So begins the introduction to this short (136 page) book, translated by Valentin Numbers and edited by Loren J Herbin.
Except that neither Numbers or Herbin are real; Hephaestion’s journal is a fiction-within-a-fiction, which Saiz uses to draw the reader deeper into the ‘reality’ of the book. For another example of this type of literary conceit see The Lord of the Rings, which purports to be a translation of a book written by Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.
But whereas Tolkien’s role as the actual author of his work is highlighted in the Note on the Text, Note on the the 50th Anniversary Edition and Forward to the Second Edition, Saiz keeps herself very firmly in the background. Her name appears only on the spine of the book and its copyright message. It is absent from the brief About the Author note at the back of the book.
As for the book – if I had read Hephaestion’s Journal on fanfiction.net I would have have regarded it as a good example of that genre. It is a thoughtful piece of work and has been competently written.
It doesn’t yet work, however, as a novel. The story is under developed – Saiz’s Hephaestion does little more than record key moments in Alexander’s life. He feels hardly more than a royal secretary. Yes, we get insights into the development of his relationship with Alexander but only insights. These two men are at the heart of the story, we should be getting much, much more.
Only Saiz can tell us what that ‘more’ should be but I found the way she portrayed Hephaestion as being antagonistic towards Alexander during their childhood and then, in the later years of the expedition east, of the opinion that Alexander had gone mad as being intriguing ideas that have a lot of potential for further exploration.
The same could be said for some of the other characters. Saiz’s Perdiccas is licentious and a sadist, Ptolemy ‘solid’ and Craterus bent on power. So much could be done with people like them. I really hope that Saiz comes back to this subject in the future to do them justice.
Saiz’s main source for Hephaestion’s Journal is Arrian, although she also uses Plutarch and Curtius. Aristotle and Xenophon are also referenced as is Alexander scholar Elizabeth Carney. In that Saiz places Cassander (and Antipater) in Alexander’s army she may be taking inspiration from Oliver Stone’s Alexander film as well.
All-in-all Hephaestion’s Journal has the feel of a work written at leisure and then published at the writer’s ease. If Hannah Saiz was to take it back and develop it further I am confident that she would then have a book that any publisher would be interested in taking on.
- Thank you to my friend Jen who sent me her copy of Hephaestion’s Journal to read. You can read her review of the book here.
Front cover of Hephaestion’s Journal Booksamillion