Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Alexander and Hephaistion Going Forward (future books)

I saved this blog (and Tumblr question) till the end, as it's about the future. I DO hope to continue Dancing with the Lion into Alexander's Asian campaign, but much depends on how well the first two books perform.

Publishers are pragmatic. They buy what they think will sell, so they look at an author's prior sales record, as well as "noise" about their books: e.g., blog posts, Twitter activity, hashtags, and reviews of prior books on Goodreads/Amazon/etc (which can help drive sales). If they don't think prior novels sold well enough, they're not interested. End of the road.

Word of mouth is the best advertising of all. So if you want more, please talk about it. Tell your friends, both in person and online. To that end, looking FORWARD....

Anonymous Question from Tumblr:

 "I know you've said you'd like to continue Alexander and Hephaistion's story beyond 'Rise,' so can I ask how you see their relationship changing over the years as Alexander becomes 'the Great'?"

The biggest hurdle the two will face are Greek and Macedonian assumptions about proper relationships. If ancient Greece is sometimes portrayed as Gaytopia, it wasn’t. In the novels, I’ve endeavored to depict ancient sexual mores honestly, even if that may “harsh some squees.”

Same-sex partnerships were accepted, but rules still governed WHAT was permitted. It all came down to maintaining the social standing (timē) of the citizen men involved. Anything that made one of them too much “like a woman” was anathema, because theirs was a highly misogynistic society.

Ergo, past a certain age, men were expected to graduate, if you will, from the younger (passive) partner to become the elder (active) partner. Once able to grow a solid beard, a man who continued in the passive (womanish) role was looked down upon. Whoever held the higher status was assumed to be the “active” partner, and--in the Greek south--age usually determined who held that status. That's how they framed it, which complicates things for Alexandros and Hephaistion in the first two novels because Alexandros holds the higher social status despite being the younger partner.

All of which leads us to the much BIGGER issue.

What a society presents as an ideal is not necessarily what they're actually doing. Eminent medievalist Peter Brown in his excellent The Body and Society (1988, xvii) described the difficulty for modern historians as, "it is both our privilege and our accursed lot to work the flinty soil of a long-extinct and deeply reticent world." If he was mostly talking about Late Antiquity, it applies to the Greeks of the Classical age, as well.

Anybody who kicks against the goads of the ideal faces problems. THIS is what I hope to explore for Alexandros and Hephaistion, going forward. Until Alexandros is 18/19-ish, their relationship is acceptable, if eyebrow raising due to the status-vs-age issue. Otherwise, it’s a pretty normal pairing until the end of Rise.

When Alexandros becomes king at 20, he’s both too old to be “the boy,” and AS king, absolutely cannot be the boy. Yet Hephaistion is even older, and shouldn’t be “the boy” either, or not without losing social face (the timē I mentioned above). Even as prince, Alexandros had been expected to demonstrate that he could perform sexually with a woman in order to father an heir. In Rise, he takes a mistress, who he does care about, but the primary purpose of the liaison is to prove he's not impotent. After he becomes king, what he and Hephaistion had continued semi-openly must become semi-closeted.


If Alexandros is perceived to be the passive partner, it undermines his authority. Yet if it’s implied or made clear he is not the passive partner—Hephaistion is—that not only undermines Hephaistion’s authority going forward, it humiliates him socially. Were Alexandros still prince, they might have continued a little while in a shadowy “Well, they’re not that old yet…”

Alexandros becoming king changes the landscape profoundly.

Kings, especially young kings not yet secure on their thrones, cannot do just whatever the hell they want, as the court of public opinion is merciless. Macedonian kings ruled by the consent and support of the people, especially the army. That meant they had to win wars, deliver loot, and maintain the respect of their people, particularly soldiers. And if Philippos had multiple male lovers, they were all younger and met the usual assumption of status-superior elder (Philippos) to status-inferior junior (Philippos's flavor-of-the-month). In short, Philippos never transgressed social assumptions for same-sex relationships.

In order to stay a couple, Alexandros and Hephaistion must enter the ancient Macedonian closet. And if their inner circle might know they're still sexually involved, it can’t be publicly acknowledged. Their friendship was legendary, and as philia was regarded as the higher love anyway, it’s not dishonest to emphasize that philia…even if those close to them in the novel realize there's more to it. And as Alexandros's successes compound, the more he's freed of the constraints regarding what his society "allows."

While I realize this can be frustrating to those who'd just like a simple "happily ever after" and a society where same-sex relationships weren't just permitted, but enshrined as a philosophical ideal--I endeavor to tell the truth. And the truth is complex.

To my mind, it's more interesting