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history meme | [2/7] relationships: alexander the great & hephaestion

Alexander the Great’s relationship with his army general Hephaestion was extraordinarily close; Hephaestion was described by Curtius as “by far the dearest of all the king’s friends.” They were both tutored by the philosopher Aristotle as boys, and it is believed that this is when they forged their friendship.

The morning after the battle of Issus, Alexander and Hephaestion visited the captured Persian royal family. According to Diodorus, ‘The king took with him the most valued of his Friends, Hephaestion, and came to the women. They both were dressed alike, but Hephaestion was taller and more handsome. Sisyngambris took him for the king and did him obeisance. As the others present made signs to her and pointed to Alexander with their hands she was embarrassed by her mistake, but made a new start and did obeisance to Alexander. He, however, cut in and said, “You were not mistaken, Mother; this man too is Alexander.”

Their relationship is often compared to that of Achilles and Patroclus. At the beginning of Alexander’s campaign in Asia he led a contingent of his troops to Troy, where he and Hephaestion visited the tombs of Achilles and Patroclus. As described by Arrian, "Alexander encircled the tomb of Achilles with a garland; and it is said that Hephaestion decorated that of Patroclus in the same way." This event is usually seen as evidence for Alexander and Hephaestion’s romantic relationship as Achilles and Patroclus are often said to be lovers.

Hephaestion fell ill not long after entering the city of Ecbatana. Arrian says that Alexander had to be summoned from the games to Hephaestion, however when he arrived Hephaestion had already died. Plutarch tells that Alexander’s grief was “uncontrollable” and had to be forcibly dragged away from the corpse by his companions. One report says that he had the doctor executed for his lack of care.

Hephaestion’s funeral cost approximately £1,500,000,000, which was spent on a sixty metre high pyre and a festival involving funeral games and contests. Such was Alexander’s grief that, Diodorus writes, "he proclaimed to all the peoples of Asia that they should sedulously quench what the Persians call the sacred fire, until such time as the funeral should be ended. This was the custom of the Persians when their kings died, and people thought that the order was an ill omen, and that heaven was foretelling the king’s own death."

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