Quintus Curtius Rufus: A different, and uniquely Roman take on Alexander the Great

cachibatches

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
2,351
Greetings,

Just finished Quintus Curtius Rufus' history of Alexander the Great, tranlation Jon Yardley, and it differs dramatically from those of Arrian, Plutarch, and Faux-Callisthenis, which I have previously read.

A distinctly Roman take on Alexander the Great, it is ultimately as reverential as any, but dwells much more on his faults to get there. Rufus shows us an Alexander that vacillates, and even fears before battles. He gives logical reasons for Alexander's victories over Darius rather than ascribing them to genius or divinity. He dwells on Alexander's poor decisions as encouraged by male and female prostitutes Boagas and Thais, reprimands him for his treatment of Clietus and Parmenion, condemns him for his favor of proskynesis and burning of Persepolis, and even has him losing an engagement and having to retreat in the mountains.

Rufus attributes his failure to establish an heir as his greatest shortcoming, and uses it as an opportunity to prop up the emperor by comparing the Roman imperial system favorably with the diodochi. To me, this is Alexander as filtered through a Roman lense. Alexander may have been the greatest, but he was still a rival.

Curiously, I did some research on the internet, and it is unknown if Rufus was a real person, or merely an alias.

Anyone else read him? What is your take.
 
Sep 2018
31
Battlefrance
Greetings,

Just finished Quintus Curtius Rufus' history of Alexander the Great, tranlation Jon Yardley, and it differs dramatically from those of Arrian, Plutarch, and Faux-Callisthenis, which I have previously read.


A distinctly Roman take on Alexander the Great, it is ultimately as reverential as any, but dwells much more on his faults to get there. Rufus shows us an Alexander that vacillates, and even fears before battles. He gives logical reasons for Alexander's victories over Darius rather than ascribing them to genius or divinity. He dwells on Alexander's poor decisions as encouraged by male and female prostitutes Boagas and Thais, reprimands him for his treatment of Clietus and Parmenion, condemns him for his favor of proskynesis and burning of Persepolis, and even has him losing an engagement and having to retreat in the mountains.

Rufus attributes his failure to establish an heir as his greatest shortcoming, and uses it as an opportunity to prop up the emperor by comparing the Roman imperial system favorably with the diodochi. To me, this is Alexander as filtered through a Roman lense. Alexander may have been the greatest, but he was still a rival.

Curiously, I did some research on the internet, and it is unknown if Rufus was a real person, or merely an alias.

Anyone else read him? What is your take.
I think you’ve summed up Rufus’s inquires into the life and achivements of Alexander in a good manner. For obvious reasons, it would seem natural for Rufus to spell out the deeds of Alexander as King and general to contrast him with Rome’s own ambitious rulers and generals.

Knowing the biases of his greek predeccesors, the impetus to write a more objective or at least alternative perspective on Alexander’s life is understandable.

And it is indeed an interesting take. I’m curious, what were those logical reasons Rufus gave that made Alexander victorius in the battles against the persians?
 

cachibatches

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
2,351
I think you’ve summed up Rufus’s inquires into the life and achivements of Alexander in a good manner. For obvious reasons, it would seem natural for Rufus to spell out the deeds of Alexander as King and general to contrast him with Rome’s own ambitious rulers and generals.

Knowing the biases of his greek predeccesors, the impetus to write a more objective or at least alternative perspective on Alexander’s life is understandable.

And it is indeed an interesting take. I’m curious, what were those logical reasons Rufus gave that made Alexander victorius in the battles against the persians?
I may not remember correctly, because I am a new dad and it took me about 8 months to read this book, but I think it was:

Granicus- the two armies were roughly numerically equivalent.

Issus- Darius had assembled a great and massive army, but the frontage of the battlefield was such that roughly the same number of troops were in play at the same time, so the great numbers never came into play.

Gaugemela- Darius had a massive army but had very poor troop quality due to having used up his best already.

Similarly, whereas Arrian praised the quality of Indian troops at Hydaspes, Rufus paints them as less than formidable due to elephants being a poor weapon system, and their bows and arrows being too big and clumsy to be effective.