Head of Hephaestion. Unknown. Greek, about 320 B.C. Marble. The J. Paul Getty Museum.
The son of a noble Macedonian family, Hephaestion was the beloved companion of Alexander the Great. Together since boyhood, Hephaestion fought alongside Alexander as he created his great empire. When Hephaestion died in Persia in 324 B.C., Alexander mourned him extravagantly. He was given a royal funeral and Alexander ordered the cities of Greece to worship Hephaestion as a hero.
This head of Hephaestion, broken from a full-length statue, was originally part of a multi-figured group, which might have depicted a sacrificial scene. The J. Paul Getty Museum has more than thirty fragments of this group. The participants include Alexander, Hephaestion, a goddess, Herakles, a flute player, and several other figures, as well as animals and birds. This group may have served as a funerary monument for some nobleman who wanted to associate himself with Alexander, or it might be a monument erected in response to Alexander’s call for the creation of a hero cult.
The appearance of this head has changed over time. A metal ribbon or diadem once circled the head, although only a shallow groove remains today. The head was also re-carved in antiquity, with the hair shortened and the lower eyelids altered.
The J. Paul Getty Museum
Hephaistion Amyntoros (Hephaestion, or Hephaistion, son of Amyntor)
Curtius calls him “omnium amicorum carissimus” to the king: dearest of all the friends. Alexander himself named him “Philalexandros”–friend of Alexander–in contrast to his great rival, Craterus (Krateros), who was merely “Philobasileus”–friend of the king. By the time of his death in Ecbatana in 324 BCE (only eight months before Alexander’s own) he was the second man in the empire (Chiliarch), married to the sister of Alexander’s own wife.
He and Alexander were coevals, and had shared their education under Aristotle at Mieza. They may have known one another before that. He was not a great military leader, and Alexander seems to have kept him away from important commands in actual battle. But this does not make him the incompetent or sycophant which he has sometimes been painted. Curtius stresses that he had great freedom to speak his mind to the king. And snatches of evidence in the extant sources suggest his real gifts were diplomatic and logistical, not military. It would be wrong to dismiss him as unimportant, and unnecessary to assume him a mere yes-man in order to get along with the king. His skills and those of Alexander were complimentary, not competitive.
We know little about his looks or personality. He was tall and, apparently, handsome. He also seems to have had a reputation for both charm and quarrelsomeness by turns. Later speculation whispered that he and the king had been lovers. While this is nowhere stated plainly, it is entirely possible. Nonetheless, it would be reductive to characterise their relationship solely in this way. Our model of friendship is not consonant with theirs. Within these ancient societies where homoerotic desire was freely, sometimes emphatically, expressed, intense friendships might well develop a sexual expression even while that expression was not the focus of the friendship.
Perhaps in the end, Alexander’s own name for Hephaistion is best: Philalexandros. And so he has been known down through history: dearest of all the friends of the great Alexander.
Article by Jeanne Reames-Zimmerman , The Pennsylvania State University.