Hephaestion (Greek: Ἡφαιστίων, Hēphaistiōn, ca. 356 BC–324 BC), son of Amyntor, was a Macedonian aristocrat, the intimate companion, general, bodyguard, and presumably the lover of Alexander the Great.
The full history of Hephaestion's lineage is unknown, however, Jeanne Reames has suggested in that he descended from Athenian expatriates to Macedon. The most popular piece of evidence pointing to such a connection is in name-tracing. "Hephaestion" is the name of a temple overlooking the Agora, near the Athenian acropolis, a name which hardly appears at all in Macedon at this time period. The date of Hephaestion's birth is also unknown, but it has been assumed that he was of a similar age as Alexander. When the two men first met is not certain, however, it is likely that Hephaestion shared Alexander's education in the village of Mieza with Aristotle as teacher, like other noble boys. Aristotle is known to have dedicated a volume of letters to him, but these are now lost. The philosopher Xenocrates also corresponded with Hephaestion.1
Hephaestion's education at Mieza makes the Athenian connection more unlikely, as the honour of sharing Alexander's education seems to have been given solely to young men from noble Macedonian families, although if Hephaestion were descended from Athenians, he might still have been eligible to study at Mieza if his family had been naturalized as Macedonians.
Career and relationships
Hephaestion accompanied Alexander's campaign in Asia from the very beginning, fighting in the Companions Cavalry Unit. Robin Lane Fox has referred to Hephaestion as Alexander's alter ego. A favorite story holds that while passing through the city of Troy, Alexander honoured the sacred tomb of the hero Achilles and Hephaestion that of Achilles' close friend and lover, Patroclus.
After the Battle of Issus,, Alexander and Hephaestion went to inspect the spoils of war, which included King Darius's baggage train, family and royal harem. At this interval Sisygambis, the Persian queen mother, allegedly mistook the taller Hephaestion for Alexander, who graciously excused her by with the affirmation that "he too is Alexander." The rhetoric of the phrase has caused its authenticity to be called into question. Alexander's name, after all, translates literally to "protector of man," and so this may or may not have been a literary pun on Arrian's part. Nevertheless, the incident is still regarded as a prime example of the public emotional intimacy between the two men.
Hephaestion was a particularly gifted battlefield commander, and excelled at logistics. Hephaestion was also often involved in city-planning and bridge-building. During the India campaign Hephaestion again assumed military responsibilities in the vanguard, bridging rivers and leading one Companion squadron in the Battle of the Hydaspes River. At the siege of Peuceolatis, he was in sole command and successfully took the town after thirty days. Hephaestion may have been a gifted diplomat, as evidenced by his being repeatedly employed to negotiate with foreign leaders in India as well as with Persian aristocrats. Curtius calls Hephaestion "charming." The king which Hephaestion instated in Sidon enjoyed a popular reign. Hephaestion generally sided with Alexander concerning the adoption of Persian customs, specifically in the disastrous proskynesis affair.
After Philotas, son of Parmenion was implicated in an assassination attempt, he was tortured as part of interrogation by three men: Craterus, Hephaestion, and Parmenion's son-in-law Coenus. All three men subsequently rose in power. This incident also brought to power Erigyius of Mytilene, Perdiccas, and Leonnatus. The Companion Cavalry unit, formerly under Philotas's command, was divided between Hephaestion and Cleitus the Black.2 Before the India invasion and the crossing of the Hindu Kush mountains, in modern Afghanistan, Alexander made Hephaestion chiliarch, recognizing him as second in command. The responsibilities of the chiliarch put Hephaestion into opposition with Eumenes, the royal secretary. Shortly before Hephaestion's death, he and Eumenes quarrelled - specifically over the housing of a flute-player. Following Hephaestion's death, Eumenes was one of the first to dedicate arms to the dead man.
Towards the latter years of the campaign, Hephaestion's greatest rival for power had been the general Craterus. The two men came near to blows in India, and had to be separated. Craterus was eventually dispatched with a bulk of the army returning to Macedon to replace Antipater as regent, while Hephaestion remained in Persia.
Following the march through the Gedrosian desert, Hephaestion and others were awarded gold crowns (possibly for bravery).4 By this point, Hephaestion had become a somatophylax. Back in Susa, capital of the Persian Empire, Alexander married Darius's daughter Stateira and gave her younger sister, the princess Drypteis, as a wife to Hephaestion.
Alexander the Great, left, and Hephaestion on the right., Getty Villa Museum in Malibu, California
Death and funeral
In the autumn of 324 BC, Alexander's army was stationed in the city of Ecbatana (today called Hamadan) for the winter. Hephaestion fell sick during the games that were being held for the court and died a week later. Described symptoms are compatible with typhoid fever, but the possibility of poisoning was never ruled out. Hephaestion's death deeply affected Alexander. Reportedly, Alexander responded to the death by shaving his head, cropping the manes of the army horses, cancelling all the festivities, and crucifying the attending doctor. He set out immediately for Babylon with the body, where fabulous funeral games were held. The oracle at Siwah, after being petitioned by Alexander for the correct way to honor Hephaestion, conferred divine hero status upon the dead man. Alexander planned an elaborate funeral for Hephaestion including a pyramid. The project was never completed, but the lion of Hamadan is said to have been part of the plan. It gradually became a symbol people touched in hope of fertility.
Many have found cause to link the deaths of Alexander and Hephaestion, especially as Alexander died within eight months following Hephaestion's demise.
The funeral pyre in Babylon that Alexander built Hephaestion cost 10,000 talents5 of Persian gold. As Plutarch says,
"...at Ecbatana there fell upon Alexander a stunning blow, the loss of Hephaestion. His intimate boyhood love, Hephaestion was gone, the congenial enthusiastic nature which had been so much more to Alexander than Ptolemy's sagacity or Nearchus' careful courage, the friend, more than a friend, and closer than a brother, who alone awoke a gentler emotion in the breast of the lonely Conqueror....
For there come, alike in discouragement and exaltation, to all men, however strong of body or brain, moments of craving, in which the soul gropes blindly for another soul; and the most strong, if he owns this need most rarely, feels it most imperious.''
The Persian mother Queen pays respects to Hephaestion (assuming that he is Alexander the Great), Paolo Veronese (1528-1588)
Plutarch. Life of Alexander
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