Arrian – Books IV & V Discussion Questions

Books IV & V include Alexander’s campaigns in Central Asia and the Indus river valleys in India spanning the years 329-326 B.C.  Book IV begins at the Tanais/Iaxartes river on the western side of the Indian Caucasus mountains and ends with Alexander reaching the Indus River on the wastern side.  Book V involves Alexander’s campaign on the river plains of five rivers that merge into the Indus, a campaign which is his farthest east.

1.  Between the Scythians and Spitamenes [4.3.6-4.6.5, pp. 156-160]
As Alexander continues to subjugate and, to some extent, colonize the northeast corner of the former Persian empire, he finds himself dealing with rebel tribes as well as intervening incursions from the Scythians.  His most pressing moment at the beginning of Book IV comes when “Alexander suddenly faces two new difficulties:  Scythians threatening his northern frontier and an uprising led by Spitamenes against his troops in Marakanda” (p. 156, side note).  Why does Arrian decide to include the anecdote about the omen in connection with the Scythian battle?  How does Alexander manage to rout the Scythian cavalry given that he has a river to cross and that the Scythians on the other side are famous for their mobile cavalry?  How does Alexander manage to chase off Spitamenes and his forces?  What do these two very different encounters have in common when it comes to Alexander’s strategy and planning?

2.  Alexander and the limits of power [4.7.3-4.14, pp. 160-172]
Alexander’s mutilation of Bessos raises some very pressing questions for Arrian and for us.  How does Arrian assess Alexander’s decision making at this point?  Why does Arrian compare the Bessos episode with a later episode that involves Alexander killing his fellow officer and friend Kleitos?  What important issues does the altercation between Alexander and Kleitos raise in terms of Alexander’s overall mission?  or his ability to lead?  How does the episode of Kallisthenes and Alexander’s concern for his image relate to the previous anecdotes?  As Arrian relates the “Pages’ Conspiracy” against Alexander, what does Hermolaos say that resonates deeply among the Macedonian officers?  Is Kallisthenes’ ultimate punishment the result of paranoia or cruelty on Alexander’s part?  or is it rational and practical?

3.  Marriage proposals & new goals [4.15-4.22, pp. 172-184]
After refusing a marriage proposal from the Scythians and an offer by the Khorasmian king to campaign with him against the Colchians, Alexander decides to keep pushing east into India:  “He said that for the time being he was occupied with India, because once he had subdued the Indians he would control all of Asia” (p. 173).  What does the omen of the spring (p. 173) have to do with Alexander’s course into India?  Aside from the battle that Spitamenes initiates against a Macedonian garrison, what leads to Spitamenes’ downfall?  What, if anything, did Alexander have to do with this?  Why does Alexander consider it a challenge to subdue the “Sogdian Rock” instead of bypassing it?  How does Oxyartes manage to surrender to Alexander and still be esteemed by him?  Does Alexander’s decision concerning Oxyartes have anything to do with the princess Rhoxane?  How does Oxyartes prove himself again to be valuable to Alexander?  How does Khorianes’ surrender bring further encouragement for Alexander to push on to India?

4.  The drive into India [4.23-4.30, pp. 184-194]
As Alexander’s army makes its way through the Indian Caucasus, he is wounded along with two other Macedonian generals.  How does this incident emphasize the resistance that Alexander is to encounter from here on?  How does this incident affect Alexander’s determination to press on?  How is Alexander able to win battles against overwhelming numbers at Arigaion and at Massaka?  How does Alexander use his forces and intimidation to neutralize Bazira, Ora, and eventually Aornos Rock?  How does the Aornos Rock battle combine all the different elements that Alexander uses to achieve victory?  How does Alexander handle prisoners at this point?

5.  Legends and Myths [5.1-5.3.4, pp. 197-200]
As Alexander arrives to the bank of the Indus, Book 5 opens with Arrian’s thoughts on the attributions of legend and myth to these far-flung locations on what the Greeks generally considered the edge of the known world.  What does Arrian mean when he says:  “For stories that strike a listener as incredible because they violate our sense of what is probable begin to seem credible when an element of the divine is added” (p. 197).  What does Arrian think about the legend of Dionysos founding Nysa?  How closely related are the Indians beliefs with Greek cultural beliefs about Dionysos or Prometheus?  How does Alexander respond to these similarities between cultures?  Does Alexander’s promotion of the cult of Dionysos or Prometheus have anything to do with some brewing dissatisfaction among his troops?  What light does Eratosthenes’ critique shed on the effect of these myths for the Macedonian troops at this point in the campaign?

Indika, Arrian’s travel guide [5.3.5-5.6, pp. 200-205]
Since many fantastic things had been said about India, Arrian takes the opportunity to try to revise myths with more historical fact in his own book, the Indika.  Here, Arrian mingles geography, ethnography, and to some extent, historiography in setting the stage for events in Book 5 and the limit of Alexander’s conquests.  For more details on Greek and Roman notions of Asia and India, please see appendices J and N.

6.  Battle at the Hydaspes [5.7-5.19.3, pp. 205-221]
After crossing the Indus safely, Alexander has the confidence to attack across the Hydaspes and engage Poros and a sizable Indian force, which includes war elephants.  How are Alexander’s initial plans affected by this elephant force?  Even though he was unfortunately slowed in his crossing, how was Alexander able to avoid being pinned down on the other side of the Hydaspes by Poros?  Was Poros’ disposition of his troops what Alexander planned on?  How was Alexander’s deployment of forces able to gain the upper hand on the battlefield?  In the end, how did the elephants affect the battle?  Could they have been used more effectively by Poros?  Does Alexander consider them useful in military engagement?  How does Poros change from being Alexander’s most threatening Indian enemy to being a trustworthy ally?

7.  Ever Eastward [5.19.4-5.24.7, pp. 221-227]
After winning at the Hydaspes and treating the “good” Poros as a king, Alexander “seized some thirty-seven cities” (p. 222) and crossed the Akesinos and Hydraotes rivers in pursuit of the “bad” Poros.  The action centers around Sangala, where the Macedonians assault defenses and besiege the city.  Given the unique defensive obstacles placed in their way, how does the Macedonian phalanx adapt to attack the Sanga
la defenders?  With Sangala almost completely surrounded, why doesn’t Alexander allow the defenders to escape?  Why does Alexander resolve to take the city by force rather than make any negotiations?  What sort of policy is Alexander using to subjugate these rebel tribes?  While “good” Poros did indeed help Alexander as he pledged, whatever happened to “bad” Poros?

8.  Mutiny at the Hyphasis [5.24.8-5.29, pp. 227-234]
At Hyphasis, the fifth major Indian river, Alexander “saw no end to the war as long as any enemy remained” (p. 227).  There were considerable enemies left to fight and land to seize, but the Macedonian troops seem to lack the “same zeal” to continue.  What does Alexander really think is the cause of his troops (some of them at least) to not want to continue the campaign?  Addressing his officers, Alexander makes his plea to continue.  What does Alexanders’ list of all the conquered territories reveal about his own intentions?  about what he perceives his troops’ refusal to be?  Alexander asks, “What limit should a man of noble nature put to his labors?” (p. 228).  This has been a key question up to now.  What limits have the Macedonian troops met to incline them to halt?  What are Alexander’s limits?  wealth?  power?  knowledge?  fame?  all four?  Is Alexander’s claim that they have surpassed even Herakles’ and Dionysos’ earthly achievements a breach of hubris?  In Koinos’ reply, what sort of limit does he have in mind?  What does Koinos’ suggestion of bringing in new soldiers mean for Alexander’s continuation of the campaign in India?  By whom was Alexander the Great finally conquered?
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