Philip II of Macedon Meets Olympias

Jupiter and Olympia

“On his father’s side, Alexander* was descended from Hercules through Caranus, and on his mother’s from Aeacus through Neoptolemus: so much is accepted by all authorities without question. It is said that his father Philip fell in love with Olympias, Alexander’s mother, at the time when they were both initiated into the mysteries at Samothrace. He was then a young man and she an orphan, and after obtaining both the consent of her brother Arybbas, Philip betrothed himself to her. On the night before the marriage was consummated, the bride dreamed that there was a crash of thunder, that her womb was struck by a thunderbolt, and that there followed a blinding flash from which a great sheet of flame blazed up and spread far and wide before it finally died away. Then, some time after their marriage, Philip saw himself in a dream in the act of sealing up his wife’s womb, and upon the seal he had used there was engraved, so it seemed to him, the figure of a lion. The soothsayers treated this dream with suspicion, since it seemed to suggest that Philip needed to keep a closer watch on his wife. The only exception was Aristander of Telmessus, who declared that the woman must be pregnant, since men do not seal up what is empty, and that she would bring forth a son whose nature would be bold and lion-like. At another time a serpent was seen stretched out on Olympias’ side as she slept, and it was this more than anything else, we are told, which weakened Philip’s passion and cooled his affection for her. The reason for this may either have been that he was afraid she would cast some evil spell on charm up on him or else that he recoiled from her embrace because he believed that she was the consort of some higher being.”

*Alexander III of Macedon (“Alexander the Great”), 356-323 BCE.

The Age of Alexander, Plutarch, 75 A.C.E. translation by Ian Scott-Kilvert, Penguin Books, 1973.

Giove seduces Olimpiade 1526-1534, fresco at Palazzo Te Mantova, by Giulio Romano.