Anonymous asked (on Tumblr):
I just finished ‘Becoming’ and I absolutely loved it! I just wondered if you believe that AtG and Hephaistion continued their romantic relationship throughout their lives or if you think they let that side of their friendship go as they got older as was more common at the time? Anyway! I absolutely loved ‘Becoming’ and I can’t wait to read ‘Rise’!

I’m guessing you’re asking about the historical people, as opposed to the fictional characters? I do hope/plan to continue the Dancing with the Lion series, and in it, yes, they will remain romantically involved. Whether or not future novels are bought, however, rests on how well Becoming and Rise do. (So if you want more, get the word out and post reviews. *grin*)

Yet, with regard to the historical men, I think it’s very hard to know whether they remained sexual partners as adults. And the reason it’s hard to know involves the difficulty of our surviving sources.

As soon as historians start talking SOURCES, a lot of folks tune out. It’s BORING. *grin* But in order to give an honest answer, I kinda have to Go There.

First, let me give the TL;DR version. If they were still sexually involved as adults, I suspect it was quite occasional. And the fact it was quite occasional (if at all), may be why we don’t hear anything about it in the sources (discussion to follow). After all, they were both extremely busy men with duties and responsibilities that sometimes kept them apart for months. If they were still sexually/romantically involved, they had what we’d today call a long-distance relationship at points…and without the benefit of cell phones.

It may have been a gradual “weaning” from each other, rather than anything sharp. So they may have been lovers as teens, then over time, each took younger beloveds, and finally, wives—all while remaining emotionally very, very close. (Although I suspect that, like any friendship OR love affair, they had ups-and-downs, fights and reconciliations.)

Now, here’s why the TL;DR summary above gets a big fat label: “SPECULATION.”

The sources are the only way we know anything about the past, and if they can’t be trusted, or at least not trusted in toto, we have a Really Big Problem. So let me lay it out.

Before I do, however, I want to remind readers that I DO think Alexander and Hephaistion were lovers, at least in their youth. But no, it’s not “obvious.” Theirs wasn’t a world especially reticent about same-sex affairs (*cough* see below), even if post-Christian, modern historians had trouble with it until the last 40 years or so. So if the (surviving) ancient authors don’t talk about them as lovers, even while discussing other same-sex pairs in the same damn text, we have to ask…why? One very real possibility is that they didn’t talk about them as lovers because they weren’t. Full stop. There could have been other reasons (I think there were), but let’s not flinch from being honest, here.
So…back to our Persnickety Sources.

First, nothing has survived that Alexander wrote himself. We have a couple public inscriptions, but not one piece of writing, even a letter, from Alexander. (Any surviving letters are quoted in later sources, and probably aren’t real.*)

Second, nothing has survived written by anyone who actually knew Alexander, or even lived when he did, except forensic speeches from Athenian demagogues who mostly hated him (and weren’t writing histories anyway). One may as well trust Demosthenes on Philip.

The sources we do still have used histories written by those who knew Alexander, such as Ptolemy, Aristobulos, Nearchos, Marsyas, and even the court historian, Kallisthenes. They also used other texts of dubious worth, such as Onesikritos, who was made fun of even in his own day for writing “historical fiction.” And sometimes our later authors were using texts who, themselves, were using earlier texts. So we’ve got three (or more) layers, not just two!

Third, we have not just layers of sources, but layers in the CULTURE behind those sources.

The first layer is, of course, Macedonian. How did the Macedonians themselves view Alexander? We don’t know—not truly. Nothing survives from a Macedonian source, such as Marsyas or Ptolemy. (Some of you “in the know” might be thinking, But Polyaenus! No. Polyaenus lived 500 years after ATG; that was a very different Macedonia. [Yes, I used the Latin spelling, as he was Roman. ;p])

The second layer is Greek, but we have to qualify this. Layer 2.0 is Greece of the 4th century, especially Athenian reactionism, writing about the emerging Macedonian kingdom. There could be huge cultural differences even among Greek city-states. Case in point: Athens vs. Sparta. Greeks didn’t always understand Macedonians (sometimes, I swear, on purpose).

BUT we also have the increasingly homogenized Hellenistic world of the Successors, which was sorta like when you throw in a bunch of different colored shirts and wash them in hot water. You get a color-bleeding mess. Your red shirt (Attic-Ionic) might have a big blue streak (Doric) on it now. That’s sort of what happened to Greek culture as the Hellenistic era progressed. Lots of bleed. This had begun prior to Alexander, but he accelerated it like kerosene on a trash fire. We can call that Greek Layer 2.1, or something.

Then we have the Romans, and their culture, which, if similar to Greek, definitively wasn’t Greek in key ways. All our surviving sources were written as the Republic was collapsing and the Empire emerging, and by that point, Greece was a Roman province.

Again, we’ve got two groups here: Greeks living under Roman rule, such as Plutarch, Diodorus, and Arrian—who wrote in Greek—and then Roman authors such as Curtius, and later Justin, who wrote in Latin. But the Greeks under Rome shouldn’t be conflated with Athenians in ATG’s own day, or even under the Successors. The culture evolved and took on Roman shadings.

So that’s not just layers of sources, but layers of cultures trying to understand what people who lived a hundred or two hundred or three hundred years before them thought/believed.

Ergo, are we hearing what Alexander (or anybody else around him) really thought or intended? Or just what writers of the Second Sophistic (such as Plutarch) wanted him to model? Or how even later authors, such as Arrian, wanted to use him to flatter his patron, Hadrian?

What’s Roman, what’s Greek, and what’s Macedonian? Can we tease that out? I’d say it’s damn tricky, and often, flat impossible—although unlike some of my colleagues, I don’t believe it’s all Roman overlay. That goes too far in the other direction, IMO.

Last, we have several authors who weren’t writing about Alexander specifically, but have bits of Alexander lore embedded in their texts: Athenaeus’s “Supper Party,” or Polyaenus’s “Strategems,” or even Plutarch’s “Moralia,” just to name three.

Among these, especially later, we have authors writing material they (or later readers) tried to pass off as written by earlier authors. We often refer to these authors with the preface “Pseudo-” as in “Pseudo-Kallisthenes.” It was NOT written by Kallisthenes, but was later attributed to him.

So, now you have some idea of why Alexander historians want to pull our hair out!

But I detail that to explain why it’s so hard for me to give you any clear answer about whether Alexander and Hephaistion remained lovers as adults. Or even if they were lovers at all.

In none of our five primary histories of Alexander, nor in Plutarch’s other stuff, nor Athenaeus, etc. is Hephaistion ever called Alexander’s lover. This includes sources that do mention with apparent unconcern other pairs of male lovers. So this isn’t “the love that dared not speak it’s name.” The Greeks were pretty okay with talking about their boyfriends.

There could be OTHER reasons for deep-sixing mention of Hephaistion and Alexander as lovers, mostly having to do with status (some of which I touched on in the novels), yet the lack of clear affirmation is a problem. The only mentions we do have come from late sources, one of which belongs to that category of “pseudo-” authors I mentioned: Pseudo-Diogenes (in Aelian), as well as Arrian recording the Stoic Epiktatos. The philosophers are trying to make a point about the dangers of giving in to physical desire, so it’s hard to know how much credit to give these references.

Thus, we’re left with little besides the indirect (e.g., the Achilles-Patroklos allusions, etc.). Those have their own problems, which I’ll not go into now, as I’ve already written a small essay.

One potential reason for a lack of mention in our surviving sources is that any sexual love affair had been a product of their youth. What remained was a fiercely deep and passionate devotion. Before you pooh-pooh that—Of course they were still having sex!—consider modern marriages that have lasted for decades but no longer include sexual activity, at least between the married partners. Don’t be sucked in by Romance novel tropes.

When I was doing bereavement counseling (et al.), I ran into all sorts of arrangements that married couples made across time. Some marriages break up when the partners stop being sexually attracted to each other, and “cheat.” But others don’t, because it’s not “cheating” if it’s mutually agreed to. Or in some cases, the partners simply lost interest in sex as they aged…but didn’t fall out of love with each other. So they might have sex once a year? Maybe? That was enough. Or they had sex on the side, with permission. People don’t fit into boxes well, IME. Honesty was the hallmark of marriages that lasted even when they weren’t still having sex. I’ve known of marriages where the couples had stopped having sex years ago, but when one of them died, the other was completely devastated because of the enormous EMOTIONAL investment. I think that’s what hit Alexander when Hephaistion died. Maybe they were still having sex, at least once in a blue moon. Maybe they weren’t. That didn’t matter.

LOVE is deeper than sex, by a long shot. Which is why the Greeks counted PHILIA (true friendship) as the superior love to eros (desire).

So whether Alexander and Hephaistion were still sexually involved—or had ever had sex—doesn’t reflect the depth of their love for each other. We might not be told by the sources that they were lovers, physically, either as youths or continuing into adulthood. But the sources are abundantly clear that they loved each other best of all. When Hephaistion died, Alexander followed him about 10 months later.

(Final note: what I intend to do in the series, going forward, is a bit different from what I described here, but that’s why I specified this involves the historical men, not necessarily my fictional characters.)

*My reference to quoted material, such as letters—or speeches—not being real: it was a common practice in the ancient world for the author of histories to just MAKE SHIT UP. It was all about showing off one’s own rhetorical skills. I think, in a lot of cases, we are probably getting at least the gist of what was said. But NEVER, EVER, EVER trust the “transcription” of an ancient speech…unless it was actually recorded later by the author. So, say, Demosthenes’ Philippics are probably a cleaned up version of the speeches he delivered. But Alexander’s “Speech at Opis” is NOT what Alexander actually said.