You will leave to be a soldier, and you are just a child
So tender and innocent ! Do you know what you do ?
Change your mind, do you want ? Who did convince you,
To arm your hand with a shield and a spear,
To hide under a helmet a face, so pretty ?
He will be glad the one who, under his tent,
New Achilles, will have for his nights this Patroclus.(1)
Hearing the teacher in art to recite the last sentence, Hephaistion crossing the intense gaze of Alexander can’t help himself to blush deeply. His reaction doesn’t pass unnoticed to the other boys who giggle like silly idiots.
It has been two long years since he become the eromenos of Alexander. But contrary to what the prince said to him at this period, people didn’t lost interest in their affair. Even after they leaved Pella to Mieza.
« Silence ! »”The teacher orders. As soon as the calm comes back he questions :
« What did the poet wanted to express through this lines ? »
« That he is a coward ! I mean I think it is a great honor to enter the army and fight for the King »
First Philotas answers.
« It is a defendable point of view, but not the answer to my question. Next one ? »
Another boy says :
« He is jealous because he will not be the one who will fuck Patroclus under the tent. »
The other student laugh at this remark.
« Thank you for this so poetic answer. » says ironically the teacher rolling his eyes.
« And you Hephaistion have you an opinion ? »
« I think the poet speaks about incertitude of sentiments, resignation and loss. »
« Develop »
« I mean, in the first part of the poem, the poet fearing to lost his lover on battlefield, prays him to change his mind. He seems to be uncertain about the feeling of his lover toward him, cause of the who-did-convince-you, showing some incertitude. In the end, he resigns himself knowing that, surrender by other men, this one will certainly forget him, in finding true love in other arms. That’s why he makes reference to Achilles and Patroclus in his last sentence. »
« Well done Hephaistion ! It is a clever answer. As your comrade demonstrated it… »
Seeing Alexander moves away with his mother and his companions (2), in a flash this past episode of his life comes back to his memory. He trusts Alexander’s love, but, as the poet, he fears to lost his lover. Why did Alexander not listen to him ? He feels the anger growing in his heart. Anger toward Alexander. Anger toward Philip.
A guard comes to him.
« The King summons you right now. »
Clenching his fists he follows the guard in silence.
In the King room, this one is sat at his desk, writing. He sends a short look to Hephaistion. In seeing his angry face, he asks :
« What with this face ? »
« You could have chosen another way to resolve this problem. If you were not so drunk… »
« We were all drunk for Zeus’ sake, and that didn’t excuse my son to disobey me »
« Why did you forbid me to leave with Alexander ? »
« You are clever enough to know why. »
Then he returns to his task as if the topic was closed. Finally letting his work he stands up and adds :
« By the way, why do i have to justify my acts in front of you ? I am the King, and my words give legal authorisation. I know you are in anger against me but my son disobeyed me and I had to punish him. He needs to learn in the hard way what it is to fight against me. »
« So I am nothing more than a hostage from now on. »
« Good reasoning ! My guarantee ! I know him well, his strong and weak points. In keeping you by my side, he will not be tempted to make foolish things or he will deal with consequences. »
« What consequences ? »
« If my son try to betray me in raising an army against me, I will kill you. »
A cold sweat runs in the back of Hephaistion. Letting the young man absorbs the news, Philip adds then :
« He knows that well. »
« So it is as you are. » says Hephaistion. « I thought I could see you like a friend. How naive I am ! » He adds, disappointed and sad.
« As a man I like you as my own son but as a king I can’t let my feelings drive me. »
« I don’t envy you. »
« Power changes people. Through years, this devours you inside. You will learn this lesson soon enough with my son, Hephaistion. A King is a King. Alexander will not be different when he will take my place. »
« I hope no. »
« Don’t be so naive ! I know you fought his crazy idea. You try to convince Alexander to stop. But despite your shared love, he didn’t listen to you, did he ?»
Philip pauses, letting Hephaistion digests the fact.
« I know you since a long time, boy. Like Alexander, a head full of idealistic thoughts with dreams of glory in war and conquest. Achilles and Patroclus at the eve of their life running to their fates. »
He said pacing to the window. Looking outside, he sighs and turns to Hephaistion.
« But the reality of life collides with the dreams bringing its share of compromises of principles, its petite and grand treacheries, cutting deeply the flesh of our dreams to only let shreds. »
« Have you lost all faith in dream ? »
Philip laughs with bitterness. After a moment of silence he adds.
« Faith ? Alexander is my faith. »
Philip spreads his arms, showing the world around.
« I have built this kingdom for my heir. That’s why I was and I am so demanding with him. He has to be strong but he must learn to follow the rules. One day I hope he will understand what I have done for him. But until this moment, he has to obey me. Even if he disagrees with my decision he has to understand that I am not only his father but I am also his King. »
He shout these last words, in hitting the desk with his fist, making starts Hephaistion.
« From this day, you will not have the right to leave Pella under any excuse. When you leave the palace you will be under guard. Don’t deceive me Hephaistion. »
« So I am a prisoner in my own land »
Hephaistion says with bitterness. Philip sighs annoyed.
« If you want to see it like that… Now you can leave. »
Philip says in turning back to his desk and his works. Uncertain and confused, Hephaistion for a moment gazes to Philip as if discovering a new person, then without a word he leaves.
Some weeks had passed since the King’s talk, time instilling such incertitude in his heart and his mind. Hephaisiton sighs. Will he have to wait a long time before to see again Alexander. Sat at his desk he read the letter he just finished :
Since your leaving, my days are so boring. Happily, Moeris is with me and does all he could to lighten my loneliness. I languish to see you so much.
My routine of the day :
Training in the morning under the order of Cleitos. He is a real slave driver. I have to stay totally concentrate if I don’t want to fall under his ire. But at least that makes me forget the sadness to not have you by my side… just for a moment.
The afternoon when I am not summoned by the king for some duties, I study. I read all I can about the Persians and their culture. I think it is better to know well his enemy, don’t you think ? I started to learn Persian language with a Babylonian slave I met in the palace. He is an interesting person, highly cultivated. In speaking with him, I started to think that maybe Aristotle is wrong in seeing them as barbarians. Speaking of our dear teacher, we exchange a lot of letters lately. I didn’t explain to him my new condition in Pella, but maybe he already knows. Our talks help me to support your absence.
The worst are the nights. I miss your arms around me as we talk until dawn, your kisses… and more. Sometimes, I have the feeling to be Penelope waiting his Ulysse.
Come back to me as soon as you can. I know you will never put my life in danger but I hope you will find a way to make up, Philip and you. But I know too how stubborn you are. And that makes me fear that like Penelope I have to wait a long time.
Each night before to sleep, through the curtain of my window, I look the shining stars asking them to send you my hope to see you soon. I wish you can listen to my prayers.
With all my love
As he is closing the letter, the event from the day of Alexander’s leaving comes back to his memory : the talk with Philip, the poem. A sentence crossing his mind. At the last moment, he adds some words and seals the letter.
Change your mind, do you want ? Who did convince you…?
Some years later, after the condemnation of Philotas, the assassination of Parmenion and the murder of Cleitos, Philip’s words will take all their senses in Hephaistion’s mind.
But on this day, resigned, he just waited the moment where Alexander will come back and raise the veil of his incertitude.
(1) Straton of Sardis (Palatine anthology). I translate it from French to English, so all the mistake is mine but I hope I could stay the more closer to the original sense. I know the poet was not in the same period that Alexander but I am sure that the contemporary poets with Alexander could have written this kind of poem too.
(2) The day of the wedding of Philip of Macedon and Cleopatra Eurydice, niece or sister of General Attalus, this latter provoked a quarrel between Alexander and his father Philip in imploring the gods to give them a lawful successor to the kingdom. Alexander, being half-Macedonian (his mother Olympias was from Epirus Kingdom) felt insulted and threw a cup to Attalus’ head. With result that Alexander left Macedon for exile with his mother. The exile lasted six months before Alexander accepted a reconciliation with his father and came back in Macedon.
For this episode, I make the choice to send in exile too his closer companions and friends at the exception of Hephaistion.