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Alexander the Great and Hephaestion: Censorship and Bisexual Erasure in Post-Macedonian Society Open Access

Same-sex relations were common in ancient Greece, and while having both male and female relations in one’s life was the norm, Alexander the Great is almost always portrayed in modern depictions as heterosexual. This study contributes a new perspective on the greater problem of understanding bisexual erasure throughout history and modern day media. Initially submitted as a 24-page research paper for Dr. Diane Cline’s seminar on Alexander the Great, the research is about bisexual erasure, looking for what information is missing about the relationship between Alexander and his life-partner Hephaestion. A full 18 years ago, bisexual erasure entered the discourse in sex and gender theory, describing the phenomenon of hiding bisexual experiences in heteronormative literature, film, and popular culture. Since then, case studies have focused on contemporary instances. A compelling case study is the reception of the emotional, romantic, and sexual relationship between Alexander and Hephaestion, even as Alexander had two children by different women and married three. Bisexual erasure now extends back 2300 years with my research, along with its implications in the larger focus of LGBT censorship throughout history. Even though bisexuality was a social norm in Greek culture, the disappearance of Hephaestion is all but complete in ancient literature. I have examined five full primary source biographies of Alexander from antiquity, and observed the way scholars, popular writers and filmmakers from the Victorian era forward have treated their relationship. I have also been reading the current theoretical literature on bisexual erasure, a term first coined in 2000. My study of Alexander and Hephaestion suggests that their relationship did not fit the norm of pederasty. Normally boys and men did have relations with each other, but generally they were not of the same age and there was almost always a financial and power difference. Hephaestion was taller and more handsome, so it might have appeared that he held the power in their relationship. Ancient biographers may have conducted censorship to conceal any implication of femininity or submissiveness in Alexander that this relationship dynamic might suggest. As a result, subsequent cultures would have hidden the relationship too. My work suggests that bisexual erasure is not just a modern phenomenon of 19th and 20th century sensibilities, but extends back through antiquity. Even in a culture that accepted bisexuality, Alexander and Hephaestion’s relationship was an outlier and thus treated differently. My research shows how this same-sex relationship was erased, censored, and altered to fit norms of subsequent cultures.

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