Gay or not ?

This moderated forum is for discussion of Alexander the Great. Inappropriate posts will be deleted without warning. Examples of inappropriate posts are:
* The Greek/Macedonian debate
* Blatant requests for pre-written assignments by lazy students - we don't mind the subtle ones ;-)
* Foul or inappropriate language

Moderator: pothos moderators

MasterK

Gay or not ?

Post by MasterK »

I realy want to know , was Alexander gay or not ?
laura

Re: Gay or not ?

Post by laura »

"Gay" wasn't really an understood concept in Alexander's world. The majority of men in ancient Macedon were what we would now call totally bisexual - it was the done thing for a men to take a male lover in addition to his wives/mistresses. Although there is little or no reference in any of the histories to Alexander and his lifelong friend Hephaestion having a sexual relationship, nowadays it is almost universally presumed that they were in fact lovers. The overwhelming grief that Alexander displayed on Hephaestion's death certainly implies that he loved his companion very much indeed. Alexander probably loved Hephaestion more that he did any of his wives, and Barsine ( although the fact that he had Barsine as a mistress suggests that he did enjoy sex with women also) .
At the moment I'm researching an A-level coursework piece on the role of women in Alexander's life and career and it appears to me that all of his marriages were for political benefit ( even Roxane, despite what Arrian says), whilst I believe that Hephaestion was the love of his life.
Sikander

Re: Gay or not ?

Post by Sikander »

I think it is important that those studying the ancient world discard modern
sexual definitions altogether. While "gay" and "straight" were unknown
concepts, so was "bisexuality".. and the acceptable behaviours were as
diverse as they are now. In some areas, adult male-to-male sexual
union was frowned on while pedastery was acceptable- but even then,
only by some groups or classes. In others, youthful relations between
males were acceptable but it was expected they would be "outgrown" as
the young men entered adulthood and accepted their civic duty to marry,
though male friendship was considered the higher form; and still other
men never had a male lover at all, but were strictly attracted to women
, while others preferred men- in fact, the sexual behaviours of the ancient world were more closely
aligned with what we now define as the sexual continuum than the definitions we seem to want to insist on using today without recognizing their limits..
And yes, in some places a disdain for adult male sexual relationships existed, related not
to the act of sex itself but to the difference between penetrated and
penetrator- which was related to the misogyny of the times.
This is why the discussion as to whether Alexander and Hephaistion were lovers later
in life is still debated, as well as the discussion regarding the ages of the two men.
But they were not gay, straight or bisexual as we define it today- the
mores and socio-sexual constructs were different, which meant that men
were fairly free to act on sexual impulse with just about anyone so long
as the man was the penetrator (of course, it was considered bad form if the woman was married, and the "rules" were usually different for women).
Regards,
Sikander
ina

Re: Gay or not ?

Post by ina »

hiii, laura, may i meet you ? [email protected]
Dr. Pal

Re: Gay or not ?

Post by Dr. Pal »

Dear Laura,I think your statement "...nowadays it is almost universally presumed that they were in fact lovers." is an overstatement. It may be the prevailing view in America. Alexander's grief after the death of Heph. needs a more careful study.Reagrds,Dr. Pal.
NickWelman
Posts: 21
Joined: Mon Apr 03, 2006 8:36 am

Re: Gay or not ?

Post by NickWelman »

I suppose a concept like "the love of his life" - as Laura wrote - is also a projection of our current values on the ancient world. In our present society it is desirable to be able to point out one single individual and claim: "This is the true one." I doubt whether the ancients felt obliged to regard their love life in that manner?
Regards -
Nick
davej
Pezhetairos (foot soldier)
Posts: 176
Joined: Wed Dec 11, 2002 12:43 am

Re: Gay or not ?

Post by davej »

Dr Pal and Laura,
I agree with Dr Pal, it is not as far I am concerned universally believed that Alexander was gay or bisexual. Let me just say I have no problem one-way or another, Philip was certainly bisexual. But there is nothing I have ever read to convince me that Alexander was gay. His reaction to Hepheastus' death may have been more in keeping with his desire to emulate his hero Archiles.
There is another factor with the whole gay issue in antiquity not raised yet. Most of what we know about ancient Greece comes to us through Athens where almost anything was okay (by the wealthy class). In other states like Corinth etc there does not seem to have the same level of male love for males.
The issue of homosexual is clouded by our definitions of homosexuality. For ancients males penetrating each other was rare, in Athens for example the practise of sex with minors was between the thighs, no penetration. This was considered to be just like becoming a woman, however male prostitutes appear to have gone all the way (for want of a better word). There is plenty of artwork for this type thing.It should not matter what his sexual orientation was, but people do seem to want to argue about it. There is evidence to support the fact that he had male lovers. If there is any written evidence could somebody please let me know? I think I have read just about every source and have found nothing.
Linda
Hetairos (companion)
Posts: 434
Joined: Tue Aug 12, 2003 2:57 pm

Re: Gay or not ?

Post by Linda »

Dave and Dr Pal
I find it peculiar that people wish to further analyse Alexander's reaction to Hephaistion's death. As far as I can see, the comparison with Achilles came from others, not Alexander himself. His reaction was genuine, unbridled grief, it is plain from all the reports. Cutting off your hair was a standard mourning practice. Achilles reaction to Patroclus's death was constructed by Homer, and in any case was in a different context - Achilles was indirectly responsible for Patroclus's death, and that contributed to his grief.
As for Alexander and Hephaistion, if there are any other examples of a king / ruler who was not bonkers anyway going to such extreme lengths to honour a dead person who was not a lover or family member, I would be interested to know. Alexander may/may not have had an actual in-the-sack physical relationship with H. but their friendship was so intense that it is almost contrary for the sake of it to deduce that they were not in love (or at least A was with H). The deciding factor for me was Curtius and Diodorus, who both say that Alexander preferred Hephaistion for his looks, which is not generally why people bond with their best friends.
However, if you consider a eunuch to be a man (and why not..) then it is reported in Curtius that Alexander had an affair with Bagoas. Arrian also reports that Alexander loved Bagoas. If you read Jeanne Reames-Zimmerman's discussion of Alexander's sexuality, there is a good analysis of the sources of circumstantial evidence, although I disagree with her assertion that "bisexuality was normal". I am more of Sikander's opinion on this one.
But most compelling is the general opinions of later Greek and Roman writers, who write in passing of Alexander's interest in men. It is received wisdom, really. For example the reference of the Cynics to the great Alexander only being defeated by one thing - Hephaistion's thighs (don't have the reference), or in Athenaeus
http://members.aol.com/heliogabby/deipnon/deipnon3.htm
"King Alexander also was madly devoted to boys"
Doesn't mean to say he wasn't also interested in women, although there is less evidence for this, I think. Even Barsine, a definite mistress, was a political appointment (she was Memnon the commander o
User avatar
marcus
Somatophylax
Posts: 4764
Joined: Fri Aug 16, 2002 6:27 am
Location: Nottingham, England

Re: Gay or not ?

Post by marcus »

Although your message got cut off before the end, I am interested that you find that Alexander had "less interest in women". It is always difficult to determine exactly what Alexander's mindset would have been, but he had 3 wives and 1 mistress (notwithstanding that there were good political reasons for all these), at least 1 and possibly 2 children... and no source that explicitly states that he had any physical relationship with a man.
All the best
Marcus
Marcus
Sine doctrina vita est quasi mortis imago
At Amazon US
At Amazon UK
Linda
Hetairos (companion)
Posts: 434
Joined: Tue Aug 12, 2003 2:57 pm

Re: Gay or not ?

Post by Linda »

I didn't have much more to say, actually. The fact that he was married three times is neither here nor there. Gay kings marry - Edward II, Louis XIV, Queen Anne of UK (she had 14 children). His mistress was suggested to him by Parmenion, and was in any case a political relationship. She is not mentioned again in his history. In any relationship with a woman, apart from those, it was always the woman who approached him (and these are dubious occurrances - the Queen of the Amazons etc). Children are also no indication of great interest - a woman (and her family) would be insulted to be taken as a wife or mistress and then left high and dry. Heirs were required.
He did have a sexual relationship with a man, Bagoas - he could have had a mistress, as Ptolomy and Philotas did, and as his father did, but he didn't. If the will was there...
Of course we don't know for sure, and he was by all accounts temperate in his sexual life.
User avatar
marcus
Somatophylax
Posts: 4764
Joined: Fri Aug 16, 2002 6:27 am
Location: Nottingham, England

Re: Gay or not ?

Post by marcus »

I don't disagree with you - in fact, I did point out that all the relationships with women can be assigned a political motive. My point was, however, that there is similarly no concrete evidence that Alexander's relationship with any man, be it Hephaestion or Bagoas, was anything more than a strong bond of friendship (and saying that he 'loved Hephaestion', for example, is no evidence of any homoerotic relationship, platonic or otherwise); and so there is *as much* evidence of Alexander's interest in women as there is of his interest in men.
All the best
Marcus
Marcus
Sine doctrina vita est quasi mortis imago
At Amazon US
At Amazon UK
Sikander

Re: Gay or not ?

Post by Sikander »

If I may interject a thought considering the curtain of
mystery surrounding Alexander's private life. The marriages were state
affairs and as such were accorded notation. The mistresses are unproven,
though noted, as is Bagoas...
Whatever private life he may have had, in almost all ways, was carefully
guarded- which says a lot for both Alexander and his intimates.
Public King, private man. That was another thing that set him apart from
many. And says something about the honour and quality of those he
called his friends.
Regards,
Sikander
User avatar
marcus
Somatophylax
Posts: 4764
Joined: Fri Aug 16, 2002 6:27 am
Location: Nottingham, England

Re: Gay or not ?

Post by marcus »

Good point, Sikander. And Barsine, who is the only attested mistress (and not in all sources) was a political expediency as much as Roxane, Stateira etc. by virtue of the fact that her father was Artabazus. Any other mistresses that are mentioned are generally considered to be ficticious - the Amazon queen, for example.
All the best
Marcus
Marcus
Sine doctrina vita est quasi mortis imago
At Amazon US
At Amazon UK
Linda
Hetairos (companion)
Posts: 434
Joined: Tue Aug 12, 2003 2:57 pm

Re: Gay or not ?

Post by Linda »

I am not sure that there is as much evidence for women as for men. I think you can deduce (and commentators have done so) that he was not particularly interested in women. There is no evidence that he was. Whereas there is evidence that he found men physically attractive (Curtius, comparing Hephaistion to Euxenippes), had an affair with Bagoas (why would he not exist, when he is mentioned in two sources?), and whose primary intense realtionship was with a man, whose death left him bereft. He tried to get him made a GOD, for goodness sake. If it quacks like a duck...
Whether he had a physical relationship with Hephaistion is something we will never know. I don't think we need to, but we can make deductions on his likes and dislikes from the evidence as we do with his character in many other things.
Another consideration is that, as King and leader of men, is that he would have to "one of the lads" - and most men are interested in women. So it is not really in his interest as a leader to be thought of as only interested in men, therefore (or perhaps it was really true) he said things like Persian women being too beautiful for him to look at. Bit of supposition, really. Ignore it if you wish.
Sikander

Points in Agreement

Post by Sikander »

Greetings Linda,
In a way, you are reiterating the point I was trying to make-
we cannot apply any modern interpretation to the sexual behaviours or
relationships we read about in the past. It is almost impossible, because
we are left interpreting the words of those who, in late retrospect,
interpreted other words, and applied their own cultural and social
interpretations of same.
My major point was that Alexander himself- and his intimates- did not
feel it was open to discussion..I would, however, agree his orientation was towards males more than women, in almost all aspects of his life.
Regards,
Sikander
Post Reply