Canto the Seventh

The great battle of all
That was fought with Darius
Was not at Arbela
But at Gaugamela.*

It came to pass
That in the month Boedromion
About the beginning of the feast
Of Mysteries at Athens
There was an eclipse of the moon
The eleventh night after which
The two armies being now in view
Of one another.

Darius kept his men in arms
And by torchlight took
A general review of them
But Alexander
While his soldiers slept
Spent the night before his tent
With his diviner
Performing certain mysterious ceremonies
And sacrificing to the god

In the meanwhile
The oldest of his commanders
And chiefly Parmenio
When they beheld all the plain
Between Niphates and the Gordyaean mountains
Shining with the lights and fires which were
Made by the barbarians
And heard the uncertain and confused sounds of voices Out of their camp
Like the distant roaring of a vast ocean
Were so amazed at the thoughts
Of such a multitude
That after some conference among themselves
They concluded it an enterprise
Too difficult and hazardous
For them to engage so numerous
An enemy in the day
And therefore meeting the king as he came from
Besought him to attack Darius
By night
That the darkness might conceal the danger of
The ensuing battle.

To this he gave them the celebrated answer
"I will not steal a victory" Which though some at the time thought
A boyish and inconsiderate speech
As if he played with danger
Others regarded as evidence he confided
In his present condition
And acted on true judgment
Of the future
Not wishing to leave Darius
In case he were worsted
The pretext of trying
His fortune again
Which he might suppose himself to have
If he could impute his overthrow
To the disadvantage of the night
As he did before to the mountains
The narrow passages, and
The sea.

For while he had such numerous forces
And large dominions still remaining
It was not any want of men or arms
That could induce him to give up the war
But only the loss of all courage and hope
Upon the conviction of an undeniable
And manifest

After they were gone from him with this answer
He laid himself down in his tent
And slept the rest of the night
More soundly than was usual with him
To the astonishment of the commanders
Who came to him early in the morning
And were fain themselves to give order
That the soldiers should breakfast.

But at last
Time not giving them leave to wait any longer
Parmenio went to his bedside
And called him twice or thrice by name
Till he waked him
And then asked him how it was possible
When he was to fight the most important battle of all
He could sleep as soundly as if
He were already victorious.

"And are we not so indeed"
Replied Alexander, smiling
"Since we are at last relieved from the trouble
Of wandering in pursuit of Darius
Through a wide and wasted country
Hoping in vain that
He would fight us?"

© 2004 by Michael J. Farrand

*Which, in their language, signifies the camel's house
One of their ancient kings
Having escaped the pursuit of his enemies
On a swift camel
In gratitude to his beast
Settled him at this place
With an allowance of certain villages
And rents
For his maintenance.

Story taken from the life of Alexander found in Plutarch's Lives, written originally as Parallel Lives by the Greek historian Plutarch, who lived roughly 50-125 A.D.

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