Posts Tagged With: Hephaestion

Some Weekend Reads

An article on the Ekathimerini website looks to the past in order to make sense of the present. If you would like to know about Alexander, fake news, and the end of ancient Athenian democracy then click here.

I have no comment to make about the current situation vis-a-vis North Macedonia, Greece, Russia et al but I will say that I did not like the description of Philip II as a ‘a Trump-level warlord’. Donald Trump is not a warlord, and you can be sure that if he was, he would not be one of the same level as Philip.

Philip II was as skilled a diplomat as he was a general. He deserves better than to be compared to Trump.

Also, I am still trying to work out how the writer can blame Alexander for an example of fake news that happened after he died and as a result of the actions of another person. Stratocles used Alexander to achieve his aim.

So Alexander is an eerie symbol in the name conflict. Hopefully, the Macedonian kings’ disdain for democracy will not prevail in the region.

As above, it’s Stratocles’ name that should appear here but it has to be said, Alexander did engage in fakery when it suited his interests – think of how he forged one of Darius’ letters to him.

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Alexander and Hephaestion make a list of National Geographic‘s Top 10, Red-Hot (no less), Power Couples here. Our lack of knowledge regarding what we know of their relationship means that you can take Alexander’s and Hephaestion’s inclusion in this list as seriously or not according to your preference. That aside, the caption provided with the image of the two contains a couple of interesting statements:

  1. ‘Many historians believe the two were lovers but ended the amorous side of their relationship when it was time to marry and start a family.’ I have never read a historian who believed that this was the case. If it is true, though, why did no one tell Bagoas?
  2. Hephaestion and Alexander ‘were said to look so much alike, that some couldn’t tell them apart.’ Some needed to open their eyes – just like Sisygambis did when she mistook Hephaestion for Alexander because he was the taller of the two and better looking.

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Read a very short history of the Vergina Star at Neos Kosmos here.

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Who is to blame for the conflict between North Macedonia (formerly the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) and Greece? Philip II and Alexander III, apparently:

The ultimate source of the problem – or at least the justification for the problem from the Greek perspective – has to be laid at the feet of Philip II of Macedon and, even more squarely, at those of his son Alexander the Great. If father and son hadn’t literally put Macedon on the map, modern day Greeks wouldn’t have been able to claim copyright over the place name. (my emphasis)

If I read this correctly, the writer is saying that Macedon did not exist before Philip and Alexander’s time, that they created it. Well, he said with a sigh, it’s an argument. At first glance, it also looks like a lunatic assertion but let’s not assume that the writer has lost his senses. What is he really saying? For me, the rest of the article does not shed any further light on the matter so it’ll have to remain an open question for now. If you would like to read the full article (at the History News Network website) you can do so here.

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Greek Reporter‘s list of the Top 10 archaeological finds in Greece over the last decade puts the Amphipolis tomb at Number One. You can read the complete list here. One quibble: Alexander died in Babylon, not Baghdad; the two are separate places.

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Hello to anyone visiting this blog from my Alexander Facebook page. If you have any comments regarding the North Macedonia links, please leave them here, not on Fb. Because the Greece-North Macedonia dispute can inflame tempers and lead to unpleasant ‘discussions’, I delete any comments relating to it there.

Categories: By the Bye, Of The Moment | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Iliad, Hephaestion and Alexander’s Jealousy

Recently, I bought the audiobook version of Stephen Mitchell’s translation of The Iliad. I have been listening to it at work and it has been a very intense experience.

One battle after another, one Greek or Trojan after another being killed in the most gruesome way. Homer does not spare you in his descriptions but – and this is surely his genius as a poet – he never descends into any kind of slaughter-porn; the deaths are treated with an amazing, and very mature, matter-of-factness.

As a result, the story never gets too much to bear. With that said, I can only listen to it for an hour or two every day before I need to take a break.

***

A few days ago, perhaps last week, I read an author who suggested that Perdiccas might have been a few years older than Alexander. This got me thinking about how Alexander sent Perdiccas with Hephaestion into Gandhara. It was 327 BC, and their

… instructions were to take by force or negotiate the surrender of all the towns on their route, and, once arrived at the Indus [River], to make all necessary preparations for the crossing of the river.
(Arrian IV.22.7)

Why did Alexander send two of his three most senior officers* away together? My Oxford World’s Classics edition of Arrian says that ‘Alexander needed a macho officer to balance the less bellicose Hephaestion’.

This seems to me to be a rather extraordinary statement. It can only come from the view that Hephaestion was not first-and-foremost a military man. Therefore, he must have been a bit soft.

However, the Hephaestion who, it is true, is most often seen carrying out non-military operations is also the Hephaestion fought with such vigour at the Battle of Gaugamela that he was wounded (Ar. III.15.2). And is also the same Hephaestion who took a ruthless and leading role in the downfall of Philotas (see C.VI.11.10 ff). And, yes, he is the same Hephaestion who was not afraid to square off against Craterus (Plutarch Life of Alexander 47) and even face down Olympias herself despite her ‘sharp criticisms and threats against him’ (Diodorus XVII.114).

So much for Hephaestion not being a ‘bellicose’ man. But if we rule the Oxford World’s Classics’s explanation out, why did Perdiccas travel with him? Well, I’m not going to pretend I know; I don’t, but a thought that came to me is that perhaps, if Perdiccas was appreciably older than Alexander (with whom Hephaestion was coeval), just perhaps, he was not there to cover the military side of the mission while Hephaestion handled the non-military but was assigned to Hephaestion to act as a mentor – to help him grow as a military commander rather than replace him as one. It’s just a thought.

* The third being Craterus

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I am on Twitter – @secondachilles if you would like to follow me – and yesterday I had a conversation with someone that led me to this passage,

… Alexander never used to greet the news that Philip had captured an important city or won a famous victory with particular delight; instead, he used to say to his friends, ‘Lads, my father’s going to pre-empt me in everything. By the time he’s finished, there’ll be nothing important left for me to present to the world, no splendid victories to be won with your help.’
(Plutarch Life 5)

Isn’t it amazing that Alexander worried about this? In his youth, he must have either had a very limited conception of the size of the world or else regarded most of it as being simply beyond reach. More likely, though, he never said any such thing and that the anecdote is based not on a specific conversation but on Alexander’s attitude and his tendency to be jealous of other people’s achievements – see how he called the Battle of Megalopolis in 331 BC ‘a battle of mice’ (Plutarch Life of Agesilaus 15) and his fatal quarrel with Black Cleitus (Curtius VIII.1.22-52).

Picture Credits
The Iliad cover – The Telegraph

Categories: Arrian, Diodorus Siculus, Hephaestion Amyntoros, Homer, Plutarch, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Men and Old Problems

I hate realising after the event that something doesn’t work. Case in point, the title of last Wednesday’s post, The War That Couldn’t Be Won On The Hydaspes. The title is much too long. I should have deleted the last three words.

Well, no use crying over spilt milk; let’s look at what I have been doing in Alexanderland since then.

***

As it happens, I have managed to read a little more of both Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy and The Marshals of Alexander’s Empire.

Partha Bose continues to create his own history. On p.142, he refers to Xenophon who ‘defeated the King of Persia’. But the reason why the 10,000 had to make their heroic journey back towards Greece is precisely because they lost the war against the Great King. Their paymaster, Cyrus the Younger, who was trying to overthrow Artaxerxes II, was killed in battle against him and so the Greeks had no choice but to flee.

In a section titled ‘Connective Style’, Bose refers to the fact that Alexander gave his generals the space to carry out their orders. He never,

… intervened or second-guessed the generals once battle had commenced. They came to each other’s aid, but they had gone over the battle plans and strategies so  many times that implementing them would come naturally to them.

This is a really good point. Alexander was blessed to have some extremely talented men serving under him. Of course, there were failures along the way (see the breakdown in command that lead to the deaths of Andromachus, Caranus, Menedemus, and Pharnuches et al – Arrian IV.5.3-6.2) but they are very much the exceptions that prove the rule. Philip II said that in all his life he had found only one general – Parmenion. He was exaggerating, of course, but had he lived longer, he would have found many more in men like Perdiccas, Craterus, Coenus, Lysimachus and Nearchus.

In the next section, ‘Getting Himself Over’ Bose talks about Alexander’s ability to connect with his troops.

Alexander had that admirable quality of being able to ‘get himself over’ to his troops, what British field marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein referred to as a pivotal skill in military leadership.

Alexander was not only good at this but a genius. How did he do it? Undoubtedly he would have learnt how to inspire his men but for the most part he was surely using his natural magnetism and charisma. I don’t think you can learn your way to inspiring your men to do the impossible. For some modern examples of intensely charismatic men, see Barack Obama, Tony Blair and – perhaps most of all of recent American Presidents? – Ronald Reagan. I would be willing to bet that they learnt to fine hone their powers of persuasion but that none of them started off being dull.

Apropos of nothing, I like the phrase ‘getting himself over’. I have heard it once before – in the context of American (WWE) wrestling. There, a wrestler behaves in a particular way to get over – become accepted – as either a goodie (babyface) or baddie (heel). It has been a while since I watched the WWE so feel free to correct me on this but if I am right, Alexander was behaving in basically the same fashion. The stakes were rather higher for him, though, so he didn’t want to get over simply as a goodie but as a figure of authority and power and munificence. If he could do it, he knew his men would follow him to the ends of the earth, which is nearly what happened.

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In Waldemar Heckel’s The Marshals of Alexander’s Empire, I have moved on to The New Man and have now read about Koinos (Coenus) and Hephaistion. The New Men were the generals of Alexander’s generation and Hephaestion was, of course, pre-eminent among them.

As I found out when I bought Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great, Heckel does not have much time for the son of Amyntor. He regards him as a man of limited military ability and ‘an unpleasant, jealous individual’ (p.83).

Limited Military Ability?
Heckel states that,

What we learn of Hephaistion’s later career as a cavalry-officer confirms our suspicions that his promotion to hipparch was owed to his friendship with Alexander rather than to military genius.
(p.76)

and in his dispute with Craterus, the latter ‘was equally ambitious but more capable’ (p.83).

On the one hand, I am sure that Hephaestion’s friendship with Alexander did him no harm whatsoever. And maybe it did help him to rise through the ranks. However, I am also sure that Craterus also benefitted from the loyalty he had to Alexander the king as well.

On the other, what does it mean that Craterus was the more capable man? There are no recorded incidents in the sources of Hephaestion failing Alexander in any commission that he was given. Whether it was to build a bridge or a city, choose a king or transfer equipment or food, he got the job done. But perhaps Heckel is talking about on the battlefield. Granted, Hephaestion could not be considered to be in the first division of generals, but neither could Craterus be considered to be in the first division of logistical experts. In their respective spheres of influence, both Hephaestion and Craterus were extremely capable. I might add that when they entered into each other’s sphere – when Hephaestion fought in a set piece battle or when Craterus was asked to forage – neither failed in their orders.

An ‘unpleasant, jealous individual’?
Heckel reaches this conclusion in the context of the Philotas Affair. The affair in which Craterus took a leading part as well, by the way. For it wasn’t only Hephaestion who called for Philotas to be tortured (Curtius VI.11.10). He also blames Hephaestion for his dispute with Eumenes (p.85) citing Plutarch’s Life of Eumenes 2. Plutarch, though, does not tell us who started that dispute. For all we know, Eumenes started it and Hephaestion, knowing full well that he could not afford to let the Carian be seen to put one over him, retaliated so that matters went downhill to the discredit of both from there.

I agree with Heckel that Hephaestion had a dark side but so did Craterus, so did Eumenes and, I would wager, so did every other Macedonian general. We all have failings. Hephaestion was just unlucky to have his remembered and recorded because he was so close to the king.

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I have been watching more of Shiralyn Mayon’s videos from my Alexander Facebook page. The first is this one on the Battle of Issus,

This video is fairly straight forward and not particularly spectacular. Unfortunately, the graphical quality isn’t great but it does have an actor playing Alexander whose lips reminded me very much of the British Museum Alexander bust. Also, Peter Green – author of Alexander of Macedon 356 – 323 B.C. A Historical Biography – appears in it, and he has a lovely accent.

The second video that I have been able to watch is this one,

If you have time for only one of the above, I would say watch Macedonian Battle Tactics. The visual quality is better and it gives a good overview of what made Alexander’s army so successful. It also includes a reference to the Hammer and Anvil strategy, which I found very useful.

Categories: Arrian, Books, Plutarch | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

A Friend, A Father, and a Queen

Google Alerts was quiet this week so rather than do nothing with my Facebook Alexander page (something I do too often) I decided to post three pictures from Pinterest. They appeared on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and judging by the number of ‘Likes’ that they received, they were all quite popular. Here are the ‘final’ scores (i.e. the scores as of 11:43am today when I am writing these words):

Monday Alexander and Hephaestion by Louis Gauffier – 65 Likes
Wednesday Alexander Threatened by his Father Donato Creti – 99 Likes
Friday Olympias, Queen of the Macedonians (Anon) – 35 Likes

The ‘final’ tally surprises me a little in that Alexander Threatened by his Father proved to be more popular than Alexander and Hephaestion. Hephaestion is a very popular figure with fans of Alexander so to see what is also a very touching scene between him and Alexander outstripped by the rather more violent and disturbing confrontation between Alexander and Philip II is unexpected. If you have a preference between the two why not leave a comment below to say why.

When I posted the pictures on Facebook, I did so without any text to explain them or the scenes that they are depicting. Rather than let them be, I shall do that now.
alexander-and-hephaestion
Alexander and Hephaestion by Louis Gauffier
This painting draws its inspiration from Chapter 39 of Plutarch’s Life of Alexander. In it Plutarch describes how Alexander’s mother, Olympias, often wrote to her son telling him to not reward his ‘friends and bodyguards’ so well as it made them ‘the equals of kings’.

Alexander kept [Olympias’] letters to himself, with one exception, Hephaestion was in the habit of reading the king’s letters with him, and on this occasion his eyes fell on a letter which had been opened. The king did not prevent him from reading it, but took the ring from his own finger and pressed the seal to his lips, so much as to tell him to keep silence.

What we see in Plutarch and Gauffier’s painting is an intensely personal and political moment. It is personal for the obvious reason that Hephaestion is reading a letter written by Alexander’s mother and is political because of Olympias’ role as Queen Mother. It is intense because if Hephaestion had had a mind to he could easily have used the knowledge gained from reading Alexander’s letters against the king. Alexander would have known this. The fact that he still let Hephaestion read the letters, therefore, is indicative of the trust he had in him. Having said that, Alexander still makes Hephaestion kiss his ring. There was no need for him to do this but as close a friend as Hephaestion was, Alexander was still his king as well as friend, and it seems never forgot this.
alexander-threatened-by-his-father
We stay with Plutarch for Alexander Threatened by his Father by Donato Creti. In 337 BC, Philip married his seventh and last wife, Cleopatra. At the post-wedding party…

Cleopatra’s uncle Attalus, who had drunk too much at the banquet, called upon the Macedonians to pray to the gods that the union of Philip and Cleopatra might bring forth a legitimate heir to the throne. Alexander flew into a rage at these words, shouted at him, ‘Villain, do you take me for a bastard, then?’ and hurled a drinking cup at his head. At this Philip lurched to his feet, and drew his sword against his son, but unfortunately for them both he was so overcome with drink and with rage that he tripped and fell headlong. Alexander jeered at him and cried out, ‘Here is the man who was making ready to cross from Europe to Asia, and who cannot even cross from one couch to another without losing his balance.’ 

This incident takes place in Chapter 9. As for the painting, I really like Alexander’s red cloak. No doubt it represents the danger of the moment. But for Philip falling over, it might have represented blood shed as well. Speaking of blood shed, I wonder if that is Attalus lying on the floor in the foreground of the painting. If it is, his red cloak could represent the injury he sustained from Alexander’s cup striking him. In regards the event that the painting portrays, it was probably the most dangerous moment of Alexander’s youth. It tells us a lot about Alexander’s pride and fear and how quickly Macedonian parties could turn nasty.

olympiasOf course, this carved image of Olympias does not depict any scene from her known life. I am do not know much about sculptural conventions so I will quote the following from the Galerie Sismann website from where I took the picture,

This portrait of this woman outstands for its strong graphic character, the sophistication of the tinae and the ribbons in her hair, and the sensuality of the naked breasts.

To read the full text, click here. I have long thought that Olympias is a woman in need of rehabilitation as the image that the sources present of her is of a wholly ruthless, vindictive and wicked person. Well, she was certainly a fighter. In order to survive, she had to be. Evil, though? In his time, Alexander behaved worse than she ever did yet we still hold him in high regard. Why? Why not her? That’s a question for another day; going back to this sculpture, I appreciate it because in the dignity, sensuality and regal bearing that it gives Olympias, it cuts her a break far more than the sources (especially Plutarch who, in Chapter 9 of his Life of Alexander blames her for inciting her son against his father and therefore causing indirectly the near-fatal confrontation at the wedding party) ever do. Going back to the point about sensuality, I do like the way that Olympias’ left breast breaks through the frame barrier. It gives the image an extra dynamism.

Categories: Art | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Pebbled Propaganda in Pella?

This post is me unpacking my thoughts regarding the Pella Lion Hunt mosaic. Please forgive its length and, probably obvious, conclusion. The identity of the people in the mosaic is not something I had seriously considered before so was starting first base here
Pella_Lion_Hunt_Mosaic
I have just started reading By the Spear, Ian Worthington’s account of the lives and deeds of Philip II and his son Alexander.

At the start of the book, Worthington talks about how Macedonian boys were taught to hunt from an early age. It was a way of teaching them how to fight against men when they grew up.

Hunting, however, was more than just a utilitarian exercise.

… it allowed time for the king and his nobles to interact socially, which affected their relations politically. These hunts were clearly dangerous, as a mosaic depicting a lion hunt from Pella attests.

The mosaic that Worthington is referring to here is, of course, the one you can see at the top of this post. He goes on,

Although the figures on the mosaic have been disputed, most likely we have Alexander to the animal’s left, trapped by its paw, and Craterus (who became one of Alexander’s generals) to its right, coming to his rescue… Both are wearing next to no protective clothing and are armed only with short swords – they thus had to get up close and personal with their deadly prey and rely on split-second instincts.

When I read the above passage, I was very taken by Worthington’s statement that Alexander was trapped by the lion. I had never noticed that detail before. And certainly, if you look at his expression, he does seem very alarmed. So, thank you to Ian Worthington for showing me something new in an image I thought had nothing new to say.

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It was very unwise of me to think that the Pella Lion Hunt Mosaic had nothing new to say when it is such a mysterious image. Worthington identifies the man on the left with Alexander, and the man on the right with Craterus. The mosaic, however, makes no such identification on either account.

The man on the left wears a kausia (‘wide-brimmed felt hat’ as Worthington calls it) but while this was worn by Macedonian kings, it was not worn exclusively by them. In fact, up until Alexander became influenced by Persian customs and dress, his royal predecessors seem to have gone out of their way to be as much like their men as possible, including in what they wore.

Perhaps there is something in the cloak, spear or scabbard that the man on the left is holding that suggests Alexander, but if there is, I’m afraid I can’t see it. The same applies to the man on the right in respect of Craterus.

The Lion Hunt Mosaic was found in a Pella residence known as The House of Dionysos, named after another mosaic found there (see below). The house was a big one. It obviously belonged to an extremely wealthy individual. This video shows what kind of a place it was.

If you watch the video, you’ll see that it places the Lion Hunt Mosaic in the very centre of the building. Whoever lived here, the mosaic meant a lot to them, and they would have wanted as many people as possible to see the work.

So who did live in this residence? Well, I’m afraid I don’t know. But whether it was a royal property or belonged to a nobleman, here are some thoughts I have regarding the Lion Hunt Mosaic.

Firstly, whoever the two figures are, I think that the one on the right stands for the owner of the house, or at least the one who paid for the mosaic and probably had a residence there. He is the one coming to the rescue of the other man, after all; it would make sense for him to place himself in the starring role, so’s to speak.

Secondly, I have seen the creation of the mosaic dated to between 325-300 B.C. If the two men are not Alexander and whoever but are simply two hunters, whether real of fictional, then there is nothing more to say about it; it simply records a hunting trip of some description and was made in the late fourth century B.C.

If, however, the man on the left is Alexander then the identity of the man on the right becomes very intriguing.

Imagine walking into the House of Dionysos. Come, the owner says, Come and look at my new mosaic. You walk into the central room and there you see that he has had a mosaic installed in which ‘he’ is rescuing King Alexander. It is between 325 and 300 B.C. You know about the king’s amazing exploits in the east. If this man had no connection to Alexander then this mosaic would surely come across as a bit presumptuous. Actually, the mere fact that the man placed himself in a mosaic with Alexander would be laughable. And the fact that he showed himself rescuing the king would be ridiculous.

So, if the man on the left is Alexander, I think the man who paid for the mosaic knew him, and probably fought alongside him; not just as a junior officer much less a rank and file soldier but as a general, and maybe even directly helped the king if not saved his life on one or more occasions. This would have definitely entitled the man to put himself next to Alexander on the mosaic, and even to come to his rescue.

Ian Worthington identifies the man on the right with Craterus. As he says, though, the identification is disputed. I have also seen Hephaestion mentioned as the right hand figure. A couple of other names occur to me – Black Cleitus and Peucestas.

Black Cleitus and Peucestas were both high up in Alexander’s army and both saved his life (Cleitus at the Granicus in 334 and Peucestas at the Mallian town in 325). Cleitus died in 328. There is no reason he could not have ordered the making of the mosaic before then but I would question whether he would have wanted to, given how estranged he had become from Alexander due to the latter’s orientising ways. As for Peucestas, I think his focus was on the future, not the past. He could have ordered the mosaic to be made after 325 but I suspect he was too busy getting used to his Persian trousers.

In truth, there are probably any number of people who could have ordered the mosaic but let’s go back to Craterus and Hephaestion. Hephaestion was Alexander’s best friend and fought alongside him. He was a nobleman, to boot. He surely had the money and motive to have the mosaic made. But did he have the ego to show himself saving Alexander’s life? We know from Diodorus (XVIII.114) that Hephaestion was perfectly comfortable in his friendship with Alexander. I don’t think he would have felt the need to show how important he was to the king, even to the point of saving his life.

Craterus, however, is another matter. He loved Alexander more than any other man. But, as Alexander himself pointed out (D. XVIII.114; Plutarch Life of Alexander 46), Craterus loved Alexander the king whereas Hephaestion loved Alexander the man. This could only have angered and distressed Craterus as he would have known that to love the man rather than the office placed Hephaestion closer to Alexander’s heart than himself – a very painful position for a lover of any kind to be in. No wonder he and Hephaestion feuded. Therefore, I think Craterus commissioned the mosaic not just to show how close he was to Alexander but as a slight against Hephaestion and act of self-affirmation: I was important to Alexander, I WAS (and more than him, too)*.

Another reason I am going with Craterus as the man on the right is that according to Robin Waterfield in Dividing the Spoils,

Craterus marked the end of the Lamian War with a large monument at Delphi, sculpted by the best artists of the day, that showed him saving Alexander’s life during a hunt…

He did it at Delphi, I think he did it at Pella, too. It would not surprise me to learn one day that the building we call the House of Dionysos was Craterus’ family residence.

dionysos_on_panther

Dionysos riding on a panther; the mosaic from which the House of Dionysos takes its name (Source: Theoi via Pinterest)

* On this point, Hephaestion may have been comfortable in his friendship with Alexander but he could be a very proud man, and there is space within this to see him ordering the mosaic’s creation for similar reasons to Craterus. When I think about that, though, I go back to his letter to Olympias and it seems to me that however proud he was, he was not self-doubting

Categories: By the Bye | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

When Did Hephaestion Die?

A post on The Second Achilles‘ Facebook Page

Categories: Hephaestion Amyntoros | Tags: | Leave a comment

He Conquered Through His Tears

In an article on The Myth of the Macho Christ for Patheos (here), Simcha Fisher writes quotes a correspondent who complained about her definition of masculinity. They wrote,

If an affinity for babies and not having sex is manliness or courage or masculinity then some anemic nerd virgin gamer who babysits his cousins on the weekend is literally more manly and masculine than Achilles or Alexander the Great or Gengis Khan, since they fornicated.

To which Fisher replies,

In charity, we’ll overlook the facts that Alexander the Great almost certainly had sex with men, and is best known for sitting down and crying,

Before proceeding to prove her correspondent wrong in his, or her, definition of what masculinity really is.

I agree with Fisher that Alexander ‘almost certainly had sex with men’ although I would limit their number to either one (Bagoas) or two (Bagoas and Hephaestion)*.

She is, however, is quite wrong when she says that Alexander is ‘best known for sitting down and crying’. Not even the village idiot would say such a thing. I suspect she is thinking of Achilles here, although I don’t know The Iliad well known to say how much time he spends sitting and sobbing. Having said that, I don’t think anyone in their right mind would say Achilles’ greatest claim to fame is the amount of tears he shed. Fisher has created a parody in order to make a point. In charity let’s say that on this occasion her memory of Alexander and Achilles both fooled her. It’s a great shame as the rest of the article is, in my opinion, a good one.

* On that point, see this comment

Categories: Of The Moment, On Alexander | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

Alexander’s Sexuality

The Bay Area Reporter of San Francisco has published an article titled Alexander the Great & Greek Love on its website. You can read it here.

By the standards of most on-line articles concerning Alexander, the article is a really good one; the writer has clearly looked more deeply into the topic than plenty of other journalists. Occasionally, however, he lets himself down.

Paragraph 1
This is an excellent introduction to Alexander. It’s the kind of passage that I wish I had written. I would dispute that Alexander ‘in the West, [is] probably the best-known ancient ruler’. In my opinion that honour belongs to Julius Caesar.

Paragraph 2
Another good paragraph. Unfortunately, it does contain one mistake: contrary to what the writer asserts, Philip II did not ‘subjugate’ Sparta. He threatened the Spartans but never invaded their country. Ultimately, he had no need to do so. On the positive side, the writer makes a nice point about Olympias, one that is always worth remembering: ‘Olympias must have been remarkable, or else little would be known about her’.

Paragraph 3
Again, a good paragraph. The line ‘Philip was assassinated, perhaps by a former male lover’ (my emphasis) stood out for me. Diodorus (XVI.93) says that that a man named Pausanias was ‘beloved by [Philip] because of his beauty’. In English, to be beloved of someone is not necessarily to be their lover, which is perhaps the reason for the writer’s caution in describing Pausanias. However, Diodorus goes on to describe how he – Pausanias – bad mouthed another man of the same name when he – Pausanias the assassin – ‘saw that the king was becoming enamoured’ of them. Pausanias accused his namesake ‘of being a hermaphrodite and prompt to accept the amorous advances of any who wished’. If Pausanias the assassin was not Philip’s lover I don’t think he would have had any reason to speak to the second Pausanias in that way.

Paragraph 4
This paragraph opens with some excellent questions regarding Alexander’s empire that we will debate until the end of time. The writer then states that Alexander ‘married an Afghanistani chieftain’s daughter’. Roxane, of course, was not from Afghanistan. The country did not exist then. She was Bactrian.

Paragraph 5
It’s hard to judge this paragraph one way or the other as the writer dives into history too early and late for me. However, I like very much that he recognises that it is anachronistic to talk of Alexander being homosexual on the grounds that ‘”homosexuality” and “heterosexuality” as social constructs didn’t exist before the 19th century’. For the record, I have no idea when homo- and hetero- sexuality were invented so I take him at his word that it was indeed in the nineteenth century.

Paragraph 6
The writer points out that ‘many writers’ believe Alexander and Hephaestion could not have had a sexual relationship as they ‘were the same age’ (Curtius III.12.16 says they were the same age) and points to evidence in James Davidson’s The Greeks and Greek Love to show that peers could be lovers. He cites Davidson’s example of Harmodius and Aristogeiton. They lived in the sixth century B.C. It would, I suppose, have been more helpful to use an example from Alexander’s own time as times do change but given how slowly this seems to have happened in the past I doubt much changed between the late sixth century and the middle of the fourth.

Paragraph 7
The following two quotations contain the whole of this paragraph. The writers states,

Most ancient sources agree that Alexander was attracted to young men.

This is more than I know. I know that he was certainly attracted to one young man – Bagoas; I am not aware of any others with whom he had an affair. It would be interesting to know who the writer’s source was, or who his sources were, for this statement.

According to Plutarch, Hephaestion was the man whom “Alexander loved most of all.”

This quotation doesn’t appear in my Penguin Classics (2011) edition of Plutarch’s Life of Alexander but I think it comes from Chapter 47. In my edition, the text there reads ‘In general [Alexander] showed most affection for Hephaestion’.

Their relationship was all-encompassing. They drank, hunted, and campaigned together. Hephaestion acted as Alexander’s Chief of Staff. It was most likely sexual. 

Really? It is equally likely that they were simply very close friends. In terms of how the writer sees Alexander’s and Hephaestion’s relationship, I am on his side, but here I think the last sentence is an example of his wish for the two to have been lovers rather than because the facts he mentions prove it to have been so.

Paragraphs 8 – 9
Here, the writer turns to the best ‘evidence’ to my mind for Alexander and Hephaestion being lovers: their imitation of Achilles and Patroclus (Arrian I.12 cf. Plutarch Life 15)who in their day were believed to be lovers. As a side note, I like that the writer acknowledges that Homer doesn’t call Achilles and Patroclus lovers. It’s this attention to detail which really sets the article above any other I have read on Alexander.

Paragraph 10
The writer now turns to the famous moment when Sisygambis mistook Hephaestion for Alexander (Arrian II.13, Curtius III.12.16-17) only for the king to reply “This one, too, is Alexander.” in support of his case that they were lovers. When considering this passage, I feel that I am at the limit of my understanding of what Alexander meant with those words. Was he implying that the two were one as lovers are or was he referring to a very deep and platonic friendship?

Paragraph 11
The writer refers to Bagoas as Darius III’s ‘boyfriend’ which is a wholly inaccurate and misleading way to describe him. Bagoas was a eunuch, a slave. There was no equality between Darius and Bagoas, such as exists between lovers of the same or opposite sex. The writer goes on to say that Bagoas ‘soon found his way into Alexander’s bed’ as if he managed to inveigle his way there. Far more likely that Alexander told or asked him to come to him. Finally, he writes ‘Bagoas’ presence doesn’t rule out physical intimacy between Alexander and Hephaestion. In any case, they remained inseparable.’ Both these statements are surely and certainly true.

Paragraph 12 – 13
This paragraph begins ‘Nothing demonstrates Alexander’s passion for Hephaestion more than his reaction to his death.’ I could not agree more. The writer goes on to give an account of Alexander’s response to Hephaestion’s death, to which I can only say that even if they did not share a bed, if there is an ounce of truth in account, it is proof positive that Alexander loved Hephaestion very deeply indeed.

Paragraph 14
This paragraph begins with the admission that ‘Unless new evidence is uncovered, the exact nature of Alexander’s sexual orientation (to use an anachronistic term) will never be known.’ It concludes,

Nonetheless, a reasonable interpretation of extant sources, studied within the context of the sexual mores of Classical and Hellenistic Greek societies, leads to the conclusion that his erotic feelings were primarily directed at males.

This I disagree with. Alexander had three wives – Roxane, Stateira II and Parysatis. But these were dynastic marriages, one may say; this is true, but what of his mistresses: Barsine, Pancaste/Callixeina, Thalestris, Cleophis and perhaps Thais, later Ptolemy I’s lover? Some of these relationships may be legendary (e.g. Thalestris) but all? I doubt it. My conclusion to all that I have read is that Alexander was sexually attracted to both men and women, and of them both he liked Hephaestion most.

Categories: Of The Moment, On Alexander | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Happy Birthday Hephaestion Amyntoros!

hephaestionOn this day c.356 B.C….

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].
(Diodorus XVII.114)

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.
(From Wikipedia)

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.

 

Categories: Hephaestion Amyntoros | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

The Shadow Story

I am currently reading The Hunt for Zerzura by Saul Kelly, which tells the story of the interwar desert explorers who criss-crossed the Egyptian desert in search of the lost oasis of Zerzura.

They never found Zerzura but did manage to map a great deal of previously unknown territory. These maps eventually ended up in the hands of both the Axis Powers and British armies after the outbreak of the Second World War.

***

There is much I could say about the book and the people involved in the exploration, but in this post I just wanted to highlight a comment made by ‘The Director of Military Intelligence, Brigadier Freddie de Guingand’ (p.187) regarding the contribution made to the desert war on behalf of Britain and her allies by the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG).

The LRDG was founded by one of the desert explorers, Ralph Bagnold, with orders ‘to make trouble for the Italians, and later the Germans, anywhere in Libya’ (p.136).

As the war progressed, the LRDG’s role also developed so that its commanding officer, Guy Prendergast could say that it

… found itself more and more in the position of ‘universal aunts’ to anyone who has business in the desert behind the enemy lines. An increasing stream of Commandos (European and Arab), L. Detachment, I.S.L.D., G(R)., bogus Germans (BUCK), lost travellers, ‘escape scheme’ promoters, stranded aviators, etc., has continued to arrive at SIWA needing petrol, rations, maintenance, information, training, accommodation, and supplies of all kinds.
(p.188)

***

In 1942, spying was at the top of the LRDG’s list of priorities as a 24-hour watch was kept on the Via Balbia, ‘Rommel’s main line of communication’ (p.187). Every vehicle and man that passed this way was noted and a report sent back to Cairo. The information sent by the LRDG’s observers was important as it

… enabled Military Intelligence in Cairo to check the Axis vehicle figures it was getting from Enigma so as to arrive at a reasonably accurate figure, in particular of the number of serviceable tanks, which Rommel could put in the field.
(p.187)

I’m sure I don’t need to say why it was important for the British army to know how many tanks the Desert Fox had at his disposal. And, indeed, this information was not just important but absolutely critical to the British war effort. So much so that de Guingand

… later maintained that the road watch was the LRDG’s most valuable contribution in the fight against the Axis in North Africa.
(ibid)

The raids behind enemy lines, the harassment of enemy forces, the soldiers ferried about, aviators rescued – no doubt all were valuable works but the most important thing that the LRDG did was lie down on the ground for hours on end and jot down names and numbers. That’s quite a thought.

***

Reading the above passage made a deep impression on me as it brought home once again how an army simply does not win its battles only on the battlefield. That may be where the greatest amount of glory is won but clearly, without the efforts of those behind the (battle) scenes, the ultimate outcome of any clash of arms has the potential to be a lot less certain.

Over the last few months, this thought has lead me to consider Hephaestion’s role as Alexander’s chief-logistics officer. I might now also consider who else served him in an equally unglamorous but perhaps vital way.

One person does immediately spring to mind: Eumenes, his chief war secretary. I might also mention Perdiccas who worked with Hephaestion on the logistics side. And then there is Chares, Alexander’s Royal Usher when the king was taking on Persian dress and customs and so a link between the traditional and progressive factions at court. Also, Leonidas and Lysimachus, the king’s tutors. Leonidas is well known but Lysimachus (not to be confused with the general of that name) perhaps less so. Alexander considered him important enough to rescue at great risk to his own life when the old man’s strength failed him during a brief campaign against arabs in Anti-Lebanon (Plutarch Life 24).

I’m sure I could go on but, hopefully, you already see my point – the chief story of Alexander’s life is definitely the battles, sieges and brave deeds he did, but there is definitely another – even if more shadowy – story to tell alongside that one. I must thank Saul Kelly (and, ultimately, Brigadier Freddie de Guingand) or reminding me of this in his excellent book.

Categories: Of The Moment | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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