Michael Zeleny (larvatus) wrote,
Michael Zeleny

the tears of alexander

Thus spake Alan Rick­man as Hans Gru­ber in the 1988 Die Hard: “‘When Alexan­der saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to con­quer.’ Ben­e­fits of a clas­si­cal education.” Hans here affects to present a clas­si­cal quo­ta­tion, whose only antique source is a passage in Plutarch’s Moralia that attributes Alexander’s tears not to the surfeit, but the scantiness, of his conquest:
Ἀλέξανδρος Ἀναξάρχου περὶ κόσμων ἀπειρίας ἀκούων ἐδάκρυε, καὶ τῶν φίλωνἐρωτώντων ὅ τι πέπονθεν, ‘οὐκ ἄξιον ’ ἔφη ‘δακρύειν, εἰ κόσμων ὄντων ἀπείρων ἑνὸςοὐδέπω κύριοι γεγόναμεν;᾽’
Alexander wept when he heard from Anaxarchus that there was an infinite number of worlds, and his friends asking him if any accident had befallen him, he returns this answer: Do not you think it a matter worthy of lamentation, that, when there is such a vast multitude of them, we have not yet conquered one?
— Plutarch, De tranquilitate animi, 4, Goodwin, Ed.
When Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock repeated Hans Gruber’s line in 2010, he credited no other source than Gruber himself. It behooves us therefore to restore the benefits of a post-classical education by acknowledging the following precedents.
But God did not plant the nat­u­rall pas­sion of desire in the rea­son­able soule, with an inten­tion, that it should alwayes lie gap­ing; but that it should at length be sat­is­fied, when it should close at last, with its last end. The like effect fol­lowes in pur­su­ing other objects of desire. If God should have made, after his con­quest of one, another World for Alexan­der; when he had done there, he would have beene weep­ing againe: while indeed, hee would not have wept for another world, but implicitely for God, who one-could have filled his bound­lesse desire. The desire of man, is in a man­ner infi­nite, because it desires one thing after another, into infi­nite: And it can never be sat­is­fied in this man­ner, because the things desired come not alto­gether, but ever, one after another: as the day com­meth, but suc­ces­sively, houre after houre, not alto­gether. And ther­fore it must fol­low, & it will fol­low; and it can­not but fol­low, that it must be sat­is­fied with a thing actu­ally infi­nite; wch shal alwaies feed, and yet alwayes fill the soule with knowl­edge, riches, plea­sure, every good thing: ut sem­per qui­dem Deus doceat, saith S. Ire­naeus, homo aut­tem sem­per dis­cat sue sunt a Deo: That God may alwayes teach, and man may always learn: every degree of light open­ing to the soule a more ample and more cleare sight of God, in him­selfe, or in his crea­tures.
And Alexan­der when be had con­quered the world, sate down and wept, that there were no more worlds left for him to con­quer.
The whole World was not half so wide
To Alexander, when he cry’d,
Because he had but one to subdue,
As was a narrow paltry Tub too
Diogenes; who is not said
(For ought that ever I cou’d read)
To whine, put Finger i’ th’ Eye, and sob,
Because h’ had ne’er another Tub.
— Samuel Butler, Hudibras, 1663, Part I, Canto III, 1021-1025

I have read in a cer­tain Author, that Alexan­der Wept because he had no more Worlds to Con­quer; which he need not have done, if the for­tu­itous con­course of Atoms could cre­ate one.
Credit therefore is due to a passel of Seventeenth century English divines and poets.
Tags: alexander, classics, greek, plutarch

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