"There is nothing more dread and more shameless than a woman who plans such deeds in her heart as the foul deed which she plotted when she contrived her husband's murder."
Homer 700 BC "The Iliad" l. 427
"CHORUS: Alas for fortune, your fortune mother! You have brought into the world the avengers of your own sins, grievous things and more than grievous have you suffered at your children's hands. But righteous was your atonement for their father's murder."
Euripides 485 - 406 BC "Electra"
The following scenes are from a chapter I've been working on, dialogues as overheard by Iskander, Alexander's five year old son, between his mother Roxana (Alexander's Soghdian widow) and his grandmother ( Olympias, Alexander's mother.) I chose to write them in the child's point of view, but I'm not certain it works that well. It all depends on the outcome of the following chapters much of which will also be in his point of view. Iskander has a fairly strong voice throughout my novel Shadow of the Lion because he is Alexander's only legal heir and a pawn of the Successors in the power struggle for control on the Empire after Alexander's death.
SETTING: Dodona, Epiros, 318 BC. Roxana and her son have been sent to Dodona to stay with Olympias after an attempt had been made on the child's life.
In this scene, Iskander is playing in the fountain court and overhears snatches of revealing conversations between his mother and grandmother.
Engrossed in his play, at first only fragments of their words caught his attention. Then, as he grew tired of his game, he listened more carefully though he dared no interrupt. He knew it was not seemly for a child to comment on adult's talk.
"Those rubies, my dear...Where they a gift from Alexander?" Olympias leaned forward and held his mother's ruby pendant in her fingers.
"No, Mother. My father Oxyartes gave them to me for a wedding gift."
"Hmm...perfect stones. Though not quite as perfect as these." His grandmother unclasped her own necklace of dazzling crystal gems and held them up so they sparked in the sunlight. "Alexander sent these to me. Diamonds, from the royal treasury. They once belonged to King Cyrus' wife. Alexander had great admiration for Cyrus. He wrote to me constantly you know. He told me everything -- his th ought, his dreams, his plans. Ah es, he wrote about you. How like me he supposed you to be! I did not take it seriously. Alexander had a passionate spirit."
"He loved me!" Roxana snapped.
The child looked up from his play at the sharp sound of his mother's voice. He expected her to break out in a rage, but she restrained herself, though her face had flushed crimson.
"Love?" His grandmother tossed her head back and laughed. "What kind of love was that? Oh yes, of course -- as one might love a favored pet. The only woman he truly loved was me, his mother. He chose you, he said, because he found us similar -- the gods only know why, or what he saw in you that was like me, though you are a pleasant-looking girl -- perhaps a trifle fleshy, a bit too dark-skinned, but isn't that typical of you foreign women?"
He saw his mother shift uneasily as Olympias went on. "You, my dear, are a simple girl from the highlands of Soghdiana, not a royal princess like Alexander's other wife, Stateira, was. Your father is a barbarian war-lord; her was the Great King. You were simply a whim of my son's. I know Alexander's passions! That part of him he inherited from his father. You were no more important to him than that Macedonian nobleman's daughter, that whim of Philip's. She, like you, was ambitious. For wasn't it your ambition that drove you into my son's arms?" Olympias lifted her chin and clucked her tongue in a gesture of disgust. "Or was it Alexander's need to secure Soghdiana? Oh yes, I'm familiar with the way of Macedonian kings: a wife for every battle. Alexander learned that, too, from his father. Men use women to cement their political alliances and enrich themselves. Sometimes they even use them to fight wars." She reached out and patted Roxana's arm. "Never mind, Alexander chose you for his wife. You bore his son, my grandson. I shall have to put up with you for that. Be careful t hough, not to let your ambitions take you too far. Remember, I am the Queen here, and I shall take charge of my grandson's affairs. If you're a good girl and do as you're told, there should be no trouble."
The dialogues go on with Olympias eventually questioning Roxana about her Royal Cousin, Nabarzanes, who is the child's court advisor. And the Regent, Polyperchon, who Roxana is secretly having an affair with. Then Olympias begins to tell about her relationship with Philip.
The child stayed out of sight behind the flower pots. He pressed his cheek against the urn. The ceramic felt cool against his bare skin and he could smell the sweet fragrance of the roses. He spotted an emerald-green scarab resting on a leaf and tried to catch it. Nabarzanes said scarabs were lucky charms. Vaguely he was aware of his grandmother’s voice.
“I was fourteen when I first met Philip. I knew he was the most eligible man in the north so I urged my Uncle to allow me to go to the rites on the sacred isle of Samothraki. Foolish and headstrong as I was, he let me go, knowing full well my intent. It would strengthen my family’s ties with Macedon and put me, an Epirote princess, in a position of power.
Philip saw me there in the grove and was immediately attracted to me. He knew I’d make a perfect queen -- better than any of those other spear-brides he’d brought home after his battles. I was everything he would wish for: intelligent, beautiful, a princess from a powerful Epirote family. How could he resist?” When she spoke again, her voice was so harsh it startled the child.
“Ah yes, brave, handsome Philip, king of the Macedonians!”
Olympias spat out the name “Philip” as if it were an ritual curse. Why did his grandmother sound angry when she said his grandfather’s name? His knowledge of such things was imperfect, yet he had a feeling of what was meant and her words disturbed him.
“At first I was blinded by passion but I soon grew to hate him -- his infidelities (a bride for every battle that’s how he kept his enemies from betraying him.) Philip was a drunken boor, rutting whenever it was his pleasure with the boys who served him and mountain laird’s daughters, even with my own brother, I suspect.” She stood silent for a few minutes, her eyes closed as if she was dreaming. Her voice softened. “Then one day Nektenabo came to Pella, an elegant man, learned and wise, a servant of Ammon, noted
.for his magic powers. He taught me many things....said I would couple with the god, that my child would be blessed and gifted, Ammon’s child. And so it was when Alexander was born, I knew he was not the offspring of that coarse brute who claimed to father him. But truly he was god-begotten, Ammon‘s child. Alexander was so intelligent, so beautiful. Philip resented him. He imagined Alexander to be his own son, but Alexander was god-begotten. Yes. God-begotten!” She gave a secretive smile. “There were god-given omens at his birth. Two eagles appeared in the sky, a portent that Alexander was born to ride two worlds. Fire consumed the holy temple in Ephesus just as Alexander’s fire would consume this world.”
“What mother does not dream that her first born is god-begotten?” Roxana said. “When my son was born, the magi said he was the Chosen One. We believe the Shah is the spokesman of the Wise Lord.”
Olympias hissed. “Barbarian rubbish!”
“Verily, it is true,” Roxana replied indignantly. “My son is the Shaninshah, the Great king of all the dominions from India to this wild place. Alexander wanted to unite our two worlds and Iskander is his father’s remembrance. He will grow to rival Alexander’s honor. We will show the world that Macedon will continue to rule, through Alexander’s son.”
“Only because he inherited it from his father, my son,” retorted Olympias. “But, fear not, for I shall see to it that he keeps the throne for himself. Not to share it with that mindless dolt Arridaios. Had all gone well the Idiot would not have outlived his infancy.”
“I have tried to get rid of the slow-wit and his mannish wife, too. But each time the Fates intervened,” Roxana said.
What she said startled the child. What did it mean, to ‘get rid of the slow-wit’? Did they mean to send Uncle Arridaios away, like Poly had banished his old nurse, Lanike?
“I have noticed that little Alexander is obstinate, like his father was,” his grandmother went on. “Alexander didn’t always think things out ahead. He was impulsive and he was lucky, because he was protected by the gods. Little
Alexander must be kept safe from his own vanity or the importuning of men who love beautiful boys.”
“Or men who would steal his affections from the woman who loves him...” His mother spoke in a low, mysterious undertone so the child could not hear all her words. “I always knew that Alexander loved Hephaestion best...When Hephaestion died he went mad with grief and had his physician executed....They did not suspect...”
Olympias threw back her head and laughed. “My dear, I see you are like me, a woman to be reckoned with, born with a vengeful heart.“
She put both her hands on Roxana’s shoulders. “You, my dear, were luckier than I was. Philip only married to consolidate the countries he‘d conquered. Well, he did not conquer the Molossion tribal lands, so long as I lived to fight him. I couldn’t abide his infidelities. Oh yes, at first with my young girl’s pride...my naivety...I still believed I was his favorite. Then there was his dalliances with his boys. Pausanias was one of them. Philip treated him badly, cast him aside and debased him. Everyone in Pella knew what Philip had done to Pausanias. It was an embarrassment to us all, and I know my son suffered because of it. It was Pausanias who stabbed Philip to death that day in theatre of Aigai. The assassins offered to pay him well. Some say it was me who plotted his assassination because he had discarded me and my son. The truth is, Philip had become dangerous. He had angered the Athenians and the Persians saw him as a threat, too. And when he took that young Macedonian girl to his bed. I knew as well as everyone he meant to put her child on the throne, not mine! So I was willing to pay half my fortune to see him dead. What happened to her? When she bore Philip a son, I wrote a binding spell. One for her, and one for his favourite consort, a tattooed Thracian whore. His wretched bride didn’t live long after Philip’s assassination. Egyptian poison worked its magic and on her and her newborn child as well. I could not leave alive any offspring of Philip’s who might someday rival my son. I prayed his mistress would perish miserably too. Those barbarians have this custom of offering themselves at their husband’s funeral pyre. So it is she who walks with him now in the Underworld. I do not tolerate rivals. ”
“Nor do I,” Roxana replied coolly. She stared straight into Olympias’ eyes as if she were charming a snake.
“Well then, perhaps you are more devious than I thought, ” Olympias said. “Was it you who had the Persian princesses murdered? I would have counseled you to do it.”
Murder! The word sent a shiver down the child’s spine. He forgot about catching the scarab and listened attentively.
“It had to be done,” his mother said fiercely. “Should I have let the daughter of Darius hold him? Allow that puny girl from the line of a dead coward to conceive? We could not risk the royal birthright falling into Archamead hands. It was me Alexander loved. It was our son he said would be his heir. Had Stateira lived and borne his child, everything that Alexander had striven for would have gone back to them, to Darius’ family. There would have been nothing for our son. I could not risk that. Iskander was the rightful heir and I was Alexander’s first wife, the one he married for love, not politics. Alexander only married Stateira to please the Persian satraps. He chose me not as his war prize, but as his true love. And I loved him. I could not let him be with her!” The child heard the tremor in her voice as his mother spoke. He did not understand the meaning of everything she was telling his grandmother, but he knew her well enough to know that she was near a breaking point and might erupt any time in a deluge of tears.
“Who was it killed my son? Those sent by the Peripatetics of Athens, backed by Anitpater and his clan.“ There was a dangerous edge to his grandmother’s voice. “Did you kill Alexander? Or was it you after all?” Suddenly she lunged forward and attacked Roxana, squeezing her throat until her breath wheezed.
A storm broke inside the child. He let out a shriek and ran out from his hiding place. “Stop! You can’t hurt my mother!” He flung himself between the two women and struck out at his grandmother. Astonished, she let her go of grip on his mother and stepped back.
“I see at least the boy has some of his father’s spirit!”
“Never! I swear!” Roxana gasped. “Never Alexander!” She began to sob. The
child felt her body convulse as she struggled to catch her breath. “I clasped
Alexander's cold body in my arms, lay by his side, refused to leave. My
Alexander, my dearest love! My tears bathed his face, his sweet-scented body, as he lay naked on the sheets. I would not leave him until they dragged me away."
The child felt her draw her breath in and in and held tight to her. “Oh alas! Such sorrow! I begged them to let me stay. I wanted to die there, beside him. I wanted them to bury me with him. And I swear, my Mother, I would have taken my own life if I had not been carrying his child.”
A tear escaped a corner of the child’s eye and ran down his cheek. He clung bravely to her and glared defiantly at his grandmother. “Don’t you dare hurt her!”
Olympias leveled an amused look at him and went on ranting.
NOTE: What the child overheard in the courtyard, and what it means to him in his relationships with his mother and his grandmother, will tie-in with the events following, during the last few years of his short and tragic life. Comments on this point-of-view are welcome as I'm still not quite certain if this is going to work or not.
"MEDEA: Rotton, heart-rotten, that is the word for you. Words, words, magnificent words. In reality a craven. You come to me, you come, my worst enemy! This isn't bravery, you know, this isn't valor, to come and face your victims. No! It's the ugliest sore on the face of humanity. Shamelessness. but I thank you for coming. It will lighten the weight on my heart to tell your wickedness, and it will hurt you to hear it. "
An interesting note: Euripides, one of Greece's famous dramatists, was invited by King Archaleos (Philip's grandfather) to live in the Macedonian court. Some sources report that he was accidentally attacked and killed by the king's hunting dogs while walking in the woods in Macedonia.