This week saw the death of two celebrities: David Bowie and Alan Rickman. As often happens in such cases, there was a world-wide outpouring of shock and declarations of respect and love for both the men and their work. I was not a devoted fan of David Bowie, but didn’t mind his music. I was not a huge fan of Alan Rickman, as more often than not I found him creepy. It made me wonder how many of these expressions of sadness and regret over the deaths of these two men were genuine as opposed to what was socially expected. This got me to thinking about Hephaestion.
At the time of his death, Hephaestion was second in command to Alexander, a position which could be considered equivalent to today’s celebrity. One would expect to see the sources tell of a tremendous outpouring of regret, sadness, and grief at his untimely death. Alexander reacts just as we would expect him to act at the untimely death of his closest and most trusted friend. He immediately goes into wild, deep mourning refusing to leave the body until he is physically dragged from it three days later. He cuts his hair as well as the hair of all horses in camp. He orders the sacred flames of the Zoroastrian temples doused, and immediately applies to the Oracle at Siwah to have Hephaestion declared divine. He plans a massive funeral and monument.
No one else really reacts. We do hear of Eumenes rushing to dedicate some things to the “Divine Hero Hephaestion” at a temple, but little else. From the others were interacted closely with Hephaestion on a daily basis for ten years, Craterus, Ptolemy, Nearchus, and others, nothing is seen or heard. We have definite cause to be suspicious of the purity of Eumene’s motives as we learn that shortly before Hephaestion’s death the two men were involved in a quarrel that only ended upon Alexander’s intervention.
So, why? Why does no one else care that Hephaestion was dead? I suspect it is the result of a couple of different reasons. Firstly, Hephaestion was a logistical genius. This is neither a sexy or high profile job when compared to the military exploits of Alexander or some of his other soldiers. People love to hear of battlefield heroics, but few rarely care who built a bridge. They only care that it is operation when they need it, then it is out of mind yet again. Secondly, Hephaestion was a diplomat. Diplomacy very rarely involves genuine feelings as it often involves working out agreements between two parties of vastly divergent points of view. Thirdly, no one was closer Alexander than Hephaestion including his mother, Olympias. In a time where one’s success and riches depended upon the favorable opinion of one’s monarch or leader, this would incite a certain degree of jealousy. One can image the scorn that those whose talents lay more in the traditional arena of battlefield heroics might have felt to see someone whose talents lay behind the scenes out of view prosper even ahead of themselves. I seriously doubt any of Philip’s remaining men had much respect for logistics and administrative duties.
The sources and many since have implied that Alexander’s reaction to Hephaestion’s death was excessive. I beg to differ, and a close look at the internet this week will bear that opinion out. If we can be so upset over the deaths of people we have met only through hearing their music or seeing them appear in a movie or play, how much more upset should we be when faced with the death of someone who was in many ways the other half of ourselves?