Thursday, January 14, 2016

Reflections on Hephaestion's Death

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?


  1. Dear Jen--

    Posted here yesterday (except the background was cream colored, and there were other posts, as well.

    I watched it come up and join the previous two posts, mine being the third.

    Now, today, there is nothing!

    Are there multiple versions of this or is my techno challenged *ss just missing the obvious?!


    1. I am not sure why it did not work. I double-checked the settings, and anyone should be able to comment on blogs and those comments should be instantly posted. I'm sorry.

  2. Yes, but posted where?

    Are the cream colored blog and the chocolate colored blog one and the same?

    If I could get to the one on which I wrote, I'd cut and paste the responses.

    I am a Prof., as well as an academic librarian ... the tech nerds are everywhere, and GOD Bless them, too. We poor humanities faculty would be screwed without them!!


    1. I do have two blogs. This one is called In The Footsteps of Alexander and Audrey. The other one is called Alexandersrighthand, which is a nickname I gave Hephaestion. I post the Hephaestion-related posts to both blogs to make sure all my readers (all 2 of them) see the posts, but the Alexander and Audrey blog occasionally has posts on different subjects. Sorry if that is confusing.

    2. In addition to my research on Hephaestion and Alexander, I am also interested in how clothing is used as non-verbal communication, the 18th Dynasty of Egypt (Tut's family), and the Tudor dynasty of England. Hence, two blogs so I can keep the Hephaestion one dedicated solely to him.

  3. A couple of comments:

    1) There is reference to Alexander's companions rushing to make images of Hephaistion in various precious metals. (These were probably small medallions and such.)

    2) As Brian Bosworth has noted, if not for the Successor Wars, we'd know very little about ANY of the high-ranking officers, as the sources tend to have a laser focus on Alexander, and note the others only as they affect Alexander. So it's no surprise that our sources tell us a lot of what Alexander did in reaction to Hephaistion's death, but tend to skip over what others did. Eumenes mattered, as it related to a just-related story, but what Ptolemy, Perdikkas, Seleukas, Nearkos did? They aren't part of the narrative.

    So I wouldn't put too much on the lack of reaction.