Arrian – Book II Discussion Questions
After Book I concludes with Alexander’s occupation of various cities in Asia Minor, Book II opens with a return to the question of Persian naval superiority in the Mediterranean. Earlier in Book I, Alexander had deliberately disbanded much of his naval force after the siege of Miletus. Arrian reminds us: “…by capturing the coastal cities he would dissolve the Persian fleet, since it would find no crews to man its ships, nor would it have any place to land along the coast of Asia” (Book 1.20.1, p. 40 Landmark Arrian edition).
1. How does this strategy play out in the opening sections of Book II (i.e. 2.1 – 2.2.5)? How are the Persians able to take advantage of this situation? How does Alexander’s strategy offset Persian naval superiority? How important is holding naval superiority in Book II?
2. The famous story of the Gordion knot is addressed in sections 2.3.1-2.3.8 (pp. 60-61). How important is this digression for Arrian’s portrayal of Alexander? Is there any real historical significance to this story with respect to Alexander’s fortunes at this point in the campaign against Persia? How much importance has Arrian placed in legend up to this point in his history? Does the story in 2.4.7-11 about Alexander’s illness add anything significant to our understanding of Alexander as a leader or to the outcome of his campaign against Persia?
3. In the initial moves of both Macedonians and Persians up to Issus in sections 2.6-2.7 (pp. 65-70), how are Darius’ and Alexander’s personalities compared and contrasted? How much of Darius’ decision making are we allowed to “see” as opposed to Alexander’s? How has Arrian judged these command decisions at this point? What characteristics of command are emphasized here from either leader?
4. As each side maneuvers into position at Issus, how is each side portrayed in terms of strength and formidability? What is the decisive moment in the battle for Arrian? for you? How is Darius’ “advantage” at the beginning of the battle lost? Was it Alexander’s genius or luck or both? What part do Greek mercenaries play on the Persian side? What characteristic moves does Alexander make in this battle with respect to previous battles?
5. How much more important is the aftermath of the battle of Issus with respect to Alexander’s larger plans? In sections 2.11.8-2.15.5 (pp. 76-82), based on Darius’ peace overture, what do you suppose Darius’ intentions are? According to the terms of his peace offer, does it sound like Darius’ empire is really threatened at this point, or does it sound like Darius thinks he has plenty of options due to his vast wealth and land? What does Alexander believe is the best way to proceed against Darius? How is he counseled otherwise? What should Alexander be cautious of? How rational are both Darius and Alexander in their strategic judgments at this point?
6. As Alexander approaches Tyre in 2.15.6-2.16.7 (pp. 82-84), it seems that this important city of commerce and naval power is about to surrender to him, but something goes awry concerning the festival of Herakles (i.e. Hercules). What impedes Alexander from being welcomed by the Tyrians? What does it have to do with Herakles, if at all? Why is the occupation of Tyre so important to Alexander? [see 2.17.1-2.18.1 or p. 85]. Why would the occupation of Tyre be such a “Herculean” task?
7. As the siege of Tyre gets underway in 2.18.2-2.24.6 (pp. 85-94), how does Alexander’s judgment about attacking this island fortress initially bear fruit? In what way does the “tide turn” against the Tyrians? How great of a commander does Alexander prove to be at sea rather than on land? How capable are the Tyrians at sea warfare? How does Alexander make the best of the Tyrian naval attack? In which of the battles in Book II does Alexander show more creativity and daring, at Issus or at the siege of Tyre?
8. In the concluding sections 2.25.1-2.27.6 (pp. 94-97), how does Darius’ peace overture here compare to his earlier offer in 2.14? What has changed in Darius’ offer and what has remained the same? How does the Macedonian assault on Gaza compare with the siege of Tyre? Comparing Alexander’s dream during the siege of Tyre (2.18.1, p. 85) with the omen at Gaza (2.26.4, p. 95), how do these portents fit with the flow of Arrian’s history? What point is Arrian trying to make by including these ancedotes in a serious account of Alexander’s campaigns? (What possible stories or anecdotes might Arrian be choosing to keep out of his history?)