Robin Lane Fox’s Hephaestion

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.

Review of “Hephaestion’s Journal” by Hannah Saiz

I originally posted this on the In the Footsteps of Alexander blog, but I am reposting here in case anyone missed it.

So I know that it has taken far too long to get this review over a 137 page book, but health problems have reared their head.  For that I heartily apologize.  I will, from this point on, once again, try to get these blog posts coming at a much regular rate.

We finally come to our topic, a review of Hephaestion’s Journal.  When I saw this on Amazon, I couldn’t resist even though I suspected it would be horrible as it was only about $8.  It turned out to be exactly what I expected, absolutely horrible!

My first problem is that this is completely a work of fiction written by a Hannah Saiz, yet everything on the cover, the title page, and book leads one to believe this is an actual historic work translated by a Valintin Numbers.  There is even a story invented on where and how these journals were found.  To the uninitiated researcher, this could create confusion and lead to the belief that this is in fact a true historic document.  I would suggest that the fictional nature be better explained in a much more visible way.

I think the best way to review this will just be to go through the notes that I made.  This work, as mentioned before, pretends to be Hephaestion’s personal journal with notes sometimes appearing in the margin in Alexander’s own hand.  It begins with the childhood under Aristotle’s tutelage and tells the story of Alexander’s taming of Bucephalus, who Hephaestion refers to repeatedly as bad-tempered and almost downright evil to anyone but Alexander and occasionally Hephaestion himself.

Page 28-29 “Bravery does not lie in being fearless; it is trekking over the bodies of your friends, your countrymen, even while terrified you will share their fate. [Doing anything] to succeed.” This quote is attributed to Alexander as he is recounting his adventures in the Battle of Chaeronea to Hephaestion upon his return to Macedon.  This refusal to bow to fear will characterize his Alexander for the first half of the work.

Page 33 Hephaestion implies that at some point Alexander slept at least once with Perdiccas who he refers to as a “pretty boy licentious bastard”.  The accompanying footnote says Hephaestion presents Perdiccas as sadistic but effete.

Footnote on page 43 questions whether Alexander’s temper is due to bipolar disorder or multiple personality disorder.  It goes on to call Alexander vicious, even to the point of killing his own men in a frenzy as evidence.

Footnote on page 44 says “Alexander’s violent tendencies manifested early” and that Hephaestion’s non-violent tendencies are a strange foil to Alexander’s temperament and the vast majority of his close companions.

Page 45 calls Ptolemy as “hedonistic fop”

Hephaestion refers to the rape of some women to show Perdiccas’ sadism

Page 50 calls Alexander and Hephaestion’s comparision to Achilles and Patroclus  as indicating a roman of dubious interpretation.  It also refers to Alexander’s consistent sacrificing to gods and heroes as evidence of his superstitious nature.

Page 53 Footnote claims this section comes after Granicus.  Hephaestion tells of Alexander being tortures by the voices of the dead he claims will not let him be.

Page 55 Alexander questions why Hephaestion is on the expedition telling him that he is not a warrior in spirit.

Page 95 Hephaestion tells of Alexander intercepting letters from Darius to his troops promising untold wealth for Alexander’s death.  Hephaestion sides with Parmenion in saying the men should not be told saying “I would not have you die for some fool to gain a fortune.”  This, the author claims, is supposed to hint at the closeness of their relationship.

Page 97  It hints at an argument between Hephaestion and Alexander where Hephaestion tells him he can no longer proceed as a liberator as he now heads for Persia as you can not liberate a people from themselves.

Page 100  This is where the story of the Sibyl of Apollo is dealt with.  “To Asia’s bountiful eath will come an unbeliever who wears the purple cloak;  a man who is wild, despotic, fiery.  As a storm he shall flash and all Asia will sink under the evil yoke as the earth herself drowns, glutted in blood.”  Hephaestion says the burning of Persepolis proves Alexander has become her prediction.  He says Alexander told he he became a tyrant because the Persians would not believe him to be anything else.  “Since I could not convince them otherwise, I will give them a tyrant they may know how to fear.”

Footnotes 146 & 147  speak of Hephaestion becoming the standard representative for all barbarian people’s interests.

Footnote 149  says he sees bits of Philip in Alexander and wonders is Alexander does too and and that is what drives him in his eastward quest.

Page 108  Hephaestion says Philotas said he knew Hephaestion would not allow Craterus and Perdiccas to simply invent his confession.  Hephaestion says he is very uncomfortable with the whole affair and even doubts Philotas’ guilt.

Page 110  “Had I tears left in me, I would weep to mourn the passing of freedom, the passing of the man I knew when I was a boy, and the love I yet bear for a memory that has been lost to me.”  Here Hephaestion refers to the growing changes he sees in Alexander, changes he does not feel are for the better.

Page 112  Hephaestion wonders if the damage the death of Philotas does to Alexander will ever be undone or even lessened.

Page 114  Alexander meets Roxane.  The author says Hephaestion’s relationship to Alexander from this point is difficult to determine.

Page 118  Hephaestion tells Alexander he is not a god.  Alexander asks, “Aren’t I?  Aren’t I your god, Hephaestion?”  The author wonders if Alexander means he is Hephaestion’s personal god as in a relationship.

Hephaestion says doubts in the Somatophylakes wounds Alexander more than any enemy weapon he ever encounters.

Page 119-120  This comes after the trail of Callisthenes.  Hephaestion says Alexander is now lost in his own world and will not return to his.

Page 126  This comes after the death of Bucephalus and the army’s refusal to cross the Hyphasis.  Hephaestion describes Alexander as “pale as the linens he wore and far too thin…matted hair, lost eyes…the blue which seemed so bright [had] dulled and the depths of his dark eye [has] lessened.  He looks weary.  Yet this is Alexander, and he would never admit to such weakness.”

As the story goes on, Hephaestion refers to Alexander as mad more and more

Page 129  Following his punctured lung, Alexander rides through his troops.  Hephaestion says, “…Something inside of Alexander has broken, and it is something I am sure I cannot fix.”

These are the notes of things which stuck out to me.  It is a unique version of Alexander with a couple of points that I admit are intriguing to explore but one which overall I don’t think I agree with.  I leave it to you to come to your own conclusions based on what you read.

Hephaestion’s Duties

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This is a table from Jeanne Reames’ PhD Thesis “Hephaestion Amyntoros: eminence grise at the court of Alexander.  It lists all of Hephaestion’s mentions in the sources and catagorizes what that job is.  As you can see, Hephaestion was continually trusted with important assignments and excelled at logistics and diplomacy.

The reason why

This is a repost from an older entry on my In the Footsteps of Alexander blog, but it explains the reason for this new blog and its attendant facebook page.  Enjoy, and by all means, share your thoughts.

In her book The Nature of Alexander, Mary Renault calls Hephaestion the most underrated man in history.
I fully agree with this statement.  I have always felt one of the secrets to Alexander’s success was Hephaestion.  From what I have read of Alexander, the one thing that kept his more wild tendencies in check was Hephaestion.  When Alexander succumbed to his darker side or to one of his faults, Hephaestion reminded Alexander of who he was.  He was, in a sense, Alexander’s moral compass.  Everything that was good in Alexander rested in Hephaestion.

I think the best example of this can be seen in Alexander’s behavior following the death of Hephaestion.  He did not eat.  He did not sleep.  He did not campaign.  He executed Hephaestion’s doctor in a horribly cruel manner.  Though he did, after a time, leave his tent, begin planning for future campaigns, and ordered full honors for his fallen comrade, it seems as though he was walking dead, a man going through the motions, a ship without it’s compass.  And perhaps the best example of all, within 8 alcohol-hazed months, the seemingly invincible Alexander, who was covered with battle scars and had survived near-fatal illnesses, was dead himself.  The body seems to have finally followed the soul.

This is my hypothesis anyway.  I am currently undertaking the research to prove it.  I hope to find the sources support this, and it is not just my extreme fondess for Hephaestion that colors my opinion.  If you are interested in the findings, please comment below and watch this space.

Jen Jones

Sam E. Kraemer

Writing My Dreams

The Second Achilles

Alexander the Great - He lives and reigns