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.

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

  • terrioak

    You know me… Sap that I am, I love to wite about them as lovers. That is their relationship in the fictional stories that I write. That being said, however, my personal opinion is a little different than the fiction that I write. I agree wholeheartedly with the statement that to reduce their relationship to a sexual one is to diminish its value. I think they were truly, as Aristotle mentioned, “one soul in two bodies”. Theirs was a connection of the heart, mind and soul. If the connection extended to the physical as well, good for them. I rather hope they were physical and could turn to each other when they felt the need, but I do not think that was the most important part of their relationship if indeed they did. I think their relationship, whatever the nature it took, was extraordinary. And I also agree that Hephaestion was most likely a calming, rational presence when Alexander got a bit carried away. Their relationship was a working partnership in all aspects. They complemented each other, and, in my opinion, made one hell of a team. Very interesting article…thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  • Jeanne Reames

    Thank you for the review. 🙂


  • Jenna Morris

    Although it could have gotten physical at some point(s), I do not think they were lovers either. Their relationship was too important on a practical level to mix any of that in. I feel more like they were brothers. Twin brothers even. Love this blog btw. in gratitude. 🙂


  • Jenna Morris

    I feel like Hephaestion was the brains and Alexander was the braun.

    And p.s. it bothers me that whether or not they were lovers is the only thing most people talk about!!


  • Isabela Moreira

    Me too, I always think of them as Brains and Braun. To be more specific in what I believe, Alexander would have been the tactician, the general, the “action man”, whilst Hephaistion was the politician, the strategist, the planner (he *was* into logistics after all). And you know, in History, every time two people with different skills meet, success is almost certain!

    And there is one more thing I have been musing about Hephaistion for some time now: I think he could have been a next of kin to Alexander, with high privileges; a very important cousin. Not just a school friend, son of some lord. There are some passages among the few we have available, which could be less romanticized, and more indicative of his high-rank origin. Two of them: the “he is (an) Alexander too” and the royal funeral in Ecbatana. People usually are soppy when it comes to be these two passages. I have learned to think of them as indications of equal rank: “he is (an) Alexander” could mean Royal Office = Alexander; and the royal funeral — the most obvious of all, IMO — would have been a funeral fit for someone who hold a royal rank, and not a desperate action of an emperor who have lost his lover or some such thing.

    Anyway, I am enjoying the blog!


    • jeannereames

      Isabela — If I may make a polite correction… there is no reason to assume Hephaistion was an Argead. If he had been, it would have been noted, as he would have been eligible for the throne. ANY Argead male could inherit. Leonnatos and others of the Lynkestian house were cousins of ATG via Philip’s mother Eurydike. But as I think I can argue on pretty good grounds, Hephaistion was not only not an Argead, he may not even have been ethnically Macedonian. I’m working on a significant update of material from my dissertation that will suppose Hephaistion father *may* have come from Pydna, and they’re of Ionic-Attic ancestry. Hephaistion has, in fact, no known relatives at the court.

      The two indications you give are, unfortunately, not valid. “An Alexandros” is a reference to the meaning of Alexander’s name: “protector of men.” And Hephaistion didn’t receive a royal funeral. If he had, he’d have been interred at Aigai, where the Argead dynasty was historically buried, at least until ATG (and after, if we assume Tomb II is Arrhidaios, and Tomb III is Alexander IV). So while it might be an attractive theory, too much ancient evidence exists to discount it.

      What I find more interesting is how high Hephaistion climbed at the court, if he was of Ionic-Attic roots. I’m not sure when the article I’m working on will be out, but it’s complete except for formulating the maps to track epigraphical appearances of all Hephais-root names in the Greek mainland and Magna Graeca up through the mid-2nd century.


  • Isabela Moreira

    Dr. Reames, it is always nice to have a conversation about Hephaistion. I am not a researcher of Ancient History, I am only a museum curator who sometimes indulge into Alexander’s stories.

    Philippe was not the eldest son of Amyntas. He was in fact the third. The first two died, and Philippe took the throne. What if one nephew had stand out from the rest? One male son of, say, Perdiccas? But couldn’t or wouldn’t take the throne? I am forever curious about Amyntas IV, but it is a huuge guess work, and I never understand, nor have the wit for grabbing, the moves of that confusing Temenid chess game of a life!!

    You say that the ‘He too is an Alexander” refers to the name’s translation, ok, but there are also other theories & explanations (one being the “other self” idea of deep friendship). Who could say for sure that the ‘protector of men’ is the actual thing? Specially when there are other instances of Hephaistion being equaled to Alexander, even if when frightening people equaly? 😀
    Here I mean Apollodoros account of how he was afraid of both Alex and Hep during severe punishments issued by maladmistration.

    What of Hephaistion’s rebulking letter to the Queen herself (!!!) — and, as if it wasn’t enough, using what is now called the royal “we”. Can I imagine Parmenion, or even Leonnatos, writing to the Queen and being as arrogant as it goes? I just can’t! Alexander could have — and might have, I suppose, many times.

    As for Hephaistion’s death’s happenings, it is in Diodorus and Arrian and Plutarch. The fact that, if Hep was an Argead, his body wasn’t buried in Aigai could just be because the capital city of the macedonian empire was Babylon. I have read also that the Pyre may have not existed, because Alexander died quite soon after, and maybe did not had the time to fulfill what he intended. But the rest — even putting off the sacred fires in Asia — was done in honor to Hephaistions’s death. The “royal funeral” I mentioned may have been my mistake, because there is no complete evidence that the funeral itself happened, but the preparations for a funeral-to-be are described by the main Alexandrine sources as having been regal.

    I see the king-maker thing about Hephaistion when, as the original post was saying, both of them had opposite but complementary temperaments and skills as it goes. And, apart from what I feel, or guess, concerning Hephaistion’s origins, what really stands out re. Amyntoros is the success of this partnership. If Hephaistion was able to do what Alexander could not, and Alexander was able to do what Haphaistion could or would rather not, it is a matter of guess work! But one which I like to think true.

    My best wishes and I look forward to reading your article about the Ionnic-Attic roots of his (very strange choice of a) name.


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Sam E. Kraemer

Writing My Dreams

The Second Achilles

Alexander the Great - He lives and reigns

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