three pairs of lovers with space



The Greek biographer and essayist Plutarch wrote this life of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC), King of Macedon and conqueror of the Persian Empire, at the beginning of the second century AD, as one of his Parallel Lives. Here follow all three passages in it relating to pederasty.

The translation is by Bernadotte Perrin in the Loeb Classical Library volume XCIX (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1919). Her conventional Latinisation of Greek names has been undone in favour of more literal transliteration into Roman script, except for Alexander’s own name.


XXII 1-3

In 333 BC, the Persian King of Kings, Darius III, fled from the battlefield of Issos, leaving his famously beautiful wife and maiden daughters to be captured by Alexander. Implicitly contrary to the expectations of many, Alexander did not take sexual advantage of them, which led Plutarch into a digression on how Alexander, “considering the mastery of himself a more kingly thing than the conquest of his enemies”, exercised a self-restraint thought remarkable in all his sexual relations, both with women and with boys.[1]

Moreover, when Philoxenos, the commander of his forces on the sea-board, wrote that there was with him a certain Theodoros, of Tarentum, who had two boys of surpassing beauty to sell, and enquired whether Alexander would buy them, Alexander was incensed, and cried out many times to his friends, asking them what shameful thing Philoxenos had ever seen in him that he should spend his time in making such disgraceful proposals. And on Philoxenos himself he heaped so much reproach in a letter, bidding him send Theodoros to perdition, merchandize and all.

He severely rebuked Hagnon also for writing to him that he wanted to buy Krobylos, whose beauty was famous in Corinth, as a present for him. …

And he used to say that sleep and sexual intercourse, more than any thing else, made him conscious that he was mortal, implying that both weariness and pleasure arise from one and the same natural weakness.

[1] Ἐπεὶ δὲ Φιλόξενος ὁ τῶν ἐπὶ θαλάττῃ στρατηγὸς ἔγραψεν εἶναι παρ᾿ αὐτῷ Θεόδωρόν τινα Ταραντῖνον ἔχοντα παῖδας ὠνίους δύο τὴν ὄψιν ὑπερφυεῖς, καὶ πυνθανόμενος εἰ πρίηται, χαλεπῶς ἐνεγκὼν ἐβόα πολλάκις πρὸς τοὺς φίλους, ἐρωτῶν τί πώποτε Φιλόξενος αἰσχρὸν αὐτῷ συνεγνωκὼς τοιαῦτα ὀνείδη προξενῶν κάθηται. τὸν δὲ Φιλόξενον αὐτὸν ἐν ἐπιστολῇ πολλὰ λοιδορήσας ἐκέλευσεν αὐτοῖς φορτίοις τὸν Θεόδωρον εἰς τὸν ὄλεθρον ἀποστέλλειν.

[2] ἐπέπληξε δὲ καὶ Ἅγνωνι γράψαντι πρὸς αὐτὸν ὅτι Κρωβύλον εὐδοκιμοῦντα ἐν Κορίνθῳ βούλεται πριάμενος ἀγαγεῖν πρὸς αὐτόν. …

[3] ἔλεγε δὲ μάλιστα συνιέναι θνητὸς ὢν ἐκ τοῦ καθεύδειν καὶ συνουσιάζειν, ὡς ἀπὸ μιᾶς ἐγγινόμενον ἀσθενείας τῇ φύσει καὶ τὸ πονοῦν καὶ τὸ ἡδόμενον.


Darius's family at the feet of Alexander, by Charles Le Brun


XLIX 2-3

Describing the conspiracy against Alexander’s life in the late autumn of 330 BC concealing which led to the condemnation and execution of Alexander’s general Philotas …

Meanwhile, however, a Macedonian named Limnos, from Chalaistra, conspired against Alexander's life, and invited the young Nikomachos[2], whose lover he was, to take part with him in the undertaking.

Nikomachos would not accept the invitation, but told his brother Kebalinos of the attempt, and he, going to Philotas, ordered him to conduct them into the presence of Alexander, on the ground that there were matters of great importance about which they must see him

[2] ἐν δὲ τῷ τότε χρόνῳ Μακεδὼν ὄνομα Λίμνος, ἐκ Χαλαίστρας, ἐπιβουλεύων Ἀλεξάνδρῳ Νικόμαχόν τινα τῶν νέων, πρὸς ὃν αὐτὸς ἐρωτικῶς εἶχεν, ἐπὶ τὴν κοινωνίαν τῆς πράξεως παρεκάλει.

[3] τοῦ δὲ μὴ δεξαμένου, φράσαντος δὲ τἀδελφῷ Κεβαλίνῳ τὴν πεῖραν, ἐλθὼν ἐκεῖνος πρὸς Φιλώταν ἐκέλευσεν εἰσάγειν αὐτοὺς πρὸς Ἀλέξανδρον ὡς περὶ ἀναγκαίων ἔχοντας ἐντυχεῖν καὶ μεγάλων.



In the autumn of 325 BC, Alexander and his army had just come out of a gruelling march through the Gedrosian desert, in which many lives were lost. …

Moreover, when he came to the royal palace of Gedrosia, he once more gave his army time for rest and held high festival.

We are told, too, that he was once viewing some contests in singing and dancing, being well heated with wine, and that his loved boy[3], Bagoas[4], won the prize for song and dance, and then, all in his festal array, passed through the theatre and took his seat by Alexander's side; at sight of which the Macedonians clapped their hands and loudly bade the king kiss the victor, until at last he threw his arms about him and kissed him tenderly.


[3] ἐπεὶ δὲ ἧκε τῆς Γεδρωσίας εἰς τὸ βασίλειον, αὖθις ἀνελάμβανε τὴν στρατιὰν πανηγυρίζων.

[4] λέγεται δὲ μεθύοντα αὐτὸν θεωρεῖν ἀγῶνας χορῶν, τὸν δὲ ἐρώμενον Βαγώαν χορεύοντα νικῆσαι καὶ κεκοσμημένον διὰ τοῦ θεάτρου παρελθόντα καθίσαι παρ᾿ αὐτόν· ἰδόντας δὲ τοὺς Μακεδόνας κροτεῖν καὶ βοᾶν φιλῆσαι κελεύοντας, ἄχρι οὗ περιβαλὼν κατεφίλησεν.


[1] Athenaios, who cites On the Sacrifice at Ilium, the lost work of Dikaiarchos, a contemporary of Alexander, leaves no doubt of the strength of Alexander’s attraction to boys: he loved them “ἐκμανής” (“madly” or “to distraction”). Tellingly, however one of his anecdotes illustrating this also concerned the King’s self-control over a boy he admired.  (The Learned Banqueters 603b).

[2] Plutarch says Nikomachos was νέων (young), not that he was a “young man” as Perrin would have it.

[3] Perrin’s “favourite” has here been replaced with “loved boy”, as a more precise translation of Plutarch’s ἐρώμενος.

[4]  Bagoas was a eunuch who had been introduced to Alexander five years earlier when he was “in the very flower of boyhood” (Curtius Rufus, The Histories of Alexander the Great VI 5 xxiii).