Category Archives: Hephaistion

Diogenes of Sinope wrote to Alexander the Great…

Puget_-_Diogenes_Alexander_LouvrePeople can appreciate or not Oliver Stone’s movie : Alexander. But I will never thank him enough to make me discover Alexander the great’s life. The film had the merit to give me the need to know more. And since then, I continued to read and learn about this great man. I started first to write some fan fiction. But even if I write fiction and fantasy, I always use a historical base which obliges me to do a lot of research. What I like a lot.

Lately translating a note, for the last chapter of ‘Nothing is ever finished’, about Diogenes of Sinope and reading again my french notes, some questioning crossed my mind. And I decided to write a little article about it. I have no other presence than to share my reflexions in instant.

Diogenes of Sinope (philosopher, Cynic school) sent those words to Alexander the Great when this one was already a king. In the letter of which we know only some fragments, he says :

« If you wish to become beautiful and good, throw the rags on your head and come to us. However you will not be able to do it, because you are hold by Hephaistion’s thighs. »
(Sources : Letter 24)

Erudites translate the first sentence by : give up power and possession and join a life of simplicity. Simplicity that Diogenes applied to himself, living humbly.

Jean-Léon_Gérôme_-_Diogenes_-_Walters_37131

The rags being a metaphor for the crown that from now Alexander wore, symbol of his fonction and power.

Out of context, it is difficult to know if Diogenes, in the second sentence, meant that in reality it was Hephaistion who owned the reins of power as the letter seems to presuppose. But, at last this shows that the relationship between Alexander and Hephaistion was known. And that in the eyes of their contemporaries, and in regard of what Diogenes suggested, it was not platonic.

And knowing that, in his writing, Diogenes advocated all total freedom in sexuality, it is unlikely that it was a criticism about this aspect but rather the way Alexander let Hephaistion have some power upon him.

Did Diogene suggest that Hephaistion was eager for power ?

In regard of his life, it could seem that he had a lot of ambition. And it could explain the dislike that some people in Alexander’s entourage has against him. I don’t think the other was less avid of power but Hephaistion succeeded where the others failed.

But we can consider this sentence under other aspects.
Could it be that Diogenes suggest that Alexander was the slave of his desires forgetting what is essential in Diogenes’ opinion ?

Or else, could Diogenes suggest that Alexander was wrong to love Hephaistion ? The philosopher thought love as being absurd. In his opinion, people hadn’t to grow attached to someone else. This joins in a way the previous question.

In Politeia, Diogenes preached the freedom and the detachment : sexual freedom, self-sufficiency, suppression of money and weapon, the indifference to the grave, the negation of sacred but too the equality between woman and man, and more. He tried to free himself from the social conventions. And questioned the value of his world. The modernity of his thought shook up, and explain certainly that his work was forgotten. In fact, some philosophers close of cynic philosophy preferred to forget this inheritance who seemed too embarrassing.

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Mourning in Ancient Greece

In this month of Hephaistion’s death, and after I read all the interesting reviews on the community Alexander’s army to my article about Admetus and Alexander, I though it was a good idea to write another article about the mourning in Antiquity.

All I could remember of my study in History of art about this subject was women toring their hair off and women’s laments too. But what is it all ? And what about the men ?

So I made some little search. I found and read an university article (Florence Gherchanoc, University Denis-Diderot, Paris : Mise en scène et réglementations du deuil en Grèce ancienne) that offered some responses.

In her article, Florence Gherchanoc spoke about the mise-en-scène and the rules about the mourning in Ancient Greece. And more particularly the roles of women during the funeral and why the city needed to rule and control the feminine expression of their pain.

Even if this question is really interesting, I will more particularly translate the part which make a reference to the proceedings of the mourning in the private sphere and the political sphere. Hoping to stay faithful to the thoughts of Florence Gherchanoc. And then in conclusion, I will compare these elements with Alexander’s attitude during and after Hephaistion’s death.

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But first I want to answer about some notes I took from your reviews on Alexander’s army about my article : Some reflexion about Hephaistion’s death, when Alexander meets Euripides.

When I made a parallel between Admetus and Alexander, I was thinking about the similarities of the expression of their pains in front of the loss of their beloved, and not about the similarities between the two characters. And so, about the theatrically around Hephaistion’s death. And I think the main word was theatrically. I was searching why Alexander did what he did in this circumstances. And of course, knowing Alexander’s love for Homer and Illiad, Achilles and Patrocle was certainly his main inspiration but not only.

We know that Alexander loved theatre and music even more than antic games. I showed in my previous article the connexion between Euripides and the royal family Argead. And through Alexander’s life we can find examples showing how he used this theatrically in a political way, I will name only one example : Gordium and his knot.

And, in some way, all his life was influenced by theatre. With the distance, this link between theatre and actions in his life could look like a permanent mise-en-scène. And this mise-en-scène was to its apogee when took place Hephaistion’s death.

I want to precise that I didn’t imply that this event was not a huge loss for Alexander. It was, in so many ways. Or even that his pain was false. No, it is not what I mean. But the outrageousness was so impressive that I couldn’t help myself to wonder. Did he act like this because of his sole pain or there is another meaning behind ? And more important what was the ritual of mourning in Alexander’s age ?

So coming back to the article :

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Mourning in private sphere

What we know about the mourning and its mise-en-scène in ancient Greece is this one was codified. The expressions of mourning was important, both a social necessity and a ritual obligation. Those manifestations touched both men and women but the show was different following the sex of people. Each one must behave in compliance with customs and ostentatious.

To be in mourning means to other that you are soiled. So to be in mourning means to stand out. That the reason why people must change their physical appearance and degrade the beauty of body. The man cut or shave their hair. The women are torn off their hair, scratch their cheeks, lacerate their veils, strike their chest and shed tears.These gestures are the signs of suffering. But are too expected and admitted norms by the society.

Clothes have to be different, too. This difference appears in the color. This latter must be opposite to the usual outfit and white dress for feast. Himation for men and peplos for women are generally in black or dark colors. But there is some exception like in Argos where people wear white clothes washed with water only. These colors show the transition step during which the living accompany their dead. These clothes of mourning can also be stained, ripped or dirty with tears, blood or dust.

Mourning is a break inside the family and too inside the community. Following these commun rules help to define again the group and show a solidarity of the circle united around the deceased. So to act out of norms was source of criticisms.

Celebration and sacrifice to Gods was out of question during this period. Eschyne sayed how the behavior of his political adversary Demosthene was inappropriate after this latter lose his daughter.

« Before to be in mourning, before to pay hommage, he appeared in public, crowned, dressed in white clothes ; he sacrificed victims, without regard to the most sacred laws, the miserable ! After to have lost the one who, the first and the sole, gave him the soft name of father. »
[Eschine III, Contre Ctésiphon 77-78 (trad. G. de Budé et V. Martin, « CUF », modifiée)]

As it was said previously, to be in mourning in Ancient Greece is to be stained. And so to have neglected and broken the mourning, Demosthène broke religious and social norms. He can’t be seen like a good leader of nation and a man of honor to take care of affairs of state. His behavior in front of this private event among other things justified that he was not considerate like a man of good in Macedon.

So body and clothes are communication tools on which are written a symbolic stain, the suffering, the proximity and affinity with the deceased and also the broken link. They leave temporary their best appearance. Men and women must degraded ritually their beauty of body.

From the archaic period then more clearly during the classical period, sobbing become the privilege of women. To say their sorrow, to moan, to cry their pain.

Women represent the family like particular unity of the city.They are used to say the abnormality of the death, and the break of family link through the mother link. While men represent the family in its continuity. They say the transmission of the name, the ligne, the home, its cults and its goods. So in their case to be in mourning this is to perpetrate the base of the city. That’s why the heir is in charge to pay hommage to the deceased. Besides, this is precisely their devotion and the nature of  link with the dead that men highlight. To be in mourning is both a duty of philia and the affirmation of a link of philia.

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Mourning in political sphere

The vital theatrically of funeral rite must be conform to a norm, be measured, for lack of which the mourning become Hubris’ fault and an expression of feminine at the opposite of strong behaviors suitable for citizens. It doesn’t say the harmony and the good order that must rule to protect accord and unity of the city.

In Tragedy, this register of Hubris raises the feminine mourning or also called domestic mourning. Admetus orders to Thessalians to join the feminine mourning, hair cut and black clothes, for his wife. Admetus’ attitude was propre to a tyran, in that he let enter in the city what is domain of private sphere, breaking its harmony and its order.

For Athenians, the mourning, with women’s laments and its feminine excess which, not canalized, are frightening and are considerate like social nuisance, origin of disorder and susceptible to put in peril the city. Contrary to the feast that is meeting, joy and beauty, mourning owing to the rupture provoked by the death, put aside this sociability. To be in mourning is to deny temporary the social and political being, to desert the affairs of city and to not honor the Gods.

At the opposite, public funerals show a particular interest. They permit to the livings to celebrate, the laments letting place to the praises and like that, to preserve the city. A ceremonial where the mourning and funeral evolve in feast, where the white clothes replace the black, praises and hymns replace the laments.

Plato advised a celebration alike for the funeral for Laws’ examiners :

« When they will die, the exposition of their corpse, their funeral convoy, their grave will distinguish them from other citizens. Every body will dress in white. We will avoid laments and funeral songs. »
[Platon, Lois 947b.]

These honors differentiate them from simple mortals and relate them to some « heroic » founder. Some famed men and benefactors of cities during the hellenistic period had had such funeral. There the values reverse. The celebration look like a feast and become politic.

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Concerning the mourning, laws existed in antiquity. I will not enter in this subject who is really interesting by the way but I will just report this : These laws obliged men and women to show their mourning and to isolate themselves from the civic life with measure. In its essence, its organisation and its manifestations, the mourning is at the opposite of the feast and by that, of the unicity of the city. So its must be controlled.

The execution of funeral rite questions the harmony of the city and breaks the balance of social and political links.

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This being said, if we read Arrian about Alexander’s life and most particularly the passage about Hephaistion’s death, we can note that there is two distinct moments described by the historian.

First, during three days Alexander cut his hair, don’t eat, don’t take care of his body staying stretched out on his friend’s body sometimes in laments, sometimes in a quiet sorrow. This description are the signs that Florence Gherchanoc described about the domestic mourning.

Then, in a second period, leaving the private sphere, Alexander orders a public mourning across all the Persian empire, making built a pyre for the price of 10.000 talents. Following Alexander’s declaration, his companions dedicate themselves and their weapons to Hephaistion’s death. Adrian says that they did it for their King, on the initiative of Eumenes. This latter didn’t want to appear to be delight by Hephaistion’s death after their quarrel. But I think too that despite their liking or dislike for Hephaistion, beyond all that, it was the political man, his position as the most important man of the empire after Alexander himself that they honor, and for some of them too, following philia.

Arrian saw in the fact that Alexander cut his hair a way to imitate Achilles after Patroclus’ death. Of course we know Alexander’s interest for Illiad and Homer. But I disagree with Arrian. Alexander acted as he had to do, following established rules for the mourning. As Achilles did too. Both showing their link to the deceased they wanted to cry. This link taking place in the private sphere.

In spite of the outrageous cost of this funeral, Alexander followed a succession of events like it had to be made for a man of Hephaistion’s rank : Celebration with sport and cultural contests like none have seen before. Honor coming from the most important men of the Empire.

Alexander’s affection for his friend appeared for me in two moments. In his expression of his sorrow during this three first days. Then, when he refused to replace Hephaistion at the head of his horsemen unit and named this unit following Hephaistion’s name.

I will finish this article in quoting Arrian :

As, for Alexander himself, Hephaistion’s death had been a great misfortune,and I believe that Alexander would have wanted to leave before, rather than to experience it during his life, just as Achilles, to my opinion, would prefer arrive before Patroclus in Hades rather than to avenge his friend’s death.
[Arrian, Alexander’s life, VII, 16, 2]

Maybe the ancient had reason to see the death like a rupture bringing a disequilibrium for the city. In a way, after Hephaistion’s death, in some months it is all Alexander’s empire that disappear.

When Alexander meets Euripides

LEADER

Admetus, you must endure this calamity. You are not the first and will not be the last to lose a noble wife. We all are doomed to die.

ADMETUS

I know it.
Not unawares did this woe swoop down on me; for long it has gnawed at me.

But, since I shall ordain the funeral rites for this dead body, you must be there, and meanwhile let a threnody re-echo to the implacable God of the Underworld. And all you men of Thessaly whom I rule-I order you to share the mourning for this woman with severed hair and black-robed garb. You who yoke the four-horsed chariot and the swift single horses, cut the mane from their necks with your steel.

Let there be no noise of flutes or lyre within the city until twelve moons are fulfilled. Never shall I bury another body so dear to me, never one that has loved me better. From me she deserves all honour, since she alone would die for me!

_ Euripides, Alcestis, second episode.

In reading this text, I couldn’t help myself to think about Alexander the Great after Hephaistion’s death. We know Alexander organised the most expensive funeral from all time for his Chiliarq. His behavior were seen by ancient historians like disproportionate.

But in regard of his theatrical character, it is certainly more understandable. Euripides in a late age came in Macedon at Archelaos’ court, a far ancestor of Alexander the Great. There, Euripides wrote deux plays, The Bacchae and Archelaos (a lost play). Euripides and his work must be known by well-read Macedonians.

And we know that Alexander had a passion for theater. So, for all these reasons, it is not ridiculous to think that the young Alexander knew Euripides’work.

Some like Arrian saw in Alexander’s attitude after Hephaistion’s death a mirror of Achilles’ behavior after Patroclus’ death. Knowing that Alexander was a fervor admirer of Iliad. But without doubt, there is too some similarities between what the ancient historians reported about Hephaistion’s death and Alcestis. The severed hair, cut mane of horses, no noise of flutes or lyre. Plutarq describes that very well in Parallel lives :

He [Alexander] ordered to cut as soon as mane of all horses and mules in sign of bereavement, to destroy ramparts of cities surroundings and to put in croce the miserable medecin ; he forbade during a long time the use of flutes and all kind of music until the day where arrived Ammon’s oracle ordering to honor Hephaistion like a hero.

But, too we can wonder if it was not Plutarq who was influenced by Euripides’ play. We know that Plutarq was not the most rigorous historian.

 

 

6. Riding for Eternity

O my mind ! Tourmented and sad
Running on the wind without respite.

Searching the impossible,
Wanting the pinnacle.

My desire will never stop.
The world is not enough
Infinity, not an end.

Holding out my hand,
I brought you in my world.
Excessiveness and madness.

Your faithfull was not fruitless
Pantheon is our last family.
Riding side by side for Eternity.

5. The Stars

Under a rain of stars, you walk on the sand.
While in a rhythm without end, the waves come and wash up on the beach.
Your silhouette appears in the night, so fragile in front of the immensity.
I join you. Without noise, I came and hold you.
Useless try to surprise you. You smile without turning over.
« Am I so predictable ? »
Your sole answer, your body that give up against mine.
You sigh with pleasure. While the pressure gives way.

Without a word, we share this moment of eternity.
The wind makes fly your hair, stroking my face.
Under my lips put on your skin, the taste of salt.
My tongue doesn’t resist, under the caress you tremble.
Being bold by this spontaneous answer,
I continue my way from your naked shoulder to the neck, so desired.
Trembling under the caresses, you give up your head on my shoulder.
Letting appear under the moon, a white and virgin skin.
My eyes enjoy a moment this purity.
But in all lovers a conqueror lies dormant.

Without waiting, my teeth mark with their seal and almost until blood, their new territory.
Under my hands, your body tense an instant, surprised by this amorous attack.
Your livid gaze say that the response is close.
I prepare myself against the next attack but it is you who surprise me.
Escaping my arms, You flee in laughing, a challenge in your eyes.
I am not Alexander, Prince of Macedon for nothing, I take the challenge.

I go to your chase. One length in advance, you run fast but not enough for me.
At the edge of the waves, I catch you.
Pulled away by the run-up, I bring you in my fall.
Laid on the wet sand, the freshness of a wave cuts your breath.
You cry with surprise.

Under the Stars and the moonlight, your wet chiton let no place to imagination.
In seeing my trouble, your laugh fade.
The breath short yet from our run, your lips are half-open.
My resistance has limits.
Surrounding the place shameless, I take your mouth.

When our lips pull apart, closed eyes, you search your breath.
Then, all of sudden, you lift eyelids, full of stars in your eyes.
I can see my whole universe who materializes. Images of battles and conquest.
Do you understand how much the task will be heavy ?
Do you get the measure of it ?

Hiding my trouble, I distract your gaze, astonished by my silence.
Letting my hand gets lost on your body. Teasing the fire that shines in your eyes.
The insolent stops between your thighs, there, where the skin is so soft.
I smile in feeling the rhythm of your heart accelerates.
Your skin tremble under my fingers.

My gaze crosses yours, bringing a mute question.
Tightening your lips, you nod your acceptation.
Do you know what your agree means ?
The engagement you take by my side will be long and difficult.
If you capitulate now, no possible return.
Your gaze so serious sudden say all I need to know.
Your abandon without restriction to all my desires.
So giving up on my turn, between your thighs, I take my trophy.
Ravishing this body that resisted me such a long time.

You will stay forever my most beautiful conquest.

4. The Sun

Overpowering on the path to Siwa,
Assassin in the desert of Gedrosia,
Bitting our skin, on the long way.
Burning our eyes as we went away
In trying to escape the cruel caress.
We praised the Gods to be alive. O yes !

As, on the horizon, the Sun faded away.
Eased to be not anymore his prey,
Lady night re-covered little by little the world.
In the darkness, as the flames whirled,
Men around the fire searched the warmth
As the coldness invaded the earth.

By you, all their eyes are attracted.
You shined by the way you acted,
Finding in your presence, force to continue.
I came by your side, walking with you
Like a butterfly following the light,
In the silence of the night.

You were always my Sun.
You were always the one.
Without you… Without you, I broke apart
In lack of the warmth of your heart.
Maybe I have burnt my wings to your heat.
But… It was worth it to drop off my life to your feet.

2. The Moon

Since the beginning, you were my faithful lady.
My point of reference during all these years of conquest.
My attentive friend, my confident, my mistress.
Some nights when my pain was so unbearable, you came.
Caressing with softness my hair to appease my sorrow.
Then covering my body with a starry blanket,
You offered your light, in the dark moment.
I could feel your worry at the eve of battle,
Putting a veil back on your face. Were you afraid ?
Or just did you wanted to offer intimacy to lovers,
In these last instants.

Last instants !… What irony !

Alone on my bed, crushed by pain and fever, I look outside.
I can perceive your presence, the rays through the curtains
As always you are there, as always… You came again,
Putting on my feverish forehead light kisses. Caressing my cheek.
No word are required. You know like me. You know my worry.
You nod in silence. I know you will take care of him.
I sigh and close my eyes. My heart so light from now.

I know, I shall not see him again.
Tomorrow is too far and my tiredness is too big.
My breath so light. You call my name, troubled.
I open my eyes and smile.
Holding a hand on your face, I whisper :
« Say him that he must not blame me to leave.
His Patroclus is waiting for him in the Elysium Fields.
My love will never weakened.
And from now on, I let in his care our dreams ».
Exhausted, my hand falls on the sheet.
My eyes become cloudy.
And I fell the cold hand of the Death fallen on my heart and my body.

A soft hand brushes the face, closing the light eyes.
On the bed, the man with a skin of moon color, seems asleep peacefully.
The Moon in a last homage, put a kiss on his lips
And brushes some rebellious strands from his forehead.
Then listening some steps outside the room, she leaves in silence.

The drama can begin…