. He is waked, harangues his men, and gives the order for battle. The victory of Arbela is at hand.
The fifth book is occupied with a description of this battle. Here are episodes in imitation of the ancients, with repetitions or parodies of Virgil. The poet apostrophizes the unhappy, defeated Darius, as he is about to flee, saying, "Whither do you go, O King, about to perish in useless flight? You do not know, alas!
2 Ibid., 220.
8 Ibid., 284.