Thursday, August 05, 2010

Alexander the Great

The opening paragraph of this article in the paper today caught my eye:
ROME: Alexander the Great was killed by a deadly bacterium found in the River Styx, rather than by a fever brought on by an all-night drinking binge in ancient Babylon, scientists believe.
The idea that Alexander was poisoned is not a new one - what caught my eye was the reference to the river Styx. Was this article seriously suggesting that Alexander had drunk water from one of the rivers of the underworld?

Wikipedia has a list of eleven rivers known by the name Styx, though three of these are in Australia, four in New Zealand, four in America and one in Russia, and while Alexander conquered pretty much the whole known world of his day, I doubt he got that far.

A bit more searching led me to this article (from the telegraph) which clarified that the river in question was not the mythical river Styx, nor one of its modern day namesakes, and elaborates on the theory in more detail:
They have speculated that the Macedonian king, who conquered vast swaths of territory between Greece and India, could have been poisoned with a vial of water from the River Styx in Greece. The river was the mythical entrance to the underworld but is believed to have been based on a real stream now known as the Mavroneri, or Black Water, which springs from mountains on the Peloponnesian peninsula. The ancient Greeks maintained that its waters were so poisonous that they would dissolve any vessel, except those made of the hooves of horses or mules...

In ancient Greek mythology, gods were made to swear sacred oaths on the banks of the Styx by Zeus. If they lied, the "king of the gods" forced them to drink the river water, which according to legend deprived them of the powers of speech and movement for a year. "Such a sacred poison, used by the gods, would be appropriate for Alexander, who was already being thought of as semidivine," Adrienne Mayor, a research scholar at Stanford University's departments of classics and history of science who also worked on the paper, said. "Notably, some of Alexander's symptoms and course of illness seem to match ancient Greek myths associated with the Styx. He even lost his voice, like the gods who fell into a coma-like state after drinking from the river."
It all sounds a bit speculative to me, but it's at least more likely than this theory.


The Word Lizard said...

You'd think, if anything, water from the Styx would've made him invulnerable...*cough* Achilles' heel *cough*

Rusty Mason said...

What amazes me also is that they believe they could know exactly what happened. Doctors today have a hard time diagnosing patients right in front of them, despite having mountains of knowledge and modern equipment.