Question: Who was the last to see Alexander, the greatest man of ancient times?
Busts of Alexander the Great and Hephaestion (public domain photo by Neilwiththedeal)
Answer: The Emperor Augustus, according to the Roman biographer Suetonius.
But how could that be? Augustus lived three hundred years later.
Bust of Emperor Augustus wearing the Corona Civica, on display in the Musei Capitolini, Rome (public domain photo)
Augustus was in Egypt. He had just won the last battle, Actium, in his war against Mark Anthony and had chased and caught up with him in Alexandria. Cornered, Anthony told Augustus: “I think we could come to an understanding.”
“I don’t,” said Augustus. And he told Anthony to make his exit like a good Roman.
Anthony’s lover Cleopatra knew that Augustus wanted her very badly too. As yet another lover? No; as the star in chains of the triumph parade he was planning for Rome. So she decided to avoid that humiliation by making her exit like a good Cleopatra: with a snake—the famous asp. Augustus discovered her still warm and called in specialists to try to extract the poison and save her. But they were too late.
While he was in Alexandria, putting things in order, making Egypt into a better supplier of grain for Rome, the locals asked him if he’d like to see Alexander the Great.
This is how Suetonius puts it:
“…having placed before him the sarcophagus and the body of Alexander the Great, which was taken out of its tomb, [Augustus] honored him with a golden crown which he placed on his head and covered him with flowers….” (Suetonius, Life of Augustus, chapter XVIII)
“Do you want to see Ptolomeo, too?” the Egyptians asked. “We can show you him.”
“That’s enough,” said Augustus “I came to Egypt to see a king, not the dead.”