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Hephaistion Amyntoros

(Hephaestion, or Hephaistion, son of Amyntor)

Curtius calls him "omnium amicorum carissimus" to the king: dearest of all the friends. Alexander himself named him "Philalexandros"--friend of Alexander--in contrast to his great rival, Craterus (Krateros), who was merely "Philobasileus"--friend of the king. By the time of his death in Ecbatana in 324 BCE (only eight months before Alexander's own) he was the second man in the empire (Chiliarch), married to the sister of Alexander's own wife.

He and Alexander were coevals, and had shared their education under Aristotle at Mieza. They may have known one another before that. He was not a great military leader, and Alexander seems to have kept him away from (important) commands in actual battle. But this does not make him the incompetent or sycophant which he has sometimes been painted. Curtius stresses that he had great freedom to speak his mind to the king. And snatches of evidence in the extant sources suggest his real gifts were diplomatic and logistical, not military. It would be wrong to dismiss him as unimportant, and unnecessary to assume him a mere yes-man in order to get along with the king. His skills and those of Alexander were complimentary, not competitive.

We know little about his looks or personality. He was tall and, apparently, handsome. He also seems to have had a reputation for both charm and quarrelsomeness by turns. Later speculation whispered that he and the king had been lovers. While this is nowhere stated plainly, it is entirely possible. Nonetheless, it would be *reductive* to characterise their relationship solely in this way. Our model of friendship is not consonant with theirs. Within these ancient societies where homoerotic desire was freely, sometimes emphatically, expressed, intense friendships might well develop a sexual expression even while that expression was not the focus of the friendship.

Perhaps in the end, Alexander's own name for Hephaistion is best: Philalexandros. And so he has been known down through history: dearest of all the friends of the great Alexander.

Jeanne Reames-Zimmerman
(The Pennsylvania State University)

Here is another piece on Hephaistion, by Pothos Forum member Fiona:

Hephaestion son of Amyntor was Alexander’s closest friend (Curtius 3.12.16). A native of Pella (Arrian Indica 18), he shared Alexander’s education and upbringing (Curtius 3.12.16), and probably served in the army from an early age. He was commander of the bodyguards (somatophylakes) at Gaugamela (Diodorus 17.61.3), where he was wounded, and was later appointed joint commander, with Cleitus, of the Companion Cavalry (Arrian 3.27.4). At the end of the Persian campaign, he was decorated for bravery and leadership (Arrian 7.5.6). 

By the time of his death he was Chiliarch of the empire, Alexander’s second-in-command in both military and political spheres (Photius 92). 

His distinguished military career included various special missions. Some were diplomatic, such as the occasion when he selected a new king for Sidon (Curtius 4.1.16), and others related to engineering, such as when he and Perdiccas bridged the Indus (Arrian 4.23.59), or the construction of the new fort and harbour at Pattala (Arrian 6.18.1, 6.20.1). 

Hephaestion’s interests were not limited to the military and technical; he corresponded with the philosophers Aristotle and Xenocrates, (Diogenes Laertius, Aristotle 5) and actively supported Alexander in his attempts to integrate Greeks and Persians (Plutarch Alexander 55.1). 

In all that Alexander undertook, Hephaistion was at his side, a man he trusted completely and one upon whom he increasingly relied. Towards the end of the Bactrian campaign, when Alexander had cause to divide his forces, it was Hephaistion to whom half were entrusted when the objectives were not clear-cut, and Alexander needed someone who would be able to do what he would have done himself (Arrian 4.22.58). 

Such was Alexander’s regard for Hephaestion, that when he and his officers took Persian brides, Hephaestion was given Drypetis, daughter of the former king Darius, and sister to Alexander’s own bride, Stateira. Alexander stated that he wished for their children to be cousins (Arrian 7.4.29). 

Their working partnership was strong, and there is evidence that Alexander saw Hephaestion as an alter ego. He was free to speak his mind to the king, and Alexander, for his part, trusted Hephaestion with his secrets (Curtius 3.12.17). 

It’s also entirely likely that they were lovers. None of the extant sources says so in so many words, but by the time those were written down, such a love was already being frowned upon (Horace Epistles 2, 1, 156). Nevertheless, several well-attested incidents suggest that this was indeed the case. For example, Alexander and Hephaestion publicly honoured their dead heroes, Achilles and Patroclus, at Troy (Arrian 1.12.1). Even more telling is Alexander’s overwhelming grief at Hephaestion’s death. He had to be dragged away from the body (Arrian 7.14.6), and he ordered the sacred fires extinguished, a thing which was normally only done on the death of the Great King himself (Diodorus 17.114.4). 

Hephaestion died at Ecbatana in October 324, of a fever which had similarities to typhoid (Plutarch Alexander 72.2). His funeral was probably the most expensive in history (Arrian 7.15.5), and with the permission of the oracle at Siwa, he was honoured as a divine hero (Arrian 7.23.8). Many of the splendid monuments in his memory went uncompleted. Alexander was still planning them at the time of his own death, just eight months later (Arrian 7.23.10).

Written by Fiona