Bias in view of Hephaestion

Recently, I checked out Waldermar Heckel’s “Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great: A Prosopography of Alexander’s Empire” in order to read the entry on Hephaestion.  I must say that the attitudes reflected in the entry did not please me much.  I seem to see these same attitudes reflected in other places regarding Hephaestion, including, I fear, in the opinion of a very good friend.

Heckel states that Hephaestion “clearly…had no extraordinary abilities as a general, as his undistinguished military record shows.”  He qualifies this by ‘graciously’ allowing that he “did provide useful service as Alexander’s ‘utility man'”.  Here, I think, is the root of the problem.  Hephaestion seems to have excelled more at organization than he did fighting.  Traditional ideas of gender roles have always demanded that to be a ‘true man’, one has to excel at things traditionally thought to be the sole purview of a male, including fighting, hunting, and weaponry.  Now, I have never been one who has been devoted to the cause of reading history through the lens of gender, but this idea seems to permeate the literature regarding Hephaestion.

Too many times, if the source admits that he had any good effect on Alexander and his campaign, it is to allow that he had some ability for organizing.  Jeanne Reams, whose work is available in the articles section on this website and should be read following this, points out that he not only had some ability, but he, in fact, was so skilled at logistics that he was the power behind the throne.  The problem is logistics is not traditionally thought sexy.  In fact, throughout the history of the Western world, the ideal woman was not only to be beautiful but also to excel at organizing and managing the home.  Food and lodging were contained in the domestic sphere which was not to ever interact with the business sphere that men operated in.

By emphasizing that Hephaestion’s talents lay in what they have labled as the realm of women, they lessen both his masculinity and his conributions to the running of Alexander’s empire.  Much as Oliver Stone did in his tragic movie Alexander, they firmly place him as an equal of the women in Alexander’s life.  Men like Craterus, Perdiccas, and even Ptolemy are valued higher for their talents lay in their miliary abilities as should be with men.

Perhaps, this bias is due to the fact that the Alexander literature is largely written by white men of Western European descent.  After all, the major countries of Europe, France, Germany, and especially England, imposed these ideas all over the world as they colonized it creating settlements in their own image. Why should they not also impose those same ideas on the history they studied.  After all, their success was proof that God approved of their society.  Any society that succeeded must then share their ideals or it would have faced the same destruction their bible told them had befallen Sodom and Gommorah.

There are those, including a dear friend, who would say that they do not value Hephaestion as highly because he is not mentioned in the sources as the others are.  I would ask those people to reexamine the sources in light of their author’s and this bias.  The sources were all written by men of a privledged class–the most highly regarded author being a military man.  I think it is therefore required that one filter their words through at least the possibility that this bias exists for if we as historias do not filter the bias to arrive at truth then we are little better than common gossips.

My contention is this–that Hephaestion is undervalued beginning in the sources and continuing to this present day because he does not neatly fit traditional ideas of what a man should be and since there are only two traditionally accepted gender roles–man and woman–he is thus assigned to be more woman than man.  Thus he is more easily dismissed than his counterparts, and any contributions made are easily swept under the rug.

As always, these posts are meant to be a starter for a dialogue.  So feel free to comment.

Review of Hephaestion’s appearances in Ian Worthington’s “Ptolemy I: King and Pharaoh of Egypt”

At the suggestion of our friend, Malcolm, I recently read Ian Worthington’s new biography Ptolemy I: King and Pharaoh of Egypt.  Ptolemy, the drunken Macedonian frat brother we all wish we had! If you are interested in Alex and his merry band, I highly recommend reading it.  It’s not too long and is a fast read.

Since this blog focuses on Hephaestion, I wanted to look at a couple of the points that Worthington made about our boy.  Worthington feels that by dividing duties and powers between his various friends and officers, Alexander caused jealousy and disharmony which exploded after his death into the Successor Wars.  As a specific example, he points out that one of Ptolemy’s first actions upon taking over Egypt was to cancel plans for a shrine to Hephaestion.  He feels this action shows the enmity that the entire senior command felt toward Hephaestion.  Another example frequently given to support this thought is the fight between Hephaestion and Craterus which was broken up by Alexander himself who scathingly divided them into philobaselius and philAlexandros. (I’m typing those Greek terms from memory at the moment, so I may not have spelled them correctly.)

Now, come everyone’s favorite moment, audience participation time.  Thoughts?  Do you agree with Worthington that Alexander was responsible for the Successor Wars?  Malcolm, you have done extensive reading on the Successor, so please help us out.

Hephaestion: Human or Dancer?

I did my best to notice
When the call came down the line
Up to the platform of surrender
I was broad but I was kind
And sometimes I get nervous
When I see an open door
Close your eyes
Clear your heart
Cut the cord
Are we human?
Or are we dancer?
My sign is vital
My hands are cold
And I’m on my knees
Looking for the answer
Are we human?
Or are we dancer?

Pay my respects to grace and virtue
Send my condolences to good
Give my regards to soul and romance
They always did the best they could
And so long to devotion
You taught me everything I know
Wave goodbye
Wish me well

You got to let me go

Are we human?
Or are we dancer?
My sign is vital
My hands are cold
And I’m on my knees
Looking for the answer
Are we human?
Or are we dancer?

Will your system be alright
When you dream of home tonight?
There is no message we’re receiving
Let me know is your heart still beating?

Are we human?
Or are we dancer?
My sign is vital
My hands are cold
And I’m on my knees
Looking for the answer

You got to let me know

Are we human?
Or are we dancer?
My sign is vital
My hands are cold
And I’m on my knees
Looking for the answer
Are we human?
Or are we dancer?

Are we human?
Or are we dancer?

Are we human
Or are we dancer?

“Human” by The Killers

Songwriters: Brandon  Flowers, Dave Brent Keuning, Mark August Stoermer, Ronnie Vanucci Jr.

Brandon Flowers has said in interviews that this song was based on a disparaging quote by Hunter S. Thompson who claimed that America was “raising a generation of dancers”.  The implication in the statement was that American teens no longer thought for themselves but were swept along by successive trends like marionettes with no control or self reflection.  The Killers song expands on this idea.  Flowers asks us to ask ourselves if we are human or dancers.  Do we take control of our lives and approach each day with reflection on how we interact with the world, or are we dancers, marionettes blown about by the wind of each new trend.

So what, you are asking yourself, does this possibly have to do with Hephaestion?  My question is this–and yes,this is another one of those posts that I hope results in a debate through comments.  Was Hephaestion human or dancer?  In other words, did Hepheastion have control of his life.  Did he approach each day by analyzing himself and how the events of that day affected his mind, his morals, and his world view?  Or was Hephaestion merely a dancer, a puppet caught in the wind of Alexander’s ambition and deployed when, where, and how Alexander decided.

I have always had the gut belief that Hephaestion was Alexander’s brake–his moral compass–that kept Alexander from losing himself to his baser desires, his mood swings, and his occasional craziness.  Not to say that Hephaestion was always successful as seen in the incidents with Philotas and Black Cleitus.  But, for the better part of  decade he managed to keep Alexander on a fairly even keel which is impressive if you consider that there was no medication in existence to help balance the mood disorder that I also have a gut feeling that Alexander had.

So de


Review of J. Reames’ “An Atypical Affair? Alexander the Great, Hephaistion Amyntoros and the Nature of Their Relationship”

I recently read this article that was ferreted out by one of our readers, Cassidy.  As you may recall, we have talked of Jeanne Reames before.  Her PhD thesis was on Hephaestion, and she is one of his foremost scholars.  I have been drawn to her work, because she sees many things about Hephaestion in the same light as I do though we do differ at times.  This article which can be found here:

deals with Alexander and Hephaestion’s relationship and whether or not it was sexual in nature.  Those of you who have been around for a while know that this is my least favorite topic when it comes to these two.  I am in no way shape or form homophobic.  In fact, one of my favorite hobbies is reading male-male romance stories.  I find common ground in the “otherness” and loneliness that is often at the center of these stories.  However, I absolutely hate the attempt to make these two the poster boys for gay romance.  Reames agrees somewhat with this view.

Like me, she does not deny that their was a relationship between the two, and that that relationship was the most important in each their lives.  She states:

In terms of affectional attachment, Hephaistion–not any of Alexander’s three wives–was the king’s life partner.  Whatever the truth of any sexual involvement, their emotional attachment has never been seriously questioned.  No doubt as teenagers, both had learned from Aristotle some version of what he would later write in his Nikomachean Ethics–that perfect love was the highest friendship (1156b), and that friendship was a state of being, not a feeling (1157b).  Moreover, Aristotle speaks of the friend as the ‘second self’ (1170b) and indicates that there is only one special friend (1171a).

I fully agree with this.  I have long thought that much as Alexander is reported to have told Sisygambis upon meeting her that these two men were two halves of the same whole.  In Hephaestion, Alexander found a constant source of unquestioned support.  As a man who was used to contention in his life, whether it be between his parents or between he and his men, in Hephaestion he had someone who would listen to anything he would say and offer sound, quiet advice.  In fact, I have long supposed that Hephaestion served as a brake on a sometimes erratic likely bipolar Alexander.  He was Alexander’s moral compass.  A single word from Hephaestion was often far more powerful that the loudest challenge from one of his generals or dissenters.

Reames goes on to point out the following about the relationship when the question of sex is brought up:

I do think it quite possible that Alexander and Hephaistion were physically intimate at some point.  I do not necessarily think, however, that they were still physically intimate in the latter years, though they may have been.  Mostly, I don’t think it greatly significant to the affection they held for one another.

This is the very point I have always tried to make.  Whether or not they had sex at some point, it doesn’t matter when considering the overall strength of their relationship and to attempt to reduce their relationship to simply a sexual one is a massive insult to both men.  It is entirely possible to have a relationship with another person that goes beyond the basic bonds of friendship but in no way includes a sexual component.  In fact, my best friend and I have a very similar relationship.  We are closer than friends, but are not family by blood.  Though attraction may have existed at some point, we have mutually agreed that it has no place in our current relationship.  There is no need for sex between us, because there is no way to be emotionally closer than we already are.  In each other, we have found an unquestioned source of support and an understanding mind.

I know that to deny a sexual relationship between Alexander and Hephaestion sets me against all the Farrell-Letoers out there among others.  However, I brave their disapprobation to stand by my point.  As always, these posts are intended to open a dialogue so feel free to comment.

Alexander the Great: Master of the Ancient World

This is a quick review of Alexander the Great: Master of the Ancient World by Doug Wilhelm, a biography intended for older children.  Why am I reading a children’s book about Alexander, you ask?  Because I was curious to see how the author would frame the relationship between Alexander and Hephaestion.

Hephaestion is mentioned on seven occasions in the book.  He is first introduced in a discussion on Alexander’s education at Mieza with Artistotle.  Hephaestion is called a handsome boy who will become Alexander’s lifelong friend.  He next shows up racing Alexander around the tomb of Achilles and Patroclus at Troy.  No mention is made of the possible homoerotic overtones of the relationship between the heroes.  He then receives a spear wound to the arm in battle.  His fourth appearance comes in the discussion of the trial of Philotas where it is explained that though Philotas proclaimed his innocence, Hephaestion and other Companions testified against him.  In his fifth appearance, Hephaestion is seen trying to arrange the adoption of proskynesis in a Macedonian-friendly manner.  He next appears at the mass wedding where Alexander marries him to the sister of the bride Alexander chose, both daughters of Darius III.  The last mention is the one I wish to focus the rest of the discussion on—his illness and resulting death.

Wilhelm explains it by saying, “[he] became gravely ill.  The doctor told him to rest, but Alexander’s lifelong companion continued to drink.  In a few days, he was dead.” (115)  Wilhelm goes on to quote Plutarch saying that Alexander who had witnessed literally thousands of gruesome deaths on the battlefield went wild with grief at this one.  He lists Alexander’s response as including cutting his hair, laying on the body weeping for twenty-four hours, and, upon returning to Babylon, building a 200 foot tall funeral pyre that was subsequently burned.  But most interestingly, Wilhelm claims that “with the loss of Hephaestion, Alexander seemed to lose confidence in the gods.” (116)  Quoting Plutarch again, he goes on to say that Alexander became downhearted and increasingly suspicious of friends.

I think in his reaction we see bipolar disorder already exacerbated by some severe head injuries and a collapsed lung further exacerbated by extreme grief.  This idea of bipolar Alexander is one that I am currently researching in hopes to share future thoughts with you.

PS) I have no idea why they made Alexander look so evil……………or 12!


Hephaestion’s “Fans”

In her chapter “The Cult of Hephaestion” in Responses to Oliver Stone’s Alexander:Film, History, and Cultural Studies, edited by Paul Cartledge and Fiona Rose Greenland, Jeanne Reams examines the people she has encountered in her twenty-plus year career studying Alexander and Hephaestion.  She states that it suprised her when she first began to find that Hephaestion had fans.  She began to look more closely at that group and found that it is largely composed of women and gay men.  She feels that he appeals to these two groups particularly because they are groups that tend to feel marginalized and in Hephaestion they see someone who was equally so.

She points out that in her opinion Hephaestion was marginalized because his talents lay largely in logistics and diplomacy not on the battlefield as was traditionally expected in Macedonia.  She does not feel that he was a poor soldier, just that his primary talents do not seem to have been in battlefield command.  As such, since his accomplishments often took place behind the scenes so to speak, it was easy for his rivals in Alexander’s court to push him to the side.  They were not the only ones who tended to push Hephaestion to the side.  The few primary sources that we do have for Alexander’s career do not mention him often, and subsequent scholars have continued to ignore him for the most part.  When he does appear, it is not as he was, a competent soldier who excelled at the most difficult logistical challenges and the most intricate diplomatic relations, but an emasculated version who only received what he did because he was willing to open his legs for Alexander.  Those of you who follow this blog know how I feel about that sentiment!

Reams feels that this view of Hephaestion as Alexander’s “love toy and pseudo-spouse” whose duties correspond to those traditionally thought the province of women explains his appeal to women.  She feels that the view of a few authors who present Hephaestion as Alexander’s righthand man, lover, and second in command appeals to gay men because it is the ideal homosexual relationship–an equal partnership between two strong men.

I hate the term “fan”.  It’s probably a result of being devoted Echelon, but it is a term that to me more often than not is a pejorative.  I don’t like Hephaestion because he was pretty, or because he and Alexander were lovers, or because he was good at scheming.  I find all of those aspersions cast on Hephaestion to be insulting.  It also implies that I, as a fan, am a vapid, bubblehead.  I am not fond of those who insist on characterizing the relationship between Alexander and Hephaestion as the poster example for the ideal gay relationship.  Whether they slept together or not is irrelevant, to focus on only that aspect is an insult to them because it denies the important aspects of their friendship.  There is such a thing as a relationship that goes beyond friendship, beyond family, but has no sexual aspect to it at all.  To deny them the possibility of such a relationship is to reduced them from thinking, feeling human beings to cheap porn meant to do no more than titillate.  They’re not a tumblr gif!  They were two of the most amazing men in history.

As always, I hope this post is the beginning of a conversation.  Please comment!  This page is intended to be a place where we can explore the image we each have of these two and how those images may differ.  I know you all, especially you, Cassidy, will have at least one response to this!  Share!

Hephaestion-shaped World

This is a blog post that I published previously on my other blog.  I am reposting it, because I think there are a lot of you that are new readers, and some of you have asked me what my vision of Hephaestion is.

Apologies ahead of time as this may ramble a bit, but it’s something that has been rolling around in my head for awhile but haven’t been able to put adequately into words.  I think I still haven’t, but here goes.  And I more than realize that this may be a Hephaestion that only exists in my mind, but it is MY Hephaestion………….

I live in a different universe than the rest of humanity, one guided by twin suns–one named Alexander and one named Hephaestion.  One sun inspires ambition, energy, a need to always conquer, to always learn.  The other calms, tempers, brings balance, brings beauty.

In the life and career of Alexander the Great are the secrets of life.  In him is greatness. In him is immortality.  In Hephaestion is everything that makes all in Alexander worthwhile.  Alexander set fire to the history obliterating everything that came before, creating in its place a world that was not and never would be the same.  But it was a Hephaestion-shaped world.  For, no offense to Alexander who was no mere mortal, everything that made Alexander Alexander was Hephaestion.  He supported Alexander’s ambitions and dreams.  He sacrificed everything, including his own life, for those dreams.  While there is little doubt Alexander would have out-excelled all mankind, he would not have gone so far and the journey would not have been as worthy without Hephaestion.

Hephaestion was the greatest of men–a soldier but also a strong servant of Apollo.  He showed that a man could be strong, athletic, physically beautiful, and possessed of great endurance but also intellectual, regal, philosophical, and a lover of beauty.  He balanced two seemingly disparate halves with a transcendent grace.  It is this balance he gave to Alexander and to the world they created.

Alexander was brave, almost to the point of lunacy at times, intellectual, quick-witted, playful, and fiercely loyal; however, he could also be petulant, spoiled, enraged, and occasionally cruel.  Yet one word from Hephaestion could calm all that–often the only thing that could calm all that.  Hephaestion was the axis around which Alexander spun.

My world is more often than not filled with chaos–a chaos in my own head that I can not escape.  Like Alexander, I have grand ambitions.  I have always had a deep and abiding love for history and archaeology which I wish to share with the world.  I want to spread knowledge throughout the world and make it a better place before I leave it.  I believe in Alexander and Hephaestion’s desire to create a world that shared culture and knowledge, that broke down barriers.  But I have been cursed with an illness which injects chaos and madness into my world leaving it unbalanced.  So much as Alexander, Hephaestion is the axis around which my world spins.  He brings peace, he brings he brings balance, he tempers the storms.  He pushes me to continue in both his and Alexander’s foosteps, even if I often am reduced to crawling, in the dream of one day meeting them in Elysium and hearing Hephaestion say “I am proud of you, my beloved friend.  You have achieved more than Alexander and I could have hoped.”

Alexander’s world did not function without Hephaestion.  Mine does not function without the pair of them.

(I realize that very little is actually known of Hephaestion.  I have faith, but if I get to the afterlife and find out that Hephaestion was really a douche, I will so incredibly beyond pissed!)

Sam E. Kraemer

Writing My Dreams

The Second Achilles

Alexander the Great - He lives and reigns