Diodorus Siculus on the Assassination of Philip II


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Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 16.91–94

[1] ...

[2] In 336 BC, King Philip, chosen as leader by the Greeks, began a war against the Persians and sent Attalus and Parmenio into Asia; he gave them part of his army and told them to free the Greek cities. He was anxious to start the war with the gods’ blessing, so he asked the Pythian priestess if he would defeat the king of the Persians. She gave him the following reply: “The bull is garlanded; it has come to an end; there is the one who will make the sacrifice.”

[3] Philip, although he found this oracle unclear, interpreted it as favourable to himself, that the oracle foretold that the Persian would be killed like a sacrificial animal; but in fact the truth was the complete opposite as it meant that Philip was be killed at a festival during the sacrifices to the gods like a garlanded bull.

[4] Yet as he expected the gods to fight on his side he was very happy that Asia would be captured by the Macedonians. So at once he ordered magnificent sacrifices for the gods and arranged the wedding of his daughter Cleopatra; her mother was Olympias. It was her brother, Alexander, king of Epirus that Philip had given Cleopatra to.

[5] As he wanted as many of the Greeks as possible to take part in the festival and the worship of the gods, he arranged magnificent musical contests and splendid banquets for his friends and guests.

[6] For that reason he sent for his own personal guest-friends from all over Greece, and told his friends to invite as many as possible of their own friends from abroad. He was very keen to show himself as well disposed to the Greeks and to repay the honours shown to him when he received complete control of Greek forces with appropriate entertainment.

[1] In the end, many hurried to the festival from all over Greece, when the games and the marriage [of Philip’s daughter Cleopatra] were celebrated in Aegae in Macedonia. Not only did many famous individuals crown him with gold crowns but the majority of the important cities also did so, including Athens.

[2] As the award of the Athenian crown was announced, the herald finished by saying that anyone who plotted against King Philip and fled to the Athenians would be handed over for punishment. Through this offhand remark showing almost divine foreknowledge, the god revealed that a plot against Philip was imminent.

[3] There were other remarks like these, which seemed divinely inspired, foretelling the death of the king. During the king’s banquet, Neoptolemus, who was the most famous actor of the day and had the most powerful voice, was ordered by the king to perform some appropriate pieces, especially those which related to the campaign against the Persians. The artist reckoned that the following poem would be taken as suitable for Philip’s expedition as he wished to rebuke the Persian king’s prosperity (even though it was great and much talked about) and suggest it might be overturned by fate. He began to perform the following poem:
         Now you think thoughts higher than air,
         And think of cultivated fields extending over great plains
         And build houses larger than men have built previously,
         Estimating your life too great in your foolishness.
         But there is someone who embraces the quick-footed runner,
         Who goes along a dark path,
         And suddenly, unseen, comes upon him
         And takes away the long-held hopes
         Of mortal men, Death, the source of much trouble.
Neoptolemus continued with the rest of this piece, all of it very similar to this

[4] Philip was absolutely delighted with this performance and was completely taken up with thoughts of overthrowing the Persian king; he remembered the Pythian oracle from Delphi which had almost the same meaning as the words declaimed by the actor.

[5] Finally the banquet broke up and the games were due to start the next day; the majority of those attending rushed to the theatre while it was still night, and at dawn the solemn procession was formed. In addition to magnificent displays of all kinds, the king set in the procession statues of the twelve gods crafted with extraordinary skill and wonderfully decorated with a dazzling display of wealth; there was in the procession a thirteenth statue, worthy of a god, but of Philip himself, who was revealed enthroned amongst the twelve gods.

[1] The theatre was full when Philip entered wearing a white cloak; his bodyguards had been ordered to accompany him at a distance; he wanted to show everyone that he was protected by the common good will of the Greeks and did not need any other protection.

[2] So great was his success at this time; everyone was praising and blessing the king. Then incredible and completely unexpected was the plot against the king which brought about his death.

[3] So that my account of these matters may be clear, I will set out the reasons for the plot. Pausanias was a Macedonian by birth who came from the district of Orestis, and he was a bodyguard of the king and a friend because of his beauty.

[4] When he saw that another individual called Pausanias was becoming close to the king, he used abusive language against him, saying that he was a hermaphrodite and would readily accept the advances of anyone who approached him.

[5] The other Pausanias, unable to put up with this violent abuse, remained silent for a time, but then he shared with one of his friends, Attalus, what he was going to do and brought about the ending of his own life willingly and in an unusual manner.

[6] A few days later, when Philip was in a battle with Pleurias, king of the Illyrians, Pausanias stood in front of the king and took all the blows aimed at him and so died.

[7] These events became common talk. Attalus, who was one of the inner circle who had great influence with the king, summoned the other Pausanias to dinner and gave him a great deal of unmixed wine. Then he gave the inebriated Pausanias to the muleteers for violence and drunken excess.

[8] When Pausanias sobered up from his heavy drinking, he was very angry at the violence done to him while he was drunk and he made a complaint about Attalus before the king. Philip was angered by the lawlessness of the act, but he did not wish to show his anger both because of his relationship with Attalus and because he needed him at the time.

[9] Attalus was the nephew of Cleopatra, the woman who had just been married by the king, and he had been appointed general of the advance party sent into Asia, as he was a brave man in war. Because of this the king wished to calm Pausanias’ justified anger for what he had suffered, so gave him worthy presents and promoted him within his bodyguard.

[1] Pausanias preserved his anger, just as it had been, and was keen not only to avenge himself on the one who had wronged him but also on the king who had failed to grant him revenge. He was supported in this plan by the sophist Hermocrates; he had been a pupil of this man, and during his studies had asked how a man might become most famous. Hermocrates replied that he might achieve this if he killed the man who had achieved the greatest deeds, as the killer of such a man would be remembered together with the man he killed.

[2] Pausanias applied this saying to his personal anger, and, allowing no postponement of his plan because of his sense of being wronged, put his plan into action during this festival in the following manner.

[3] He positioned horses by the gates to the city and went to the entrance of the theatre with a Celtic dagger hidden from view. When Philip told those friends who were accompanying him to go into the theatre before he did, the bodyguards kept their distance, then Pausanias, seeing that the king was alone, ran up to him and striking him straight through the ribs left him dead on the ground; then he sprinted for the gates and the horses he had readied for flight.

[4] At once some of the bodyguards rushed to the body of the king, while the others poured out in pursuit of the killer: in this group were Leonnatus and Perdiccas and Attalus. Pausanias had a head start and would have leapt onto a horse before they reached him, if he had not caught his boot on a vine and fallen. Because of this, the men with Perdiccas caught up with him as he was getting up from the ground and killed him with their spears.