I have finally finished this first part of the essay I promised you, and I’m sorry it took so long! It started off being an essay on the early years of Hephaestion, but we know little for certain about Hephaestion’s early life other than the following:
- He lived in Pella and his father was called Amyntor
- He was educated with Alexander
- He went to the Olympic Games in summer 341 BC with Alexander
- He probably went to Athens with Alexander in 338 BC
- He honoured Patroclus’s tomb at Troy in 334 BC.
As I’ve always wanted to write a proper historical novel about Alexander, this therefore ended up being background research. I hope it doesn’t bore you too much!
1. AGE (1)
The only reference we have for Hephaestion’s age, apart from Arrian calling him a young man at his death, is from Curtius who says he and Alexander were about the same age. The original Latin term used is ‘coevals’, usually translated as ‘the same age’, although it could mean a year or two either way. We know nothing about the particulars of Hephaestion’s early life except what can be inferred in general about the life of a young Macedonian aristocrat by looking at the Royal Pages, and in particular by looking at the people surrounding and consequently influencing Alexander, and with whom, as Alexander’s friend, Hephaestion might have been in almost daily contact.
Robin Lane Fox quotes Aristotle’s opinions on the young, perhaps gleaned from his days in Macedon – “They are passionate and quick tempered .. They strive for honour, especially for victory, and desire both much more than money. They are simple-natured and trusting .. Their hopes fly high .., their memories are short .. They are brave but conventional, therefore easily abashed .. they prefer the noble to the useful: their errors are on the grand scale, born of excess. They like laughter, they pity a man because they always believe the best of him .. they think they know it all already.”
It is generally accepted that Aristotle came to Macedon to teach Alexander in 343 BC, the year Alexander turned 13 about 20th July. A philosopher at the Macedonian court was nothing new since Euphraeus, a member of Plato’s Academy in Athens, had been at the court of Philip’s older brother Perdiccas, exerting a great deal of influence over the young king, and Philip probably already knew Aristotle, since his father had been a doctor at the Macedonian court in the 350’s BC.
Philip had noted, according to Plutarch, that Alexander was strong-willed and responded better to reason than to force and needed principles by which to guide himself. Aristotle taught him ethics, politics, philosophy, metaphysics, as well as natural sciences, including botany and medicine. Alexander took to Aristotle, later saying that he had been more of a father to him than Philip, because of the latter’s long absences. Philip spent most of the following year, 342 BC, in Thrace and Epirus, which may imply that Alexander spent most of this year at Mieza with Aristotle, perhaps at a time when a boy, beginning to grow up, could have done with his father’s presence.
Alexander’s statement implies that Aristotle treated him with respect and kindness, although he also believed in discipline, and that he engaged Alexander’s interest in the subjects he taught him. Indirectly, it also implies that Hephaestion found Aristotle congenial too, for it is unlikely that Alexander would have liked a teacher so much whom his best friend didn’t like. They appear to have been happy days at Mieza, under the guidance of one who understood the young, and who would understand their fascination with things like cuttlefish, wrynecks, hedgehogs and mosquitoes (RLF).
Aristotle taught Alexander that the ‘purely hedonistic life was beneath contempt’ (Peter Green). This is the young, idealistic Alexander who strove fervently ever to be the best, respected women, drove himself hard, impulsively gave away his wealth, and disregarded the demands of his body for sex and sleep. Under Aristotle’s influence, he seems to have become something of a bookworm for the rest of his life. His favourite book of course was a copy of Homer’s Illiad, annotated by Aristotle, and having read all of his books, asked Harpalus to send more eastwards to him from Ecbatana later in his life. It seems very likely that Hephaestion would have shared all of the above characteristics and been as fervent in his ideals as Alexander.