Friends and Mothers

I am currently writing a daily post on Arrian’s Campaigns of Alexander on my Alexander Facebook page. As of today, 11th October 2015, I am up to Book 2 Chapter 13. Here is today’s post:

~ Malcolm

“… Hephaestion, too, was an Alexander – a ‘protector of men’.”
Arrian II.13

“‘protector of men'”

When I read this line, I do so in the belief that Arrian is giving his *own* interpretation of what Alexander meant when he called Hephaestion ‘an Alexander’.

If so, is it an accurate interpretation? Did Alexander mean not so much that Hephaestion was his alter ego than that like him he was a kingly figure who stood guard over his subjects, presumably, the men under his command in the army.

That Alexander identified Hephaestion as his second self, however, comes across clearly in Diodorus’ and Curtius’ accounts of Alexander’s life (neither Plutarch nor Justin mention the story).

Curtius III.12.17
“… Alexander said, ‘My lady, you made no mistake. This man is Alexander too.'”

Diodorus XVII.37
“[Alexander] cut in and said, “Never mind, Mother. For actually, he too is Alexander.”

Then there are the circumstances of the situation. Sisygambis has just mistaken Hephaestion for the king. Is it really likely that Alexander would respond by saying ‘Oh, don’t worry, like me he looks after lots of men’? No, definitely not. Given what had just happened, such a reply would be nonsensical. Hephaestion’s rank in the army is irrelevant here.

So why does Arrian interpret Alexander’s words in the way that he does? I think it goes back to what I said a few days ago about him not being a character writer.

As a result of this, when he is called upon to explain what Alexander meant by calling Hephaestion ‘another Alexander’ he does so by suggesting that the meaning may be found in Alexander’s office rather than in his person.

If Curtius had explained Alexander’s meaning I suspect we would have got a different interpretation.


By the bye, you may have noticed that according to Diodorus, Alexander called Sisygambis his ‘mother’. There was, of course, a political benefit for him in doing so as using the title created continuity between the Archaemenid line and his own.

It is also worth remembering, however, that Alexander regarded Ada of Caria as a mother. At this point, I must be honest and say I can’t imagine what political benefit there might have been for him in doing that. I believe, therefore, that while politics and propaganda were never too far from the king’s mind, he also conferred the title on women whom he genuinely loved as mother figures.

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