three pairs of lovers with space



All the Books That Survive of the Histories of Alexander the Great of Macedon (Historiarum Alexandri Magni Macedonis Libri Qui Supersunt) was written in the first century AD by the historian Quintus Curtius Rufus, probably to be identified with the Roman senator of that name who flourished in the middle of that century. That his perspective was Roman should be borne in mind.

Much of this work is missing. The following are all the surviving references to Greek love. The translation is by J.C. Rolfe in the Loeb Classical Library volumes CCCLXVIII-CCCLXIX (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1946), but, the names of the Greeks mentioned, apart from Alexander, have been changed from Latin to romanised Greek. One amended expression is explained in a footnote.


IV 8 vii-ix

In 331 BC, Alexander went down the river Nile in his newly acquired kingdom of Egypt:

When the king was floating down the river, Hektor, a son of Parmenion[1], in the fine flower of his youth and one of Alexander’s greatest favourites, desiring to overtake him, embarked upon a small craft, which was loaded with more men than it could carry.

So the boat sank with the loss of all on board. Hector struggled for a long time with the river, and although his drenched clothing and the sandals which were tightly fastened to his feet interfered with his swimming, nevertheless made his way half-dead to the bank; but he was tired out, and as he was trying to ease his breathing, which fear and the danger had strained, since no one came to his help—for the others had made their escape to the opposite bank—he died.

The king was filled with great grief for the loss of his friend, and when his body was recovered, buried it in a magnificent funeral.[2]

[7] Regem, cum secundo amni deflueret, assequi cupiens Hector, Parmenionis filius, eximio aetatis flore, in paucis Alexandro carus, parvum navigium conscendit, pluribus quam capere posset impositis.

[8] Itaque mersa navis omnes destituit. Hector diu flumini obluctatus, cum madens vestis et astricti crepidis pedes natare prohiberent, in ripam tamen semianimis evasit et, ut primum fatigatus spiritum laxavit, quem metus et periculum intenderat, nullo adiuvante—quippe in diversum evaserant alii—exanimatus est.

[9] Amissi eius desiderio vehementer afflictus est repertumque corpus magnifico extulit funere.

An illumination from one of the manuscripts of Curtius's Histories of Alexander, ca. 1475, from which the surviving text has been built



VI 5 xxii-xxiii

Soon after the murder in July 330 BC of Alexander's defeated adversary, Darius III by a treacherous cousin with the help of his general Nabarzanes, Alexander, now King of Kings, moved on to the city of Hyrcania, and ...

There Nabarzanes, having received a safe conduct, met him [Alexander], bringing great gifts. Among these was Bagoas, a eunuch of remarkable beauty, and in the very flower of boyhood, who had been loved by Darius and was afterwards to be loved by Alexander; and it was especially because of the boy's entreaties that he was led to pardon Nabarzanes. [22] ibi Nabarzanes accepta fide occurrit, dona ingentia ferens. [23] Inter quae Bagoas erat, specie singulari spado atque in ipso flore pueritiae, cui et Dareus assuerat1 et mox Alexander assuevit; eiusque maxime precibus motus Nabarzani ignovit.


VI 6 i & viii

Still on Alexander as the newly-established King of Kings, in 330 BC ...

It was in fact at this time that Alexander gave loose rein to his passions, and changed continence and self-control, eminent virtues in every exalted fortune, to haughtiness and wantonness. ...

Three hundred and sixty-five concubines, the same number that Darius had had, filled his palace, attended by herds of eunuchs, also accustomed to prostitute themselves.

[1] Hic vero palam cupiditates suas solvit continentiamque et moderationem, in altissima quaque fortuna eminentia bona, in superbiam ac lasciviam vertit. ...

[8] Pelices ccc et lxv, totidem quot Darei fuerant, regiam implebant, quas spadonum greges, et ipsi muliebria pati assueti, sequebantur.


VI 7 ii-xix & xxxiii & 10 xv-xvi

A little later, now in the late autumn of 330 BC, while Alexander was encamped in Drangiana in the east of the Persian Empire, ...

[Alexander] was attacked by a crime within his own household. Dymnos, a man of slight weight and favour with the king, burned with love for a catamite named Nicomachos, bound by the compliance of a body devoted to him alone. He, as if in great alarm, as could clearly be seen also from his expression, without witnesses withdrew with the youth into a temple, first saying that he had something secret and confidential to communicate, and when the youth was on tiptoe of expectation, he besought him by their affection for each other, and by the pledges which they had both exchanged, to declare under oath that he would keep silent about what Dymnos should reveal to him.

Nicomachos, not supposing that he would tell him anything which it would be incumbent on him to disclose even at the cost of breaking his word, took oath by the gods in whose temple they were. Then Dymnos revealed that a plot against the king had been arranged for the third day thereafter, and that he shared in that design with some brave and distinguished men. The youth, on hearing this, steadfastly denied that he had pledged his faith to take part in treason, and said that he could not be bound by any religious obligation to keep the crime secret.

Dymnos, mad both with love and with fear, seizing the youth’s hand and weeping, begged first that he would take part in the design and its execution; if he could not bring himself to do that, at least he would not betray him, whose goodwill towards Nicomachos, besides all the rest, had this very evident proof, that he had trusted his life to his loyalty without previously testing it. Finally, when the youth persisted in expressing abhorrence of the crime, Dymnos tried to terrify him by fear of death, saying that the conspirators would begin their glorious deed by taking his life. Then calling him now effeminate and womanishly timid, and now the betrayer of his lover, now making vast promises, sometimes even royal power, he worked upon a mind to which such a deed was utterly abhorrent. Then applying a drawn sword, now to Nicomachos’ throat and now to his own, at the same time a suppliant and an enemy, Dymnos at last forced him to promise, not only silence, but even support.

Yet the lad, being of a most steadfast spirit—indeed he should have been chaste—had made no change in his former resolution, but pretended that, overcome with love for Dymnos, he could refuse him nothing. Then he went on to inquire with whom he had entered upon an association of so great importance; it made a great deal of difference, he said, what sort of men were going to put their hands to so memorable an enterprise.

Dymnos, almost crazed by love and guilt, at the same time thanked him, and also congratulated him that he had not hesitated to join with the bravest of men, Demetrios, one of the body-guard, Peukolaos, Nikanor; to these he added Aphobetos, Iolaos, Theoxenos, Archepolis, Amyntas.

On being dismissed from this conference, Nikomachos reported to his brother—his name was Kebalinos—what he had heard. They agreed that Nikomachos should stay in his brother’s tent, for fear that, if he, who was not accustomed to approach the king, should enter the royal apartment, the conspirators might learn that they had been betrayed. Kebalinos himself stood before the vestibule of the tent—for nearer access was not allowed him—waiting for someone of the first rank of the king’s friends, to admit him to Alexander’s presence.

It happened that when the rest had been dismissed, Philotas, son of Parmenion[3], alone—it is not known for what reason—had remained in the royal apartment; to him Kebalinos, in confused words and showing signs of great perturbation, disclosed what he had learned from his brother, and asked that it be reported to the king without delay. ...

Despite ample opportunities to tell Alexander and repeated pleas from Kebalinos to do so, Philotas said nothing. When Kebalinos at last got his warning through to the King via another, Dymnos was arrested, but killed himself before he could be effectively questioned. Philotas was ordered to come to Alexander and accused by him of unforgivable concealment of the plot.

To these words Philotas, in no wise disturbed, if his feelings were judged from his expression, replied that Kebalinos had, it was true, reported to him the talk of a wanton, but that he himself put no trust in an authority of so little weight, fearing besides lest he should be laughed at by the rest if he reported a quarrel between a lover and his favourite;  ...

Alexander told Philotas he accepted his explanation, but called a meeting of his friends without Philotas there.  They convinced him Philotas was a dangerous traitor, leading to his arrest that night. Charged the next day with treason before the army assembled to judge him, Philotas vainly pleaded, amongst other things,

that the matter was reported to me by a mere boy, who could show me no witness nor proof of his information, and who would fill all with fear if he should begin to be heard. Unhappily I believed that my ears had been exposed to a quarrel of a wanton and his boy, and besides I suspected his truthfulness because, he did not himself bring the report, but employed his brother instead.

[7.2] intestino facinore petebatur. Dymnus, modicae apud regem auctoritatis et gratiae, exoleti cui Nicomacho erat nomen, amore flagrabat, obsequio uni sibi dediti corporis vinctus. [3] Is, quod ex vultu quoque perspici poterat, similis attonito remotis arbitris cum iuvene secessit in templum, arcana se [4] et silenda afferre praefatus suspensumque expectatione per mutuam caritatem et pignora utriusque animi rogat, ut affirmet iureiurando quae commisisset silentio esse tecturum.

[5] Et ille ratus nihil quod etiam cum periurio detegendum foret [6] indicaturum, per praesentes deos iurat. Tum Dymnus aperit in tertium diem regi insidias comparatas seque eius consilii fortibus viris et illustribus esse participem. [7] Quibus iuvenis auditis se vero fidem in parricidio dedisse constanter abnuit, nec ulla religione [8] ut scelus tegat posse constringi.

Dymnus, et amore et metu amens, dexteram exoleti complexus et lacrimans, orare primum ut particeps consilii operisque fieret; [9] si id sustinere non posset, attamen ne proderet se, cuius erga ipsum benivolentiae praeter alia hoc quoque haberet fortissimum pignus, quod caput suum permisisset fidei adhuc inexpertae. [10] Ad ultimum aversari scelus perseverantem mortis metu terret; ab illo capite coniuratos pulcherrimum facinus incohaturos. [11] Alias deinde effeminatum et muliebriter timidum, alias proditorem amatoris appellans, nunc ingentia promittens, interdumque regnum quoque, [12] versabat animum tanto facinore procul abhorrentem. Strictum deinde gladium modo illius, modo suo admovens iugulo, supplex idem et infestus, expressit tandem ut non solum silentium, sed etiam operam polliceretur.

[13] Namque abunde constantis animi et dignus qui pudicus esset, nihil ex pristina voluntate mutaverat, sed captum Dymni amore simulabat nihil recusare. [14] Sciscitari inde pergit, cum quibus tantae rei societatem inisset; plurimum referre, quales viri tam memorabili operi admoturi manus essent.

[15] Ille et amore et scelere male sanus, simul gratias agit, simul gratulatur quod fortissimis iuvenum non dubitasset se adiungere, Demetrio, corporis custodi, Peucolao, Nicanori; adicit his Aphobetum, Iolaum, Theoxenum, Archepolim, Amyntam.

[16] Ab hoc sermone dimissus Nicomachus ad fratrem—Cebalino erat nomen—quae acceperat defert. Placet ipsum subsistere in tabernaculo, ne, si regiam intrasset non assuetus adire regem, coniurati proditos se esse resciscerent. [17] Ipse Cebalinus ante vestibulum regiae—neque enim propius aditus ei patebat—consistit, opperiens aliquem ex prima cohorte [18] amicorum, a quo introduceretur ad regem.

Forte, ceteris dimissis, unus Philotas, Parmenionis filius—incertum quam ob causam—substiterat in regia; huic Cebalinus ore confuso magnae perturbationis notas prae se ferens aperit [19] quae ex fratre compererat, et sine dilatione nuntiari regi iubet.


[33] Ad haec Philotas haud sane trepidus, si animus vultu aestimaretur, Cebalinum quidem scorti sermonem ad se detulisse, sed ipsum tam levi auctore nihil credidisse respondit, veritum ne iurgium inter amatorem et exoletum non sine risu aliorum detulisset;


[10.15] res ad me deferebatur a puero, qui non testem, non pignus indicii exhibere poterat, impleturus omnes metu, si coepisset audiri. [16] Amatoris et scorti iurgio interponi aures meas credidi infelix, et fidem eius suspectam habui, quod non ipse deferret sed fratrem potius subornaret.



VII 9 xix

In 329 BC, a Skythian people called the Sakai sent a promise of submission.

Therefore he [Alexander] received the envoys of the Sakai courteously and gave them Euxenippos to accompany them; he was still very young and a favourite of the king because of his youthful beauty, but although in handsome appearance he was equal to Hephaestion, he was not his match in a charm which was indeed not manly. Benigne igitur exceptis Sacarum legatis comitem Euxenippon dedit, adhuc admodum iuvenem, aetatis flore conciliatum sibi, qui cum specie corporis aequaret Hephaestionem, ei lepore haud sane virili par non erat.


VIII 6 ii-viii

Curtius's account of the aborted conspiracy of the royal pages to murder Alexander in 327 BC is preceded here by his description of the pages as a Macedonian institution, which is of Greek love interest in view of its role in facilitating love affairs between the Macedonian kings and the boys of their nobility.[4]

It was the custom, as was said before, for the leading men of the Macedonians to entrust their sons to the king on their coming of age for duties not very different from the services of slaves. They kept watch at night in turn close to the doors of the room in which the king slept. By these youths concubines were brought in by a different entrance from that before which the armed guards were posted. They also received the horses from the grooms, brought them to the reigning king when he was about to mount, and accompanied him in the chase and in battle, besides being thoroughly trained in all the accomplishments of liberal studies. The special honour was paid them of being allowed to sit at table with the king. No one had the power of chastising them by flogging except the king himself. This troupe among the Macedonians was a kind of training-school for generals and governors of provinces; from these also their posterity had the kings from whose stock after many ages the Romans took away all power.

So then, Hermolaos, a high-born boy belonging to this royal band, because he had been first to attack a wild boar which the king had intended to strike, by his order was punished by scourging. Being indignant at this disgrace, he began to complain about it to Sostratos. Sostratos was a member of the same troupe and an ardent lover of Hermolaos; when he saw the lacerated body of which he was enamoured, perhaps being already angered with the king for some other reason also, he induced Hermolaos, who was already incensed on his own account, to give and receive a pledge to join with him in forming a plot to kill the king.

[2] Mos erat, ut supra dictum est, principibus Macedonum adultos liberos regibus tradere ad munia haud multum servilibus ministeriis abhorrentia. [3] Excubabant, servatis noctium vicibus, proximi foribus eius aedis, in qua rex acquiescebat. Per hos pelices introducebantur alio aditu quam quem armati obsidebant. [4] Eidem acceptos ab agasonibus equos, cum rex ascensurus esset, admovebant comitabanturque et venantem et in proeliis, omnibus artibus studiorum liberalium exculti. [5] Praecipuus honor habebatur, quod licebat sedentibus vesci cum rege. Castigandi eos verberibus nulli potestas praeter ipsum erat. [6] Haec cohors velut seminarium ducum praefectorumque apud Macedonas fuit; hinc habuere posteri reges, quorum stirpi post multas actates Romani opes ademerunt.

[7] Igitur Hermolaus, puer nobilis ex regia cohorte, cum aprum telo occupasset, quem rex ferire destinaverat, iussu eius verberibus affectus est. Quam ignominiam aegre ferens deflere apud Sostratum coepit. [8] Ex eadem cohorte erat Sostratus, amore eius ardens; qui cum laceratum corpus, in quo deperibat, intueretur, forsitan olim ob aliam quoque causam regi infestus, iuvenem sua sponte iam motum, data fide acceptaque, perpulit, ut occidendi regem consilium secum iniret.



X 1 xxii-xxxviii & xlii

The following account of the fall of Orsines in 324 BC is the most contentious passage of Curtius presented here.[5]

From there [Alexander and his army] came to Parsagada; that is a Persian race, whose satrap was Orsines, prominent among all the barbarians for high birth and wealth. He traced his descent from Cyrus, formerly king of the Persians; he had wealth, both what he had inherited from his forefathers and what he himself had amassed during long possession of sovereignty. He met the king with gifts of every kind, intending to give presents not only to Alexander but to his friends as well. Troops of tamed horses followed him and chariots adorned with silver and gold, costly furniture and splendid gems, golden vases of great weight, purple vestments, and 3000 talents of coined silver. But this great generosity of the barbarian was the cause of his death. For when he had honoured all the friends of the king with gifts beyond their highest hopes, to Bagoas, a eunuch who had won the regard of Alexander through yielding his body[6], he paid no honour, and on being admonished by some that Bagoas was dear to Alexander, replied that he was honouring the friends of the king, not his harlots, and that it was not the custom of the Persians to mate with males who made females of themselves by prostitution.[7]

On hearing this, the eunuch exercised the power which he had gained by shame and disgrace against the life of an eminent and guiltless man. For he secretly supplied the most worthless fellows of that same nation with false accusations, warning them not to make them public until he himself should have given the word. Meanwhile, whenever no witnesses were present, he filled the credulous ears of the king with lies, concealing the reason for his anger, in order to add greater weight to his accusations. Orsines as yet was not suspected, but nevertheless was already less esteemed; for he was secretly being incriminated without being aware of the hidden danger. And that most shameless harlot, not forgetting his deception even amid debauchery and the endurance of shame, whenever he had aroused the king’s passion for himself, charged Orsines now with avarice, sometimes even with treason.

And now the calumnies were ripe for the ruin of a blameless man, and Fate was on hand, whose will is inescapable. For it chanced that Alexander ordered the tomb of Cyrus to be opened, in which his body had been laid at rest, and to which Alexander wished to pay funereal honours. He had believed it to be a storehouse filled with gold and silver—for that was common rumour among the Persians—, but except the king’s mouldering shield, two Scythian bows, and a scimitar he found nothing.[8]

However, having placed a crown of gold upon the coffin in which the body lay, he covered it over with the robe which he himself was accustomed to wear, expressing surprise that a king of such renown and endowed with such power had been buried no more sumptuously than if he had been one of the common folk.

The eunuch was at Alexander’s side; looking significantly at him, he said: “What wonder if the tombs of kings are empty, when the houses of their satraps cannot contain the gold that they have amassed from them? For my part, I had never seen the tomb before, but I learned from Darius that 3000 talents of gold were buried with Cyrus. Hence that generosity to you, in order that what Orsines could not keep with safety, he might even curry favour by giving away.”

He had already aroused the king’s mind to anger, when those to whom he had entrusted the same business arrived. On one side Bagoas, on the other those whom he had suborned, filled the king’s ears with false charges. Before Orsines suspected that he was being accused he was delivered into bondage. Not content with the punishment of an innocent man, the eunuch laid his hand upon him as he was about to be executed. Orsines with a glance at him said: “I had heard that women once reigned in Asia; this however is something new, for a eunuch to reign!” Such was the end of one of the noblest of the Persians, who was not only blameless but of remarkable kindness towards the king.  ......

but towards the end of his life he [Alexander] had so degenerated from his true self, that though formerly of a mind proof against lust, at the caprice of a catamite he gave kingdoms to some and took life from others.

Orsines with gifts for Alexander, & Orsines's execution: illuminations in a manuscript of ca. 1473

[22] Ventum est deinde Parsagada; Persica est gens, cuius satrapes Orsines erat, nobilitate ac divitiis inter omnes barbaros eminens. [23] Genus ducebat a Cyro, quondam rege Persarum; opes et a maioribus traditas habebat et ipse longa imperii possessione cumulaverat. [24] Is regi cum omnis generis donis, non ipsi modo ea, sed etiam amicis eius daturus, occurrit. Equorum domiti greges sequebantur currusque argento et auro adornati, pretiosa supellex et nobiles gemmae, aurea magni ponderis vasa vestesque purpureae, et signati argenti talentum III milia.[25] Ceterum tanta benignitas barbaro causa mortis fuit. Nam cum omnes amicos regis donis super ipsorum vota coluisset, Bagoae spadoni, qui Alexandrum obsequio corporis devinxerat sibi, [26] nullum honorem habuit, admonitusque a quibusdam Bagoam Alexandro cordi esse, respondit amicos regis, non scorta se colere, nec moris esse Persis mares ducere qui stupro effeminarentur. [27] His auditis, spado potentiam flagitio et dedecore quaesitam in caput nobilissimi et insontis exercuit. Namque gentis eiusdem levissimos falsis criminibus clam struxit, monitos tum demum ea deferre, cum ipse iussisset. [28] Interim, quotiens sine arbitris erat, credulas regis aures implebat, dissimulans causam irae, quo gravior criminantis auctoritas esset. [29] Nondum suspectus erat Orsines, iam tamen vilior; reus enim in secreto agebatur latentis periculi ignarus. Et importunissimum scortum ne in stupro quidem et dedecoris patientia fraudis oblitum, quotiens amorem regis in se accenderat, Orsinen modo avaritiae, interdum etiam defectionis arguebat. [30] Iam matura erant in perniciem innocentis mendacia, et Fatum, cuius inevitabilis sors est, appetebat. Forte enim sepulchrum Cyri Alexander iussit aperiri, in quo erat conditum eius corpus, cui dare volebat inferias. [31] Auro argentoque conditorium repletum esse crediderat—quippe ita fama Persae vulgaverant—, sed praeter clipeum eius putrem et arcus duos Scythicos et acinacem nihil repperit. [32] Ceterum, corona aurea imposita, amiculo cui assuerat ipse solium in quo corpus iacebat velavit, miratus tanti nominis regem tantis praeditum opibus haud pretiosius sepultum esse, quam si fuisset e plebe. [33] Proximus erat lateri spado, qui regem intuens: “Quid mirum,” inquit, “est inania sepulchra esse regum, cum satraparum domus aurum inde egestum capere non possint? [34] Quod ad me attinet, ipse hoc bustum antea non videram, sed ex Dareo ita accepi, III milia talentum condita esse cum Cyro. [35] Hinc illa benignitas in te, ut quod impune habere non poterat Orsines, donando etiam gratiam iniret.” [36] Concitaverat iam animum in iram, cum ei quibus negotium idem dederat superveniunt. Hinc Bagoas, hinc ab eo subornati, falsis criminibus occupant aures. [37] Antequam accusari se suspicaretur Orsines, in vincula est traditus. Non contentus supplicio insontis, spado ipse morituro manum iniecit. Quem Orsines intuens: “Audieram,” inquit, “in Asia olim regnasse feminas; hoc vero novum est, regnare castratum!” [38] Hic fuit exitus nobilissimi Persarum nec insontis modo, sed eximiae quoque benignitatis in regem.   .....

[42] ad ultimum vitae tantum ab semetipso degeneravit, ut invicti quondam adversus libidinem animi, arbitrio scorti aliis regna daret, aliis adimeret vitam.


Alexander at the Tomb of Cyrus the Great, by Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes, 1796

[1] Alexander’s foremost general, inherited from his father.

[2] It is not clear that Hektor was Alexander’s loved boy, but note the indications: the pederastic phraseology of his being in the “flower of his youth” (used by Curtius of Alexander’s unambiguously carnally loved Bagoas), and his being particularly dear to Alexander.

[3] Philotas was Commander of the Companion Cavalry and a supposed old friend of Alexander. His father was the critically important general mentioned in note 1.

[4] The passions engendered by these affairs were such that no less than three Macedonian Kings of the 4th century BC are known to have been assassinated by their loved or once-loved boys: Archelaos in 400/399 BC, Amyntas II in about 393 and Philip II in 336.

[5] The principal reasons for considering it biased are twofold. First, according to the generally far more reliable and balanced account of Arrian “Many charges were brought by the Persians against Orxines, who ruled them after the death of Phrasaortes. He was convicted of having pillaged temples and royal tombs, and of having unjustly put many of the Persians to death. He was therefore hanged by men acting under Alexander's orders” (Anabasis of Alexander VI 30).  Secondly, such a jaundiced account is in character for Curtius and too conveniently consistent with his literary theme of presenting Alexander as a once noble character spoiled by power and life amongst barbarians.

[6] “yielding his body” has here taken the place of Rolfe’s “prostitution”, surely a harsh interpretation of “obsequio corporis”.

[7] Two possible explanations for the accusation that Bagoas had made a female of himself make sense in a classical context. First, having been in the very flower of boyhood six years earlier, according to the earlier statement of Curtius, he is likely to have been aged around twenty by this time, a little old to be taking the passive role without attracting accusations of being a kinaidos (despised sexual invert), notwithstanding that being a eunuch will have preserved his boyish form. Secondly, as the catamite of two kings, he is likely to have been highly sexed, and that effeminacy brought on by excessive sexual activity, whoever with, was a common belief.  See, for example, Kenneth Dover’s Greek Homosexuality (1978) p. 106 for the effeminate representation of adulterers on Greek vases. For a thorough discussion of this episode, see “Alexander’s Sex Life” by Daniel Ogden in Alexander the Great: A New History, edited by Waldemar Heckel and Lawrence Tritle (2009) pp. 214-7.

[8] This story is an excellent example of how Curtius twisted stories about Alexander to suit his literary theme, as mentioned in note 5.  The spoliation of Cyrus’s tomb is recounted in great detail and without the slightest hint it did not genuinely happen by Arrian (Anabasis of Alexander VI 29), whose account is based on the lost history of Aristoboulos, who was there with Alexander.