ALEXANDER AND THE MIXING BOWL (A ONE-ACT PLAY BY JRS)
The following play is based on historical fact and personages, but is, of course, heavily dramatized. The violation of chronology, and the deliberately engineered confluence of decisive episodes which actually stood apart in time, is spared from the stigma of inaccuracy by the device of Alexander’s fever, which generates this narrative from his damaged and disjointed memory, recreating reality based on essences rather than on time. In this altered state, vision replaces history. My principal historical source for this play has been JFC Fuller’s The Generalship Of Alexander The Great (which, in itself, relies on the work of many modern and ancient scholars, including Arrian, Curtius, Plutarch, Sir William Tarn and Colonel Theodore Dodge). The representation of Alexander the Great’s military career is derived from this book, as is the portrayal of his relationships with his father Philip, his mother Olympias, his trusted friend Cleitus, and his philosophical antagonist Callisthenes, and his grand vision for transforming the earth, which is subject to interpretation. - JRS
ALEXANDER, KING OF MACEDON
CLEITUS, A FRIEND AND MENTOR IN THE ART OF WAR
CALLISTHENES, A PHILOSOPHER
ROXANE, PRINCESS OF SOGDIANA, ALEXANDER’S NATIVE WIFE
2 MACEDONIAN SOLDIERS
1 PERSIAN (THE LORD OF SHIRAZ)
2 CHORUS MEMBERS
ALEXANDER’S TENT. THERE ARE CUPS TO DRINK WINE FROM, A TABLE WITH A LARGE MIXING BOWL (FOR MIXING WINE, WITH A LARGE STIRRING IMPLEMENT), CUSHIONS TO SIT ON, AND A SPEAR HANGING ON THE ‘WALL.’
Costumes & Props:
The soldiers may be dressed as soldiers, with ancient Greek armor, helmets and weapons. The others are unarmed. Cleitus is most likely in informal Greek garb, such as a chiton; Alexander in more colorful Persian garb. (The Persian is also dressed that way.) Callisthenes is in typical Greek costuming, and in a yoke and shackles. Roxane is in the garb of her homeland, Sogdiana (which would be in present-day Turkestan, in the region of Bokhara, Samarkand, and Derbent). A rod is in reach, which Alexander will later use to thrash the philosopher.
Chorus members stand at the front of the stage. Soldiers stand facing stage right. One by one, they walk off stage (to see Alexander, who we do not see).
CHORUS M. 1: Order is a quality of the healthy mind…
CHORUS M. 2: … or of the mediocre mind, which trudges along, like an exhausted soldier marching through the desert. A mind that does not know how to jump, how to leap, how to seize essences.
CHORUS M. 1: He is feverish.
CHORUS M. 2: He has been feverish all his life; burning with genius and ambition, restless, like a man who cannot sleep. He has lived in a constant vision, such as those of us about to die, who see lights all around our eyes, and hear whispers of glory from another realm. He has hallucinated a new world into being.
CHORUS M. 1: Strange, how a man who once rode the world like a horse, leaving clouds of dust behind his every whim, can lie so still.
CHOROUS M. 2: The end is near. His soldiers file in to see him one by one, where he lies in his cot, unmoving.
CHORUS M. 1: They are the ones who killed him. They mutinied. They said they would fight no more, that they wanted to go home. The thought of going home is what killed him. All his life, he was running from home. He conquered the world, so he could stay away.
CHORUS M. 2: The men fear him, hate him, love him. Though, at times, he wore them out, and outraged them, they remember, now, how he always led the charge into the thick of battle. He was the first to face the enemy’s spears, the first to test its swords and to rush into the deluge of its arrows; his shield was covered with dents and gashes, his body with scars. One day, when the army was thirsting in the desert, he received a helmet filled with water from one of the officers, and in front of all the men, he poured the water out into the sand. He would not drink while they thirsted. This is the man who is dying, now. It is not just the wine he guzzled on a thoughtless night, hating himself for his sins. The earth is too small for him; he ran out of horizons. After his men said they would not go on, deeper into India, and from there to China, the only horizon that remained before him was death.
CHORUS M. 1: So disordered, his thoughts! Is this the life he lived flashing before his eyes, or what he has made of it?
CHORUS M. 2: A genius such as Alexander does not proceed by dull chronologies; it grasps at what matters, whether it came first or last, or was merely intended to happen but never did.
CHORUS M. 1: And what is it that matters to him, now, as he gasps his last breaths on this earth he changed? On this earth he drove like a wagon to a new country?
CHORUS M. 2: Let us see. Let us see what thoughts whirl around in his head, like dancers, joyful or savage, triumphant or despairing…
There is a brief moment of setting up the scene, after the prologue. Cleitus, Alexander, the soldiers, and the interior of Alexander’s tent must all come together.
There is a party taking place in Alexander’s tent. Cleitus and Alexander have cups of wine.
CLEITUS: Fine wine, Alexander. So sweet. Grapes were just the beginning, I can tell. What else is in it?
ALEXANDER: Such a wide, expansive world. So many lands we have conquered, dear Cleitus, since we came from Greece. The whole of the Persian Empire: Lycia, Caria, Lycia, Phyrgia, Cilicia, Cappadocia, Phoenicia, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Babylonia, Media, Susiana, Persis, Parthia, Bactria, Sogdiana… So many countries, so many faces. So many colors, so many tongues. So many battles.
CLEITUS: I remember when we charged across the swift waters of the Granicus, with the steep earth walls we had to ascend to get out of the river bed. You won so many times with your genius, my friend, but that time you won with nothing but your bravery.
ALEXANDER: The Persians misused their cavalry. They should have had infantry on the banks.
CLEITUS: We cared little for strategy on that day, my king, we were like hungry lions at the gates of a mighty empire we knew must fall. We believed in Destiny, and had little reason to use our minds. We thought with our spurs!
ALEXANDER: You saved me, Cleitus. [He brushes his cup against Cleitus’, and touches his face with his hand.]
CLEITUS: Of course I did. You were impetuous. You charged into the middle of them. It was all I could do to catch up.
ALEXANDER: Spithridates raised his ax to strike me down. I had already lost my spear, which was broken on the dead, and a part of my helmet, which a furious weapon disfigured in the tumult. You struck the Persian lord with such a mighty blow that the whole arm, ax and all, fell to the ground. Such a fountain of blood I never saw, giving life to a king!
CLEITUS: I did what any soldier would do, Alexander. - What’s in the drink?
ALEXANDER: Such an enormous empire we have conquered, Cleitus. So many different kinds of men. So many species of animals. So many fruits. - Whatever is delicious and exotic and within our reach – that is what was put into the mixing bowl, dear Cleitus, brother of beloved Lanice, my nurse, who raised me as if I were her own; you who taught me the sword and spear. From my father I learned the art of war, but not with so much love as from you. Everything you taught me was like that terrible slash that severed Spithridates’ arm – fearsome in appearance, but secretly filled with tenderness, meant to save me.
CLEITUS: Nonsense, Alexander! I’m Macedonian, you know how we hate flattery! [He shoves Alexander affectionately] It’s Philip who made you into the great warrior that you are. What a bull he was! What a ram, whose lowered horns are in your blood! Your cleverness comes from that wild mother of yours, it may be, who slept with snakes in her bed and knew the mysteries of the gods, but the spirit of the warrior comes straight from him! May the Gods grant him peace for the awful way he died, by the cowardly dagger of an assassin. But it’s how you got your chance. Otherwise, he would have been the one to do this. He made this perfect army which you inherited. He forged the sword which you have used so well. How proud I was to ride at his side, Alexander! What a great father you had! When I see you, my heart rejoices, because I see him in you. You keep him alive for me. You heal my mourning, because I know that as long as one has children, there is no such thing as death. We cheat death, by hiding in our children.
ALEXANDER: [Agitated] He was a good fighter. He looked straight ahead. He missed a lot. [As a horse with blinders] He didn’t treat my mother well.
CLEITUS: She was a woman. He was a King. No man would be happy to seek out his wife and find that his place in bed was already taken by a python. By two of them, in fact. You can’t blame him for sleeping with other women.
ALEXANDER: The snake brings wisdom. The gift of my eyes comes from my mother. She’s the one who revealed to me the secret that I am the son of Zeus.
CLEITUS: Philip wasn’t good enough? It had to be Zeus?
ALEXANDER: At the Oracle at Siwah, the priests agreed. They said I was the son of Ammon/Zeus.
CLEITUS: They say you extracted that information at the point of your sword.
ALEXANDER: Not true! You don’t believe me?
CLEITUS: Is your father’s shadow so long that you have to be a God to get out from under it? Did he say something to you so hurtful, that you needed to conquer the whole world to prove him wrong?
ALEXANDER: You know why we conquered Persia, Cleitus. We had to. They invaded us twice before and would have done so again. We needed to overcome them once and for all. We had to eliminate the threat.
CLEITUS: Yes, I know, and to unite the Greeks in a crusade against the Persians so that they would stop fighting among each other, and not rebel against us, either. It all made perfect political sense, and we have done what no army on the earth has ever done before or will ever do again. But, Alexander, they say that all good things must come to an end. You can’t go on conquering forever. There is a word which you have yet to learn, a word which preserves achievements, and prevents them from collapsing under their own weight; and that word is ‘limits.’ Why did we push on after Arbela? It should have been enough.
ALEXANDER: For the gold of Susa, and the throne of Persepolis. Good soldier that you are, you know I am right. Then there was Bessus, and his rebellion. We had to extinguish it, chase it to its last refuge, stamp it out. Then, there were borders. We needed mountains and rivers to shelter the victory. We had to push on to secure them.
CLEITUS: Always something. Always some reason not to stop. What are you talking about, Alexander, you pushed on past the logical borders of empire, nothing would satisfy you except reaching the ends of the earth! If the men hadn’t refused to go on, you would have led them right off its edge! Philip was great, Alexander, but how many conquests do you need to bury him!? You have a mad shining in your eyes that takes the place of family: we want to go back to our wives and see what our sons look like after so many years.
ALEXANDER: Cleitus, you are a great soldier and friend, but you are stuck in the past.
CLEITUS: I am not the one who is still wrestling with my father, years after he is dead. – What’s in the drink?
ALEXANDER: Have more.
CLEITUS: Without knowing what’s in it?
ALEXANDER: Have more.
CLEITUS: You are the same with this wine, as you are with battles. Let’s fight another; just one more. We ask: "Where? Why?" You just pour it into our cup. "Drink."
Alexander laughs and hugs him. He refills their cups. They make a toast.
SOLDIER 1: King Alexander! The philosopher! You ordered him to be brought here?
ALEXANDER: [His mood changes] Bring him in.
Enter Callisthenes in a yoke and shackles. Cleitus looks at Alexander, in surprise.
SOLDIER 1: [To Callisthenes] Kneel before your king! [Throws him down]
ALEXANDER: Have you learned anything yet, Callisthenes?
CALLISTHENES: Not to displease my king.
ALEXANDER: [To solider 1] Admit the Lord of Shiraz.
Enter the Lord of Shiraz, a Persian noble. The Persian comes up to Alexander, kneels before him, crawls up to him, and kisses his feet.
ALEXANDER: Rise, dear Lord. You may kiss me.
The Persian rises to his feet.
PERSIAN: Thank you, my King.
He and Alexander kiss each other on the cheek, and embrace.
ALEXANDER: Welcome to our little party, noble lord. I am so glad you could make it.
PERSIAN: Nothing would have kept me, my King. I am honored beyond measure. From war has come peace. Clutched in the talons of the foreign eagle, I expected to die, but instead, I have been set down on soft cushions beside my conqueror. Never has such a generous concept of defeat been handed to the vanquished.
CALLISTHENES: You should have been one of the vanquished at Tyre.
ALEXANDER: They vexed me, and they were treacherous.
CALLISTHENES: Or one of the vanquished at Thebes.
ALEXANDER: Greece had to learn its lesson.
CALLISTHENES: As I have had to learn mine.
ALEXANDER: You have seen how the noble lord of Shiraz greeted me.
CALLISTHENES: Like a slave. Like a woman.
Alexander takes up a rod, and slashes the philosopher. Cleitus is horrified.
ALEXANDER: Will you humiliate me again, like you did in front of all my officers? Do you dare to insult my guests?
CHORUS M. 1: The Persians bow and prostrate themselves before their lords and kings. They kiss each other on the hands and cheeks. It is how they express their devotion.
CALLISTHENES: Like dogs! We are Greeks!
Alexander strikes him again. Callisthenes groans.
CHORUS M. 2: With all his officers gathered there before him, Alexander, dressed in the garb of the Persians whom he had conquered, tried to introduce the customs of the defeated to his own men. He ordered that, from then on, they should prostrate themselves before him; to adopt the ways of those they had just defeated in battle.
CHORUS M . 1: Proud Greeks and Macedonians! It ran against their grain. When Callisthenes refused, Alexander told him: "If you will not kneel before me, then neither may you kiss me! Leave me, at once! Away with you!"
CHORUS M. 2: To which Callisthenes replied: "Then I’ll go, poorer by a kiss."
Reprising that moment, the Greek soldiers laugh.
CHORUS M. 1: How the Greeks and Macedonians laughed at that. Callisthenes walked away the hero of their intact pride. His wit was like mud splattered all over the king; Alexander turned crimson with shame. His hands shook with rage. Another night, they were calm enough to strike.
ALEXANDER: Apparently, your shackles have taught you very little.
CALLISTHENES: On the contrary, they have taught me very much: of the cruelty of kings, and the dangers of philosophy.
ALEXANDER: You are hardly a philosopher, Callisthenes. You are a pitiful sycophant. At first, it was me who you flattered. Then, it was my men, who did not understand me. Hypocrite! Socrates died because he was a philosopher. If you die in chains, it will be because you are not.
CALLISTHENES: If I am not a philosopher, Alexander, neither are you a prince. You are a pirate, Alexander: a violent ruffian who takes what you want by force. But for the fact that you have a kingdom, and can thereby elevate your robbery to the status of war, and that you have the power to cut out the tongues of all those who speak the truth and could expose you for what you really are, you would be a common criminal: the kind who we whip and hang.
Alexander lashes him again. Callisthenes cries out in pain.
CLEITUS: [Gently trying to restrain the king] Alexander, please! – he’s not a warrior. He’s a philosopher. He doesn’t have the strength.
ALEXANDER: His mouth cares little for his body. He doesn’t know what he’s getting in the way of, Cleitus! And neither do you.
CLEITUS: Alexander – please. Be merciful. Look at him. He’s weak.
CALLISTHENES: Stronger than those who will not say what they think.
Alexander lashes him again.
ALEXANDER: How misery loves company! How many others do you wish to incite to join you in your suffering, Callisthenes? [To Cleitus] I have offered him the chance to repent, Cleitus. I have offered him the opportunity to prostrate himself before me. That’s all he needs to do, and he goes free. [To Callisthenes] Do you see, here, how the Lord of Shiraz, a noble warrior and master of all his people’s virtues - courage, honesty, and loyalty – bows down before me? This is a man who has fought in battles, Callisthenes, a man who is gifted at riding horses and a tremendous marksman with the bow. Are you any better than him?
CALLISTHENES: I am Greek. He is Persian. His people were conquered, and by observing their customs, it is easy to see why. They are spiritless dogs. Let them bow, if they want, it is in their nature. Greeks will always stand. Do not try to make us into Persians, Alexander, it is our pride that has laid the world at your feet; do not seek to crush it.
ALEXANDER: [Lifting his rod, barely restraining himself] Narrow-minded fool, you don’t understand, do you? You don’t understand a thing! Where is your mind – your philosopher’s mind? You have the arrogance of a man who has lived in one valley all his life, and is sure that the grapes from his vine are the best in all the world! Worthless fool!
CLEITUS: He is brave, Alexander, to say what he does. [Alexander looks at Cleitus, with anger. Cleitus explains] I do not judge his point of view. But he is brave to say it. [Explains further] Credit where credit’s due.
ALEXANDER: He is not brave, Cleitus. He is merely stubborn. Stubborn and arrogant. His vanity will not allow him to back down. Well, it looks like his friends, the shackles, will not be deserting him anytime, soon. You have good friends, Callisthenes. Friends made of iron.
CALLISTHENES: Better to be shackled by iron around your flesh, than by a lack of principles in your soul.
ALEXANDER: Such neat phrases, for such a narrow cause!
CLEITUS: [Becoming more disturbed by Callisthenes’ predicament] But pray tell, Alexander, why this obsession with becoming like the Persians? Look at the clothes you’re wearing. And this bowing you want us to do. I understand your desire for more cavalry, more light troops, more archers. The terrain is changing, the nature of the war, the kind of enemies we must fight. And so our army must change, too. But, for the Gods’ sake, don’t ask us to change our hearts! Bowing is not in our bones, my King. We respect you and love you – do you have so little faith in the devotion of the men who have fought, killed, and died for you, that you must see them crawling at your feet to believe they still belong to you?
ALEXANDER: Cleitus. They have become sullen. They don’t look at the sky anymore. They look at the ground.
CLEITUS: So now you want to push their faces into it?
CALLISTHENES: Careful, soldier, or you may soon be a companion of the philosopher!
Alexander lashes him.
ALEXANDER: It’s not that, Cleitus! Don’t you understand? Here – have some more wine.
CLEITUS: I don’t think it wise.
ALEXANDER: Have some more wine. I want someone to drink with. And here, to our great friend, the Lord of Shiraz. A cup for you, too. Let us all drink together. Here! A toast! A toast to the new world we are building together. At first we built it by killing one another; now we shall build it by drinking wine from the same mixing bowl.
Alexander bumps cups with Cleitus and the Persian, but Cleitus deliberately moves his cup away so that the Persian cannot bump his cup. Everyone notices, but nothing is said. They drink.
CALLISTHENES: No Greek would drink with the man who destroyed his kingdom, and burned his cities to the ground; who made the blood of his relatives run like rivers and colored the earth red with them. If the Lord of Shiraz were a Greek, he would not be standing here with a cup of wine in his hand, he would be buried in the soil of the land he died defending. [To the Persian] This is why your country fell. There is not, among you, a single patriot; you believe in nothing except life. You fear the point of a spear against your breast more than the chains of slavery around your neck.
PERSIAN: [Indicating his shackles] You’re one to talk.
CALLISTHENES: These chains are proof of a free spirit. Your liberty is evidence of your spinelessness.
Alexander beats him again.
CLEITUS: [Crying out in drunken torment] I don’t understand! I don’t understand! [Calming down slightly, as he sees Alexander looking at him, stunned] I – I don’t understand, Alexander. What is going on? What are you trying to do? What do you want from us?
ALEXANDER: [He tries to embrace Cleitus. Cleitus pushes him away, but Alexander tries again, and grudgingly, Cleitus allows it.] Cleitus. Cleitus, my dear, brave friend. My straight-forward Macedonian. You don’t understand?
CLEITUS: I don’t.
ALEXANDER: You don’t?
CLEITUS: I don’t.
ALEXANDER: Well, let me explain it to you. We have conquered, have we not?
CLEITUS: Yes, we have. That part I understand. [Looking at the Persian as he speaks] The part where we thrust with our spears, and slash with our swords. Where we ride over the enemy, and trample him into the dust. Where we scatter his squawking, bird-like hordes, and pursue his fleeing multitudes past chariots of gold, with broken axles, past the swords of kings and satraps, discarded in flight. I understand all that. Do you remember the great war chariots at Arbela, Alexander, the ones with the giant scythes on their wheels that they sent straight at the phalanx? I understand how a well-drilled army can open ranks to let them pass through, and then waylay them in the rear. That I understand. Do you remember how Darius tried to come around behind us at Issus? I understand how empty is a strategic advantage when it cannot be tactically enforced. What a pretty target his army, which thought itself so clever by cutting our communications, made on that narrow plain, fully exposed to our shock troops. That I understand. [Turning back to Alexander] I understand all that, Alexander! But I do not understand what is happening now! We have conquered! Why, then, must we crawl?
ALEXANDER: It is not about crawling, Cleitus. It is about governing. You have spent many hours with me, poring over maps of Persia: maps which we have had to remake! You have seen how vast is the land we rule on a piece of paper, and experienced its vastness in the many weeks and months and years of your life that you have spent traversing it, being overwhelmed by its deep sky, its condescending mountains, and its endless deserts; you have felt its expansiveness in the aches and pains of your legs and backside, in the cuts and sores made in your flesh by your saddle. To conquer is the easy part, Cleitus. To find an army and destroy it. In this case, one army after another. Until finally, there is nothing left but the vastness: the vastness you have made empty. Can you fill it, Cleitus? Can you fill it with something? Can you hold it? Beware the wind that swallows armies! Can you govern it, Cleitus? Can you govern it? With 30,000 to 50,000 Greek warriors, can you govern from the Hellespont to the Indus? Surrounded by multitudes of people who hate you, can you hold onto the world you have gained? Can your sword begin to bear fruit, like fields of grain, or will it lie like a barren stone in the middle of nowhere, making no friends, until finally the silence of what you have not done with your victory attracts, anew, the rage which you did not change into something else?
PERSIAN: We do not hate you, King Alexander. Men walk with their feet. History walks with feet of war. We hold no grudge for the nature of things. What you did to us, we tried, before, to do to you. You made an honorable peace. That is what counts. We all remember how, when you had the royal family of Darius in your hands, after he fled from the battlefield, rather than despoiling the women as an all-powerful conqueror might have done then, you treated them with courtesy and respect. You respected our women. And you treated men of honor in an honorable way.
CALLISTHENES: You should have seen what he did to Tyre!
PERSIAN: Man in shackles, we judge the king from our own experience, not Tyre’s.
CALLISTHENES: They fought for you.
PERSIAN: We did not ask them to throw Macedonian captives from their walls. [Turning to Cleitus] You may resent many of your king’s actions since he conquered us, but we appreciate the easy way he has stepped into the void he made with war, the effortless continuity he has created in times that could have been chaotic. He has not imposed foreign customs on us, nor implanted an alien regime in our midst – he has, instead, inserted himself into what existed before him, become a part of it. He has preserved the culture which we cherish, and learned its ways, rather than forcing us to learn his. He has taken the time to discover what moves us: what arouses in us sentiments of loyalty, and what enrages us, or embitters us, since we have not yet recovered enough to dare to be enraged. He is, in fact, not a Macedonian king ruling Persia, but, in our eyes, merely the latest Persian king, and the rightful successor of Darius.
CALLISTHENES: Not only are you Persians cowards, but you are fools! My king is a chameleon. He seeks to disguise his conquest by becoming like you; to wear your clothes and thereby deter your wrath by seeming to be one of you; to assume your customs, and blend in with you so much that you fail to distinguish him as the enemy, but begin to think he is one of your own; and you, so shattered are you, that this mere act of imitating you brings you to ecstasy, as though you had won the war! The fact that he lets you grovel before him, as your King did, delights you no end. Wretched race! Destined to fall to men! Beware, Alexander, of copying this degenerate species! Here, you could ruin Greece forever! Let not this victory be the end of us!
PERSIAN: Man in shackles, we can tell the mask from the face. Would you be so proud of your conquest if we had not been worthy foes? We know this man is genuine. We knew he was for real when he charged into our cavalry with his fierce, exuberant face, loving battle like no man who has gone before. We also knew he was for real when he told us the war was over, and stretched his hand to those of us who would take it.
CLEITUS: I begin to understand, Alexander. At last. A brilliant strategy. Like the wolf in sheepskin. Hide the fact that we are conquerors; deny the enemy the provocative image of our difference. Use his customs, his garments as ramparts, his mannerisms as our citadel, squash the natural rebellion before it begins by leaving nothing visible to rebel against. The things that stir up storms in the heart, conceal them! What a brilliant strategy, Alexander! I begin to understand – but beware, lest your cleverness undoes everything that has made us great! Do not dilute Greece into nothing in the hugeness of Persia! A deception too skillfully practiced may become a reality!
ALEXANDER: [Putting his arm around Cleitus] No, Cleitus. Still, you do not understand.
CLEITUS: What? Not understand? Not yet?
ALEXANDER: No, my friend. For you see this as mere strategy: to control the conquered. But it is more. Far more. For I have learned something, Cleitus. After all the battles, after all the killing. Glory is great, and for that we need war. But after the glory has been won, war continues, endlessly, and without glory. Like a cloud of black flies, resentment, hatred, envy, pride swarm around the victor, sucking all the blood out of him. What the sword could not do, the flies will not fail to do. There comes a time when war must end; when the warrior, made wise by the futility of his flags, must become like a mother, and finally listen to the tears. We must hold the world in our arms.
CLEITUS: Alexander – this is like nothing you have ever said! Are you tired? Sick? It’s the wine! Put it away – you’ve had enough.
ALEXANDER: No! Not enough! Come with me, over here to the mixing bowl from which I have been drawing the wine! Come! Come! [Leads him over to it] Do you see in it, Cleitus, the end of wars? The secret to the end of wars? As I have discovered so many secrets before this – how to beat the Persians, how to beat the Scythians, how to conquer the Sogdian Rock? Now – at last - I have found the way to conquer war! It is the only way this empire which has cost us so much blood to build will not crumble – and the only way humanity, itself, will be spared, for otherwise, one day, men like us will burn the world down. There will not be left a single blade of grass, nor a single stone from the tower of our ambition. And every dream worth dreaming will have become dust.
CLEITUS: Guilt? Is this guilt, Alexander? Are the ghosts of the slain speaking through you? Where is the valiant man I knew, whose complexity was safely locked inside simplicity?
ALEXANDER: Perhaps it is only vanity, Cleitus. The despair of a man who does not want to see his creation rent asunder. The despair of a flower that wants to escape the rule of the seasons, and to blossom forever. Look into the bowl, Cleitus. Can you see the answer? [Alexander takes an implement with which to stir the wine, and juices, and continues mixing it]
CLEITUS: I do not see the answer as I stare into this wine and the juices of the fruits you are mixing with it; nor with all the wine inside me, do I see it.
ALEXANDER: [To Soldier 1] Bring Roxane.
SOLDIER 1: Yes, my King.
CLEITUS: Your Persian wife.
ALEXANDER: Sogdianan. They were vassals of Darius. Now, they are my kin.
CLEITUS: You beat them in war. You captured Oxyartes’ daughter, but did not violate her. You asked permission to marry her.
ALEXANDER: My love.
ROXANE: My lord?
ALEXANDER: Stand there.
ROXANE: My lord?
ALEXANDER: Just stand there. I want them to see how beautiful you are.
ROXANE: My lord?
CALLISTHENES: Does she say anything besides "My lord"?
ALEXANDER: [After thrashing him] Don’t even think about talking about my wife! You don’t have any idea how good you have it!
ROXANE: My lord!
ALEXANDER: Don’t be upset, my love. Just stand there. Please! [Turning to Cleitus] Look at her, Cleitus. Isn’t she beautiful?
CLEITUS: Yes, Alexander. You made an excellent choice. And Sogdiana makes a great buffer on our frontier.
ALEXANDER: [Tracing the form of her face] Look at the features. So fine. So noble. So sensuous, yet virtuous. The eyes – so filled with light. So alive. So deep and passionate, yet they try so hard not to reveal themselves. She tries to hide her feelings, to cover herself with an emotional veil, but she can’t. She can’t. Look at her tremble. All the attention… Shyness is her greatest weakness. And yet her body remains so upright, so proud. She doesn’t understand half the words I say, but she gets the meaning. What an exquisite geography, this face of hers. What a mind I am going to discover, behind those flashing eyes!
CALLISTHENES: She’s PERSIAN! You should have a Greek wife! How shall the blood of your descendants be tainted by a foreigner? How shall you expect Greeks to obey the hybrid runt your undisciplined lust seems determined to foist upon posterity?
ALEXANDER: [Beating him] You narrow-minded slave of prejudice! You blind fool, incapable of divining the future! You hateful, superficial man, trapped by the shape of a person’s eyes, by the color of their skin, by the thousand little things that divide them from you! Loser of visions; disciple of minutiae ! [Returning his attention to Cleitus, who is very upset as Alexander beats the philosopher, whose views are not far from his own] Cleitus! The mixing bowl! - Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by that fool. His shackles are so noisy, aren’t they? It would have been better to bind him with ropes. He must not stand in the way, Cleitus, his pettiness stands in the way of the future! His shallowness is the enemy of peace. Cleitus: pay attention. The mixing bowl! [Alexander again begins to mix]
CLEITUS: I have no more taste for wine, Alexander.
ALEXANDER: The mixing bowl! Don’t you see? [Callisthenes groans] Don’t let him distract you. Don’t you see?
CLEITUS: [Angry] See what?
ALEXANDER: [Surprised for a moment; then returns to his explanation] In this way as we mix the wine and the juices, so we shall mix the races. We shall end the differences that make men distrust and despise one another, we shall eliminate the divisions between races and peoples, we shall put in our own face the features of our enemy, and in his face, our own; we shall make one universal race, a loving mixture of every land and every nation, embodied by every one of us. Cleitus: you must find yourself a Persian wife! Greek must marry Persian, by the thousands we must marry one another! As our faces become one, so borders will dissolve. Conquest will no longer make sense, because there will no longer be anyone who is outside of us! When our body contains all peoples in it, our empire will be safe. [Stirring the bowl] See with what love I stir the wine and juices, with what love I mix us all together. [He goes over, kneels before Roxane, and kisses her belly] She is going to have a child, Cleitus.
CALLISTHENES: May the Gods preserve us! The nightmare is closer than we thought!
ALEXANDER: [Pointing tenderly to Roxane’s belly] Here – here is the future of the world. Greece and Persia – not merely walking hand in hand – but walking in one body. Greece and Persia loving, instead of warring. A child – so much more beautiful than a corpse. Thank you, sweet Roxane, with your princess’ pride but your woman’s sensuous humility. [To Cleitus] She opened up, beneath me, like the defeated, reeling armies of Darius. She fled, in my arms, to joy. [Turning back to Roxane] Blessed belly, meeting place of enemies who have learned to love – who will drag the world to love. Like the body of Hector, stripped of its armor, ridden three times around the wall of Troy, we will drag the world of war behind our chariot of love. This belly. This sacred belly. I, the conqueror of the world, bow down to this sacred belly, in which the future of humankind is gestating. [Rising] What a beautiful woman you are, Roxane. I am sorry you understand so little of the things I say. The words… Shall we speak Greek together, or Persian? But I am sure you understand my eyes. Our eyes speak to each other fluently. Don’t they? Don’t they? [She nods. He kisses her]
CALLISTHENES: Infamy! Greece on its knees, lusting for the exotic! Our good white women back at home, who will become old maids.
CLEITUS: Such guilt! It must be such terrible guilt, to ruin the greatest warrior the world has ever known! To disguise his sickness and his weariness as a humanitarian vision!
ALEXANDER: You are the ones who tired of war!
CLEITUS: And you, Alexander? What will you do without war?
ALEXANDER: You are the ones who would not plunge into India!
CLEITUS: You have your friend, Porus, and his elephants, guarding the border. Leave it at that.
ALEXANDER: Without war, I shall hunt lions. From a chariot, like the kings of Babylon. I shall explore, again, the sea, in a crystal diving bell, I shall see the secrets of Poseidon’s kingdom. I shall climb mountains that you think are greater than I am. I shall ride horses faster than they have ever been run before. I shall hurl spears at the demons that haunt me. This time, I shall kill them and not Persians. And I shall make love to this amazing woman who stands before us. Again and again. With her, I shall repopulate the earth, replace the dead, overturn graves with laughter. I will undo what I have done. I will be greater at peace than I was at war. [He goes back to mixing the bowl]
CALLISTHENES: A genius for killing will not easily become a genius for creating brotherhood. A warrior does not become a healer merely by cringing at what he has done.
ALEXANDER: By putting down his spear he becomes a healer. What more does it take?
CLEITUS: Alexander! You do not know yourself, like I know you! You love war! And there will be rebellions! You will fight – you will fight until you die. This is the nature of the world – war, strife, conquest, revolt - and you cannot change it. Not even the Gods, themselves, can change it! It is beyond their power. They dwell on Olympus as mere insects, crawling over an immutable stone that is far older than they are. They barely leave a footprint on it; they cling to our frail flesh, which is pierced so easily by swords and spears, just to prove that they can have an effect! It is only our weakness that makes them gods!
ALEXANDER: The mixing bowl. It is the answer, Cleitus. Greek and Persian must mingle as the elements in this bowl. You must find a good Persian wife, dear Cleitus. I will find one for you. There are so many beautiful ones to choose from. [He dips a cup into the mixing bowl]
CALLISTHENES: He is meddling, Cleitus. He will ruin your bloodlines. He is mad with delusions of being the opposite of what he is: a lover, rather than a killer. He will water down us Greeks until we cease to exist, Cleitus. Who would ever imagine that by conquering Persia, he would destroy Greece? He is a far greater enemy to us than Darius or Xerxes ever were!
ALEXANDER: [Advancing towards Cleitus, with the cup] Here, my friend Cleitus. Drink from this cup. Drink the sweet wine of brotherhood, from the mixing bowl. Greater than any of my battles or campaigns is the drink in this cup.
CLEITUS: [Pushes it away] No thank you, my king. I am a Greek.
ALEXANDER: Cleitus – do not refuse me. Please! Drink, friend. Drink!
CLEITUS: I want no dark child in my house. No stranger! No splinter from a race of cowards! I am a warrior, Alexander. And so are you. Or so you were, before you let this decadent land possess you, before you let the idea of peace, at the price of purity, corrupt you. If only your father were here. He would have set you straight. Now that was a real man. Philip. No Persian princess could have wrapped him around her finger. He stood up to your crazy mother, and this little girl, here, who you’ve robbed from the cradle. He wouldn’t have taken the slightest interest in her.
ALEXANDER: [Angry] Drink!
CLEITUS: [Knocking the cup out of Alexander’s hands, so that some of it spills onto Alexander] Damn you! We’ve marched thousands of miles for you, fought dozens of battles for you, and still you want more! More from us! Always more! Damn you and your mixing bowl! [He pushes Alexander to the side, and overturns the bowl and throws it down] Damn you and your mixing bowl!
Alexander lunges at him, the soldiers rush in to try to separate them as they struggle.
ALEXANDER: You prejudice-filled, arrogant fool! It’s men like you who will never let peace come to the earth!
CLEITUS: Fool! Fool! We are warriors! You know nothing of peace, and neither do I! Just look at us! Sex is not the same as peace, it’s just a good time, that’s all!
They are separated, but still combative, as they are restrained.
ALEXANDER: Cleitus, I thought I could count on you!
CLEITUS: And I on you! But enough’s enough! You think this philosopher is the only one? He’s wearing chains for what the rest of us think. We won’t let you feminize us, Alexander, turn us into emasculated Persians! We’d rather die!
ALEXANDER: You’re standing in the way of the new world!
CLEITUS: And you’re leading the charge all by yourself! We’re not with you, Alexander. We’re not with you. Your vision is like a cloud that will never make contact with the earth.
ALEXANDER: You’re sabotaging me, Cleitus! You’re betraying the world that’s come to us to be born. The universe is knocking on the doors of our closed minds, begging us to let this idea in.
CLEITUS: Your father was a man, Alexander. He was at least as valiant as you, and he had a good deal more sense.
ALEXANDER: Stop talking about my father! He’s dead! Don’t bring him back to life! [Alexander lunges at him again. He is restrained]
SOLDIER 1: [To soldier 2, about Cleitus] Get him out of here. [The soldier begins to drag Cleitus away. The Persian helps him. Soldier 1 and 3 are holding Alexander]
CLEITUS: Get your hands off of me, you dirty Persian! You filthy weakling! You couldn’t hold your own on the battlefield, could you? But now you feel so brave! Like a dog in a pack! Coward! Coward!
ALEXANDER: Get out! Get out! Get out!
Cleitus is taken off stage, and Alexander breaks free of his soldiers and storms about, fuming.
ALEXANDER: My mixing bowl! Look what he did to my mixing bowl!
CALLISTHENES: The fate of all foolish ideas is to be knocked off the table and shattered. History has less patience than friends for such idiocies.
Alexander beats him until Roxane restrains him.
ROXANE: Please. Please: enough! Enough….
ALEXANDER: Fools! I conquered Persia, but I cannot conquer my own men! Is the great project to be ruined by their arrogance! [Screaming] My father was nothing! He was a nobody!
CLEITUS: [From off stage] He was greater than you!
ALEXANDER: He was nothing!
CLEITUS: He made the army! The army made you!
ALEXANDER: I led the charge at Chaeronea!
CLEITUS: He set everything up. All you had to do was not fall off your horse!
ALEXANDER: You don’t understand a thing!
CLEITUS: He was better than you!
ALEXANDER: I see more! I live on another level!
CLEITUS: He was better than you!
ALEXANDER: Go to hell, Cleitus! Go to hell! You’re not fit to kiss my feet! You’re not the equal of half a Persian!
Cleitus has obviously escaped from the men holding him, and bursts back onto the stage, followed by the soldier and the Persian.
CLEITUS: What? What did you say? Do you demean me, boy? Do you demean me, little Alexander, son of Philip?
ALEXANDER: Watch what you say, Cleitus! Your life is in danger! [He seizes a spear from off of the wall. Everyone is in shock]
CLEITUS: Yes, go on, kill me, I stand in the way of peace! - Child! You are nothing but an overgrown child, Alexander! If only your father was still alive! He could put you over his knee and beat some sense into you!
ALEXANDER: Silence! I am your king!
CLEITUS: Go on, then, kill me! I dare you! But first, why don’t you use that spear you so bravely brandish against an unarmed man to stab that Persian bitch of yours in the belly and finish off that wretched creature growing inside of her who will one day be our king. Greece is meant to be ruled by Greeks! God forbid, that such inferior beasts should rule over men!
ALEXANDER: You blind, bigoted fool! You will stand in the way of peace no more! [Furious, Alexander rushes forward and runs his friend through.]
Everyone is astonished and horrified, none more so than Alexander, who staggers backwards with the bloody spear in his hands. The soldiers, after a second, rush forward to the collapsing Cleitus.
SOLDIER 1: [To Alexander] You – you’ve done him in, my lord.
SOLDIER 2: He can’t be saved.
Soldier 3 leads Roxane away.
SOLDIER 3: Come, princess. No reason for you to stay. This is a sorry sight, even for seasoned warriors.
Cleitus gasps out something, then suspires.
ALEXANDER: What did he say? What did he say?
SOLDIER 2: Nothing intelligible.
SOLDIER 1: He said, "Granicus." The battle where he saved your life.
ALEXANDER: No!!!! [Clutching his head, realizing what he has done] No!!!!! What have I done? [He rushes forward and throws himself on Cleitus, weeping] Cleitus! Cleitus! Don’t die! Don’t die, my friend! I didn’t mean it! The rage! The rage that consumes me in battle! I can’t get away from it! No, Cleitus! Don’t die!
SOLDIER 1: He’s dead.
ALEXANDER: Don’t die! I didn’t mean it!
CALLISTHENES: You may not have meant it, but the spear in your hands did. [Alexander looks at him with rage] Go on, you might as well finish me off, as well. If saving your life on the Granicus could not spare him, what defense could I possibly have?
ALEXANDER: [Turning back to Cleitus] Cleitus. Cleitus. I’m sorry. You were in the way. But, - but, I lost control. Damn me, I lost control!
CALLISTHENES: A fine plan for peace you have, but look at what’s inside you. No matter what lofty idea you have for ending bloodshed, your anger is sure to sink it, like a ship carrying gold in a storm is overpowered by the raging sea. You blame us for opposing you, but you also oppose yourself, from within.
ALEXANDER: It’s not true. I was drunk. Drunk on wine.
CALLISTHENES: Drunk on the wine of the mixing bowl.
ALEXANDER: Silence, philosopher.
CALLISTHENES: Silence is the breeding ground of calamities.
Alexander returns to sobbing over Cleitus’ body.
CHORUS M. 1: One belly he kissed, that of his Persian mistress. One belly he ran through with a spear, that of the man who yesterday saved his life, but who today could not comprehend his love.
CHORUS M. 2: Would brave Cleitus have saved the young King then had he had the eyes to see what would happen today?
CHORUS M. 1: He would have. That is the kind of man he was. And that is why Alexander mourns him so. Never again, in this world of fickle friends, will he find a man to stand so staunchly beside him.
CHORUS M. 2: And yet, Cleitus no longer stood beside him.
CHORUS M. 1: He did not. Alexander cries not only because he slew his friend, but because the friend he killed did not love him anymore. To try to fill the world with love, Alexander lost the love of the one who was closest to him.
ALEXANDER: [Screams] Cleitus!
CHORUS M. 2: How often, greatness breaks the heart of the great!
CHORUS M. 1: And now, he is alone. Utterly alone. Alone with his dream and his Persian woman, and a world that does not want them. He has grown to be twice the size of the man who started the war, but his men do not want a king with a soul that tall. They want to rule the world, not to change it. They want to live in the low places that they know, not to climb with Alexander to the heights of what is possible.
CHORUS M. 2: Fever is such a useful thing. Such a beautiful reply to irremediable contradictions. Such a wonderful escape from friendlessness. The army will not march; and the army will not govern. The army will not climb the ladder of Alexander’s vision out of the pit of history’s recurring nightmares. It is, perhaps, a good time to die.
CHORUS M. 1: A man who has never lost a battle, cannot bear to be thwarted by the prejudice of others, and by his own temper. To be stunted. To be turned away from his lofty goals. Not typhoid, but limits, is the sickness that will take the invincible king.
CHORUS M. 2: Gods are near, they dwell in fevers. The only companions worthy of Alexander are not of this earth.
CHORUS M. 1: He will go. Soon. And this will be what he remembers. The day he ran through Cleitus with his spear, after Cleitus speared his dream with his narrow mind. Brave, blind Cleitus. He has killed the king!
CHORUS M. 2: I wonder if Alexander will see, from the Beyond, once he is gone, how the Greeks will hunt down his woman, and destroy her and the innocent child who was to be the first step towards human unity? How his empire, built in a flash, will, without him, just as quickly fall to pieces?
CHORUS M. 1: He is spent. His energy is gone. He burned like a brilliant meteor, rushing through the sky, he gave everything he had in a few short years and now he has nothing left with which to reach old age. The world is not ready for him. Neither is he ready for himself.
CHORUS M. 2: The fever. Like a God it comes to save him from complexities that have no reward. Though he is the perfect instrument of his time, he is far ahead of his time. The fever.
CHORUS M. 1: The fever.
CHORUS M. 2: It will take him gently. His stormy mind, his restless heart, the bloody spear and the unattained vision. The shattered mixing bowl. It is time to go. Where the fever takes him, the mixing bowl will be whole, and the wine will be drunk by all.
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