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!