The so-called “madness” of Herod that led to the “deaths” of his Hasmonean wife and her two sons deliberately evoked one final colorful figure from the time of Alexander the Great - that of Alexander’s step-son named Hercules. Hercules was reportedly executed by Cassander along with Barsine/Roxane in 309 BC, but it has become increasingly obvious that no members of the royal family were literally put to death after the departure of Alexander from Babylon (the first time or the second). Hercules, resurfaces, like the rest of Alexander’s contemporaries, under a new name, that being Ptolemy Ceraunus/Keraunos son of Lagus (an anagram of Alex). This post-Conquest identity of Hercules as the explosive Ceraunus (“Thunderbolt”) can be solved by the process of elimination. Hercules is the last prince of his generation unaccounted for thus far. However, the notorious episode in which Ceraunus emulated the mythical “madness of Hercules” (and which was in turn emulated by Herod the Great) helps to confirm that association.
Prince Ceraunus (the former Hercules) had an understanding with Seleucus, or so we are told, that the rule of Egypt would go to him upon the death of Ptolemy I Soter. However, if Ptolemy II Philadelphius had been a true son of Ptolemy I Soter, then the succession in Egypt would not have been contested. It certainly would not have been left for Seleucus to decide. However, the ambition on the part of Ceraunus to rule Egypt was perhaps not as vain and misguided as it seems. Ptolemy I Soter (known previously as Hephaestion and Harpalus) did not have a true heir. The rule of Egypt was therefore an open issue, at least until shortly before the end of Soter’s rule. At that time, Ptolemy Philadelphius (the former Alexander IV) sired an heir of his own, the future Ptolemy III, which would have ended any rival claims. Regardless, it was considered advantageous for Ceraunus, who was still without a male heir himself, to pretend to be a murderously disgruntled prince.
When Seleucus reneged on his promise of awarding Egypt, Ceraunus first turned to Lysimachus of Thrace, and when Lysimachus was defeated by Seleucus, Ceraunus in turn murdered Seleucus. Of course, this was a highly contrived scenario (due to Lysimachus simply being an alter ego of Seleucus), and any aristocratic person would have recognized it as such. Likewise, it can be discerned that what happened next was every bit as contrived. Ceraunus persuaded the widowed queen of Lysimachus to come and rule Macedon along with him, and by using assurances that her sons would become his own sons and successors. After the nuptials, things quickly “got weird” and Ceraunus ended up killing the queen’s two youngest sons. The queen herself narrowly escaped death. She then went to Egypt, married Ptolemy II Philadelphius and accepted his sons as her own (which were hers all along). No princes were harmed much less killed in this charade, although two of them lost their local Thracian identities (whatever that was worth).
Despite his apparent vitality, Hercules cum Ceraunus was unable to produce a qualified royal heir. He was not alone among the princes of his generation in that respect, and this is precisely how Alexander the Great (a fifth prince) and his sons came to “take the kingdom” in the first place. Nevertheless, it was still the duty of the genetically unlucky princes to prepare the way for the ones who were more fortunate in royal fatherhood. (This was part of what Josephus referred to as “the way of princes.”) Consistent with this aspect of royal culture, Ceraunus assumed the role of agitator in Greece. Resistance to the royal will had to be put down, therefore potential rebels were flushed out into the open where they could be eliminated. It was often considered necessary for a member of the royal family to lead such a rebellion in order to better instigate and then control it.
The chronicler Marcus Junianus Justinus (“Justin”) described the situation just prior to the marriage of Ceraunus and Queen Arsinoe:
“… Ptolemy Ceraunus and Antigonus [Gonatas], quarrelling and going to war with one another in Greece, almost all the cities of that country, under the Spartans as leaders, encouraged as it were by the opportunity thus offered to entertain hopes of recovering their liberty, and sending to each other ambassadors by whom leagues might be formed to unite them, broke out into hostilities.” Justin 24:1
When this phase of the operations was completed, Ceraunus (the former Hercules) seized the throne of Macedon in a “military coup” and initiated another stock “collapse and renewal” scenario referred to by the ancients as, “Who was king, who was not king?” – and one that was later refined by the Julio-Claudians into what became known as the “Year of Four Emperors.” The calculated chaos of Ceraunus led inexorably to pacification of all Greece under the kingship of Antigonus Gonatas (a Greek alias of Ptolemy II Philadelphius), which had been the objective all along.
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