I recently finished Robin Lane Fox’s book “Alexander the Great”. Over all, I liked his view of Hephaestion and that other guy……what was his name again….oh yeah, Alexander. I picked out a few of the points that stood out the most to me to discuss below.
First of all, Fox discusses Hephaestion’s first encounter with the Persian Mazeus while building a bridge. Mazeus and his men harassed Hephaestion’s men while they built but did not attack and did not destroy the bridge. Later, Mazeus would command the entire Persian right wing at the Battle of Gaugamela. During that battle, Mazeus retreated instead of encircling the Macedonians allowing Alexander to win the battle. Fox suggests that this may have been the result of a deal brokered by Hephaestion during his earlier encounter with Mazeus. If this is true, then, in large part, Alexander’s win at Gaugamela was due to Hephaestion’s diplomatic prowess.
Fox at one point refers to Hephaestion as an “officer above suspicion”. He cites Hephaestion’s constant support of Alexander’s policies, especially those toward the Persians, as evidence. When set against the antics of Philotas, Alexander’s own pages, and Black Cleitus, I think this is a distinction that bears pointing out. From the day they met until the day he died in Ecbatana, there is no evidence that Alexander ever had to doubt Hephaestion’s loyalty to, actions toward, or thoughts about him. In fact, Hephaestion’s incessant support of Alexander’s efforts to more seamless integrate the Persians into his empire is likely evidence that he shared Alexander’s vision of a kingdom unlike any the world had seen before.
One of the points made in support of the theory that Hephaestion was not a good soldier is that Alexander did not often give him solo commands. Fox believes that the split commands were not a product of Alexander’s wishes but of political necessity. The splits were merely to appease the army which still contained many men who had served with Philip and were less inclined toward the Persians. Alexander pacified the army while ensuring he had a check on those who might choose to oppose him. Fox also points out that it also served as curb against those who might chose to harm Hephaestion out of jealousy especially after his appointment as Chiliarch, a promotion that by its very definition displays Hephaestion’s treasured status.
Finally, I think it bears noticing that the only thing that defeated Alexander, besides the fever that killed him, was Hephaestion’s death. Alexander’s devoted behavior in the days that followed showed just how integral Hephaesiton was to his life. For three days, Alexander was absolutely inconsolable, interacting with no one and near catatonic in his grief. His first actions after those days were to shave off his own hair and order that all the horses’ manes and tails be clipped as well. He ordered that the sacred fires in the Zoroastrian temples be doused, an honor previously reserved only for royalty. As Alexander himself said many times Hephaestion was also Alexander; therefore, a king had in fact died. He sent to Siwah to plead with the oracle which set the truth which guided Alexander through his daily life if Hephaestion could be honored as a god. If Alexander was a god, and Hephaestion was Alexander, was Hephaestion not also a god? Many point to Alexander’s eventualy plans for new campaigns and an exploration of Arabia as signs that he eventually got over his grief. But I point to the fact that within eight months Alexander was dead himself. I posit that what made Alexander Alexander, his spirit, his soul, his inner force, died with Hephaestion. Though the body may have gone on, the essence was gone.
No one before and no one since has achieved what Alexander achieved in 32 short years. No one else has had a Hephaestion by their side.
PS) As always, any and all discussion is not only welcome but highly encouraged.