(This is the first in series concerning the Wars of the Diadachi. Stay tuned to this blog for future installments!)
Long before George R.R. Martin penned his tale of war, intrigue and treachery the ancient world was scene to its own version of The Game of Thrones.
When Alexander the Great died in Babylon 323 BC, he left the greatest empire the world had yet seen with no clear successor. While both of his wives (Roxane the daughter of Oxyartes of Bactria; and Stateira , daughter of Darius) were pregnant, he had no (legitimate) children yet born; though a four year old son of his former mistress Barsiné, named Heracles, was claimed by some to be Alexander’s illegitimate son. Alexander had made no provision for what was to happen in the case of his death. For a ruler who habitually took unnecessary risks; leading his army, literally, from the front this was particularly irresponsible. But it was completely in character for Alexander, who ever refused to acknowledge his own mortality.
The decision was thus placed into the hands of the Macedonian army, who by the traditions of their homeland had the sole right to select their ruler. But the generals who led them dictated events, and they soon fell out with each other. Alexander’s Diadachi (“Successors”, as they came to be called) spent the next 40+ years (from the first squabbles in Alexander’s death chamber to the Battle of Corupedion in 281 BC) attempting to settle the issue by intrigue and force of arms.
The stage upon which the drama played out was vast indeed: stretching from the Pindus Mountains to the Caspian Sea; from the Bosporus to the Nile River. Roughly speaking the struggle was between the forces of the “dynasts”, satraps and generals who sought to carve up for themselves a portion of the empire as their personal demesne; against those representing a central authority seeking to hold the empire together. This latter was represented until 316 by various Regents for the Kings; and from that year till 301 by Antigonus Monophthalmus, who sought to make himself sole ruler. (Arguably, this cause was taken up late in his life by Seleucus Nicator, who after Corupedion found himself in the same place as Antigonus in 316; and may have, briefly, entertained the same ambition.)
THE PLAYERS TAKE THE STAGE
The leading men present at Babylon that summer of 323 BC, and in attendance at Alexander’s bedside when he breathed his last, all bore the title of “Bodyguards” (Somatophylakes); less a job description than an honorific, meaning men trusted by the king with his life. There were traditionally seven of these, but their number was raised (temporarily) to eight in India. Some had commands in the army, or governorships of provinces. They all functioned effectively as Alexander’s Field Marshals; frequently given independent commands.
First among those at Alexander’s death bed was Perdiccus son of Orontes, the senior Hipparch (cavalry leader) and Alexander’s acting Chiliarch (Vizier). He was a prince of the House of Orestis, one of the petty-kingdoms which comprised the original Macedonian Kingdom. At the storming of Thebes he had been a battalion commander of the Hypaspists (the Foot Guard), and was the first to penetrate into the city (where he was wounded). He commanded one of the six brigades (taxis) of the phalanx in all three of the great battles against the Persians. On the eve of the invasion of India, he was made one of the Somatophylakes, as well as Hipparch (cavalry commander) of one of the five original Hipparchies (1,000 man cavalry brigade) into which the Companion Cavalry were reorganized. After the death of Hephaistion he became the senior officer in the army, taking over the dead man’s duties as Chiliarch. As Alexander was dying, he allegedly gave Perdiccas his signet ring. This was interpreted by most present as nominating Perdiccas as his regent for the son(s) yet unborn. He is portrayed in the sources as arrogant and imperious, and could be both cruel and ruthless when necessary. His high-handedness soon put him at odds with most of the other leaders.
Ptolemy son of Lagos was one of Alexander’s most popular commanders and a possible half-brother (it was rumored that Philip II was actually his real father). His family was from Eordaea in the Macedonian highlands; and he was one of Alexander’s boyhood “Companions”, tutored along with the young prince by Aristotle. He was one of several of Alexander’s friends to be banished by Philip in 337 BC; only returning to Macedon after Philip’s assassination.
He was a junior officer early on, and had no command before Gaugamela. Ptolemy accompanied Alexander during his journey to the Oracle of Ammon Ra at Siwa, where the latter was proclaimed a son of Zeus/Ammon. He was later entrusted with an elite force of 5,000 men tasked with bringing Bessus, the murderer of Darius III, back to face the King’s justice. By the invasion of India, he was appointed as one of the Somatophylakes, as well as one of the five original Hipparchs. He served with distinction throughout the campaign, playing a key role in taking the Rock of Aornus. His Hipparchy was with Alexander on the right-wing at the Battle of the Hydaspes. He was wounded later that year at Harmetelia, a town of the Brahmins, by a poisoned weapon. Though near death, he was nursed back to health personally by Alexander himself.
At Susa he was given as bride Artakama, the daughter of Artabazus of Phrygia and sister to Alexander’s former mistress (and mother of his possibly bastard son, Heracles) Barsiné, a relative of the Persian Royal Family. Even-tempered and more modest in his ambitions (and in his manners) than most of his colleagues, he was the only one of them who died, peacefully, in his own bed.
Leonnatus was related to the royal house (through Philip’s mother) and had served honorably throughout Alexander’s campaigns. After Issus, he was sent to meet and reassure the Persian royal women of Alexander’s good-will and intentions. He was elevated to the rank of Bodyguard upon the death of Arybbas in Egypt in 332 BC. He tried to restrain Alexander during the murderous argument with Black Cleitus; and later informed him of the Page’s Conspiracy. He fought beside Alexander inside the Malli/Mahlava fortress of Multan, where Alexander was struck in the chest by an arrow and nearly killed; and defended the fallen king till help arrived, alongside Peucestas. During the struggle he was wounded badly in the neck, and nearly succumbed. During the return from India, he was left temporarily in southern Baluchistan to pacify the population; in which he was successful. He was flamboyant and ambitious, with pretensions towards the throne through marriage alliance with the Royal House.
The other Somatophylakes/Bodyguards had less prestige and sway with the army.
Little is known of the background and early career in Alexander’s service of the Bodyguard Peucestas. Not even his father’s name is mentioned in the sources. An officer named Peucestas son of Macartus was appointed to command the troops left to garrison Egypt in 321 BC. Though scholars always assume this to be a different individual, it is possible that he is one-and-the-same as the future Bodyguard. We know that Peucestas was from the town of Mieza, where Alexander and his boyhood Companions were taught by Aristotle. It is tempting to assume that Peucestas was among these, as it is impossible that he rose as high as he did in Alexander’s service without being one of the King’s inner-circle of Companions; most of which were boyhood friends.
At least by the Indian expedition (if not before) Peucestas was appointed as Alexander’s Shield-bearer; a sign of both the trust the King had in him, and Peucestas’ reputation for valor. In this capacity he bore the Sacred Shield, taken by Alexander from Troy at the start of the Persian War. At the fortress of Multan, where Alexander was isolated and struck-down by an arrow, Peucestas (along with Leonnatus) warded the fallen King; suffering himself from javelin wounds. Afterwards he was rewarded by being made an unprecedented eighth Bodyguard. He was appointed Satrap of Persis (the Persian homeland) after the return from India. He carried out Alexander’s policies of harmonizing with the native population, wearing Persian robes and getting on well with his Persian subjects. For this he was somewhat derided by the more traditional-minded Macedonians. Near the end of Alexander’s life, he arrived in Babylon with 20,000 Persian youths, trained as Macedonian phalangites. He was in close attendance upon the King throughout his fatal illness. Peucestas was obviously a great admirer (nee sycophant) of Alexander’s; and carried out his pro-Persian policies more faithfully than any other Macedonian. He certainly seemed to think himself the best man to carry on the great man’s legacy; a certainty not shared by his colleagues, who held him in much less regard then he had for himself.
Peithon son of Crateuas, was like Ptolemy from Eordaea. What he had done to earn his position is largely unknown; but by India he is one of the Bodyguards. He was ambitious and ruthless. Originally aligned with Perdiccas, he entertained ambitions over the Eastern (“Upper”) Satrapies. Eventually he became a loyal lieutenant of Antigonas and his son, Demetrius.
Lysimachus son of Agathocles was of Thessalian origin; his father perhaps one of the “new men” who came to serve Macedon during Philip’s reign. He may have been one of the young “Companions” of Alexander’s youth, who were tutored along with the prince by Aristotle at Mieza. (Few of these childhood friends and fellow students are known by name, but this would explain the position of trust into which Lysimachus was placed in the king’s entourage.) In Syria, Lysimachus killed a lion single-handed while hunting with the king; being badly wounded in the process but perhaps saving Alexander’s life. This may have been why he was elevated to the position of Bodyguard. In Sogdiana he was beside Alexander at another such hunt, in which Alexander slew a lion. He was a man of great physical strength, easily offended and slow to forgive. He grew cold and cruel in later life. Politically he was a cautious overachiever.
Though Aristonous son of Peisaeus had been a Bodyguard since Alexander’s accession, little is known of him. He is alternately identified as a man of either Pella (the capital) or of Eordaea; which may mean his family hailed from the latter, while he was born and spent his youth at court, perhaps originally as one of Philip’s Pages. He may have been the man who took Alexander’s sword away early in his drunken and ultimately murderous argument with Cleitus. Curtius has him as one of the men who defended the fallen Alexander in the Mallian fortress; but this is contradicted by Arrian. In the struggles to come he showed no personal ambition, siding always with the Royal House and its regent.
Not present at Babylon were three other men of great importance. One was Alexander’s most trusted subordinate commander (after the now dead Hephaistion), the other two aging generals of his father Philip; not in Alexander’s inner circle but whose name and reputations among the soldiers cast a broad shadow.
Craterus son of Alexander (a nobleman of Orestis, in highland Macedonia) was on the way to Macedon with 10,000 discharged veterans when word came of the King’s death. No man in the army had a higher reputation or was more respected (only Ptolemy was better liked by the troops). He was handsome, affable, and possessed of a natural dignity and strength of character. Second only to the now-dead Hephaistion in Alexander’s confidence, he enjoyed the highest commands in the later campaigns, taking Parmenion’s place as Alexander’s chief subordinate commander. He led one of the six brigades (taxis) of the phalanx in all of the great battles against the Persians; his taxis entrusted with the most dangerous and vital position, holding the far left flank of the phalanx at both Granicus and Gaugamela. In Bactria he was promoted to be one of the five original Hipparchs of the reorganized Companions. At the Battle of the Hydaspes, he commanded the camp and that portion of the army left on the other side of the river; with orders to cross over when Porus was engaged by Alexander’s force. On the return from India, he was entrusted with most of the army and much of the baggage; marching safely along a more northerly route than the one Alexander took though the terrible Gedrosian desert. At the mass wedding at Susa in 324 BC, where Alexander married Stateira the daughter of Darius III, Craterus was only behind Hephaistion and the King in the line of Macedonian officers to be wed. He was given the redoubtable princess Amastris, the niece of Darius as bride. Just prior to the King’s death, he was sent back to Macedon to assume Antipater’s command, escorted by 10,000 discharged veterans returning home. He had reached Cilicia when news came of Alexander’s death.
The mass wedding at Susa in 324 BC, where Alexander married the daughter of Darius; and 500 other Macedonians and Persian brides were also wed. Craterus was the third to be married, behind only Hephaistion and Alexander himself.
So great was his reputation and the trust Alexander was known to have placed in him that a story sprang up, related by Diodorus, that with his last words Alexander had actually meant to name Craterus as regent of the empire. According to this story, Alexander was asked on his deathbed to whom he bequeathed his kingdom; and he whispered to those assembled, “tôi kratero”: to Craterus (Kratero). But that the ambitious generals gathered around the deathbed in Craterus’ absence chose to hear the King’s utterance as “tôi kratistôi“: to the strongest.If Craterus ever heard this story, he appears to have put no store on it; and served where he was needed without pressing any special claim to power. Had he indeed been given the regency upon Alexander’s death, it is tempting to think he might have possessed the prestige and ability to hold the Empire together.
No man was more trusted by Philip II than Antipater son of Iollus. He was possibly a distant relative of the Royal House, and though nothing is known of his early years from 342 onward he is Philip’s chief lieutenant. That year Philip left Antipater in charge as his regent (viceroy) in Macedon while he campaigned in Thrace for the next three years; extending Macedonian control to the Black Sea coast. Antipater sent troops to Euboea to oppose Athens’ attempt to install ant-Macedonian governments. After the Macedonian victory at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC, Antipater was sent with the young Alexander as co-ambassador to Athens; to negotiate a peace treaty and return the bones of the Athenians who had fallen in the battle. During Alexander’s reign he was entrusted again with the regency of Macedon, as well as general (strategos) of Europe. He had a difficult job, supplying his king with fresh drafts of men while maintaining Macedonian domination over Greece. When the Spartans rose against Macedonian hegemony in 331 BC, supplied with money and mercenaries by Persia, Antipater defeated them and killed their king, Agis III at the Battle of Megalopolis. He came into frequent conflict with the Queen Mother, Olympias, who no-doubt felt she should have been regent in Antipater’s place.
In his last days Alexander decided to recall Antipater to Babylon; and replace him in Europe with Craterus. Alexander’s death (of which Antipater and his sons were accused of being complicit: see below) forestalled this change of command.
Antipater was physically a small and unattractive man. He planned carefully against future contingencies, and played politics like a chess game; setting up his pawns and moving his pieces with great foresight. He had a large brood of ten children, three of which were daughters. He used them well, making marriage alliances with many of the powerful men who would dominate the stage in the coming years. All three daughters would be the wives of future kings.
After Antipater perhaps the most senior officer of Philip’s generation still serving was Antigonus One-Eyed (Monophthalmus). Little is known of his early life, and even the social status into which he was born disputed. His father was one Philip of Elimeia, a highland region of Macedonia. But while some suppose this man a nobleman, there was a tradition that Antigonus was of yeoman-farmer stock. If his humble origin is accepted, this goes far to explaining why he is largely unheard of during Philip’s reign; and is relegated early in Alexander’s Persian War to holding the Satrapy of Phrygia. He is always described as a “general” of Philip’s; though no independent campaign or chief command is credited to him. It is tempting to speculate that during Philip’s reign he likely started his career as a ranker in the either the phalanx (pezhetairoi) or the newly-created Hypaspists (perhaps even the Agema, or Royal Guard, battalion); and that he rose in rank due to his reputation as a soldier and his renown as a great warrior (he was a notably large and powerfully built man). We have no knowledge of who served as Somatophylakes under Philip II; or held prestigious, junior positions such as commander of the Agema of the Hypaspists. Possibly Antigonus rose to one such position prior to Alexander’s reign; though it is doubtful he was one of the Bodyguards, as he was not among Alexander’s original seven, whose identities are known and most of whom were retained-over from Philip’s reign.
At the Battle of Granicus he commanded the Greek Allies. After Alexander rolled-up western Asia Minor (Antigonus receiving the submission of Priene), he was left to hold Phrygia with (initially) 1,500 mercenaries; and to keep open Alexander’s line of communications back to Macedonia. In this capacity he fought three battles against and ultimately expelled a pro-Persian force (which may have included or even been wholly comprised of Greek mercenaries); refugees from the defeat at Issus. It is a testament to his ability and reputation among the Macedonians that despite taking no part in the glories of Alexander’s conquest of the East, he very soon made himself a key player in the drama unfolding. The savagery he occasionally displayed (all the more striking when contrasted against his personal affability) may have emanated from years of frustrated ambition and resentment at being “put out to pasture” by Alexander, while younger men garnered the laurels of victory. He was 58 years old when Alexander died in Babylon, but like the Macedonians in general he retained great vigor late into his life. Amidst the chaos soon to unfold, he was given ample chance to prove his merit as a soldier and commander; an opportunity he didn’t squander.
Lesser figures destined to play key parts stood initially off stage, waiting their opportunity.
Seleucus son of Antiochus had commanded the elite Hypaspists in India. He was roughly the same age as Alexander, born within two years of the prince. His father was an officer of Philip’s, though no record of his accomplishments exist. As a teenager Seleucus served in the Royal Pages (Basilikoi Paides) in Philip’s service, as did many of the sons of the nobility. A story was later told that on the eve of his departure on Alexander’s Persian expedition, his father told him that he was really the son of Apollo; that a distinctive anchor-shaped birthmark (which subsequent Seleucid monarchs bore as well) so marked him. The anchor later became a symbol of the Seleucid dynasty.
His position(s) throughout Alexander’s Persian War is unknown; but he apparently served with distinction, because on the even of the Indian Expedition he was given command of the elite Hypaspists brigade. (The Hypaspists were issued silvered shields at the start of the Indian Campaign; and are henceforth increasingly called the Argyraspides, “Silver Shields”.) In this capacity he fought at close-quarters against Porus’ elephants at the Battle of the Hydaspes; an experience that impressed him greatly. In later life he would go to some lengths to procure as many of these beasts as he could for his own use.
He followed Alexander through the ordeal in the GedrosianDesert. At Susa, he was married to his mistress of several years, Apama, daughter of the Sogdian noble Spitamenes (the most effective of Alexander’s opponents). Unlike most of the other Macedonians who took Persian brides at Susa, Seleucus remained married to Apama throughout her life. Seleucus was apparently strong enough to grapple a bull by the horns; and more mild tempered and merciful than perhaps any of the great Successors of Alexander. As commander of the Foot Guard (the Hypaspists, now called the Argyraspides), he was at Babylon attending the King when Alexander died.
Seleucus was with Alexander during the terrible ordeal the army experienced in the desert of Gedrosia. Here Alexander refuses a drink of precious water, as there was not enough for more than himself; and he would not drink if his men couldn’t
Eumenes of Cardia, Alexander’s secretary, was also in attendance at the royal palace. Originally one of Philip’s “New Men”, he was twenty when he became personal secretary to the King in 342 BC. He continued to serve Alexander in this capacity throughout the conqueror’s life. Alexander came to trust him completely, using him on diplomatic missions and eventually, in India, entrusting him with a military command. At Susa he was honored by being given as bride Artonis, sister to Alexander’s former mistress, Barsiné the daughter of Artabazus (also sister to Ptolemy’s bride, Artacama). After Hephaistion’s death and Perdiccas’ elevation to the dead man’s duties, Eumenes was given command of his Hipparchy; still another sign of Alexander’s confidence in his potential ability as a soldier.
He was an able diplomat and shrewd manipulator of men and events; the consummate “clever Greek”. But he always labored under the disadvantage of not being a Macedonian; and that he was always seen first-and-foremost as a man of letters rather than as a soldier. For the first he was despised by many of the Macedonian officers; for the second he was derided. (Neoptolemus, who seems to have had a particular animus against him, scornfully remarked that he had followed the king with shield and spear, but Eumenes with only pen and paper. While the more fair-minded realized how unjust this statement was and scoffed, it reflects a lingering derision of Eumenes shared by many.) However, he had the trust of Perdiccas; which he retained and used to good advantage throughout the latter’s life. As a Greek outsider whose position was dependant on the patronage of the throne, he was always loyal to the Argead dynasty and to Perdiccas as regent.
When given the opportunity of independent command he showed exceptional ability. It is tempting to speculate that during the conqueror’ life he served not merely as Alexander’s scribe, but as a kind of “Chief of Staff” as well; operating in the same capacity as Marshal Berthier vis-à-vis Napoleon. This might explain in part the skill he showed later in maneuvering armies.
Though he was destined to play an important role, Cassander son of Antipater began “the Play” distinctly off-stage. It is uncertain if he was the first or second son of Antipater (his brother, Iollus, bore the name of their paternal grandfather; usually given to the eldest son). A child-hood Companion of Alexander’s, he too was educated by Aristotle at Mieza; and maintained a life-long correspondence with his former teacher. That he was left behind in Macedon with Antipater when all of Alexander’s other child-hood Companions accompanied the King to Asia, is one of many signs that the two men shared a mutual animus, if not downright loathing of each other.
Cassander likely fought beside his father at Megalopolis in 331 BC, though there is no record of his participation. In 323 BC he came to Babylon to plead his father’s case when Antipater was recalled, accused of various malfeasances. Cassander openly sneered at Alexander and some Macedonians of the court (such as Peucestas) wearing Persian Robes. When he saw Persians performing their customary proskynesis (full prostration, forehead to the ground) before Alexander, Cassander broke into scornful laughter. Proskynesis had been a sore subject at his court, only recently resolved (Persians would continue to perform it, as was their custom; while for Macedonians and Greeks it was voluntary). This sudden outburst so enraged Alexander that he leapt from his throne; and grabbing the startled Cassander, smashed his head into the floor, perhaps forcing him to perform the proskynesis! Cassander did not linger at Babylon, returning post-haste to Macedon.
Actor Jonathan Rhys Myers as Cassander in the motion picture, “Alexander the Great” (2004). Though the film erroneously portrayed Cassander accompanying Alexander on his campaigns, Rhys Myers was sufficiently reptilian in his portrayal
A story grew-up a few years later (likely spread and perhaps started by Olympias, Alexander’s mother) that the true purpose of Cassander’s visit to Babylon was to poison the King. According to this story, the plot was hatched by Antipater; who feared being removed from his position of authority as Regent in Macedon, and being called to account for his administration. (Alexander had recently executed Macedonian governors who’d abused their power and his trust while he was away in India. Perhaps Antipater feared a similar fate.) Cassander supposedly brought a poison in the hollowed-out hoof of an ass; and that “the poison was (contaminated) water”. The poison was then given to Cassander’s brother, Iollus, who was the King’s Cup Bearer; who then introduced it into Alexander’s wine during the fateful party of Medius’. The truth of this story can never be known, of course; but it is now, and was then, plausible. It gained wide circulation and credence in the years of struggle that followed. Considering the bloody-handed actions taken by Cassander against the House of Alexander, it is certain he bore a deep and burning hatred for the man he was accused of murdering, and was ruthless and unscrupulous enough to have carried out the deed. Of all the Diodachi, as ruthless a collection of rivals as ever existed, Cassander stands out as the most cold-blooded, murderous, and deliberate of them all.
Polysperchon son of Simmias was of the older generation who’d soldiered under Philip. From Tymphaia on the border with Epirus, he gave good service throughout Alexander’s campaigns. He was a Taxiarch commanding a brigade of the phalanx at Gaugamela, and continued in this capacity during the Indian expedition. He was one of the “old timers” discharged and returning with Craterus to Macedon when news arrived of the King’s death. Throughout the troubles to come, he doggedly served the regent and the central authority. While he was successful for a time in the “limelight” as an independent actor, his lack of integrity and judgment pushed him off the stage in favor of stronger characters.
Like Polysperchon, Meleager son of Neoptolemus was of the older generation who began soldiering under Philip. He commanded a taxis (brigade) of the phalanx throughout Alexander’s campaigns. Despite such long service, Alexander did not promote him to any higher command, or entrust him with any special assignments. From this we can deduce that he was competent but unimaginative. He was much respected by the rank-and-file of the Macedonian infantry as a “crusty old salt”. He was one of them, and like them he was disgruntled at the “Medizing” of Alexander and some of the officers of his court. At Babylon he soon became spokesman for the common soldiers of the infantry.
Neoptolemus (his father’s name is not given in the sources) had been an officer of the Companion (Hetairoi) Cavalry, likely of the Royal (Guard) Squadron (Basilikoi ile). He was related to the Epiriot royal house, so was likely a kinsman of Alexander’s on his maternal side. He may have come to Macedon as a boy, along with Olympias’ brother, Alexander of Epirus; and like this prince might have served as a Royal Page (Basilikoi Paides) at Philip’s court. At some point he became Alexander’ Armor Bearer, an honor whose duties (if any) are unknown. He was the first man up the ladders at the storming of Gaza. He was arrogant and untrustworthy, and had a particular animus against Eumenes; the exact cause of which might have been jealousy at the trust Alexander placed in the latter (particularly entrusting Eumenes, a “civilian” and a Greek, with a military command along the Indus), or something going back further in time. His exact rank and position when Alexander died is unknown; but it was sufficiently high that he would be given command of a Satrapy.
Nothing much is known from the sources of the background of Antigenes the Taxiarch (not even the name of his father). He served under Philip at the siege of Perinthus in 340 BC, losing an eye. He is next mentioned in 331 BC, placing second in the games at Sittacene. On the eve of the Indian invasion, he was elevated to command of the crack phalanx taxis (brigade) previously commanded by Coenus (who was promoted to the rank of hipparch of the Companions). In this capacity, Antigenes’ command was given pride-of-place on the right of the line, beside the elite Argyraspides (commanded by Seleucus) at the Battle of the Hydaspes. In this position he was engaged in hard fighting against Porus’ elephants and infantry. As commander of the senior taxis of the phalanx, he was perhaps second only to Seleucus (commanding the Argyraspides) among infantry commanders. Like many of Alexander’s veteran soldier’s in Babylon that summer, Antigenes was filled with resentment at the way Alexander had given equal preferment to and adopted many of the ways of the despised Persians. Like them he expected a larger portion of the spoils of victory after Alexander’s death than he (and they) had received during the conqueror’s life.
The stage was thus set for the titanic drama about to unfold. The players stood ready, each of the leading characters ambitious to obtain the “starring” role; the supporting cast eager to move-up to leading roles; and even the bit-players ready to “understudy” their betters, and step into their roles should they falter.