This month's Article
THE GREAT - Intimate Companions
Throughout his life
Alexander had a number of close relationships which were of tremendous
importance to him. In his elevated and often highly dangerous
position it was vital to have a small group of people on whom
he could rely completely. His lovers were both female and male
at a time when his bisexuality was not at all unusual in the ancient
Within Greek society
bisexuality amongst men was standard behaviour, and with wives
to produce children and prostitutes to provide recreational sex,
their finer feelings were reserved for their male lovers. Xenophon
had written that homosexuality was simply a part of education,
and Aristotle held the conventional Greek view that men's most
important relationships, platonic or otherwise, should be with
other men. Homosexuality then had few of the connotations of weakness,
and many of the great warriors Alexander so admired had lifelong
male partners. The unmatched Theban Band was made up exclusively
of male couples who would fight to the death for each other, and
of course the love felt by Alexander's great role model, Achilles,
for his companion Patroclus reflected the feelings Alexander had
for his own lifelong companion Hephaistion.
Although there is
no direct evidence that their relationship was sexual, the couple's
visit to the Trojan graves of the two heroes served to underline
the nature of their own relationship. Later gossip would also
state that Alexander was only defeated once, and that was by Hephaistion's
and working alongside each other, they even read other other's
correspondence, yet many were jealous of their relationship, including
Alexander's mother Olympias. In a letter to her Hephaistion bluntly
asks, "Why don't you stop quarrelling with me? Not that I
care in any case. You know Alexander means more to me than anyone."
trusted general Craterus likewise hated Hephaistion, but the two
agreed to work together for the sake of their king, since "They
were the two men he loved best in all the world" (Plutarch).
It is said that Alexander "showed more affection for Hephaistion
but more respect for Craterus,
and often said that whilst Hephaistion was a friend of Alexander,
Craterus was a friend of the king" (Plutarch).
his lifelong attachment to Hephaistion, Alexander was also smitten
by the beautiful Persian eunuch Bagoas, who had once been the
attendant of Darius. Although he had always completely refused
the offer of slave boys before (writing to one purveyor and angrily
telling him to go to the devil) Bagoas' grace and loyalty proved
deeply attractive to Alexander. Further evidence of the king's
growing fondness for all things Persian, the ever-present eunuch
remained close to the king for the rest of his life.
Alexander's two homosexual relationships are modest when compared
with those of his father, as during his highly promiscuous life
Philip had numerous loves of both sexes. Together with his polygamous
marriages he fathered numerous children to his many wives and
lovers which caused Alexander, as his heir, considerable anguish.
He therefore seems to have determined at a young age that he would
act more responsibly than his father, and showed little interest
in sex. Indeed there were times when he positively hated this
side of his nature, saying that it was only "sleep and sex
which more than anything else reminded him that he was mortal"
(Plutarch). So worried were his parents by their son's apparent
indifference that they even hired a famous Thessalian courtesan
to entertain their 18 year old son, but with little success. And
yet Alexander was by no means prudish, and hearing that his sister
Cleopatra was having an affair he simply remarked that there was
no reason why she shouldn't enjoy herself, regardless of her royal
attitude to women was unusual in the extreme, and no doubt influenced
by his formidable mother, he treated them with great respect.
He regarded rape as a particularly terrible crime which was punished
severely. Stating that the perpetrators "should be put to
death as wild beasts which prey upon mankind", he immediately
freed the Theban woman Tomocleia after she had murdered the soldier
who had raped her. He tried to impress his philosophy upon his
troops, and told the Macedonian Euryochus "I will help you
in your love affair, but since the lady in question is a free
woman you must try and win her by presents or courtship, but use
no other means". He also restored Cyrus' custom of awarding
each of the women of Persia with a gold coin every time he entered
himself enjoyed extremely warm relationships with women, from
his mother Olympias and childhood nurse Lanice to the queens Ada
and Sisygambis (Darius' mother). As for Darius' wife Stateira
(said to the "the most beautiful woman of her time",
Alexander wrote that "not only have I never seen or wished
to see Darius' wife, but I will not even allow her beauty to be
mentioned in my presence" (letter to Parmenio). He kept Darius'
womenfolk well away from his soldiers and, as Plutarch notes,
"the most honourable and truly regal service which he rendered
these chaste and noble women was to ensure that they should never
have any cause to fear anything which may disgrace them".
When he saw how beautiful the other female prisoners were, he
is said "to have taken no more notice than to say jokingly,
"These Persian women are a torment for our eyes", and
was determined to make a show of chastity and self-control, and
so "he passed them by as if they had been no many lifeless
images cut out of stone" (Plutarch).
when Alexander saw the Sogdian Princess Roxane he fell in love
with her "when he first saw her at the height of her youthful
beauty dancing at a banquet" (Plutarch). Arrian remarked
that all those who saw her "used to say she was the loveliest
woman they had seen in Asia, with the single exception of Darius'
wife". Arrian also adds that even though Roxane was a captive,
"he refused despite his passion to force her to his will
and decided to marry her", with Hephaistion acting as best
man. As far as is possible to tell, the marriage was successful
both diplomatically and personally and, although both posthumously,
the couple had a son named after his father who succeeded him
as Alexander IV.
Alexander also later
married two Persian princesses, Darius' eldest daughter Barsine
(renamed Stateira after the mother she closely resembled) together
with Parysatis, younger daughter of Artaxerxes III. Yet these
were marriages of policy, with Alexander anxious to demonstrate
publicly his desire to strengthen ties between Greeks and Persians,
which he took even further with a mass Persian-style wedding at
which 92 companions took Persian brides before an invited audience
of 9000 guests. In a single ceremony his colleagues became relatives
not only of Persians but of each other, as Ptolemy married Artabazus'
granddaughters and Seleucus one of Spitamenes' daughters. Hephaistion
himself was married to Darius' second daughter Drypetis because,
Arrian says, Alexander wanted Hephaistion's children to be his
nephews and nieces.
The sources also
refer to Alexander's other relationships with women who, like
his wives, were all Persian except for his Greek mistress Campaspe,
whom he actually relinquished to his painter Apelles after the
artist fell in love with her whilst painting her for the king.
Yet, according to Plutarch, Alexander "did not associate
with any woman before his marriage (to Roxane) with the exception
of Barsine. She had received a Greek education, was of a gentle
disposition, and could claim royal descent since her father was
Artabazus, who had married one of the Persian king's daughters.
These qualities made Alexander the more willing to "form
an attachment to a woman of such beauty and noble lineage".
He had first met her when her father Artabazus was in exile at
Philip's court in Pella, and although Alexander was only a child
and Barsine some ten years his senior, the two met again almost
twenty years later after her Greek husband Mamnon had been killed
at Issus. She then became Alexander's lover until his marriage
to Roxane, and is said to have had his child, a boy named Herakles.
According to legend,
Alexander was also visited by the warrior Queen of the Amazons,
who told him she wanted to bear his child, and "the passion
of the woman being keener than the king's, made him spend thirteen
days in satisfying her desires". The fictitious event is
possibly an allusion to the occasion when the king of Scythia
offered his daughter in marriage. Scythian women's freedom and
considerable skills in horsemanship equated in Greek minds to
their own fabled race of Amazons
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