Alexander The Great (also known as Alexander III of Macedon), king of Macedon and one of the greatest conquerors in history, is a character who has aroused the interest and curiosity of many, not only because of his military exploits, but also because of his personal and emotional life. Among the aspects that generated debate and controversy was the question of his homosexuality, his relationships with women and men, particularly his companions Hephaistion and Craterus.
One film, which shed new light on Alexander The Great’s homosexuality, is Oliver Stone’s 2004 masterpiece, “Alexander“, which showcases the emotions felt by the great leader toward, above all, his companion Hephaestion (played in the film by Jared Leto). Oliver Stone’s work was so opposed by some Greek lawyers that they not only announced they would boycott the film, but even threatened legal action against director Oliver Stone. The problem, in “Alexander,” was that Oliver Stone had decided to sketch the features of a warrior king while also openly showing his homosexuality and open attraction to boys.
Let us try, below, to analyze this issue and contextualize it in the context of Greek culture and morality of the time.
Was Alexander the Great Gay? Theories and hypotheses
Alexander III of Macedon (356 B.C.-323 B.C.E.) was one of the greatest leaders in history, thanks to his military prowess that enabled him to win all the battles he faced and establish a vast empire stretching from the Balkans to the Indus River.
His impact on history was immense, as he introduced the Persian idea of absolute monarchy into the Greco-Roman world, changing global governance forever.
Historians, interested in understanding the personality and historical context in which Alexander III lived, have also examined his private life, including his sex life. From these theories and hypotheses, it has emerged that Alexander The Great was gay or, at any rate, bisexual. Let us see, below, some of them.
Low sexual attraction and great self-control over his pleasures
From the little information available, it seems that in his early years Alexander did not have much interest in sexual relations.
According to scholar Quintus Curtis, the young leader’s parents purchased a courtesan for him, fearing that Alexander was “feminine.” Nevertheless, the courtesan and Alexander did not have sexual relations.
Ancient authors praised Alexander’s self-control, while some modern advocates interpret this episode as a confirmation of his homosexuality. It is more likely that the adolescent Alexander had not yet experienced sexual attraction.
Grief over the death of Hephaestion
Although Alexander has always been referred to as Hephaestion’s “friend,” several modern historians have interpreted their relationship as amorous rather than platonic. Hephaestion secured high-ranking positions in Alexander’s army, which suggests an intimate relationship between the two. Also, at Troy, the two made sacrifices at the shrines of Achilles and Patroclus, two other probable lovers who suffered the erasure of homosexuals from history.
The death of Hephaestion, Alexander the Great’s beloved companion, marked a time of great sorrow for the Macedonian ruler. According to Plutarch, Alexander could not control his grief and indulged in extreme gestures, such as cutting the manes of horses and mules, knocking down battlements of nearby cities, and crucifying the doctor who had treated Hephaestion.
The depth of Alexander’s grief shows how special the bond between the two was.
Hephaestion and Craterus: friends, rivals and possible lovers by Alexander The Great
Hephaestion and Craterus were both close friends and companions of Alexander the Great. Plutarch relates that the two were often in competition for the Macedonian leader’s heart and sometimes went so far as to quarrel. Alexander, to appease their jealousy, swore by Ammon and the other gods that he loved them both more than any other man.
Were both of them lovers of Alexander? Had they both been, at different times? Was Alexander the Great gay? These hypotheses are still under consideration by scholars of Ancient Greek history.
In any case, to understand Alexander’s possible attraction to men, it is important to consider the cultural and moral context of the time. It is clear that Alexander’s sex life was not limited to the relationships we now call heterosexual, a concept that was nonexistent and incomprehensible at the time. In Greek culture, in which Alexander was immersed, relationships between men were considered completely normal and accepted.
Homosexuality in Greek society
To contextualize Alexander the Great’s relationships with Hephaestion, Craterus, and other men, it is important to consider the Greek cultural and moral context of the time.
Homosexual relations were considered normal in ancient Greek society, and Greek sexual ethics identified manhood with taking an active role in sexual intercourse.
A man could have sexual relations with both women and men, as long as he reserved the role of active partner for himself. Passive partners were to be, at least theoretically, only adolescents. In ancient Greece, in fact, young boys were considered in many aspects equivalent to women. Like women, in fact, they did not have the full capacity to reason, and thus were considered subjects for protection. Also, like women, they were not sexually active and therefore could have an adult lover until they reached maturity.
In relationships between men, power asymmetry was, therefore, common: an older, more experienced man usually had a sexual and romantic relationship with a boy or young man. This cultural and social context is important for understanding Alexander’s intimate relationships with Hephaestion, Craterus, and other companions.
Relationships between adult men were also present and, in some cases, even valued.
In Greek culture, homosexuality was often celebrated through literature, art, and philosophy. For example, the love between the hero Achilles and the young Patroclus is a major theme in Homer’s Iliad. Similarly, depictions of male nudity were common in Greek art, and many Greek philosophers, such as Plato, reflected on love between men in their philosophy.
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