01. Ancient Alexandrographs + Comments, 1.4 Curtius Rufus, Alexander - Non Fiction Book, Reviews

English Book Review: “Storie di Alessandro Magno. Testo latino a fronte” by Quintus Curtius Rufus

Aforismi: QUI.

Recensione in italiano: QUI.

Hello everyone, thank you for being on Alessandro III di Macedonia- your source about Alexander the Great. Today I review the third of the fundamental readings of the “classics” on Alexander that I still lacked to read and that I’m finally recovering. Today, in fact, I’m talking about:

Storie di Alessandro Magno 

testo latino a fronte

(Historie Alexandri Magni Macedonis

Histories of Alexander the Great)

by Quintus Curtius Rufus

Introduction, translation and notes by Giovanni Porta

Bur Rizzoli, 2005, 1214 pages

ISBN: 978-8817006118

Although devoid of the two initial books, the Histories of Alexander the Great constitute the only work in Latin completely dedicated to the figure of the great Macedonian and his mythical expedition to the East.

However, the author, who also deals with a famous epic, is not identifiable with certainty, nor is it known exactly in what period he lived, even if by now scholars tend to recognize him in the Quintus Curtius Rufus, which Pliny the Younger and Tacitus mention, which reached the top of the military and political career in the first half of the first century. A.D.

The Histories of Alexander the Great present the figure of the protagonist with a very particular cut. In fact, while keeping the epic aura within the narrative, the Macedonian denounces greatness and weaknesses, qualities and defects of the classic hero: and the writer, sounding his soul in the most intimate recesses, knows how to bring out those elements that, at the contrasting appearances make him “Great” and at the same time human, in a dimension that is configured in size even if it’s veined with earthly fragility.

GIOVANNI PORTA taught Italian and Latin for a long time in the high schools of Pisa.

Classificazione: 5 su 5.

Reading time: from May 18th to June 3rd 2020.

At the beginning of my knowledge of Alexander, that is, quite a few years ago, when I had only read one biography and one novel about him, I believed that reading a Latin author who speaks of a Greek character was useless. But for too long I knew that I would have to read Curtius Rufus, because it would actually be one of the first readings to face in order to know and learn more about Alexander.

Unfortunately, the Histories of Alexander the Great have been lost in the first two books (out of ten) and other more or less important pieces within those that have come down to us: the stories faced with Alexander already in Asia Minor victorious from the battles on Lycia and Pamphylia direct towards Celaenae; while towards the end an important part is missing containing the death of Hephaestion and the omens that predetermined Alexander’s disappearance, because chapter 5 of book X begins with Alexander already on his deathbed and has been lost a part of the previous chapter.

But who was Curtius Rufus? When exactly did he live? In the introduction Giovanni Porta analyzes the figure of the author, his historical context, his sources, the style, the figure of Alexander. For a long time scholars have tried to unravel the mystery about his identity because with missing the first two books we have also lost possible references to him and his life, as well as the dedication of his work. From the analysis of the text, most scholars are inclined to think that Curtius Rufus himself was at the top of the military and political career in the first half of the first century. A.D. in the Claudian age, the same of which Tacitus and Pliny the Younger speak and he wrote between 40 and 70. An important detail that makes scholars lean towards this choice is that in the book X Curtius doesn’t speak of Arrhidaeuspoor intelligence, a characteristic that he shares it with Claudius and that he wouldn’t have highlighted precisely in order not to offend him and make him at fault. We don’t even know what its sources were but Porta tells us that we can infer it with the study and comparison of the other texts. Its probable sources were Cleitarchus, Timagenes, Ptolemy, Aristobulus and Trogus.

What I liked a lot about this reading is that Curtius Rufus delves into many episodes that are narrated too quickly elsewhere and are really many: when the doctor Philip saves Alexander after a freezing bath; the story of Abdalonymus who became king of Sidon as a poor man; the siege of Tyre which is very very detailed; in Philota’s plot, Alexander is more sorry about his friend’s betrayal than worried about his safety and the whole story is described in great detail, as well as the killing of Parmenion; the killing of Bessus and the destruction of Branchid; the killing of Cleitus is different from Arrian and Plutarch but is more detailed; the accident of the ships caused by the tide at the mouth of the Indus; Bagoas’ plot to kill Orsines. Curtius is also very detailed in explaining the events after the conquest of Persia and in the march towards India.

Some defects of Curtius are that he often transposes terms or details of Latin life into the customs and habits of other peoples and is not geographically correct, but Porta’s comment helps us and explains the author’s mistakes and confusions. Another small flaw of Curtius in my opinion is that he often puts his thoughts to the characters in his mouth and this makes him not always reliable because it isn’t easy to determine which is his thought and not. Curtius then, a bit like Diodorus, in my opinion too often entrusts to Fortuna the merit of Alexander’s successes and glory, but he remains lucid in criticizing him when the Macedonian exaggerates and when he lets himself go, taken by anger and drunkenness. Curtius isn’t the author who admires Alexander and who defends him with a drawn sword, because he repeatedly criticizes him for failing to have an inexhaustible hunger for glory, but when there is no doubt about his genius and his military prowess he recognizes him, as after the battle of Gaugamela, how he behaves correctly with Darius’s relatives and how only he knows how to inspire men to fight. Curtius harshly reproaches the Macedonian in speaking of proskynesis in fact he writes “in his altered mind” (VIII, 5, 5) and I honestly didn’t like this expression of his because I don’t think Alexander lost lucidity at that moment. However Curtius in his final catalog of vices and virtues says that Alexander had: an incredible strength of mind, an even excessive resistance to fatigue, exceptional courage, generosity that leads him to grant more than what is asked of the gods, clemency towards the vanquished, constant contempt for death, a desire for glory and fame, devotion to parents, generosity towards almost all friends, affection for soldiers, mastery of situations equal to the size of his soul, foresight rare at his age, the dominion of immoderate desires, the loving passion contained in natural need, no pleasure that was not among the legitimate ones. His propensity to anger and passion for wine as well as youth has heightened them, old age would have mitigated them. I can only agree with Curtius in this catalog by Alexander.

Some assonances that I have noticed with respect to the readings I have already done are that: as Diodorus speaks of the water of the sun in the sacred forest of Ammon, of the fight between dogs and the lion of King Sophytes and the long-nailed Ichthyophages. Curtius, like Arrian, Plutarch and Diodorus, does not believe in Alexander’s poisoning, which is what Giustino believes. Then there are cases in which Curtius doesn’t talk about the events that happen or in any case doesn’t explain them in detail and then resume them later in his narration. This is the case when Bucephalus dies, who doesn’t even mention him because he talks about a horse without specifying his name, as if it were not important for Alexander, and says that he founds a city but without saying its name; he refers to Susa’s wedding in 324 without talking about it in detail.

In short, this is a reading that must certainly be done for those who want to get to know Alexander and possibly should be carried out between the first readings. I’m very happy to have completed it and this edition of Bur commented by Giovanni Porta, although I cannot judge the translation from Latin, is excellent because it’s accompanied by a rich and in-depth apparatus of notes, with a wide initial introduction. I can’t wait to read the two volumes by the Mondadori Valla edition curated by Atkinson because Porta often takes up that text.

I hope I have been helpful, have a good day,

1 pensiero su “English Book Review: “Storie di Alessandro Magno. Testo latino a fronte” by Quintus Curtius Rufus”


Inserisci i tuoi dati qui sotto o clicca su un'icona per effettuare l'accesso:

Logo di WordPress.com

Stai commentando usando il tuo account WordPress.com. Chiudi sessione /  Modifica )

Foto Twitter

Stai commentando usando il tuo account Twitter. Chiudi sessione /  Modifica )

Foto di Facebook

Stai commentando usando il tuo account Facebook. Chiudi sessione /  Modifica )

Connessione a %s...

Questo sito utilizza Akismet per ridurre lo spam. Scopri come vengono elaborati i dati derivati dai commenti.