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.
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Alexander… after crossing into Sogdiana, divided his remaining strength into five, one division to be commanded by Hephaestion, another by Ptolemy, son of Lagus, a third by Perdiccas, a fourth by Coenus and Artabazus. The fifth he took over himself…
Alexander arrived in Bactria in the Spring of 329 B.C. hot on the trail of Bessus. After a brief stop in Zariaspa to give his men time to recover from their crossing of the Hindu Kush, the Macedonian king led his army north. The chase ended on the Sogdian side of the Oxus River when Bessus was betrayed by his officers and handed over to Ptolemy*.
The capture of Bessus did not signify the end of Alexander’s presence in Sogdia or Bactria. Not long later, what appears to have been a multi-tribal native army, or armed force (Arrian III.30), attacked Macedonian foragers. Then, natives who lived in settlements along the Jaxartes (aka Tanais) River (A IV.1-4) rebelled against their new overlords. ‘They were joined in this hostile move by most of the people of Sogdiana… [and] some of the Bactrians’ (A IV.2). It would take Alexander nearly two years to pacify Bactria and Sogdia. It would never know peace, however.
After putting down the rebellion along the Jaxartes River, Alexander decided to cross the Jaxartes to attack some Scythians who had gathered there hoping to ‘join in an attack upon the Macedonians in the event of a serious rising’ (A IV.4), and suffered the loss of 2,300 men at the hands of a joint Scythian-native force led by Spitamenes who had decided to rebel against him (A IV.5-6).
Amidst all these events, Alexander was wounded twice and suffered a serious bout of dysentery. Operations continued until winter, which Alexander spent in Zariaspa.
The following Spring, Alexander led his men out of the city to deal with native settlements who had closed their gates to the governor. The unrest was so widespread Alexander was forced to divide his army up in order to deal with all the trouble.
Responsibility for bringing Bactria to heel was divided between Attalus, Gorgias, Meleager, and Polyperchon. I presume they acted independently of one another at this time but the text isn’t clear.
As for Sogdia, as we see from the quotation at the top of the post, the army was divided into five between Alexander himself, Hephaestion, Ptolemy, Perdiccas, and Coenus and Artabazus.
By-the-bye, the Sogdian operation is only the second time that Arrian has mentioned Hephaestion in the context of a military operation (the first being at  below). Here is a quick reminder of his previous appearances-
- I.12 During the visit to Troy
- II.13 In Sisygambis’ tent when she mistook him for Alexander
- III.15 Casualty list following the Battle of Gaugamela
- III.27 Given joint-command of the Companion Cavalry
- IV.12-13 Talking to Alexander the night Callisthenes failed to bow to the king
I don’t mention this in order to suggest that Hephaestion was not a good soldier. The picture we have of him in Arrian is Arrian’s own after Ptolemy and Aristobulos and such other sources as he has cared to use.
If anything, the grant of an independent command shows that Alexander clearly trusted his friend’s military capabilities. The times were simply too dangerous for the king to be handing divisions of his army over to friends just because they were friends.
Once the commands had been handed out, the
… four commanders carried out offensive operations as opportunity offered, storming the forts where some of the native tribesmen were trying to hold out, or receiving the voluntary surrender of others.
When these were completed, the generals returned in Marakanda. Hephaestion did not stay long, for Alexander sent him back out to ‘to plant settlements in the various towns’ (Arrian IV.16)
So, one minute a general, the next a settlement planner. Hephaestion was definitely a man of diverse talents. And we may talk of him as being very talented because his name crops up again and again when Alexander requires some kind of non-offensive operation to be completed.
332 Summer ‘Hephaestion conveys the fleet and the siege-equipment from Tyre to Gaza’
331 H. receives ‘a young Samian named Aristion, whom Demosthenes had sent in an effort to bring about a reconciliation with Alexander’
330 H. part of the ‘consilium’ that decided Philotas’ fate
328/7 H. collects ‘provisions for the winter’
327 Spring ‘Hephaestion and Perdiccas… sent ahead into India with a substantial force to act as an advance guard’
Alexander used him regularly for non-military operations: the founding of cities, the building of bridges and the securing of communications.
All the above quotes, including the last one, come from Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great by Waldemar Heckel (Wiley-Blackwell 2009) pp. 133-4. The final quote above ends ‘[these] constitute Hephaestion’s major contribution’. Obviously, Heckel has no great opinion of Hephaestion as a general. In my opinion, Arrian proves him wrong.
For the record, Heckel describes the five pronged operation in Sogdia as being ‘a mission that appears to have done little more than win back several small fortresses to which the rebellious natives had fled’ (ibid). I must emphasise that I don’t speak from a position of expertise here but I can’t believe that Alexander would feel the need to divide his army up for such a minor task.
* Or directly to Alexander – see Arrian III.30
Exactly one year ago I wrote a post for this blog in which I speculated about what might have happened to Hephaestion’s body after he died.
You can read the post here but in short, I said that I did not think that his magnificent funeral (Diodorus XVII.115) took place, and that after Alexander died, Hephaestion was probably quietly cremated and buried by the Successors in Babylon before being forgotten about.
When I wrote my post, I never imagined that a year on I would have reason to return to it. However, the discovery of a skeleton in the Lion Tomb at Amphipolis, and the suggestion that it could be Hephaestion’s, has drawn me back to the subject.
The person to whom I owe the idea that Hephaestion might be buried at Amphipolis is Dorothy King – see her post here.
As you’ll see, she theorises that the Lion Tomb was originally built for Alexander. If that is correct, the presence of Hephaestion’s body would presumably mean that Alexander intended to be buried with his friend.
Given how Alexander identified himself with Achilles, and treated Hephaestion as Patroclus*, together with the fact that Achilles and Patroclus were buried together at Troy**, this idea makes perfect sense.
But, do the bones belong to Hephaestion?
Tests are being carried out on them at the moment. It goes without saying that they won’t tell us the deceased’s name but hopefully they will give us information that will help in the identification process.
For example (and again, hopefully) they’ll tell us the person’s sex, their approximate age at time-of-death, and perhaps what injuries or illnesses they suffered from in their life.
If the sex of the person is female then that obviously rules out the deceased being Hephaestion.
If, however, it is male and the person died in their 30s that would make it possible for the bones to be his as he was about Alexander’s age and we know that in 324 B.C. Alexander was 32.
Further to this, if there is sign of injury in at least one of the arm bones, that would also make it possible for the skeleton to be Hephaestion’s as Curtius says he ‘suffered a spear-wound in the arm’ at the Battle of Gaugamela (IV.16.32).
It has to be emphasised, though, that even if the tests point to the skeleton being Hephaestion’s we can gain no certainty in the matter from them. What we must really hope for is the discovery of an inscription that spells out clearly to whom the tomb belongs. Otherwise, there will always be an element of doubt.
But let’s backtrack a bit – how can we be talking about Hephaestion’s skeleton being in Amphipolis when the sources have his funeral – and cremation at that – taking place in Babylon?
That’s a good question. What could have happened is that after the funeral his remains were transported to Amphipolis and there deposited. This, however, doesn’t answer the question how it is we have a skeleton in the Lion Tomb when Hephaestion was cremated.
So, what about the bones? Dr King provides an answer. In a comment made on 13th November 2014 at 10:30am (I’m sorry – I can’t seem to link directly to it) underneath the above mentioned blog post she states that ancient cremations did not take place at the same temperatures as modern ones.
This means that Hephaestion could have been cremated to the point that his flesh burned off but that – due to the lower temperature of the pyre – his bones survived.
Perhaps the tests currently being done on the skeleton will be able to tell us if the bones were indeed subjected to fire?
If we agree to the survival of Hephaestion’s bones as a possibility we can move on to the question of how they got from Babylon to Amphipolis.
As it happens, though, we need to correct the starting point of his final journey.
Let’s look at what the five major Alexander historians say about Hephaestion’s death and what happened to his body afterwards.
Arrian (VII.14,15) states that Hephaestion fell ill and died in Ecbatana and that a funeral pyre was built for him in Babylon. There is no reference, however, to the funeral actually taking place once Alexander arrived there.
Curtius Unfortunately, a lacuna in the MS means we do not have his account of Hephaestion’s death and funeral.
Diodorus has Hephaestion die in Ecbatana and his body transported to Babylon (XVII.110) where his pyre built XVII.115). No mention is made of what happened to Hephaestion’s remains afterwards.
Justin does not say explicitly where Hephaestion died. In terms of the narrative, his death takes place in Chapter 12. The last city Alexander is identified as reaching prior to this is Babylon (in Chapter 10), but at the start of Chapter 13 Justin appears to suggest that Alexander went to Babylon after Hephaestion’s death.
Neither does Justin say what happened to Hephaestion’s body. He does mention, however (in Chapter 12), that a monument was built in his honour, and that it cost 12,000 talents.
Plutarch states that Hephaestion died in Ecbatana (Chapter 72) but doesn’t say that his body was taken to Babylon. He does state, however, that Alexander decided to spend 10,000 talents on his friend’s funeral and tomb.
In summary, Arrian, Diodorus and Plutarch all agree that Hephaestion died in Ecbatana. But while Arrian and Diodorus state explicitly that his body was taken to Babylon, Plutarch makes no such claim. By implication he has Hephaestion’s body remain in Ecbatana. This may be what Justin is getting at although his account is really too vague to be of much use.
So, we have a disagreement. Who, in that case, do we believe?
Up until this week, I would have accepted Arrian’s and Diodorus’ account. Diodorus is not the best historian but Arrian has a very good reputation, and based his history on people who were witnesses to what happened four hundred years earlier – including one who was at the very centre of Macedonian power.
However, my opinion changed after I read an article by Paul McKechnie called Diodorus Siculus and Hephaestion’s Pyre, which offered a compelling reason not to accept Arrian’s and Diodorus’ account at face value.
I came across McKechnie’s article thanks to a link on Dorothy King’s blog here.
If I have understood McKechnie correctly, he argues that the account of Hephaestion’s funeral in Diodorus is not an account of an historical event at all but a literary conceit, designed to foreshadow Alexander’s death***.
Seeing the funeral in this way allows us to make sense of a statement that Diodorus makes in XVIII.4 of his Library of History. There, he says that after Alexander’s death, Perdiccas found among the late king’s papers
… orders for the completion of the pyre of Hephaestion.
Now, obviously, if the funeral had taken place as per XVII.115 there would be no need for these orders to be in Alexander’s papers.
McKechnie further argues that Diodorus took the story of the pyre in Babylon from a writer named Ephippus of Olynthus, who lived around the time of Alexander.
The reason I mention Ephippus is because he connects Diodorus’ narrative to Arrian’s. McKechnie suggests that Ptolemy read Ephippus’ account and decided to use it in his own history.
And indeed, he had a good reason for doing so. Just as Ephippus placed Hephaestion’s funeral in Babylon for literary reasons, Ptolemy placed it there for political ones.
So, I took Alexander’s body from Babylon to Memphis, he could say to the political doubter, I had a precedent – Alexander, himself, who took Hephaestion’s body from Ecbatana to Babylon.
Paul McKechnie’s article is really interesting, and I thoroughly recommend it to you. If you don’t have access to JSTOR, you can read it here.
So, as matters now stand, we have Hephaestion dying in Ecbatana and his funeral taking place there. The presence of the Lion of Hamadan (which is modern day Ecbatana) would appear to indicate that Alexander buried his friend there as well†.
Having corrected the starting point of Hephaestion’s journey, therefore, we now need to get him from Ecbatana to Amphipolis.
This part is most difficult for none of the surviving sources state that Hephaestion’s body was taken back to Macedon. If we are to place him there, we must do so by other means.
Here are three reasons for placing Hephaestion in Amphipolis.
- Alexander would not have regarded burying Hephaestion in Ecbatana as fitting. In life, he had seen himself as Achilles and Hephaestion as his Patroclus. In light of that, it makes better sense that he would want that identification to be made permanent in death
- The Lion Tomb in Amphipolis is so great, so majestic, it could only have been built for a very few people. The other possibilities are: Olympias, Philip III Arrhidaeus and Roxane, and Alexander IV.
As I understand it, there are inscriptions in existence which state (or indicate?) that Olympias was buried in Pydna, where she was killed.
Philip III Arrhidaeus is a possibility as he was a king but maybe buried at Vergina.
Would Cassander to have honoured Alexander IV (and through him, Roxane) with such a great tomb after killing them?
- It looks like the Lion Tomb could easily have met the cost of Hephaestion’s burial as described by Plutarch and Justin
These may or may not sound like good reasons but if you are still nervous about the lack of evidence in the sources, it is perhaps worth remembering that they are the surviving sources and that – as we have seen – they disagree with one another about what happened to Hephaestion after his death. We have no obligation, therefore, to take them at their word.
What do I think? I honestly don’t know. I like the idea of Hephaestion being buried at Amphipolis but I wish – really wish – we had stronger literary evidence.
At the moment, though, and although he is supposed to have been buried at Vergina, I am very tempted by the idea of Alexander IV being buried there.
After his murder on Cassander’s orders, several years passed before Alexander IV’s death became known. When it did, there was no civil war, no unrest, no rioting, nothing. Cassander, Ptolemy, Lysimachus, Seleucus and Antigonus all in due course proclaimed themselves king of their individual realms and that was that.
The reason for this is that time had passed and people had let the past go. I think perhaps Cassander realised this. And when he did, he decided that he could afford to be as generous to Alexander IV in death as he had been cruel in life, and deposited his remains in the Lion Tomb at Amphipolis.
That’s what I think, and as I am sure you have noticed, I have offered no actual evidence for Alexander IV being buried there. In fact, as I read back what I have written, I am beginning to think there is a stronger case for Hephaestion’s burial.
A last word. I have no more of an idea about who is buried in the Lion Tomb as anyone else, and I look forward to hearing more news from the archaeologists. In the meantime, what I would say, is that Amphipolis has been – and continues to be – a great learning experience for me and I am indebted to Dorothy King who has posted very insightful blog posts and linked to equally good articles about Alexander – McKechnie’s especially. I hope I never stop learning.
* I’m thinking here of how he had Hephaestion lay a wreath on Patroclus’ grave at Troy (Arrian I.12) and his Homeric response to Hephaestion’s death. Just as Achilles cut his hair in honour of Patroclus (Iliad XXIII.147-8)
** See Iliad XXIII.243-44 and Odyssey XXIV.73-5)
*** McKechnie notes how Diodorus emphasises Hephaestion’s status as Alexander’s second self, how Alexander attends to the funeral after setting his affairs in order, and orders the Sacred Flame in Asian cities to be extinguished in Hephaestion’s honour – something which is was only ever done upon the king’s die
† It is McKechnie who uses the Lion of Hamadan as evidence for Hephaestion’s remains being in Ecbatana. He provides other reasons as well. For example, a reference to Aelian, who
… in his story of gold and silver being melted together with the corpse on Hephaestion’s pyre, speaks of Alexander’s having demolished the walls of the acropolis of Ecbatana-and gives no hint of the pyre’s being supposed to have been in Babylon
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… Callisthenes… without prostrating himself, walked up to Alexander and offered to kiss him. Alexander, at the moment, was talking to Hephaestion, and did not trouble to observe whether or not Callisthenes had properly performed the act of obeisance, but one of the Companions – Demetrius, son of Pythonax – mentioned the fact that he had omitted to do so before going up for his kiss. Thereupon Alexander refused to allow him to kiss him.
…..‘Well then,’ Callisthenes exclaimed, ‘I must go back to my place one kiss the poorer’
Arrian’s source for this anecdote is Chares, Alexander’s chamberlain. We know this because Plutarch names him as such when telling the exact same story (Life of Alexander Para 54).
Plutarch’s account also includes a postscript that may also have come from Chares. In it, he describes how a ‘rift… developed’ between Alexander and Callisthenes as a result of the latter’s refusal to prostrate himself before the king. As a result of this,
… it was easy for Hephaestion to be believed when he said that Callisthenes had promised him that he would do obeisance to Alexander and had then broken his word.
When I first read this, it seemed to me that Plutarch was implying bad faith on Hephaestion’s part; or, to put it more baldly, that he was lying. When I read ‘to be believed’ I heard straight after ‘even though no such thing happened’.
We know from the Philotas affair that Hephaestion was not beyond acting maliciously (see Curtius VI.11.15) but whether he is lying here I can not say. A feeling about a text – especially one that is a translation – is really not enough to convict a man.
What I would say is that the postscript, if true, definitely provides proof that Hephaestion was not above manipulation. We should not be shocked by this. Indeed, we should not even be surprised: manipulation of one kind or another is part and parcel of all political systems and people’s lives. The polite word for it is persuasion. The real question is whether it is done honestly and for a good cause.
Was Hephaestion honest?
As we have no proof that Hephaestion lied when he said that Callisthenes had broken his word we are bound to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that – at the very least – he believed he was telling the truth (if we go any further we risk slandering Callisthenes).
Was Hephaestion’s cause good?
Callisthenes appears to have been a rather proud man, perhaps one who was easy to dislike; Hephaestion’s actions, though, were more likely inspired by the fact that the court historian belonged to the rival traditionalist party – that is, those who opposed the king’s adoption of Persian customs and dress.
To us, supporting the progressives in Alexander’s court, that is, those who stood alongside the king in his efforts to draw Greek and barbarian together, seems a straight forward decision. Such an inclusive policy is in perfect accord, after all, with dominant ideology of our own age. However, the matter is more complicated than that. It is not at all clear that Alexander intended Greeks and barbarians to be equal* (any more than it is clear in our age that some who profess to believe in equality really believe in any such thing).
Personally, I think Hephaestion’s cause was not only good but necessary. Callisthenes had shown disrespect to the king and for the sake of Alexander’s authority this needed to be made known. If it wasn’t, Callisthenes’ power would continue to rise and Alexander’s, in however small a way, would fall.
Why did Arrian not include Plutarch’s ‘postscript’? It could be that he didn’t know of it. If it came from Chares, though, maybe he omitted the story because it portrayed Hephaestion in what might be seen as a bad light. Up till now, the son of Amyntor has been portrayed in a wholly complimentary way. If that continues, I would definitely see this as an act of suppression.
* I’m thinking here of Badian’s reply to Tarn’s essay ‘Alexander the Great and the Unity of Mankind‘ in Historia 7 (1958)
IV. Joint-Command of the Companion Cavalry
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Alexander split the Companions into two separate divisions and appointed, respectively, Hephaestion son of Amyntor and Cleitus son of Dropidas to command them.
The appointment of Hephaestion and Black Cleitus as joint-commanders of the Companion Cavalry was necessitated by the death of its previous leader – Philotas.
Waldemar Heckel takes a cynical view of Hephaestion’s appointment, calling it ‘a blatant case of nepotism involving a relatively inexperienced officer’. This is why, according to him, Hephaestion was only given command of half the Companion Cavalry.
For his part, Arrian is quite clear about why Alexander split the command between the two men. ‘The reason for this step’, he says,
was that he did not think it advisable that one man – even a personal friend – should have control of so large a body of cavalry – especially as the Companions were the most famous and formidable of all his mounted troops
Arrian’s view makes perfect sense. Philotas was dead. Whether or not he died a traitor or an innocent man doesn’t matter; he was dead and Alexander had to consider the possibility that the next commander of the Companion Cavalry might take advantage of his men’s anger and grief at the loss of his predecessor, and use it to launch a second conspiracy.
The way Arrian presents the story, Alexander split the Companion Cavalry to protect himself against treachery even from Hephaestion. Given what we know of their friendship, it seems hardly creditable that Alexander should have such a fear, but who knows what the state of his mind after the Philotas affair was. Maybe he really was sufficiently unnerved to want to guard against every – no matter how unlikely – eventually.
Either way, I am not convinced by Heckel’s assertion a. To the best of my knowledge, Alexander was not given to acts of nepotism b. Hephaestion was not ‘a relatively inexperienced officer’. How could he having been part of the expedition since its beginning?
What do the other historians say about Hephaestion’s appointment? Actually, nothing. Unless I have missed a reference (do let me know if I have!), Arrian is the only person to mention it. That is a little surprising as the division and the reason for it were surely very significant matters.
Finally, the absence of this information from the other historians suggests to me that it comes to us via Ptolemy and the royal diaries, where it would have been recorded. As a general himself, Ptolemy would have been perfectly aware of the importance of Alexander’s decision to split the Companion Cavalry and recorded it accordingly.
III. The Battle of Gaugamela
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About sixty of Alexander’s Companions were killed; among the wounded were Coenus, Menidas, and Hephaestion himself.
I am intrigued by the translation ‘and Hephaestion himself‘ (my emphasis). If it reflects what Arrian wrote, the ‘himself’ cuts Hephaestion off from Coenus and Menidas. It is as if Arrian mentions them for one reason – I believe their rank, unless they had another connexion to Alexander that I am not aware of – and Hephaestion for another – undoubtedly his friendship with the king, which Arrian has already firmly established.
Arrian doesn’t mention any particular source for the information he provides. This is in contrast to i. his account of Alexander at Troy where he writes that ‘[o]ne account says that Hephaestion laid a wreath on the tomb of Patroclus’. Of course, Ptolemy or Aristobulos could be that ‘one account’ but if they are it does seem strange that Arrian doesn’t name them, and ii. the anecdote of Sisygambis’ mistake, which Arrian specifically says doesn’t come from Ptolemy or Aristobulos. Can we, then, make any deductions regarding who the source of the Gaugamela quote might be?
I think Arrian got his information from Ptolemy but that Ptolemy used a source common to himself and Diodorus and Curtius, the other two Alexander historians who mention Hephaestion in this context. My reason for saying this is because all three accounts are very similar. Here is Diodorus’ version.
Of the most prominent group of commanders, Hephaestion was wounded with a spear thrust in the arm; he had commanded the bodyguards. Perdiccas and Coenus, of the general’s group, were also wounded, so also Menidas and others of the higher commanders.
And here Curtius’,
Hephaestion suffered a spear-wound in the arm; Perdiccas, Coenus and Menidas were almost killed by arrows.
So, all three accounts state that Hephaestion was injured. Diodorus and Curtius add the detail that he was stabbed in the arm with a spear. All three accounts also state that Coenus and Menidas were injured. Diodorus and Curtius, however, tell us that Perdiccas was among the wounded.
This is why I think Arrian’s source is Ptolemy. In the first years of the Wars of the Successors, Perdiccas was Ptolemy’s mortal enemy. I think Ptolemy excluded him from his memoir as a form of payback. If he wrote his memoir after 310 B.C., over ten years after Perdiccas died, it was a very petty form of payback but that’s beside the point.
On the issue of Ptolemy’s pettiness, could that be why he doesn’t give Hephaestion’s injury – he’ll mention him if he has to, but he’ll go no further than that.
I’m against this idea. If we are going to have a go at Ptolemy, we might also ask ‘if he didn’t want too much attention given to Hephaestion, why did he bother to mention him at all?’ Could it be that actually, Ptolemy simply wasn’t interested – as a matter of course – in dwelling on people’s injuries*? He was a soldier, after all.
One final point. If Ptolemy, Diodorus and Curtius all used the same source, who could it be? Cleitarchus is the obvious name to mention here but I wonder. I doubt Cleitarchus could have got his information from the Macedonian veterans living in Alexandria at the close of the fourth century B.C. If any of them had fought at Gaugamela near Hephaestion et al I doubt they would have had time to observe them.
Rather, I imagine that Ptolemy took his information directly from Callisthenes’ war reports and/or the royal diaries, which he obtained after stealing Alexander’s body. These would have have confirmed to him what he already remembered learning after the conclusion of the battle in 331 B.C.
* Excluding Alexander. If what I say is correct, Arrian will only mention specific injuries when the narrative demands it or when his source is someone other than Ptolemy
II. Sisygambis’ Tent
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Alexander… entered the tent accompanied only by Hephaestion… Darius’ mother, in doubt, owing to the similarity of their dress, which of the two was the King, prostrated herself before Hephaestion, because he was taller than his companion. Hephaestion stepped back, and one of the Queen’s attendant’s rectified her mistake by pointing to Alexander; the Queen withdrew in profound embarrassment, but Alexander merely remarked that her error was of no account, for Hephaestion, too, was an Alexander – a ‘protector of men’.
Hephaestion’s second appearance in Arrian’s text is, perhaps, one of his most famous. It is the moment when not only is he mistaken for Alexander, but is then confirmed as another Alexander by the king himself.
But note that the translator, J R Hamilton, has Alexander say that Hephaestion is ‘an Alexander – a ‘protector of men” (my emphasis). This is not quite the same as saying that Hephaestion is his alter ego.
When I noticed this, I immediately went to the other Alexander historians to see what form of words they used in their accounts of the same scene.
Justin records Alexander’s visit to the royal women’s tent (here) but does not mention Hephaestion. Plutarch quotes a letter from Alexander to Parmenion in which he says,
‘… I have never seen nor wished to see Darius’ wife… I have not even allowed her beauty to be mentioned in my presence’.
So far, so unhelpful. Fortunately, Curtius’ and Diodorus’ accounts are of great interest. Not only do they record Alexander’s and Hephaestion’s visit to the royal women’s tent, but after Sisygambis’ mistake, they have Alexander say to her,
‘My lady, you made no mistake. This man is Alexander too.’
“Never mind, Mother. For actually he too is Alexander.”
Not ‘an Alexander’ but ‘is Alexander’. The difference is only two letters but they throughly alter the meaning of the phrase. Arrian represents Alexander as punning on his name; he does not tell Sisygambis that Hephaestion is him but that he – Hephaestion – is a protector of men like him. Curtius and Diodorus, however, have Alexander saying that Hephaestion is him – that he is his ‘second self’ as the note in Diodorus says.
The disparity between Arrian, Curtius and Diodorus leads us to ask which version of Alexander’s comment is correct? Actually, neither might be. In the passage preceding the above quote, Arrian tells us that the anecdote is not mentioned by Ptolemy or Aristobulos and that he does not record it as being ‘necessarily true’. However, he doesn’t give a reason for saying this.
In his notes to John Yardley’s translation of Curtius, Waldemar Heckel takes the matter a little further by suggesting that the anecdote was invented by Cleitarchus.
Livius would probably agree with him. They say that Cleitarchus,
… sometimes sacrificed historical reliability to keep the story entertaining and to stress the psychological development. Therefore, Cleitarchus’ History of Alexander contains many errors (some serious).
If the story of Sisygambis’ mistake is fictional, I imagine Cleitarchus invented it in order to show how good a man Alexander was in order to show how far he fell after replacing Darius III as Great King – all part of the story’s ‘psychological development’. Hephaestion’s appearance in it, therefore, is no more than a means to an end.
For us, it is a shame if one of Hephaestion’s (most famous) appearances in the histories must be considered a fiction. However, even if it is, the fact that Cleitarchus chose to use the chiliarch bears witness to the latter’s special status with Alexander. Bearing in mind that Cleitarchus was writing within living memory of both men, had Hephaestion been other than the man of the anecdote, it would have fallen flat on its face when Cleitarchus read his work to his audience.
For this reason, perhaps, after consulting other histories, Arrian says that though he doesn’t think Cleitarchus’ anecdote ‘necessarily true’, it does seem to him to be ‘credible enough’. For a moment, I feel as if we have come within touching distance of the historical Hephaestion son of Amyntor but held back from reaching him by the invisible chains of time and an Alexandrian writer’s literary conceit.
A few days ago I posted my thoughts on Chapter 5 of Mary Renault’s Fire from Heaven over at the Alexander the Great Reading Group on Facebook. You can find the post here.
In this comment, the author talks about how ancient historians treated Hephaestion. Here is my response. As I wrote it, I started wondering why exactly Arrian portrayed Hephaestion in the way that he did.
Unfortunately, the answer to that question died with him but it has made me want to look at Hephaestion’s portrayal throughout his work to see what kind of picture he paints of him not in one moment but overall. As I work (or write) my way through it, I will compare what Arrian says to the other historians.
I would like these posts to be quite short so in each one I will look at just one ‘scene’ and sum up at the end.
Read the other posts in this series
We meet Hephaestion for the first time at Troy. According to Arrian,
One account says that Hephaestion laid a wreath on the tomb of Patroclus; another that Alexander laid one on the tomb of Achilles, calling him a lucky man, in that he had Homer to proclaim his deeds and preserve his memory.
Alexander’s actions had a two-fold purpose. He wished to,
i. publicly associate himself and Hephaestion with Achilles and Patroclus
ii. honour Achilles, his ancestor**
Arrian presents Alexander’s and Hephaestion’s actions in an even-handed manner, neither mocking their arrogance for comparing themselves to Achilles and Patroclus nor praising the appropriateness of their actions. Instead, he simply gives the facts of what happened according to the two sources that he is using.
This passage is testimony, therefore, to Arrian’s desire to write an accurate history of Alexander’s life. I think it also stands as testimony to his desire to treat Hephaestion fairly, too. It would have been easy for Arrian to omit mention of Hephaestion’s wreath-laying and focus only on the king’s, and yet, he chose not to do so.
This is in contrast to Diodorus who says simply that Alexander ‘visited the tombs of the heroes Achilles, Ajax, and the rest and honoured them with offerings and other appropriate marks of respect’ (XVII.17) and Justin ‘He also sacrificed at Troy, at the tombs of the heroes who had fallen in the Trojan war.’ (XI.5).
Plutarch writes the account that Arrian might have done if he did not care about, or wished to suppress, Hephaestion’s role.
Once arrived in Asia, [Alexander] went up to Troy, sacrificed to Athena and poured libations to the heroes of the Greek army. He smeared himself with oil and ran a race naked with his companions, as the custom is, and then crowned with a wreath the column which marks the grave of Achilles; he also remarked that Achilles was happy in having found a faithful friend while he lived and a great poet to sing of his deeds after his death.
(Life of Alexander Para 15)
Plutarch’s account makes me think that Arrian wanted to not only give an accurate account of Alexander’s life but also a full one, that is to say, one that does not omit mention of other people in Alexander’s life for the sake of keeping the narrative focused (which is what I think Plutarch is doing).
One final point – Arrian’s two principle sources are Ptolemy I Soter and Aristobulos. They are, in his opinion, ‘the most trustworthy writers’ (I.1) on Alexander. As Arrian doesn’t name his sources for the Troy story, I assume that neither Ptolemy nor Aristobulos mention it, but that the sources come from that part of the ‘popular tradition’ (Ibid) which he is happy to use (as it ‘may well be true’).
If this is the case, the question that naturally arises is why don’t Ptolemy or Aristobulos mention it? I have no answer for Aristobulos as he is supposed to be a flatterer – but perhaps Ptolemy had no interest in Alexander’s Homeric pretensions. Given his position as satrap and pharaoh, it would be easy to understand why he chose to focus on Alexander, son of Ammon.
* I am using the Penguin Classics (1971) tr. J R Hamilton edition
** On his mother’s side