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!

6 responses to “Hephaestion’s “Fans”

  • delos13

    I obviously respect Jeanne Reams’ knowledge on the topic but I disagree with few of her statements. Not from factual POV but more with her conclusions. And this one, about the reason why modern fans of Hephaistion exists. I don’t know about gay men, and women fans may have different reasons for admiring Hephaistion but I doubt the main one is because both are/were marginalized. This is nonsense.

    The whole love toy “status” is a modern assumption. Nowhere in Arrian, Plutarch and so on he is described as such. The simple fact, really one doesn’t need to be academic to fathom that out, that Hephaistion died before Alexander who died soon after explains that we know not enough about his achievements and what he did. Had it been Ptolemy who died at Ecbatana, nobody would now remember the so called half brother of Alexander or his achievement before Alexander’s death, which were what exactly? Same goes for other glorious companions of the king.


  • Ginger

    I agree with the post. I really don’t understand what they mean by Hephaistion being “marginalized”. Both he and Alexander died young and many ancient sources are lost, so inferring that he was marginalized is simply nonsense.
    I also think that the movie (which, all in all, I liked) gave the wrong idea of him, so most likely many “fans” have in mind not the Hephaistion from ancient sources, but the Hephaistion from the movie.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeanne Reames

      If you take a look at the various biographies on ATG, especially prior to 1970 (and even after), Hephaistion is barely mentioned. In the article I explain this and give citations of both primary evidence as well as secondary (modern) evidence. It makes it pretty clear.


  • Jeanne Reames

    First, a quick correction: last name is spelled “Reames.” Common error, but thought I’d correct.

    Second, you say: “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.”

    This was actually my point: that the term “fan” is often used in the negative, and in this case, shouldn’t be. My findings were that Hephaistion’s “fans” were anything but vapid or bubbleheads. I was calling into question the ways in which we use these terms rather than confirming them. 😉

    Sometimes by use of the term, we question how it’s typically seen.


  • Isabela Moreira

    It must be very very frustrating to people who study Alexander, like Heckel and others, to have to deal with the lack of passages about Hephaistion. On one hand, they know that they must find out about Hephaistion, because he is a key to Alexander — the hidden key. On the other hand, they abhor him, because there is no more about him on hand, and they cant reach the man.
    I see this happening with the Amphipolis Tomb thing. The efforts to find one little detail about Hephaistion are so huge, that it makes me smile. Terrible not having nothing concrete about him! Hah, that’s why the Alexander writers are so…….. pissed.


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Sam E. Kraemer

Writing My Dreams

The Second Achilles

Alexander the Great - He lives and reigns

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