Historical Sources in Translation, Alexander the Great by W. Heckel and J.C. Yardley (ISBN 0631228217) is a true gem, not for those who are looking for a historical account of Alexander’s life but for whoever just wants to grasp a moment in time. Heckel and Yardley have researched the many sources from antiquity in order to present them to us in a handy succession of excerpts. What a job! Yet this is so terribly appealing if you are looking for that one date or that one event in Alexander’s thrilling life.
We know that official records were kept by his secretary, Eumenes of Cardia while Alexander was still alive but only fragments of those records have survived and they seem to present a rather boring account of daily business with little military or political information. For that part, we have to refer to Callisthenes of Olynthus, but one may wonder how much truth there is in the propaganda he wrote to plead the Hellenistic cause and to please the Greeks at home.
More realistic are probably the accounts of Nearchus, Alexander’s general who commanded his fleet sailing from the Indus to Babylon, and those of Ptolemy, another of his generals who ruled over Egypt and lived to a blessed old age. But then there is Onesicritus of Astypalaea who made the voyage with Nearchus and had his own version of this experience. These men all wrote while Alexander was still alive or shortly thereafter. Better known is Cleitarchus, who made use of texts from both Onesicritus and Nearchus, but in the end, it seems that most of the workable elements come from two men, Ptolemy and Aristobulus who told their version late in life - which makes us wonder how much they truly remember or believe to remember.
In any case, we are left with five extant historians of Alexander which Heckel and Yardley use in their book. They are Diodorus Siculus, Curtius Rufus, Plutarch (later Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus), Arrian of Nicomedia and Justin (Marcus Junianius Justinus) who kind of summarized the work of Pompeius Trogus that is mostly lost.
In addition, Heckel and Yardley also have searched for pertaining information among other authors. This list is a long one and I won’t go into details but just name the sources: Aelian, Aristotle, Athenaeus of Naucratis, Cassius Clio, Cicero, Frontinus, Livy, Lucian, Pausanias, Pliny the Elder, Polyaenus, Polybius of Megalopolis, Stephanus of Byzantium, Strabo, Suetonius, and Valerius Maximus – i.e. geographers, tacticians, orators and rhetoricians. Additionally, Heckel and Yardley consulted the Alexander Romance, The Metz and Heidelberg Epitomes, and the Itinerarium Alexandri (Itinerary of Alexander) of an unknown writer from about 340 AD.
It is evident that both Professors did their homework. I can highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to investigate Alexander’s character and to exploit it more in depth. It is such a handy and pleasant tool to work with!
Also available as an ebook.
Also available as an ebook.