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The Queerness of Alexander the Great



“True love never has a happy ending, because there is no ending to true love”- Alexander the Great


This pride month we focus on an interesting debate about the rumored love story between Alexander the Great and his general Hephaestion. Alexander the Great was king of Macedonia from 336 B.C. to 323 B.C. and conquered a huge empire that stretched from the Balkans to modern-day Pakistan. Hephaestion was born, like Alexander, in around 365 BC. He was a son of Amyntor, a noble man of Macedonia. Hephaestion was a friend, companion and a general in the army of Alexander. According to the ancient resources, he had a special bond with the king.

The most contested individual for the title of Alexander’s lover is Hephaestion. Whilst never explicitly stated as Alexander’s lover – always referred to as his epithet (friend of Alexander) – several modern historians interpret the relationship as romantic, rather than platonic. Even though the most reliable sources refer to Alexander and Hephaestion as friends, there is some circumstantial evidence suggesting they were especially close.


Alexander and Hephaestion’s relationship was described as a deep and meaningful one. Hephaestion was Alexander’s confidant and closest friend. They worked as partners and were always on each other’s side. Hephaestion alone was allowed to know the secrets in Alexander's letters. Alexander was mocked for abandoning imperial administration due to lusting after handsome Hephaestion’s thighs. These interactions strongly suggest the two were not merely friends. It was obvious how much they cared for one another. Arrian, Curtius, and Diodorus mentioned one piece of circumstantial evidence: when the Persian queen Sisygambis bowed to Hephaestion rather than Alexander, he forestalls her with the gracious words, 'Never mind mother; you were not far wrong. He, too, is Alexander.' Perhaps the king was punning on his name that meant 'a protector of men.'


When Hephaestion died in Ecbatana, Alexander suffered a complete mental breakdown, refusing to eat or drink for days. Alexander referred to him as “the friend I valued as my own life.” He didn’t pay attention to his personal appearance but rather silently mourned or lay on the ground screaming and cutting his hair short. The king ordered that the whole empire be plunged into a state of mourning; all music was banned and the statue of Asclepios, god of medicine, was demolished. Since mortals were supposed to respect the gods, Alexander’s subjects were deeply offended. This mark of poor governance demonstrated Alexander’s hysteria after the death of the one he loved the most.


Alexander’s insatiable urge for world supremacy led to plans of conquering Arabia. But he’d never live to see it happen. After surviving battle after fierce battle, Alexander the Great died in June 323 B.C. at age 32. Some historians say Alexander died of malaria or other natural causes; others believe he was poisoned.

There are books written by authors telling their stories, the most famous author being Mary Renault for writing the novel, “The Alexander Trilogy,” which includes: Fire from Heaven, written in 1969, about Alexander the Great’s childhood and youth; The Persian Boy, written in 1972 and a best seller within the gay community, where the love between Alexander and Hephaestion was immortalized; and Funeral Games, a 1981 novel about Alexander’s death and the disintegration of his empire. Alexander's sexual identity has been recovered by liberal Western communities as a gay hero since the sexual revolution more than 50 years ago. Whether he merits it or not, he has already been given this label.


References

Reames, J. (1999). An atypical affair? Alexander the Great, Hephaistion Amyntoros and the nature of their relationship. The Ancient History Bulletin, 13(3), 81.



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