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KINGLY GOVERNMENT (a) *.
It is said, that Alexander, while yet a youth; maintained a debate with his father Philip (on some occasion) concerning Homer, with a display of extraordinary spirit and magnanimity. The subject of this conversation turned chiefly upon kingly government, and took place during a military expedition, in which he accompanied his father, who yielded with reluctance to the enterprising ardour of his son: as the young hounds of generous breed disdain to be left at home by the pack, frequently bursting their cords to join their companions in the chace; and accordingly sometimes confound the sport by their eagerness and inexperience, opening, and starting the game, at an improper season ; and sometimes even seize it by springing forwards before the rest. Indeed something of this sort happened at first to Alexander also: for he was the cause both of the battle and victory at Chæronea, whilst his father stood hesitating at the magnitude and danger of that enterprise.
* See the notes at the end.
However, on their return from that expedition, they were engaged in a sacrifice to the Muses at Dium, a city of Pieria, and were celebrating a sort of Olympic games, which are said to be a very ancient institution among the Macedonians; when Philip arrested his attention to this question: Whence is it, my son ! that you are so vehemently smitten with an admiration of Homer, as to be incessantly occupied with him alone, to the neglect of all other poets, whose wisdom entitles them to a share in your regards ? Because, said Alexander, every kind of poetry, father! seems to me no more suitable to a king, than every kind of dress. Other poetry, methinks! is either convivial songs, or love-verses, or encomiums of victorious champions and their steeds, or elegies on the dead; some partakes of a ludicrous or satirical complexion, as that of the comic writers (6) and the Parian bard; some also may not unfitly be called popular, consisting of admonitory maxims for the general conduct of mankind; as the sentences of Phocylides and Theognis : but what benefit can accrue from such poetry to one like me,
Who burns to stretch his sway o'er all mankind (c)?
Whereas I perceive Homer's poetry alone to be truly generous, and dignified, and kingly; worthy of peculiar estimation from a man, who premeditates sovereignty over the whole human race; or who will be at least, in the language of that poet, a shepherd of the people in reality to a most populous and distinguished empire. Besides, would it not be absurd and inconsistent for a king to use no horse but the best, and yet to employ himself, like a man of leisure, in reading poets of inferior dignity and worth? Not merely so, said he; but I assure you, father! that I not only dislike every other poet," but hear every measure, except the heroic numbers of Homer, with impatience and disgust.
These magnanimous sentiments, which discovered an elevation of mind above all vulgar and mean conceptions, and a competition with Heroes and with demi-gods, imprest on Philip the feelings of respectful admiration : with a view, however, to a farther excitation of his ideas, Do you regard Hesiod then, said he, as a poet of little value? No, truly, replies Alexander; but of all possible value, except to kings, and, perhaps, generals. To whom then? Shepherds, says Alexander, with a smile, and smiths, and husbandmen (d): for he calls shepherds the favourites of the Muses, and prescribes very knowingly to smiths the proper construction of a wain, and to husbandmen the management of their vintage. Well now, said Philip, are not these things useful to mankind? Not to us, 'father! at least, he answered; nor to the Macedonians of the present day, as they were to their ancestors, herdsmen and farmers, in subjection to the Illyrians and Triballi. But, rejoins Philip, do not even these verses of Ilesiod please you, which prescribe the seasons of seed-tiine and harvest in numbers of such sonorous majesty ?
When rise the Pleiad train on heaven's high brow,
Nay, said Alexander, but I am much more pleased with the agricultural poetry of Homer. But where, replied Philip, does Homer treat of agriculture?' You mean, perhaps, those fanciful representations of ploughmen, and reapers, and vintagers, in the Shield ? Not so, said Alexander; but rather the following descrip
fion (e) :
As sweating reapers in some wealthy field,
But horse to horse, and man to man, they fight. : Yet Homer with all this fine poetry, Philip said, was worsted by Hesiod. Or have you not heard of that inscription at Helicon upon the tripod (f)?
Hesiod presents this tripod to the Nine ;
o'er Homer the divine., No wonder, replied Alexander, if he were worsted; for that trial of skill was not contested before kings, but in the presence of rustic and vulgar judges, or rather before men of pleasure and effeminacy: for which usage Homer revenged himself on the Eubeans in his poetry: In what way? inquired Philip, with surprise. By describing them alone of all the Greeks, with their hair cut in a most uncomely style, and dangling from behind, like the delicate children of our own times (g). You know, Alexander ! Philip then said, with a smile, we must not interfere with the discretion of masterly authors in verse or prose ; since they are invested with full authority to say what they please concerning us (). Not altogether so: for Stesichorus did himself no good by his falsehoods against Helen (i). However, father ! Hesiod himself seems to me conscious to the inferiority of his own powers in comparison with Homer. How so? Because, when Homer had given us a catalogue of heroes, he presents us with a list of women (k), and celebrates, as it were, a collection of ladies in their apartment (), thus yielding to Homer the privilege of extolling men.
Then Philip put this question to his son: