The Anabasis of Alexander/Book VII/Chapter XIV

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Death of Hephaestion.

In Ecbatana Alexander offered sacrifice according to his custom, for good fortune; and he celebrated a gymnastic and musical contest. He also held drinking parties with his Companions. At this time Hephaestion fell sick; and they say that the stadium was full of people on the seventh day of his fever, for on that day there was a gymnastic contest for boys. When Alexander was informed that Hephaestion was in a critical state, he went to him without delay, but found him no longer alive.[1] Different authors have given different accounts of Alexander's grief on this occasion; but they agree in this, that his grief was great. As to what was done in honour of Hephaestion, they make diverse statements, just as each writer was actuated by good-will or envy towards him, or even towards Alexander himself. Of the authors who have made these reckless statements, some seem to me to have thought that whatever Alexander said or did to show his excessive grief for the man who was the dearest to him in the world, redounds to his own honour; whereas others seem to have thought that it rather tended to his disgrace, as being conduct unbecoming to any king and especially to Alexander. Some say that he lay prostrate on his companion's body for the greater part of that day, bewailing him and refusing to depart from him, until he was forcibly carried away by his Companions. Others that he lay upon the body the whole day and night. Others again say that he hanged the physician Glaucias, for having indiscreetly given the medicine[2]; while others affirm that he, being a spectator of the games, neglected Hephaestion, who was filled with wine. That Alexander should have cut off his hair in honour of the dead man, I do not think improbable, both for other reasons and especially from a desire to imitate Achilles, whom from his boyhood he had an ambition to rival.[3] Others also say that Alexander himself at one time drove the chariot on which the body was borne; but this statement I by no means believe. Others again affirm that he ordered the shrine of Asclepius in Ecbatana to be razed to the ground; which was an act of barbarism, and by no means in harmony with Alexander's general behaviour, but rather in accordance with the arrogance of Xerxes in his dealings with the deity, who is said to have let fetters down into the Hellespont, in order to punish it forsooth.[4] But the following statement, which has been recorded, does not seem to me entirely beyond the range of probability:—that when Alexander was marching to Babylon, he was met on the road by many embassies from Greece, among which were some Epidaurian envoys, who obtained from him their requests.[5] He also gave them an offering to be conveyed to Asclepias, adding this remark:—" Although Asclepius has not treated me fairly, in not saving the life of my Companion, whom I valued equally with my own head."[6] It has been stated by most writers that he ordered honours to be always paid to Hephaestion as a hero; and some say that he even sent men to Ammon's temple to ask the god if it were allowable to offer sacrifice to Hephaestion as a god; but Ammon replied that it was not allowable. All the authorities, however, agree as to the following facts:—that until the third day after Hephaestion's death, Alexander neither tasted food nor paid any attention to his personal appearance, but lay on the ground either bewailing or silently mourning; that he also ordered a funeral pyre to be prepared for him in Babylon at the expense of 10,000 talents; some say at a still greater cost[7]; that a decree was published throughout all the barbarian territory for the observance of a public mourning.[8] Many of Alexander's Companions dedicated themselves and their arms to the dead Hephaestion in order to show their respect to him; and the first to begin the artifice was Eumenes, whom we a short time ago mentioned as having been at variance with him.[9] This he did that Alexander might not think he was pleased at Hephaestion's death. Alexander did not appoint any one else to be commander of the Companion cavalry in the place of Hephaestion, so that the name of that general might not perish from the brigade; but that division of cavalry was still called Hephaestion's and the figure made from Hephaestion went in front of it. He also resolved to celebrate a gymnastic and musical contest, much more magnificent than any of the preceding, both in the multitude of competitors and in the amount of money expended upon it. For he provided 3,000 competitors in all; and it is said that these men a short time after also competed in the games held at Alexander's own funeral.
  1. Cf. Plutarch (Alex. 72); Diodorus (xvii. 110).
  2. Plutarch makes this statement.
  3. See Homer (Iliad, xxiii. 141, 162); Arrian (i. 12).
  4. See Herodotus (vii. 35). Xerxes means the venerable king. Cf. Herod., vi. 98. See Donaldson's New Cratylus, sections 161, 479.
  5. Epidaurus in Argolis was celebrated as the chief seat of the worship of Aesculapius.
  6. This is an Homeric expression, meaning myself.
  7. Equal to £2,300,000. Plutarch (Alex. 72) agrees with Arrian. Diodorus (xvii. 115) and Justin (xii. 12) say 12,000 talents.
  8. Cf. Aelian (Varia Historia, Tu. 8); Diodorus (xvii. 114, 115); Plutarch(Alex. 72, 75; Eumenes, 2; Pelopidas, 34).
  9. See p. 392, note 3.