Alright, let’s stop there. Unfortunately, we don’t know when Hephaestion was born, neither the year nor the date. The reason I am celebrating his birthday today is because I believe the 19th is an appropriate day to do so given the closeness of his friendship with Alexander.
Hephaestion was so close to the conqueror that the latter called him another Alexander (Diodorus 37). These were not empty words. During the course of his expedition in the east, Alexander entrusted Hephaestion with numerous important assignments (e.g. D. XVII.47, Arrian III.27, Curtius VIII.2); he let him read his personal correspondence and even write critical letters to his beloved mother (D. XVII.114).
Such was Alexander’s trust in Hephaestion that in due course he made him his deputy. Had Hephaestion still been alive when Alexander died in Babylon, June 323 B.C., I am quite certain that he would have become the soon-to-be Philip III’s guardian, as well as of Roxane’s child after its birth.
I’d like to come back to the above mentioned letter. When Hephaestion rebuked Olympias for her ‘jealousy [and] sharp criticisms and threats against him’ he said,
Stop quarrelling with us and do not be angry or menacing. If you persist, we shall not be much disturbed. You know that Alexander means more to us than anything.‘ [my emphasis].
That last sentence is, to my mind, an intensely personal statement. It is of a kind that would only be made by two people – very close friends, and lovers.
Speaking of the latter, many people think that Alexander and Hephaestion were lovers. They may have been but there is no absolute proof. One is free to believe that it was one way or the other.
So, Alexander and Hephaestion were close. Why, though, celebrate the latter’s birthday a day before his king’s? For me, that closeness – the depth of love that they shared, whether platonic or sexual – makes Hephaestion a kind of éarendel figure.
In the Anglo-Saxon poem Crist I, Éarendel is the Morning Star (Venus).
éala éarendel engla beorhtast
ofer middangeard monnum sended
and sodfasta sunnan leoma,
tohrt ofer tunglas þu tida gehvane
of sylfum þe symle inlihtes.
Hail Earendel, brightest of angels,
over Middle-earth to men sent,
and true radiance of the Sun
bright above the stars, every season
thou of thyself ever illuminest.
Implied here is what the A-S Blickling Homilies say outright – that Éarendel is St John the Baptist (and the Sun is Jesus Christ). Now, in a way, calling Hephaestion Éarendel is invalid as he doesn’t point the way to Alexander – not in the way that St John the Baptist does to Christ. And yet…
He and Alexander both point the way to how fruitful good friendships can be. If you want, they point the way to how fruitful romantic relationships can be. They show us what Men are capable of when they believe in a cause but, more importantly, one another. It’s true, their lives together can be a cautionary tale (Hephaestion’s role in the Philotas affair shows, I think, the more destructive side of love) but there’s nothing wrong with that – forgiveness is golden and we learn to forgive our enemies by first forgiving our friends. In short, they point the way to hope.
So, that’s why Hephaestion is éarendel – like Venus, his light merges into the greater light of the sun, of Alexander, and together they burn all the more brightly across the world, inspiring any who will take the time to look to the stars even if they are in the gutter.
Beautifully written, and so refreshing to read. I’m so tired of people dismissing Hephaestion, or downright insulting him. I will never forgive Peter Green for his totally unfounded comments about Hephaestion. Alexander may have been great, but I suspect he might have been a little less so without Hephaestion by his side. His worth is so underrated, and I will always fight for him. Thank you for writing this.
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