7. ERASTES/EROMENOS (2)
Despite the prevalent view of Hephaestion as the erastes, however, we have two quotes which state that he was the eromenos, the younger beloved, in the relationship, given by Andrew Chugg in Alexander’s Lovers:
Aelian: “Note that Alexander laid a wreath on Achilles’ tomb and Hephaistion on Patroclus’, hinting that he was Alexander’s eromenos, as Patroclus was of Achilles.”
Epicitetus: “Alexander ordered the temples of Asclepius to be burned, when his eromenos died.”
We need to be careful that there is not an unconscious assumption by both these writers that the conqueror of the world could not possibly be the passive partner in an extended relationship, but we also have:
Justin, stating that Hephaestion was “A favourite of Alexander’s firstly because of his good looks and boyish charms, then for his absolute devotion to the king.”
Curtius, stating that Alexander “received the Sacae delegation courteously and gave them Euxennippus to accompany them. Euxenippus was still very young and a favourite because he was in the flower of his youth, but, though he equalled Hephaistion in handsomeness of form, he did not match him in charm, since he was not at all manly.”
Justin’s statement could be read as saying that Hephaestion did not have any lovers other than Alexander, and Hephaestion’s loyalty may well have encouraged Alexander to expect similar loyalty, although obviously not sexual but emotional, from his other officers and from the army as a whole. Indeed Alexander often seems to have regarded his army as a lover, rewarding it, cajoling it, encouraging and driving it, and acting like a spurned or disappointed lover (or spoilt child) when it wouldn’t do what he wanted.
If we accept that Hephaestion was Alexander’s eromenos at least in their youth, the sexual side of their relationship may have continued well into their twenties, even their late twenties. Curtius’s statement about the Sacae, who were neighbours of the Scythians, would appear to place this incident with Euxenippus in 329 BC when Alexander turned 27, and certainly implies that there was still considerable physical attraction between Alexander and Hephaestion. There is also the incident mentioned by Plutarch in his Life of Eumenes when Hephaestion is embarrassed to be found leaving Alexander’s tent on the morning of the battle of Issus in 333 BC when Alexander was 23, indicating that they might well have spent the night together.
Plutarch also says that Barsine was the only woman Alexander slept with before he married Roxane in 327 BC at 29. Barsine, who was apparently of a gentle disposition, had been in Alexander’s custody since Parmenion captured Damascus after Issus over 5 years before, but Alexander may not have begun a relationship with her until some time later for their son Heracles, who was about 17 in 310 BC before he was murdered, would therefore not have been born until about 327 or 6 BC. Barsine went westwards before Alexander moved into India and was living in Pergamon with her 4 year old son when Alexander died.
We would therefore appear to have incidental evidence that Alexander and Hephaestion continued to be lovers at least until Alexander was 27, and perhaps they were exclusive to each other until the arrival of Bagoas in late summer of the previous year, 330 BC. Curtius says Alexander ‘presently’ had a sexual relationship with Bagoas. It was not long after this, in October 330 BC, that the Philotas affair occurred, and the resultant promotion of Hephaestion to commander of half the Companion cavalry may have been a sweetener, an appeasement for him, a reassurance by Alexander that he still valued Hephaestion, even if he was not the first choice for Alexander’s bed. It was also an opportunity for Alexander to place someone he trusted completely into a prominent position and it is from this point on that Hephaestion’s career really takes off.